Samurai Jack is a cartoon that aired on Teletoon from 2001 to 2004. The story involves a young samurai raised from birth to destroy an evil demon called Aku who killed his parents and destroyed their village. Yielding a sword forged in the power of Good and with training from cultures around the planet, he’s primed and ready to end Aku’s evil reign, when the crafty spirit tears time open and sends jack plummeting to the far reaches of the future.
The series has earned high praise for its storytelling and awesome visuals. But look closer and you’ll find some interesting parallels between Jack and your average backpacker. You might even say he could make you a better traveler.
Samurai Jack is a heroic character. He only exists to destroy Aku and his evil, yet he’s plunged at the last moment before he kills his rival into a seemingly hopeless situation far into the future and worlds away from anything that might resemble logic or reason.
Yet Jack does not bewail his situation. Indeed, he always moves forward with both strength and compassion, and often goes out of his way to help others. Even when faced with the choice of going home or helping his fellow man (or creature), he chooses the latter. He’s a stoic dude, and upright in character, and has awesome sword skills that are a hoot to watch.
OK, you’re asking: what does this have to do with YOU? Well, if you’re a traveler, you’ll be plunked down in strange situations like our animated sword master. You can be sure you’ll face touts, at some point, reclining plane seats and food that may turn your stomach inside-out. But instead of lamenting the challenges of travel, let’s look at what Samurai Jack might do in a similar situation.
Travel Lessons From Samurai Jack
Be Courageous – It takes guts to travel abroad. You’ll be taken far out of your comfort zone and be put in situations you won’t learn in any textbook. So what about Samurai Jack? He’s forced to fight in every episode. His foes are usually bigger, stronger and larger in number – to say nothing about how much courage it takes to just move on when it seems all hope is lost.
Be brave when you travel. Get off the main roads (security permitting) and seek out the unfamiliar. There will come a time at some point when you think you made a mistake by traveling. But push on. If Samurai Jack can teach you anything, it’s to stand tall and embrace your fear.
Embrace New Surroundings – You traveled a long way to do something out of the ordinary. So embrace it – this is a reoccurring theme with Samurai Jack. In each episode he’s in a new land and with different creatures, who usually have very different customs and ways of doing things. But rather than scoffing or longing for the familiar, Jack goes into each situation with an open mind.
Remember when “Jack Learns to Jump Good“? (Season Two, Episode 12), when he lets go of all his preconceptions and joins a friendly band of primates with some mad jumping skills?
Always try and embrace the unfamiliar. You may get homesick, yes. But travel is about learning and becoming more resilient, stronger and making your heart just a little bit bigger. So don’t wish for your own bed – immerse yourself in your new surroundings. You may even develop a greater understanding of this planet we share.
Don’t Despair – Your bed is safe. The unknown is exactly that – and when traveling, there’s a chance you may find yourself in some intense situations.
Years ago, when traveling through Cambodia (from the Thai border to Angkor Wat), I was in a cab with two fellow Canadians and temporarily kidnapped by the driver’s ‘brother’ who got in our running car and started driving us to God knows where. For about 30 seconds, I truly learned the meaning of fear – though after some tense moments and 3 hours of driving through the Cambodian countryside, we eventually got safely to our destination.
Samurai Jack would tell you this too. Look at his situation – it’s hopeless. He’s thousands of years in the future, in foreign lands with strange inhabitants, many of whom want to see him dead. But he keeps going because he believes in his destiny. Get a better understanding of yours and it may help you too.
Show Compassion – If you’re Canadian or American, or live in any developed country, you’re among the luckiest people in history. Many folks aren’t so lucky, and this is another theme we see in the Samurai Jack series. We see it early, in fact, beginning with the second episode, in which Jack helps a group of canines fight off Aku’s drones from destroying their town.
We see him helping characters from many walks of life, including soldiers (remember when he helps the 300 warriors?), trapped souls (Demongo), an old man who rescues animals in his apartment and even a race of undersea creatures who initially betray him.
Samurai Jack would die to help his fellow man or beast, and while I’m not suggesting you become a monk, I will suggest you can use travel to volunteer, smile at people, teach street kids funny tricks and go out of your way to make someone’s day.
Make New Friends – Travel is an easy way to meet other people. Good things can happen if you’re a single traveler looking to change that. But travel in general is a way to meet people in a variety of situations. Jack shows this several times throughout the series, from the Shaolin Warriors he bonds with to, more famously, the Scotsman, with whom he fights – and soon bonds with.
The Scotsman later becomes one of Jack’s closest allies, and saves his life later in the series.
Get out of your shell when you pack up and travel. I spent most of my traveling days with others the old-fashioned way – in a hostel. I’ve found that’s an excellent way to meet people. That might not be your style, I get that. So stay in a smaller hotel or, better yet, a local B & B. Then, take a cue from Rick Steves, head down to the lobby and meet the family.
Be Polite – Look dude. Things happen when you’re traveling. People will recline the seat in front of you. Touts will hound you and may get aggressive. You may encounter rude taxi drivers when jet-lagged. Customs will go through your stuff, and, quite frankly, many of the people who live where you’re traveling simply don’t care if you’re having a good vacation because they have other things they’re thinking about.
One of the funnier examples of this from Samurai Jack is Episode 42, Samurai Vs Samurai, in the fourth season, in which Jack encounters an aggressive Samurai (or, if you’ve seen the episode, Da Sa-Mu-RHAII!!!) who just has to challenge him to ‘throw down!
Believe me, you’ll be in many situations while traveling, where you’ll need to bite your tongue and be polite – even when you really want to go postal.
I’ll end this post with a video of this encounter (and suggest you watch the full episode to see how it ends. It’s hilarious – and a little humbling). And I’ll remind you that learning never stops, no matter what your age or achievements in life. Even for a samurai, the road has no end.
I can’t wait to see the new series – a continuation from where the original left off. Look for it on Adult Swim in the Fall of this year.