Knowing What It’s Like to be Weak: Leadership and Katsugeki Touken Ranbu

"Touken Ranbu : Kanesada + Horikawa" | Art by fylus. Used with permission.
“He’s reckless, rough, inexperienced, quick to fight, and in some ways, he seems very unstable.”

That’s an appropriate description of Kanesada from Katsugeki Touken Ranbu, and pretty much any new leader, including me. During my first semester of university, I was determined to lead all my group projects, even though I was inexperienced. I learned the hard way that not everyone was as concerned about making deadlines or producing detailed work as I was. Not everyone could attend rehearsals. Not everyone had the same opinions. Not everyone could speak as fluently as the others.

And I made a big error as a leader that hurt others and cost me my pride.

Doubts and weaknesses are part of being a respectable leader.

Kanesada also makes a mistake. As one of the human manifestations of Japanese swords who are sent back in time to protect history, Kanesada is a captain assigned to five other swords. But his mission goes terribly wrong. One member gets critically injured, and they are all called back prematurely. Although history is preserved, many civilians’ and soldiers’ lives are needlessly lost, leaving Kanesada questioning: “Can we really say we’ve preserved history if we’ve failed to protect so many other things?”

Blaming himself for the failure of the mission, Kanesada falls into brooding depression, avoiding his teammates and getting angry when they call him captain, because he believes he failed as their leader. He distracts himself by training intensively or burying himself in excuses. He is unable to forget his failure, replaying it over and over in his head: “Did our mission really end the way it should have?”

Kanesada finally seeks out the counsel of the oldest sword, Mikazuki. Mikazuki had sensed something more than recklessness in him, which is why Kanesada was chosen as captain in the first place. He reminds Kanesada that his doubts have forged him into a better leader, because those doubts ensured he carefully considered and desired what was best for his team.

“Touken Ranbu Izuminokami Kanesada” by keelerleah.

I had similar doubts about myself, because I made mistakes as the group leader in university. Four of us felt alienated from two of the other members, and we brought that to life with a class exercise in which we had to draw our group dynamic. It was a ship with myself at the helm, and we drew those two students defecting from those of us on the ship. Worst of all, those two students were absent during this activity, so we didn’t have their input in the drawing.

It was a very real problem for our group; drawing the picture allowed us to recognize it and make light of it. Unfortunately, it was not perceived so humorously by the two members when they saw it, and I was later told that it was “very rude.”  Horrified that it had caused such offense, I confronted this misunderstanding head-on, asked what I could do to fix the situation, and addressed it with my group to make amends. I cried that day because I thought I had failed as a leader.

When my sister found me slumped on the couch at home, defeated, she told me that strong leaders aren’t perfect; they’re strong because they know what it’s like to be weak. “The only difference between you and your teammates is that you had the courage to stand up and lead,” she said.

Strong leaders aren’t perfect; they’re strong because they know what it’s like to be weak.

And then I realized that doubts and weaknesses are part of being a respectable leader. They proved that I had the desire to admit my mistakes, learn from them, and most importantly, have the courage to move on.

Similarly, Kanesada eventually approaches each member of his team and asks them to join him again for another mission: “Will you still fight by my side, even with a captain like me?” Kanesada has his doubts, but by recognizing his own humanity, he is able to acknowledge the humanity of the swords he leads and focus on the greater purpose: “I just realized that I needed to confront what it meant to protect history again.”

Acknowledging my mistakes and seeking reconciliation gave me a chance to connect with my team. It wasn’t my strength, nor Kanesada’s, that inspired people to follow. How we overcome and are empowered by our weaknesses and doubts encourage others to want to follow us; that is where a true leader’s strength lies.

Amy Covel

Amy Covel

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Amy Covel is a published poet of old-fashioned ideas with a modern style. Outside of poetry, she has published pop culture articles online and toiled eight years on manuscripts that will probably be published in another eight. When she’s not writing, she’s teaching students the difference between APA and MLA, jotting down ideas at 1:00 in the morning, and playing Minecraft with her goddaughter on Fridays. Amy is currently pursuing her master’s degree in English and Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University.
Amy Covel