Form a large circle, with you standing in the centre.
Introduce yourself as the Master Samurai, brandishing your sword (pool noodle.)
Announce that your objective is to eliminate everyone in the circle, while your group’s task is to stay in the game as long as possible.
Explain that when you swish your sword very high (head-height,) those in front of its arc (parallel to ground) should bend down immediately.
When you swish your sword very low (knee-height,) those in front of its arc (parallel to ground) should jump off the ground immediately.
If a member of the circle does not react quickly enough, they are eliminated and will be invited to sit down where they stood.
The Samurai will continue to swish their sword over the course of a minute or two, aiming to eliminate as many if not all of the group.
When one last person remains, they are invited to become the next Samurai.
Everyone returns to standing in the circle, and the next round commences.
Play several rounds, involving multiple Samurais, over 10 to 15 minutes, or try a variation.
How To Play Narrative
This exercise will largely owe its success to the level to which you are prepared to ‘ham it up.’ Inject a ton of life, enthusiasm and commitment into your character, and you WILL become the Samurai.
Ask your group to form a large circle around you, standing at least 4 to 5 metres (14 – 17’) away from you in the centre.
Introduce yourself as the Master Samurai (you may even hear the clang of gongs in the background.)
Alert your group to the fact that you are wearing a belt, indeed a Black Belt. As you invite everyone to look down at their own waist, you note that they wear only a lowly White Belt. A pity.
Next, explain the mysterious powers you hold over your Samurai sword (this is when you brandish your magical pool noodle.)
When you swish your sword high through the air (parallel to the ground) at head height, explain that it has the power to cut people’s heads off. Yet, when it is slashed low through the air at knee height, it will cut people’s legs off!
Happily, announce to your group that they can avoid losing their head by simply ducking their heads and bending down, and may avoid losing their legs by jumping on the spot into the air.
Naturally, the sword does not actually reach nor touch anyone throughout this exercise – just figured I should mention that in case you’re wondering!
Yet, as powerful as the sword is, there can only be two types of swishes – low and high – and the sword only affects those who are in the path of its arc, ie if the sword is swished past or pointed towards a person, only they are affected.
Now to the fun.
The Master’s clear objective is to eliminate everyone in the circle, by slashing this way and that, slicing heads and chopping knees. Lowly White Belts are challenged to remain in the game as long as possible by jumping up and bobbing down as the case may be.
Start by respecting the ancient Samurai tradition and bow to the four corners of the circle, inviting each person to bow back to you. The Master will then start slashing away, making a variety of long and short arcs of his or her sword around the circle.
If a White Belt is too slow, or simply ducks when they should have jumped, or vice versa, they are asked to sit down where they stood. The last person standing has withstood your challenge, and is now invited to assume the role of the (new) Master in the next round.
At this point, all those who were eliminated can return to the game and stand in the circle again, ready for the new Samurai to strut their stuff.
It really heightens the fun if encourage the addition of audible grunts, swooshes and shrills as the sword is wielded throughout the activity. As I said, have fun with it, and your group will respond accordingly.
Swap Samurais several times until your group is ready to move on.
Practical Leadership Tips
If taking on the character of a Samurai would not be considered politically correct, fair enough. Assume the swash-buckling nature of a pirate, or a wizard (see Variations tab) or any other playful or make-believe sword-bearing character.
Likewise, if brandishing a weapon of any sort will raise the ire of your zero-tolerant school, team or organisation, then, by all means, substitute it for something more positive, eg a wizard’s wand.
Keep the circle as large as is reasonable. Tight circles bristle with energy, but for the purposes of this game, it is useful for the Samurai to have a lot of room to ply their trade, not to mention, make it easier for people to know if the sword passed them by or not.
You could integrate Samurai as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of enjoying a healthy burst of physical activity and a good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to successfully anticipate and respond to the Master Samurai’s strokes may speak to the benefits of being mindful insofar as it is strongly correlated to one’s success in the game.
Also, if presented as framed, there is no physical contact with the Samurai (or their sword) and the participants. However, if you expand your understanding of safety to include emotional and mental dimensions, there are certainly many valuable opportunities to discuss the impact of appropriating certain cultural norms and traditions. For example, I know some facilitators feel uncomfortable embracing the ‘samurai’ gestures because they fear it may be interpreted as making fun of these folks. I expect that this will not be your intention, but playing this game may help your group reflect on the following types of questions:
Do you think we were making fun of a Samurai in this game? Why?
In general, how can we ensure that we do not offend others?
If our intentions are good and harmless, but we still offend someone, is this okay?
When is it not okay to offend others?
How might we present this game in a ‘politically correct’ format?
Enter the Kamikaze: Place a second, unused sword in the centre adjacent to the Master. At any time, an eliminated person may sneak up and snatch the second sword, and challenge the Master to a surprise duel. Following protocol, the two must first face-off, bow, and then engage in mortal combat. The first to tag the other below the other’s knee with their sword is the new Master Samurai. If the challenger wins, all those who have been eliminated are back in the game (ie the incentive to challenge the Master) and the challenger becomes the new Samurai. However, if the Master wins, the challenger suffers a histrionic death and must claw their way back to the circle.
Politically Correct: Presume the foam noodle is a magic wand, and the person in the centre is a mysterious wizard. Simple swishes of the wizard’s wand will cause people to jump in the air, or bob down as it passed them by. You can work out the rest…
No Noodle: The use of a foam noodle is not critical, nor even necessary. The Samurai could simply point a stick, a pen, or just their finger to wreak havoc.
Quick-movement energiser to teach safety consciousness.
Highly energetic tag game which inspires collaboration.
Exciting trust-building experience that sharpens reflexes.
Useful Framing Ideas
As a kid, one of my favourite early morning TV shows was a sub-titled Japanese program that featured the heroic actions of a masterful Samurai. I would sit spellbound and mesmerised by the way he would cut the air with his sword, not to mention, somehow always end up victorious. These days, I hold little fascination for the sword or any form of weapon, but I do know a playful way to use it…
Did you learn a martial art when you were younger, maybe even as an adult? Some of these sports featured the earning of various coloured belts, the premier being the black belt of course. Do any of you here hold a black belt in Karate, or similar art? [ allow time for volunteers…] In any case, it’s your turn to imagine being a black belt today…
As you stand in this circle, by sheer coincidence you happen to be standing right behind a beautiful martial arts uniform. Please bend down now and pick it up and wrap it around your body. You will also note the presence of a colourful belt. And note that mine is black and yours is not…
Responding quickly is a very useful day-to-day skill. It keeps us out of trouble, and can also prevent us getting in harm’s way. When you think of this skill, and your level of proficiency, which is your strongest stimulus – visual cues, oral cues or aural cues? This next exercise will involve all three cues, let’s see which one you respond to the quickest…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this entertaining and engaging group game:
Where was the fun in this exercise? Why?
What did you discover about your ability to respond quickly?
What cues did you respond to most effectively – visual, oral or aural? Do you know why?
Where else in our lives are we required to respond quickly?
What consequences are there when we don’t respond quickly enough? Give an example.
The inspiration for Samurai, and many more playful energisers, was sourced from the following publications: