artwork of mountains on the background and silhouette of japanese samurai on the foreground
About The Samurai Game®
Who invented The Samurai Game®?

The Samurai Game® was invented in 1977 by author, WWII combat pilot, and human potential pioneer, George Leonard (author of Mastery, The Silent Pulse, The Ultimate Athlete, The Life We Are Given, Walking on the Edge of the World, The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei, and six other books).

George Leonard

George was senior editor for Look Magazine, eventually becoming one of the most published writers for both Look and Esquire magazines.

Time magazine referred to George as “the Grandfather of the Human Potential Movement.” He created Leonard Energy Training (LET), co-founded Integral Transformative Practice International (ITPI) and was President Emeritus of Esalen Institute. Most human potential training organizations around the world find their roots in the work and writings of George Leonard.

George Leonard at Tamalpais Aikido Dojo

In the 1970s, George began his study and practice of Aikido, a Japanese martial art, at that time relatively new to the United States. Aikido was founded by Morihei Ueshiba who was considered one of Japan’s greatest martial artists, and in 1968 he was proclaimed a Sacred National Treasure by the Japanese government. George co-founded the Aikido of Tamalpais dojo in Mill Valley, California, and after years of study and practice, attained the rank of 5th-degree black belt.

As a social philosopher, educator, and aikido instructor, George traveled extensively, teaching and lecturing on human potential, educational reform and promoting the art of Aikido as a means of personal and professional development and creating alternative responses to conflict.

The Samurai Game® was inspired by George’s experience flying combat missions in the Asia Pacific theater during World War II, and his discovery and immersion in Aikido, meditation, and related mind-body disciplines. He first got the idea for The Samurai Game® while walking from his home to the Aikido dojo to teach a class one evening. He was reflecting on why so many people feel that their most vivid sense of aliveness occurs when they are facing life-and-death situations--often in combat. Arriving at the dojo, he led the students in the first iteration of what would later become the Samurai Game. Over time, George refined the Game and soon was leading it for other groups and personal development centers, such as Esalen Institute.

Since 1977, tens of thousands of people have played The Samurai Game® around the world.  It is considered by many to be one of the most intense, engaging, and powerful simulations available anywhere in the world.

The Samurai Game® is particularly valued as a way to cultivate awareness, resourcefulness, and decisiveness in situations marked by uncertainty, chaos, and unforeseeable difficulties.

In 2000, George retained Lance Giroux to serve him and the Leonard Family Trust worldwide as the Game’s sole facilitator training and certification representative. Lance codified facilitator training and began introducing the Game to schools universities, companies, and organizations. In this capacity, he extensively traveled to the USA, Mexico, Europe, Eastern Europe, SE Asia, Egypt, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Australia to lead the Game and develop facilitators.

In 2010, George passed away. His wife, Annie died in 2011. With Annie’s passing Grayson James joined Giroux to become the only other official facilitator training and certification representative. Both Giroux and James are Aikido instructors and were trained by George to lead the Game.

Since 2011 James’ efforts have greatly enhanced facilitator training methodology and expanded facilitator growth even more around the globe. James is now the Trust’s sole training and certification representative for Samurai Game facilitators worldwide, Giroux having retired in 2020.

What is the purpose of The Samurai Game®?

The purpose of The Samurai Game® is essentially to enable participants to experience themselves and their habitual reactions to circumstances more clearly so that they have greater choices in their lives.

The Samurai Game® is designed to:

  • Place participants in an unfamiliar realm of relationship and governance. From this perspective, they can gain new understandings about their habitual life patterns.
  • Establish an experience of intense--yet safe--competition in an atmosphere that demands honor, dignity, and integrity.
  • Provide circumstances in which individuals and teams may choose to display integrity when no one is watching, support when the going gets tough and rules don’t easily apply, and commitment when there is no certainty of success.
  • Create a situation in which participants become keenly aware of the vividness and value of life.
  • Promote a deeper awareness of those places inside each of us where we want to stop or are unwilling to be uncomfortable.
  • Deepen our awareness of the interplay of emotions, beliefs, and our physiological states of being.
What happens in The Samurai Game®?

Participants in The Samurai Game® cross a psychological line and step into the unfamiliar simulated world of the medieval Japanese Samurai.

They form two competing samurai armies and engage with their teammates and opponents in symbolic battles that eventually determine the simulation’s finale. These battles call upon participants to exercise resourcefulness, decisiveness, dignity, integrity, respect, and personal commitment.

The pace is fast and unpredictable, and the outcomes are highly uncertain. No two instances of the Game are ever the same, making each learning experience unique!

While involving no significant physical contact, The Samurai Game® demands much in the way of centeredness and teamwork as participants are encouraged to summon forth their “warrior” spirit with courage and determination.

How many people can participate in The Samurai Game®?

The Samurai Game® can be played with as few as 16 people and as many as 80 at a time.  For groups larger than 80, we break the group into two or more smaller groups at certain parts of the program, with a certified Samurai Game® Facilitator leading each group.

This allows each participant to experience the Game fully and safely.

How long is The Samurai Game®?

The Samurai Game® is typically facilitated in a two-day format, although it may also be offered in shorter or longer formats.

After the "battles" portion of the Game comes the debrief session, which is a critical part of The Samurai Game® experience. This is where participants integrate their experiences and learnings.

Participants routinely report that the greatest impact of the Samurai Game® begins during and following the debriefing period.

Most corporate groups and learning institutions (including colleges & universities) integrate extended debrief periods after the simulation ends for reflection and integration. This lets folks get the most out of the Samurai Game® experience.

The Samurai Game® may at times be offered in a one-day format (generally 9 to 10 hours), however, this does not allow for as much learning, practice, and integration of the full experience. It may also be offered in a 3-day format in some cases.

Some training organizations include the simulation as part of a larger seminar experience, while many corporate teams integrate The Samurai Game® into their off-site leadership or management development programs and retreats.

Is there much physical contact in The Samurai Game®?

There is very little physical contact between participants in The Samurai Game®.  

The physical contact you may experience would not be strenuous or harmful in any way and would not involve the use of force (it would be similar to a handshake).

Who leads The Samurai Game®?

The Samurai Game® can ONLY be led by authorized individuals who have been trained and certified by the Game’s founder, George Leonard, or Samurai Game Associates (the Leonard Family Trust’s Training and Certification Representatives).  

Please make sure that anybody who offers to lead The Samurai Game® for you or your group is on this list of certified Samurai Game® facilitators.

Anybody who is not on this list is NOT authorized to lead the Game and would be doing so illegally and in violation of international law.  Equally importantly, they would not have been trained and approved to safely and effectively lead The Samurai Game® (no matter by what other names they may be calling the Game).

Why do people participate in The Samurai Game®?

People participate for many reasons. 

Most commonly, individuals and teams participate to deepen their awareness,  personal effectiveness, and leadership performance. 

The Samurai Game® presents a series of unpredictable and fascinating scenarios that reflect the pressures and challenges of the fast-paced business climate, complex organizational dynamics and politics, competition, and everyday family and personal life.

These scenarios create dilemmas that enable participants to observe themselves and their habitual reactions, inviting them to reflect on fundamental questions, such as…

  • To what degree am I willing to act decisively and with integrity to get the results I seek (when it may be inconvenient to do so)?
  • What are the principles and core values I'm willing to stake my life and success upon?
  • How well do I perform well under pressure and in the face of change and uncertainty?
  • How can I become more effective in dealing with conflict, chaos, and differences?

People often repeatedly participate in The Samurai Game® experience. And each time, the experience is unique and profound.

Who owns and oversees The Samurai Game® worldwide?

The Samurai Game® is owned by the Leonard Family Trust, which holds all rights to the copyrights and patents for the Samurai Game® worldwide.

Samurai Game Associates (SGA) represents the Leonard Family Trust in all matters pertaining to the training and certification of Samurai Game Facilitators and general business administration for The Samurai Game® worldwide.

Grayson James is President of Samurai Game Associates. Grayson learned to deliver the Samurai Game by George Leonard in the 1980s and was a long-time student and close friend of George and Annie Leonard until Leonard's passing in 2010, and Annie's passing in 2011.

The Samurai Game Associates Leadership Team is the primary governing body for SGA and the Samurai Game® worldwide.

SGA Leadership Team members set and maintain the training, certification and delivery standards and policies for all Facilitators around the world. In collaboration with the Leonard Family Trust, the SGA Leadership Team also develops and oversees new programs and opportunities to support the continued learning and engagement of Samurai Game participants and Facilitators globally.

SGA Leadership Team Members

  • Grayson James (USA)
  • Jenaro Pliego (Mexico)
  • Esteban Juanantonio Hernandez (Mexico)
  • Marina Bondarenko (Russia/Georgia)
  • Kek Hoe ("KH") Koh (Malaysia)
  • Pablo Bellini Ramirez (Argentina/Mexico)
  • Eduardo Barajas Younes (USA/Mexico)
  • Angelica Gutierrez, Administrative Director (Philippines)

Samurai Game Ownership Information

Format, flow, activities, characters, character staging, and script lines for The Samurai Game® are fixed in the form of writing and recording and constitute intellectual property copyrighted in 1977 by George Leonard under US Copyright # TXu 1-626-797 with International Copyright Secured. All productions of The Samurai Game®, including those delivered as adaptations, with title changes, or character name changes, and all derivatives are covered by copyright and require pre-production written approval from Leonard Family Trust or its representative, Samurai Game Associates, LLC. “The Samurai Game” is a Registered Trademark - US Trademark Registration #2,630,801.

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