Ronin – A lordless samurai, especially one whose feudal lord had been deprived of his territory.

There are many of us today, many more than 25 years ago, even 10 years ago. The economy combined with the empowering freedom of social tools has created an abundance of free agent communicators. Like the ronin in Japan’s feudal times, we know no master, some by choice, many by circumstance.

It’s not an easy life. You live by the sword, and eat what you kill. Many do their time until they find a new employer, God willing. others struggle along, barely scratching by.

Then there are those of us who make a go of it. We thrive on the independent work style. The freedom and the consistent change in work enthralls us. It becomes hard to think of returning to the world of one mission, one objective.

The best free agents develop a reputation for excellence, cultivating ongoing interest from potential employers who pay contract fees for a portion of time. They may be well known publicly, especially in the age of blogging. Some are not. They work by word of mouth, letting client tell client about their services.

In some cases, loyal relationships are created, lasting years on end. The free agent becomes like French General Lafayette, sitting by General Washington’s side always there to help and assist, but never fully taking on a country’s colors.

Others simply go on to lead schools of thought, marketing themselves to other free agents as “thought” leaders. These marketing “dojos” can become quite large, but many times they are not battle tested. Thought is cheap online, experience is not.

In an attention economy, experience does not matter as much, unfortunately. It’s harmful because people listen, and can be led down paths that will not help them with their own clientele. But in the real world of client engagement, it can be life and death for a business.

The best schools take their words as a responsibility to the market place, sharing research, experiences and real market examples. Learning experience-based best practices — those based on campaigns, not personal glories — can teach a free agent to become more successful. Success spawns opportunities, which in turn can empower the free agent to pick and choose their work.

Isn’t that what most modern “ronin” want?


  • The Ronin were warriors, like Lafayette. Not many of those around in the SM world, sadly. Lots of people parading as masters and starting dojos, sure, but not many willing to take the time to actually become masters, to earn their stripes in battle, and ultimately to step out in the open and bleed for what they stand for. 

    • No, there are some serious pretenders out there.  Musashi also mentioned this in his Wind Book. I think he said, “…it is held in other schools that there are many methods of using the long sword in order to gain the admiration of beginners. This is the selling of the Way. It is a vile spirit in strategy.” They have no idea what it means to run a real marketing campaign and that is their undoing.

  • “The Warrior Code, the delight in battle. You understand that, yes? But there is also something more. You understand there is something outside yourself that has to be served.”

    So this self-employed, Ronin, code. I see it and I want it for myself. I see the delight in battle, the motivational power of working for yourself and seeing the direct results of continued effort. I understand that. But there is something more. There is a whole world of people out there which, together, is of far greater worth than I which must be served. To me, this is what it’s all about. This is honor.

    PS: And just because I really believe this stuff (and suspect you gents might be fans of the movie, Ronin, here’s a link to a story I did a while back which shares some of my own thoughts on “Roninism.”


    • The code of Bushido.  Have you read Musashi? And yeah, the movie was a great DeNiro flick of course.  There is a higher calling, and yet many who practice lack this honor.  That is a shame.

      • Yes, Bushido. I was not familiar with Musashi, but there is enough information on the Wikipedia entry to get me interested. Thanks for the mention. 

  • I suppose my thoughts are going to sustain your metaphor of the ronin and the dojo. Although I never have read Musashi, I did train in Japanese jujitsu for almost two years. What I liked (still do) about that particular style of martial arts was its focus on real-life application. Whatever we learned – whether it was some seemingly fancy throw or hold – was based in technique and physics and could be used whether we were on those oh-so-cushy mats or in the grocery store parking lot.

  • What you describe is more like musha shugyo than anything else. After a student completes his training with a teacher, he’s sent out into the world to put his knowledge to the test, the warrior’s pilgrimage or journey. The main difference between SM and the classical musha shugyo is that generally speaking, you don’t die if you fail miserably in SM.

    • A good point, and applicable to some. But you and I for example had careers before social media. I would not consider myself a marketing misha shugyo given the 13 years of marketing and journalism experience I had prior to going solo. And social for me is just one of the tools I use. I’d say the same is true for you given your strengths that I am aware of. Good addition!  Thank you for the comment.

  • Having spent several years in a Dojo, one key thing I learned as we trained was patience, yet that seems to fail me in the SM World. Maybe because real businesses are spending real money for junk, or my own ego again getting in the way, not sure. No need to be the SM Police. 

    Breath, the Sensei would shout, breath! Perhaps that will clear the way for more patience, 

  • Geoff,
    As someone who’s just recently shed the vestiges of feudal loyalty and become a complete “Ronin,” I’d say there is a difference, especially in the DC environment. Many communicators/strategists/social media somethingwhats do have a cause, range of causes, or value set that informs what work they take and how they perform it. Some, though not employed by a “party” are identified as part of that party, others have become defined as “environmental” or “women’s rights” advocates, no matter which particular PAC/Group/Non-profit may be signing the check this week.

    Of course there’s also the “Ronin” model used by Robert DeNiro’s character in the movie, but I wouldn’t want to spoil that.

  • One of my favorite Ronin’s is Dan Kennedy.

    His “Business of Copywriting Academy”  seminar that he did for AWAI was some of the best Ronin trainings I’ve ever come across for any consultant or freelancer.  And he’s a shining model of someone who for years has bowed to no master and succeeded. Also not afraid of voicing his opinion and offending people who he doesn’t want to attract.

    Love how you used the Ronin for illustrating your point here Geoff.

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