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Old 05-09-2004, 09:46 PM   #16
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Re: Aikido and Samurai: a few questions

Let's see if I can make this a bit more accurate -- and hopefully not just a bit more confusing:

[Big Dave] "In general, I have come to understand the following ideas as factual, meaning in history terms that there is a preponderance of evidence to suggest that they are true.

1. [Big Dave] That for nearly a thousand years Japan was ruled by warlords - Daimyo and Shoguns who were supported by a warrior class called Samurai. The Samuari protected the interests of the lords in a feudal society."

[DJM] Yes and no. The BUSHI came into unprecedented power with the ascendancy of the Hojo in the 12th century, but current thought is crediting the courtiers and clerics with retaining far more power than had been allowed them in previous scholarship. See Antiquity and Anachronism in Japanese History by Jeffrey P. Mass. Also, Hired Swords: The Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan by Karl F. Friday for the evolution of the class.

DMV: The 1000 years sited by Mr. Peling does have to be qualified a bit but so too does some of the information Mr. Modesto is offering. Of importance is: a. The scholarship containing the position referenced here has been in academic circles for over 20 years now -- it's not "the current thing" that has just now shed light on a darkness long held; b. The idea of a unified Japan is plaguing the conclusions offered. Each segment of Japanese culture, and even segments of competing cultures, had pockets of power all over the area we today know as "Japan". Thus, while it is not wholly accurate to suggest that the warrior class (i.e. samurai) ruled Japan up to 1000 years before the Meiji Restoration, it is also not accurate to say that courtiers and clerics ruled Japan in their stead and/or held more power. I think a benchmark of power accumulation and transference, if one is pressed by the actual formation of "Japan", could be the Korean political mission that in the Tokugawa period by-passed the Imperial palace in Kyoto and went straight to the Bakufu in Edo. Before that, I think one is going to have to be very careful about how the words "power" and "Japan" are defined.

2. [Big Dave] That these warriors were extremely skilled in swordfighting and hand to hand combat.

[DJM]: Until Edo (1600-1877) when the BUSHI became administrators and bureaucrats infamously inept with their weaponry (as demonstrated in the story of the 47 Ronin , e.g.)

DMV: Again, I think we have to be cautious about using general terms like the term "samurai" -- using them as if we could ever capture the multiplicity of human action and/or behavior by nomenclature alone. Plain and simple -- we can't. Some members of the samurai class became bureaucrats, some didn't. Some were always and/or became inept with weaponry during the Edo period and some didn't ever -- some stayed highly skilled and/or became more skilled. When warriors became politicians, they were not the only class to work in politics for the Bakufu, nor did another class fulfill all of the ranks of their military.

3. [Big Dave] That they also functioned as local "law and order."

DJM: And as pirates and brigands.

DMV: I think what Mr. Modesto is wishing to suggest here is that the samurai made up all kinds of social segments of a given time and place -- some being admirable. This is undoubtedly true. But I'm not so sure that Mr. Peling is saying that all samurai were "noble nights". As a historian himself, he knows better. I think he makes this point quite clearly in his suggestion that we can look beyond the ailments of Feudalism -- look to the skill and the philosophy of the samurai, etc. If members of the samurai class, in the face of the ailments of Feudalism, turned antithetical to certain philosophical positions that came to be associated with bushido, this does not mean that the underlying philosophy does not exists. In fact, it proves that philosophy existed more than it did not -- by way of the antithesis. In other words, while some samurai did become brigands, pirates, smugglers, mercenaries, rapists, and terrorists, etc., robbing, pillaging, piracy, smuggling, raping, and terrorizing were never held up as a social ideal for the samurai class. There ideals were other -- and it is that other that Mr. Peling is wishing to talk about here.

4. [Big Dave] They were governed by a code of conduct called "Bushido."
This code called for absolute loyalty to their lord and that they were expected to be courageous in combat. Honor and disciple were also emphasized.

[DJM]: No. Bushido was a 20th century phenomenon. This is rather like a yoeman in Merry Olde England claiming the right to free speech: He could put the words together, but there was no legal concept supporting him. Similarly, Bushido was actually codified until the militarists of the 20's and 30's exploited it to unify the nation. See Karl Friday's The Historical Foundations of Bushido. Also, read his Bushidó or Bull? A Medieval Historian's Perspective on the Imperial Army and the Japanese Warrior Tradition.

DMV: In Mr. Peling's post, the words "they" and "governed" are problematic. So too is the word "code". It is very easy to answer "yes" and "no" to questions using such words, but that would be no answer at all -- which means this is no question at all. Dates, regions, contexts, etc., all are needed here to determine anything relative to whether or not we should ourselves idealize the ideals of bushido. It is most difficult to refer to the samurai as a unified group, singular in action and thought. They were not. Also, "governed" and "code" is by far too concrete a term to use for how the ideals of bushido affected members of the samurai class. For Mr. Modesto's post, I have to say, Bushido is NOT a 20th century phenomenon. Nor does Friday suggest this in the works cited. Most obviously: Friday himself is citing Nitobe's book as being instrumental in the modern development of the term and concept of Bushido and that book is from the 19th century. Also Friday, knowing he would be hard-pressed to prove otherwise, does not suggest that Nitobe, and/or others like him, was not referencing things older and/or much older than themselves. Friday's works in question have to do with the gap that exists between medieval samurai practices and political ideals held by the Imperial military of Japan at the beginning of the Modern era. While that gap undoubtedly has to do with the revisionist practices of that (or any) fascist government, they also have to do with the gap that exists between any concrete action and it's accompanying ideal. Since we are dealing here with various samurai ideals, it is hard to say how relative these articles (Friday's) truly are, but I would propose, not very. It is also not accurate to say that bushido was codified in the 20's and 30's. Bushido has never been codified.

5. [Big Dave] Ideally, Samurai were expected to be more than warriors.

[DJM]: "Samurai" is one class of BUSHI. Some were expected to be more than others. A general charms politicians; a private scrubs toilets.

DMV: Again, I think the context is way too general here to do anyone any good. But if Mr. Peling is suggesting that the various ideals of bushido had to do with a particular technology of self that would have warrior "learn" more than simply how to fight and/or kill -- the answer is undeniable "yes".

6. [Big Dave] Those who failed or otherwise disgraced themselves were expected to commit suicide.

[DJM}: Tokugawa Ieyasu failed AND was captured. He didn't kill himself, he rose to become SHOGUN. See Thomas Conlan, The Culture of Force and Farce: Fourteenth-Century Japanese Warfare ( ). Also, Harold Bolitho, "The Myth of the Samurai," in Alan Rix & Ross Mouer (eds.), Japan's Impact on the World, pp. 2-9. He claims that the samurai were far more interested in the acquisition of land than in the service of their lord.

DMV: I think Mr. Peling's suggestion here takes us back to what I said earlier on using the word "governed" to understand the relationship between the ideal of bushido and the agents that invested in it. Undoubtedly, but only generally speaking, there is an underlying shame culture to the samurai class, but this is something not always akin to the idea of "expecting suicide" for matters of disgrace. From one historian to another -- this is Hollywood and not History.

7. [Big Dave] That while O'Sensei was not of course a Samurai, he studied sword fighting and aiki-ju-jitsu and then modified them to create aikido, a less lethal form of the former arts.

[DJM]: Many would take issue with the lethality part, starting with the founder.

DMV: Yes, personally I would take issue with the words "less lethal", same thing with "modified" and "create", but maybe that is another thread.

8. [Big Dave] Certainly many Samurai abused their power and authority, just as those who have great authority today often do. But I think it's important to keep our eye on their ideals, as these ideals are important.

[DJM]: As well as their transgressions. Remember Fuerbach's contention that we invest our higher values (God) with precisely the virtues we...lack.

DMV: Well, Mr. Modesto, how about some of that "as well" now? Seems like your whole post is dedicated to just the transgressions. ;-) True, they are important, but they are not the whole picture, and maybe not all the relevant to what Mr. Peling is suggesting.

9. [Big Dave] It also seems that the mentality of the samurai is very much alive in Modern Japan.

[DJM]: And Korea, China, Singapore, Brazil, Colombia...

DMV: Actually, here is where I say Friday's articles become very relevant. Respectfully, I would disagree; the mentality of the samurai is not very much alive in Modern Japan. Can't see it in the other countries listed either. What one does see are indeed remnants of that revisionist effort that Japan's fascist government put into motion at the time Friday is referring to in his articles.

I think Mr. Peling's post is strongest here, and perhaps it is here that we could discuss the issue at hand. I suggest this because references to history, if we desire for those references to be accurate, are just going to make this thread way too complicated. Japanese history will not offer us here the "proof" we need here to reject or accept the ideals of bushido. Here is what I think is best in Mr. Peling's post -- what I think readers should make room for but are apparently not:

[Big Dave]

"Would I like to have embrace Bushido as a life style? Honor, discipline, Integrity, loyalty, why wouldn't I? It's an ideal after all - something we try to live up to, just as the Samurai did. Certainly many Samurai abused their power and authority, just as those who have great authority today often do. But I think it's important to keep our eye on […] these ideals -- [they] are important.

Is Aikido related to the arts of the Samurai? It seems to me that there is no question about it.

Yet I find something very appealing in aspects of Bushido - perhaps the idea of honor, of accepting one's responsibility. This idea is virtually non-existent in our own culture today. I am a history teacher, and you would not believe the excuses that I am subjected to on a daily basis. We have become a society of non-responsibility. No ownership at all of anything we do. "

Thank you,
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