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Cheryl Matrasko
James Loeser
Matthew O'Connor

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Cheryl Matrasko
James Loeser
Matthew O'Connor
Editor

 

BUSHIDO,
WARRIOR CODE OF CONDUCT

The Samurai

by Cheryl Matrasko

We can hardly begin a discussion on Bushido without introducing the Samurai warrior. After all, it is the Samurai that developed, chose, and dedicated their entire lives to the unwritten code of conduct, known as Bushido. To do less, would be a dishonor to their memory and the legacy of martial ways, which still serves to prevent many of us from being barbarous savages, in our own martial art. 

The Samurai are legendary in their warrior prowess and skill. Dedication, loyalty, and true honor were the characteristics of these warriors, that made them famous as well as a sought after commodity by the ruling class. Their upper social status remained with them for many centuries, until the later 1800’s.

The Samurai actually arose from the feudal warrior class of the late 1100’s through the early 1300’s, during the Kamakura Period. It was during this time that the Samurai class became quite a powerful member of the aristocracy. The professional warrior class had many of the social advantages that the upper class enjoyed, such as monthly stipends to live on, no travel boundaries, and were legally permitted to wear the long and short swords, which also served to signify their social status.

The Samurai, well-disciplined and highly trained warriors, were typically stoic in nature. These qualities were further influenced and developed by Zen Buddhism, during the Muromachi period, somewhere in the early 1300s through the 1570’s (1336 – 1568). As a result, the life of the Samurai had not only become one of discipline and military education, but a rich cultivation of the spirit and mind through the arts of writing, painting, calligraphy, philosophy, etc. It was as if a Renaissance was being experienced within their social sect. Zen had provided the warrior class with personal enlightenment, polish, and refinement. Many of the truly Japanese arts that were born of the samurai still exist today, such as sword drawing ( Shimmeimuso-ryu founded by Shigenobu Hayashizaki), Kendo (the most notable swordsman in Kendo is Kagehisa Ittosai Ito), archery, as well as tea ceremony, to name a few.

The unwritten Samurai code of conduct, known as Bushido, held that the true warrior must hold that loyalty, courage, veracity, compassion, and honor as important, above all else. An appreciation and respect of life was also imperative, as it added balance to the warrior character of the Samurai. He was often very stoic with a deep and strong philosophical passion. He could be deadly in combat and yet so gentle and compassionate with children and the weak.

At the early 1600’s (part of the Tokugawa or Edo era, 1600 – 1868), in an attempt to settle social unrest in Japan, the feudal caste system in Japan was beginning to see its first signs of erosion. The Samurai class was then forced to take on other trades (civil service, merchantilism, etc.), as society enjoyed the peace and social order for nearly 350 years under the dictatorship of the Tokugawa regime. The lifestyle and demand for the samurai was in the process of change. By the end of the 1800's, the once prestigious warriors and their families had then found themselves in financial impoverishment and starving.

By the mid 1800’s, the Samurai way of life was over. After the end of the Tokugawa rule, the Meiji Restoration of 1868, abolished the feudal system that the Samurai enjoyed financially and socially.

A new national army was established, cities were flourishing, western influences were seeping into the Japanese culture and the need for the Samurai had also ended.

The Samurai had a rich and fruitful era from the Kamakura period, through the Muromachi period. Zen Buddhism influenced them greatly giving them enlightenment for good judgement, personal growth, and self-awareness. Their exposure and immersion into philosophy and the arts expanded their perspectives and lifted them beyond the limits of their own feudal rule and culture. This is where Bushido, the Samurai Code of Conduct had cultivated itself from. 

1999, C. A. Matrasko.  All rights reserved


References used and read for this work:
J. Sasamori, G.Warner. This is Kendo, the Art of the Japanese. 1989

I. Nitobe. Bushido The Warrior's Code. 1979.

T. Deshimaru. The Zen Way to the Martial Arts. 1982.

M. Musashi. The Book of Five Rings.

I. Takahashi. Class sessions and private talks about the Samurai and Bushido. 1969 - 1971

C. A. Matrasko 3/13/99

Cheryl Matrasko is a Network Analyst for the department of Networking and Communications at a prominent Chicago hospital. Formerly the LAN Administrator for Northwestern University Medical School - Department of OB/GYN, and assistant LAN Administrator to the previous MIS of the School of Law. She started Aikido in 1965, studying under Isao Takahashi as her first instructor. She enjoyed working out under many well known Aikido instructors during her tenure with Takahashi Sensei and therafter following his death in 1971. Cheryl has dedicated time with instructors in Northern Shaolin Long-Fist, Seven Stars Praying Mantis, and Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu. Currently, she is instructing Aikido at Northwestern University's Chicago Campus, Associate Instructor at NorthShore Aikido in Skokie, and supporting Aikido World Journal.

  

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Michio Hikitsuchi 10th Dan 1978
(C. Matrasko as uke)
1978 C. Matrasko

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