Every samurai who is in service must have a supply of weapons suitable to his means. Every feudal house has its military regulations, and the proper banners and flags and helmet insignia, spear mounts, sleeve crests, and marks on the baggage animals as ordered by the lord must be carefully provided in a uniform manner. For if they have to be improvised in a hurry it will be an obvious sign of carelessness and will provoke contempt. Men who from neglect of these insignia have been attacked by their own side and killed and suffered loss are not unknown in military history, so there must be no want of precaution in these things. And some may think that their servants are not likely to have to cut anybody down and so may replace the blades of their swords with wood or bamboo, and neglect to provide them with a loincloth because they think they will not need to gird up their clothes, and find themselves in difficulties owing to their want of foresight. And a samurai who is a cavalier and who receives a considerable stipend and who does not know when he may have to take the field, however peaceful the time may appear to be, is a hundred percent more culpable if he does not provide himself with the proper weapons than the young serving man with a wooden sword or no loincloth. So from fear of being put to public shame he ought to equip himself properly. And here is a piece of advice on the subject. When a small retainer wishes to fit himself out with armor and has, let us say, three pieces of gold to get a suit, the best thing he can do will be to spend two-thirds of it on the body armor and helmet, leaving the remainder to provide all the other things he will need such as underclothes, breeches, coat, under-hakama, upper girdle, surcoat, whip, fan, wallet, cloak, water-bottle, cup, etc., so that he will have every accessory he needs as well as his suit of armor. Then, though he may be young and very strong, it is better to avoid heavy suits of thick iron armor and weighty banners and standards, for the very good reason that, though they may be tolerable while he is young and vigorous, as he grows older they will become too much for him. And even a young man may fall ill or be wounded, and then the lightest iron armor will be a heavy burden and a hindrance. And if a young man gets known for the weight of his banners and standards he will find it difficult to give them up when he becomes older and less able to support them.
I find it an interesting parallel to modern soldiers and law enforcement officers who will spend tons of money on the latest flat-screen or video console but will scrimp on buying a quality holster or flashlight.
There are many people who, by being attached to a martial art and taking apprentices, believe that they have arrived at the full stature of a warrior. But it is a regrettable thing to put forth much effort and in the end become an “artist.” In artistic technique it is good to learn to the extent that you will not be lacking.
An interesting passage…the “stature” is not to be found in simply the practice of skills. Do not be found lacking in skill, but don’t lose your way in pursuing them either.
“Use your mind strongly even when you walk down the street, such that you wouldn’t even blink if someone unexpectedly thrust a lance at your nose. All warriors should employ such a state of mind all the time in everyday life.” – Suzuki Shosan (1579-1655)
The discussion in the comments became an interesting exploration all of its own. A definition of warriorship that was explored stated that the warrior put him or herself at risk of serious physical injury or death for the sake of oneself or others. Someone else then asked if that would include “non-martial types”, such as a doctor who goes into dangerous places to treat others. I responded with a quote from Musashi:
It is said the warrior’s is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way. Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death. Although not only warriors but priests, women, peasants and lowlier folk have been known to die readily in the cause of duty or out of shame, this is a different thing. The warrior is different in that studying the Way of strategy is based on overcoming men. By victory gained in crossing swords with individuals, or enjoining battle with large numbers, we can attain power and fame for ourselves or our lord. This is the virtue of strategy.
A vital component of the definition, (according to Musashi at least…and I would dare say most historical “warriors”) is the point that the warrior exists and trains to overcome other people who are trying to impose their will against him and/or his group/community/clan/nation.
I also believe that being a “Warrior” comes with a price tag. And a pretty hefty price tag at that. Service, sacrifice, risk…Just “wanting to be one” isn’t enough by my standard. Neither is “putting on the clothes or skills”. Some folks like to apply the “warrior” label to one who simply practices a martial art.
Karate no more makes you a warrior than being a football player would. Karate (and pistol skills, rifle schooling, lock picking training, knife fighting training, etc.) are “warrior skills”. Skills that I believe some people pursue to live out their “warrior fantasy”.
If you want to be a “Warrior” then you have to go out and “put it on the line” and put those “warrior skills” to use. Anything less than you are practicing the “Warrior Lifestyle”. Much like training exactly like a NFL football player but only playing some backyard ball with your buddies doesn’t make you “as good as” a Professional Football player. Or having all the skills and gear of a Delta Force Operator doesn’t make you “as good as a Delta Operator”.
There are some martial artists and authors who have a different opinion than me:
This is a common misconception where the true warrior is concerned. While the main definition of the warrior found in most dictionaries is, “Somebody who takes part in or has experience in warfare.” This definition is not the one that should be used to define the true warrior, and is not an accurate definition for the warrior lifestyle. A better definition for a warrior is, “Somebody who takes part in a struggle or conflict.” The true warrior is engaged in a struggle and it is a daily fight. His battle is not necessarily on the battlefield, but rather a personal battle to perfect his character and to become a man of excellence in every area of his life.
While it is true that martial arts training is a vital part of warriorship, it is not the sole component of a true warrior. There are many people who are trained fighters who are not true warriors. The world is full of killers, gang members, and people of low character who are well-versed in weapons and how to take a human life, but is this the singular requirement for being a warrior? Are these people true warriors or simply trained thugs? Anyone can learn to pull a trigger or destroy the human body. Does this knowledge make them a true warrior, or is there more to the warrior than the ability to fight?
While I agree with the sentiment that warriorship is not all about skills. I’m not convinced that the word “warrior” or the concept of “warriorship” necessarily has or ever had a mandate of being “virtuous”.
Many “Warriors” sacked cities, carried off women as slaves, burned down villages and did other things we would consider reprehensible today. Would one suggest that the Vikings were not “Warriors”?
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 being “virtuous”, at least by any modern standard. Remember though that what the Mongols, Romans, etc. did back then was the “Way of War” in those days. Warriors were warriors because that’s what they were. Many 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”.
That “service, sacrifice and risk for ones clan/community” I mentioned earlier…note I didn’t add any sort of “virtuous conduct” to the definition. The German SS were an elite group of “warriors” they were using their warrior skills in the service of their nation. I wouldn’t describe what they were doing as virtuous by any means, but I would still consider them “warriors”. The Samurai of Japan were noted for..at times…lopping off heads for simply not bowing swiftly enough.
So in a nutshell. My definition:
Trains to overcome other men/people.
Seeks to perfect those skills.
Uses those skills in service to others.
Sees this honing of “craft” and “service to others” as a “way of life” vs. SOLELY as a paycheck/term of enlistment/college money/retirement package/etc.
While virtue and “self-improvement” are desirable and some historic warrior groups attempted to codify/instill those virtues (Bushido, Chivalry, etc.), the cultural and historic “fuzziness” of what is “virtuous” makes this aspect sort of an “add on” depending on the period and people making the definition.
Of course, there are no “warrior police” out there, so everybody is free to label as they wish. However this blog is about my definition so…there it is.
A Facebook friend of mine mentioned that this month marks the 311th Anniversary of the “Ako Incident”….otherwise known as the night the 47 Ronin carried out their attack on the mansion of Kira Yoshinaka. One noted Japanese scholar has described this tale as being the country’s “national legend.”
What is interesting however…as it always is when separating out historic facts from legend…is that according to the “Bushido Code” of the day the actions of the 47 Ronin were not unanimously viewed as being heroic.
To encapsulate the event. In 1701 two daimyo, Asano and Kamei, were ordered to arrange a fitting reception for the envoys of the Emperor in Edo, during their bi-annualservice to the Shogun. They were to receive instruction in proper etiquette from a powerful court official named Kira. According to the legend, Kira expected a bribe/fee from the diamyo of which Kamei paid and Asano did not. Kira then treated Kamei civilly but continually insulted Asano. Eventually Asano had enough and drew a blade within Edo castle and wounded Kira. This was a grave offense and Asano was ordered to commit seppuku and all of his goods and lands were ordered to be confiscated after his death, his family was to be ruined, and his retainers were to be made ronin (leaderless).
Of Asano’s over three hundred men, forty-seven refused to allow their lord to go unavenged, even though revenge had been prohibited in the case. They banded together, swearing a secret oath to avenge their master by killing Kira, even though they knew they would be severely punished for doing so. Two years latter, the 47 Ronin attacked Kira’s mansion in the early morning hours during a heavy snow killing Kira and most of his retainers. When they had finished, the 47 turned themselves in to the authorities. Eventually all were ordered to commit seppuku.
The even greater ambiguity lies in the motivation and action of the ronin. They justified the attack as a vendetta (katakiuchi) on behalf of their lord, but in no way did the case fit either the legal or the customary definition of katakiuchi. Kira, after all, was not their master’s murderer: on the contrary, Asano had tried to murder Kira. Nor was there any justification for avenging the death of one’s lord, only that of a family member: the ronin even had to call on a Confucian scholar to come up with a textual basis for their action. Legalities aside, what was the underlying spirit of their act? Was it indeed personal loyalty to their lord, as the mainstream of the Chûshingura tradition would have it? Or was it a protest against the bakufu’s lenient treatment of Kira for his involvement in the incident? Or was it a simple matter of personal honor to carry out their master’s unfinished task? Or, as one school of interpretation would have it, were they impoverished samurai desperate for a new job and trying to prove their credentials?
The operating principle of revenge was based on an ancient Confucian dictum about not living under the same heaven as the killer of one’s father (or in this case, lord). In this case Kira was not the killer of Asano. Furthermore, some Samurai were conflicted on the entire planning and execution process employed. Plotting and careful planning for success was (oddly enough) not “The Way” of the Samurai when it came to situations like this. The Samurai Dazai Shundai (1680 – 1747) summed up this viewpoint in an essay:
“The guest asked: “In that case, what should the warriors of Ako have done?” Shundai said: “Nothing could have been better for them than to die at Ako Castle…. They should have come out of the castle and engaged in battle with the government emissaries (who were coming to seize the Asano goods and lands). Then, retreating into the castle, they should have set fire to it, and everyone should have killed himself. When their corpses had burned up with the castle, it could have been said that the Ako men had done all they could…. “If for some reason it was not possible for them to die at Ako Castle, they should have gone to Edo at once and, with all the troops available, attacked Kira. If they won the engagement, they thereupon should have killed themselves; if they lost, the same. The unifying element should have been death. Through it they would have discharged their responsibility. “Yet Oishi and his men were unable to do either. Instead, they waited leisurely and, employing idle conspiracies and secrecy, tried to kill Kira. What they had in mind was to achieve their aim, establish their reputation, and thereby seek fame and fortune. How unurbane of them! In the circumstances, it was lucky for the Ako warriors that Kira hadn’t died before their attack.”
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, the Samurai who’s statements are claimed to be reproduced in the Hagakure is reported to have said the following about the situation:
A certain person was brought to shame because he did not take revenge. The way of revenge lies in simply forcing one’s way into a place and being cut down. There is no shame in this. By thinking that you must complete the job you will run out of time. By considering things like how many men the enemy has, time piles up; in the end you will give up. No matter if the enemy has thousands of men, there is fulfillment in simply standing them off and being determined to cut them all down, starting from one end. You will finish the greater part of it.
Concerning the night assault of Lord Asano’s ronin, the fact that they did not commit seppuku at the Sengakuji was an error, for there was a long delay between the time their lord was struck down and the time when they struck down the enemy. If Lord Kira had died of illness within that period, it would have been extremely regrettable. Because the men of the Kamigata area have a very clever sort of wisdom, they do well at praiseworthy acts but cannot do things indiscriminately, as was done in the Nagasaki fight.
The second element in debate was the fact that the 47 Ronin turned themselves in after the incident instead of immediately committing seppuku, which would have been truer to the Bushido ideals of the day. Some critics believe that the Ronin were gambling that perhaps through gaining fame, notoriety and public support that they would be able to escape death. Some critics even going so far as to accuse them of trying to leverage their fame into employment with another daimyo.
From a political/historic aspect it is interesting to read that this story really “got legs” and became the “National Legend” during the Meiji Period of Japanese history. The Meiji Restoration was a period when Japan was undergoing “modernization” while still trying to hold onto some form of historic cultural identity. As Henry Smith said at Columbia University states:
For the first half of the Meiji period, Chûshingura survived with no major change in the two great Edo-period lineages of kabuki stage productions and kôdan story-telling. To be sure, the new regime seems to have appreciated the political uses of the 47 Ronin as early as 1868, when the Meiji emperor, on arriving in his new capital of Tokyo, sent an emissary to Sengakuji to place offerings before the graves of the Akô ronin, together with a proclamation addressed to Ôishi and praising him for upholding the principle of the master-follower bond. Yet this did not lead to any particular official manipulation of the legend to foster imperial loyalty: Chûshingura remained in the possession of the people.
The modern transformation of Chûshingura into what amounted to a piece of propaganda on behalf of martial values and selfless sacrifice to the state came, revealingly, only after the way had been paved by the first modern historical studies of the Akô incident. This process began in 1889 with the appearance of The True Story of the Akô Gishi (Akô gishi jitsuwa), an account by Shigeno Yasutsugu (1827-1910), a pioneer of the modern critical method in history. Shigeno insisted on the need to separate out the many counterfeits among the surviving documents of the incident, in an effort to tell the “true story.” The form of the book (which was related orally to a newspaper reporter) was an act-by-act analysis of Kanadehon Chûshingura, indicating what was “true” and what not. This marks the beginning of a new element in the Chûshingura phenomenon, the perception that the historical event constituted a different kind of story to be told, with different tools and methods. The way to a greater historicity may have been paved by the kôdan tradition and its stronger sense of the actual event―particularly in the use of the historical names of the participants―but the line between history and fiction remained one that was never openly contested.
It is in this historic perspective that you can see the foreshadowing of events that led to the Imperial Japanese militarism of WWII. The 47 Ronin, Bushido: The soul of Japan, and the Hagakure were all used as propaganda to reinforce the Samurai heritage of Japanese soldiers.
Now..this is not to imply that you cannot find “Things Worth Believing In” in these works. I will end by quoting myself from another post on the Hagakure:
The Hagakure was written approximately one hundred years after the start of the Tokugawa era, a time of relative peace when Japan was closed to any foreign influence. With no battles left to fight, the samurai class was being transformed into an administrative arm of the government, training and practicing the martial arts but seldom engaging in combat outside of duels and brawls. After his master died, Tsunetomo was forbidden to perform a ritual suicide by an edict of the Tokugawa Shogunate and it is thought that the Hagakure may have been written as a response to the change in tradition and was an effort to define the role of the samurai in this more peaceful society. Several sections refer to the “old days”, and imply a dangerous weakening of the samurai class since that time.
His work represents one approach to the problem of maintaining military preparedness and a proper military mindset in a time when neither has much practical application. The Hagakure remained a fairly obscure work until 1930′s Japan where it played a role in the resurgent militarism of WWII imperial Japan. Illustrating the danger in trying to resurrect modes of thought from times that were vastly different from our own. The student studying these codes needs to remember that the “trick” lays in finding the similarities and consistency in human thought that may have remained over the ages and see how these ancient codes may or may not apply to our times.
When a samurai in service accompanies his lord on a journey and they arrive at post-station it is most important that he should before sunset take care to make enquiries of the people of the locality, and note any hill or wood or shrine or temple and take his bearings by them, and find out in what direction from their lodging there is an open space and what is the condition of the road. This should be done so that should a fire suddenly break out during the night and it be necessary for his lord to retire he will be able to lead the way and know where to guide him. And when he accompanies his lord on foot, to remember to go in front of him on a hill and behind him on a slope may seem a small matter, but it is one a retainer should not overlook. For it is the duty of a samurai to be vigilant and careful at all times to think out how he can render any possible service in the calling to which he is appointed.– Daidoji Yuzan
This passage brings to mind how we should not be just “going through” the motions when we carry arms for a living. How many coppers have been caught flat footed when that “routine call” turned to shit? Think ahead…find those points of cover in your environment…have some sort of mental “what if” plan that covers as many options you can think of as you approach that car stop.
“As you climb toward the throne of Command, on the very first step of success, you will come to a strange fountain where people try to slake the thirst of ambition. One of that fountain’s strange, contrary effects is that it makes us forget the past. I saw people drink from it and forget their former friends and acquaintances: witnesses to their former lowliness. They forgot even their brothers and sisters, and one drinker was such an arrogant barbarian that he did not recognize the father who engendered him, deleting from his memory all obligations, all favors received, wanting to be a creditor, not a debtor. Those who drank wanted to borrow, not to return. They forgot even themselves, and now that they were on the high seas, could barely remember that they had been spawned in puddles. They forgot all that could remind them of their dust and dung, all that would make them lower their feathers. They drank up ingratitude and affected gravity and remoteness, and wafted up strangely to their thrones, unable to recognize others, or recognize themselves. That is the way that honors change customs.”
The topic of conversation is Jack Hoban’s use of Robert L Humphrey’s “Warrior Creed” in his 1988 book “Ninpo: Living and Thinking As a Warrior”. The creed is:
The Warrior Creed By Dr. Robert L. Humphrey (Iwo Jima Marine)
Wherever I go,
everyone is a little bit safer because I am there.
Wherever I am,
anyone in need has a friend.
Whenever I return home,
everyone is happy I am there.
It’s a better life!
Some readers have interpreted Hoban’s use of the creed to mean that wannabe Ninjas should stalk the streets making everyone safer. I’m giving the author the benefit of the doubt. Take a read and tell me what you think.