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Sergio Calle A.

Professor Christopher Minster

Writing and Rethoric

23/03/2020

The Bushido Code: Historic protagonists of a non-written code

Honor and loyalty have been fundamental principles through mankind history, being something

innate as a part of the ethic codes of humans from the beginning of times. In Japan, from the XII

to late XIX century, there was a race of warriors that lived by these principles, not only as moral

behaviors, but as a strict form of life to which the formally known Bushi gave their heart and

soul to keep. These warriors were martial arts experts that were feared across the eastern world,

Miyamoto Musashi, 1the most famous warrior of this era, was known as Saint of the Sword or

Divine Duelist for his innate fighting skills and expertise in sword combat. In one occasion, he

found himself cornered by a troop of armed soldiers that were guarding the Headmaster of a very

prominent Clan, whom which Musashi had a duel scheduled that turned out to be a trap; with

skill and dexterity, he sliced the clan leader´s head off, thereon whilst wielding a sword in each

hand, battled the soldiers to escape from certain death. This is just one of many stories behind

these honorable and deadly warriors.

1
I changed the introduction, adding a battle story to make it more interesting
These two values mentioned previously (honor and loyalty) are some of the pillars of an ancient

code that Japanese warriors, very commonly known as Samurai (that comes from saborou, that

means “protect or serve”) would live by, called The Bushido Code. This code was followed by

Bushi (that means “armed warrior”) that developed through Heian and Tokugawa between the

ages IX – XII, it was a lifestyle based on Zen, Confucianism, Buddhism and Shinto.

(Pijamasurf)2 In times of war and conflicts. Bushido (The way of the warrior) was a moral guide

so that honor would grow in the warrior, who would give his life to this code, following it to

death with so fervent will, that if one should fail to keep any of the “premises”, the only way to

clean his honor would be through seppuku (ritual suicide, also known as hara-kiri). Main

characteristics that Samurai would have as principles are: loyalty, self-sacrifice, justice, sense of

shame, refined manners, purity, modesty, frugality, martial spirit, honor and affect; where fear of

death should not exist, as there will be reincarnation and life on earth will start once again.

For a greater understanding of this code, its history and development, the study of the Samurai

who were most relevant to3 this era is key. Figures like Miyamoto Musashi, the most powerful

samurai of history; Yamamoto Tsunetomo who was the first to compile the code in a text; Inazo

Nitobe, responsible for bringing to the occidental world this honorable code; these men (and

many more) have contributed to the teachings of this honorable and philosophical way of life by

writing many texts that spread the discipline and culture of these noble warriors4. These texts

contained the samurai´s personal experiences, with which they intended to teach and give

example of a life dedicated to following the way of the warrior, texts that are still used to this

date, like The Book of Five Rings, a highly acclaimed martial arts text written by Miyamoto

Mushashi which illustrates his teachings in combat through his personal adventures. In modern

2
I couldn´t find the author of the article, the article says its been written by piajamsurf
3
Fixed typos
4
Made clear the study of these warriors is the thesis statement of this work
days there have been many adaptations of this culture in mangas, TV shows and even movies

that have used the names of these renamed characters as historical references. 5

Miyamoto Musashi Masana (Shinmen Musashi no Kami Fujiwara No Genshin) (1584-1645)6 is

the most famous of the Samurai warriors, considered by many to be one of the most skilled

swordsmen in history as it is told that he had participated in over 60 duels throughout his life,

coming out victorious in all of them; then in his later years he left a legacy of his knowledge in

combat and philosophy of life, which was based on the Bushido Code, through books he wrote,

most of them only months before his death. Born in Harima in 1584 and member of the Niimi

clan, son of Niimi Munisai who was an accomplished warrior and expert in Kenjutsu; as was the

tradition, he passed his knowledge of martial arts to his son who demonstrated great dexterity

with the sword since a young age. (Jutras). At the age of thirteen, Musashi was confident enough

to challenge an older samurai from Shinto Ryu, who made the mistake of disrespecting the

young warrior, which responded to this by throwing him to the ground and striking him with a

six-foot wooden staff until he died vomiting blood. (Griffiths), at the age of sixteen he killed a

man called Akiyama in Tajima. (Rogers, 189).7

One of his greatest feats occurred when he ended the Yoshioka Clan, one of the most

representative clans in the Kenjutsu style in Kyoto. There were three contests in which

Miyamoto came out as the victor. He first challenged Seijuro Yoshioka, master and head of this

family, to a duel. Musashi used his infamous strategy of arriving late to the duel, for the purpose

of making his rival lose temperance and have an advantage on him. He defeated Seijuro, which

retired from his position as head of the clan to become a Zen Monk (Griffiths). Denshichiro

5
The paragraph now gives an idea of the men that are going to be studied in this work
6
Birth and death years on every important character mentioned
7
I changed this paragraph so the information is most centered on Miyamoto, leaving irrelevant information out
Yoshioka (brother of Seijuro Yoshioka) became the head of the family and challenged Musashi

in order to regain honor for his family´s name. The divine swordsman won the fight easily,

killing his opponent and leaving the reputation of the clan in ruins.

Consequence of this, 12-year-old Yoshioka Matashichiro, now master of the clan, in a desperate

attempt to take down the killer of his brothers and regain honor to his family, challenged him to a

duel. However, it was scheduled for night time, which made Musashi suspicious. Because of

this, he now decided to arrive to the duel rendezvous point much earlier than planned and hid

himself waiting for his opponent. Musashi´s suspiciouns were confirmed when he saw a troop of

soldiers guarding a full armored Matashichiro arrive, who were planning an ambush. When the

moment was right, he revealed himself from his hideout, drawing his sword and running to the

young boy, cutting his head off. Finding himself cornered by dozens of warriors, he escaped

slicing through his enemies and making his way out through the rice fields, all this whilst

wielding a sword in each hand (Jutras). Historians affirm that this event was crucial for his dual

sword fighting style, Musashi´s trademark. (Griffith) 8

At a mature age wrote a text about ken jutsu, in which he provided an insight to the Bushido

Code while illustrating his knowledge and tactics in combat Considered to be a treaty about

military strategies called The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho 9) he divides this text in five

“books”: The Book of Ground, Water, Fire. Wind and Void. Each one of these had a different

point, but all of them were viewed from a strategic point of view. Musashi taught his methods

through example, when he explains strategy, he affirms that

8
Added the Yoshioka Clan events to establish Miyamoto Musashi´s authority as an outstanding warrior
9
I changed the format of the title of the books written by the samuria
Timing is important in dancing and pipe or string music, for they are in rhythm only if

timing is good. Timing and rhythm are also involved in the military arts, shooting bows

and guns, and riding horses. In all skills and abilities there is timing. There is also timing

in the Void. There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and de-clining,

in his harmony and discord. (Miyamoto, 1644)

A week before his death, he wrote Dokkodo (The way of solitude), a text that compiled his

philosophical thoughts and way of life in his senior years (contrary to his lifestyle when he was

younger), this publication had 21 precepts of Dokkodo, that to the surprise of many modern

philosophers, are still relevant and appliable to modern days lifestyle.

Another key figure in Samurai history was the military and philosopher Yamamoto Tsunetomo

(1659-1719) who was mostly known for being the first man to collect in one text the Hagakure

(The way of the Samurai), this work served as the fundamental base to the making of The

Bushido Code. When he was 9 years old, he joined the noble clan of Nabeshima, that is

historically remembered as the clan that prohibited Seppuku in its feud because its master

opposed to this practice. Because of this, Tsunetomo didn’t take his life after his master passed,

instead he lived his last days in a Buddhist monastery writing Hagakure with the purpose of

increasing the respect and honor of the Samurai code that was fading at the time. (Loff.it)

However, this text was kept hidden jealously for more than a century by the Nabeshima Clan

only to be revealed to the Japanese public in the early 20 th century10. Writer Kathryn Sparling

mentions that “Hakagure was a 1710 collection of aphorisms of Jochó Yamamoto on the ideal

samurai behavior” (Sparling). This text was a compilation of anecdotes that would help to

illustrate by example, the teachings of traditional Samurai in the way of the warrior, there are

stories referencing Takeda Shinge, Master Kitabatak, Lord Ieyasu, and many more important
10
Added important fact about Hagakure
characters. “If a warrior is not unattached to life and death, he will be of no use whatsoever. The

saying that All abilites come from one mind sounds as though it has to do with sentient matters,

but it is in fact a matter of being unattached to life and death”. (Yamamoto, 157)

Jocho (the name Yamamoto took after joining the Buddhist temple) stated in his text emphasize

on a samurai´s commitment to death, as investigator Harald Sack mentions that “Tsunemoto

believed that becoming one with death in one´s thoughts, even in life, was the highest attainment

of purity and focus. The sentence “Bushido is a way of dying” is often said to summarize the

work´s central theme” (Sack)11

All these teachings were kept in the eastern world, until the Bushi culture was internationalized

by Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933), a Japanese writer who was born in a clan of samurai 12. He learned

martial arts and was taught by his great grandfather the art of jiujitsu, kenjutsu and sojutsu.

However, Cameron Hurst III in his book Death, Honor and Loyalty mentions that “…he [Nitobe]

had a very shallow understanding of Japanese history and literature” (Hurst III). According to

Hurst III, Nitobe had admirable expertise for the English language so this helped him to become

a bridge between Japan and USA culture, the occidental world had affinity for him as he became

a devout Christian and married an American Quaker lady; even president Theodore Roosevelt

was convinced to accept his pronouncements at face value. Although all these merits are true, the

inaccuracies in Nitobe´s explanation of Bushido can’t be overseen. (Hurst III). Hurst agrees with

the fact that Nitobe succeeds in describing all the moral values that were present in Japanese

people in Meiji times, but objects the fact that Nitobe states these precepts as a code that Samurai

11
Added information relevant to Hagakure
12
Ommitted mentioning the Bakamatsu era turbulence as it is not relevant to the code
will recite as the Ten Commandments, which gives a false idea of what this honorable lifestyle

was really like.

Nitobe is acclaimed for his contributions to mutual understanding between the United

States and Japan (the Japanese government put his portrait on the 5.000 yen note in

1984), but his writings in fact advanced this cause little because of their inaccuracies.

(Hurt III, 512)

He is the writer of Bushido: The soul of Japan, a book for understanding the life of the samurai

and their non-written code. Here he explains how and why these warriors dedicated their lives to

honor and compassion. 13 “What today’s readers may find most enlightening about Bushido is the

emphasis on compassion, benevolence, and the other non-martial qualities of true manliness.”

(Clark)

He explains through 8 principles how Bushi warriors lived and died for, these are: Justice, what

is fair and upholding the value of upstanding moral character; Courage, Compassion, Respect,

Integrity, Honor, Loyalty and Self Control14. (Invaluable,com) These principles, although not

written, were followed by all Samurai to maintain the path of the warrior. If one failed these

precepts, the only way to recover honor is by performing Seppuku (commonly known as Hara

Kiri), in this act, the warrior seeking an honorable death, would cut his stomach in the hara point

(below the abdomen) in a straight line from left to right or in a cross shape, then a second cut this

time in a vertical direction. This act would serve other purposes as well like atoning for guilt, to

protest against animadversion or an unfair decision. (bushidojo.wordpress.com)

Although Hurst´s arguments against Nitobe´s interpretation of Bushido leaves the reader with a

feeling that maybe this Code is deceiving, Mathew Foust manifests that

13
Left out a couple of sentences that were just wordy
14
Ommitted definitions that didn’t add much value
Perhaps in some sense, the origin of the word Bushido Is not all that significant. As long

as that which it names existed, Nitobe provided his readers a service by describing it to

them. Writing in 1905, Baron Kencho Suyematsu explains that in the Middle ages the

phrase “Yumi-ya-no-michi, literally meaning The ways of the bow and arrow, came into

existence, and it was the original name of Bushido. At first, perhaps the word referred

more especially to the proper use of the instrument of war, but it soon came to signify

something more. This “something more” pertained to moral principles, etiquette, and

modes of comportment. Certainly, this constellation of features of the samurai class is the

subject matter of Nitobe´s text. (Foust, 1176)

Bushido is an absolute moral standard that men should follow, sometimes diverging with logical

behaviors, this means that what is right and wrong is given and not something that is left for

thought (Clark). When trying to understand a code that was lived by but never written down, the

best way to do it is by following the lives of those warriors who gave it all to always live by this

lifestyle. Men like Miyamoto Musashi will always be remembered as a terrifying opponent in the

battlefield, but at the same time a master for those who chose to live by honor and loyalty.

Nitobe, who is the responsible for bringing this philosophy of life to the western world, although

criticized by some, did well by trying to write down a code that was only lived and not preached

as a motto. These characters maintain alive the spirit of Bushi through history and help us in

modern times to grasp these philosophies and integrate them to our own lives. “You may

abandon your own body but you must preserve your honour.” (Miyamoto Mushashi)

Works Cited
DeVere Brown, Sidney. World Literature Today, vol. 52, no. 3, 1978, pp. 522–522. JSTOR,

www.jstor.org/stable/40134458. Accessed 19 Mar. 2020.15

“Dokkodo: los 21 preceptos de Miyamoto Musashi.” Meditación y psicología,

https://meditacionypsicologia.com/filosofia/dokkodo-los-21-preceptos-de-miyamoto-

musashi/. Accesed 22 Mar. 2020

Foust, Mathew A. “NITOBE AND ROYCE: BUSHIDŌ AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF

LOYALTY.” Philosophy East and West, vol. 65, no. 4, 2015, pp. 1174–1193.,

www.jstor.org/stable/43831231. Accessed 22 Mar. 2020.

Griffiths, Andres. “The Duels of Miyamoto Musashi”. The history of fighting.

https://www.historyoffighting.com/miyamoto-musashi.php. Accessed 30/04/2020

Hurst, G. Cameron. “Death, Honor, and Loyality: The Bushidō Ideal.” Philosophy East and

West, vol. 40, no. 4, 1990, pp. 511–527. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1399355.

Accessed 15 Mar. 2020.

Jutras, Martin. “Miyamoto Musashi, Japan's Greatest Swordsman” The Karate Lifestyle.

https://www.thekaratelifestyle.com/miyamoto-musashi/#duelling-years. Accessed

30/04/2020

Mckay, Brett. Kate Mckay. “The Bushido Code: The Eight Virtues of the Samurai” A Man´s

Life, 14 Sep. 2008, https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-bushido-code-the-eight-

virtues-of-the-samurai/, Accesed 20 Mar. 2020

Rogers, John M. “Arts of War in Times of Peace. Swordsmanship in Honcho Bugei Shoden,

Chapter 6.” Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 46, no. 2, 1991, pp. 173–202. JSTOR,

www.jstor.org/stable/2385400. Accessed 15 Mar. 2020.

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Fixed the indentation
“Seppuku, ¿cómo y por qué los samurai se rajaban el vientre?” Bushi Dojo Blog,

https://bushidojo.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/seppuku/. Accesed 22 Mar. 2020

“The History of the Bushido Code: Principles of Samurai Culture” Invaluable.

https://www.invaluable.com/blog/history-of-the-bushido-code/. Accesed 15 Mar. 2020

Szczepanski, Kallie. “Bushido: The Ancient Code of the Samurai Warrior” Thought.co,

06 Sep. 2019, https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-bushido-195302. Accesed 15 Mar.

2020