What is the history of The Samurai Game®?
The Samurai Game® is considered by many to be one of the most intense, engaging and powerful simulations available anywhere in the world. It is particularly useful for team and leadership effectiveness training and training for awareness, resourcefulness and decisiveness in situations marked by uncertainty, chaos and unforeseeable difficulties.
The Samurai Game® was invented in 1977 by author George Leonard (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 served as a combat pilot in World War II and afterwards became 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.
In the 1970’s, 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 www.tam-aikido.org 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 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 class one evening. Arriving at the dojo, he led the students in the first iteration of the Game. The next week, his Aikido students reported how impactful their experience of the Game had been the previous week, and asked to play it again. George began refining 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.
In the early 2000’s, Lance Giroux, a long-time leadership and personal development trainer and Aikido practitioner, assumed leadership of all Facilitator training and certification around the world, representing George Leonard. Lance learned to lead the Game from George in the 1990s and later introduced the Game to new participants and Facilitators around the world, including in the U.S., Asia-Pacific, Mexico, Russia, the Middle East, and Europe.
In 2010, George passed away, followed by his wife, Annie, in 2011, leaving the Game’s ownership rights to The Leonard Family Trust.
In 2011 Grayson James joined Lance Giroux to represent the Leonard Family Trust, continuing to train and certify Facilitators to deliver the Game around the world. Lance retired in 2020, and currently resides in Northern California where he teaches Aikido at his dojo, Aikido of Konocti.
Grayson is currently the sole international representative of the Leonard Family Trust, training and certifying Facilitators to lead the Samurai Game. Grayson learned to lead the Game from George in the mid-1980s, holds a 6th Degree Black Belt in Aikido, and brings decades of experience as a leadership coach and executive performance consultant to leaders and their teams internationally. He is author of Full Contact Performance: The Internal Art of Organizational Collaboration (John Hunt Publishers, 2023).
Why do people participate in The Samurai Game®?
People participate for many reasons. Most commonly, individuals and teams participate in The Samurai Game® to deepen their personal awareness and leadership effectiveness, team cohesion and organizational alignment. 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. It invites participants to honestly observe themselves and reflect on fundamental questions, such as…
- To what degree am I willing to act decisively and with integrity to get the results I seek?
- Upon what principles and core values do I stake my life and success?
- How well do I function in the face of uncertainty and pressure?
- How can I become more effective in dealing with conflict, chaos and change?
For these reasons individuals and organizations often repeatedly participate in The Samurai Game® experience.
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 choice 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 clear understandings about their own habitual life patterns.
- Establish an experience of intense 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 the opportunity for participants to deal with loss and recovery.
- Promote a deeper awareness of those places inside each participant where they want to stop or are unwilling to be uncomfortable.
- Deepen the participants awareness of the total interplay of emotions with beliefs and physical responses.
- Push “the envelope” of personal and team integrity and commitment by learning when it cracks and when it strengthens.
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 productions of the simulation are ever quite 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. Participants are encouraged to summon forth their “warrior” spirit with courage and determination.
How long is The Samurai Game®?
The Samurai Game® is generally facilitated in a 1.5 to 2.5 day format. This enables participants to be introduced to the context, rules and roles in the Game, learn some basic practices to enhance their focus and performance, to form teams and engage in the symbolic “battles”, to have a meal break and to debrief about their experience.
The debrief session is a critically important part of The Samurai Game® as this is where participants explore and integrate their experiences, learnings, observations and questions. Participants routinely report that the real “effects” of the Samurai Game® and the lessons learned really begin during and following the debrief period. For this reason, and because the simulation is experiential in nature and intense, a period of reflection (often overnight) is highly recommended between the end of the simulation and the full debrief session—hence the 1.5 or 2.5 day format. Most learning institutions, including colleges & universities, integrate extended debrief periods for reflection after the simulation ends, including reflective writing.
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.
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.
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 corporate groups larger than 80, we advise clients to break the group into two or more smaller groups (with a certified Samurai Game® Facilitator leading each group).
Is there much physical contact in The Samurai Game®?
There is very little physical contact between participants in The Samurai Game®. The physical contact that you may experience would not be strenuous in any way and would not involve the use of force (it would be pretty similar to a handshake).
Who is qualified to lead 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® (not matter by what other names they may be calling the Game).
How does The Samurai Game® work for corporate teams or groups?
The Samurai Game® is a powerful experience for corporate teams or groups that wish to improve their collaborative performance, strengthen their capacity to lead change, or expand their leadership capacity.
In participating in the Game, team members get to experience themselves and each other in a radically different setting from their everyday work lives. In this different setting, they can become aware of many of the habitual ways of thinking and behaving that limit their performance, while also being introduced to potent new performance practices and building a powerful shared experience together that they can reference back to frequently in the future.
Would the participation of our organization's boss or senior leaders inhibit others in our organization from participating fully?
This is a very common concern. The simple answer is that of course, in some organizations, the presence of “the boss” does influence the way some people think and behave. This may also be true in The Samurai Game®. However, we have developed strategies for helping to ensure that the boss or the team’s leader(s) do not always end up in the formal leadership roles (known as “Daimyo’s”) within the Game, but instead get to experience the Game similarly to other participants, while also allowing others who may not be leaders in the real-life team or organization to assume and express their leadership in The Samurai Game®. Your certified Samurai Game® Facilitator can tell more about how this works.
Can The Samurai Game® be used to assess individuals in our team or organization based upon how they perform in the Game?
We strongly discourage any team or organization from using The Samurai Game® as tool for assessing individual’s performance! This would run counter to the intent of The Samurai Game®, and could easily inhibit individual’s reflection, risk-taking and practicing of new, non-habitual behaviors—in other words, it could inhibit the powerful personal learning that is at the heart of the Game.