HISTORY OF THE SAMURAI:
Warrior Class of Japan
Valerie S. Sestir
Black Belt Instructor
American Kang Duk Won Karate
This information was presented at classes taught at the AKDWK 1995 karate camp.
The samurai's life was like the cherry blossom's, beautiful and brief.
For him, as for the flower, death followed naturally, gloriously.
Ancient Warriors - The Samurai
The Learning Channel (1994)
The following is a brief outline of the times in Japanese history when
the samurai reached the pinnacle of power and prestige. Included after
each time period are several quotes from samurai of importance from
that era. Therefore, the reader will be able to experience a first hand
account of their attitudes and beliefs.
TIMELINE OF JAPANESE HISTORY: 1185-1868
*1185 - 1333 Kamakura Bakufu (rule of the Minamoto family)
*1336 - 1574 Ashikaga Bakufu
1567 - 1600 Period of Unification
*1603 - 1868 Tokugawa Shogunate
1868 - Age of Modern Japan Begins (Imperial Restoration)
- *PERIOD OF MILITARY RULE
THE FIRST SHOGUNATE
Kamakura Bakufu 1185-1333
- Kamakura the military capital
- Yoritomo made first shogun with hereditary rights
- emperor became figurehead
- feudal system developed
- period of increased social rank and economic power for the samurai
- popularity of Zen Buddhism increased
- included practice of meditation; helped keep samurai in
proper state of mind
It is truly regrettable that a person will treat a man who
is valuable to him well, and a man who is
worthless to him poorly.
One should have insight into this world of dreams that passes in the
twinkling of an eye.
Hojo Shigetoki (1198-1261)
Ideals of the Samurai (pg. 40, 43)
THE SECOND SHOGUNATE
Ashikaga Bakufu 1336-1574
- new capital at Kyoto
- Takaiyi first shogun of the Ashikaga family
- increased power of the daimyo
- political disintegration
- daimyos attacked neighbors and seized land
- culture flourished
- ikebana, bonsai
- tea ceremony - governed by tradition and was both a spirtual
expression and mental exercise
- Noh play, landscape painting, architecture, scroll painting, poetry
- arrival of Portuguese
Warring States Period (1467-1568)
- period of many civil wars
- authority and prestige of emperor and shogun decreased
Period of Unification (1560-1597)
- 3 political and military leaders emerged: Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and
Ashikaga shogun assumed power in 1568 with the support of Nobunaga
- plotted against Nobunaga to restore power and glory to the shogunate
- 1573 - Nobunaga abolished the office of the shogunate
- the Ashikaga shogun kept his title without power or authority
- shogun died in 1597 and the line of Ashikaga shoguns ended
Many men feel that they should act according to the time or the moment
they are facing, and thus are in confusion when something goes beyond
this and some difficulty arises.
The man whose profession is arms should calm his mind and look into the
depths of others. Doing so is likely the best of the martial arts.
Shiba Yoshimasa (1350-1410)
Ideals of the Samurai (pg. 48, 50)
Without knowledge of Learning, one will ultimately have no military victories.
One should not be envious of someone who has prospered by unjust deeds. Nor should he
disdain someone who has fallen while adhering to the path of righteousness.
Imagawa Sadayo (1325-1420)
Ideals of the Samurai (pg. 59, 60)
Consider that which exists to exist and that which does not exist
to not exist, and recognize things just as they are. With such a
frame of mind, one will have divine protection even though
he does not pray.
Hojo Nagauji (1432-1519)
Ideals of the Samurai (pg. 76)
A man with deep far-sightedness will survey both the beginning and the end of a
situation and continually consider its every facet as important.
Takeda Shingen (1521-1573)
Ideals of the Samurai (pg. 92)
Intelligence is the flower of discrimination. There are many examples of the flower
blooming but not bearing fruit.
No matter whether a person belongs to the upper or lower ranks, if he has
not put his life on the line at least once he has cause for shame.
Nabeshima Naoshige (1538-1618)
Ideals of the Samurai (pg. 115, 118)
The entire country will soon be in the hands of your master, Lord Ieyasu.
If this is so, the men who served him will no doubt hope to become daimyo
by his appointment. You should know that if such feelings arise, they are
inevitably the beginning of the end of one's fortunes in the Way
of the Warrior. Being affected by the avarice for office and rank, or
wanting to become a daimyo and being eager for such things ... will not
one then begin to value his life? And how can a man commit acts of martial
valor if he values his life? A man who has been born into the
house of a warrior and yet places no loyalty in his heart and thinks only
of the fortune of his position will be flattering on the surface and construct
schemes in his heart, will forsake righteousness and not reflect on his shame,
and will stain the warrior's name of his household to later generations.
This is truly regrettable.
Torii Mototada (1539-1600)
Ideals of the Samurai (pg. 124)
THE THIRD SHOGUNATE
Tokugawa Dynasty 1603 - 1868
- 1603 - Ieyasu, of the Tokugawa family, became shogun
- capital at Edo (present-day Tokyo)
- Ieyasu tried to control the military power of the daimyos
- daimyos needed permission to do just about everything: take on additional
vassals, repair his castle, enter the land of another lord or arrange his
- all daimyos required to build a residence at Edo, live there for a large part of
every year and to leave their wives and children in Edo
- period dominated by the military class: shogun, daimyo, and samurai
- emperor treated with honor, but still figurehead
- social mobility restricted
- society divided into 4 classes: samurai, peasants, artisans, merchants
- only samurai allowed to wear 2 swords - long one only outdoors, short one at
- code of Bushido developed in mid-1600's
- emphasized duty of everyone to respect and honor those above them on the
- based on teachings of Confucius
- peaceful Tokugawa period presented problem to the samurai
- no battles to fight
- many left without income
- would have to give up status of samurai to lower themselves to farm, or be
merchants and traders - done by few
- without masters became ronin (e.g., Musashi - A Book of Five Rings)
- government tried to help unemployed samurai by stressing the importance
- Ieyasu once stated that learning and the military arts should be equally
- many samurai became teachers of the martial arts
- leading scholars, writers, poets and artists were sword-bearing samurai
- cultural advancements - kabuki, haiku, woodblock print
- May 1868 - rule of the last Tokugawa shogun ends
- Imperial Restoration begins - power returned to the emperor
Strategy is the craft of the warrior. Commanders must enact the craft,
and troopers should know this Way. There is no warrior in the world today
who really understands the Way of strategy.... It is said the warrior's
is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways.
Students of the Ichi school Way of strategy should train from the start with the
sword and long sword in either hand. This is a truth: when you sacrifice
your life, you must make fullest use of your weaponry. It is false not to
do so, and to die with a weapon yet undrawn.
In strategy your spiritual bearing must not be any different from normal.
Both in fighting and in everday life you should be determined though calm.
Meet the situation without tenseness yet not recklessly, your spirit
settled yet unbiased.
If the enemy thinks of the mountains, attack like the sea; and if he thinks
of the sea, attack like the mountains.
If we watch men of other schools discussing theory, and concentrating on
techniques with the hands, even though they seem skillfull to watch,
they have not the slightest true spirit.
Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645)
A Book of Five Rings (pg. 37, 45, 53, 80, 83)
Because of some business, Morooka Hikoemon was called upon to swear
before the gods concerning the truth of a certain matter. But he said,
"A samurai's word is harder that metal. Since I have impressed this fact
upon myself, what more can the gods and Buddhas do?" and the swearing
It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything
else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called
a Way. Therefore, it is inconsistent to hear something of the Way of
Confucius or the Way of the Buddha, and say that this is the
Way of the Samurai. If one understands things in this manner, he should
be able to hear about all Ways and be more and more in accord with his own.
A person who is said to be proficient at the arts is like a fool.
Because of his foolishness in concerning himself with just one thing,
he thinks of nothing else and thus becomes proficient.
He is a worthless person.
Tsunetomo Yamamoto (1659-1719)
Hagakure (pg. 43, 50, 51)
Japanese military rule; rule of the shogun
The Way of combat; a name adopted in the 20th century for martial arts in general with
an emphasis on their peaceful aspects
Warrior; name given to all the warriors who made up families with a warrior tradition
Way of the warrior; a code of honor and social behavior; succeeded the unwritten
code of the Way of the bow and the horse
a feudal lord; maintained a great number of samurai in their service, who all swore an
oath of allegiance to them according to the rules of Bushido
The warrior art of the sword; art of using the sword as soon as it is drawn from
the scabbard, in order to attack the enemy; transformed into the art of kendo
Way of the sword; a martial art (budo) of using the sword
(ken). This art was developed
from the earliest times by the warriors (bushi) of Japan, and from the
14th century on by
the samurai. Ken-jutsu was prohibited in 1876 when the samurai were forbidden to
carry swords, but was transformed into a martial sport (kendo) for
physical and mental training of the young.
weapon used by foot soldiers against horsemen or to cut the tendons of horses or
to disembowel them; also favorite weapon of the wives of samurai and of warrior
a group of men and women specially trained for espionage and assassination; generally
drawn from the lower classes and used by the daimyo to assassinate enemies and
penetrate enemy fortresses
during the Tokugawa period, name given to all bushi and samurai who
did not serve a particular master, either because the master had died or
because his lands had been confiscated. A number of these ronin
became martial arts teachers or began some other job which was
compatible with their samurai status (e.g., bodyguards).
a class of bushi (warriors). The original samurai were there for the
protection of their lord and were especially trained in martial arts.
Later the name was given to all bushi of a certain rank belonging to
the act of ritual suicide performed by the samurai
(The expression hara-kiri, to cut the abdomen, more widely used in
the West, is considered more vulgar.)
title given by the emperor to the daimyo who showed himself to be
the richest and the most powerful of all the lords
techniques of using the lance, and performed wearing the ancient
armor of the samurai
**Definitions have been taken from A Dictionary of the Martial Arts,
in abbreviated form
Bottomley and Hopson - Arms and Armor of the Samurai
Frederic, Louis - A Dictionary of the Martial Arts
Musashi, Miyamoto - A Book of Five Rings
Nitobe, Inazo - Bushido: The Warrior's Code
Tsunetomo, Yamamoto - The Book of the Samurai: Hagakure
Turnbull, Stephen - The Book of the Samurai - The Warrior Class of Japan
Wilson, William Scott - Ideals of the Samurai
Random, Michel - The Martial Arts
- (pp. 38 and 47 ; Peerage Books, 1978)
Supplemental Sources for Further Information:
Corcoran, John - The Martial Arts Companion: Culture, History and Enlightment
Deshimaru, Taisen - The Zen Way to the Martial Arts
Finn, Michael - Martial Arts: A Complete Illustrated History
Haines, Bruce - Karate's History and Tradition
Hatsumi, Masaaki - Ninjitsu: History and Tradition
Lewis, Peter - Art of the Ninja
- - Martial Arts of the Orient
Parulski, Jr., George R. - A Path to Oriental Wisdom
- The Art of Karate Weapons
- The Warrior Way
Rati, Oscar and Westbrook, Adele - Secrets of the Samurai
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