Bushido is the moral code of principles that developed among the Samurai warrior class of feudal Japan. Similar to the code of ‘chivalry’ followed by the medieval knights of Europe, the code became revered by the samurai classes, shaping their lives and doctrines.
Whereas the knight’s code was heavily influenced by the demands of the church, Bushido’s origins lay in the philosophical traditions of Zen and Confucianism.
As samurai standards evolved, the bushido code evolved with them. However, the fundamental rock, ‘the warrior spirit’ on which bushido was founded, never changed. This spirit encompassed:
athletic and military prowess
fearlessness in the face of the enemy
obedience to authority
Like the knights of the Arthurian romances, frugal living, kindness, honesty and filial loyalty were also highly regarded, as was the supreme honour of serving one’s lord and master without question, even unto death.
One wonders from where authors like Chretian de Troyes, Wolfram von Essenbach and Sir Thomas Mallory drew their inspiration for their medieval tales of chivalry, so far removed from the exploits of so many of their real life counterparts.
Comparisons between Bushido and the code of honour followed by the likes of Lancelot and Bedevere are so close that the concept could have originated from the same source. But nowhere in Europe were the ideals of this code so strongly embedded into a people’s culture as they were in Japan which is why bushido is sometimes referred to as ‘the soul of Japan’.
Even when there was a conflict of obligation between family and master, the Samurai warrior was bound by loyalty to his Lord, no matter what the cost to his family. In Europe, such intense loyalty to another over family was enforced, rather than embraced.
The final rationalisation of Bushido occurred during the 17th century when Yamaga Soko a confucian philosopher, teacher, and military thinker wrote an Introduction to the Warrior’s Creed, Bukyo Shogaku.
He equated the Samurai with the ‘superior man’ of Confucian doctrines and taught that his essential function was to exemplify virtue and honour to the lower classes.
It would be ridiculous to assume that martial arts practitioners follow the Bushido code as it was originally envisioned. Most of us have lives too complicated to follow such ideals best suited to simpler times, but anyone who:
Shows respect and courtesy to others
Is law abiding
Upholds the sanctity of life
Is at least, travelling on the right path. We may not all be warriors, we may not all be martial artists, but we are all human and Bushido above all else, honours humanity.
Confucius – 551-479 BCE
A scholar of the Warring States period, Confucius sought to return to the days of the virtuous sage rulers. He came from an impoverished elite family and held a number of minor posts during his early years.
Later he would seek to teach his philosophy to others. At his death he had well over 3000 disciples to carry on his teachings.
A number of his teachings can be found in books such as the Analects, the Spring and Autumn Annals, and the Book of Rites.
Confucius taught his students to achieve moral and social perfection. To these qualities the samurai added benevolence, righteousness and obedience to authority.