Part 1 of 2
By Joel Cohen
Both Japan and Europe experienced a feudal era in their respective histories. These times were dominated by lords and warriors. Over time, codes of conduct developed to guide their behavior. In the West, this code was called Chivalry; in Japan, it was known as Bushido.
While a cherry blossom and a rose are both flowers, their evolutionary paths are different. As with the cherry blossom, representing the Japanese culture, and the rose, representing Western culture, the development of Bushido and Chivalry have evolved from the differences in culture and national history. There are also similarities.
Bushido originally developed out of the values of the Japanese people. These included Reverence, Loyalty, Ancestor Worship, and Adoration of the Martial Arts. To the degree that these values come from Shintoism, Bushido is based on Shintoism.
One of the characteristics of the Japanese people is the inclusion of other cultures into their own, for example, the assimilation of Confucianism and Buddhism. Bushido was not religious, but rather absorbed much from Confucianism and Buddhism, especially from Zen Buddhism.
The warrior developed himself and his skills, courage and perseverance in order to achieve his mission of protection. As a part of a group, the warrior had to function well within a group, requiring obedience and politeness. Just as a living organism must survive at the expense of individual cells, the warrior must attain his highest achievement in Bushido and act honorably - at whatever the cost - in order for the group to survive.
The beginnings of Western Chivalry originated in the martial spirit, especially of the Germanic tribes. To idealize and control their aggressiveness, the Christian Church give the warrior the task of protecting Christianity. Thus, Chivalry came under the control of Christianity. To this extent, Chivalry was closely linked to religion. For example, the Crusaders had a large cross emblazoned on the front of their tunics.
Bushido and Chivalry shared the virtues of Bravery and Loyalty. Other virtues included Benevolence, Politeness and Honor. All virtues were controlled by uniting them based on Justice. Bravery was the foremost virtue of Chivalry; while Loyalty was the top virtue of Bushido. In Japan, loyalty meant devotion to a lord or the Emperor (in later times). In the West, the devotion was to Christianity. For Bushido, Bravery was the second virtue.
Benevolence was adopted in order to control the warriors warlike spirit at times when compassion was called for. Politeness referred to maintaining social order and cooperating with others to carry out their lords commands. Honor counted for much in both Bushido and Chivalry. A samurai never goes back on his word. The Western wording was, Die rather than be put to shame. Western Chivalry had a martial code that sought to enlarge the Kingdom of God on earth. Following the pattern of the Ten Commandments, it had ten articles to guide ones conduct.
I. Believe in Jesus Christ and follow his teachings. II. Protect Christianity. III. Protect and support the weak. IV. Love ones country. V. Never turn ones back on a foe. VI. Fight against non-Christians with a death or glory spirit. VII. Keep the feudal system consistent with the Way of God. VIII. Never tell a lie and keep ones word. IX. Be broad-minded and bestow favor on the multitude. X. Keep to the right path and fight against injustice and vice.
This public code was used to transform the rough warrior into an acceptable servant of the Church and to gain public support. For example, prior to this code, telling a lie was not considered to be bad. The rationale for the articles were Church-related. The warrior protected the weak not out sympathy but because doing so was equivalent to doing it for the sake of Christ.
Rather than setting up public codes, in Japan, generals and scholars wrote family precepts or constitutions that governed the behavior of the clan and their retainers. These ranged in length from short, such as seven statements, to long, containing a hundred items. Their contents ranged from broad (One should know ones station in life. or To realize ones ideal, one should have good teachers as well as good friends.) to practical (The retainer should refrain from quarreling with others. He had better not win in useless fighting.) to very specific (Do homage to priests and monks.). In general, the doctrines in common may be summarized:
1. One should be loyal to ones lord. 2. Act on justice. 3. Honor bravery. 4. Observe fidelity. 5. Value honor. 6. Be benevolent. 7. Be polite. 8. Aim at simplicity. 9. Keep ones principles. 10. Be honest. 11. Be obedient to ones parents and love ones brothers and sisters. 12. Control oneself and have patience. 13. Love ones country. 14. Pursue learning. 15. Train in ones martial arts. 16. Believe in God and Buddha. 17. Build up ones courage and cultivate ones samurai spirit. 18. Broaden ones mind. 19. Submit to Heaven. 20. Do ones duty as a samurai.
In both Chivalry and Bushido, these codes were used to control and channel aggressive warlike spirits into behavior that was more acceptable to and safer for society. The Chivalry Articles are religious, legalistic and public. The Bushido codes are private, philosophical and simple, reflecting the Zen Buddhist influence. The contrast is a result of the difference in their historical origins.
The author, Joel Cohen is a Professional Martial Artist with a Shido-In license.
Part 2 of 2
By Joel Cohen
Japan and Europe had feudal periods in their histories. In both, codes of conduct evolved to guide the behavior of the warriors. In the West, this code was called Chivalry; in Japan, it was known as Bushido.
Chivalry was the creation of the Church. Consequently, Chivalry was the servant and the protector of the Church. Bushido, on the other hand, was a part of the Japanese culture and coexisted with the various religions practiced in Japan. Bushido was able to include aspects of these religions into its structure. Other aspects of culture also contribute to differences found in education, weapons, and sanctions for misconduct.
Western Chivalry was open to anyone, that is, a person of any social class could become a warrior. Youth started with home education in religion and morals. The early training also meant to teach disciple. At fifteen years of age, the educated youth left home to become an apprentice in another warriors home. His training was physical and martial. Broad-based knowledge was not sought; historical knowledge was studied. When the apprentice was ready, joining the warrior society was marked by an Armor Ceremony, which usually took place on a Christian holiday.
Japanese warrior status was hereditary; only members of the samurai class were eligible. Education, consistent with Confucian teachings, played a larger role. The samurai not only trained the body but also the mind. As Miyamoto Musashi wrote in A Book of Five Rings, The Way is found in all things. He, as did other warriors, studied many subjects other than martial subjects. By better understanding human nature and spirit, the samurai improved their martial proficiency. Proficiency in literature, poetry and calligraphy was not uncommon among samurai and was considered an admirable accomplishment.
On the surface, weapons would appear to be very similar. The bow and arrow, sword, knife, spear and halberd have their counterparts in both cultures. However, there are differences in shape (appearance), usage and attitude toward the weapon as a result of differences in the culture and tactics employed.
The distinctive look of the Japanese sword (Katana) and knife (Tanto) with the curved blade and the angular tip reflect the keen study of anatomy and actual application by the Japanese. Differences in technique and shape was also strongly influenced by differences in armor and tactics.
Japanese adoration of their weapons, especially the sword, exceeded that of the West. The European warrior was fond of weapons; however, their swords were just weapons to them. To the Japanese, the sword was a work of art with a spirit of its own. A famous poem identified the sword as both the taker and giver of life. Likewise, while the European swordsmith was an artisan, the Japanese considered their swordsmiths to be heavenly-inspired artists.
As with any code of conduct, sanctions must be available to punish deviation from the code. The ultimate sanction for the samurai was self-disembowelment (Hara-kiri or Seppuku). This suicide was viewed as exquisite, allowing the samurai to regain his honor and demonstrating his sincerity by cutting his belly where his soul was thought to reside. This type of atonement is based on maintaining family honor and from the Zen concept of the closeness of life and death. When life has more value than death, one should seek life; however, when death has more value, then one should choose death.
As the Church did not sanction suicide, suicide was not a sanction in Western Chivalry. In the West, warriors would be expelled from membership. They were taken out in public, insulted, disarmed, and expelled.
In this comparison of Bushido and Chivalry, many similarities are seen. This is to be expected as both are codes of conduct for the warriors who protect society using martial means. However, there are also differences which reflect the differences between the Japanese and European cultures and the respective evolutions of Bushido and Chivalry.
The author, Joel Cohen is a Professional Martial Artist with a Shido-In license.