View Full Version : what does the 'shi' mean?

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Paula Lydon
11-16-2003, 09:01 AM
~~Hi All!

~~What does the 'shi' in bushido mean? Budo is the way of the warrior ,as I understand it, and bushido is an ancient Japanese code of samuri honor and duty. Does shi mean code? Does the word bushido only refer to this code, or is there a broader meaning and understanding? I hear people say, 'I train in budo' or 'I follow bushido'. Are they interchangable?

~~Please indulge this westerner as this is probably a simple thing understood by many people. Thanks! :D

11-16-2003, 09:40 AM
Absolutely not an authority, but I do know where to look some of this stuff up. So do with this (maybe incorrect) information what you will.

According to Budo Jiten (2nd ed.), bushido m is "The Way of the Warrior, an artificial code of ethics, created by the Tokugawa Bakufu to keep samurai under control"

Whereas budo : "1)Any martial art that has been studied for so long that it has become a way of life. 2)The modern martial arts whose names end with the suffix -do (e.g. judo, kendo, iaido). 3) A martial art that is studied for self-improvement, as opposed to one that is studied for combat utility."

bu : "Military; martial"

bushi m: "A warrior who was a member of the samurai caste."

Budo Jiten then translates shi m as "a (samurai) person." but I think I like the translation from Jim Breen's Japanese-English dictionary (http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/wwwjdic.html) better: "a practitioner"

So from this, I would guess that shi m is a practitioner of bu (ie. a samurai), thus making bushido m the way of the military practitioner. Just a guess, though.

Now there are probably a million subtleties of the kanji that someone with far more knowledge could tell you, but I guess this could be a start. :)


By the way, if you want to see the kanji and can't, go here: http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/jviewer.html

Kensho Furuya
11-16-2003, 09:54 AM
Hello again! The "shi" in bushido means "warrior" and refers to the warrior who serves a liege lord and embodies the (Confucian) virtues of loyalty, duty, honor, courage, filial piety, compassion, etc. . . . . Bushido is not an old term but its first well-known usage was coined in the classic, Hagakure Bushido, a collection of didactic stories written by lords of the Nabeshima clan for their samurai retainers. Budo refers to martial arts - generally modern martial arts, - Aikido, Judo, Kendo, Karate-do, etc. but through usage has now to come include all types of martial arts. Bushido and Budo are really not exactly interchangable terms. As you say, Bushido refers more to the ethical and moral code of the warrior. Budo refers to martial arts or martial science.

Because the term "bushido" was often used as a propaganda tool by the army during WWII, "bushido" to many Japanese today has a nuance of ultra right-wing conservatism and is not often used. Mishima Yukio, the noted author who killed himself at the Self Defense Hdqtrs several decades ago, also wrote his own version called, "The Modern Hagakure Bushido."

"Shi" meaning warrior has a connotation of the Confucian ideal of "chun-tze" or the scholar-gentlemen - the ideal of society and model of propriety and behavior.

Because Japan was a feudal nation for over 800 years, there are numerous terms referring to the warrior. . . . bushi, heihyosha, samurai, shi, etc. Hope this helps a little. Thanks!

11-16-2003, 11:39 AM

As mentioned already,

"shi" means gentleman, scholar, soldier,

knight, samurai. Pinyin is shi4.

This is a rich term for Confucian culture,

with at least equal emphasis on scholar

and gentleman (poet?) as soldier.

In Chinese shi4-bing1 is a soldier.

For East Asian computer types,

the Unicode for the character is 58EB.

As an aside, the Kanji title in the

trailer for the coming Tom Cruise film

"Last Samurai" is "Bushido."

A very useful Asian Language site on the

net (Monash Univ. in Australia):


Peace to all,


11-16-2003, 02:37 PM
While I am no authority at all, I always thought bushido was "the code" and budo was following "the/a code" as a way of life.

But then again, that is only the word-o-mouth conclusion I have come to.


L. Camejo
11-16-2003, 06:01 PM
Not an authority myself, but I always viewed Bushido as the "Do" or way/path of the "Bushi" - Warrior of the Japanese samurai class (of which there were other occupations) during the warring times in particular.

Budo on the other hand is Martial "Bu" Way "Do", meaning the study of war and war arts as a path/way, leading to self cultivation etc.

To me, the Bushi/Bugei were a particular social class of people existent during the Tokugawa and warring states period of Japanese history and as such, their "Do" no longer exists as the system/societal reality in which they operated no longer exists (i.e. there are no more living Bushi in Japan from the 19th Century who follow the code as it was intended). Their descendents, though of Samurai family heritage, are still not Bushi, since this particular social entity (i.e. warriors and retainers in service of a Shogun/Lord) is no longer existent in Modern Japanese societal structure. Needless to say, I think that non-Japanese cannot consider themselves as Bushi in its literal sense, since this term applies to a particular element of an old traditional Japanese society that no longer exists.

Hence, I think today to say one follows Bushido may be oversimplifying what the term meant in its traditional sense, as there is no modern equivalent that exactly matches that time, cultural and societal reality, even in Japan. One can partake of the tradition and history and follow it figuratively, even incorporate some of its teachnigs into one's own Budo training/living; but the Bushido code was strictly intended to be limited to the Bushi (warriors of the samurai class) and no one else imho.

Of course I can be wrong, but from what I've read and understand of the history, this is what I have gathered.

Arigato Gozaimashita.


11-16-2003, 06:10 PM
Hello again,

Sorry I had to end my earlier post abruptly to go run some errands.

Japanese bushido, Mandarin wu-shi-dao. From the Chinese dictionary:

Wu(tone 3) from "stop" and "lances," with a general meaning of "military" or "martial." Some common Chinese compounds are: wu-da and wu-shu meaning "martial arts," wu-qi and wu-zhuang meaning "weapons," wu-li meaning "military force".

Shi(tone 4) from "one" and "ten," with a general meaning of a scholar or gentleman (an educated person). Shi-lin, the "forest" of the shi, is the "intelligentsia" or "literatti." Shidaifu is a "scholar offical" A man of proper principles, great ability and good character. Before the Han dynasty (ca. 200BC - 200 AD), a member of the military aristocracy; after Han, includes broader meanings of scholar and bureaucrat. Much more than a mere soldier or fighter.

Wu-shi means "knight" or "warrior" or "samurai."

Dao(tone 4) means way, path, road, or, broader, way of life, as in Daoism, DaoDeJing, etc. Japanese do.

Bushido or Wushidao thus is way or path of the warrior, samurai or knight. Actually much more than a code. A nice link:


There is a text translated in English as

"Code of the Saumurai," in Japanese Bushido Shoshinsu, some 400 years old, written by Taira Shigesuke (1639-1730), a Confucian scholar writing for novice knights. A nice link for this document:


Another reference for shi:


Peace to all,


11-16-2003, 09:13 PM
It depends on what kanji you use :-). If you just say "shi" most people will either think 4 or death.

Kensho Furuya
11-16-2003, 09:22 PM
The "shi" in bushido is specifically "shi" meaning "warrior" or "gentlman." In Chinese, "shr" or "shih." It is clearly not the character for "death" or "four" in this instance.

11-16-2003, 09:37 PM
Please excuse me to add a little more, from the Confucian perspective. I enjoy this thread.

One of the earliest uses of the Chinese word shi4, the middle Kanji of Japanese bushido, is in the Analects of Confucius, ca. 500 BC. Analects 4:9 is, in Pinyin, "zi3 yue1: shi4 zhi4 yu2 dao4..." The master says: A scholar (or gentleman) with mind (or will) set on the Dao (or path)...

But Confucius did not seem to have a very high view of the shi4, and this was just a starting point of progress on the way (Dao).

The rest of this verse is ... and who is ashamed of bad food and bad clothes, is not fit to be discoursed with. In other word, a shi4, a scholar or gentleman, who is still concerned about things like quality of food and quality or appearance of clothing, these outward matters of life, is not fit for discussion. One commentator said that "the pursuit of truth should raise a man above being ashamed of poverty."

In the Analects there is something of a progression from "shi" to "jun1-zi3" to "sheng4-ren2." Jun-zi, mentioned by Furuya Sensei, is a gentleman or a "superior man," in Analects 4:5. A part of Analects 4:5 is translated as: A superior man (gentleman, jun-zi), never deserts benevolance (or acts contrary to virtue), even for the time it takes to eat a single meal. The sage, in Analects 6:30, helps others as himself. he is characterized by benevolance and giving (perhaps aiki?).

It is intersting that there is no "wu-sheng-ren." Perhaps eventually sagacity and wisdom transcend "wu/bu" and fighting?

(Yes, the kanji does matter! There are more than 500 Kanji with either On or Kun readings of "shi.")

A nice collation of multiple English and French translations of the Analects can be found at http://afpc.asso.fr/wengu/wg/wengu.php?l=Lunyu

The Chinese text can be found at http://www.zhongwen.com

Peace to all,