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The History of the Warrior


Through the ages every culture has had their warriors.
These warriors have defended and fought for their homes,
countries, and deeply held beliefs (either political or
spiritual). Many of these heroes have become legends, but
were based on an average man accomplishing heroic feats.
William Wallace, known as the protector of Scotland, became
a romantic hero in Jane Porter's novel the Scottish Chiefs.
He was already a national hero in Scotland before the novel
was published. Other cultures have their own heroes and
legends (some of these are Lugh, of Ireland, Arthur, King
of the Britons, and David, King of the Jews). Even in
America , we have had our share of warriors through history
(George Washington, Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett, Wyatt
Earp, and Doc Holiday). The knights of old, the Highland
and Lowland Barbarian Celts, the Ostro-goths, Visi-goths,
and Romans, all managed to fight and kill each other in the
most ghastly of manners. All of this was for conquest,
home, country, and God. Another warrior, shrouded in
mystery, is the Japanese warrior, the Samurai. While the
Scottish and Irish cultures considered their selves
warrior-poets, the Samurai leaned more towards a
warrior-priest or Zealot.
The Japanese have a history of being vicious and skilled
warriors. In Japan Yesterday and Today Langer states that
," Zen attempts to overcome the duality of self and
non-self, of matter and spirit, of life and death. It aims
at the discovery of the ultimate reality that underlies
everything. It seeks to lead its disciples toward satori,
that is "enlightenment" in the sense of utter serenity,
composure, and fearlessness. Once this state of mind has
been attained, man stands, as Zen puts it, "as a rock in
the raging sea." The most important means for the
attainment of this state of mind is meditation. Crossing of
his legs firmly, sitting erect before a plain wall, the Zen
disciple meditates for hours on end. Gradually the physical
strain subsides, giving way to a feeling of numbness. It is
believed that the practitioner then descends into his inner
self and becomes part of it, reaching a condition termed
"meditation without thought." Eventually a feeling of utter
calm and serenity takes hold of him. The Pure Land
teachings appealed to the commoner. But Zen, with its
stress on self-discipline, absolute composure in the face
of spiritual and material challenges, and aversion to
ostentation, doctrinal study, and lengthy sermons,
possessed just those qualities that appealed to the
warrior. Zen thus became the faith of the Shoguns. Zen
masters served as advisers the feudal lords, and Zen became
the creed of Japan's warrior, the samurai. Zen inspired the
Japanese artist too. The power of concentration that it
4encouraged provided the mental training of the Japanese
military man as well as of the highly respected Japanese
It is easy to understand that the Samurai was not only
respected, but feared by the lower classes. In Twelve Doors
to Japan, by Hall and Beardsley, the history of feudalism
and the rise of the Samurai is explained: The most
characteristic feature of Japanese history at the end of
the twelfth century was the rise to prominence of the
military aristocracy throughout Japan. As an elite type,
the Japanese bushi contrasts sharply with other such types
in East Asia, particularly with the Chinese
scholar-official. Why it was that Japan developed a kind of
military-agrarian society so similar to that of feudal
Europe is still very much a matter of conjecture. Perhaps
the period of civil imperial rule had never really wiped
out the tradition of aristocratic arms bearing which had
characterized early Fuji society. At any rate during the
Heian age there seems to have been a strong undercurrent
toward the reappearance of an armed gentry, especially in
local affairs. The need for an elite military class in the
Japanese provinces came gradually after the beginning the
tenth century and accompanied the decline in effectiveness
of the police and military organs of the central
government. It accompanied also the growth of the large
immune proprietorships, which were required to provide
their own enforcement services as a consequence of their
immunity. As a result, local officials and provincial
families of influence took up the bearing of arms as a
social provincial families of influence took up the bearing
of arms as a social privilege and combined the functions of
local administration or land management with those of
enforcement and protection. By the eleventh century the
bushi had begun to separate out as a definite functional
type. By the twelfth century they had begun to emerge as a
dominant leading stratum of society (though the kuge
retained the highest social prestige), providing the
dominant way of life and key values for the entire culture.
As frequently happen, it was not until near the end of the
bushi age, after the beginning of the seventeenth century,
that this warrior aristocracy became self-conscious of its
social function and its common ideals, giving rise to the
formulation of the principles of bushido (the warriors
way)." Hall and Beardsley also state, " The bushi , though
an aristocrat, lived a life which had important differences
from that of the court aristocracy. He was a provincial
aristocrat professionally dedicated to the bearing of arms.
His provincial origin and his cultivation of military
skills necessitated a way of life quite different from that
of the civil court." The Samurai was the head of his on
little world and responsible to the Shogun (the warlord
over all Samurai). This responsibility to the Shogun often
produced violent punishment aimed at the farmer and peasant
when disloyalty occurred . This would later cause the fall
of the warrior class. The loyalty of the Samurai was so
intense that ritual suicide became a way of cleansing
tarnished honor.
Hall and Beardsley describe ritual suicide and the reason
for it by stating," In contrast to the courtiers of the
previous age, the bushi was preoccupied with problems of
the sword and land. He emphasized , in contrast to the
genteel accomplishments of the kuge, such qualities as
loyalty, honor, fearlessness, and frugality. The two most
cherished symbols of the bushi class were the sword( the
soul of the Samurai) and the cherry blossom (the petals of
which fall with the first breath of wind just as the
samurai gives up his life without regret for his lord).The
bushi often lived a life of harsh physical
discipline(either by necessity or by choice),enduring
extreme rigors in the belief that they were "building
character." He was trained to scorn an easy life( which to
him was a luxury)because of its softening influence. He
even scorned an easy way of taking his life. (Suicide now
gained respectability as an honorable way out.) The
Japanese bushi, by resorting to the slashing of the
bowels(seppuku) as his method of suicide, literally showed
himself worthy of a class that prided itself on "having
guts." "
Living the life of the samurai was no easy task and with
small civil wars occurring some Lords were sometimes
killed. This would leave the possibility of a Samurai
without a master. This masterless Samurai, or Ronin, was
considered an outcast. Today some students who have
graduated from high school ,but are having to wait to
attend because of lack of space in universities are now
referred to as "ronins." Even after the fall of the Samurai
way of feudalism Japan still feels this mighty warrior
class's influence in small and large ways. Even during
World War II soldiers were trained in the art of akido
(which is the art of sword fighting that the Samurai had to
learn). Because of the later rise of the merchants into
higher economic status the Samurai often took out mandatory
loans from the merchants(this is also discussed in Twelve
Doors to Japan). Growing unrest with the strictness of the
Samurai and outer influences led to the final fall of the
Samurai class. It is still thought that many people in
authority in Japan today are descendants of the Samurai
Even with all the later hostility towards the Samurai the
Japanese culture still
holds the ideals of the Samurai in high regard. The
religious dedication to a certain cause and determination
to perform the required duty with honor is still what is
wanted in the young. In the culture of Japan the warrior,
the Samuri will always have a place of great respect and a
heroic air . He was and is the warrior of Japan. His legend
survived all the conflict and rebellion and still thrives
Celtic Myths and Legends Charles Squire Random House 1994 

The Scottish Chiefs Jane Porter Charles Scribner's Sons 1956
Japan Yesterday and Today Paul F. Langer Holt, Rinehart,
and Winston, Inc. 

Twelve Doors to Japan John Whitney Hall, Richard K.
Beardsley McGraw-Hill 

Book Company 1965



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