Kannan Ganga




United Kingdom




Jan 2017 - Sep 2018

By Kannan Ganga

Oxford Saïd’s Samurai Spirit

5 months into the EMBA got me thinking about one of my heroes. Feudal Japan’s most famous Samurai warrior, Myamoto Mushashi.

Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵, c. 1584 – 1645) was an expert Japanese swordsman and rōnin. He, became renowned through stories of his unique double-bladed swordsmanship and undefeated record in his 60 life-or-death duels. His teachings on strategy, tactics, and philosophy are still studied today.

In feudal Japan, you needed to have direct bloodline in order to become a Samurai. Musashi was born in humble beginnings, not of samurai bloodline, yet he aspired to become a Samurai. He went on a long-road of discovery in order to establish himself as the most successful swordsman of all-time. How did he do this? Self-discovery, values and innovation.

Self Discovery
A rōnin (浪人, “drifter/wanderer” is a samurai without a lord or master during the feudal period (1185–1868) of Japan. In Musashi’s case he was never born into the Samurai class so he was not a samurai however through his deeds and achievements he was recognized as THE greatest samurai who we still discuss nearly 400 years later.

Samurai follow the code of the “bushido” Musashi learnt this on his journey of discovery.

The eight bushido virtues are:
Righteousness, Heroic Courage, Benevolence, Compassion, Respect, Integrity, Honour, Duty and Loyalty, Self-Control

Through Musashi’s application of the bushido code he was able to develop restraint, even in the face of extreme provocation. A philosophy that served him well throughout life.

Traditionally, Samurai carry two swords. A long Kitana, used for combat, and a short sword worn for decoration. On one occasion, where he had to escape and fight off his opponents and was forced to defend himself and draw his short sword. With a sword in each hand he used the second sword to see behind him developing a view peripheral 360° view. This was the beginning of his niten’ichi sword style which amplified his fighting prowess allowing him to fight multiple opponents simultaneously. Game changing. Musashi perfected this technique over time.

Now, dear reader, a legitimate query – why did I write about Musashi? Well, it’s clearly allegorical statement and partly a literary indulgence.

I am the son of immigrants to the UK from India. The first member of my family to attend University in the United Kingdom. Like Mushashi, I hope to shatter my limits, show strength and innovate. The values of Bushido apply to Oxford University’s spirit and teachings.

I realize now that the program – one that I have been lucky enough to be selected for – is the perfect catalyst for what I want to do for going forward. Every conversation at Oxford is potentially life changing, for you, the person you are talking to or someone else. Imagine that! How powerful would you be if you absorbed this learning and translate it to become your true self?

Find what you love and explore it to the fullest apply this in the World and see what happens, reflect, adjust and keep doing it. I believe, knowledge and the application of knowledge important in life. To tap into our true potential, without lying to yourself we have to train ourselves to place ourselves in alongside greatness.

If Oxford was a person she would be someone really special – everything about her is encourage you to develop you into an improved version of yourself. There is something about Oxford that makes her special: intuition, insight, charisma, she is her own person and brings you to honestly express yourself without fear. She is enchanting. I feel it within my being that inevitably Oxford will develop into a great love story in my life journey (and yours too hopefully!).

Live your values and develop mastery and if you are lucky enough, you shall encounter your alter ego. Just like I did. I am encouraging you to embrace your “Samurai” spirit – metaphorically speaking of course!

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  • Antonio Potenza

    There he is our Samurai Kannan San! May Mushashi’s benevolent spirit accompany you for ever! Nice text my dear friend.

  • Kannan Ganga

    Musashi also developed a deep appreciation for calligraphy, art, tea drinking, culture that made him a category all on his own. Almost a blend of Aristotle, Michaelangelo, Alexander the Great blend. Which is sort of what happens at Oxford through college dinners, interactions, invitations to the Ashmolean etc.