The Book in Three Sentences

This book contains a number of “rules for a knight,” which are lessons on how to live better. For example, 1) never announce that you are a knight, simply behave as one and 2) the only intelligent response to the ongoing gift of life is gratitude, and 3) how a knight lives is what is important, not on which particular afternoon he was born or on which specific morning he might die. Along with many other insights.

Rules for a Knight summary

This is my book summary of Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke. My notes are informal and often contain quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts. This summary includes key lessons and important passages from the book.

  • If I return safely home from tomorrow’s battle, all the better; but should I not, then turn to these pages whenever you might look for my voice in guidance. I do not want you children to use my untimely death, or any setback that life may deliver, as an excuse not to take responsibility for yourselves.
  • I decided to seek out the wisest man I could find and ask him to tell me how to live.
  • Am I weak or am I strong? Am I kind or cruel? I have been all these things! I don’t even truly understand the difference between right and wrong. Just and unjust. And what does any of it matter, since in no time at all everybody I know will be rotting in the ground feeding worms?”
  • The first thing you must understand is that you need not have gone anywhere. You are always in the right place at exactly the right time, and you always have been.”
  • Create time alone with yourself. When seeking the wisdom and clarity of your own mind, silence is a helpful tool. The voice of our spirit is gentle and cannot be heard when it has to compete with others. Just as it is impossible to see your reflection in troubled water, so too is it with the soul.
  • He said, “While I teach you about the ways of war, I want you to know that the real struggle is between the two wolves that live inside each of us.” “Two wolves?” I asked, seated on an old log near the fire. My eyes were transfixed by the flames twisting uncomfortably in the night air. “One wolf is evil,” he continued. “It is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, deceit, false pride.” He paused, poking the embers of our fire with a long stick he’d been carving. “The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, loving-kindness, forgiveness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith.” I considered that for a minute, then tentatively asked, “Which wolf will win?” Sparks danced towards the stars as the old man stared into the glare of the flames and replied: “Whichever one you feed.”
  • Never announce that you are a knight, simply behave as one. You are better than no one, and no one is better than you.
  • All living things rely on each other. If there were no earthworms, the soil would be depleted, grow no food, and we would die. Understanding that he relies on all that surrounds him, a knight is kind above all. He knows he will need many friends. Proper manners are not trivial. Being polite is part of our daily meditation on the equality of mankind.
  • Humility is the ability to see yourself in the context of a much larger world.
  • “Be humble or get humbled,” Grandfather would say. “A knight is never so arrogant as to think he has nothing left to learn.”
  • “Expect nothing, and you will enjoy everything!”
  • The only intelligent response to the ongoing gift of life is gratitude.
  • The simple joys are the great ones. Pleasure is not complicated.
  • Never pretend you are not a knight or attempt to diminish yourself because you deem it will make others more comfortable. We show others the most respect by offering the best of ourselves.
  • We all see the world through the prism of our identity.
  • A knight is the best kind of servant, leaving every space he enters brighter and cleaner than when he arrived. His surroundings reflect his state of mind.
  • “Shoot for nothing. When an archer shoots for a prize, he gets tight.”
  • “When you shoot to impress, your eyes divide. You see two targets,”
  • We must live and work together as brothers or perish together as fools.
  • I learned that evening that rain falls equally on all things.
  • There are only two possible outcomes whenever you compare yourself to another, vanity or bitterness, and both are without value.
  • The quality of your life will, to a large extent, be decided by with whom you elect to spend your time.
  • Remember, a friend does not need you to impress him. A friend loves you because you are true to yourself, not because you agree with him. Beware of grand gestures; the real mettle of friendship is forged in life’s daily workings.
  • It’s difficult to explain, but in some ways it can be easy to be supportive when your friend is hurt or sad. You may find it is more challenging to be wholeheartedly supportive when extreme good fortune befalls a friend and not you.
  • Those who cannot easily forgive will not collect many friends. Look for the best in others and yourself.
  • Every great knight has weaknesses. You will be no different.
  • Like a dead branch falling from a tree, which then decomposes and nourishes the soil, your disappointments can transform into the elements of change and growth.
  • We do not need a “perfect” family or the “ideal” community. The one we have is good enough with which to begin our work.
  • To head north, a knight may use the North Star to guide him, but he will not arrive at the North Star. A knight’s duty is only to proceed in that direction.
  • Don’t fear suffering. The strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire.
  • Without a little agony, none of us would bother to learn a thing.
  • Anything that gives light must endure burning.
  • Courage is our ability and willingness to overcome our fear.
  • Horsemanship—virtually every task I can think of is aided by an awareness of breath. It is the connective tissue of the universe, binding all living creatures together. By focusing on our breath, we are able to more adeptly inhabit our bodies and function on instinct.
  • Every task I can think of is aided by an awareness of breath. It is the connective tissue of the universe, binding all living creatures together. By focusing on our breath, we are able to more adeptly inhabit our bodies and function on instinct.
  • Pay attention: what you need to know is usually in front of you. There are no secrets, just things people choose not to notice.
  • Later he told me when he was younger he learned the secret to performing under pressure: don’t do it for yourself. Do it for someone else. “I know your grandfather always tells us to think of nothing. But when I get scared I just think of someone I love.”
  • Grace is the ability to accept change. Be open and supple; the brittle break.
  • Habit, routine, and too much consistency numb our minds and pave the road for us to sleepwalk through our lives.
  • But to live well, sometimes you will need to hold two seemingly opposing truths, one in each hand, and carry them both comfortably. Nature creates its balance with opposites. We need the sun and the rain, the glacier and the desert.
  • Young people, women and men, often use the possession of beauty or wealth as permission to be uninteresting, undisciplined, and ill-informed.
  • As you grow into maturity, do not concern yourself with aging. A rose is striking in full bloom only because it will never be so again, but a budding rose is also stunning, as are the dark petals of autumn.
  • As you grow into maturity, do not concern yourself with aging. A rose is striking in full bloom only because it will never be so again, but a budding rose is also stunning, as are the dark petals of autumn. It is the fact that time is passing that creates its preciousness.
  • There is no such thing as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
  • There is a moment for action, and with a clear mind that moment is obvious.
  • There is only one thing for which a knight has no patience: injustice. Every true knight fights for human dignity at all times.
  • A knight sets out to illuminate the darkness in society, not from its leaves but from its roots. This is how justice will be realized. Find the source.
  • You were born owning nothing and with nothing you will pass out of this life. Be frugal and you can be generous.
  • There have always been two ways to be rich: by accumulating vast sums or by needing very little.
  • The peregrine falcon is the swiftest, most adept animal I have ever seen. It is worth noting that, like many birds, the falcon’s bones are hollow. Travel light.
  • “A hearty laugh is the telltale sign of good health.”
  • “Sometimes I think that the more wealth people accumulate, the less they laugh.”
  • “I am happy where I am,” he confided to me. “I have friends. I’m good at what I do. And that is enough.”
  • In the field of battle, as in all things, you will perform as you practice; so practice hard.
  • The better a knight prepares, the less willing he will be to surrender.
  • Oddly, with discipline, structure, and order, you will find there is freedom.
  • Often we imagine that we will work hard until we arrive at some distant goal, and then we will be happy. This is a delusion. Happiness is the result of a life lived with purpose. Happiness is not an objective.
  • Seek pleasure and you will quickly discover the shortest path to suffering.
  • Your life is your responsibility, and you always have the choice to do your best.
  • Do not be overconcerned with avoiding pain or seeking pleasure. If you are concentrating on the results of your actions, you are not dedicated to your task.
  • You are not fragile. Engage.
  • “There are only two things worth hating: an easy life and too much success.”
  • Ordinary effort, ordinary result.
  • Everyone wants to be a knight; wanting is no great accomplishment.
  • You must not wait for the inevitable storms of life before you ready your mind. Thought precedes action. How we handle times of peace and calm will determine our behavior in moments of crisis.
  • Do not speak ill of others. A knight does not spread news that he does not know to be certain, or condemn things that he does not understand.
  • Disparaging yourself in order to rouse compassion in others is not humility.
  • A knight does not whine. He concerns himself with affecting change, not burdening the world with his grievances.
  • Never make a big decision without first walking a mile.
  • In matters of great importance, trust your own gut. Don’t be fooled, and don’t be hurried. There is plenty of time to make mistakes.
  • Every knight holds human equality as an unwavering truth. A knight is never present when men or women are being degraded or compromised in any way, because if a knight were present, those committing the hurtful acts or words would be made to stop.
  • Love is the end goal. It is the music of our lives. There is no obstacle that enough love cannot move.
  • Confrontation is always preferable to dishonesty, or injustice.
  • Do the good you have the power to do.
  • Life is a long series of farewells; only the circumstances should surprise us.
  • How a knight lives is what is important, not on which particular afternoon he was born or on which specific morning he might die.
  • One thing he had learned in his long life was that if he understood something, things were just as they were, and if he did not understand something, things were still simply just as they were.

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke

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