BUSHIDO: (boo-shee-do): 1) The code of the Samurai, stressing unquestioning loyalty and obedience, and honoring value above life. 2) The way of the warrior; a Japanese word which is used to describe a uniquely Japanese code of conduct and way of Samurai life. It originates from the Samurai moral code that stresses the following 7 virtues:
I want to focus on the last 3; honesty, honor, and loyalty. These three attributes go hand-in-hand.
But let’s back up a moment, take a look at the old code of Bushido, and maybe figure out why it may or may not apply today.
Most often, when you mention Bushido to the average person, he won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. If you mention Samurai, though, everyone has an image firmly ingrained in their brains on what a Samurai is. Most picture a fierce warrior, speaking in a guttural tone as he charges, sword raised, into the fray. Video game fanatics might have a more refined picture. This one consists not just of swords, but all manner of different weapons, elaborate body armor, theatrical makeup, but still running into the fray, prepared to die. Some might actually know the name of a specific Samurai or battle. All, however, picture a warrior not only prepared to die in battle, but ready to commit suicide at the whim of his retainer, and for some reason, seppuku fascinates us.
Anyone who’s read the Hagakure – a sort of how-to book for Samurai – will notice that being a Samurai was a pretty tenuous position. You never knew if your actions would result in your death. For instance, let’s say some guy insults your boss in public. If you raise your sword and whack off his head, you might be asked to commit seppuku for killing a man without permission. On the other hand, if you don’t defend your boss’s honor, you could be asked to commit seppuku, too. If you ask permission first, then you might be asked to gut yourself for being a wuss. You get the picture: You never quite know where you stand.
But that’s neither here nor there. We were talking about loyalty, and while I suppose killing yourself on command ranks pretty high up there in the loyalty department, that’s not really where I was going with all this. Suffice it to say that this image of a Samurai, or Bushido, is one that almost everyone can agree on.
When I think of Bushido, I think of the tea ceremony. Yup, that’s right. Not swords and beautiful armor, but rather the art of making a cup of tea, and an art it is.
One of my favorite movies is The Last Samurai. Even Tom Cruise couldn’t ruin that movie for me. There’s one part of that movie I especially enjoy . . . besides watching Ken Watanabe, that is. It’s a narrative:
“They are an intriguing people. From the moment they wake, they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue. I have never seen such discipline.”
These were a people who sought perfection – not necessarily achieved it, but sought it – in everything they did, including making a cup of tea. They infused beauty into the very act of pouring the water, stirring the tea in a precise manner, and in the presentation. The person who was being served the tea (the tea-ee, I suppose), was then obligated to make the drinking of the tea an art form, as well, by turning the cup a certain amount of times before drinking.
So what does this mean, besides having to wait a really long time for your tea? It’s about people devoting themselves to a way of life; in this case Bushido.
Most of us in martial arts like to think that we, too, are devoted to our art form. Some will even claim to be devoted to their art to such an extent as to have made it a way of life. And this may even be so, but the time of the Samurai is long gone. Forrest Whitaker aside, there are no modern day Samurai or retainers.
So where, then, lies our loyalty? (Yeah, I know it took me a minute to get to the point, but we’re here now, so you can relax).
Schools come and go, open and close. Styles become popular, then fade away as faddish. Who holds our loyalty? Some people stick with one school or one style throughout their martial arts tenure. If we start out in school A, then after several years abruptly move to school B, have we shown disloyalty? Or are we merely cross-training? What about mixing styles? If you start out in Kung Fu, then migrate to Krav Maga, is that showing disloyalty to your style? Maybe our loyalties should lie completely within ourselves; do what we think is right for our particular situation.
What, then, of honor?
What if you studied under one Sifu (or Sensei, or . . . what would you call the instructor of Krav Maga, Rabbi?), became a student instructor under this person, then up and left the school to open your own, taking other students with you? I’m pretty sure we’d all agree that’s disloyal and far from honorable, but is it wrong?
I know one instructor who teaches a very unique style. He loves the area here in the Pacific Northwest, but he will never open a school here because he feels it would be disrespectful to open a school amongst his friends, potentially taking business away them, even though their styles are vastly different. This is an incredibly honorable man. There aren’t too many like him around, especially when it comes to business matters.
I decided to do a little research on the whole subject of being a devout, loyal, honor-bound student, and what it means in these modern times of selfishness.
This same subject came up at Martial Talk. One poster, Dubljay, said it perfectly: “I am loyal to my instructor simply because he has put at least as much effort into my training as I have, probably more so.”
Dr. Makai L. Pai said, “The most important qualities a martial artist can exhibit are loyalty and dedication. You must be willing to commit yourself fully to the process of becoming a warrior. You must choose a style, school and teacher and commit, at minimum, to achieving a basic level of competence in that style.“ After all, it takes years of dedicated teaching to bring a student up in ranks. No one wants to invest so much time and energy in someone who will turn around and abandon the school, steal students, or otherwise show that the trust given him has been misused.
Loyalty works both ways, however. Just as a student is expected to be loyal to his school, his instructor should be just as loyal to his student. After all, it’s the student that makes the instructor a teacher in the first place. All it takes is one student to make an instructor Sifu or Sensei (or even Rabbi), so those educator/educatee relationships are very important.
I advise people looking for a school to test drive several, try out styles, get a feel for the people there, because trust is such an important part of the arts. In the same way, instructors should be selective when it comes to accepting students into their schools. No one wants to be the person to teach a termination to a mentally unstable student, only to find out he practiced his moves on his parents one morning before school.
Sometimes, though, an instructor will find that a student he trusted, one that he brought up in ranks and welcomed into the “inner sanctum”, has betrayed him personally or the school in general, or both. What then?
The student/instructor relationship can be very deep, as deep as any intimate relationship. You place trust in one another, and literally put your life in the other’s hands. As a student, you look to your instructor to show you the proper ways of your style, and he looks on you with pride as you achieve goal after goal, until finally he senses he can place all his trust in you, literally or figuratively handing you the keys to the dojo, then WHAM, the unthinkable happens.
How do you move on from that level of betrayal? Do you harden your heart and never trust again? What of the next up-and-coming student who is truly devoted, but will never gain the instructor’s trust just because of the actions of another?
Perhaps this is why there are so many fly-by-night schools out there: martial arts academies that will take on anyone as a student, hand out belts to anyone who can pay for them, and not care about the personal growth of the students within their walls. Perhaps this is why a lot of the martial arts world is about the bottom line, the last dollar. The teaching of martial arts has become an industry, and all indications show that it will continue to grow as such. Between having an overhead, having to be politically correct when choosing students, and dealing with unscrupulous people, things can never be the same.
Much as it would be nice, there’s no going back to the way things used to be. In the end, loyalty, honor and respect lie solely within the individual. We can’t expect others to think as we do, and we can’t expect to understand the actions of others when they are polar opposites of our own.
From the Hagakure:
“It is said that what is called the Spirit of an Age is something to which one cannot return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world’s coming to an end. In the same way, a single year does not have just spring or summer. A single day, too, is the same. For this reason, although one would like to change today’s world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus, it is important to make the best out of every generation.”
I guess they, too, longed for the good old days.