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The Last Gathering of Hidden Leaves or The Hagakure: My Summation


Let’s cut to the chase shall we?

Recently a friend pointed out that the way I was approaching The Hagakure was akin to me writing a book report. She thought I should read it and then give my thoughts on the book and what I took away from reading it. At first I scoffed. “I have to do this my way” was my response. I had been reading The Hagakure a few chapters at a time and digesting them mentally and then spitting out what I read in a simplified format.  My way of reading and summarizing was actually hindering my own progress in reading the book itself, as I began to see it as a chore. Then, suddenly, I woke up one Saturday morning at 5 to go to the bathroom and found myself wide awake with nothing to do and there it was, staring at me. By 7AM I had finished The Hagakure and began making a few notes here and there. I began going over in my head what I wanted to say so I could close the book, both literally and figuratively, on The Hagakure. I have struggled with this book. It is not light reading and not a book to be be taken up on a whim. It is serious in terms of what it is trying to get across, even if much of what is in it is brief parabolic anecdotes. Yamamoto Tsunetomo is great at telling small stories that illustrate how a retainer should act and live but as a teacher, he falls somewhat short. It is all well and good to tell story after story but Tsunetomo expects everyone reading to be able to relate at how each little parable he throws out relates to Bushido. The problem is Bushido is as much a personal thing as it is an actual formal code of honor and behavior. It is up to the practitioner to determine how he interprets Bushido. Thus The Hagakure is Tsunetomo’s interpretation and his alone.

Yes, there are the tenets of Bushido1 but how Tsunetomo sees something like Benevolence or Honour isn’t necessarily a Universal Truth on those tenets.
The Hagakure is by no means the textbook on how to be a Samurai or even a good vassal. It just represents one man’s ideal representation of the subject. Tsunetomo served one Lord his whole professional life and when his Lord died Tsunetomo chose retirement over serving that Lord’s successor. Thus Tsunetomo concept of Bushido was served in his mind and his mind alone. The fact that Tsunetomo chose to write about his views, and in so doing chastise those whose behavior he didn’t agree with, clearly demonstrates his passion in his way of thinking but it does not represent how all Vassals viewed their relationship with their Lord. It is just one man’s opinion. It doesn’t mean he was the only one that thought this way but it doesn’t mean that everyone else thought that as well.

The Hagakure
is NOT the be all, end all “How To” manual on being a Samurai/Retainer. It is a personal philosophy on the subject, that’s all and nothing else. In some respect, Tsunetomo has a form of tunnel vision in trying to hammer his stories home to illustrate his philosophy. Some are more successful than others. Some are even less so. The Hagakure didn’t exactly set the world on fire after Tsunetomo’s death. That isn’t to say it wasn’t studied, it just wasn’t as revered. It was elevated as a text during the Imperial Era (1868-1945) after both The Edo Period (The Tokugawa Shogunate) and The Meiji Restoration ended. That means it rose to prominence with the industrialization and military rise of Japan. One can read into that if they wish, but I think it may speak volumes. Volumes, on how after over 250 years2 of the Samurai class being transformed from a warrior caste to an administrative caste, that the newly industrialized nation of Japan began looking at The Hagakure differently and how the Imperial Army used it as a tool to transform a subdued populace into a military machine for close to 80 years. Of course that’s just one way of looking at it but it makes a certain degree of sense. I’m not saying that The Hagakure was responsible for the bombing of Pearl Harbor or any such thing, but I can see how making every man that joined the Imperial Army read The Hagakure can make understanding the concept of Filial Piety in regards to military command structure3 appealing to a people whose stock in the world was on the rise.

The question is: What did I take away from reading
The Hagakure?

That is a question without an easy answer. I get what Tsunetomo was writing about. I understand his point of view. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says because he has a very rigid concept of the Lord/Vassal relationship. He comes across as inflexible and not open to new ideas. Tsunetomo was living in at the beginning of the Edo period, when the old Samurai ways, those of the warrior, were being transformed. The Tokugawa Shogunate was taking power away from the feudal warlords to create a more stable and centralized government. Tsunetomo, based on my reading of
The Hagakure, comes off as something of a relic in terms of how the social order was changing. This despite the fact he was born 59 years after the Battle of Sekigahara4, thus demonstrating that despite the changing times he was really was born in the wrong era of Japan. He was a Sengoku Samurai born into the Tokugawa Shogunate. The thing is, the respect I get for Tsunetomo from reading his treatise on being a Vassal to a Lord is immense. He was dedicated fully to his cause. One service to One Lord. Read up on the time before the Shogunate, there was so much political maneuvering and betrayal that for Tsunetomo to remain loyal to serving one man almost seems like a radical concept after Tokugawa Ieyasu took power.

I think what I take from
The Hagakure and Tsunetomo as a person is that being Loyal is its own reward. Loyalty not just to a Lord but Loyalty to yourself and your ideals. Tsunetomo didn’t just spout platitudes about Loyalty. He lived, ate and breathed Loyalty. In my own life I strive to be loyal to my Friends, My Family and myself. It isn’t as easy as you might think, especially when one is as plagued by so much self-doubt and crisis of consciences as I am. But I look at Tsunetomo and I hold him up as a paragon of the Virtue of Loyalty. I want to strive to as Loyal as he was in all facets of my being. The difference between us lies in the fact Tsunetomo’s Loyalty would never allow him to openly disagree with his Lord. I do not have Tsunetomo’s self-control, his discipline and his unwavering will to master the tenets of Bushido. What I can do though, is use the Tsunetomo model of Loyalty and hold it as an Ideal. I can use his Loyalty as a metaphorical window so I can gaze at the other tenets and hopefully gain a better understanding of them, of life and of myself.

This is what I have taken away from
The Hagakure. Again, what works for Tsunetomo as a code of living is not something that might work for me but I’ve walked away from reading the book in question understanding the man who wrote it a little better and in turn might even understand myself better in the long run.


1 Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Honesty, Honour and Loyalty

2 265 Years actually from Edo Period – Imperial Period

3 I make it sound like The Hagakure is some sort of brainwashing manual but that isn’t my intent.

4 Oh for… Wikipedia is right there people! It can be an actual reliable tool! Otherwise open a damn book!

Continuing To Comprehend The Hidden Leaves or Trying To Understand The Hagakure Part 3


I have been confused by the title of Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s treatise on what makes a Samurai thus far. Why did Tsunetomo’s book translate to The Hidden Leaves?It is something that has confounded me since I began reading it. The only example of “Hidden Knowledge” comes from Chapter 2 and that might actually only be supposition on my part1. Chapter 3 & 4 however, introduce the reader to what I think might be the best example of a “Hidden Leaf” of knowledge as Tsunetomo introduces us to rgoup mentality of Edo Period Japanese society.

When reading Chapters 3 and 4 of The Hagakure: The Book of Samurai, one is bound to be confused by the sheer brevity of both chapters. It’s like when you read something by Douglas Adams and after reading a chapter of 20 pages the next chapter ends up being a simple sentence that is nothing more than a flight announcement. When you begin reading Chapter 3, you have already made your way through 42 pages2 of what is essentially a dissertation of what it means to be a Samurai. Yamamoto Tsunetomo has inundated you with his beliefs of what makes the “best” Samurai and bombarded you with parables to get his point across. One of the themes Tsunetomo keeps coming back to is the decline the “Modern” Samurai during the Tokugawa Shogunate/Edo Period. He never comes out and says the Samurai of the Edo Period are weak but he does imply it strongly. Chapter 3 is used to illustrate not just the decline of the Samurai but to strongly imply that, perhaps, the era of the Samurai is coming to a close… or is it?

Chapter 3

Tsunetomo uses 3 quotes of “Lord Naoshige” and that man’s reflection on what the Japanese concept of giri. Giri is the Japanese term for duty, more specifically duty through self-sacrifice. It has long been a cornerstone of Japanese society that one does things for the betterment of whole than for the benefit of just the individual. This philosophy is at the very core of giri. Lord Naoshige makes a reflection that one can havea family member die yet shed no tears but then ca nturn around and reflect on a person that he has no connection to that may have lived hundreds of years ago and grasp what that person sacrificed for the betterment of everyone and she many tears. Self-sacrifice or giri, is a theme that Tsunetomo continues to drive home to demonstrate what it means to be in service as a vassal. No matter if a Samurai disagrees with his Lord, he must carry out the orders asked of him because being a vassal isn’t about your own personal glory. It is about your ability to serve your Lord and in turn serve the group under the Lord’s protection.

Tsunetomo then relates a tale of Naoshige being told of an elderly man of 90 that lived nearby where Naoshige had been travelling. Naoshige’s retainers mentioned the old man and said he should visit him to commend him on living so long. Rather than seeing living long as some great accomplishment, Naoshige saw the man’s very existence as somewhat wretched because the old man had probably outlived everyone he loved or mattered to him. Naoshige had no connection to the man and felt there really was no sense of giri just because the man was old. In fact, Naoshige seemed to view the concept of the man as serving no purpose having lived so long. Rewarding a man that is decrepit just for having lived isn’t enough of an accomplishment because it doesn’t serve Naoshige any good and therefore does even less for the group under his protection. It may seem cruel to say it but Naoshige, according to Tsunetomo’s view of “The Way”, committed no breach of conduct by not seeing the man and thus is justified in not paying the 90 old man a visit. At times giri may seem cruel but never is giri fickle.

The last example of Lord Naoshige is a reflection on unnecessary struggle. Using the example of how time is wasted by trying to preserve a family, Tsunetomo makes Lord Naoshige’s reflection o nthe matter relate to giri. By trying to stop the march of time and struggling against the decline of one’s family and personal fortune, one may actually accelerate the the decline by not giving in to the natural way of things. In fact, one might preserve his own line/family by focusing n his service to the bigger group (i.e. society) more. After all, what good is it to only preserve only your good fortune if it isn’t benefiting everyone? These are three examples that Tsunetomo use from one man to illustrate the role of giri in “The Way”. The chapter is a mere 3 paragraphs long and probably the best example of using parable as tool to teach by Tsunetomo yet in The Hagakure.

I feel as if the last parable of Lord Naoshige is somewhat subtle, even subliminal. As if Tsunetomo is saying that those “Modern” Samurai are fighting against their caste’s fall from grace, when they should just let it happen and by doing so they might be able to restore the caste of Samurai to its previous greatness. Tsunetomo would rater the Samurai as they were in the Edo Period fall so that the strongest and true Samurai would rise again to serve in the capacity they were meant to originally. It just feels like a subversive call to arms using the words of Lord Naoshige.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 of The Hagakure is only slightly longer than Chapter 3. In fact it is double the amount of paragraphs3 . Not that length is the issue here because Tsunetomo did more with 3 paragraphs to get his point across in chapter 3 than he did in the 42 previous pages about the role of The Samurai and “The Way”. The amazing thing is, Tsunetomo still manages to talk about 2 topics concisely. Fiirst he uses 3 different parables to demonstrate that while a Samurai should always fervently serve his Lord, thee are just simply times that restraint, mercy and courtesy must show themselves.

First is the tale of Nabeshima Tadanao, who at 15 pointed out that a sentence of death for a kitchen worker who killed a solider in self-defense. Tadanao made note that punishment did not fit the crime and that the kitchen worker deserved a lighter sentence of confinement (i.e. jail time). Tadanao, at 15, demonstrated the virtues of Mercy and Restraint despite the fact that the kitchen worker killed a man above him in station4. Justice is still served by having the charge brought down from Murder to Manslaughter via self-defense. The kitchen worker was defending himself from being beaten and by showing mercy and restraint in the sentence Tadanao’s clan elders showed that the law, even in a caste system, must be just for all depending on circumstance.

Next we are relayed the tale of a time Lord Katsuhige was hunting and had seemingly killed a a very large boar with one shot. When everyone went to examine the creature, it sprung u pand started running wild. Luckily Nabeshima Matabe was there and struck the boar down. Matae could have used that moment to gloat about his prowess and by doing so bringing shame on his comrades in how slow to react they were. Instead, Matabe decided to comment on the amount of dust the rampaging boar had kicked up. This allowed Matabe’s comrades to save face and showed courtesy not only to them but to his Lord as well, for Lord Katsuhige had not felled the beast with one shot as he had previously thought. Matabe’s example is a call back to Chapters 1 & 2, where Tsunetomo reminds us that a Samurai must serve his lord, remain humble and always display courtesy to his Lord and to others. Matabe also displayed restraint by not playing the braggard and realizing that doing so served no one but himself. He actually exhibited a sense og giri by not drawing attention to what he did, because humiliating everyone does not serve those around you.

The final parable involves the son of Lord Naoshige from Chapter3, Lord Katsuhige. Naoshige instructed his son to train his cutting skills with a sword by executing men that were already sentenced to death. So, Katsuhige took 10 condemned men to the gates of the city and began executing them via decapitation. He killed 9 of the condemned men, skillfully skillfully removing their heads. When he came to the 10 man, Katsuhige stopped. He saw that the tenth man was young and healthy and, if spared, would useful to the community. Lord Katsuhige displayed mercy by sparing the man, Restraint in seeing that killing all but one better served everyone since the condemned man could still be of goood use to everyone and Courtesy was displayed by sparing the man’s life and giving him back to society in hopes of putting his life to use. Katsushige displayed a sense of giri while putting forth all 3 virtues in the action of sparing the man.

The last 3 paragraphs of Chapter 4 are spent discussing Lord Katsuhige’s belief that there are 4 types of man. The Quick Then Lagging Man, The Lagging Then Quick Man, The Perpetually Quick Man and then The Always Lagging Man. The Perpetually Quick Man is always given a task and then that task executed without hesitation. The Lagging then Quick man is just as reliable but he takes time to plan how he will execute e order and then once that is done executes the order swiftly. The Quick Then Lagging Man will leave to do his task right away but then dawdles and procrastinates in the tasks final excution. Lastly there is the Constantly Lagging Man, one who never does anything. Based on what Tsunetomo has already written in the 3 previous chapters, one would think the ideal Samurai is the Lagging Then Quick Man, for Samurai should always serve his Lord but should also plan how to execute the order so as not to put himself or others in to much risk. The Lagging Then Quick Man also best displays a sense of giri because while the Always Quick Man is good, he is more prone to rush into something headfirst and make mistakes, possibly even getting himself killed. Then what good is that man in the end? The Samurai knows when to act right away but also knows that fweer things go wrong with careful planning.

So Chapter 3 of The Hagakure introduces us to giri and its importance, not only to the Samurai but to those around the Samurai. Everyone has their place within Japanese Feudal System. People perform their functions within that system for the greater good of society and thus fulfill their part in performing giri. Chapter 4 then cites 3 examples of fulfilling giri and then presents the 4 types of man and which of these men best represents fulfilling the concept of giri as it pertains to the Lord/Vassal relationship of a Samurai. Altogether, 2 chapters, 2 pages in total and one important concept on display through the eyes of Tsunetomo. The deeper I get into The Hagakure, the more it seems to be a a rather subversive book calling for a somewhat Darwinian cleansing of the Samurai caste. Either that or Tsunetomo is just telling the young Samurai to get the hell off his lawn.

Next Time: The Hagakure Chapters 5 & 6


1Remember, I’m assuming there is a Sempai/Kohai relationship between Tsunetomo and Tsuramoto. There is no PROOF of one.

2At least in the edition I have. In the obviously unspell-checked and poorly edited version I have that is.

3Whopping 6 paragraphs! Combine that with the 3 paragraphs from before and chapters 3 & 4 make 2 full pages!

4Remeber, its a society based on a Caste System in Edo Period Japan.

Continuing To Comprehend The Hidden Leaves or Trying To Understand The Hagakure Part 2


Yamamoto Tsunetomo was born Jun 11 1659. He served as a retainer to Mitsuhige Nabeshima for thirty of years of his adult life. When Mistuhige died in 1700, Yamamoto refused the standard practice for most Samurai retainers to commit Junshi1 mainly because Mitsuhige was vehemently opposed to the practice2. Yamamoto Tsunetomo opted to not continue his service to Mitsuhige’s son and instead retired to a hermitage for the last 19 years of his life. It was during this period (1709-1716) that he began ruminating about his thoughts and beliefs on Bushido to Tsuramoto Tashiro, who wrote them down, resulting in The Hagakure: Book of The Samurai. The Hagakure is pretty much Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s legacy to the world, as it gives a guideline for life as Samurai and also provides something of a literary snapshot of the slowly decaying caste system of Feudal Japan.

Chapter 2

Tsunetomo lived during the Edo period during the Tokugawa Shogunate. In his lifetime 5 men held the seat of Shogun during what was mainly a peaceful time for the still newly united Japan. While there were still problems among feuding clans, these resulted in far political struggles than outright military ones. The Shogunate ruled the day and with most of the old clans kept in check via political strong-arming3. The first chapter Tsunetomo makes a point of calling the modern Samurai out as being nothing more than glorified dandies. With lack of actual warfare to be waged the soul of the Samurai seemed to be, in Tsunetomo’s view, to be dwindling away.

The second chapter talks at length about what qualities a Samurai should posses both in terms of physical ability and mental prowess. Tsunetomo points, once again, to servitude and stewardship to one’s Lord as the primary focus of a Samurai’s existence. It is after one has committed fully to that can he move on to perfecting himself physically, mentally and spiritually. In Chapter one Tsunetomo talks of the importance of how important grooming, exercise and dedication to martial skills are a must for the Samuri. The second chapter focuses on the three disciplines that form the psyche of the Samurai: Intelligence, Humanity and Courage. According Tsunetomo, intelligence is bred through spirited discourse with others. It is through discussion that one acquires a firmer grip on his Intelligence and the Intelligence of those around himself and, in turn, forms the basis of “limitless wisdom”. Humanity is bred by doing things not for one’s own sake (or not even, necessarily just for the sake of one’s Lord) but doing things for the sake of others. If I understand Tsunetomo correctly, this is a simpler way of saying do things that benefit everyone and if not everyone then at least see that you try to make your world you live in a better place. The last part of this trifecta is Courage. Tsunetomo  oversimplifies Courage as gritting your teeth and pushing ahead, regardless of the circumstances.

Honestly, I grasp the first parts (Intelligence and Humanity) very well by my reckoning but it is the Courage aspect that seems over simplified to me, as it seems there has to be more to it than that. Courage usually has something to do with holding true to one’s principles because its your principles that are the cornerstone of who you are from a moral standpoint. Yet Tsunetomo makes no connection between morality and principle in the second chapter. By his own reckoning, the building of Intelligence leads to the formation of one’s sense of Humanity and then in turn the Humanity breeds Courage. One flows into the other like stream that flows int oa river that feeds into a lake. But if Courage is the greater lake in this aqueous metaphor I have made then Tsunetomo fails to properly expand on what exactly Courage is.

What Tsunetomo is mapping out is what a “Perfect” Samurai should be. The “Perfect” Samurai has the unwavering concept of Fealty and Loyalty with the physical foundation and grooming for Samurai that is laid out in chapter one. This is then combined with the Mental and Spiritual cornerstone of of the Samurai’s psyche in Chapter 2. Using this example of the ideal Samurai leads to one of the more interesting parts of this second chapter as Tsuramoto Tashiro takes a break from being Tsunetomo’s stenographer to actually question a comment the later man makes regarding how the “modern” Samurai was far less “Rowdy” than his predecessors. Tsuratomo doubts this as the case and Tsunetomo replies by saying that the old Samurai were for more rowdy because they had a stronger “Vitality”. They were rougher men, living in rougher times. Yet Tsunetomo points out that though the Vitality of the Samurai has dropped the “Character” of men has improved. Without coming right out and saying it, Tsunetomo is saying that civilization as made man, as a whole, less barbaric and this is to the benefit of all.

This is where I find Tsunetomo has just contradicted himself, as far as I can tell. He has just spent the last 2 chapters bashing the Samurai of his time period for being nothing more than a bunch of Japanese Jollyjacks but then he turns around and says they are better than the rougher, cruder, meaner Samurai of days gone by. The philosophy of what a Samurai should be all makes sense. He Physical, Mental and Spiritual must all come together as one to forge someone who is simultaneously a student and master of “The Way”. Yet, after saying the “modern” Samurai care only for wealth, Earthly possessions and luxury, he then turns around and says they superior simply because they are civilized. How Tsurmoto Tashiro sat there and didn’t say “Wait a minute Tsunetomo, you’re kind of full of it” amazes me. Ah, but there in lies the beauty of this chapter. It is Because Tsuramoto accepts Tsunemoto’s response after first questioning him that Tsunetomo’s point about being a good vassal who is about being dedicated to fealty and servitude that the older man’s point is validated. We don’t know the true nature of Tsunemoto and Tsuramoto’s relationship, but is it to much to assume that there was a Master/Student sort of respect between them? Is it even possible Tsuramoto may have seen Tsunemoto as a Lord whose judgement on the subject of Bushido should not be questioned.

Sadly I don’t have those answers. The only ones who are Tsunetomo and Tsuramoto and both men are long dead. I’d like to think that Tsunetomo was testing Tsuramoto. That presenting the “Civilized Samurai” of the “present” as superior to the “Rowdy Samurai” of the past was Tsunetomo baiting the younger man into challenge his instruction on what “The Way” really is and means. I’d like to think Tsunoetomo saw, that after initially challenging his authority, Tsuratomo sat back down and knew his place in their relationship. I’d also like to think that Tsunetomo smile and nodded, realizing that Tsuramoto got the point.

Next Time: Chapters 3 & 4 , plus some background on The 47 Ronin

1Junshi was the practice of a retainer committing ritual suicide in order to follow his lord in to death. This is different than Seppuku, a form of ritual suicide which deals with savign face for any number of reasons.

2Junshi was actually outlawed by Imperial Decree in 646 AD but the practice continued, unchecked, for centuries.

3The practice of keep political hostages as “Guests” in the Inperial Court was not a new practice by any means.

Comprehending The Hidden Leaves or Trying To Understand The Hagakure Part 1


My reading habits have, in the past, always leaned towards fiction or at least something with a defined narrative. Text books that do not offer narrative have the nasty habit of frustrating me or, worse, putting me to sleep. Even bad fiction will occupy my brain enough to finish it. So with this having been stated, trying to get through Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s The Hagakure: The Book of Samurai has been very much a challenge for me. It’s very much a manual on how the Samurai of Japan’s Saga domain lived their lives during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, or more aptly, how Tsunetomo believed they should live their lives.

The Hagakure is both an instruction manual and philosophical diatribe on Bushido (or as Tsunetomo refers to it, simply as “The Way”). Tsunetomo is kind of an interesting figure, especially since his approach to being a Samurai addresses such things as fealty, piety and death. More importantly it it also gives a small view of how the role of the Samurai was changing in feudal Japanese society and how, according to Tsunetomo, the Samurai were is a state of falling from grace due to warrior caste not adhering to “The Way”. Of course it is one man’s view on things. He is very critical of how the Samurai of the time were more focused on worldly possessions, trying to actively rise above their station in life and cheating death. Its interesting that Tsunetomo wasn’t more widely read until the first half of the 20th Century. Until then The Hagakure was not exactly a studied text, but came to prominence with the rise of Japanese Militarism under Hideki Tojo. I’m not saying Tojo and Tsunetomo shared similar beliefs but almost 70 years after Tojo’s death people are studying The Hagakure more than everin the close to 300 years since Tsunetomo passing at the age of 60 in 1719.

Chapter 1

Tsunetomo believed in the Samurai as a humble servant, whose role is to live for his Lord. Such things should reflect in a Samurai’s conduct, speech and manner of appearance. The Hagakure does address how a vassal should groom himself to reflect not just himself but his lord as well. The grooming aspect isn’t a vanity issue, as one might think, but more a matter of self-respect and respect for those around you. Tsunetomo’s argument is that one can be well groomed but flashy, in fact the simple dress with a well maintained appearance is preferable for a Samurai because a Samurai should not be concerned with personal wealth and material things in the first place because they only detract from the Samurai’s true purpose which is to serve. Humility in action and humility in appearance are addressed in such a manner. Tsunetomo took issue with Samurai of his period by saying they focused to much on carousing and amterial gain. While he doesn’t call them dandies outright, the notion is definitely implied and Tsunetomo’s frustration with those Samurai of the time period is very frustrating to him.

He also believed that one should never be complacent in what skills they possessed, that only through constant honing of one’s skills does one improve and only by improving does one grow. The example of Master Itteri’s Quote of “Even a poor penman will become substantial in the art of calligraphy if he studies and puts forth a good model”. Similiar short tales and parables are used to furtehr drive this point home, including the story of the dying spearmaster and his lone disciple. Tsunemoto is making a point here about the young Samurai of his time were not looking to the more distinguished, elder Samurai as role models by which to follow. Only by watching, learning, listening and following the elder Samurai could the younger Samurai shake off what Tsunetomo saw as their lazy, materialistic and vain downward spiral.

Tsunetomo also believed that conduct of a Samurai should be one of calm when dealing in all matters. Not necessarily to show a lack of emotion but rather to know what the proper time is to use very specific emotions. He is careful to point out that “calm” does not mean “lax”. The point being, one should be calm because calm allows the mind to be focused, whereas petty emotions like anger will always distract the mind and prevent execution of tasks to be done properly. Being lax is not being calm, the point Tsunetomo makes is that a lax mind is, in fact, easily distracted and more likely to succumb to being tricked or distracted. Better to be calm and focused, that way fewer misrtakes, if any are to be made.

Final Thoughts On The First Chapter:

Tsunetomo is good at illustrating what he viewed were the main problems with the young Samurai of his time period . The only problem is his writing style is kind of wandering. Trains of thought seem to start, wander to a different topic and then come back to the previous one every few pages or so. This is were my reading of the text is hard for me. Yes, he ends up tying each topic together but more than once I had to go back a few paragraphs (or even a few pages) to remember what he was relating his parables to. The edition I’m reading is also doubly frustrating for the large number of grammatical and spelling errors I kept coming across. My own penchant for typos and issues of tense, coupled with my own dyslexia, made it very hard to get through this. Still one could argue that perhaps Tsunetomo was rambling to Tsumaro Tashiro, the man who transcribed Tsunetomo’s thoughts during Tsunetomo’s retirement from service.

Tsunetomo also has the issue of making a point once with one example and then drives the same point home with 2 or more similar tales or parables that make the exact same point. I sense a kind of pattern wit hthis hough, as he seems to make a point an example from the military/marital side of things and then makes the point again with a non-martial example. The quote from master Ittei and the story of the Spearmaster and his disciple are the same point, just taken from different walks of life. Maybe I’m simply rebutting my own problem in trying to read The Hagakure, in that it is a manual and philosophical text telling a Samurai how he should act and then explaining why the Samurai NEEDS to act that way for the non-Samurai to comprehend?

Either way, I get the feeling the first chapter of The Hagakure is just doing what any book does, give a starting point for what is to come. Tsunetomo touches on his issues with the historical events of the 47 Ronin but doesn’t go in to great detail as to why. I’m hoping in later chapters he tackles it more in depth. Sure he he gives a reason for his dislike of the Ronins’ actions in a short paragraph, but I want more explanation as to why he feels the way he does about it. Either way, onward to Chapter 2!

Next Time: Chapter 2 & Some Background On Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Reds or Of Love & Revolution

"When you separate a man from what he loves the most, what you do is purge what's unique in him, and when you purge what's unique in him, you purge dissent, and when you purge dissent, you kill the revolution and revolution IS dissent!"

“When you separate a man from what he loves the most, what you do is purge what’s unique in him, and when you purge what’s unique in him, you purge dissent, and when you purge dissent, you kill the revolution and revolution IS dissent!”

When Reds was released in 1981 I was 9 years old. I saw it in a theater with my parents. Taking a 9 year old to see a movie that is primarily about a radical journalist’s roll in The Russian Revolution is one of those things that I look back on wonder what the hell my parents were thinking. Given that also dealt with that journalist’s sexual relationship with his paramour/wife in a very frank way, I’m kind of stunned that Children Protective Services weren’t knocking on our apartment door to take me away to some foster home. I mean it wasn’t like there was explicit sexual content but the movie makes no bones about the fact Jack Reed and Louise Bryant were having sex. It is equally blunt about Bryant’s affair with Eugene O’Neil. But these are events that that help provide the overall tale of Jack Reed, an American who became a hero to Soviet Russia.

The tale of how Warren Beatty struggled to get Reds made is equally as interesting as movie’s protagonist. Beatty was looking to produce a story about Jack Reed. Beatty had been working on a script about Reed for a ten year period between 1966-1976. He brought on screenwriter Trevor Griffiths and towards the end writer Elaine May to help finish the final draft and by 1978 Beatty had taken his original title for the movie Comrades and morphed it into, what became, the final version of Reds. By all accounts, Beatty hadn’t even planned to be involved with the movie outside of producing it but trying to recruit Hollywood names to star and direct about an American Communist in a country that was on the cusp of making Ronald Reagan the 40th President of The United States. Beatty was making a movie that never would have gotten financed at any point between 1938-1975 based solely on anti-Communist paranoia, Cold War fear and a little thing like The House Un-American Activities Committee.

The thing about Reds is, you cannot take out the politics out of the movie because Jack Reed was a very political figure in both America and Russia. He went from being Journalist with pro-socialist leanings to to true believer of Communist Revolution. His friends included other socialists and anarchists like Emma Goldman and Max Eastman. It seems that Reds tries to get across the point there were to major loves in Reed’s life, his dedication to radicalism and his love for Louise Bryant. I mean Jack Reed was a man that touted some unpopular ideas, many would make the argument that his beliefs were “Un-American”. Reds does more to paint a picture of Reed as a man of principle, a man who stuck to his ideals. Not so much a total Communist as much as he was an Idealist. A man who knew that he could not remain an objective journalist if he was going to be true to himself. At the same time, the movie still manages to paint a picture of Reed as American through and through. He knew that the country of his birth was born from a revolution that shook off oppression but also understood that for there to be actual progress that a true “Revolution” is never ending because there is always some form of oppression or tyranny to rebel against. This was a man that was a man that was just as concerned with being home for Christmas as he was taking part in “the Glorious Revolution”.

Reed witnessed the October Revolution firsthand and wrote Ten Days That Shook The World so people the world over could understand the point of what was happening in Russia during October of 1917. By his own admission, Reed had ceased to be an objective reporter. His views on the Russian Revolution were not neutral and he admits to that in the preface of Ten Days That Shook The World.

“I tried to see the events with the eye of a conscientious reporter”, wrote Reed,yet in the struggles my sympathies were not neutral”. His sympathies and beliefs show that Reed tries to be honest in his chronicle and lets you know where he stood.

The first half of Reds is all about how Reed went from objective reporter to radical writer. It shows you how he met and fell in love with Louise Bryant and how both of them try to actually carve out their own little piece of the “American Dream”. Infidelities drive them apart but reporting on The Russian Revolution leads to them reuniting professionally and romantically. The first half of the movie also paints a portrait of how political thought and ideals were developing in America at the time (th early 1900s). Socialism, Communism and to a lesser extent Anarchism were still relatively new concepts that were being embraced by people from different backgrounds. These were politics that made pleas to the disenfranchised masses. Men, women, immigrants… all of them had a place for these as equals, or so they were told, with these philosophies. But Reds also reminds us that just because people may fight under the same banner, doesn’t mean they share the same ideas of how to achieve their goals. In the second half of the movie we are shown how the effects of World War I pro-war sentiment split the Socialist Party, leading to the formation of 2 different organizations seeking to be recognized as official branches of the Communist Party in Russia. We are exposed to the other truth of the Russian Revolution, about how those that took power waited for Vladimir Lenin’s physical state to deteriorate and twist the worker’s paradise into a the dictatorship it was going end being under Stalin. We see how Jack Reed, once a stalwart supporter of the Revolution, may have become disenchanted with it towards his final days. How that while the October Revolution was dramatic and important to history, what came after was not what was promised by any means.

Reds is also one of those epic movies that covers an epic series of events from history that demands it have an epic cast. On top of Betty taking up the mantle of Jack Reed there is Diane Keaton as Louise Bryant, a woman that was trying to not be hat society wanted a woman to be. Bryant as opinionated, artistic and outspoken. The fact that Keaton and Beatty were romantically involved before the movie and during its filming only adds ot their onscreen chemistry. There are stories that point to the fights between Beatty and Keaton on camera might be a bit to real, as the two split up not long after Reds was released. Then there is Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill. Its one of those movies that remind you of how Nicholson can be. His O’Neill is a gruff asshole who speaks his mind, yet still a man that will help a friend when the friend needs it most. Then there is Maureen Stapleton, who plays Emma Goldman, revolutionary and anarchist, the first person to point out to Jack Reed that just because there isa revolution in Rusia, it isn’t necessarily the revolution it was meant to be. Everyone named was nominated for an Academy Award for acting, with Stapleton taking home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, but there are so many other faces that crop up. Gene Hackman as Jack Reed’s newspaper editor, Edward Herman as Max Eastman, Paul Sorvino as Labor Leader/Communist Louis Franzia. Hell if you blink then you’re probably going to miss someone. Its a loaded cast and they all come geard up with great performances.

In the end Reds is a love story. It is about Jack Reed and how he has to find balance between his wife, Louise Bryant, and his love for his own Idealism. It is abut how even a series of bloody, world changing events, cannot keep 2 people apart. Reds has one of those iconic moments in film, the train station scene between Jack Reed (played by Beatty) and Louise Bryant (played by Beatty’s then lover Diane Keaton). It is one of those scenes in movies that is etched in my mind. That image of 2 people, both in tatters, finally see each other again after the ordeals they have both been through to see one another again. The results of the Revolution around them, while important, matter less than the 2 people, embracing and holding onto one another for dear life because, at that moment, all that matters to them is each other.

I’m Kinda, Sorta Back… With a List No Less!

The Best Movie of 1933

The Best Movie of 1933

Hi, its been a long layoff, since last Autumn actually. I’ve been busy with “things”. Life is a tricky thing and my brain is even trickier. Between work and trying to get my life in order, blogging had to take a back seat. I still wrote, just not for my own site. Heck if you go to you can check out some of the Anime articles I’ve written for that site. I’m not going to promise daily or even weekly updates to this site. Just an article now and again. I push myself to hard on the writing and my my brain goes on the fritz and then I can’t write for weeks or months at a time.

So for the first article back after a long hiatus is pretty simple. I’m a regular reader and poster at the Death Valley Driver Video Review Message Board. It’s pretty much been my online addiction since 1998. Well the other day someone asked people to post their favorite movies by year. He did so with his post and I thought it would be an interesting exersize. It wasn’t until I got to about 1937 on the list just how hard picking movies from any one year can be. Hell this dawned on me at 1937 and became damn near impossible to pick a favorite for 1939 (seriously, 1939 was a stacked year for classic cinema). So after much deliberation I got a list that span from 1939 to 2012. Some the picks are going to have you scratching your heads. Other picks you might feel are right on the money. Then there are going to be picks you probably have never heard of. Think about the movies you love and then see what year they came out and then you might realize the movie you thought was the best that year came out the same year as another great film. There are at least 2 ties for a year on this list. Seriously, those movies are so perfect that picking one over the other is simply not possible.

You’ll get my usual footnotes here but since the list works backwards from 2012, the first note comes up for 2004 and then goes backwards from there. So without further ado …

Brave Blog’s Best Movies By Year!

2012: Skyfall

2011: Midnight In Paris

2010: Inception

2009: Up In The Air

2008: Ai no Mukidashi (Love Exposure)

2007: No Country For Old Men

2006: Inside Man

2005: The Matador

2004: Layer Cake/Sideways1

2003: The Cooler

2002: Gangs of New York

2001: Spirited Away

2000: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

1999: The Iron Giant

1998: Saving Private Ryan

1997: L.A. Confidential

1996: Fargo

1995: The Madness of King George

1994: La Reine Margot

1993: Farewell My Concubine

1992: Unforgiven

1991: Beauty & The Beast

1990: Goodfellas

1989: Glory

1988: My Neighbor Totoro

1987: Moonstruck

1986: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

1985: Pale Rider

1984: The Terminator

1983: Trading Places

1982: Blade Runner

1981: Raiders of The Lost Ark

1980: The Empire Strikes Back

1979: Manhattan

1978: Animal House

1977: Annie Hall

1976: The Outlaw Josey Wales2

1975: Love and Death

1974: Blazing Saddles/The Godfather Part II3

1973: Enter The Dragon

1972: Sleuth4

1971: Shaft

1970: The Ballad of Cable Hogue

1969: The Wild Bunch

1968: The Lion In Winter

1967: In The Heat of The Night

1966: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

1965: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

1964: Dr. Stranglove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb

1963: The Birds

1962: To Kill A Mockingbord

1961: Breakfast At Tiffany’s

1960: The Magnificent Seven

1959: Some Like It Hot

1958: The Defiant Ones

1957: The Bridge On The River Kwai

1956: The Searchers

1955: Mister Roberts

1954: Rear Window/The Seven Samurai5

1953: Julius Caesar

1952: The Quiet Man

1951: The African Queen

1950: Cyrano De Bergerac

1949: The Third Man6

1948: The Treasure of The Sierra Madre

1947: Gentleman’s Agreement

1946: Notorious

1945: Wonder Man

1944: Gaslight

1943: Casablanca

1942: My Favorite Blonde

1941: How Green Was My Valley

1940: The Philadelphia Story

1939: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

1938: The Adventures of Robin Hood

1937: Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs7

1936: Modern Times

1935: Captain Blood

1934: The Thin Man

1933: Duck Soup

1 I adore Sideways and think it is woefully under-appreciated. But everyone and her Grandmother should watch Layer Cake. Its a great crime film.

2 Marathon Man is a very close second. Take a look at what came out in 1976 and its just a glut of great movies. You’ve got a film year that had The Outlaw Josey Wales, Marathon Man, Network and Rocky. You try and tell me its easy picking anyone of those over the other!

3 Sorry but this has to be a tie. Blazing Saddles is my favorite comedy of all time. But The Godfather Part II is like watching Francis Ford Coppola become a surgeon in the craft of cinematic storytelling. 1974 is dead heat because I will never be able to choose one over the other.

4 Look, I love The Godfather but Sleuth is a better constructed story and plays out much better thus making it more compelling to me.

5 The Seven Samurai is such an incredible movie, the fact that Rear Window came out the same year is so damn unfair!

6 I really wanted to put The Inspector General here but The Third Man is just that great!

7 Seriously, this remains the greatest animated movie ever made. The range of motion that was on display still has never been matched!

The Friends of Eddie Coyle: Because Great Movies Are Few & Far Between

A Masterpiece of The 70s!

Some Words From Brave Blog’s Chief Idiot: If you have ever checked the links I’ve provided for other sites on the right of screen you will see one for The Death Valley Driver Review Message Board. What started as a little forum for fans of pro-wrestling to congregate online and gripe about what they hated in pro-wrestling at that point in time, morphed into something so much more. Sure wrestling get talked up, a lot, but so do many other topics. Film is one of these things, from classics of the 30s & 40s, all the way to what got released last weekend. There are a lot of people on that message board that love the movies. There are those that watch and write up reviews for what has become The Death Valley Driver Video Review Movie Club. People volunteer for this and write about why the movie they selected is important to them and why why, at the very least, you should give the movie being discussed a try. I recently volunteered to write about a movie for the DVDVRMC. The movie I chose is no lightweight. So here I share with you my movie of choice

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is one of those movies that I had always heard other people talking about. Usually people slightly older than me who really liked films of the 70s. It was always on my “Must Watch List” but I never seemed to get around to it, as I can get easily distracted. Ironically what got me to finally sit down and choose to review it was the South Boston episode of No Reservations. When I was trying to figure out what movie to actually sit and talk about, that episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show was on and he adores the movie. I took that as a sign to sit and finally watch this movie. Every person who has ever mentioned the movie to me talks about how gritty it is and how it captures the feel of Boston in the 70s, especially the South Side.

The leads are guys who you can buy as being legitimately tough. Robert Mitchum has always had the tough guy aura about him dating back to the 50s He plays Eddie Coyle, a gun-supplier for small stick-up crews. The thing is, Eddie is on the verge of being sent away for a stretch for a botched hi-jacking. He is a guy that has been around the block. This isn’t “tough guy” Mitchum as you might be used to seeing. He even looks a little doughy, just further making you feel a sort of vibe that Eddie Coyle is a criminal but a working man’s criminal. Then you have Alex Rocco and Peter Boyle. Boyle is just so believable as Dillon, an old Irish fixer who sets up jobs for other low level crews. Boyle comes off as shrewd and tough, a little tough than Eddie is. Hell this movie made me scared to meet Peter Boyle in a dark alley, he just comes off so tough.

Alex Rocco is Jimmy Scalise, the leader of a crew of bank robbers that gets their gear from Eddie Coyle. The opening of the movie is Scalise essentially casing a bank for a future heist. Eddie Coyle gets the gear for the job from a local gunrunner named Jackie Brown. Jackie is played by Steven Keats, who just exudes this sort of sleaziness for the part. His vibe is totally different than Boyle’s (hard and scary) and Scalise’s (smart in the fact that he is a planner). You have all these guys all working for and against each other. Coyle pays Brown for guns, Scalise buys the guns from Coyle and hen everyone pays up to Dillon after everything is done. The thing is, everyone is looking to screw the other guy over at some point because no one trusts one another.


Because of this prick in the FBI named Dave Foley played by Richard Jordan. Foley wants Coyle to turn informer on the local Boston fixer. Coyle doesn’t know that Dillon, the fixer, is already informing for Foley. Coyle thinks he has an ace up his sleeve by being able to turn over Scalise and his crew but Dillon is already ahead of him on that. It ain’t like Foley is keeping quiet about it to Dillon for that matter. Its just a matter of who finds out they are getting fucked over first and who will pay for snitching in the end.

These aren’t spoilers. All of this is laid out in the movie. You know Dillon is informing, you know Coyle is trying to avoid going to jail so he is willing to sellout both Jackie Brown and Dillon. There I no mystery or big reveal. You are just watching it all play out and hope that somehow Eddie Coyle comes out ahead, even though deep down the odds are stacked against him.

I love Robert Mitchum in this movie so much. When he first comes onscreen and tells Steven Keats’ Jackie Brown about why he has nickname “Eddie Fingers”, you just get the vibe of Eddie Coyle right off the bat. He’s careful, but maybe hasn’t always been so. He’s on he verge of going to jail but is still gunrunning because he has a family to feed. He is a criminal but working criminal i.e. gunrunning is his forte but he really isn’t making money off of it. Robert Mitchum’s hound-dog face in this movie just sells Eddie Coyle even more. He is tough when he needs to be but he’d rather just do what he has to do and pray that the cops don’t bust him.

As much as I love Mitchum in this, the guy who just kills in this is Peter Boyle as Dillon . Dillon is a rat bastard, but his vibe is so contradictory at times. He is laid back but a hard ass. He gives Eddie an ear to bend about his legal troubles but isn’t above ratting him out to the feds. Peter Boyle comes off as tough in this because Dillon is sneaky bastard that has some authority and he didn’t get there by being nice. He is all business and his business is looking out for Dillon.

This is a movie I’m glad I finally watched. It is a true “Crime” movie, not a “Mob” movie. Hey I love The Godfather to death but it really is about how the upper crust of crime keep their hands clean. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is about people who are already too dirty simply based on their upbringing and surroundings. Eddie, Dillon, Scalise and even Jackie Brown don’t need their histories explored any further. They are South Side Boston and they know that the odds of them not being that anytime soon are against them. They just do what they do because it is what they know and to them, that is just the way it is. That’s just life.

I really loved this movie and am going to make as many friends of mine watch it as possible. Now I know why people talk about this movie. They do so because it is just that good.

“I shoulda known better than to trust a cop. My own goddamn mother coulda told me that.” – Eddie Coyle

The Great Smoked Brisket Experiment!

I Did Not Make This… But I Wish I Had~!

My culinary endeavors have been slacking as of late. Outside of devising a decent recipe for Garlic-Cheddar Biscuits, I haven’t really expanded my repertoire. The one thing I’ve always wanted to try, but never thought I had the skill for, was cooking Smoked Barbeque meat. I know when one makes a first go of it they should start small and work their way up the more experience they get. An example would be say chicken thighs or even a game hen or two. I’ve never been one to start small. I decided to just get the big hunk of meat out of the way first, so I started with a brisket. Now brisket is probably the trickiest cuts of meat to try for any amateur smoker/griller but I was tired of watching Travel Channel and seeing Anthony Bourdain get off gastronomically every time he visits a a BBQ joint1.

So this article is dedicated to “The First Attempt” at smoking a brisket. It goes without saying that if the “First Attempt” would fail, the odds of their being a second attempt would be slim. To prepare for this endeavor I turned to that vast repository of free knowledge on all subjects, The Internet. I read as much as I could on what the best way to prepare a brisket for smoking was. There were many articles that contradicted one another on minute details and others that were less than specific about proper procedure. Luckily, for me, I am a long-time poster on The Death Valley Driver Video Review Message Board, a resource of knowledge on a wide range of subjects. What started as a message board for wrestling fans morphed into something so much grander and fun. In this case the DVDVRMB provided me with an incredible guide to smoking meats2. So let’s get to the listing of said equipment, followed by the methods I used to make this brisket my bitch.

1 Basic Shallow BBQ Grill bought at Kroger’s for $5. High quality it is not.

Our Crap-Ass $5 Grill, Thank You Kroger~!

1 Cup Brown Sugar

½ tbsp of Paprika

½ tbsp of Garlic Salt

½ tbsp Ground Black Pepper

1 Pair Long Handled Grilling Tongs

1 Roll of Aluminum Foil

1 Bottle of Yellow Mustard


The Victim Before Sacrifice

10:30PM – The brisket was purchased the day before and has been resting in the refrigerator since then. I start by taking my bottle of mustard and spraying it liberally on the meat (i.e. non-fat side) of the brisket. I massage the mustard all over the meat and even on the fatty side. I then proceed to do the same thing with my seasonings. I do this for around 5 minutes, making sure the brisket is thoroughly covered in the rub. It is then wrapped in foil and returned to the refrigerator overnight.


7:30AM – I wake up after a fitful sleep. I was plagued with bad dreams and wake up groggy and not in the best of moods. I determine that waking up now would be a tragic idea and opt for 30 more minutes of bed.

8AM – I wake up again, feeling only slightly better. I trudge to the bathroom and get my morning routine out of the way3. I had recruited my roommate Lindy4 to give me a hand since I actually suck at lighting fires and we needed to get our coals going posthaste. Now this was not the ideal day for any type of outdoor cooking, as it had rained the night before and it was very windy. We were concerned about more rain and since our back porch doesn’t have an overhang or canopy we moved he grill to the front porch. It took us quite a while to get the fire going once the grill was moved but once we did it was game on.

9:30AM – Our coals were now burning embers so it was time to add our wood fuel. I had decided to go with Hickory woodchips that Lindy had helped to acquire at Lowes. I had soaked the chips in Apple Cider for a half hour before draining them and then sealing them in a foil pouch. The pouch was thrown in to the burning embers. I had taken the brisket out of the fridge at around 8:45AM so it could get to room temperature and then placed the meat on the rack, fat side up5, over the heat and smoke and shut the lid on our shitty little grill. We leave the top vent on the grill slightly cracked so the smoke can vent out. The plan was to add more coals and wood once every 90 minutes.

11AM – Lindy and I check the meat. The smoke had slowly died out over the time so we hadded more lit coals to replenish our fire and smoke. I keep the old woodsmoke in there for the time being. Once the fire calmed again and we go a good smoke going the grill was re-sealed for another 90 minutes.

12:30PM – More coals, to replenish our fire and smoke, are added. I also swap out the old foil pouch of cider soaked chips for a new one that I had prepared. The first pouch had reached critical mass i.e. some of the wood had burned out and the packet was smoking black. Lindy and I agreed that from this point forward we’d change the foil pack once every hour to ninety minutes.

1:30PM – The smoke is out, which means out fire died. We add fresh new coals and even mix in some wood chips right on the fire. I also add a small pan of apple cider to further flavor the meat6. Lindy I confer and agree that we will now check on the fire/smoke every hour instead of every hour and half to make sure everything doesn’t go out. This is made more complicated because the wind is really picking up.

3PM – The smoke is going. We add the last of our coals and one last foil pack of cider soaked chips. The Brisket looked beautiful as the smoke and seasonings have given it an amazing caramel apple red color. The entire front porch and front room of the house had this incredible sweet smoky smell.

4:30PM -The Brisket looks incredible, the smoke is getting weaker. The first of our guests for the upcoming dinner arrives. It’s my buddy Zac, one of oldest pals and a man who likes a good brisket. He sits on the front porch with me as Lindy and I agree to let the brisket keep smoking until the smoke stops coming through the vent.

5:30PM – The smoke has stopped. We remove the lid on our ghetto smoker and Zac, Lindy and I ooo and aaah at the gorgeous hunk of meat. Lindy’s husband Paul had woken up around 4ish and the smell of the brisket was driving him crazy. Lindy grabs me a serving latter to move the brisket to and carry it through the house, specifically so Paul can see the meat. His mouth waters as I tell him he has to wait. Our second guest for the evening arrives, the lovely Nicole. The lovely Nicole, the ideal woman to eat brisket and drink beer with. The plan is to let the Brisket rest for 20 minutes so any excess juice and fat can settle.

5:45PM – Dinner is served and when dinner is served our buddy Mike tends to show up7. While the meat was resting, I cut off small bits of teh ends and gave everyone a taste and not a bad reaction was to be had. We all had a good dinner of Brisket and French Fries. After about 2 hours Nicole had to leave to go see her Mother but luckily our good friends Brenda and Eric showed up and took part in our repast and we reveled in each others company

The end result was a house full of happy, well-fed people. Everyone enjoyed the hell out of the Brisket. I personally felt it came out a little too rare for my liking but my roommates and friends were all happy so what more could I ask for?

So the “First Attempt” was a success. This only means more “Attempts” in the future. I’m already thinking whole chickens smoked with the seasonings for wedding chicken could be amazing, or maybe just bust out a good old pork butt for smoking and chopped BBQ pork sandwiches. Hell after this, there is nothing I won’t want to smoke and eat!

My Tasty, Tasty Finished Smoked Brisket~!

1Don’t construe that to mean that I m not a fan or do not have deep respect for Anthony Bourdain. He is, by far, my favorite culinary TV personality. He is honest and blunt and I, like so many others, wish I had his job.

2Mr. Mike Naimark gets a huge “Thank You” from me. His multi-page thread on BBQ/Smoking was the guideline I relied on and while I didn’t follow his instructions step by step exactly, I got a very acceptable outcome and also know what NOT to do next time.

3The standard 3 things that begin with the letter “S”.

4Lindy is married to one of my best friends, Paul. Together they form Th Flying Malotkes.

5His is done so the meat doesn’t try out. As the fat renders from the heat and smoke, it drips down over the meat that is exposed to the flame, thus keeping he meat moist even while it chars.

6My thinking was that the Apple Cider steamed off would mingle with the flavor of the smoke, giving a nicer, sweet flavor.

7In all fairness, the same thing happens when NFL games are played. So since this was a Sunday, he was due to appear.

The Steven Seagal Super Cinematic Spectacular: Out For Justice

The Horror, The Horror…

Out For Justice is probably the least of Steven Seagal’s early movies. If you stop and think about that, it really is quite the accomplishment. Seagal started fine with Above The Law and was doing fine with both Hard To Kill and Marked For Death. Those three movies form almost a perfect triangle of late 1980s action films by a rising action star. They aren’t really “great” movies but they are “good” movies given you know what you want from your low-grade action films from the time period. I mean there isn’t going to be some sudden rebirth of interest in Seagal’s early work or anything, these movies are pretty much on TV, be edited for TV broadcast or cable. The problem is after those 3 movies you get Out For Justice, which is almost the forgotten early Seagal movie. It is the movie which when you bring up Seagal movies in conversation, everyone forgets.1

Surely there has to be more of a reason than it is a bad movie. Right?

In actuality, no. It is the primary reason Out For Justice gets overlooked. It isn’t just bad, it has the distinction of being “That Bad”. Being “That Bad” is a rare feat in cinema, especially for a major release. A movie that is “That Bad” isn’t even watchable as camp. It just isn’t any damn good. I mean in all my years of watching movies only 2 other major studio releases have attained the “That Bad” status with me and both of them had Bill Cosby as a selling point2. The even more horrifying thign about Out For Justice is that it actually has a serviceable story and is chock-full of som pretty well known character actors, not the least of whom is Jerry Orbach, who obviously made this somehwere in-between taking Jennifer Grey to get an abortion in Dirty Dancing and spending 10 years delivering the zinger on Law & Order. Hell, William Forsythe is I nthis bad boy, doing what William Forsythe does best, playing an asshole you hoped gets killed off by the end of the film.

So what exactly brings this movie so far down that it has no redeeming entertainment vale? Who or what is responsible for this movie being this awful?

The answer, is… its star. This might be the worst bit of “acting” Steven Seagal has ever done. I mean like EVER!

It is one thing when Seagal plays a squint-eyed badass in Under Siege or Cop/Buddhist Monk in The Glimmer Man but when he decides to adopt a completely awful pseudo-New York Italian accent complete with Brooklyn wise-guy machismo, well then things are about as bad as you think they would be. Actually, they are much, much worse. This is compounded by Seagal speaking Italian on and off in a few scenes where he is chatting with actors playing Mafia Bosses and… man it is hard to believe that it can be any worse than it already is. Seagal’s performance feels like he hired an acting coach and the coach said “Hey, you really need to Guinea this guy up!”.

If this movie had starred anyone else, we might have gotten a half-decent police corruption movie, but instead Seagal plays Super-Guinea3 and pretty makes the movie a chore to watch. I mean it even ruins some of the better actions sequences of the movie. This might be the most violent movie Seagal had made up to this point. Hell the movie opens with him almost screwing-up an undercover operation so he can go beat-up a pimp. Yeah, Seagal is playing a cop again in this movie. This time he is playing Gino Farano, a somewhat loose cannon police detective from Brooklyn.

The basic set-up for the movie is that local hood Richie Madano, played by the always entertaining William Forsythe, guns down Gino’s partner Bobby Lupo on the street in broad daylight. Gino, Richie and Bobby all grew-up together in “The Neighborhood” but unlike Gino and Bobby, Richie opted to become a robber instead of a cop. The thing is, Richie is trying to make a name for himself in the Mafia but is totally going about it all wrong4. Hell the local “Mob Boss” pretty much wants Richie dead for being an all around douchebag, but he isn’t exactly going to help Gino find Richie either. Even the cops realize that trying to stop Gino from killing Richie is pointless, better to give him an unmarked car and a shotgun than, you know, put him in jail for his own good. Fuck one cop all but tells Gino to kill Richie “for us”. Hey, I get that any police force is a brotherhood and when one guy goes down all the cops want the killer caught but this shit is downright bloodthirsty. No wonder people living in NYC were terrified of the NYPD for so long5.

The thing is, as Gino hunts for Richie, he uncovers that his dead partner wasn’t nearly the family man and all around good cop everyone thought he was. Turns out Bobby was carrying on with Richie’s girlfriend and another woman. It gets worse as Gino learns Bobby was a dirty cop and that Richie killed Bobby after Bobby’s wife Laurie found out about Bobby’s “indiscretions” and passed the information to Richie. So basically, everyone in this movie is emotionally fucked-up on some level. You got the dead cop who wanted to be a gangster, you have a crazed gangster who is defying both the police and the mob and you’ve got a jilted wife who really hasn’t considered the consequences of her actions. This movie is the template for every episode of The Jerry Springer Show that you have ever watched, the difference being that instead of trailer park cousins having affairs with one another, it is some pretty messed Italians from Brooklyn.

Now this movie is not Infernal Affairs. Shit this movie isn’t even Police Academy6. The rest of the movie plays out exactly how you expect an action movie with Steven Seagal to play out. Gino tracks down Richie, kills all of Richie’s goons and then beats the living fuck out of him before killing him. A nice twist is that after the deed is done the Mafia shows up and Gino lets them take the credit for the kill, you know, for appearances sake. But that my friends, is not the punchline to the movie. No, see early in the movie Gino watches a guy throw a black plastic trashbag onto the street from a moving car. Gino stops to investigate and discovers a dog inside of the bag. Gino rescues the dog, while swearing that he’ll find the guy that did this terrible crime. He does this while he is on his intense manhunt for Richie. So after finding and killing Richie, Gino and his family are out in the park taking the pooch for a walk and, of course, the guy that threw the dog out of the car shows up. Gino beats the fuck out of the guy and that is that. The movie is over… well not quite, the dog gets his revenge by pissing on the guy’s face.


Out For Justice is a movie I cannot recommend to anyone. It is a dreadful little revenge flick and the story just seems like it takes elements from other cop films and mashes them together. I mean, how could Gino not know his partner/best friend was dirty? Especially since it seems everyone else knew about it. How could the Mafia let a loose cannon like Richie operate that way? Hell, Gino’s relationship with the Mafia is downright chummy as a cop basically declares a truce with the mob to hunt down one crack smoking ass-hole that killed a cop. Gino pretty much absolves Bobby of any guilt in his own death by still going out and killing Richie in cold blood. This movie is just one giant racial slur of a movie against Italian-Americans. For fuck sake, I’m Jewish and I’m offended by the sheer stereotype of how Italians in Brooklyn are portrayed7. Oh sure, it tries to excuse its defamation by an Arthur Miller quote at the opening of the movie about how different parts of Brooklyn had their own culture and vibe depending where in Brooklyn you were but that is just a smokescreen.

Out For Justice was Steven Seagal’s last small movie before Under Siege. It was also a moderate hit, opening number one at the box office its first week of release. It was Seagal’s third straight number one. The film was originally given an NC-17 rating for its graphic violence and had to be recut in order to get an R Rating for a wide release. The movie has a lot of small parts played by actors that would go on to better things down the road, like Gina Gershon, Juliana Margulies and even Dominic Chianese before he was Uncle Junior on The Sopranos. Still, the movie is terrible. Seagal’s earlier films were just as violent but more entertaining. Hell, he was somehow more believable just being himself in Above The Law than when h tried to be a “character” in Out For Justice. But it was the strength of his first four movies hat allowed him to be cast for a real big budget action movie in Under Siege and that movie is one of the last great action movies of the glory days of action movies. So go watch Out For Justice… no wait, scrap that. Unless you rally area glutton for punishment avoid Out For Justice at all costs. Just stick with Seagal’s first three movies to see him evolve as an action star and you should be alright.

In The Criminal Justice System, The Guy On The Right Doesn’t Let The Guy On The Left Anywhere Near A Case~!

1It happens, people do casually talk about Seagal films, I promise you they do!

2The horrors of Leonard Part 6 and Ghost Dad haunt me to this day!

3Please be aware, I’ not using the term “Guinea” denigrate anyone but Steven Seagal. My use of the word is to give you an idea of just how over the top and awful Seagal is in this thing.

4What with the gunning down a cop in broad daylight and then following that up by shooting an innocent woman in cold blood at an intersection because she had asked him to move his car.

5Just ask Abner Louima about how terrifying the NYPD can be!

6If it were, the bar fight in this movie would’ve been at “The Blue Oyster” and made the movie a little bit entertaining.

7Actually I’m more offended that the movie takes place in Brooklyn and not one Jew is seen or referenced at all! If Brooklyn is one thing, it is ethnically diverse.

On Food: I Crave Kimchi!

So Much Pain, But Soooooo Worth It~!

I was lying in bed reading and suddenly started thinking about Kimchi. It wasn’t like I was watching some Korean Drama or some news item about North or South Korea. It had nothing to do with what I was reading at the time. It was just in my head out of the blue, “Damn it has been forever since I’ve had kimchi”. I started running through just how long has it been since I last tasted it. For those not in the know, Kimchi is a delicious Korean dish of pickled and seasoned cabbage. That is the overly simple definition of it. Really, there is so much more to it than that. The process of preparing it is one of those things you hear about on travel shows or through friends who have traveled abroad. Cabbage, pickled, seasoned with soy, fish oil and other things I couldn’t begin to name, peppered and then buried in a clay pot in the earth for several months1. When it comes out it is pungent, powerful and so damn tasty. I utterly adore kimchi yet I haven’t had a good “Kimchi Bowl” in like 10 years.

This random thought of how long it has been since I had kimchi led to my mind wandering further away from what I was reading. It wandered to the memory of the first time I had kimchi. It wasn’t in a restaurant, it was, in of all places, boarding school. My first year of boarding school in fact. The thing about being sent away for my education was that every now and again, for those of us that lived close enough to school, we were allowed to go home for a weekend. This meant not only did you get to go home and enjoy those things that made you miss home in the first place but you also got to bring things back with you, like a conquering hero with the spoils of war. These spoils were usually food. Hell, on more than one occasion I brought back a box of chicken wings from my favorite deli and kept them in my Dorm Parent’s fridge along with a 12 pack of Coke2.

There was one weekend when one of the Korean boys in my dorm came back to school with kimchi his mother had sent back with him. Everyone in the dorm knew what it was the moment he unsealed the jar. Well everyone but me. I had never smelled such a thing before and even worse, I was actually at the other end of the dorm. The kimchi smelled sour and potent the closer I got to the room he was in. When I finally got to his room he was sitting there, eating a steaming bowl of stewed kimchi. I asked his roommate what the hell that was and told me the name of the dish and even explained how it was made. He encouraged me to try it, as the Korean boy’s mother made excellent kimchi, so I was assured3. I was reluctant at first but was egged on by both boys to give it a try. I was given a hunk of kimchi in a plastic bowl, cold kimchi fresh from the jar no less. I speared it with a fork and nervously bit into it. The kimchi burned my lips from the all the pepper. I had never had anything that hot in my life, especially something that hot that had been served cold. It was sour and hot. It was the first time I had any kind of food where the heat from a pepper actually overpowered the actual flavor of the spice it came from. Does that make sense?

It was the first time I had ever tried a food that actually gave me immediate pain and that was just on my lips. For what seemed like an eternity my lips and mouth were on fire. The odd part though was that my tongue wasn’t. The taste of the sour fermented cabbage clung to my taste buds. It was powerful, briny flavor and I actually liked it. It took me the rest of the night to get through my chunk of kimchi, as I nibbled on it the rest of the evening through study hall. Slowly my mouth adapted to the heat of the peppers and I was able to get their actual flavor. The more I ate, the more my mouth was able to process the flavors in my mouth and allow me to enjoy all the elements as one flavorful experience. It wasn’t my last experience that yer with kimchi, it became the thing I put in my ramen most often if my new found friend was willing to part with some his precious supply. It turns out I wasn’t the only guy that found himself with a kimchi addiction. The problem was, the pungent odor stunk up the whole damn dorm so bad that our head Dorm Parent put the kibosh on our kimchi soaked dreams, banning the stuff outright. It was even worse the next year as my Korean friend had left for a different school and the other Korean kids were not nearly as generous with their stocks of kimchi.

The last time I can clearly remember having kimchi was in 1999. I was in New York City in the part of Queens known as “Koreatown”. I was there to just skim through the local markets, see what bootleg movies I could find and grab a quick bite before heading to Manhatan to crash at friend’s place for the night4. The memory of where the place was is hazy, I can’t remember if I got the kimchi bowl with fish and prawns from a street vendor or a food court. I just remember sitting, eating and thinking that it had been too long since I had a bowl of kimchi. It was hot and spicy, the way I remembered it. It was a meal I was unable to rush through due to just how hot and spicy it was. The heat of the pepper permeated the fish and prawns, though the natural sweetness of both gave almost a balance to the rest of the meal. It was steaming hot and it had cost me like $6 with a hot cup of tea. The rest of the night my mouth was on fire but I savored it. It was flavor and heat I had missed since boarding school.

So here I am today, trying to get through that damned book and just randomly, I think of kimchi again. There have been many times I’ve had the chance to eat kimchi, but those times always seem to be at local Chinese buffets and honestly, I’m not trusting a Chinese buffet’s kimchi5, that’s just way to much of a gastronomical roll of he dice, especially since most Chinese buffet’s are questionable to begin with. But my mind still remembers that first cold, briny, peppered hunk of cabbage and how I nibbled on it all night long. I need to find some good kimchi in Toledo, Ohio. Let’s see if there is any out there that can get me excited!

1 One Korean friend of mine said his Mother had 3 year old kimchi, the prospect of which sounds like it would melt my stomach.

2 “Dorm Parents” are basically teachers that lived on Campus in the Dorms to prevent any Lord of the Flies type shit from going down.

3 And if you can’t trust a Korean kid’s white boy roommate, I ask you: Who can you trust?

4 All so we could spend 4 hours on a bus to Philadelphia to watch an ECW show and potentially die from heat exhaustion in the air condition-less ECW Arena.

5 Don’t even get me started on how it seems everyone in Ohio thinks the natural environment for Chinese food is a buffet. There is a severe lack of proper sit-down communal family style Chinese restaurants in Toledo. It makes this Chinese food loving New York Jew weep!

Until Next Time… 맛있게 드세요!

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