The code of Bushido is the ethical code of conduct developed during Japan’s feudal period. This occurred at about the same time that the code of Chivalry was developed in Europe. The development of both systems was directly related to the structure and purposes of feudalism, a social, governmental system wherein certain noble families controlled most of the land, and maintained private armies of professional soldiers. In Japan, these soldiers were called Samurai. For almost five hundred years, various Japanese lords, called Daimyo, warred with each other for land and for political and economic power. They employed thousands of the Samurai warriors, who swore loyalty to them alone. To hone their professional skills, outrageous license was granted to the Samurai. A samurai could kill anyone who was not a Samurai for any reason whatsoever, or for no reason at all. It was reported that Samurai would cut off the heads of passing peasants merely to test the cutting edge of their swords! Soon, these excesses led to the threat of anarchy. To forestall this, some form of noblesse oblige had to be imposed on the Samurai. The code of Bushido was the result.
The code demands adherence to seven basic virtues:
- JUSTICE: Justice is the principle of moral rightness, as applied to the administration of law. This requires more than just every one receiving a fair deal. It also requires a strict upholding of right for its own sake, no matter what the cost.
- COURAGE: Courage is that state of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger with self-possession, confidence, and resolution. Courage is required to support justice. Justice without force to support it is ineffective.
- BENEVOLENCE: Benevolence, or kindness, creates within a person a feeling of empathy for another’s distress. The discomfort such empathy causes impels them to lessen the distress of the other person. Benevolence had to be required to prevent courage from becoming a rashness that would perpetrate the very ills the code was designed to lessen.
- POLITENESS: Politeness is that attitude marked consideration for others, correct manners, and tact. During the age of the Samurai, failure in politeness could literally cause one to lose his head. Even today, the Japanese are marked by their strict attention to politeness.VERACITY: Veracity or truthfulness. This was so strict a requirement that once a Samurai swore his blood oath of fealty to his Daimyo, he never again signed another contract. The word of a Samurai was considered to be as good a guarantee as one could get.
- HONOR: Honor is a keen sense of personal integrity which is maintained without legal or other obligation. It is knowing the difference between right and wrong and striving always to do what is right. Impugning the honor of a Samurai was a blood challenge. For a Samurai to lose his honor was so serious a matter that the only sufficient apology that he could make was seppuku, ritual suicide.
- LOYALTY: Loyalty is the act of being faithful and steadfast to one’s homeland, government, or leader. Though the Daimyo are no more, loyalty is still sought after by heads of state, employers and supervisors.
The student of Bushido should learn these virtues and apply them to the martial arts today, both on and off the field of battle.