A history of the Samurai must begin with the most important aspect of a Samurai: Bushido. Knowing about Bushido is how one
knows the Samurai warrior. "Bushi" is translated as "Warrior" and "do" is translated as "the way". Thus Bushido means "the
Samurai way of life". Bushido consisted of a rigid code of ethics that was to be followed devoutly with bravery, honor and
loyalty as the most important aspects . The most revered Bushido tenet was "freedom from fear". A Samurai was to live every
moment with no fear of death, thus giving them the freedom to follow the Bushido code without hesitation and without fail.
This philosophy was to be held sacred, even if one had to sacrifice one's life to pursue these ideals. |
The elite Samurai warrior trained for many years in the art "Bujutsu". The Samurai were experts in a wide variety of combat
skills including ground fighting, fighting unarmed, fighting with arms and fighting from horseback. Early Samurai used bow and
arrows, and swords. Later Samurai used swords, spears and naginata (halberds). Samurai often named their swords, in a
dedication of devotion. They believed that their warrior spirit was contained within their swords. They dedicated their lives
to the combat arts of Bujutsu.
The Samurai wore two swords, a wakizashi and a katana. Their swords were made by master sword smiths and quality tested on the
corpses of criminals.
The Samurai culture rose from the ongoing wars over land among the Minamoto, Fujiwara and Taira clans. Though the Samurai
originated from regional groups of ancient warriors, they quickly lost their provincial ways. They developed a unique,
sophisticated culture that was renowned for stoicism, honor and military expertise during the Kamakura period (1192-1333).
According to William Scott Wilson in his book "ideals of the Samurai": "The warriors in the Heike Monogatari served as models
for the educated warriors of later generations, and the ideals depicted by them were not assumed to be beyond reach. Rather,
these ideals were vigorously pursued in the upper echelons of warrior society and recommended as the proper form of the
Japanese man of arms. With the Heike Monogatari, the image of the Japanese warrior in literature came to its full maturity."
Wilson then translates the writings of several warriors who mention the Heike Monogatari as an example for their men to
During the Muromachi period (1338-1573), Samurai culture created the idea of artist-warrior. Samurai training began to include
the ritualized tea ceremony and flower arranging to add refinement and balance to the warrior persona. The code of Bushido
The Samurai were considered the aristocratic warrior class of Japan. The peak of the Samurai era was in 12th century Japan
where they enjoyed the benefits of belonging to a unique, privileged class. The Samurai were able to wear their swords freely
and had the right to kill any peasant who offended them.
The downfall of the Samurai began during the Edo period (1603-1867). Two hundred and fifty years of peace had made the Samurai
archaic: they were allowed to wear their swords, but had to accept non-warrior jobs to survive. The booming economy during
this time of peace further excluded the ascetic principles of the Samurai, as most Japanese citizens were enjoying the new
luxuries that accompany economic prosperity.
The gradual decline of the Samurai continued until the last Shogun resigned during the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Dissatisfied
Samurai had led the revolt against the shogun, but the new government abolished feudalism and betrayed the Samurai by
stripping them of all their privileges in 1871. Thus ended the era of the Samurai.
The history and philosophy of the Samurai lives on in the form of the Samurai sword, which has become a much sought after
symbol of this historic and heroic bygone era.
A sword-drawing art that includes cutting rolled straw targets
Martial or Fighting Arts
The Way of the Warrior
Straight sword used in Japan's early history
Samurai's two swords (one long - katana, one short - wakizashi)
1600 - 1867 when Tokugawa government ruled Japan
Divided skirt-pants Samurai wore
782 - 1184 when Japan's capital was located in Kyoto
Art of Drawing the Sword
1185 - 1332 when the capital of Japan was in Kamakura. Known as the
"golden age" of the Japanese sword.
Sword - refers specifically to an ancient, two-edge sword made before the ninth
Art of the Sword
Swords made before the Edo Period
Bow and arrow fighting
Kyuba no michi
The Way of the Horse and Bow
Name of a sword
1573 - 1599 when Samurai began wearing daisho. Also beginning of the
Shinto (new sword) period.
Family crest worn on montsuki
Kimono top Japanese wore at formal occasions
Muromachi Period - 1392 - 1572 when constant civil wars greatly increased the production of
Long pole with curved blade on one end
Way of the Naginata
1333 - 1391 when two emperors were vying for power in Japan
Particular school or style of martial arts
Member of the warrior class
"New New Sword" - any sword made after Meiji Restoration (1870)
"New Sword" - any sword made between 1596 and 1870
Barbarian subduing General (war lord)
Long, deeply curved sword that mounted Samurai used in ancient Japan
"Inside sword" - a term for the longer of two swords Samurai wore
Samurai's sensing danger