reading ancient warrior codes


English: Armoured samurai with sword and dagge...
Image via Wikipedia

Written by Taira Shigesuke around 1700 AD. The Bushido Shoshinshu was intended to instruct the novice Samurai of the peaceful Edo Era, who had not known the rigors of battle, with the practical philosophies of previous eras.

Bushido Shoshinshu is roughly translated as “Bushido for Beginners.”

A fellow blogger over at The H Line has a post on this text:

My favorite part is from a section called “Officials,” which centers on one bit of imagery: a white jacket.

A white jacket, it says, can come clean with detergent and a good wash. Likewise:

“…there are various practices that are like detergents for cleaning the heart of warriors. What are these practices? These are loyalty, duty, and courage. There is dirt that is removed by the detergent of loyalty and fidelity, and there is dirt that is removed by the detergent of faithfulness to duty. When the stain remains stubborn even after washing with loyalty and rinsing with duty, then use the detergent of courage, and make a determined effort to scrub it clean. This is the warrior’s ultimate secret of cleaning the heart.”

It’s a beautiful message, full of hope.

Which brings up an interesting point about the reading of ancient Warrior codes. That passage IS an inspiring concept, however if one reads the final passage of this book…

Now were he to grab the aforementioned evil man and finish the matter by carving out his entrails and cutting off his head just as he pleased, and then quickly committing seppuku, the affair would be ended with him seeming to have lost his wits. Thus, there would be no problems or public hearings at the time, the lord’s position would not be threatened, the retainers would all feel at ease, and the domain would be at peace. This would be an act one hundred times greater than junshi, would combine the three virtues of loyalty, righteousness and courage, and would be a model of great loyalty to the warriors of this corrupt age.

…we see that you cant take everything you read in these warrior codes “at face value”.

This passage, on it’s face, is saying that a loyal Samurai would kill one his lords political enemies then kill himself and make it look like he did it while appearing out of his mind. This would be done as a selfless action done out of loyalty to, and for the good of, his lord and his clan; eliminating his lord’s enemy and giving his lord “plausible deniability”.

Thus, from the Bushido Shoshinshu you CAN distill the concept of “loyalty and selfless service” as an inspirational one but you cannot go around cutting the guts out of your bosses enemies. The Samurai lived in a different age, in a different culture and under a vastly different set of rules than our own. I think this illustrates the differences between the wise person who looks for the message behind the words as compared to the “wanna be” Ghost Dog Samurai who believes that these codes can be lived verbatim in our modern times.

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8 thoughts on “reading ancient warrior codes”

  1. Hi there,

    Good point! Though I hope you’re not implying that I qualify as a “wannabe.” Note my earlier point in that post about the bits on weaponry being not-so-useful today. Certainly not to be taken literally, though there’s lots to glean from these text both as historical documents and as lessons for all time.

    Cheers,
    Heather

  2. No, no, no, not at all. One of the topics of this blog is the pointing out of how some martial artists fall into delusions about being “warriors” or “Samurai”. Just taking your fortuitous post and making a point of my own. Actually, your interpretation would put you in my “wise person” category. 😉

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. I think there’s a distinction in the application of traditional “martial arts” these days.

    there’s the military application, like with Krav Maga
    there’s civilian self~defense
    there’s athletic mixed martial arts competitions

    the warrior protects those who are unable to protect themselves. In civil company, the warrior is the height of civility.

  4. I contend that “martial arts” are simply physical acts, no different from wrestling, track, gymnastics etc. It is what you do with those skills that really matters in the end. A pvt. in Afghanistan with no belt ranking whatsoever is more of a “Warrior” than a 5th Dan in some suburban dojo.

    Similarly, being able to operate weapons doesn’t make one the equivalent of a soldier or a cop no matter how good one is. One is a skill, the other is a profession.

  5. It’s important to read and absorb ‘inspirational’ literature in ways that work for you and the world you live in vs. reading as a ‘fundamental/literal’ reader. We can take inspiration from the concepts and ideals will help us improve ourselves and the world we live in, but – for the average citizen – accepting and literally implementing a whole ancient text into your current world/society/life would make you less useful.

    I don’t see too many SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) players challenging people to duels on the street or ‘rescuing’ damsels in distress in the ‘old ways’ when they are away from meetings and training.

    I remember stories of Karate Instructors who required their students to call them Sensei and bow even when a student was out in town just like at the dojo… a little over done in my opinion. Losing the forest for the trees (or getting off on the power trip, who knows).

    Good citizens who help each other and show respect are universal in spirit, but distinct in practice.

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