Sword and Chrysanthemum

military and non-military aspects of samurai culture

Read more about samurai culture in the Samurai series by A. R. Basov

  • samurai spirits art

    A strong warrior clad in armor
    stood still listening to uguisu
    whose dulcet chirping was heard among the trees.

    Inazo Nitobe writes that regardless of their level of education, every samurai wrote poetry and kept writing utensils under his belt.
    Not infrequently a marching soldier might be seen to halt, take his writing utensils from his belt, and compose an ode, – and such papers were found afterward in the helmets or the breast-plates, when these were removed from their lifeless wearers.

    Hana wa sakuragi, hito wa bushi: Among blossoms the cherry blossom; among men, the warrior.

    In life, a samurai holds a sutra scroll in one hand and a sword in the other. Strength, wisdom, discipline, and beauty must be inherent to his thinking. A warrior’s soul is a sword and his profession is war and peace. While his principal occupation is martial arts, he also writes, paints, performs ikebana, tea ceremony, and more. In life (and death) practicing the ancient bunbu itchi – the two Ways of letters, culture (bun) and sword (bu) – and being equally great at both made a knight truly outstanding.
    It is a well-known samurai tradition that a warrior is bound to be a poet. Some of the greatest swordsmen – Tsukahara Bokuden (1490-1571) and Yagyu Munenori (1571-1646) – composed a hundred tanka of what it means to be a Master of the Sword.

    As a man who would be a warrior stands above the other three classes and carries the duties of administration, it is fitting that he be involved in Learning, and be able to distinguish broadly the nature of things past and present.
    Daidoji Yuzan


    It is hardly necessary to record that both Learning and the military arts are the Way of the Warrior, for it is an ancient law that one should have Learning on the left and the martial arts on the right.
    Hojo Nagauji


    From ancient times,
    Deep learning and valor
    Have been the two pillars of the Path:
    Through the virtue of training,
    Enlighten both body and soul.
    Ueshiba Morihei


    To cherish the arts of peace is not at all a matter of thinking that [one] must read many books and write poetry. Rather, it is essential that he knows the Way of Truth.
    Kuroda Nagamasa

    miyamoto musashi art ronin
    Miyamoto Musashi (who was a ronin at one point) by Tatiana Basova | Purchase print or painting
    | All Artwork

    Because he is spiritually called to martial arts as well as study, a warrior understands that they must be developed and applied in equal measure. By neglecting one he loses both. Without culture, a warrior may become a barbarian. Without a courageous spirit, the Way is meaningless. A warrior must maintain, first and foremost, manhood in his heart.

    Better look slightly rude than compromise Bushido.
    Daidoji Yuzan

    Writing poetry is a long-standing tradition in our country. The great warriors were recognized masters in this in all ages.
    Daidoji Yuzan

    Beauty is an ideal reality which purifies the warrior’s soul and enriches his mind. It is perfect if a warrior possesses a combination of manliness and subtle aestheticism, with a penchant for beauty. He watches in reverence as gentle rays of morning sun shimmer on his sword. By living every moment in its magnificence, he adds refinement to the world.
    Nothing is more complimentary to the samurai spirit than appreciating Nature, the standard of beauty. Contemplating Nature instills in him an inexhaustible power. The fact that samurai often wrote their poetry in blood, on and off the battlefield is a testament to this. They relished simple things, like piercing silences, whirling breezes, and dancing snowflakes. Like a blooming sakura, life is short and splendid. The warrior lives in the sublime.
    A wise man is capable of attaching value to his every action, to each moment of his life. Do your best to beautify everything you touch. The world would be lifeless without beauty. It is a soul Healer and perfect Teacher, transmitted from heart to heart.

    Why did many great warriors believe that a true samurai should live as a ronin for some part of his life? It was a challenging lifestyle that demanded maturity and strength of mind. The ronin path required absolute adherence to the Way of the Warrior and tested his true nobility. Alternately, laymen felt burdened by uncertainty and were willing to sacrifice anything to have ‘safe,’ stable and predictable lives. Like rodents, they hoarded what they needed to survive and lived in constant anxiety. But a ronin was a man of risk; a solitary predator loyal to the samurai moral code for the rest of his life. Even though he had lost his source of income, a true ronin calmly continued following his way of life, like a hunter confident in his power, proudly setting out on a long mysterious journey. He had no one to depend on, no attachments. His strength enabled him to take from life those few things he needed to continue his journey without burden. Absolutely solitary, he follows the way of the lonesome.

    A Master is like a hawk: free in his element, Will soaring, watching the world from above. The eyes of a real predator are bright and intense; reflecting pure essence and primeval power. The fullness of their Will and Power are focused forward, leading to a deeper understanding of Power which contains severity towards oneself. The severity of a Master lies in the fact that he sees the essence of things and does not lie to himself. He acts as his own moral Law, and it is the only one he follows. Once one has embarked on the Way, there is no way back.

    A step into something greater and unknown is a reward for courage for the Great-Spirited, but who can make a step into an abyss and go until the end? It is a fate and a curse, because only a mortal, free, superhuman god with boundless audacity and disdain towards ‘common sense’ can adhere to this Way. He does not acknowledge limits and though he may bleed to death, he will never be defeated. Ever. When he defies his destiny, looks far beyond, a broad abyss opens in front of him. The Ronin of Spirit, harsh and lonesome, follows the Way of Spiritual Ascension which forges a superhuman will. This brave Way is the privilege of the strong, the only true aristocracy of Warrior-pioneers: the eternal ronin, solitary heroes, Knights of the secret Order on a pilgrimage to a vertical plane of being... read more about ronin in the book

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    This is a chapter from Samurai: Spirit of the Warrior by A. R. Basov
    samurai books

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