Cycling to work every day I get a regular soaking. Decent waterproofs help. But there are days, when looking out of the kitchen window, I don’t fancy it much. A number of years ago in the book ‘Angry White Pyjamas’ I read a quote from the Hagakure – the Japanese Book of the Samurai. It advised stepping out from the eaves:
There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.
I was reminded of this, in the week, by Montaigne’s similar write-up on the Roman Legions:
Their military discipline was much ruder than ours, and accordingly produced much greater effects. The jeer that was given a Lacedaemonian soldier is marvellously pat to this purpose, who, in an expedition of war, was reproached for having been seen under the roof of a house: they were so inured to hardship that, let the weather be what it would, it was a shame to be seen under any other cover than the roof of heaven. We should not march our people very far at that rate.
I don’t mind being rained on, but I’ve often thought I’d last about five minutes on a proper Roman or Medieval battlefield. Some glum milling about before, and then probably a spirited moment of excessive unavoidable bravery early doors followed by a sharp death. That sounds about my fate. I can only assume my forebears were quick to procreate, as I don’t reckon we’d have lasted long.
But my other pet theory is we were scouts and messengers. Sharp eyed endurance runners with a precise tongue. Who knows. The Hagakure is admirably clear on the matter: ‘Bravery and cowardice are not things which can be conjectured in times of peace. They are in different categories.’
Some Hagakure quotes are positively Aristotelian, take:
‘Intelligence is nothing more than discussing things with others. Limitless wisdom comes of this.’
But like Aristotle, with his theories on biles and humours – and posture, character and beards – not everything in the Hagakure is to modern tastes. As ‘Angry White Pyjamas’ also highlighted:
When one departs for the front, he should carry rice in a bag. His underwear should be made from the skin of a badger. This way he will not have lice. In a long campaign, lice are troublesome.
I’ll step out from the eaves in GoreTex and Lycra, but I draw the line at the skin of a badger.