Query from student whom I consider erudite in many things and not one to waste time by asking frivolous questions.
Q: Sir, I would like to get your thoughts on revenge. Is it ever appropriate in these modern times to exact revenge on a person that has done you bad? Sun Tzu said if you wait by the river long enough, you will see all of your enemies float by. I get the analogy, as either life takes care of them in due time, or their other enemies take them out for you. Thoughts?
A: I have given good thought to your query and, having come up with various approaches to my ideas, I decided to quote from my own book, The Shogun Scrolls, originally published in 1996 by Tuttle. My thoughts on the subject have not changed.
Revenge is a virtuous act and its intelligent application is an essential quality to a powerful shogun. However, revenge does not work without difficulties, and although it appears to be profitable at certain times, it is best carried out long after an incident has been quelled. Even better, revenge can be applied most effectively when the event has been practically forgotten. When it is dealt out to those requiring it, it must be done in a fashion that deeply impresses everyone—from the emperor to the common serf. It must be done in such a manner that any ideas of duplicating the act would be thought of as madness.
In time, the strongest warriors will be subject to foolish behavior regardless of the amount of care taken to prevent its occurrence. Attacks come in many forms and are sometimes difficult to discern, especially when you are in the position of delegating authority to subordinates. Revenge is usually necessitated by acts against the shogunate from the inner guard. The problems may stem from without, but usually the damage is instigated from within, and more than likely by trusted subjects.
Care must be taken that you do not become obsessed with revenge. You must not become mean-spirited. There are two ways for revenge to be exacted. One is quietly, dictating terrible misfortune that no one could have foreseen. The other is done openly, and with a terrible effect, guaranteeing that no one would ever consider a like act against you for the remainder of their lives. The method depends upon your temperance. It must make itself evident to all who are aware of the reason for it.
The person at whom the revenge is directed must remain alive to see the horror that is visited upon him. He must be the last of his bloodline to be destroyed regardless of the method used. The punishment meted out must be so complete that no possibility of reprisal is possible. Things that can be done to others as acts of revenge are only limited by the imagination. Revenge should be extracted with such a degree of horror that the perpetrator’s ancestors scream from the grave.
Ishikai Nobunaga was a master at levying revenge. For deeds done against him by his wife’s family, he began a reign of terror against them that lasted for years until they were finally wiped from existence. The reasons they carried out their acts to wreak his revenge were founded in terrible jealousy of his position in the court of Emperor Kicho and their acts were nothing in comparison the penalty they paid for their insolence. He began slowly, and long after the deed against him had been perpetrated, by causing them to dispute rumors from within their own houses. When they came to be filled with anger at each other, he then began to destroy their means of livelihood making each of his wife’s cousins appear to each other as thieves forcing them to devise acts of retribution against each other, which culminated in bloodshed. They even came to him hoping he would assist in quelling the family problems. In essence, they gave him permission to further breakdown their bloodlines. When they were totally weakened he watched as they finally destroyed each other.
It is always best to permit your enemy to kill himself. Half-hearted attempts at revenge invite retribution and must be avoided at all costs. It must be done in a matter-of-fact manner. Physical revenge should be delayed until all other means have been executed. To crush the spirit and destroy the offender’s mind is the best way to begin. Death should be saved for last. In the beginning, techniques of revenge should include minor inconveniences and petty annoyances building up to a thorough deterioration of the antagonist’s body, mind, and spirit.
© Stephen F. Kaufman 1996 – 2016
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