I recently finished the book “The 47th Samurai“, by Stephen Hunter. One of the main driving forces of the book is a seemingly simple yet utterly misunderstood word: “Samurai”. Young men throughout the book cling to this idea of Samurai and are driven by it, distorted by it, and blinded by it.
For generations the notion of Samurai has shaped Japanese culture and now affects every culture around the world. The power of it has only increased as Anime and Chanbara films grow in influence. These days it is impossible to avoid Bushido, Ninja, and Samurai (and the slew of individuals claiming mastery over each).
Concepts like Bushido have been subject to centuries of nuance and development that are so subtle that practitioners spending a lifetime trying to grasp them still cannot truly put the entire philosophy into words. The greatest poets and writers have only been able to give us the essence of it.
Samurai, even during their glorious Sengoku Period, were complex creatures that were prone to as much obsession and compulsion as they were to honorable sacrifice and courage.
Modern day individuals cannot and should not be Ninja or Samurai and they should not strictly follow the code of Bushido. The reason why is because assassination and suicide are not parts of our modern culture. Nor are the rights of Kirisute Gomen, Seppuku, or Jo Uchi. Furthermore the right to kill peasants/criminals in order to test the sharpness of a blade, or to eliminate an enemy’s family through political intrigue, are seen as uncouth acts at best.
It is critical to remember that when invoking the name of Samurai or Bushido you invoke everything that comes with it, not just the parts that sound good in platitude.
Honor It Instead
Honor the Koryu arts by training in them diligently and absorbing the best of what they have to offer. Recognize the truth of the matter – that you are an individual who is bettering him/herself through ancient philosophy and applying those parts of it to your life that improve your health, happiness, and skill set. Embracing “the essence” of the art is a far more worthwhile goal than trying to join a long extinct class.
To train in the Koryu arts is to seek a better understanding of Budo. To study the way of Samurai/Bushido/Ninjutsu is to understand what it is and what it is not. If you say “I follow the way of the Samurai”, understand what you’re saying. It’s not just a couple of quotes about personal strength and courage.
Honor the old ways by avoiding fake titles, self embellishment, and delusion.