What is a Ronin?

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A Ronin is not all that is portrayed in movies like, “Ronin” (United Artists 1998). Nor is it limited to the

18 century Japanese legend of the forty-seven Ronin. It, or they, is much more than that! The dictionary tells us that a ronin is a masterless samurai. As an archetype, the ronin is significantly broader. It is a universal image. Every era and every culture has seen the spirit of the ronin being born under different shapes and forms. The mountain man who ventures out into the wild alone to live as a hunter in the open lands of North America before the United States were formed. The knight whose sword does not obey the orders and commands of any king, but only those of his own heart. The freelance gunfighter that nobody can trust, but that everybody wants on their side. The contemporary computer hacker, the cowboy-ish computer expert that roams around the prairies and open range of cyberspace. Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was a ronin. Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo was a ronin. A nomadic warrior that doesn’t stop in any place long enough to form any foundation of ties. He offers his services to the highest bidder before once again disappearing onto another path of life. He is an anarchist adventurer at best and a mercenary at worse.

Frederick Nietzsche once wrote, “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” Redundant words for the ronin, since chaos is his natural station in life. He is not the kind of man that has the stability of a regular occupation and who vacations in the Hamptons with family. One can’t expect him to be on time with mortgage payments for a home. Maybe it is more accurate to say that he doesn’t even know what a home is. In his DNA are the genes of brilliance and those of the beast. The chaos of his spirit is the sun shining in his life as well as the curse that can destroy him.

At any time you can find him dead in an alley after fisticuffs with drunken outlaw bikers, but just as likely you could find him at the head of a major corporation. Chance plays dice with his destiny. One minute it appears that there is nothing contemptible enough that he wouldn’t do for the right sum of money. The next minute he is ready to give up his entire life’s fortune in the name of some dangerous idealistic enterprise. It is impossible to predict what his next move will be. The only certainty is that nobody ever gets bored staying around him.

The ronin is the meteor of the warrior tradition. He doesn’t have any specific history or elders, and was never schooled by anyone. Saying that he is independent is a mild euphemism. He created himself. He is a mushroom spore on earth that has fallen from outer space. He lives in the immediate world, in the midst of action and excitement, but he is more lonesome than the loneliest hermit afoot in the mountains. His heart doesn’t belong to anyone and he is far too weird for anybody to follow him. No rational person would follow him to dance on a tightrope strung between two cliffs.  But he doesn’t stop to be introspective, to ponder, and makes no plans. Without thoughts or fears the ronin dances just a step away from the abyss. 

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