Hikaru Sulu, Star Trek And The Art Of War
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
With these words began one of the most iconic science fiction franchises in the history of the entertainment business, Star Trek! The original television series lasted for three seasons from 1966 to 1969, then re-emerged as an animated series for two seasons from 1973 to 1974 and then evolved into six full length motion pictures from 1979 to 1991 and eventually spawned numerous spin off series.
One of the classic series most memorable characters was senior helmsman Hikaru Sulu, played by actor George Takei. I have been a Star Trek fan since the original series, so I thought that it would be fun to illustrate some similarities between Sulu, martial arts and the Art of War in their many manifestations!
The number one priority for Sulu and the graduates of the Starfleet Academy, was to embody the Prime Directive, a code adopted by the Federation of planets which essentially stated that no Federation members would interfere in the development of independent civilizations.
Like the ninjas of feudal Japan, this frequently resulted in Sulu and his fellow members of the USS Enterprise, having to covertly operate undercover, just like their ancient Japanese counterparts.
The above philosophy necessitated the crew members of the Enterprise to be fluid and adaptable with whatever circumstances that they might encounter, in order to be successful in their mission without disrupting the alien civilization that they were operating in.
“One who is able to change and transform in accord with the opponent and achieve victory, is termed spiritual.” Sun Tzu.
Hikaru Sulu had a great deal in common with his Samurai forbearer. For one thing, samurai were adventurers, fighting wars or keeping the peace and frequently required to operate in unknown circumstances and situations.
Samurai were not only expected to be expert warriors, but were also required to balance out their war arts with more artistic and cultural pursuits such as calligraphy, art and poetry. Sulu was described as being an expert in fencing, botany, ancient weapons and gymnastics.
Speaking of the samurai, in the classic Star Trek episode from the first season called “Shore Leave” when encountering a Japanese samurai on a supposedly deserted planet, Sulu was forced to resort to his gymnastic abilities much the same way a ninja would have, in order to evade the samurai’s attack when his phaser malfunctioned.
In another episode from the first season called “The Naked Time” Sulu describes his interest in fencing because it “Tones the muscles, sharpens the eye and improves the posture.” These benefits are also familiar to anyone involved in the martial and self defense arts, as I can personally attest! Here are two more quotes from Sun Tzu that could relate to Sulu and Star Trek.
“He must fight under Heaven with the utmost aim of preservation.”
This illustrates Starfleet’s respect for life and their reluctance to resort to violence unless absolutely necessary.
“Subjugating the enemy’s army without resorting to violence, is the true pinnacle of success.”
Again, illustrating Sulu and Starfleet’s philosophy of achieving their objectives by nonviolent and sometimes covert means.
Throughout the three seasons of original series, the two seasons of the animated TV show and the six motion pictures, there are numerous connections and parallels between Hikaru Sulu, Star Trek, Asian military strategy and tactics and the martial and self defense arts.
In another example of this connection from the episode “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” from the first season, the Enterprise travels back in time. Sulu and Captain Kirk are forced to go on a covert mission to retrieve film and reports of the appearance of the USS Enterprise in the 1960’s, in order to preserve the time line.
The mission requires Sulu and the Captain to infiltrate a USA air force base and stealthily prowl about unseen, in a very ninja like fashion! When they are discovered, while Captain Kirk singlehandedly, fights off three security guards, Sulu beams up with the crucial evidence, showing an unflinching dedication to successfully completing the mission. This trait is reminiscent of both ninja and samurai alike!
Later in the same episode, Sulu knocks out a guard with a single shuto or knife hand to the soldier’s neck, demonstrating his proficiency in the martial arts and unarmed self defense.
Commander Sulu was eventually promoted to Captain and given command of the USS Excelsior, where he continued the fine tradition of Starfleet, utilizing his knowledge of martial arts, philosophy and military strategy and tactics to further the Federation of Planets objectives by nonviolent means and “Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before!”
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Our wish is for your continued success!
Nicholas J. Chase