Excellence in swordsmanship demands that one make a conscious effort to learn and execute correct techniques and practical cuts with samurai weapons while living in accordance with bushido virtues — the samurai code for living. With time and experience, and assuming a certain level of physical ability and perseverance in diligent practice with samurai weapons, the road to self-mastery can be traveled by anyone in a relatively short period. When the road is not correctly navigated, however, self-mastery can elude one for a lifetime.
The Samurai Code of Bushido: Meeting of Mind and Weapon
The key to self-mastery is the melding of body and samurai weapons such as the sword, thus creating an inner spirit. The samurai code stemmed from an understanding of this need to control the mind and body, so they developed a keen but subtle awareness to aid its pursuit. Without such total involvement, they found it difficult to adhere to bushido virtues or excel at any phase of a disciplined life.
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Practicing the Samurai Code of Bushido Means Acting Responsibly
As the samurai practiced bushido virtues and followed the precarious path to self-mastery, they could be forced to act as judge, jury and executioner when the occasion demanded. Yet their social status, the strict Japanese way of life — and, additionally, the samurai code of bushido — imposed certain responsibilities. They were forced to look beyond the present to the consequences of their actions and contemplate the possible results of using their samurai weapons. One reason they were so respected is they demonstrated exceptional perception and a sensitivity for the intricacies of wielding bladed samurai weapons while adhering not only to bushido virtues but also to the moral precepts of the time.
These individuals were always conscious of their razor-sharp samurai weapons even as they acted in accord with their social position, which commanded reverence on and off the battlefield. They believed that to live and die by the blade was a point of honor. Because war was a proving ground for them, they quickly learned how to live from day to day, skirmish to skirmish, battle to battle. In the face of conflict, they gained insight into survival using all the knowledge they’d accumulated during their lives. That made the battlefield the ultimate arena for testing mettle and fortitude.
Two Types of Samurai Weapons Warriors
In war, the samurai were masters of destruction. They slowly began to comprehend the delicate balance between life and death. Many were aware that they might fall in battle, so they adhered to a strict code of ethics — the samurai code of bushido. If they were going to die, they wanted to do so with dignity and humility and without thought for their own welfare. In this light, a samurai who controlled his own destiny, and did it well in accordance with bushido virtues, achieved self-mastery.
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Not all of these warriors adhered to the samurai code of bushido. Some had no desire to live by bushido virtues or fulfill their social responsibilities and discarded honor while manipulating others for their own benefit. They wished to experience again and again the sensation of using their samurai weapons to kill without putting themselves in harm’s way as one would do in battle. They frequently derived pleasure from using their samurai weapons to cut down unarmed peasants in the field.
Today, we’d call such men serial killers. They terminated life not for their clan or their lord; they used their samurai weapons to kill for sport while pretending to be true samurai — a blatant violation of the samurai code of bushido. Such men were the source of much grief throughout the ages and the perfect illustration of how the quest for self-mastery can go awry.
About the author:
Dana Abbott is a kenjutsu practitioner and was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as the 2004 Weapons Instructor of the Year. For more information, visit the Samurai Sports web site.