The United States civil war lasted 4 years (1861-1865) and caused more than 1 million casualties. The war accounted for more American deaths than in all other U.S. wars combined.
Now imagine a civil war lasting well over a 100 years.
The period in Japan known as the Sengoku period from 1467 – to roughly 1615 was just such a period. During this time, Japan was in near constant civil war, causing social upheaval, and never-ending political instability. Many regional daimyo (local lords) were continually fighting, vying for land, power, and control during this period, costing countless lives.
In the late 1560’s Oda Nobunaga, a powerful daimyo began to consolidate and control a large portion of central Japan through a series of successful sieges and battles. And for the first time in over 100 years, he brought some stability to this part of Japan. While his ultimate goal was to unify all of Japan under his control, he succeeded in conquering a portion of Japan before his untimely death, but was unable to accomplish his ultimate goal.
In 1582, taking over where Nobunaga left off, Toyotomi Hideyoshi a top general of Nobunaga, over the next decade continued the process of unifying of Japan, ultimately bringing relative stability to Japan. However, in 1598 Hideyoshi died without leaving an heir who could immediately take over, leaving a vacuum in power that many wanted to fill.
Following Hideyoshi’s death, Tokugawa Ieyasu, a former vassel of Hideyoshi, masterfully positioned himself to seize power and eventually lead the way for him to become Shogun (supreme leader) of Japan, bringing peace to a country that had only known war. He was able to complete the unification of Japan and outlast all the other great leaders of the time by employing several qualities that enabled him to rise to power. He was both careful and bold—at the right times, and in the right places. He was also calculating and subtle; Ieyasu switched alliances when he thought he would benefit from the change. Serving along-side and under both Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, he understood the power of patience. He acted only when the odds were in his favor.
Under his consolidation of power, he used his remaining years to create and solidify what became known as the Tokugawa shogunate which would rule Japan for the next 260 years.
He is thought to have fought in 90 battles throughout his lifetime.
Later in life he took to introspection and said, “The strong ones in life are those who understand the meaning of the word patience. Patience means restraining one's inclinations. There are seven emotions: joy, anger, anxiety, adoration, grief, fear, and hate, and if a man does not give way to these, he can be called patient. I am not as strong as I might be, but I have long known and practiced patience. And if my descendants wish to be as I am, they must study patience.”
Some things just take time. Knowing when to act and when not to act is a powerful skill.
Investing can be thought of similarly. Warren Buffett has said, “Time is the friend of a wonderful company, and the enemy of a mediocre one,’ and “You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”
Warren Buffett also understands the value of patience.
Understanding and appreciating these two quotes by arguably the greatest investor of all time and employing the active patience Ieyasu was so masterfully able to do, will serve you well.
-Paul R. Rossi, CFA