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The Samurai

by Cheryl Matrasko

We can hardly begin a discussion on Bushido without introducing the Samurai warrior. After all, it is the Samurai that developed, chose, and dedicated their entire lives to the unwritten code of conduct, known as Bushido. To do less, would be a dishonor to their memory and the legacy of martial ways, which still serves to prevent many of us from being barbarous savages, in our own martial art.

The Samurai are legendary in their warrior prowess and skill. Dedication, loyalty, and true honor were the characteristics of these warriors, that made them famous as well as a sought after commodity by the ruling class. Their upper social status remained with them for many centuries, until the later 1800’s.

The Samurai actually arose from the feudal warrior class of the late 1100’s through the early 1300’s, during the Kamakura Period. It was during this time that the Samurai class became quite a powerful member of the aristocracy. The professional warrior class had many of the social advantages that the upper class enjoyed, such as monthly stipends to live on, no travel boundaries, and were legally permitted to wear the long and short swords, which also served to signify their social status.

The Samurai, well-disciplined and highly trained warriors, were typically stoic in nature. These qualities were further influenced and developed by Zen Buddhism, during the Muromachi period, somewhere in the early 1300s through the 1570’s (1336 – 1568). As a result, the life of the Samurai had not only become one of discipline and military education, but a rich cultivation of the spirit and mind through the arts of writing, painting, calligraphy, philosophy, etc. It was as if a Renaissance was being experienced within their social sect. Zen had provided the warrior class with personal enlightenment, polish, and refinement. Many of the truly Japanese arts that were born of the samurai still exist today, such as sword drawing ( Shimmeimuso-ryu founded by Shigenobu Hayashizaki), Kendo (the most notable swordsman in Kendo is Kagehisa Ittosai Ito), archery, as well as tea ceremony, to name a few.

The unwritten Samurai code of conduct, known as Bushido, held that the true warrior must hold that loyalty, courage, veracity, compassion, and honor as important, above all else. An appreciation and respect of life was also imperative, as it added balance to the warrior character of the Samurai. He was often very stoic with a deep and strong philosophical passion. He could be deadly in combat and yet so gentle and compassionate with children and the weak.

At the early 1600’s (part of the Tokugawa or Edo era, 1600 – 1868), in an attempt to settle social unrest in Japan, the feudal caste system in Japan was beginning to see its first signs of erosion. The Samurai class was then forced to take on other trades (civil service, merchantilism, etc.), as society enjoyed the peace and social order for nearly 350 years under the dictatorship of the Tokugawa regime. The lifestyle and demand for the samurai was in the process of change. By the end of the 1800's, the once prestigious warriors and their families had then found themselves in financial impoverishment and starving.

By the mid 1800’s, the Samurai way of life was over. After the end of the Tokugawa rule, the Meiji Restoration of 1868, abolished the feudal system that the Samurai enjoyed financially and socially.

A new national army was established, cities were flourishing, western influences were seeping into the Japanese culture and the need for the Samurai had also ended.

The Samurai had a rich and fruitful era from the Kamakura period, through the Muromachi period. Zen Buddhism influenced them greatly giving them enlightenment for good judgement, personal growth, and self-awareness. Their exposure and immersion into philosophy and the arts expanded their perspectives and lifted them beyond the limits of their own feudal rule and culture. This is where Bushido, the Samurai Code of Conduct had cultivated itself from.

Bushido is the unwritten code of conduct of the Samurai. Literally, Bushido means "warrior - samurai - ways". Bushi is a term for warrior, but directly infers a more prestigious or higher class warrior. The "ways" or "way" is a term used by most "do-martial arts" (such as: Judo, Kendo, Aikido, and Iaido), which means "the way to . . . ".

Bushido is comprised of a system or standards of moral principles that became the soul of the Samurai, during the feudal periods of Japan. It developed over the centuries from the influences of Zen Buddhism, Confucianism, Shinotism, and the expression of these affectations, had their medium in the visual and literary arts such as painting, poetry, and living the way of life (Bushido) they chose to take. Each of these gifts molded and shaped Bushido, as a moral standard of conduct to follow.

Influencing Bushido, Zen Buddhism lent to the Samurai a very Stoic disposition. This Stoicism was realized out of a genuine respect for life and also for death. Death, an inevitable eventuality of our own lives, is as much a part of nature as is life. It gives us an added level of thought and meaning to our existence. With the advent of death, there is the introduction of life. There are strong human emotions of anger, remorse, and detachment, etc., that are associated with death that complicate its understanding. However we are gifted by these very same feelings, that allow us to appreciate life and the things we enjoy and love. We most notably appreciate the things we take for granted once they are gone forever. The Samurai trust and faith in nature was because of the great admiration and respect for both life and death.

In tune with this level of consciousness, Shintoism also influenced the Bushido of the Samurai. To seek honor by first looking inside the soul and confront the intimate fears that we hide from ourselves, and that plague our psyche in everyday life. This is the purification of one’s soul --- " . . . to know thyself ". In addition, Shintoism brought a sense of filial piety and loyalty to the family and homeland. When you " . . . know yourself, you know your weaknesses and strengths, and most of all - you know where you belong." This sense of belonging has been attributed to the patriotic and nationalistic culture of Japan even to this day.

Another factor in the backbone of the code of Bushido, was Confucianism. It bonded community and family relationships. These relationships had several different moral priorities or qualities to them. In feudal Japan, the samurai served various different lords and their loyalty was given to them. This association was that of servant and master. The samurai himself, was the head of his family. The safety and well-being depended upon him. His role was that of head of the house, husband, father, brother, or son.

The Bushido of the samurai had very deep roots in the philosophies of Zen Buddhism, Confucianism and Shinotism. With such historical origins, it is understandable why Bushido was not just a mere belief, but a culture that became the hallmark of the samurai for centuries. And this lifestyle was not forced on the samurai, but was chosen of free will. It was a serious choice to be sure, and one that they were very proud to follow.

It has been more than 120 years since the edict abolishing feudalism in Japan was enacted (1870). In 1875, the Samurai were no longer permitted to wear the swords that marked their profession. It was the end of the Samurai way of life, and the beginning of a new era with no place for the ancient profession of the warrior.

It is interesting to note that Inazo Nitobe, in his book: "Bushido, the Warrior’s Code" oftentimes compares the Samurai to the Knights of England. His comparisons yield to many of the western world, a better insight into the complexities of Japanese culture and the unwritten code of the Samurai --- Bushido.

Nitobe, explains that when feudalism had ended – Chivalry had been "adopted’ by the Church and thus found a new beginning, by which to flourish further. However, for Bushido, there was no such shelter because because Bushido had touched on so many different aspects of life that as he put it: ". . . no religion was large enough to encompass Bushido." Since Bushido had been influenced by so many movements such as Zen Buddhism, Confucianism, Shinotism, literary arts, painting, etc. it is readily apparent that there could not be a safe place for Bushido, in a religious sect.

Another aspect of Bushido from Taisen Deshimaru is that Bushido influenced Buddhism and Buddhism influenced Bushido. Deshimaru as well as Nitobe, points out that there are five elements of Buddhism that you can find in Bushido. They are:

* Emotional peacefulness (Stoicism)
* Self control in the midst of chaos or death
* Respectful and dignified conduct with the inevitable (death)
* Respect and understanding of death
* Poverty

© 1999, C. A. Matrasko. All rights reserved

Is this code of conduct still practiced in Japan today?

Bushido in Vietnamese is Võ Sĩ Đạo
Bu=võ=martial art
shi=sĩ=a gentleman?

Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao (Vietnamese martial art) also believes in that code too but some minor differences.
Some Vietnamese and Japanese martial artists believe in it to the fullest! @_@ (with some minor differences)biggrin.gif
Woah that is so awesome .... SIKE there is also knights and camelot that practiced a code of conduct called Chivalry OMGz
QUOTE(SagaciousLuDa @ Jul 8 2006, 12:57 AM) [snapback]2031202[/snapback]

Woah that is so awesome .... SIKE there is also knights and camelot that practiced a code of conduct called Chivalry OMGz

I think many warrior classes had these.
QUOTE(Suijen @ Jul 9 2006, 12:35 AM) [snapback]2033548[/snapback]

I think many warrior classes had these.

yeah...not just knights or samurais
Just wonderin, would bushido be called wushidao in chinese?
QUOTE(tangawizi @ Jul 7 2006, 12:43 AM) [snapback]2027837[/snapback]

Is this code of conduct still practiced in Japan today?

Hi tangawizi,

seems you are really interested in Japanese culture.
I am afraid I cannot respond to your interest enough, but you might be able to get some idea from the following video about Kendo,"the way of sword."

this one is just for fun:
cool vids! bawling.gif
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