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Practical Lessons from Japan's Greatest Samurai

I made my girlfriend angry, and I couldn't be happier.

Now, this might seem like I'm a jerk.

And yes.

This can be true to an extent. But in this case, it could be justified.

Let me explain.

One night in 2017, my then-girlfriend was on her way to pick me up. And to kill some time, I decided to play an online FIFA match on my PS4.

The game commences.

A couple of minutes pass, and one of my players gets a red card. This was a poor start.

But I continue to play.

And with ten men (instead of the standard eleven), the game stays tied at 0-0.

It was a nail-biter.

My opponent and I were tactfully playing and seeing who would make the fatal mistake. I could feel my opponent's frustration because they couldn't score despite my handicap.

A minute was left in the match, and a draw was the most likely result. But with the last possession and a couple of passes, I score.

Game over!

I was elated. I felt like a soccer genius winning with ten men. And the fact that my opponent was angry on his side of the world made the victory even sweeter.

Amidst my jubilation, I see text messages from my girlfriend. They were from twenty minutes ago, telling me she was outside waiting.

I quickly hop into her car.

She asked me why I was late, thinking I was doing something important. I told her the cold truth: I was playing FIFA.

She was furious.

But I didn't care. Knowing that I won with ten men, I felt on top of the world.

Now you're wondering what's the lesson of this story.

Let me give you another cold truth: This story has nothing to teach.

But, the life of the great samurai, Hideyoshi, will teach you a few practical things for your life.

If you don't know who Hideyoshi is, I'll forgive you.

A few weeks ago, I didn't know who he was until I saw him mentioned casually in a book I read.

So like a nerd, I look him up and go down a rabbit hole. I found the book called The Life of Hideyoshi by Walter Denning over a century old and consumed it.

Long story short, Hideyoshi is the man to unify Japan after 200 years of civil strife. And he was no ordinary Japanese fellow. He was kicked out of school, joined a gang, and somehow worked for a warlord. Only to rise the ranks and be the man to have all of Japan under his control.

Reading about his life, I could see why he was successful.

And the funny part is that many of what made him successful are simple things we can apply in our lives. They are:

  • Not letting imperfections be an obstacle

  • Spending time thinking

  • Understanding human nature

With that long intro, let's get to the first part.

He didn't let his imperfections hold him back.

Hideyoshi was not a handsome man. In fact, he was straight-up ugly. Countless reports said he looked like a monkey.

And to make matters worse, his first wife divorced him because of his ugliness. Yet, despite all this, Hideyoshi did not let this get in his way. No matter the insults.

And you want to know why?

Because he knew his own value. He knew what he was capable of. And he wouldn't let something like his looks be why he won't achieve his goals.

This is a crucial lesson.

Because it can be so easy for us to get caught up in our imperfections. Where we think that if they were gone, life would be better. But the reality is we all have flaws. And our value is not in being perfect but in accepting ourselves completely.

We have our strengths just as much as our weaknesses, and we must look at ourselves thoroughly. And more often than not, our strengths outweigh our weaknesses. Hideyoshi knew this and lived by it. And he came to this conclusion with the time he spent thinking.

Spent time reflecting

As a teenager, Hideyoshi would go out for hours, and he annoyed his parents for not helping with chores. And when his step-father accosted him, thinking he was spending time lollygagging, Hideyoshi responded with an ancient saying:

'No true man ever allows the time to pass idly away.'

What he was trying to tell his family was that he was spending time reflecting. He was strategizing on how he would accomplish his ambitious goals.

Although it seemed foolish to his family, he proved them wrong after becoming a valuable asset to a warlord.

It would help if you spent more time reflecting on your goals and life.

Set aside time, either daily or weekly, to look at your progress. You will get an idea of whether what you are doing is beneficial.

A lot of mistakes are made because we don't reflect.

We don't notice our patterns. And trust me, we all have patterns in our behaviours. As a result, we repeat mistakes and think we suck when that is false.

We just have to take some time to reflect. And then, act on your discoveries, and you will surprise yourself with what you can do.

But reflecting on yourself isn't enough.

You have to understand human nature.

Understanding of human nature

I wrote an article on this a couple of weeks ago, so I won't go into too much detail here.

But Hideyoshi's intuitive understanding of human nature allowed him to foresee challenges and find ways to find long-lasting success.

By understanding people, he would get an accurate read on individuals and act accordingly. He did this with his overbearing warlord, enemies, and even allies.

One thing Hideyoshi understood that many people don't is that we can only achieve our goals in life with people. So we have to understand the people we deal with and fight against.

And like I said in my human nature article since we live and work with human beings, we need to understand human nature to achieve our goals. Otherwise, we'll bang our heads on the wall, wondering why people are getting in our way.

Some people will get in the way of the article and claim that Hideyoshi was a genius who could create crazy success.

Yes, it can be argued that.

Hideyoshi was no regular samurai. He was intelligent, and a lot of things came intuitively to him. But one thing I need to stress is that Hideyoshi knew his strengths and acted on them.

How many of us know our own strengths and act on them?

To be honest, it's very few. Because we're so baked in our weaknesses and thinking, we need to be perfect. And if I'm being brutally honest, if we spent more time taking action on our goals, we would be further than we anticipated.

And if this were the case, people would think we are geniuses.

You have to understand that your most incredible resource is you. And when you apply yourself, you will discover that you can accomplish much.

Hideyoshi was born into poverty and ugly.

Yet, he applied himself constantly, and he seized his opportunities. The same can happen to us, not in conquering a nation, but in our lives facing challenges.

Hideyoshi is human.

He had his strengths and weaknesses. But he knew how to take action and work with what he had.

And speaking of working with what he had, let me tell you a story that sums up Hideyoshi.

Hideyoshi gets imprisoned by his boss.

One day, Hideyoshi was sent on assignment with a colleague by his warlord. And due to a personal grudge against the colleague, Hideyoshi did not complete the task. As punishment, his warlord locked him in a castle, where he could not have contact with most of the outside world.

Hideyoshi took this time to get drunk, hunt, and have a good time.

This was shocking to his servants, wife, and friends. They thought he had gone mad. And they asked him to go back to his usual self. But he ignored them and continued on his merry way.

People were getting worried about him. And when reports came out to his fellow samurai, many were in disbelief, thinking Hideyoshi had gone mad.

However, one person figured out what Hideyoshi was doing.

This wise man explained that Hideyoshi knew his warlord had a short temper. And if there were reports of Hideyoshi being angry, this could stir up potential strife within the army. One siding with Hideyoshi and the other with his warlord. So to avoid this situation, Hideyoshi made it seem everything was fine.

By knowing his value, understanding human nature, and reflecting, Hideyoshi avoided a vast problem that few could have foreseen.

Now, by this part of the article, you might feel ready to live the life of samurai, but I do want to forewarn you.

Do not imitate Hideyoshi.

Sometimes when we read about famous and bold people, we want to emulate them. But this is a rookie mistake. Because we all are unique in our own ways, and we must respect and cultivate that.

Even the Japanese during Hideyoshi knew this.

Of course, they saw many great men in their time, yet they were all different. And there is a poem showing the uniqueness of three of the greatest samurais during Hideyoshi's time, where each line represents one of the three men:

I'll kill the cuckoo, if it won't sing (representing Nobunaga)

I'll try to make the cuckoo sing (representing Hideyoshi)

I'll wait till the cuckoo does sing (representing Ieyasu)

The poem briefly summarizes the meaning as following

Nobunaga used his headstrong ways to find success; Hideyoshi believed he could accomplish any goal through sheer will; Ieyasu used diplomacy to achieve his goals.

All three of these men left their mark on Japan.

Yet, they were all different in their approaches. And this had to do with following their strengths.

The same applies to you.

You can accomplish much, but you must trust yourself and your gifts. The sooner you apply yourself, the sooner you will realize your strengths and what you are capable of in life.

And one thing I am capable of is wrapping up this article.


  • We can learn three things from Hideyoshi: Not letting imperfections be an obstacle, Spending time thinking and Understanding human nature.

  • When you know your true value, you will not let your flaws hold you back from chasing your goals.

  • You need to set aside time to reflect to see your progress and discover solutions to your challenges.

  • Understanding human nature is crucial in working with people to achieve your goals.

  • Some will argue Hideyoshi was a genius. Even though this may be true, Hideyoshi knew his strengths and applied himself. Something we can all do.

  • A possible mistake is to try and emulate Hideyoshi. This is a poor strategy since we are all unique. We have to know our own strengths and cultivate them.

You are now a historian of Hideyoshi.

I highly recommend reading his biography, it has a lot of stories, and you can read the book for free on internet archives (an internet library).

You will be surprised by what you can learn from his life.

However, it won't be as surprising as when I won a FIFA match with ten men.

Until next time,


The Charismatic Nerd

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