Monday, April 20, 2009

Ronin and Business Today.

In feudal Japan, a samurai who had lost his master was an outcast, a ronin, a “wave man” tossed aimlessly by the sea. The reasoning was simple, the samurai had been unable to protect his lord, so what good was he. Another reason for becoming masterless was by deserting your lord. Neither of these is a particularly laudable reason for becoming unemployed and as a result the Ronin was generally shunned by all. Other lords were discouraged from hiring these ronin for fear of offending the previous master or the local Daimyo or the Shogun.

The truth was in many cases quite different. It should be understood that Feudal Japan was a very stratified society. It was virtually impossible to move through the various castes of Japanese social hierarchy. When the Shogunate wanted to consolidate power, it did this by removing power from various Daimyo, often times stripping them of their lands along with titles. The children of samurai so disenfranchised were very often born into the ronin class. The result was many samurai suddenly in the position where they no longer had a lord. There is evidence that at one point in history, there may have been as many as five hundred thousand ronin roaming Japan.

This was a lightbulb moment for me. I realized that a group of very capable men, who were devoted to a cause were suddenly outcast in the very towns ad society they had served. This is exactly the same as what we have seen happen in South Africa over the last 15 years. Various well intentioned government policies have left a large number of skilled workers out in the cold. Policies of Affirmative Action (AA), and Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) are our present government’s efforts to achieve a particular political objective which is subject to the laws of unintended consequences. The fall out from this is that a large portion of the educated white population lost their jobs, or find themselves unable to find a job because a company is doing what it can to comply with some demographic quota. The ronin who now becomes self employed or a one man concern is perceived by many to be of little value because they are unable to find a job. Or they were retrenched because they were just not good enough. This is a label often placed on the person without any effort to understand the full facts

The response of the ronin was varied. Some looked for employment with another lord which met with mixed success for reasons both economical or political. Some turned to crime, gathering other ronin around them to form bandit hordes to terrorize and pillage. Some became mercenaries, bodyguards or muscle for hire, some became wandering teachers of philosophy or martial arts or became itinerant priests while some became tradesman changing profession completely. There was no easy road for the ronin. Their success was based purely on their character and tenacity in following through.

We have seen a very similar trend in South Africa where the Policies, which left a man out on the street, have forced him to find a different paradigm in which to continue to make ends meet. Some have been able to find alternate employment, some became mercenaries or contractors while some have jumped on the entrepreneurial wagon and have carved out a niche for themselves in this economy.

An interesting aspect of this in the Japanese context is that many Samurai were envious or jealous of the freedom of their ronin contemporaries. Where the Samurai was bound by his lords will even if that appeared to be contrary to his ethical, moral or warrior code, the ronin were free to act as he chose and was accountable to himself only.

In our modern society with technological and business advances like the Internet and email the entrepreneur has all the advantages of business with less of the overhead. The entrepreneur is able to change tack far quicker than a larger business. This makes a lot of sense in a volatile economic climate.

So if you are a ronin and are looking for a way to thrive in a system which may appear to be stacked against you, then take heart. The ronin in feudal Japan thrived and succeeded, and it is possible to weather the current storms which we face in South Africa, or any part of the world for that matter, and thrive. What is required is passion and hard work. Do not believe anyone who tells you you can do anything worth while without putting in the effort. It is not sustainable.

So revel in your ronin freedom and make everything you do count.

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The Book of Five Rings

It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way. - Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Geshin