Last night I saw one of my favorite movies, The Last Samurai, on TV. I just so love this movie that I can keep watching it over and over again. There are some movies like that- you just don’t want them to end. You wish they would just go on and on. I first saw The Last Samurai on a flight and I felt so enthralled that I didn’t even want the flight to land! I wanted the saga of Capt. Algren (Tom Cruise) and Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) to go on and on! I was seeing it yesterday, maybe for the tenth time or some such, and everything was just the same! The same feeling of being enthralled, the warmth spreading within you thru the extraordinary deft handling of each and every scene of the story, the effortless acting, the extraordinary fight scenes, the pathos of the old ways of the Samurai and how they clash against modern Japan, the emotional angle of the gentle but so finely woven developing relation between Algren and Taka……..I could go on and on.
But this time around, there was something more. And that is really the subject matter of this blog. Lets someone thought that I had taken up movie reviews – that too of a decade old movie!! It must have been the mindset I may have been prior to the start of the movie or maybe it was something else. But this time around I could correlate the dialogues and scenes to a lot of parallels in trading! Of course, what I write will make more sense to those who have seen the movie. But by now, I am sure I have given you sufficient reasons to go and see it. So with that in mind, here is my take.
One of the fine scenes in the movie is the one where Algren takes up the sword for the first time to fight a Samurai warrior. He gets clobbered of course. But he refuses to stay down. Every single time he gets hit, he gets up. Only to be knocked down again. This is really the kind of quality we need to be a trader. The market is going to keep knocking us down- even when we know our craft! The key thing is therefore to get up. And pick up the fight again. And not to give up. That’s what Algren does. And finally, he wins. If we refuse to be defeated, we will win too.
The next important scene that struck me as being very trading oriented is when the young assistant comes to Algren and says that he is not succeeding because of “Too much mind”. He then advises him to take on a position of “No mind”. That is exactly the problem area in the markets too- ‘too much mind’. We are thinking of everything else except focusing on what we should be doing. That’s what ‘No Mind’ really means. Don’t let your mind wander to things that take away your focus. Every single time you focus on your trades completely, on getting it right in execution, you will find that the results are quite palatable. But the minute that other elements come into your mind, the trade ends a loser. No Mind, is the key element then.
There are many more but I will cut to the end. Meeting the Emperor after Katsumoto dies, Algren is asked by the Emperor to tell him how he (Katsumoto) died. In reply, Algren says, ‘I will tell you how he lived’. This is a telling dialogue that asks us to celebrate the process and not the outcome. Amateur traders are all focused only on the outcome- that too a favorable one. But professional trader remains focused only on the process- knowing that the outcome will always be a function of the effective implementation of the process. How Katsumoto died could be foretold. A true Samurai will die by the sword only- either the enemy’s or his own. What is more important is whether he lived the life of a true Samurai! Similarly, the outcome of a trade is not deterministic but it can only be one of the two- either a profit or a loss. But which of the two it would be, on a more consistent basis, is a function of how the process was run!
These are just a few trading parallels that I have drawn from the movie. There are many more. You have to see the movie to get the lesson. Think of it this way- if you get the trading lessons, you got more than your time’s worth. If you didn’t, you still got to see a damn fine movie anyway! Either way, you cant lose!