Samurai Warrior

The term "samurai", meaning "those who serve", and the samurai were the members of the military class, the Japanese warriors. They formed a class during the 9th and 12th centuries. They emerged from the provinces of Japan to become the ruling class until their decline and later total abolition in 1876 during the Meiji Era.

The samurai were fighting men, skilled in the martial arts. Samurai had extensive skills in the use of the bow and arrow and the sword. These warriors were men who lived by Bushido; it was their way of life. The samurai's loyalty to the emperor and his overlord, or daimyo, was unsurpassed. The sword (katana) is the distinguishing mark of the samurai.

Their importance and influence grew during the Heian Period (794-1185) when the powerful landowners hired them for the protection of their properties. In the latter phase of the Heian period, the most powerful military families, the Minamoto and Taira, had taken over political control over Japan and fought wars for supremacy. When shogun Minamoto Yoritomo established a new government in Kamakura in 1192, the shogun (the highest military officer) became the ruler of Japan.

The samurai stood at the top of the social hierarchy and had many privileges. On the other hand, he was supposed to be a good example to the lower classes by following the principles of Bushido (the way of the warrior). Some of a samurai’s most important principles were loyalty to his master, self discipline and respectful, ethical behaviour. After a defeat or other dishonourable event, many samurai chose to commit suicide by cutting their abdomen with a sword in order to preserve their honour. Such ritual suicide is called seppuku (or harakiri).

During the Edo Period, which was an era of peace, most samurai had nothing to fight anymore and dedicated themselves also to intellectual studies such as literature, history or the tea ceremony. Especially during the 17th century, masterless and unemployed samurai (ronin) caused some problems to the government.

The samurai became the ruling class during the 1400s and the 1500s. In the 1600s there was a time of unification; warring in Japan had ceased. Then toward the end of the Tokugawa Era (the late 1700s), Japan began to move towards a more modernized and Western way of life. There was no need for fighting men, for warriors, for samurai. The samurai and their way of life was officially abolished in the early 1870s, but it was not forgotten.

The influence of Zen Buddhism
One of the most influential elements of Chinese culture was Zen Buddhism, which took hold in Japan and easily fused with their existing religion of Shinto?s. The Bushido code was established during the Kamakura period (1192-1333 AD).

One of the paradoxes of the Buddhist religion when followed by the warrior class of the samurai is the notion that all life is precious and one should do as little harm to ease the suffering that exists in the world.

The nature of Dukkha or suffering, often caused Buddhists to become vegetarian in order to reduce the suffering a person can inflict just by sustaining themselves. The samurai were a warrior class designed to have the highest loyalty to their lord, they would even kill or cause suffering.

Shinto influenced the aspect of death in the sense that there were kami or spirits of the people that they have killed and they did not want to anger kami so the religious samurai would often pray after they killed a foe in battle.

Not all samurai followed Buddhism or Shintoism that closely, but they would often adopt the idea of non-self from Buddhism. The samurai had many other codes to follow besides coming to terms with one?s existence.

Seppuku
In the Samurai?s strict code, in order to save face and die with honor most would commit a ritualistic suicide called seppuku. A Samurai and another overseer would preform the ritual.The Samurai would use a wooden dagger called a boku and plunge it in their midsection and cut in a specific direction that resembles the letter ?J?.

Seppuku, or disembowelment or hara-kiri (belly slicing), is when a samurai stabs a knife into his abdomen and literally disembowels himself by cutting out his guts. After the samurai disembowels himself another samurai, usually a kinsman or friend, slices his head off.

This action would kill the samurai, but if the samurai would show any sign of pain or wince in anyway, the overseer would decapitate the samurai performing seppuku and the samurai, even though he would be dead would still not have his honor restored. The Samurai of Japan placed a high level of importance on honor even in the spirit world.

This form of suicide was “performed under various circumstances: to avoid capture in battle, which the samurai did not believe to be dishonorable and degrading, but generally bad policy; to atone for a misdeed or unworthy act; and perhaps most interestingly, to admonish one’s lord”. A samurai would rather kill himself than bring shame and disgrace to his family name and his lord. This was considered an act of true honor.

Bushido Code
The influence of Chinese culture can be seen in almost every aspect of life in Japan from their writing styles to their religion. Buddhism and more specifically Zen Buddhism had a profound impact on all aspect of life in Japan. Zen Buddhism?s philosophies about life and death were adopted by the Samurai to come to grips with ones existence and eventual death.

Today the way of the samurai lives on in the martial arts form of kendo, or way of the sword. Kendo is a popular martial arts form that is based off of traditional Samurai teachings. In Kendo, mental discipline is equally, if not more important than physical prowess. Kendo teachings are always preceded by a brief Zen meditation to clear the mind of thoughts.

Meditation is used in the same way it was in ancient times of the samurai in order to clear the mind improving speed, accuracy, and alertness.

The way of the warrior is complex and interpreted many times in many different ways. Oftentimes scholarly samurai take it upon themselves to write long lists of precepts and guidelines for future samurai. Below is a highly simplified and condensed version of the basic code, followed by a look at some of the writings and teachings of other masters:

Fidelity (Ch?gi)
? fidelity towards master (lord) and fatherland
? respect towards parents, brothers and sisters
? assiduousness, steadiness Politeness (reigi)
? respect and love
? modesty and correct etiquette (formality)

Virility
? valour, courage and bravery
? hardness and coolness
? never lose self-control
? patience and endurance
? promptness (always be ready to fight)

Truthfulness/Veracity (Makoto)
? sincerity and straightforwardness
? sense of honour and justice

Simplicity
? simplicity and purity

The samurai creed
I have no parents; I make the Heavens and the Earth my parents.
I have no home; I make the Tan T’ien my home.
I have no divine power; I make honesty my Divine Power.
I have no means; I make Docility my means.
I have no magic power; I make personality my Magic Power.
I have neither life nor death; I make A Um my Life and Death.

I have no body; I make Stoicism my Body.
I have no eyes; I make The Flash of Lightning my eyes.
I have no ears; I make Sensibility my Ears.
I have no limbs; I make Promptitude my Limbs.
I have no laws; I make Self-Protection my Laws.
I have no strategy; I make the Right to Kill and the Right to Restore Life my Strategy.
I have no designs; I make Seizing the Opportunity by the Forelock my Designs.
I have no miracles; I make Righteous Laws my Miracle.
I have no principles; I make Adaptability to all circumstances my Principle.
I have no tactics; I make Emptiness and Fullness my Tactics.
I have no talent; I make Ready Wit my Talent.
I have no friends; I make my Mind my Friend.
I have no enemy; I make Incautiousness my Enemy.
I have no armour; I make Benevolence my Armour.
I have no castle; I make Immovable Mind my Castle.
I have no sword; I make No Mind my Sword.