The Way of the Worrior

Bushido, literally translated "Way of the Warrior," developed in Japan between the Heian and Tokugawa Ages (9th-12th century). It was a code and way of life for Samurai, a class of warriors similar to the medieval knights of Europe. It was influenced by Zen and Confucianism, two different schools of thought of those periods. Bushido is not unlike the chivalry and codes of the European knights. "It puts emphasis on loyalty, self sacrifice, justice, sense of shame, refined manners, purity, modesty, frugality, martial spirit, honor and affection" (Nippon Steel Human Resources Development Co., Ltd. 329).

Bushido comes out of Buddhism, Zen, Confucianism, and Shintoism. The combination of these schools of thought and religions has formed the code of warrior values known as Bushido.

From Buddhism, Bushido gets its relationship to danger and death. The samurai do not fear death because they believe as Buddhism teaches, after death one will be reincarnated and may live another life here on earth. The samurai are warriors from the time they become samurai until their death; they have no fear of danger. Through Zen, a school of Buddhism one can reach the ultimate "Absolute." Zen meditation teaches one to focus and reach a level of thought words cannot describe. Zen teaches one to "know thyself" and not to limit yourself. Samurai used this as a tool to drive out fear, unsteadiness and ultimately mistakes. These things could get him killed.

Shintoism, another Japanese doctrine, gives Bushido its loyalty and patriotism. Shintoism includes ancestor-worship which makes the Imperial family the fountain-head of the whole nation. It awards the emperor a god-like reverence. He is the embodiment of Heaven on earth. With such loyalty, the samurai pledge themselves to the emperor and their daimyo or feudal landlords, higher-ranking samurai. Shintoism also provides the backbone for patriotism to their country, Japan. They believe the land is not merely there for their needs, "it is the sacred abode to the gods, the spirits of their forefathers . . ." (Nitobe, 14). The land is cared for, protected and nurtured through an intense patriotism.

Confucianism gives Bushido its beliefs in relationships with the human world, their environment and family. Confucianism's stress on the five moral relations between master and servant, father and son, husband and wife, older and younger brother, and friend and friend, are what the samurai follow. However, the samurai disagreed strongly with many of the writings of Confucius. They believed that man should not sit and read books all day, nor shall he write poems all day, for an intellectual specialist was considered to be a machine. Instead, Bushido believes
man and the universe were made to be alike in both the spirit and ethics. Along with these virtues, Bushido also holds

justice, benevolence, love, sincerity, honesty, and self-control in utmost respect. Justice is one of the main factors in the code of the samurai. Crooked ways and unjust actions are thought to be lowly and inhumane. Love and benevolence were supreme virtues and princely acts. Samurai followed a specific etiquette in every day life as well as in war. Sincerity and honesty were as valued as their lives. Bushi no ichi-gon, or "the word of a samurai," transcends a pact of complete faithfulness and trust. With such pacts there was no need for a written pledge; it was thought beneath one's dignity. The samurai also needed self-control and stoicism to be fully honored. He showed no sign of pain or joy. He endured all within--no groans, no crying. He held a calmness of behavior and composure of the mind neither of which should be bothered by passion of any kind. He was a true and complete warrior.

These factors, which make up Bushido, were few and simple. Though simple, Bushido created a way of life that was to nourish a nation through its most troubling times, through civil wars, despair and uncertainty. "The wholesome unsophisticated nature of our warrior ancestors derived ample food for their spirit from a sheaf of commonplace and fragmentary teachings, gleaned as it were on the highways and byways of ancient thought, and, stimulated by the demands of the age formed from these gleanings a new and unique way of life.”

In Japan the warrior class was known as samurai, also called bushi (hence bushido). They formed a class in and of themselves 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. They could just as likely have killed you with their bare hands. Samurai were also great horsemen.

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. They were trustworthy and honest. They lived frugal lives with no interest in riches and material things, but rather they were interested in honor and pride. They were men of true valor. Samurai had no fear of death. They would enter any battle no matter the odds. To die in battle would only bring honor to one's family and one's lord.

Samurai usually would rather fight alone, one on one. In battle a samurai would call out his family name, rank and accomplishments. Then he would seek out an opponent with similar rank and do battle. When the samurai killed his opponent he severed his head. After battle he took the heads of his enemies back to show proof of his victory. Heads of generals and those of high ranks were transported back to the capital and displayed for the officials and others. The only way out for a defeated samurai was death or ritual suicide: seppuku.

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 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" (Varley, 32). 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.

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.

After the time of the samurai, Japan went through many changes. However, Bushido values could still be seen. During W.W.II, Japanese suicide pilots, known as kamikaze, looked to the samurai and Bushido for their inspiration. The word kamikaze means "divine winds." During the 11th century when the Mongols were trying to invade Japan a series of storms stopped their
invasion. These were thought to be divine winds which were sent by the gods to save Japan. The Japanese again believed that these pilots were sent to save Japan. Kamikaze pilots had no fear of death. Their loyalty to their country made them willing to die.

After W.W.II, the Japanese army was disbanded. A new type of warrior evolved: those who wanted modernization and industrialization. Huge companies called zaibatsu formed. They were more like families rather than companies. Loyalty for one's company and company name was great. Even today within these companies workers have great respect for their bosses and
for the heads of the companies. To be unjust or commit a misdeed would bring shame to their company and themselves. Today Japanese have a term,
"Business is War."

Bushido values can still be seen today in Japan. The Japanese have the utmost respect and loyalty to their country, and they would not do anything to bring shame upon their family.

Today the two most popular religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shintoism. Both were great influences on Bushido. Zen Buddhism which was also an origin of Bushido, is a doctrine followed by many today.

Ever since the use of weapons against armor, both swordsmith and armor maker have sought to outdo each other's work. The swordsmith's goal was to forge a blade that was sharp enough to go through armor, was lightweight, and, was strong enough to be unbreakable. The armor maker's goal was to design armor that could not be pierced by any weapon, and, would be lightweight and flexible enough to allow the wearer maximum mobility and speed in battle. The Samurai hoped to procure the best of both, hence the practice of test cutting held great importance. Of especial value historically was kabutowari, helmet cutting tests, since not only could a helmet do more damage to a blade, but the attempt was more dangerous to the tester.

During the Kamakura Era, there were many famous swordsmiths (such as Masamune, Muramasa and Sadamune) producing excellent blades. Resultantly, stories and legends arose regarding a blade's abilities to cut through not only stone, but demons as well! In the late 1500's, in the mountains of Bitchu Province (Okayama Prefecture), it had been rumored that there was a demon lurking who took the form of a grinning woman carrying a child. Late one night, Nakajima Kuridayu was startled by the appearance of this demon. Instinctively, he drew his sword and instantly swung at the phantom, beheading it, at which time the demon disappeared. The next day, Nakajima returned to view the scene in the daylight - and found two stone statues without their heads! The phantom never appeared again, and the sword that had cut through stone was thereafter named "Nikkari Aoe" The Grinning Aoe Blade.

During the early Shinto Period (early 1600's), a famous armor maker by the name of Kotetsu
Okisato had become known especially for his solid helmets. However, at the age of 50, he decided that he would rather make swords to cut with, than helmets to be cut. At this he also excelled, causing Asaemon Yamada, public executioner and professional sword tester for Kotetsu, to highly praise his Kotetsu blade saying it was one of the sharpest he had ever used. Concurrently, the blades of swordsmith Kanefusa were also highly rated for sharpness.

Towards the end of the Edo Era (early 1800 's) a swordsmith named Yamaura Minamoto no Kiyomaro, considered a genius of his time, and developed strong, sharp yet beautiful blades. It is said that at the age of 42 he suffered a stroke and, realizing that he would never be able to make good swords again committed suicide. Kiyomaros' older brother Saneo was also his senior student, and Saneo's swords left the most records for test cutting on hard materials such as helmets, tsubas(sword guards), antlers and wrought iron.

Various stories and records of helmet cutting tests date from the Genji and Heike periods of the 12th century Gempei Era, on to the present. In 1336, Ashikaga Takauji, after having once been defeated, decided that he must have a much better sword. To determine the sword's value, he ordered two suits of armor and a helmet to be made specifically for testing the blade. The suits, placed upright with one inside the other, were topped with the helmet in order to effect a realistic test. He had chosen a blade made by swordsmith Kanemitsu. Ashikaga Takauji was so pleased with the outcome that he then took Kanemitsu on to Kyushu with him. Later, Ashikaga, together with Nitta Yoshisada, went on to oust the Kamakura government. Ashikaga Takauji eventually became Shogun.

In the early 1600 's, a certain test cutter by the name of Ito Banzaemon, had ordered several swords from swordsmith Hokinokami Nobutaka. Upon testing the blades on helmets however, he found that none were able to make a cut. Ito Banzaemon, in fury and frustration, fumed at the smith. "Either makes a sword that could cut the helmet...or commit suicide!" The swordsmith then laid a sheet of wet rice paper over the helmet and had Ito Banzaemon try again. This time the blade cut through, failing to glance off as had occurred before.

In 1853, an exhaustive sword-breaking test was conducted at Shinshu Matsushirohan in Nagano Prefecture under ruler Sanada. The test was performed in the presence of three observers and four Ometsuke  (official checkers). In this test, seven swordsmen were involved in the breaking of 12 swords to determine the strongest. It was the sword made by Yamaura Minamoto no Saneo that emerged champion. Of the 12 sequential articles that the blades were tested upon, the seventh was a helmet owned by Kahei. In this case, no gash was made in the helmet rather the sword itself was bent by the blow.

A sword made by Izuminokami Kanesada had an inscription next to the signature which indicated the blade's success in helmet cutting. The blade, a 52.9-centimeter wakizashi, was owned by Saigo Takamori - one of the three famous revolutionists of the 1800s that were responsible for changing the Edo government to the Meiji government. Another blade of the same period shows a similar inscription, "Kabutowari", next to the signature. This blade was made by Izuminokami Tadashige and was owned by the famous professional assassin, Tanaka Shinbei.

Kenkichi Sakakibara
In 1886 (Meiji Era), a time when Samurai no longer wore their swords in public, three swordsmen attempted to cut a Momonari style helmet in the presence of the Emperor Meiji at the Kioicho Mansion owned by Fushimi no Miya. The first swordsman was Yoshitada Ueda of the Kyoshin Meichi ryu Yanai Sword School. His cutting attempt rebounded from the helmet, causing him to lose his balance. The second swordsman was Sosuke Itsumi of the Tatsumi ryu Iai Sword School. His sword also rebounded from the helmet, causing him to lose his balance and fall. The third swordsman, Kenkichi Sakakibara of the Jikishinkage ryu, was the past Shineitai Shihan, the Shogun's personal bodyguard. Using a Dotanuki sword, Kenkichi swung his sword back over his head until the back of the sword touched his back. He then swung down upon the helmet causing the sword to be imbedded in the helmet. The resulting gash measured 10.58 cm. (3sun 5bu).

One hundred years later in 1986, a swordsman named Terutaka Kawabata, an 8th Dan Kendo, laido Okuden Menkyo, performed a helmet cutting test upon a modern replica of a Hineno style helmet. Using a sword made by swordsmith Yoshihara Yoshindo, Kawabata cut a gash measuring 12 cm. (nearly 4 sun).

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.