Samurai Misconceptions

Not all samurai were great samurai.

I read an article today on common misconceptions of the samurai. I want to focus on two of them. The first was that the idea that all samurai lived by the same strict ethical code was preposterous. The second was that the bushido was created by the lords in an effort to keep the samurai loyal to them. So they wouldn’t revolt against them.

Yeah…of course not all samurai were upstanding human beings. Not every basketball player is Kobe Bryant. Not every priest is the pope. Not every painter is Michelangelo. But any NBA player that walks into any random gym around the country… completely dominates the basketball game being played there. They play at a much higher level than everyone else already.

There were different levels of talent within the samurai ranks. Different levels of swordsmen. Different levels of archers. And riflemen, when guns made their way to Japan. Some were experts. Some were clearly not. And there were some very ethical samurai. But there were different levels of those too. And that’s to be expected. They were afterall, human.

As for the lords creating the bushido to keep the samurai in line…maybe so. But does that make it bad? Where do you think the phrase ‘the meek shall inherit the earth,’ comes from? You don’t think that was a higher-up in ancient government searching for an answer to the slave rebellions thousands of years ago? Are religions based on the old testament bad because of that? No, they are not.

The bushido was a great way of life. It was a moral standard that forced samurai to try to live up to it. The samurai were regular guys with the same feelings and desires and selfishness as you or I. They just happened to be born into an elite class in feudal Japan. That’s the only difference. They had every flaw that we have now.

The difference being that they were taught to strive for greatness and perfection. The samurai held the bushido out there as something to pursue, like an Olympic gold medal. And that is a good thing…to have that greatness on display, dangling out there like a carrot. It gave the samurai, and now me, something to shoot for.

I don’t care who made it up and what intention they had. I’m certainly not there now. I’m not trying to be a mediocre samurai warrior. I want to go down in history as one of the best.I don’t know that I’ll ever get there, but if I was trying to be mediocre, I wouldn’t have signed up.

So I don’t care in the least that some samurai weren’t perfect. It’s actually refreshing to hear. It humanizes them for the first time. And that inspires me that much more.