The way of the Samurai

A Samurai was a member of a powerful military clan serving those of the noble classes in Japan around the 10th century. As their numbers grew, not only did Samurai gain a reputation as fierce warriors, but they were also considered to be highly honourable group who all lived by a strict code.

The Samurai code of behaviour was called Bushido (The way of the warrior). It was a mixture of different philosophies but the overriding element was the loyalty a Samurai owed to his lord. In fact, the greatest honour a Samurai could receive was to die in battle while fighting to protect their lord.

Training for a Samurai started around the age of five when a boy would be cared for by a relative of his father. The reasoning for this was that a father might not push his son as hard as was needed to make him a strong Samurai. Every fight for a Samurai was a matter of life or death, so a boy had to be pushed to his limits to be at his best.

The boy would work for several years as a servant to his trainer before being given any sword training. During this time he would be taught meditation to help him focus on developing his skills and avoiding distractions.

By the time he was in his teens, a boy would then be taught the traditional fighting methods of his clan, before being schooled in other forms of fighting and various weapons.

The traditional weapons carried by a Samurai consisted of two swords. The first was a long curved sword called the Katana. This was the Samurai’s main weapon for use in battle. His other weapon was a shorter sword called a Wakizashi, which was used for close quarters fighting and to cut off the head of an opponent once they had been defeated. In the case where the Samurai lost a battle, it was used to commit suicide to maintain their honour and to expatiate the shame of defeat.  The two swords worn together was the indication of a man being a Samurai.

Samurai were also masters of was using a bow and arrow whilst riding a horse. This was a particularly difficult task to perform and took years of training to perfect.

The other distinct feature of Samurai was their armour. It was typically made from different sized iron plates which were then bound together with leather. In addition to the armour, Samurai also wore an elaborately crafted helmet when going into battle. This traditional style of armour was in use by Samurai up until the late 19th century.

Today, various aspects of the Samurai code of Bushido can still be seen in practice. These include Loyalty (to a person or organisation), Honour (doing the right thing, even if it comes at a personal cost) and Respect (for traditions and values). For someone following the way of the Samurai, these three elements would figure in all aspects of their attitude and behaviour.