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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