Aikido and Samurai



Samurai - a critical view

It is a fact that the aikido techniques come from the samurai. There are many legends about the samurai and they are often used as a model.
The Austrian professor for Japanese studies Peter Pantzer (* 1942) wrote a refreshingly critical article entitled "BUSHIDO - THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR". It was published in "Samurai und Bushido - Der Spiegel Japans", self-published by the museums of the City of Vienna, 1999. I would like to present some key statements here and encourage you to make your own mind up. The original text (in German) is linked below.
Let us follow Peter Pantzer:


The term bushido as a term for the principles such as duty and loyalty, honor, bravery, etc., which a bushi, i.e. a samurai had to follow did not emerge until after the samurai era. It is a subsequent interpretation and transfiguration of the past. There has never been a written code for the customs and honor of samurai. Knighthood, as glorified in the Bushido, only emerged in Japan when there were no more knights.

The sword

Pantzer compares the famous classification of the sword as "the soul of the samurai" with the well-known saying of the rifle as "the bride of the soldier". Historically, other weapons have been much more important. The wars among the samurai were mainly fought with bows and arrows, with the long lance Naginata and finally since 1543 with match rifles. The two rifles bought from the Portuguese served as models and Japanese rifles were mass-produced but finally banned under the Tokugawa. The sword was only used at the end of the battles in close combat in the Samurai Wars.

Inazo Nitobe: Bushido - The soul of Japan

The ideas about the spirit of Bushido are largely shaped by this book by Nitobe Inazo, which was first published in the USA in 1891. Nitobe was familiar with the western mentality. He studied in Germany and Austria, lived for some time in America, converted to Christianity and was married to an American. According to Pantzer, Nitobe gathered all sorts of things out of the streams of religions and philosophies that he knew that could serve as a rationale for the Japanese knight spirit.
Buddhism provided spiritual discipline, physical rigor, and contempt for death. Childhood piety and devotion to the emperor and the land are found in Shintoism. Confucius brings the five moral relationships and ties: master and servant, parents and children, husband and wife, older and younger siblings and friend and friend. The philosopher Menius also had a democratic influence on the samurai. A Pauline letter from the New Testament then provides another reason for the devotion and self-sacrifice of the warriors.

Tsunetomo Yamamoto: Hagakure

The Hagakure was written until about 1716 by the Zen monk Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a former samurai . Pantzer calls it "the body and stomach reading" of all Bushido admirers. The author dreams of times past and complains that the young knights speak of nothing else but money, clothes and sex.
The total of 11 volumes of the book are a colorful bouquet of rules of conduct for the bushi: something worth copying and something that is to be loathed. For Pantzer, the main reason for the Bushido is the boredom of the samurai.

Miyamoto Musashi: Book of the Five Rings

The book "Gorin no sho" ("Book of the Five Rings"), a song of swordsmanship, is on the same line. The author is famous as an invincible duellist. He was born in 1584 in the golden age of chivalry, but when he left this work about his sword art for posterity (1646), the magic of the old heroic days was long gone.


Quotation from the last paragraph of Pantzer's essay:
"A certain influence of the samurai on Japanese society cannot be denied because they have dominated the country politically for centuries. They assumed a natural moral influence, which also the non-warriors, the citizens and peasants could not escape.
Some - the Bushi - had the time (what enviable loafers!) to make behavior a science and a tea ceremony. The others - the urban population - had the economic potential and did not want to be inferior.
The well-cared for, really admirable courtesy spread as a beautiful ornament of human behavior would not have been the worst legacy of Bushido."




There are many positive aspects of aikido.
Taking the samurai with all their virtues and vices as a model is not appropriate.
The values of Aikido are revealed when practicing.
In this sense, "Have fun training!"


Recent films about samurai

Some recent films offer a differentiated view on the social situation of the samurai.
In his samurai trilogy, director Yōji Yamada describes the life of simple samurai towards the end of the Tokugawa shogunate:
Tasogare Seibei (2002), Kakushi ken: Oni no tsume (2004) and Bushi no Ichibun (2006).
Other films on the subject Samurai are Ame Agaru (1999), Mibu gishi den (2002), Kita no zeronen (2005), Oyari haishaku (2013) and Gassoh (2015).

Mibu gishi den - The last sword

Clip from the film 壬生義士伝 Mibu gishi den 2002
The film tells the story of two Shinsengumi samurai. The Shinsengumi were a samurai protection force in Kyoto (1863-1869) who fought with the motto "makoto 誠" for the shogunate.
Saitō Hajime is a heartless killer. Yoshimura Kanichiro seems to be a stingy swordsman. He is overly friendly to everyone. He is always after the money to support his impoverished family in the distant home village.
The story is told in nested flashbacks in which Saitō and a pediatrician remember the events. The main theme is loyalty to the clan, the feudal lord and the family.
It is a sword film with bloodthirsty, brutal scenes.