Thoughts on International Education
Musings on Japanese and Ryukyu Budo
Musings on Japanese and Ryukyu Budo
One of the great mistakes I often see in popular media and pseudo-budo research is that the Samurai of Japan was a warrior fighting class from ancient times. Indeed nothing could be further from the truth.
Before the Tokugawa unification (1603-1867 - aka Edo Period), a type of fighting men loosely called Bushi (侍) - literally meaning ‘person who stops a spear - were the one’s who did most of the fighting. Aside from a few, these people were non-professional and mostly commoners/farmers. However, after the Tokugawa unification and stability to feudal Japan, the Bakufu and a new caste system were established.
Under this caste system, there were four significant classes within Japan, Samurai (士 shi), farming peasants (農 nō), artisans (工 kō) and merchants (商 shō) in standard parlance references as shinōkōshō.
Outside of this system were the Emperor, Shogun and nobility, and the outcast. This latter group became known as the Eta or Burakumin (部落民) and were considered outcasts as they usually worked in industries such as executioners, undertakers, slaughterhouse workers, butchers, or tanners. Based on an interpretation of Buddhist scripture, they worked with blood and thus were damned. Indeed, it was not until the mid-1990s that the Japanese government made a significant effort to end this caste’s ostracisation.
(from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burakumin ).
Under the Tokugawa regime, the new term/kanji for Samurai (侍) provides clues to their role. Gone was the idea of them being warriors, replaced instead with their new status of ‘people who form a temple’ or, in other words, the bureaucracy, of which warring was but one of their roles. Indeed, the highly misleading book the Hagakure, written by a bureaucratic samurai from a peaceful Japan, harkens back to a mythical past and a blood lust that had long been outlawed within Japan. Moreover, the stereotype of seppuku was strictly forbidden for this samurai class were far too valuable to the state to kill themselves willy-nilly even if their honour was tarnished. Research indicates of the 600 samurai who committed seppuku in the Tokugawa period, none of their families had retained their previous status or land within one generation. Thus, seppuku was not a way of ‘saving face, and family fortune, as the popular media would have us believe (Kannon Kakumyo, ‘What is Bushido?' Paper presented at the 18th international Seminar of Budo Culture, 2006)
For some of the more romantically inclined, they will be sad to know that the whole 47 Ronin escapade resulted from financial friction rather than avenging the death of the honourable Lord Asano. Indeed Asano was a hothead and very irresponsible; thus, when he was found guilty and made to commit seppuku, few mourned his death. Indeed his selfish action resulted in mass poverty for his family and those 47 families he was responsible for.
While the word Samurai had been used before the Tokugawa period, it was not until establishing the caste system that it became mainstream. In a similar vein, Bushido (see HERE ) did not gain wide usage until Nitobe used the term when writing in English about the Japanese spirit. To make Japan acceptable within the world order wherein the Meiji restoration, he essentially coined the term in 1911! It had been used previously, but only within elite academic circles. It is perhaps one of the great ironies of history that a word often used to define Japan was re-imported to Japan from the English book of the same name in the early 1900s. Sadly, it is also a word used to drive 3 million Japanese and over 30 million others to their death during World War two.
Thus despite what so-called Sensei or populist writing would have us believe, ‘the code of Bushido’ did not exist in mind or soul of the average Japanese until after it had been exported to the English-speaking world. Additionally, even for the samurai caste, there is no single code. Most of those that suggest samurai ethics were written long after the Samurai had primarily been a military force. Indeed, those who doubt this assertion must read the works of Musashi, Takuan, and Yagyu, all of whom write at the start of the Tokugawa era. None of them discusses ‘bushido’, except in a few poorly translated English texts.
Lastly, the Samurai were not a homogeneous cast. There were three main groupings:
The Tozama would come back to haunt the Tokugawa as they oversaw the end of the Shogun system during the Bakumatsu and Meiho periods.
While this is a short post on a complex topic, I hope it can contribute in a small way to dispelling so many myths I see passed on in dojo, populist history/fiction and misleading post on SNS. And sadly, in many schools!
This week I am happy to share this article on student responsibility by my friend and fellow budoka, Mike Clarke, Kyoshi.
For those of you in the loop on great Budo folk and books, Clarke-sensei will be no stranger to you. Author of one of the best selling karate books, 'The Art of Hojo-undo' and over 500 articles, Mike is well trained, well versed and deeply practised in the wonderful 'do' we call karate. Mike lives in Oz with his wife and runs a dojo where membership is by application only.
He is a devoted teacher and takes his responsibility very seriously - indeed, he has never missed a training session with his students in three decades - he is an inspiration to those who seek to become passers on this 'way' of life.
Mike is a rare gem in the karate world, for he understands at a deep level the truth that is karate and the power it offers to those willing to commit to its study. Mike is the embodiment of Musashi's statement, 'the way is in training'. Indeed you can read more about Mike at www.appliedkarate.com/tag/mike-clarke/
In this article, Mike explore student responsibility to their teacher.
I thank him for sharing this article and his insights.
Please enjoy - James.
No point having a good teacher if you're a bad student....One of the things I enjoyed the most about the recent gasshuku was the opportunity it brought for me to observe everyone's karate. Not just your kata or your ability with kigu, but how you conducted yourselves in and out of the dojo, as well as with each other. Given that we don't practice together very often due to the distance between us, I was impressed by your efforts in the dojo and your conduct outside of it.
Twice recently I've been asked by people to teach them karate. It's such a strange question to answer, and one I'm finding more and more difficult to reply to in a way that is honest to my feelings and also understandable to the person asking. When I was a kid a lot of shops had a sign behind the counter that read..."Please don't ask for credit as a refusal often offends". I don't want to offend anyone but I'm aware of just how easily offence is taken, especially in todays world of high expectation and sense of entitlement.
Experience tells me that most people who start training won't continue. They might stick with it for a few years, decades even, but long before their gi stops being worn they have stopped training. I say this because training is an attitude, a way of being in the world. Yet so many treat karate like its completely expendable. Something to be done when you feel like it and dispensed with when you don't. I wonder therefore why so much fuss is made about finding a 'good' teacher. What's the point of having a good teacher if you don't have it in you to be a good student (of karate).
By my own admission I am at best a reluctant teacher. I am first and foremost a student of karate. I was never any of my sensei's best student, but I'm pretty sure I was close to being their worst. I say that not with a sense of false modesty but from knowing my own nature. My karate has always been limited by my inherent laziness. And even though I've made great progress with keeping my anger in check, I'm still lacking in many of the subtle graces required to be considered a "good student" of karate. I'm not making excuses here, I don't wear this realisation like a protective cloak preventing me from addressing my inadequacies. I'll keep trying of course, because that's the point....to continue trying regardless of the setbacks.
So the next time you think of your relationship with karate, think of yourself as both the student and the teacher. You are the dojo and you're the only one in it. Teach yourself to grasp the idea of what karate is by exploring who you are. If you can manage that, then karate is not far away...
I am delighted to share this video by Troy Feener, Shihan from Chito Ryu. Feener-sensei is research in the area of physiology and anatomy. In this video, he shares the latest research about the why and how of stretching. Amazingly well put together and articulated.
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan