The Honor of Our Ancestors, Part I (Repost)

(Repost- pictures will be added back in later)

[I know I’ve another series of posts to wrap up– but this subject is part of that, so I think I need to sort this out before I can wrap up the other series.] 

Two weeks ago, I took some time to go with my parents to visit my Grandmother up in Cape Cod. It had been over ten years since I’d last seen her—I was unable to attend the funeral of my Grandfather, so much had changed since I’d last seen her. But she’s around 90 years old, and I’ve been haunted by the feeling that as spry and stubborn as she is, I don’t have much time left to interact with her. So, I had to go, before things fall apart so completely that even the Cape is beyond my reach.


After Dad and I cleaned out her gutters in preparation for winter, we all drove to the mainland to visit Grandpa’s grave at the National Memorial Cemetery out in East MA. It’s funny—I don’t think I’ve ever been to a national cemetery before, even though I live so (relatively) close to Arlington. There he was, his plaque set in line with all his brothers in arms—they are buried as they die, so service branch and war are mixed—his WWII Army was next to a Korean War Marine on one side, and a Gulf War Airman on the other. I cannot recall names or ranks, as I felt it really none of my business.


As I stood back, eyes tracing over the graceful hills, the trees with their leaves murmuring softly in the sun-warmed breeze, I listened to Grandma tell my Mom and Dad about the bodies of three Union soldiers that had been found months before during excavations for a building project, who had been reburied “Just up there, at the top of that hill.” It was a strange feeling that came upon me, as though all the men and women buried here were simply sleeping, but still on duty, just . . . waiting, faithfully, for the Trumpet to rouse them from their naps. A fragment of something that I’d once read echoes ghost-like in my ears: “Rank upon rank of the honored dead. . . “ (No, I cannot recall what that’s from. Perhaps someone can remind me.)

It was a bit of at theme last week, since my reading material included (along with Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Archive and The Jennifer Morgue) Inazo Nitobe’s Bushido—the Soul of Japan, and Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings. (I am currently about halfway through Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure—The Way of the Samurai.) It was really the first of these that had the most impact—no doubt, in part because it was written in English for a western audience. Nitobe was a convert to Christianity, and had a great command of the English language. This book was written in 1899 as an introduction to the concept of Bushido to the west, and Nitobe does an excellent job of presenting and explaining the ideas and sentiments that birthed and nurtured the ideal. I’ll come back to this in a moment (ed. No, wait, well get back to him in a later post. Dang, you’re long-winded, girl).

One thing that I have thought for some time is that our society needs to recover honor. To be clear—I think most people, especially those who make their way to this part of the forest, already have a sense of honor, and live by it. The most respected institution in America is still the Military, because most American’s treasure that our Service branches are the one place that still teach and uphold honor– something that pretty much every other institution including, sadly, most churches, has abandoned. Society as a whole, outside the ranks, has clearly lost a lot where honor is concerned, as we would not be in the situation we are in at the moment if we had not. So, we must be able to articulate and promote the virtues, and why they are important. I do believe this is possible—and that it will be extremely difficult. But before we can recover honor, I think we need to have some concept of what exactly we’re trying to recover.

In my Confessio of several months ago, I mentioned that I came to an understanding of a point of Catholic teaching in part by a study of Shinobi-philosophy. Popular understanding of the Shinobi would believe that the Shinobi and Honor have no business being in the same essay, save as a point of contrast. This is due to a limited understanding of both– let me start with some Shinobi learnin’ for y’all, so I can introduce my theories regarding the subject.

In my humble estimation, the best resource alive today for information about the shinobi would be Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi-sensei– [While I acknowledge that some would dispute this, I have considered their arguments and found them unconvincing. This article is not the place for such discussion, but I did want to acknowledge that reasonable people might disagree]– and his students.  Due to a lifelong love of all things Ninja (looong before some guy named Kishimoto ever picked up his brush to write the Naruto manga, mind,

Yes. This is my desktop wallpaper, why? [ANBU Kakashi from the Manga/ anime Naruto.

though I am fond of it!), I ran across the writings of Hatsumi-sensei and his students on Amazon, and purchased some used copies (because I’m not cheap, I’m frugal) and started reading as something to fill the time. I wasn’t expecting secondhand books about ninja from totally unfamiliar sources to become key in my spiritual questing. God has a somewhat twisty sense of humor, one I appreciate more and more the longer I live.

One of the first of Hatsumi-sensei’s American students was Stephen K. Hayes. After studying for some time under Hatsumi-sensei, Mr. Hayes came back to America and started writing his Ninja series of books, introducing some of the historical reality of Ninja to Americans in a language they found easy to understand. In his first of this series, Ninja: Spirit of the Shadow Warrior (1980), I found the concept that, fitted together with some others I’d found, became that key that I’d been looking for. Allow me to quote from the final chapter of the book:

A working familiarity with the concept of in and yo balancing, referred to in Chapter One, is one direction from which we can approach the elimination of our limiting blinders. More commonly referred to as yin and yang in the popular media, this system of perception has encountered a widespread acceptance in recent decades. Unfortunately, like so many other abstract concepts that have been imported from the East and subsequently Westernized, the in-yo understanding has undergone substantial adjustments to allow it to fit with conventional Western beliefs. The system somehow seems to have been simplified and abridged to the point where it is a convenient analogy for explaining the supposed absolute opposites in the universe, the progression of all things and situations into something different, and the inevitability of good and bad reversing themselves. As handed down by generations of ninja, however, the concept has far more significance that a mere exotic label for the phenomenon of relativity.

It is taught that in the beginning, or actually before the beginning, there existed only a vast potential as a single thought or germinating cause. This concept is accepted by wide ranging belief systems, from Hinduism to “the way” of sage Lao Tzu’s Taoism, to “The Word” of God in Christianity and Judaism. Though we can attempt to imagine what this original, total, all-inclusive existence was like, it is virtually impossible in reality for humans in our present state of evolution to conceive of such limitless vastness. We cannot overcome the fact that we are observers outside of, and looking at , the concept of the all-inclusive totality.

From this first stage of single totality, or tai kyoku, emerged the existence of fundamental polarities. Lao Tzu writes of the oneness of the tao becoming the duality of yin and yang (in and yo in the Japanese language), and the Bible states that God created the heavens and the earth, or the first polarity. Regardless of the symbols used to describe this phenomena, this polarity is nothing solid or concrete, but rather the potential individualization of all things in the universe. In essence, this fundamental polarity is the sexual concept of male and female on a cosmic scale.

In is the darkness, femaleness, the quality of “going to” or negative polarity. In this sense, the word negative does not have a disparaging or condemning meaning; it is used to indicate that which draws, attracts, and stores, as in a negative electrical charge or (-) magnetic pole.

Yo is the light, maleness, the quality of “going from”, or positive polarity. These two qualities are said to have existed originally as potentialities alone. They became the fundamental separation of the oneness of the universe, which then permitted the further progression of pure energy into matter. The one became two, and the two then became the essence of electrical energy charges, which eventually permitted the formation of electrons and subsequent atomic structure.

Each contains the other in its heart

As described, this In-Yo concept is a common idea found throughout the world’s mystical traditions– it resonated with me, because I spent some time in college studying The Kaballah, which contains this idea as well. The In-Yo relationship is a duality that does not include the good-evil scale as such, but neither does it necessarily exclude such concepts. Certainly, one cannot say that either In or Yo is Good or Evil, but those of us who believe in the reality of Good and Evil might say that Good is a working, mutually respectful relationship between In and Yo, while Evil is the complete domination of either by the other– all In, or all Yo. For instance, Anarchy might be considered the In to Totalitarianism’s Yo. Both exclusive of the other are a hellish horror, but a fine balance of the two, of Rule of Law and Protection of Freedom, is pretty sweet.

This works too

In the Bible, God uses both In and Yo approaches to the Battle between Good and Evil. A large portion of the Old Testament portrays God as a very Yo personality– very outward, there’s a lot of plagues, and conquests, God doing this or that very clearly and powerfully. Sodom and Gomorrah pissed off God, He warns them, they ignore Him, and BAM! its over for both. This is because God’s relationship with Israel (and humanity as a whole) is very much Yo, with humans being the In in the relationship.

However, God’s way of dealing with Evil is more balanced, and He certainly doesn’t avoid In tactics. For instance, as a Christian, I would say that the most blatant use of In tactics in the Biblical battles between Good and Evil was: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Strategically speaking, this was a huge trap– something C.S. Lewis recognizes in

Aslan, laying down The Law

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Aslan defeats the White Witch by allowing her to kill him. When Susan and Lucy see The Lion after his resurrection, he details how his willing sacrifice to save others called upon the laws of the Deep Magic, that the witch had forgotten, thus effecting her defeat.

Jesus, Son of God, was born in a cave that housed animals. Not exactly sanitary or exalted conditions. His first bed was a feed trough padded with musty hay. His parents were as outwardly ordinary as could be found. Within a few weeks or months of birth, He was a refugee in a pagan land, one of maybe a few survivors of a massacre of those born in the same time period. The Magi certainly recognized who He was, but few others could. For the first three decades of His life, He was hidden in plain sight.

Clearly, Satan knew, however, that Jesus was a ticking time bomb, a depth charge waiting for ignition. Just before Jesus started His ministry, Satan tried to defuse Him by tempting Him away, only to fail. Satan later tried to influence apostles via their human weaknesses, and, growing desperate as Jesus’ influence keeps growing, was finally able to make inroads through Judas’ practical and world-bound concerns. Jesus knew this was coming, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, begged His Father to change The Plan– but, after all His pleading, still conceded “Thy will be done”, echoing the words of His mother to the angel Gabriel, and thus sealing what she [Mary] allowed to start. Certainly, there must be more temptation through the torture and humiliations that follow, but Jesus endures (interesting to note that both shino-bi and nin-ja both mean “one who endures”) to the end. The moment of His death, the Veil is torn, and the trap shuts. It is finished. The rest is just the ripples riding out the rest of time.

I tell you this in order to illustrate that there is nothing inherently evil or even dishonorable with the In approach. Would we say of God that He dishonored Himself by allowing His Son to be a sacrifice in a great, cosmic trap? Of course not– His actions are seen instead as the measure of His unfailing, unfathomable Love. Death and Sin are conquered not by strength of arms, but by willing Self-Sacrifice of the Divine. But it’s still a clever, sneaky Plan. So sneaky that many of God’s chosen people don’t recognise it– they were expecting (not unreasonably) a more Yo Messiah, riding in on a great steed, sword flashing, laying waste to their enemies. Indeed, many Christians still predict that the Second Coming of Christ will be exactly the Yo oriented manifestation the Jews have been awaiting for thousands of years.

While Bushido and Chivalry are the clear markers of the Yo in our societal understandings, the In is used by shinobi, spies, and Americans in the Revolutionary War. Yep, consider the time of the Revolutionary War: Wars up to that point had been mostly things where opposing forces lines up opposite each other in open fields. Words may have been exchanged, and then signals given, and then the projectiles started flying while the poor sods relegated to infantry marched forward, the cavalry coming behind.

However, during the Revolutionary War, the Americans were at such a disadvantage to the British that their tactics differed. While there were some of the traditional open-field battles, the Americans had a habit of hiding in the forest and ambushing the British. The Americans used Guerilla warfare tactics, seen by the British forces as horribly dishonorable. [I’ll confess a personal connection to those who used these tactics, as it seems that many times great-grandfathers Jacob and his father Felix Motsinger were known respectively as the Swift Legs and the Eyes of the Swamp Fox. Yeah, that Swamp Fox. I suppose the Slytherin truly is in my blood, lol.]

Heck, one of the most famed victories of that war was something that anyone would be hard pressed to call honorable: George Washington, crossing the Delaware on Christmas– ring a bell? Come on, that was sneaky and cynical and completely underhanded, and worked like a charm. But even so, George Washington is (rightly, IMO) considered a paragon of virtue and honor. Why?

Let us a take a small moment to consider Ecclesiasties 3:1-8

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Now, before you get ahead of me, let me stomp a potential train of thought before it gets started– I am not, in any way, endorsing any sort of moral relativism here. Moral relativism, as I see it, says that the “moral choice” differs depending on who is doing the choosing, the circumstances, whatever, you can’t judge nobody nohow blah blah blah. Moral relativism denies principles, says that it all depends on all the circumstances, and what’s right for you may not be right for me, and there are no absolutes. I’m writing here about trying to get down the the baseline, absolute principles– as I’ll show in posts to follow, Nitobe-san noted that the same sentiment in East and West can lead to almost opposing customs, as the sentiment is approached in two very different directions. These posts will be an attempt to get down to those baseline, absolute principles by examining the opposite approaches. This is not, to my mind relativism, as we’re finding those bed-rock principles that do not change, even though the way of following them may shift. Back to what I was saying . . .

So, George Washington is a paragon of virtue, even though one of his most memorable victories was, by the standards of the day, thoroughly dishonorable. How do we square that?

Laws of War, of course. Look, we say, if those d@mned Hessians are dumb enough to get all liquored up in one night, serves them right to get slaughtered in their sleep on Christmas. George had a War to salvage and an Infant-Country to save!

Think about that for a minute. Because we’re approaching the crux of the In-Yo relationship. Are we saying that, in George’s case, the ends (winning the war, or at least at that point, salvaging the war) justified the means (attacking at night, during what many in the West consider to be a Holy Day)?

To put it plainly, the In-Yo relationship (as regards honor, at least), spins around these two truths:

1) There are some things one should never do, some lines that should never be crossed


2) Everyone must have something that they will do anything for.

Think about it. These are both true, and often in conflict. You are a good, moral person. You believe in the rule of law. But say someone kidnaps your daughter to sell to some rich arab prince. The police are helpless but you know that if you break a few laws, you can track her down and rescue her. Do you abide by the law and wait for some hoped and prayed for break in the trafficking ring? Or do you lie, cheat, steal, break every law that stands in your way to rescue your little girl?

Of course, I can’t answer that for you. Which is more honorable, to abide by the law and allow your daughter to be taken into horror, or to do everything in your power, legal or not, to try to save her?

This is the same conundrum that drives the debates about torture. Some, like Glenn Beck, say that “We [America] don’t torture. We don’t stoop to that.” Fair enough, but how does that sense of propriety balance against hundreds, possibly thousands of innocent lives? Is honor served more by refraining from torture and possibly allowing innocents to die, or by getting one’s hands dirty to get that one tidbit of information that unlocks the plot and saves those lives? Again, each person must sort this out for themselves.

Of course, prayer is always part of the solution. But it is also said that God helps those who help themselves– that one must do one’s part in bringing about miracles.

To me, part of the way of resolving the dissonance is to recall the feminine-masculine aspects of this duality, and connect it to defensive-offensive postures. Just as flesh and bone are essential for a working human body, so too both In and Yo perspectives are essential for a working body of people. In and Yo both strengthen and constrain each other and, when in proper balance, give us George Washington. Or Jesus.

The Yo posture, all Bushido and Chivalry and very masculine, is appropriate to  expansive, offensive, and any outward action. US Troops on the ground in a foreign land rightly take the Yo approach because, no matter the reasons or provocations, they are in an offensive position.

However, the rearmost guard, the civilians, are not in an offensive posture. Should the American on the street of New York, or the aisle of an airplane, encounter Al Qaeda, the American will be in a defensive posture– an In posture– defending the plane, street, city, etc. In this posture, one would hope that the American do anything in his or her power to Stop the Fricking Bad Guy Stat! No tactic is considered out of bounds for the civilian confronted with the enemy at home. Hits below the belt are very much encouraged.

Hey, I know that rifle!

Should Ann Barnhardt ever be on a plane with some poor Jihadi scum, she will be lauded when she 1) splashes her cocktail in his eyes, 2)kicks him repeatedly in the groin, before 3)slamming his skull against an armrest until he passes out, to be then 4) bound hand and foot with her nylons, and she will be considered courageous and honorable, even though her tactics (attacking the eyes, kicking a dude in the groin, and “dressing” a guy is what might be considered a type of undergarment) might be considered dishonorable.

This is not about relativism as generally understood– this is about offence and defence, the laws of strength and weakness. Chivalry and Bushido, the Yo in this equation, serve to constrain the strong, to prevent the strong from abusing the weak. However, the laws of defense, of weakness, In, are the safety hatch when chivalry fails, when someone’s strength has forsaken honor.

When combatants fight, Yo is the rule of the day. However, when some combatants break the constraints of Yo, and attack non-combatants, such constraints no longer apply, and the non-combatants are free to use whatever means necessary to defend themselves.

Our military, being made of trained warriors, appropriately takes a Yo stance, and is grounded and constrained by the Yo concepts of Honor. However, for civilians, the In concepts of honor are most likely to activate, because if we confront an enemy, it means that the constraints of Yo have already been broken.

We Americans consider terrorist tactics, when used by Muslims, to be dishonorable and cowardly, because we see and understand their position to be one of aggression, of offence, not defense. However, should aggressive space aliens come and wipe out our most or all of our military, leaving us civilians ripe for the picking, would it not be appropriate for us to engage in similar tactics to defend our planet in any way possible? Independence Day, anyone?

This is getting long. I’ve a lot more to say on this subject. But I think I’ve sufficiently covered the difference between the Yo and In concepts of honor. This was an important first step, because when discussing honor, too many people only see and understand the Yo-side, but I wanted to make it clear that there is another side to honor, as illustrated in the examples above. Next, I’ll write on the 1960s, and how it seems to me these concepts of honor were lost. And then we’ll get back to Inazo Nitobe-san.

Please use the comments to help me clarify and refine my thoughts. Your commentary is very important to me. Thanks!

This entry was posted in Courage, God Bless America, Honor, Navel Gazing, Society, Understanding, Vice and Virtue by zmalfoy. Bookmark the permalink.

About zmalfoy

Z. Malfoy is a practicing Catholic-with-an-"interesting"-past. She earned her Bachelor's Degree in Music Education (Spec. Voice) from Loyola University New Orleans, and has since taken a few business courses to expand her knowledge base. In her free time, she studies belly-dance, alchemy, theology, and various skills related to self-sufficiency. She also enjoys reading science fiction, refreshing her French, and watching anime. She recently started with learning Krav Maga and Russian.