The Sword That Gives Life

The Sword That Gives Life

Posted by Matt Little on 24th Mar 2022

"is bias to think that the art of war is just for killing people. It is not to kill people, it is to kill evil. It is a strategem to give life to many people by killing the evil of one person." ~ Yagyu Munenori

“Katsujinken, Satsujinken.” Or in English, the sword that gives life or the sword that takes it away. This was one of the mottos of Munenori Yagyu, an accomplished and famous warrior of feudal Japan. The meaning behind this simple phrase has not lost its relevance in the centuries since Yagyu’s time.

The sword that takes life is force without morals. An oppressor, a brigand, a criminal, or a terrorist can each be skillful at violence. But without an ethical underpinning, force is just force, and can be used to achieve horrible ends. Indeed, violence has been used many times in history to commit atrocities and injustices. Man’s inhumanity to man is all too commonplace.

The sword that gives life however, is force used for the common good. Force that takes some lives to save many more. Make no mistake, violence is still violent. It’s ruthless and often ugly. But, just like the carnage caused by the surgeon’s scalpel, violence can be used for a positive purpose. This is different than the old trope “The ends justify the means.” That invariably leads even the well-intentioned down a very dark road.

The distinction between these two has not lessened in importance in the centuries since Yagyu and his samurai fought to reshape medieval Japan. Two decades of war have proven that. Good men should not shun necessary violence. But what they must always shun, if they wish to remain good men, is unnecessary cruelty and needless brutality.

Which sword do you want to wield? The sword that takes life? Or the sword that gives it?