Updated: May 15
Since my wife is half-Japanese, that makes my stepson a quarter-Japanese. He, too, clings to this side of his heritage more than anything else that might reside in his blood. He loves that his ancestors were actual Samurai. He loves that his Japanese grandfather served as one of the few Japanese-Americans in World War II. Without reservation, he tells people he is Japanese with great pride. There are many things he doesn't like about himself—much like all of us—but there is nothing he dislikes about being of Asian descent.
When he was twelve years old, I sensed the Lord placing a question on my heart. "What are you going to do to help Jesse become a man?" The question struck me as odd, especially since I didn't view myself as much of a man yet. I was a twenty-seven year old stepfather with little frame of reference for raising kids, struggling with my own daddy issues. Regardless, I hunkered down and leaned into answering the question with the help of other godly men I respected.
I decided to use Jesse's love of Japan to guide my efforts, using Bushido (Way of the Warrior) as the foundation. In feudal Japan, Samurai "took hostage" young boys for warrior training when they were thirteen. The Samurai taught swordplay, archery, and the character traits of a warrior. Since field combat was inapplicable for a young man growing up in the suburbs, I focused on the character building aspect of the training for Jesse. Each month of 2012, starting in February, a different mentor took Jesse "hostage" for one of the Bushido virtues. The training ended in October with a sword ceremony when Jesse received a tanto (dagger) in recognition of completing his initial education. Below is a glimpse of what we did that year.
First Month, February 2012 - Honesty (makoto)
I paired Jesse with a military friend who taught him about honesty, truth, and discernment. They spent four weeks learning how to recognize truth, how to live in truth, and how to speak with honesty. He learned how to guard against deception, and overcome it with God's word.
Second Month, March 2012 - Honor (meiyo)
I mentored Jesse on how to be a person worthy of honor. We went through a couple of book studies as well as a month-long devotional about living honorably with godly motivations.
Third Month, April 2012 - Filial piety (kō)
Jesse's grandpa agreed to school him on the importance of learning from the past, specifically family. A Japanese cousin was gracious enough to lend us an entire binder of "Goka" family history (my wife's maiden name derived from Samurai). Jesse learned a deeper appreciation for where he came from as well as letting it shape him into the man he is today.
Fourth Month, May 2012 - Compassion (jin)
Truth and justice has to be balanced with compassion, so the most merciful man I knew at the time, Sam, took Jesse around Houston for various volunteer opportunities. He served at a homeless shelter and cleaned an older woman's home. He gained an appreciation for reaching out and being available for people going through a rough time.
Fifth Month, June 2012 - Loyalty (chūgi)
My friend, Guy, who was a talented carpenter, worked with Jesse to build a decorative wooden box. Jesse learned how not to give up when the project got difficult and to see it through to the end. Loyalty is more than being committed to people. It's also being committed to our word. That box later became Jesse's dagger display case, but he didn't know it at the time.
Sixth Month, July 2012 - Respect (rei)
Jesse learned respect from a peer mentor, Zack, who showed him how to work through the struggles of selfishness to reach a point of preferring other people. It was great to have someone close in age to show him that he was not the only person in the world striving to be a better person.
Seventh Month, August 2012 - Righteousness (gi)
This virtue in Bushido is defined as right action or integrity, so Jesse's mentor, Abe, used parachute cord bracelets to teach about the strength of a person's character. He showed Jesse that tests in life reveal how strong we are. If we fail the quality test, it doesn't mean we are bad people. We only have to return to the Lord and allow him access to keep working on us.
Eighth Month, September 2012 - Wisdom (chi)
Jesse once again paired off with his grandpa who taught him the value of applied knowledge—both practical and spiritual. He walked Jesse through the life of Solomon who desired wisdom above all else. Through Solomon's successes and pitfalls, he learned the value of maintaining wisdom as a priority in life, lest he repeat some of the king's similar moral failures.
Ninth Month, October 2012 - Courage (yū)
I trained Jesse a second time in his last month of training with a final mission. At his sword ceremony, he'd have to give a speech in order to overcome his fear of public speaking. He didn't want to do it, but courage is seldom the absence of fear. It is doing the right thing even when we are afraid. He delivered his speech and obtained his dagger with pride.
So, why did I go through so much effort to answer God's question?
It's simple. God deserved my best and Jesse deserved my best. It was as much training for my son as it was for me. We both grew as men during that time. And that was only the start of our journey into manhood together.
Jesse received his short sword (wakizashi) on his seventeenth birthday once he completed a year of challenges. He got his long sword (katana) after he graduated high school. Only a Samurai could carry all three swords together. Anyone not a Samurai carrying the three swords was considered a traitor, and the lords put him to death.
The idea of the three swords meant that Jesse earned his manhood. It wasn't given to him, nor was it a birthright because of anatomy. None of us become godly men without intentionally going after it, and he went after it with everything he had. It doesn't mean he didn't make mistakes along the way, or that everything is now perfect. But it means he's equipped to handle life's struggles, and can take responsibility for his life regardless of the circumstances. It means he's not a victim of his past. He decides his own future.
So, what is the way of the warrior? It's walking in wisdom, integrity, and honor. It's fighting for others who can't fight for themselves. It's doing the hard thing when it would be easier to cower in fear. It's being a child of God, identifying with the character of Christ rather than our own.