R03c_BUSHIDO, WARRIOR CODE OF CONDUCT
By Cheryl Matrasko
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, Shintoism, 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 Japaneven 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 Shintoism. 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.
© 1999, C. A. Matrasko. All rights reserved.
– J. Sasamori, G.Warner. This is Kendo, the Art of the Japanese, 1989
– I. Nitobe. Bushido: The Warrior’s Code. 1979.
– T. Deshimaru. The Zen Wayto the Martial Arts. 1982.
– M. Musashi. The Book of Five Rings.
– I. Takahashi. Class sessions and private talks about the Samurai and Bushido. 1965 – 1971
About the Author:
Cheryl Matrasko started Aikido in 1965, studying under Isao Takahashi as her first instructor. She enjoyed working out under many well known Aikido instructors during her tenure with Takahashi Sensei and thereafter following his death in 1971. Cheryl has dedicated time with instructors in Northern Shaolin Long-Fist, Seven Stars Praying Mantis, and Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu. Currently, she is instructing Aikido at NorthwesternUniversity’s Chicago Campus, Associate Instructor at NorthShore Aikido in Skokie, and supporting Aikido World Journal.
This text was edited for brevity and clarity for classroom use by Mr.V.
1. What has contributed to the development of the Bushido Code?
2. Which principle or value did each contribute to this code?
3. Why would “knowing oneself” be an important part of a warrior’s training?