Being In The Element
The most memorable people are generally those who possess a unique ability or those who indelibly mark a point in time into an unforgettable moment merely by saying or by doing something extraordinary.
Michel de Nostredame was born in France and was a follower of the Catholic Church. Soon after studying the classics and eventually completing medical school, he married twice and raised several children as a physician. He led a life that gave no indication of the one accomplishment that would set him apart from his contemporaries. In 1550, he began to author almanacs containing quatrains exclusively devoted to prophecy of events. Nostradamus wrote a collection of one hundred predictions that were published within those almanacs. The first edition of the almanacs, The Prophecies, was published in 1555 under the Latin name Nostradamus and have never gone out of print, purporting to be a source of credible foretelling of world events. That book has circulated continuously since its initial publication. An occurrence that may be explained by the penchant for early revelation of natural disasters, wars, and other climactic events. Though largely shun by contemporary critics for inaccuracies or for thin extrapolations, these predictions drew attention as equally from skeptics as from the nobility. Most notably, the French monarch placed a heightened fascination on the horoscope contrived by Nostradamus to the point where he was named counselor to members of the royal family. The French monarch, Catherine de Médicis, retained Nostradamus as the resident physician to the heir, King Charles IX, adding to the stature of the publication. A matter no less astounding since Nostradamus has been widely and incessantly published beyond the French border.
In medieval Britain, there was an account of an equally illustrious figure. During his time, King Arthur would keep warring clans at bay, wield a victorious sword, consort with the wizardry of Merlin, and prevail over a vast expanse of land through the Knights of the Round Table. King Arthur’s prodigious reign during the Dark Ages may be the reason behind the cloud surrounding his origin and his ultimate demise. Nonetheless, King Arthur has become a longstanding source for dramatic performance both in entertainment for live audience and in print for avid readers. The prowess displayed by King Arthur and his legion of loyal Knights could have conceivably benefited in some measure from prophecies, just as any foreign army or distant nation seeking an advantage would admittedly consign to. The legendary warrior had a momentary place in history, but, an enduring lifespan in books—stemming from the belief that the fabled King would eventually awake from his rest to rescue Britain from further attacks on the horizon.
In an equally perplexing saga, the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu inscribed what are considered to be strategies, tactics, and predictions for outcomes where the odds are unfavorable and when the forces are disparate. Sun Tzu is credited with extracting valuable ploys of gamesmanship from an actual combat scenario between the state of Wu and the neighboring kingdom of Chu. Each strategy was recorded using 20 Chinese characters and engraved vertically on bamboo slats that were, in turn, threaded together. The Wu army of 33,000 men overpowered an opposing army 10 times larger standing vigilant throughout the Chu province. The Wu army accomplished this by applying the principles set forth by Sun Tzu. The messages encoded on the slats have been subsequently valued as a repository for re-evaluation of other battles such as World War II, the Civil War, and the Vietnam War. When the messages were recorded about 500 B.C., they comprised nearly 13 chapters and remained the privileged retinue of emperors and scholars for over 1,000 years. Since its discovery, the Tzu principles have proven applicable to leadership development in various fields of discipline, not limited to athletics, politics, and business. These rules for military confrontation were pivotal for success during imperial China, due in part to their commitment to a set plan of action, a vital element in any combat situation. In this way, the stories rekindled by: The Prophecies, The Art of War, and the Knights of the Round Table will continue to prove important; if only, as a prolific topic for publishing houses.
In the 8th century, the fabled Tzu philosophy appeared in Japan by way of Korea. The Samurai warriors consulted The Art of War for their own military conquests. It was not until the 18th century that the text was eventually translated into French by the Jesuit missionary, Father Amiot. The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte subsequently sought its insights on military science as he encroached onto the battlefields of Europe. Historically, the text was first translated into English in 1910 by Lionel Giles. By other accounts, an earlier 1905 English version derived by Captain Calthrop appeared in Tokyo, and like Nostradamus, has resurfaced uninterrupted in print ever since. A trend not unique to the French, in light of the fact that Arthurian supporters ardently believe that King Arthur is poised to return from his absence to reclaim English glory in the face of modern challenges. In line with these events, the Japanese culture bears homage to the legendary Chinese general with a statue that stands victorious in Yurihama, Tottori. A gesture not unique to the Asian continent since The Art of War, both the Sun Tzu and the Niccolò Machiavelli versions, remain recommended reading for students of West Point Military Academy. In more recent time, the teachings of Sun Tzu have once again taken center stage on another critical front. Starting in the 1960s, Japanese corporations began a surge in market dominance that would endure for decades and permeate into modern arenas; notwithstanding, the Wall Street investment phenomenon of the 1980s. In more contemporary circles, the principles of military theory attributed to The Art of War have mostly been eschewed by Chinese students and Asian professionals in favor of more relevant schools of thought. Yet, the Sun Tzu philosophy has found legitimacy in an entirely new preoccupation. The publishing industry–more precisely, self-improvement books–understands the profit potential and the unmitigated recognition that is made possible through the pages of the original composition.
While Nostradamus and Sun Tzu both recorded their philosophy for prosperity, other insights to balanced living were merely handed down to followers who, in turn, recorded them for further contemplation. One such occurrence were the analects of Confucius. Though his lineage is unclear, Confucius devoted much of his working years to the Chinese bureaucracy through incremental roles of responsibility. The wisdom attributed to his teachings began after departing from the waning integrity of his superiors and the endemic bickering of contemporary feudal states. Upon returning from a decade long retreat, Confucius began an extended period of preaching the principles of social order and moralistic character to the public. His most ardent supporters diligently preserved his sayings given in the Apricot Terrace into what is now regarded as the analects, or Lunyu. Those teachings, more commonly known as The Analects of Confucius, were sought in the province of Lu where Confucius was born and lived from 551 to 479 BC in the city of Qufu. This area on the eastern coast of China was once governed by the German empire from 1898 until 1914, and is now recognized as Shandong. The principles belying the analects persisted in stark contrast to the ignominious conduct of the Chinese royal factions. Perhaps owing to this reality, a revival of this movement emerged through the 11 century. The movement of Neo-Confucianism coexists with other elements of the Taoist and Buddhist faiths by seeking the objective of intellectual and spiritual growth. Its influence has piqued the ideologies of Japan and Korea if not, legions of Chinese generations with many Western countries counting themselves among the audience of mass appeal. The three schools of thought represent an ideal state of harmony between social entities (Confucianism), simplicity within nature and by divinity (Taoism), and personal vibrancy (Buddhism).
In 10th century Japan, the territory consisted of the empirical center located in Kyoto. The vast provincial lands surrounding the ancient capital of Kyoto were warring states that depended on samurai lords for protection and order. The chieftain of each province recruited local farmers and provided the training and weaponry to quell battles that posed a risk to the empire. The samurai clans grew to formidable numbers to the point that their political influence was tantamount to the empire itself, rising to a veritable aristocracy in the process. The power of the samurai clan peaked in the 12th century proclaiming a status approaching the level of bureaucratic standing. The last significant samurai enclave met their demise in mid-1870 wherein the unification of Japan was implemented through the effort of Tokuawa Ieyasu and other Shogun leaders. The unseemly promotion from warrior to statesman was attributable to the extensive education that each samurai was subjected to. Starting at a young age, each was instructed in multiple schools of thought including: Chinese principles, poetic writings, Zen Buddhism, and spirituality. Their conduct and allegiance toward their master was encouraged through rigorous moral and ethical codes that were based on Confucianism and that cultivated discipline in all aspects of life. The passing down of proficiency in the sword and warrior acumen was not limited to men as most girls received provisional training to guard their home in the absence of the samurai during battles.
The predominance of the samurai may justifiably owe to the training regimen. Yet, the Japanese empire cannot entirely rule out the contribution of an equally remarkable figure: the ninja. Though the samurai had roots in provincial lineage, the ninja had an even lower caste status than others with farming origins. Unlike the samurai, the ninja was versed in clandestine maneuvers and were purported to be equipped with powers that befuddled the imagination. Mostly shunned by the higher ranking footmen of the Edo period in Japanese history, the ninja is primarily recognized through epic accounts of guerrilla tactics recounted through folklore handed down over the centuries. The ninja reigned unscathed over the battlefield through the cunning usage of: espionage, sabotage, and assassination. That heroism has been preserved through the typical mediums: plays, novels, comics, and all types of animation both in film and television; not to mention, the video game industry where the ninja has proved profitable through creative reincarnation. The fantasy behind the reality has undergone fundamental as well as aesthetic embellishments to synchronize with modern technological advancements, as one might expect.
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