Bushido, or "the way of the warrior" has undergone many changes on its winding journey from ancient times to the modern day. Some central tenets have maintained throughout, signifying their paramount importance to the overarching theme of the bushido code. Today, members of the bitcoin community, as in any larger group, inevitably find themselves on one side or the other of a certain few lines--lines which create the borders around more tight-knit subgroups. Some borders are blurry and porous, able to be crossed or straddled. Others are veritable walls, lined with armed guards ready to protect and defend the inhabitants within.
There are certain moments or events that serve as a sort of litmus test; opportunities for one to make their beliefs known to all and left as a sort of head on a spike outside the city gates to warn all in range of what lie within. For the past few years one group has done more than others to cement its stronghold over its territory, building moats using codes. Their own sort of bushido code drives much of the vision forward while conveying a clear message to all in their path, while their software code serves as the weapons cache used to enact this vision. Anyone in the bitcoin space during this time with even a fleeting interest in privacy as it relates to transactions will likely have made their position known by now. If you have not yet done so, fret not--it will not take very long to have an idea of which side of the wall you find yourself.
Today we discuss the unchanging, core tenets embodied by ancient warriors known as samurai, and how those very same foundational principles can be found being utilized in practice by a new kind of modern day warrior. This new warrior fights a very different battle than those of yore, but make no mistake; privacy in the digital age most certainly is a fight. This action must be entered with boldness, driven forward by visionary leaders, and carried onward atop the backs of dedicated soldiers, unflinching in their aim.
Valor in Battle
Valor is described as "boldness or determination when facing extreme danger, especially in battle". One might argue the use of the word valor when speaking of a digital battle for privacy is hyperbolic, but I would strongly disagree. We find ourselves today mired in what can sometimes feel an unwinnable struggle to maintain any semblance of privacy in our digital lives. Certainly this type of fight cannot be compared to the sort which have produced so many blood-soaked battlefields across this globe, yet its significance and the danger posed must not be understated. The "KYC creep" has become a full run, and the collection of an inordinate amount of your personal data when using digital technologies has been normalized to the point that anyone unwilling to hand it over may be viewed with suspicion.
This intrusion is perhaps most worrying in terms of financial transaction privacy. Privacy in itself does not necessarily speak to anonymity--rather, it is the ability to selectively reveal oneself rather than having ones data and personal information harvested or forcibly obtained through digital means. In order to be truly sovereign, one must be secure. And in order to be truly secure, one must be able to achieve a level of privacy which permits selective revelation. In terms of finances, information obtained about a transactor has been, and will continue to be, used against that person in order to enact financial censorship, one of the ugliest and most brutal forms. Bitcoin has long touted the phrase "censorship resistance" as a sort of guiding mantra, though in practice often times this has turned out to be nothing more than fodder for the crowd and an attempt to provide fuel for the Number Go Up rocketship.
Samourai, however, have stood out from members of this crowd in many ways. They have used words in the form of their unwavering support for "undesirables" being able to use their product, and they have used action in the form of their implementation of code that was "unanimously discouraged" by Bitcoin Core developers. Bitcoin being "permissionless" is likely the core tenet of the Samourai of today, and that does not get rewarded with universal love and adoration. Quite the contrary, they are often seen as antagonistic, arrogant, deceptive, or outright malicious. All claims, you will note, made overwhelmingly by people that are not actual users of the wallet, are not actually in the chatrooms and support channels with the devs, and virtually always have some sort of incentive alignment which makes it more feasible to criticize and condemn than congratulate and collaborate.
The governments and law enforcement agencies of the world also have no love lost for the Samourai and their incessant need to provide transactional privacy to all. In the 2020 edition of the annual Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment issued by Europol, Samourai was mentioned by name (albeit spelled incorrectly) as a potential threat as usage and adoption of their product grows. This is not a trivial thing, nor something Samourai take lightly. However, I believe Ross Ulbricht, founder of the original Silk Road darknet marketplace was correct in his assertion about not doing things out of pure fear of retribution from the State.
The state may try to ban our tools, but if we never use them for fear of them being banned, then we have already lost, no?
This is valor in battle, plain and simple. There is great danger in facing down world governments and law enforcement agencies. Great danger in publicly declaring the goals of hindering the surveillance capabilities of those agencies. But the greatest danger isn't present until those goals begin to truly take shape in the form of usable tools, each transaction using them another slight at the perceived dominance of government in our private and financial lives. The Samourai devs continue pushing onward nonetheless, bolstered and reaffirmed by the throngs of eager users putting their written words and lines of code into censorship resistant, permissionless action daily. This is the beating heart of bitcoin privacy today, and it is quite valorous.
Mastery of Weaponry
Even the most ardent supporter of privacy and sovereignty are rendered quite useless without the proper tools and weaponry with which to fight the battle. For many, this very point serves even today as the central driving force keeping us interested in bitcoin, as it enables actions previously only theorized and dreamed for. Actions outside control of the State, particularly financial actions, are the skirmishes won daily in the larger conflict. Those aiming to surveil and control the flow of all financial activity have virtually unlimited resources, and when dealing in bitcoin, they also have a transparent ledger forever logging every single transaction ever made with which to carry out their goal. One might think this an insurmountable obstacle, but the pseudonymous nature of the protocol itself, combined with mathematical probability and statistics, provide a path forward for us all.
Japanese swords changed over time, but the three main samurai sword types are the Tanto, Wakizashi, and Katana. Let us look at all three and their digital counterparts being wielded by over 100,000 Samourai Wallet users today. First up is the Tanto sword.
The Tanto is a short dagger always worn by samurai, with an extremely sharp blade often used for slicing or stabbing the enemy. Less a weapon of major conflicts, its everyday wearability and ability to be concealed if necessary made it the perfect weapon to make sure you could keep an enemy at arm's distance. In today's digital battleground, the Tanto sword has found a new incarnation in the form of PayNyms. Also known as reusable payment codes or stealth addresses, PayNyms enable users to avoid initial attribution by surveillance firms. Traditionally, bitcoin users seeking donations, for example, were reduced to posting a static bitcoin address publicly so that anyone could send funds to the address. However, blockchain surveillance agencies have thus been able to simply scrape all publicly available information to monitor all transactions to and from these addresses, then matching that information with known details about the users to destroy the pseudonymous protection of the bitcoin protocol. This is an extremely detrimental action, but can be effectively hindered with a simple, small weapon in the form of a PayNym. Once connected, the two individual transactors wallets will work together to derive unique addresses between the two of them alone, thus negating the publicly available, exceedingly easy task of scraping social media sites. An effective tool, an easy to use tool, and one with a small range, but an extremely potent result. Tanto, meet PayNyms.
Above you will find the second of the main samurai sword types, the Wakizashi. This sword is a shorter version of the Katana, and together they formed a duo known as "daisho", meaning "large and small". The Wakizashi was worn and used in conjunction with the Katana, and especially came in useful for indoor fighting, due to the greater maneuverability it offered. Our battles call for a slightly altered version, together known as "cahoots". Cahoots is actually made up of two different transaction types, both of which do immense damage to the heuristics applied by these surveillance firms. The Stowaway is a 2-party collaborative transaction between two Samourai Wallet users where the payee also provides an input.
This type of transaction may be called "payjoin" or "pay-to-endpoint", with slight alterations, but the idea remains the same--render the common input ownership heuristic a little more useless by destroying the assumptions made.
The STONEWALLX2 is another 2-party collaborative transaction, this time with two Samourai users composing, but being able to pay to anyone using any wallet. There are always 4 outputs in a STONEWALLX2; at least 2 of them are equal amounts, the other two returned as change to the participating wallets. One of these 4 outputs will be the actual payment, but because there are multiple inputs along with multiple outputs, the probability amounts able to be applied by surveillance firms must be dropped lower. In addition, what they nor anyone else outside the spenders themselves can know is whether or not this is actually a 2-party collaborative STONEWALLX2, or a regular STONEWALL single wallet spend--they look identical on-chain.
STONEWALL is on by default for spends in Samourai, so if the wallet is able to construct one with the utxo set of the wallet, it will. This only further destroys any assumptions these adversaries may make about the owner of the outputs, or which input paid which output. Vitally important, but again best used in combination with a larger, more powerful weapon. So Wakizashi, meet Cahoots.
Last, but certainly not least, is the above Katana. The Katana is the most well-known of the samurai swords, and is the longest sword type generally used for outdoor battle, where most larger conflicts take place. Its length nevertheless did not impede its responsiveness, and thus enabled warriors wielding it to strike from greater distances and do an enormous amount of damage with a single blow. Today we can do enormous damage to our surveillance counterparts with a single mix, using our Katana equivalent--Whirlpool. An equal-output coinjoin implementation, Whirlpool provides users with forward privacy by severing all reliably attributable past transaction history using ZeroLink theories put into practice. There are currently 5 participants per Whirlpool transaction, each providing a single input and receiving a single, equal amount output on the other side. This uniformity results in a mathematical destruction of the ownership assumptions made by any spies attempting to decipher it.
This blow can be extremely deadly to outside observers of blockchain activity, and can be performed over long distances using Tor, wielded without struggle since all can be performed on a device that fits in the palm of your hand. Katana, say hello to Whirlpool.
Now, put together the double blows of the Katana and the Wakizashi, or rather, Whirlpool and a Cahoots transaction, and enemies are left reeling. This puts the ability of weapons mastery firmly in the hands of virtually anyone seeking it. It is real and it is happening now, today. This tenet is paramount, and shows its importance in the amount of time Samourai developers and users spend in online chat support groups, eager to answer any question a new user may have. Weapons mastery turns us all from dreamers into doers.
Honor has sometimes been defined as a keen sense of ethical conduct, or one's word given as a guarantee of performance, and can take many varying forms. What may be seen as honorable by one individual may be seen as wholly dishonorable by another. As such, honor itself is one of the trickiest attributes to apply, and one of the most difficult of the core samurai tenets to uphold. When I speak of today's Samourai, often the term is used interchangeably to describe both developers of Samourai Wallet and a growing group of dedicated users having the same vision and idea of what a future for bitcoin must look like. This is not because the user group attempts to usurp acclaim from the devs, nor are they attempting to speak for them. This interchangeability stems from the fact that their visions align quite accutely, so as to make the path forward much clearer to all and generally understood without having to be explained. This is not to say this group consists of blind faith followers--quite the contrary. I would argue this growing, central group expects more from the developers, ethically speaking, than anyone outside the group ever could. This is because no matter the war, there inevitably emerges leaders which had the foresight and the ability combined in perfectly ratioed parts as to enable them to be the engine of an entire movement. However, without a movement to move, an engine is left running idle, going nowhere.
Honor in this sense means users have come to expect a few things from the developers, and as mentioned earlier, these same expectations seen as honorable by some are despicable to others. One such line that must never be crossed is requiring any sort of KYC (Know Your Customer) personal information from users in order to be able to use the product. Samourai have long been staunch detractors of the entire facade of KYC compliance, and shouting from the rooftops about its potential impact on privacy and the viability of bitcoin moving forward. Users aligned with this message then naturally find their way toward others of their ilk, and across this line no man shall cross. Period. This is honorable.
Honor in this sense also means users expect the wallet developers to be honest and open about the code that powers the wallet they are using. The majority of users cannot actually read the code and verify for themselves exactly what is going on, so an amount of trust must be placed either in the devs or in the fact that someone, somewhere is able to read this code, and would alert them to anything untoward taking place. Many Samourai detractors would have you believe the devs have been dishonest about the tradeoffs users of the wallet were forced to make in the past, when development was first getting started. Further digging will unearth the fact that though some users of the wallet may have made some less than factual statements from time to time in error, the developers themselves were always honest with their early beta testers about 3rd party API's, and about what the "Trusted Node" feature did and did not do, for example. Things don't always have to be perfect, especially during the early days of a project with an almost unthinkable goal of upending global surveillance of a transparent ledger while being nothing more than a team of two original people working remotely from shady pubs and backrooms, keeping their identities hidden from prying eyes. This is not "sketchy" or "dishonest". To those actually in the know, this was honorable.
Finally, honor in this sense also means an unflinching, unending, and passionate defense of users rights to transact, and to do so privately. It matters not whether one user agrees with the beliefs of the other. If they are members of this growing, focused group of Samourai, then they will at the very least agree on one thing--the other of them should be allowed to transact, and privately. This is non-negotiable. This has been regarded by many on social sites as irresponsible or reprehensible behavior, since Samourai have openly declared people professing belief in even the most horrid ideologies nevertheless would find a wallet welcoming of them to transact in a privacy preserving manner. The problem many people have with advocating for a permissionless system is, they must then permit those they disagree with to accumulate wealth and use that wealth to transact in ways that make it impossible for them to be tracked. Turns out believing in freedom and privacy is not as easy as some thought it may be.
One thing you can bet on though, is that Samourai, be it devs or users, hold one another accountable when honor is on the line. You may not see a public disagreement, or then again you may. But rest assured if nothing else, this group of passionate individuals want nothing more than for each other to be successful, because success for us means the freedom to transact using bitcoin in a more private way has been made available to the most amount of people it could provide it for. That, my friends, is honor. Oh, and for good measure, Samourai developers even have a sort of digital "seppuku" or "harakari" online in the form of their warrant canary. Seppuku was essentially a form of ritual suicide for samurai to die voluntarily rather than fall into the hands of their enemies. With Samourai today, if they were to fall into the hands of their enemies and leave this warrant canary unattended, users would likely rush to uninstall the software out of fear of the worst. This voluntary suicide of the company they have worked for 6+ years at this point to build only goes to strengthen the honor shown.
More Than An Idea
"Engage in combat fully determined to die and you will be alive; wish to survive in the battle and you will surely meet death." ~ Uesugi Kenshin
The above quote by one famous samurai warrior encompasses both the attitudes and actions of all involved in what is quickly becoming more than an idea; it is a Samourai way of life. Even if this bitcoin wallet project were to fall apart tomorrow, the damage to this particular aspect of the movement would be tremendous, but not fatal. Neither this wallet nor these devs are being "hero worshiped" or put upon idolatrous alters. They themselves will be the first to say "There are no sacred cows here". These ideas have been around for ages, some of these very same thoughts and feelings crawled around in the skin of the earliest cypherpunks themselves. Current inhabitants merely have the luxury of being around in a time where the weaponry and tools not available to those early pioneers have been brought to fruition by a new, equally passionate group trying to see this thing through to the end.
We all, as individuals have an immense amount of power and ability to change the world around us, yet so few actually do. Why is it then, that you see a disproportionate amount of this impassioned group of Samourai doing just that? How many guides have been written? Sites hosted? Miners plugged in? How many hours are spent daily on internet chat rooms helping people we will likely never meet and do not know to attain the level of transactional privacy and freedom we believe all people need? While many would say all those folks helped by these hours and hours of unpaid work done by regular Samourai users are entitled to transactional privacy, members of this group know better. There is no entitlement. There is only the fight. And the fight, my friends, must be fought by the fighters. If there is hope for any of us, it is shown in the actions of the group; this collective group of sovereign individuals, each fighting for the Samourai next to them. Take up arms. For privacy is a human fight.