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Learning from the Samurai: Being Tessen Ready

What is a tessen? In Japanese samurai tradition, a tessen is a folding fan designed in a fashion that has multiple uses. Samurai could take these fans to places where swords or other weapons were not allowed. Tessens were used to fend off knives and darts, as a throwing weapon, and as an aid in swimming. The life of a samurai was one of ingenuity, awareness, and foresight in a world where safety and diplomacy were essential for survival. Although we do not live in this world, the concept of the tessen is something I would like you to consider. In a day and age where anything can happen, from the everyday to the extraordinary, what would it take to help you feel as ready for any situation as a samurai with their tessen? Are you fostering and exercising a mindset of flexibility and spontaneity? Like the three functions mentioned earlier, consider these ways you can be ready for the day:

  • Fending off stressors. What is in your mental health tool box to help cope with the proverbial knives and darts of the world? Is it a mantra, religious text, or wise saying? Something you wear or have in your pocket to help emotionally center you? Have that resource or thought on standby when you start your day.

  • Making your needs known. Take time to be aware of your needs. If your needs aren’t being met, consider sharing those needs with someone you trust or respect—maybe a supervisor, coworker, spouse, partner, or close friend. When your needs are made known, others have the opportunity to engage and provide support.

  • Reaching out for help. Like the fan being used as a swimming aide, what are the ways and who are the people/supports you can utilize to get out of a challenging situation? As you develop that list, keep it handy. Maybe put those supports on your phone favorites list or keep a running list of ways you can feel supported. 


Lou Lim is a licensed mental health counselor and registered expressive arts therapist (REAT) with a master's degree in Expressive Therapy and Mental Health Counseling from Lesley University. He is a member of the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association and on the committee for REAT credentialing. He has 13 years of experience in counseling and expressive therapy working with children, adolescents, teenagers, adults, and retirees.


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