Way of the Samurai: The Bushido Code and its Virtues

The Bushido has always been a part of the Samurai and their culture. For almost 700 years, 10% of the population were living as Samurai retainers under this code.

These people were a warrior class that lived to serve their local provincial lords. These warriors were bound to a certain lord and to their community by honor and duty. They lived their lives by this code that’s inspired by Confucian and Zen principles. It emphasizes their great loyalty, teaches self-discipline, and ethical & respectful behavior.

The elements of Bushido highlights benevolence, compassion, and other positive qualities. Since the code’s linked to the Samurai culture, it plays a vital role in expanding Japanese values. Aside from this, it also develops the Asian arts like sword-making, tea ceremonies and the like.

This unwritten discipline later became the base for teaching ethics in the country. Today, the principles of the Bushido remain relevant in the lives of the Japanese.

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Origin of the Bushido

The Bushido means Bushi meaning warrior; for the word Do, it means “the way”. When combined, Bushido generally means “The Way of the Warrior”. The code developed from an earlier time when the Samurai were horsemen and archers.

The devotion and training required to perfect the skills of a Samurai were great. They needed to have a strong bond with their steed which leads to Kyuba No Michi or “The Way of the Horse & Bow”.

Though considered as a code, it is not a formal collection of rules followed by all Samurai. In fact, the code changed a great deal throughout the country’s history, from one powerful clan to the next. Only until the 17th century was the code written. This was after the Samurai warriors existed for centuries.

Here is a list of the virtues of the Bushido code of the Samurai.

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Gi – Rectitude or Justice

Rectitude or Justice, Gi, is the most powerful virtue of the code. An easier definition of Gi comes from a well-known Samurai of history. He states that rectitude is the power to choose a course of conduct in relation to reason. This is without wavering or having second thoughts at all.

There is another known warrior who speaks of the Bushido in different terms. He states that rectitude is the foundation that provides stature and firmness. Without the bones, the head cannot rest atop the spine, hands cannot move, and feet won’t walk. So without Gi, learning or talent cannot make one a great Samurai.

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Yu – Courage

Courage calls for knowing what is right and wrong. It requires an individual to have both the strength to perceive and act. The Bushido can distinguish between courage and bravery. Courage is among the virtues when exercised in rectitude and righteousness.

In his own anthology, Confucius has his own description of courage. He says, “perceiving what’s right and doing it doesn’t reveal the lack of courage. It is doing what is right.”

Jin – Compassion

Jin is the kindness that links humans to one another. It is the skill to exhibit sympathy and love through patience. Jin also requires one to see the world from the eyes of another; this being a vital trait for every leader around.

As warriors, the Samurai can kill, yet benevolence keeps them balanced in how they think. It is all about ensuring that you have mercy and sympathy at the right time. The Samurai needs to make sure that they fought for the right thing.

If they had to kill anyone, they did it for the right reason and belief. The Samurai should also ensure that there is no need to kill and would have shown mercy and be sympathetic.

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Rie – Respect

Warriors are generally courteous even towards the opponent. Respect of these Samurai is an attitude of honor without having to prove their power. Because of that, only during difficult times does a warrior’s true strength appear.

Knowing the difference between politeness and reverence can be challenging. Yet for a true man, courtesy is established in benevolence and seen in the Bushido. Politeness should be an expression of kind regard for others’ feelings. It would be a poor virtue if it were only pushed by fear of offending good taste.

Makoto – Integrity

To practice other principles of the Bushido, one should maintain Makoto or integrity. This means to live sincerely and honestly. For them, lying is a sign of cowardice and is dishonorable. A person’s words should be a form of truthfulness, and for the warrior, his way is one of honesty and accuracy.

The code states that honesty involves simplicity and abstinence. Riches get in the way of understanding, so thriftiness is vital to boost sincerity. It is having truthfulness and veracity in everything you say and do. A Samurai warrior’s word is their bond and this will never break.

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Meiyo – Honor

The skilled Samurai who upheld an idea of self-worth lived by the greatest code of conduct. To stand for the principles of honor, one should recognize their moral responsibilities.

Although the Bushido focuses on fighting, it is still involved with non-martial behavior. What characterized a Samurai was his sense of honor. This is a vivid knowledge of personal worth and dignity. Plus, a Samurai was born to value his privileges and duties as a warrior.

The fear and worry of disgrace often frustrated the minds of every Samurai warrior. Yet due to the code, these warriors maintain a certain temperament. They do not take offense over the slightest occurrence of provocation. This is to avoid any form of ridicule and considered as short-tempered.

As a famous saying goes, “True patience only means being able to bear the unbearable”.

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Chuugi – Loyalty

One of the most vital elements of the Bushido was loyalty. The Samurai treated each other as close family. Hence, they would do everything they could to safeguard and aid their fellow warriors.

Loyalty was very important since it meant everyone else could trust the Samurai. Aside from that, they also knew that these warriors would be loyal to everything that they would do. Also, they would not worry about losing respect.

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Jisei – Character & Self-Control

The Bushido teaches that one should behave based on an infinite moral standard. One that also surpasses logic. What’s wrong will be wrong, what’s right will be right. The difference between bad and good, wrong and right are given. These are not arguments subject to debate, and one should know their difference.

It is the Samurai warrior’s task to teach his children about moral standards. And the model of this would be via his own behavior.

The primary goal of the warrior’s education was to establish a type of character. The subtle abilities of intelligence, prudence, and dialectics were not so important. Esteemed for such warriors would be intellectual superiority. But generally, a Samurai was a man of action.

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