is warriorship a virtue?


Many “Warriors” sacked cities, carried off women as slaves, burned down villages and did other things we would consider reprehensible today. While I of all people value the “Warrior Ethic”, as we have re-codified it with our modern values; I would hesitate to define the basic concept of a “Warrior” as necessarily “virtuous”, at least by any modern standard. Remember though that was the “Way of War” in those days. Warriors were warriors because that’s what they were. Most were born into a caste system, Knights, Samurai, Tribal Warriors etc….Soldiers were the “Average Joe’s” that joined (or were conscripted) into armies, taught how to fight, paid in some manner and sent into battle. Many went back to being “Joe Farmer” afterwards. Some became “Career Men” and sort of crossed the Soldier/Warrior boundary. In our times I would say that the difference between a Warrior and a Soldier is a matter of professionalism, commitment to craft, and the honoring of a “code” either personal or codified. In the military, when you meet a “Soldier” vs. a “Warrior” you know it….

I don’t really now of any example in military history where significant things were accomplished by warriors who “fought alone”. The lone wolf, Rambo “Warrior” is a myth IMHO. Even the Samurai and medieval Knights who were of the “Warrior Class” fought in organized battles. Examples of individual combat did absolutely exist, but all warfare is typified by some form of teamwork. Our modern definition of “Warrior” is very different from the historical model IMO. For example, the Samurai were “Warriors” by caste and at the same time there were Ashigaru “Soldiers” recruited from the other classes who fought at the same time. They all fought, bled and died pretty much the same, but what was expected of the Warriors by their society was quite different. There really is no “class” difference in the military these days (besides the officer/enlisted split), so the difference between a Warrior and a Soldier has picked up all of this philosophical/spiritual/mystical stuff. I just think of the difference as one of “dedication to craft”. The difference between somebody who “does something” from someone who “is something”.

why follow a warrior code?

US Marine lieutenant Baldomero Lopez scaling t...
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When it comes to codes and “Warrior ethos” I often see the “well they didn’t really live like that” response. To which I say “well naturally so”. Codes are more Ideals to be lived up to rather than laws. These Codes are the ideals that “Warriors” use to carry them through the, “why am I here doing this?” moments. Its the Marine “esprit de corps” that makes them Marines, sets them apart, and is in part a component of what allows the Marines to accomplish what they have. The historic Knights didn’t “live” the Chivalric code 100%, anymore than the Samurai “lived” the Bushido Code. But who could withstand the fear of death with the cynical mindset of “Im here as a tool of national policy and my death here will really have no meaning.” without losing their sanity? People seem to expect those who put themselves in dangerous situations, for at least what they believe to be the “greater good”, to take no pride in what they do. Much like people who want to say that in my line of work that Im not really a “Protector and defender” as much as Im a paper pusher who just shows up to pick up the pieces. Why put up with the fear that the guy you just pulled over has a .357 in his lap, or the next domestic you walk into may be the one you never walk out of, with that kind of mindset? As arrogant as this next bit sounds, I think a lot of it comes from people who consider their lives “less than exciting/adequate” and want to minimize what others do, to negate the foundation of what keeps them going back to work day after day.

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the last statement of Torii Mototada


The Last Statement of Torii Mototada (1539-1600AD)

(written by Torii to his son Tadamasa a few days before the fall of the castle. It is a moving account of unbending and selfless loyalty of vassal to master, and expresses in very clear terms that the true meaning of being a warrior is to die in battle.)

Recently there has been the report of an uprising in the Kamigata area, and that a large number of rebel daimyo who have fallen into the evil scheming of Ishida Mitsunari will first lay siege to this castle and are now making such preparations with large forces.

For myself, I am resolved to make a stand within the castle and to die a quick death It would not take much trouble to break through a part of their numbers and escape, no matter how many tens of thousands of horsemen approached for the attack or by how many columns we were surrounded. But that is not the true meaning of being a warrior, and it would be difficult to account as loyalty. Rather, I will stand off the forces of the entire country here, and without one one-hundredth of the men necessary to do so, will throw up a defense and die a resplendent death. By doing so I will show that to abandon a castle that should be defended, or to value one’s life so much as to avoid danger and to show the enemy one’s weakness is not within the family traditions of my master Ieyasu. Thus I will have taken the initiative in causing lord Ieyasu’s other retainers to be resolved, and in advancing righteousness to the warriors of the entire country. It is not the way of the warrior to be shamed and avoid death even under circumstances that are not particularly important. It goes without saying that to sacrifice one’s life for one’s master is an unchanging principle. As this is a matter I have thought over beforehand, I think that circumstances such that I am meting now must be envied by people of understanding.

You Tadamasa, should understand the following well. Our ancestors have been personal vassals of the Matsudaira for generations……..

(Mototada gives a lengthy history of how his father served Tokugawa’s ancestors, naming the names of his ancestors)

“Because lord Ieyasu is well aware of my loyalty, he has left me here in charge of the important area of Kamigata as Deputy of Fushimi Castle while he advances toward the east, and for a warrior there is nothing that could surpass this good fortune. That I should be able to go ahead of all of the other warriors of this country and lay down my life for the sake of my master’s benevolence is an honor to my family and has been my most fervent desire for many years.

“After I am slain you must lovingly care for your younger brothers…….”

(Mototada tells his son to raise his younger brothers and to offer themselves to Ieyasu as soon as they are able)

“They must be determined to stand with Lord Ieyasu’s clan in both its ascent and decline, in times of peace and in times of war; and either waking or sleeping they must never forget that they serve his clan and his clan alone. “To be avaricious for land or to forget old debts because of some passing dissatisfction, or to even temporarily entertain treacherous thoughts is not the Way of Man. Even if all of the other provinces of Japan were to unite against our lord, our descendants should not set foot inside another fief to the end of time………”

(the section continues with several vows of loyalty to Ieyasu)

I am now 62 years of age. Of the number of times I have barely escaped death since the time I was in Mikawa I have no Idea. Yet, not once have I acted in a cowardly way……

(There is a lengthy section where Mototada advises his son to listen to older retainers for advice)

“The entire country will soon be in the hands of your master lord Ieyasu. If this is so, the men who served him will no doubt hope to become daimyo by his appointment. You should know that if such feelings arise, they are inevitably the beginning of the end of one’s fortunes in the Way of the Warrior. Being affected by the avarice for office and rank, or wanting to become a daimyo and being eager for such things…….will not one begin to value his life?”

“And how can a man commit acts of martial valor if he values his life? A man who has been born into the house of a warrior and yet places no loyalty in his heart and thinks only of the fortune of his position will be flattering on the surface and construct schemes in his heart, will forsake righteousness and not reflect on his shame, and will stain the warriors name of his household to later generations…………”

(Mototada gives his son advice on how to run the affairs of the clan and ends his statement with this)

Be first of all prudent in your conduct and have correct manners, develop harmony between master and retainers, and have compassion on those beneath you. Be correct in the degree of rewards and punishments, and let there be no partiality in your degree of intimacy with your retainers. The foundation of man’s duty as a man is in “truth”. Beyond this, there is nothing to be said”