Yoga as a Warrior


One of our students asked this question.   Do Samurai warrior’s practice yoga?

Most people would find the question a little odd, and would not think there could possibly be a connection between Yoga and a Samurai warrior, but they could not be more wrong.   The answer is so interesting!  

Yamaoka Tesshu. said  “ As a samurai, I must strengthen my character; as a human being, I must perfect my spirit”

( He lived from June 10, 1836 July 19, 1888) Tetsutaro, was a famous Samurai living during the period known as the Meiji Restoration and the founder of the Itto Shoden Muto ryu school of swordsmanship.)

So many of a warrior’s beliefs follow the teachings of Yoga , the definition of a warrior is …

Someone who  has a very strong code of ethos to live by and is not someone who just  goes to war and kills people. He  exhibits integrity in his actions and control over his life. Warriors  live by a code of courage, truthfulness, patience, selflessness, loyalty, fidelity, self-command, respect for elders, love of others, perseverance, cheerfulness in adversity and of course – a sense of humor.

All warrior codes derive from the demanding situations facing a warrior, such as a samurai in a deadly duel. They must perform with the utmost mastery and calm in the face of mortal danger.

They must have the ability to reflect and keep their senses in the midst of chaos even when their instinctive and impulsive selves are being drawn out. So in preparation, warriors hone their body and mind since if they do not, they won’t live for long. 

A warrior’s training is designed to make them able to overcome fear and the natural survival instinct in the face of danger (against all physical and psychological signals for self preservation). Thus, by channeling a warrior’s dedication and self-mastery – we can also turn inward and face the things our psyche is afraid to deal with.

So it would appear that self knowledge and the acceptance of now, are key mental disciplines for a warrior . Historic texts record it use, for example among the first mentions of yoga as a warrior’s practice is in the Bhagavad Gita.

“Arise Arjuna, you are a warrior and your dharma (duty) is to fight for a righteous cause…Fight in the spirit of a yogi, your duty calls you.”

The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient warrior epic in which Arjuna is being instructed by Krishna to take the warrior code he lives by and slay the enemies inside of himself – to live a life of integrity and to fight for what is right.

The first recorded contact between yoga and western thought occurred during the times of Plato (428–348 BCE) and his disciple Aristotle (384–322 BCE). The Greeks had heard much about the Indian yogis, whom they called gymnosophists (naked philosophers) and greatly admired their depth of wisdom.

In 327 BCE Alexander the Great invaded a small portion of India, only to abandon it after two years and move back into Persia. Alexander the Great had learned a deep appreciation of philosophy from his teacher Aristotle as well as by Diogenes and was interested in learning from the yogis. The Greek historian Plutarch tells an interesting story from Alexander’s life that illustrates this interest in yoga.

During Alexander’s invasion of India, his army came upon some yogis sitting in meditation on the banks of the Indus River. Alexander’s column was trying to get through the path but the yogis wouldn’t move.

One of Alexander’s young officers tried to chase them out of the army’s path. When one of the yogis resisted, the officer started yelling at him. Suddenly, Alexander arrived. The officer pointed to Alexander and said to the yogi, “This man has conquered the world! What have you done?” The yogi calmly looked up and replied, “I have conquered the need to conquer the world.”

Upon hearing this, Alexander laughed with approval and admiration. “Could I be any man in the world other than myself,” he said, “I would be this man here.”

What Alexander was recognizing was that the yogi was also a warrior – but an internal warrior. He was so impressed with what he learned over the next few years that he took a few yogis home with him to Greece who became the first teachers of yoga in the West.

Yoga as a Warrior’s Physical Practice

Most of the yoga postures we practice today are a relatively recent creation. While many of the seated meditative postures did originate from ancient Indian texts dating back thousands of years, most of the asanas (poses) we practice today are heavily influenced by 19th and 20th-century Indian military and guerilla training.

In combining the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of yoga into a warrior’s practice, a clearer path begins to appear. In not only living by the warrior code but also turning it inward with integrity, we see a path of discipline and self-improvement to better serve our families and friends, our communities, and ourselves.

Credit is given to Chris Kiran  for is writing on the subject of Samurai warrior