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The Samurai's Way of Life: Principles of Bushido

Illustration of Samurai and Bushido

The Samurai, an esteemed warrior class of feudal Japan, adhered to a unique code of conduct known as Bushido. This comprehensive guide delves into the core tenets of Bushido and the remarkable traits of these legendary warriors. And these Samurai principles can be applied to modern-day life to live a fulfilling life and achieve goals.

What is Bushido

Bushido, literally translating to "Way of the Warrior", served as the ethical compass guiding the Samurai's way of life. It encapsulated their virtues and principles, molding their character and directing their actions.

The Sword: The Samurai's Soul

The sword was the samurai's soul, an emblem of power and prowess—it was more than just a tool for battle. What he carried in his belt was a symbol of what he held in his mind and heart. A Samurai would never sell his sword, even if he had nothing to eat. He would rather starve than sell his spirit.

Rectitude (Gi): The Righteous Path

Rectitude was the cornerstone of a Samurai's life. They strived for moral righteousness, fairness, and justice in every aspect of their lives, distinguishing right from wrong and shunning dishonorable acts.

Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen were influential and formidable lords during the 16th century of Japan's samurai period. They were fierce rivals, engaged in prolonged conflict. Shingen also had another rival, Imagawa Ujizane, who disrupted the merchant routes to Shingen's domain, leading to a shortage of salt. As salt was essential for survival, Shingen's people faced deprivation and potential death.

When Kenshin received this news, he could've taken advantage of this. But he didn't. Instead, he sent a letter to Shingen, stating, 'I'm not fighting you over rice or salt; our battle is fought with weapons and strategy, not basic resources. If necessary, our country can provide salt in the future.'

Despite some lords resorting to dishonorable tactics, not all samurai abandoned Bushido principles. Kenshin prioritized rectitude and refrained from involving non-warriors in conflicts, adhering to the samurai way.

For samurai, money was not the primary concern. They placed greater importance on righteousness and ethical conduct. Even though Kenshin and Shingen were adversaries, Kenshin offered aid to his enemy's non-warrior class, staying true to his principles and the spirit of Bushido.

Courage (Yūki): The Bravery Within

Courage was a revered virtue among the Samurai. They were trained to confront adversity with bravery and resilience, both on the battlefield and in daily life.

Living the life of a Samurai required immense courage, as they always lived on the edge. Being a coward was not a trait of a samurai. They were forced to face scarcity, challenges, and adversity with bravery and resilience all the time. To live such a risky life, having courage was more than necessary.

Even though they practiced rectitude, without courage, everything would be useless. They needed to fight opponents stronger and bigger than themselves. Once they determined what was right, they pursued it even if it was dangerous and scary.

To be resilient in the face of danger and scarcity, they trained their bodies and practiced martial arts consistently and intensely. Samurai believed that a strong mind resided in a strong body.

Benevolence (Jin): Kindness in Strength

Samurai were encouraged to show compassion and kindness, extending help to those in need and treating others with respect and empathy

Kindness was a standard among samurai. They helped those non-warrior classes—such as farmers, women, and children—and never harmed them. Samurai treated people with kindness and respect, and they never acted arrogantly or patronizingly toward others.

Being arrogant and patronizing was not something a strong man should do; it was unjust. Of course, treating others with kindness also applied to their peers; samurai treated everyone with kindness equally. However, when they were in battle, they would completely destroy their enemies without mercy.

Benevolence and rectitude are often described in one word: Jingi. As seen in Kenshin's actions, kindness combined with righteousness is crucial to Bushido. Being kind was crucial to living a fulfilling life.

Respect (Rei): The Culture of Reverence

Respect was deeply ingrained in the Samurai culture. They adhered to strict codes of etiquette, showing deference to their superiors, peers, and subordinates while also earning respect through their actions.

Samurai wouldn't condemn, criticize, or complain. Those behaviors are considered to lack respect and self-control.

Honesty (Makoto): The Truthful Warrior

Honesty and sincerity were paramount to the Samurai. They refrained from deceit and deception, valuing truth in their words and actions. In the realm of the Samurai, a man’s word was his honor.

Samurai never takes back his own words. If he did, he'd be considered a coward.

Honor (Meiyo): Live Without Shame

Samurais held their honor in high regard, avoiding any act that could disgrace them. They prioritized doing good deeds and refrained from wrongdoing, However, some are so afraid of the possibility of disgracing themselves that they hesitate to take the right action at the right time.

Even when they found themselves in favorable circumstances, they did not forget their principles and refrained from committing wrongdoing. They were expected to act with integrity.

Loyalty (Chūgi): Unwavering Allegiance

Loyalty was a defining attribute of the Samurai. They were loyal to their lords, families, and comrades, and often willing to sacrifice their own interests for the greater good of their masters or their clan.

In today's world, being too loyal to your boss or company isn't seen as a positive trait, especially for aspiring entrepreneurs. However, loyalty to your family, friends, employees, and anyone who supports you remains important. Building trust and fostering strong relationships can make your work easier and more fulfilling.

Self-Control (Jisei): The Discipline Within

Samurai practiced self-discipline and self-control in all aspects of their lives. They had to be highly disciplined to go through tough training and fulfill their duties every day. Not many warriors would be always willing to endure brutal training and do their duty every day. However, samurai were dedicated to their training and duties. They would persevere each day, overcoming obstacles and striving to improve both as warriors and as individuals.

Controlling their emotions and impulses was especially crucial to them, as they needed to remain calm and not let emotions dictate their actions. In the chaos of battle, controlling their emotion was essential for survival; losing control could easily lead to defeat.

Samurai duels required stillness and the ability to anticipate the opponent's next move. Often, battles were decided in a single slash, as seen in the practice of Iaido, which emphasizes the quick drawing of the sword and responding to sudden attacks. Maintaining emotional control and remaining calm were vital, even in the most stressful situations.

In Conclusion

The Samurai way of life, as guided by Bushido, was a unique blend of moral righteousness, courage, benevolence, respect, honesty, honor, loyalty, and self-control. These virtues, deeply embedded in their culture, defined their character and actions, shaping them into the legendary warriors we admire today.

Striving to incorporate these principles into our lives can guide us toward personal growth and ethical conduct. After all, there is much to learn from the disciplined, honorable, and courageous spirit of the Samurai.


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