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Reports & Essays: History - General History

"AND""OR"

The History of the Warrior
Through the ages every culture has had their warriors. These warriors have defended and fought for their homes, countries, and deeply held beliefs (either political or spiritual). Many of these heroes have become legends, but were based on an average man accomplishing heroic feats. William Wallace, known as the protector of Scotland, became a romantic hero in Jane Porter's novel the Scottish Chiefs. He was already a national hero in Scotland before the novel was published. Other cultures have their own heroes and legends (some of these are Lugh, of Ireland, Arthur, King of the Britons, and David, King of the Jews). Even in America , we have had our share of warriors through history (George Washington, Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holiday). The knights of old, the Highland and Lowland Barbarian Celts, the Ostro-goths, Visi-goths, and Romans, all managed to fight and kill each other in the most ghastly of manners. All of this was for conquest, home, country, and God. Another warrior, shrouded in mystery, is the Japanese warrior, the Samurai. While the Scottish and Irish cultures considered their selves warrior-poets, the Samurai leaned more towards a warrior-priest or Zealot. The Japanese have a history of being vicious and skilled warriors. In Japan Yesterday and Today Langer states that ," Zen attempts to overcome the duality of self and non-self, of matter and spirit, of life and death. It aims at the discovery of the ultimate reality that underlies everything. It seeks to lead its disciples toward satori, that is "enlightenment" in the sense of utter serenity, composure, and fearlessness. Once this state of mind has been attained, man stands, as Zen puts it, "as a rock in the raging sea." The most important means for the attainment of this state of mind is meditation. Crossing of his legs firmly, sitting erect before a plain wall, the Zen disciple meditates for hours on end. Gradually the physical strain subsides, giving way to a feeling of numbness. It is believed that the practitioner then descends into his inner self and becomes part of it, reaching a condition termed "meditation without thought." Eventually a feeling of utter calm and serenity takes hold of him. The Pure Land teachings appealed to the commoner. But Zen, with its stress on self-discipline, absolute composure in the face of spiritual and material challenges, and aversion to ostentation, doctrinal study, and lengthy sermons, possessed just those qualities that appealed to the warrior. Zen thus became the faith of the Shoguns. Zen masters served as advisers the feudal lords, and Zen became the creed of Japan's warrior, the samurai. Zen inspired the Japanese artist too. The power of concentration that it 4encouraged provided the mental training of the Japanese military man as well as of the highly respected Japanese swordsmith". It is easy to understand that the Samurai was not only respected, but feared by the lower classes. In Twelve Doors to Japan, by Hall and Beardsley, the history of feudalism and the rise of the Samurai is explained: The most characteristic feature of Japanese history at the end of the twelfth century was the rise to prominence of the military aristocracy throughout Japan. As an elite type, the Japanese bushi contrasts sharply with other such types in East Asia, particularly with the Chinese scholar-official. Why it was that Japan developed a kind of military-agrarian society so similar to that of feudal Europe is still very much a matter of conjecture. Perhaps the period of civil imperial rule had never really wiped out the tradition of aristocratic arms bearing which had characterized early Fuji society. At any rate during the Heian age there seems to have been a strong undercurrent toward the reappearance of an armed gentry, especially in local affairs. The need for an elite military class in the Japanese provinces came gradually after the beginning the tenth century and accompanied the decline in effectiveness of the police and military organs of the central government. It accompanied also the growth of the large immune proprietorships, which were required to provide their own enforcement services as a consequence of their immunity. As a result, local officials and provincial families of influence took up the bearing of arms as a social provincial families of influence took up the bearing of arms as a social privilege and combined the functions of local administration or land management with those of enforcement and protection. By the eleventh century the bushi had begun to separate out as a definite functional type. By the twelfth century they had begun to emerge as a dominant leading stratum of society (though the kuge retained the highest social prestige), providing the dominant way of life and key values for the entire culture. As frequently happen, it was not until near the end of the bushi age, after the beginning of the seventeenth century, that this warrior aristocracy became self-conscious of its social function and its common ideals, giving rise to the formulation of the principles of bushido (the warriors way)." Hall and Beardsley also state, " The bushi , though an aristocrat, lived a life which had important differences from that of the court aristocracy. He was a provincial aristocrat professionally dedicated to the bearing of arms. His provincial origin and his cultivation of military skills necessitated a way of life quite different from that of the civil court." The Samurai was the head of his on little world and responsible to the Shogun (the warlord over all Samurai). This responsibility to the Shogun often produced violent punishment aimed at the farmer and peasant when disloyalty occurred . This would later cause the fall of the warrior class. The loyalty of the Samurai was so intense that ritual suicide became a way of cleansing tarnished honor. Hall and Beardsley describe ritual suicide and the reason for it by stating," In contrast to the courtiers of the previous age, the bushi was preoccupied with problems of the sword and land. He emphasized , in contrast to the genteel accomplishments of the kuge, such qualities as loyalty, honor, fearlessness, and frugality. The two most cherished symbols of the bushi class were the sword( the soul of the Samurai) and the cherry blossom (the petals of which fall with the first breath of wind just as the samurai gives up his life without regret for his lord).The bushi often lived a life of harsh physical discipline(either by necessity or by choice),enduring extreme rigors in the belief that they were "building character." He was trained to scorn an easy life( which to him was a luxury)because of its softening influence. He even scorned an easy way of taking his life. (Suicide now gained respectability as an honorable way out.) The Japanese bushi, by resorting to the slashing of the bowels(seppuku) as his method of suicide, literally showed himself worthy of a class that prided itself on "having guts." " Living the life of the samurai was no easy task and with small civil wars occurring some Lords were sometimes killed. This would leave the possibility of a Samurai without a master. This masterless Samurai, or Ronin, was considered an outcast. Today some students who have graduated from high school ,but are having to wait to attend because of lack of space in universities are now referred to as "ronins." Even after the fall of the Samurai way of feudalism Japan still feels this mighty warrior class's influence in small and large ways. Even during World War II soldiers were trained in the art of akido (which is the art of sword fighting that the Samurai had to learn). Because of the later rise of the merchants into higher economic status the Samurai often took out mandatory loans from the merchants(this is also discussed in Twelve Doors to Japan). Growing unrest with the strictness of the Samurai and outer influences led to the final fall of the Samurai class. It is still thought that many people in authority in Japan today are descendants of the Samurai class. Even with all the later hostility towards the Samurai the Japanese culture still holds the ideals of the Samurai in high regard. The religious dedication to a certain cause and determination to perform the required duty with honor is still what is wanted in the young. In the culture of Japan the warrior, the Samuri will always have a place of great respect and a heroic air . He was and is the warrior of Japan. His legend survived all the conflict and rebellion and still thrives today. Bibliography Celtic Myths and Legends Charles Squire Random House 1994 The Scottish Chiefs Jane Porter Charles Scribner's Sons 1956 Japan Yesterday and Today Paul F. Langer Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc. 1966 Twelve Doors to Japan John Whitney Hall, Richard K. Beardsley McGraw-Hill Book Company 1965

 



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