Amidst the chaos of war-torn Saigon, Vietnam, Tu Lam entered this world in December 1974, just before the city fell under communist rule. Fleeing violence and persecution, his family embarked on a perilous journey, eventually finding refuge in America as part of the three million refugees escaping communist regimes after the Vietnam War.
Raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Tu dreamt of becoming a Green Beret, inspired by his uncle and stepfather who had served in the elite force. With unwavering determination, he enlisted in the U.S. Army the day after graduating high school in 1993, and his path to the Green Berets began.
Deploying to over 20 countries, including conflict zones in the Philippines, Iraq, and Libya, Tu’s career spanned 22 years of distinguished service. He retired as a master sergeant, having reached the pinnacle of elite forces—the special missions unit.
In his post-military journey, Tu established Ronin Tactics, a tactical gear and training company. His expertise in martial arts and combat led to him being immortalized as a video game character in “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.” Beyond the battlefield, Tu’s pursuits encompass a profound exploration of life’s meaning, emphasizing the importance of love, authenticity, and embodying the samurai Bushido Code—loyalty, courage, and honor.
In this gripping conversation, Tu shares his emotional journey as a refugee, his profound insights into life and love, captivating stories from his time as a Green Beret, and the seven pillars that guide his modern samurai lifestyle.
Join us as we delve into the extraordinary life and wisdom of Tu Lam, a man who found purpose, resilience, and mastery through the crucible of his experience.
“You have to train the mind. The only way that you reach a level of fulfillment and happiness is by training your mind.”
In This Episode:
The meaning of life
As a Green Beret, I traveled the world. As a warrior, I traveled the world, 27 countries. I lived with the people, indigenous populations. I ran into the rain jungles and hunted down creatures running with the A teams. One of the biggest things was what is the meaning of life? Climbing the highest mountains in the Himalayas, I searched for the meaning of life, like sitting with Tibetan monks feeling the vibration of, they call it oneness, and going through Europe and seeing the crusades and the tombs. And so what I feel is that there was one thing I learned that connected us all in our religions and our humanness and the oneness. There was one thing I learned, and that was love, man. That is love. Love is the highest frequency and vibration of the universe. So you asked me what life is, it goes back to the highest vibration that created all things.
The shadow inside
There’s a shadow in me. And that shadow was forged in war, death. And that shadow became this commando, the fight against that oppression. But the thing is, when I think back to that level of hopelessness, have we lost connection with humanity like each other where we don’t care for one’s life to watch families murdered, sowed into slavery? Like for me and my family, we escaped by sea. 400,000 refugees die by sea. And there we were, loaded up on the bottom deck of a small little fishing boat. We had to escape the piratry, the seas and navigation to Malaysia. When we finally made it Malaysia, they didn’t accept any more refugees so they strapped us back and pulled us back out into the South China Sea, cut the line and shot the motor.
Turning pain into power
I needed to feel that level of hate in humanity, because there was a choice at a stage in my life where I was able to take that hate and made it into strength. That weakness that I felt from a refugee boy, there was a certain point during my growing up process where I’m like, “I’m more than this.” And that’s where when you face that, you face your struggle, then you’re reprogramming those 0-7 years old. It’s not too late, right? So if you’re facing trauma from 0-7, you’re falling underneath a statistic that you’re not going to make it in life. You’re going to be messed up in life, not be able to… You’re going to be a drug addict, whatever, right? That’s a statistic. What if I tell you you need that energy in order to propel you to be something more?
Die for what you believe in
In today’s world, if you want to be anything more, then it goes against survival. You have to be willing to die for what you believe. In the code of Bushido, the way to wear ancient code ethics of the Samurai is to readily accept death for a higher purpose.
A state of no mind. You see a lot of athletes have that state. It’s the state of no mind as in we dump thoughts because thoughts are tied to emotion. So if I’m going on to a bad guy’s house and I know he has four or five positions in a house, he has multiple combatants in that house, highly armed suicide vests, they’re willing to die because you understand why they’re fighting for their cause, they’re willing to die for what they believe. So are you. You’re willing to die for what you believe, right?
Moving with emotion
When you’re going in and you know that they’re heavily armed and they may outgun you initially until you get your support assault positions in place, so you make that initial assault, they’re supporting assault, there’s exterior assault, the thing is you have to get certain guns in certain places, just take advantage of that terrain. If I’m stuck on emotion of thought, which is, “I’m going to fucking die,” then that emotion will surface, right? Because your thoughts are tied to emotion. So in special operations, we’re taught to breathe. And there’s certain breathing sequences that we do to ground ourselves of thought, separate ourselves from thought and to move emotion through your body so you can be present to perform. And then the state of mushin is, you’ve done it so much, your body is not thinking. You react, but you react in clarity because there’s no emotion present. So when you ask me how do I separate, it’s just that it’s emotion, it’s present. You could feel it. You could feel my energy sitting across from me, but I’m present with you. There’s a separation. It’s not tied so much together.
Fear of people’s opinions (FOPO)
I truly think it’s programmed in us and handed down through the generations of our ancestors. Going to the hunter-gatherer days, you think about we’re hunter gatherers. We’re a tribe. We live in a tribe. We run in a tribe. Everybody’s going to do their share within this tribe, or you get booted out of the tribe. So it’s embedded. It’s a survival thing. You have to like me because I don’t want to get booted out this tribe, because back then it was survival. But what is survival nowadays? But we’re still have that brain, right? That was wired the same. It’s wired the same. There’s scientists that scan the brain and it’s wired the same way. And the thing is, what is survival nowadays? We don’t live in these hunter-gatherer tribes. So acceptance is programmed in our subconscious from the moment we’re born handed down to us through generations of survival. That’s why I care what you think, because my life depended on it when we were hunter-gatherers.
Train your mind
If you train your body, which you seem like you run, you work out in the gym, you take pride in fitness. If you believe in fitness, then you need to understand that body and mind is connected. You have to train the mind. And the only way that you reach a level of fulfillment and happiness is you train the mind. The mind, this survival mind that was handed down to us over 200,000 years of human… This survivor’s mind, it looks for the negative in the day. It’s the survivor’s mind. So, you have to train the mind to be grateful.
Giving back, in service
It goes back to when I was abandoned. I was told I was nothing. I was spit on, I was left for dead. All those experiences, all those emotions I felt them, I felt that emotion. And what I give back to the world is love. I wasn’t accepted. I know what it feels to not be accepted. I’m going to give you acceptance. I was oppressed, I was enslaved, but I’m going to free you from oppression because I know that energy. I know what it means to live like that. So that goes into yin and yang, what you receive. That’s your narrative. But you can give back something else. And that can only be done in the present moment.
Sharing his story
I just share my story. I share my story of where I came from. I came from the dirt floors of a refugee camp, sleeping with the rats. That’s where I came from. And then I made a name for myself after I got out of the military, after serving our country. Isn’t that the American dream?
I feel like success comes with multiple angles. In this materialistic world, we need to live off of the energy of yang, which is, man, we need to be aggressive. We need to live with a purpose. We have to be type A, driven. That’s yang. That’s in this physical world of materialistic of things. But there’s yin, which is a spirit world that we’re all connected to eternally. And we need to develop that too. Because in the energies of yin and yang, if you put too much emphasis on one thing, it’s going to fail. That’s why it’s all one and the same. You have to have one or you can’t have the other.
What does the US Special Operations do?
At the Special Operations level, we are a national asset. We are what the country relies on, when we have terrorist groups attack our countries, when we have attacks against our homeland, we are the ones under night vision that will go into the country covertly, to find, fix, and kill the enemy.
Choosing the light
If you have a man that oppresses thousands and tortures thousands of his people, hundreds of thousands of his people, tortures them, oppresses him, and you take out that one man, did you not save the hundreds and thousands of lives? So, in my understanding of warriors, I understand the polar energies of the universe. Without darkness, there will never be light. There will never be light. Without evil, we would never know what it means to be good. The contrast of my eternal soul chooses light. I choose to walk in the light, and what the world gives me in oppression and hate, I return back in light. And that’s understanding how the universe works.
Hate is a powerful tool. Hate will… When that explosive happens on the door, you have to go in, you have to kill that enemy. Hate is a powerful energy. And you use that in war, you’re going to win battles. But you’re not going to win the overall war, which is yourself. And the thing was, when I said I became dark was I embrace hate at a certain point. It became such a powerful tool in time of fear. But what hate did for me was, I saw only darkness in the world. I hated myself, I hated everything. And that’s not what life is about. Life is about experiencing the wholeness that comes with knowing who you are. You’re root of your being, which is love, man, like creation. We are more powerful than hate. If you sit in the center of you’re being and avoid that place of emptiness, Lao Tzu, that place of void, there is the answer. I chose the light.
Understanding yourself (and the enemy)
It’s about understanding how we’re programmed. And if you understand how you’re programmed, you can beat the program. Just like the Special Forces. If I understand how you work, I can defeat you. If I know how you communicate in the jungles and how you push out your supplies to the front line and how these rebels work and how the guerilla tactics work, I can probably kill you.
Vibrate with love
There is a frequency. Shame vibrates at a frequency. So what I’m saying is love is a very powerful vibration. And if that’s the energy that created all things, then you need to harmonize who you are within, pass your thoughts and your illusions of desire, what you think you want to be. If you let go of all that, and vibrate at love, if you look at somebody and you just wish them the best, even though they’re being a jerk, you wish them the best because you understand we’re all in this journey, and we’re all at different phases in our journey.
Sharpen your sword
You sharpen your sword by first developing a skill in life. What is your skill? And your skill should be defined by a purpose. The way of the samurai is the way of two swords. Two swords, only the samurai class, the warrior class can carry two swords. It was a symbol. If you are caught without those two swords, your head would be lobbed off your head because you’re not in status of what it means to be a warrior. Two swords is in service of the dimiel, the Lord. So in the way of that two swords is develop a skill that’s going to affect humanity. When I say affect humanity, it’s to better humanity. For me, it was a warrior. To fight for the oppressed, fight for the enslaved, where I came from, and to serve that higher power. So to develop a skill is to sharpen the sword, develop a skill. Whatever that is. If you’re an artist, if you’re a coach, whatever that skill is in your life because everybody has their own individual journey, sharpen the mind.
Live by a code
A lot of us, we just kind of walk through life without a map. We just wonder aimlessly through life without a blueprint, like what we want to be. We let the externals influence who we are, shaping us to who we are to be. Who are you in your being of who you are? And how do you even know that unless you first live by a code that requires discipline every single day of your life to be that? You even say, “I want to die and I want to be this.” Well, and you just said, “I have to work my ass off every day.” That’s living by a code. So if you don’t live by a code that’s higher than yourself, you’re going to slip down into survivor’s mind, which seeks comfort.
The Way of Ronin
The Way of Ronin. The way is Confucius. It is to flow in harmony. It’s Taoism. In religion, in Christianity, the way is God. We call it that. To me is, the way is to flow in harmony with the universe. The universe and our existence within this space, is we have a purpose. We’re given life for a purpose and we are to inject that purpose into this physical world. We are to make a difference in this physical world. So the way, to surrender, to flow. And Ronin came to me later on in life, is to walk alone, to be master-less. And the Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi was a Ronin. And he wrote the 21 Principles of Dokkodo, The Way of Walking Alone. And that’s what saved me after I got out of the military, was to be grown, and to have the strength to walk alone, and to sit within this space of void, and to find the root of my being again, because I was surrounded by the hate of the world. The only thing I felt was the hate. But when I sat with what has always been, that’s where I found love, right? Creator, peace. And that’s what I give back to the world. So that’s why I named that book The Way of Ronin.