How to Be a Samurai: A 17th Century Code for Life & War

Many today draw inspiration from Bushidō, the Way of the Warrior, a comprehensive code of conduct for premodern Japan’s samurai (or bushi).

The above installment of History Brothers David and Pete Kelly’s primary source web series Voices of the Past suggests that some aspects of the samurai code are more applicable to 21st century life than others.

For instance, when was the last time you slaughtered someone for rendering offense to your Lord?

Not that the best practices surrounding such an assignment aren’t fascinating. Still, you’ll probably benefit more from incorporating the samurai approach to dealing with gossips or clueless colleagues.

If you want to adapt Master Ninja Natori Masazumi‘s Edo period instructions for cleaning blood from long swords, without damaging the blade, to polishing your stainless steel fridge, have at it:

Place horse droppings inside some paper and wipe it over a blade that has been used to cut someone. This will leave traces of the wiping and the blood will no longer be seen. If there are no horse droppings available to wipe the blade with, use the back of your straw sandals or soil inside paper.

The video draws on historian Antony Cummins and translator Yoshie Minami’s The Book of Samurai: The Fundamental Teachings, a reproduction of two scrolls containing Natori Masazumi’s directives for samurai conduct in times of war and peace.

The second scroll, “Ippei Yoko,” contains some explicit marching orders for the former.

If you’re squeamish — or eating — you may want to duck out of the video before Natori Masazumi’s granular instructions on the severing of enemy heads. (15:30 onward.)

Alternatively, you could make like an inexperienced young samurai and harden yourself to the graphic realities of bloodshed by attending executions and violent punishments in your downtime.

Again, the more everyday wisdom of “Heika Jodan,” the first scroll, will likely prove more pertinent. A few chestnuts to get you started:

Don’t say something about someone behind their back that you are not prepared to repeat to their face.

Keep your distance from “stupid” associates, but also resist the urge to make fun of them.

Never shy away from an act of virtue.

In an emergency, exit in a swift, but orderly manner.

Compliment the food when you’re a guest in someone’s home, even if you don’t like it.

If you’re the host, and two guests begin fighting, try to help settle the matter discreetly, to avoid lasting injuries or grudges.

Don’t pass the buck to excuse your own misdeeds.

Don’t panic in an unexpected situation — the first thing you should do is take a breath and settle your mind.

Whether traveling or just out and about, be prepared with necessary items, including, pencil, paper, money, medications…

When tempted to regale others with any supernatural encounters you may have had, remember that less is more.

Watch more Voices of the Past on their YouTube channel.

Related Content:

A Hypnotic Look at How Japanese Samurai Swords Are Made

An Origami Samurai Made from a Single Sheet of Rice Paper, Without Any Cutting

A Demonstration of Perfect Samurai Swordsmanship

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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