Zatōichi:Lessons from a Yakuza

I was introduced to Zatoichi couple of months ago when I headed to YouTube one Saturday morning and typed in ‘old Japanese samurai movies’ to satiate my thirst for some good old black & white samurai action; to the times before CGI blood splatter became the norm. For the uninitiated, Zatoichi is a Japanese fictional character, created by Kan Shimozawa. He is a blind swordsman, a Yakuza and an eternal lone wolf who inevitably walks into trouble but ends up being the solution too!

I have watched a few movies so far and I have gotten quite hooked to the simple story telling and the complex character. And at the end of a movie I don’t usually sit around and think about the ‘take aways’ from it, except in a few cases and Zatoichi is one such case. And what I have learnt so far:


Tough, tough, tough…but Zatoichi screams out integrity to the point where he cuts down one of his teachers because the Sensei was guilty of stealing money ( New Tale of Zatoichi, 1963).

To instill integrity into an organization or oneself is tough and to maintain it, even tougher, more so specially in the current economic situation. Thankfully I can cite two organizations who have so far stuck to the ‘spirit and the letter’ – one, the TATA group, by default of being born in a country where Jamsetji Tata decided to make a humble beginning, and two, GE Oil and Gas, my work place, where adhering to working with integrity is a way of life. Sticking to your thoughts and belief systems in the face of adversity is the way to go.

Cliché alert – Hardwork and dedication does indeed pay off

The name Zatoichi strikes fear in the heart of his nemesis, not because he is a masseur or an accomplished singer or a skilled Shamisen player or a cunning player of Chō-Han. But he is good with his sword….extremely good. Despite his blindness, Zatoichi is said to have dedicated years to perfect the art of handling the sword.

The much often repeated ‘hard work and dedication’ is no magic mantra and there are scores of individuals who can be used as examples. Whatever you set out to do, the mantra will ensure you carve yourself into a niche corner and people will definitely come seeking that skill. Personally, I am amazed at the fact that I got through to a PhD in an engineering subject despite Mathematics being my greatest foe. I stopped understanding Maths the day numbers and alphabets came together in a problem statement! Now when I look back, I remember the sheets of paper piled high on my desk, slogging through numerous calculus problems but all that effort had paid off.

Pick up a Skill – learn Jiu Jitsu!

Zatoichi – a masseur, a skill which helps him easily penetrate enemy lines who mistake him to be a lowly blind man doing his job; a swordsman, a skill which he uses in great effect to protect himself and others; a singer complemented by the Shamisen instrument, which he uses not only to entertain fellow travelers but also to ‘sing away the blues’; a good knowledge of Judo and Jiu Jitsu and a great gambler- he is skilled with the dice which gets him the money to enable his life as a drifter. The actor and director, Katsu Shintaro, who portrayed the character on the big screen was equally talented.

In short, acquire a new skill or hone your old one, get active, for they not only help you stand out from the crowd but will also help you keep your mind refreshed during hard times and its also a great way to socialise.  Few years ago I had the opportunity to learn Jiu Jitsu from some very dedicated and talented people at the Northumbria University Jiu Jitsu club. I didn’t continue, but on the way I made new friends and had a great time. There were many things that I have started but haven’t seen it through to completion but I did make the effort to give them a go. Mandarin is a new skill I am working on now.

Zatoichi turns out to be a man on a Fool’s journey and I hope to follow him for the few more movies left on the playlist. To write about him was the easy part…

I thankfully found someone who has gone all out and blogged about the 30 movies based on this character. You can find the link to Dr Wroot’s page here.

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