Mar 252010
Oda Nobunaga by Kano Motohide

The Battle of Okehazama

Before he came to power, one of Japan’s three great unifiers, Oda Nobunaga, faced a major crisis which threatened to end his career prematurely. Imagawa Yoshimoto, a powerful rival warlord, invaded his lands with an army of 25,000 men. In contrast, Nobunaga could only muster a paltry 2,500 soldiers to defend himself with. As fort after fort fell, Nobunaga’s retainers gave up hope of victory. Some even advocated surrender to preserve their lives. Defeat for Nobunaga meant death for him and possibly his family.

To his credit, Nobunaga remained objective despite the overwhelming odds and the pessimism of his followers. He continued to monitor Imagawa’s activities, patiently waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Soon, he learnt that Imagawa’s army had encamped near a small village called Okehazama. Nobunaga knew the place well and realized it was favourable for an ambush. Furthermore, Nobunaga learnt from his scouts that Imagawa’s men had become overconfident due to their recent victories. Behaving as if they had already won the war, the enemy was celebrating with food and wine. Naturally, their vigilance and discipline slackened as a result.

There was no time to lose. Everything hinged on this opportunity to turn his fortunes around. Nobunaga decided to launch a surprise attack even though his army was only one-tenth of the enemy. But first, he divided his troops into two. He equipped the smaller force with many flags and dummy troops made of straw to fool Imagawa into thinking that this was the main force. Then, Nobunaga quickly led the rest of his army to the rear of Imagawa’s camp.

Even though Nobunaga was confident of victory, he knew his men still had their doubts. So along the way, he stopped at a Shinto shrine and told them, “After I visit the shrine, I will toss a coin. If it turns up heads, we will win; if it turns up tails, we will lose. Destiny holds us in her hand.” With that, Nobunaga entered the shrine to pray. Then, he reappeared before his men and tossed the coin. Miraculously, the coin turned up heads. Reassured that the Gods favoured them, his soldiers were now eager for battle. The sudden thunderstorm that followed the mid-day heat further boosted their confidence as it was perfect for a surprise attack.

While the Imagawa samurai took shelter from the storm, Nobunaga carefully deployed his troops. Once the rain stopped, they charged down upon the unsuspecting enemy in the gorge. Taken completely by surprise, the Imagawa samurai fled from the battlefield. In the chaos, many enemy generals died. Two of Nobunaga’s soldiers even managed to kill Imagawa Yoshimoto himself. With the death of the enemy leaders, the rest of the army dispersed. And so, in one surprise attack, Nobunaga repelled the enemy and regained control of his territory.

“No one can change the hand of destiny,” his attendant told him after the battle. “Indeed not,” said Nobunaga as he took out a coin with heads on both sides.

Learning from Nobunaga

While most of us may never face such danger, at times we may have to deal with adversities of our own. As seen from the story above, Nobunaga triumphed over adversity because of the things he chose to do. In effect, he handled the adversity he faced well. What then can we learn from Nobunaga in dealing with adversity?

-The Importance of Attitude

Nobunaga believed he would prevail and resolved to do so. This was a crucial factor in his victory. If he had allowed the fears of his retainers to shake his confidence, he would have lost his life and the means to protect his loved ones. Instead he used his belief to fuel his resolve to find a way to beat the odds. His focus on the solution instead of the problem paid off in the end. Just when all seemed lost, he created an opportunity to turn things around.

Your ability to manage adversity depends on your attitude towards it. If you believe you will succeed, you will find a way to do so. If you believe you will fail, you will also find a way to do so. In the midst of difficulty, it is all too easy to despair and give up. Having a positive attitude doesn’t happen at will. It is something that has to be cultivated until it becomes a habit. So practice having a positive view of things when things are going well for you. And when adversity happens, take the opportunity to practice having a positive attitude here as well. With practice in good and bad times, your attitude will improve naturally.

-Maintaining Objectivity in the Midst of Adversity

Crippled by fear, Nobunaga’s retainers viewed things in a bad light. To them, defeat was certain because they lacked manpower. But Nobunaga remained objective. Since the invasion was in his domain, he had the advantage of familiarity. He also knew that a huge army was bound to make mistakes sooner or later. His scouts kept a close watch on the enemy. The moment they made a mistake, Nobunaga would strike them fast and hard. In the meantime, he would patiently bide his time.

One of the hardest things to do in the midst of troubles is to stay objective. Without it, your worries and fears can impair your judgement when you need to make the right choices. When you are facing challenges, do not just focus on the negative or positive view of things. Instead try to see both sides of the story. Most importantly, focus on the solutions and not the problem to create opportunities for yourself.

-Acting Boldly and Decisively

Nobunaga’s chance appeared when the enemy camped near Okehazama to indulge in drunken revelry. But he had to act swiftly. If he missed the moment, the enemy might regain their composure, then, it would be all over for him. Because Nobunaga took all the measures to stack the odds in his favour, his surprise attack paid off. As his fame spread throughout the land, many people hailed this victory as a miracle. In truth, it was his boldness that saved the day.

When opportunity appears, it is best to be ready and waiting to pounce on the slippery individual.
There are no second chances especially in the midst of danger. That’s not to say that one should plunge in blindly. Analyze the situation carefully, but do not delay longer than you should. If you realize that this is the moment for you to turn things around, act boldly and decisively.

Taking Action

There are 3 ways to manage adversity well. That is to stay objective, have a positive attitude and to act boldly at the right moments. It also helps to know why you must triumph over adversity. Knowing what you are fighting for gives you the strength to persevere when you find yourself in difficulties.

It is in such troubled times, the choices you make matters. If you are at a loss about what to do or how to proceed, you will find help through my consultation services.

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  7 Responses to “How to Handle Adversity”

  1. This was an interesting and well written article, i liked it! A bit of history in front that got me intrigued and some pretty neat advice at the end. Informative and helpful. :)

  2. It took me a long time to search on the web, only your site open up the fully details, bookmarked and thanks again.

    - Laura

  3. The interesting fact is Oda Nobunaga is one of the most interesting characters in world history, at least to me, so that is actually how I came across this. I love how you used one of my heroic persons to describe something that effects everyone. Bravo.

    • Hi Thor,

      It’s good of you to stop by! :)

      You are absolutely right. Oda Nobunaga is a very interesting character in world history. Being a huge history buff myself, I feel that history has many useful insights into life that we could benefit from. Since you like Nobunaga, I am sure you realize how beneficial it can be to have an inspirational role model in times of adversity to remind us of what we need to do.

      And what better way to learn history than to relive it by playing games. Have you tried Shogun 2 Total War? It is definitely one of the better games that I have enjoyed playing so far. It definitely brings history to life for me. :D

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

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