Jan 2, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: The Bushidō of the Samurai

Art by Steven DeVon Jones
Way of the Warrior Knight. That is what Bushidō means. It is the code that a Samurai lived by, and if he was honorable, he died by it as well. Some could say it was a form of chivalry, and there are quite a few similarities. Like the Knights of Europe, the Samurai were extensions of the government, nobles in their own right, allowed to deal justice when necessary and known to command troops when capable. Unlike the Knight of Europe, where title and victory in battle were often sought after, the Samurai balanced his violent lifestyle with wisdom and extreme discipline. Riches and status were not his goal.

Bushidō requires that all Samurai must be loyal to the death to whoever they serve. They must remain honorable even when they are about to die. Don’t bother interrogating a Samurai because he would rather die a horrible painful death than dishonor himself. They were trained at birth to be loyal, deadly and practical. They would shed their own blood if they dishonored themselves.
Surprisingly, there was no written or spoken code for Bushidō. It was more of a creation of beliefs that evolved over generations of military families. As the child was born, he was destined to be Samurai, and started training as soon as he could walk and understand his lessons. After centuries of families training children in this manner, there was never a need to create a written reference to what the code actually was, it was just naturally accepted and known. It wasn’t until later when historians tried to search out its roots that Bushidō was even named.

The Samurai not only trained with their katanas daily, and studied various other weapons and tactics, they were taught that their code of honor came before all else. That means everything from family to love to their own life. This belief also pushed them to be superior not only physically, but mentally. Samurai spent time every day studying war, strategies, tactics, and understanding how everything around them works. This means they even studied engineering and economics. They took the concept of “knowing your enemy” to the extreme. When they found a foe they were required to defeat, they would use this knowledge to break that enemy down and kill him. This extensive understanding of politics, economics and strategy made the Samurai ideal advisors when a noble required it, especially when there was a challenge to his power or control.

Some of the greater Samurai known used to say that a man born in the house of a warrior should want to take up the sword and die with it in his hand. Samurai believed that a man who never risked his life in battle, no matter his status in life is shameful. It was not uncommon for Samurai to duel to the death so that neither would die without ever taking that risk.

Another part of the code that Samurai were raised believing was to never fear defeat. Worrying about the outcome of any battle was irrelevant. Victory or defeat were not as important as dying an honorable death. This fanatical quality, was one of the things that gave many of their enemies pause, knowing the Samurai would never stop till either he or the Samurai was dead.

Samurai were not members of some exclusive club of nobles either. Although all Samurai were respected and revered by all and feared by criminals and those who opposed them. There were close to two million Samurai in the 1800’s making up almost 10% of Japan’s population at that time. That is quite a considerable force of trained from birth warriors who exercised their minds and spirits as much as their bodies. The Samurai will forever be called one of the greatest warriors in history, and that is as it should be. There were not many other warrior cultures that produced as well rounded and civilized a warrior as the Samurai.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.

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