Let me write about Bushido again. Today it’s about history and what’s behind it. If you are not intrigued by the entangled talk of mind and philosophy, it’s not for you. I just want to give you a heads-up because I would not like you to waste your time. But if you are interested in those areas, it might be interesting. It is also a long one, so please be careful. This is totally from my perspective so I might be wrong. Please keep that in mind, too. 🙂
Japan was a pretty free country before Edo period. When I say free, I am talking about a spiritual state and not about the system of society or their legal conditions. Then samurais came. They were soldiers. Before that, aristocrats were ruling the country. Then the military government had ruled JAPAN from 1192 till 1945. After that JAPAN has been a country of merchants and farmers.
But actually, the military government is not the reason for the existence of freedom of its lack thereof. Before Yeyasu, who had established the government which had lasted 270 years, some historians say that the relationship between Japanese lords and soldiers were based more on contracts than royalty and allegiance. This is my amateur thinking so I might be wrong but the way I see it, that was because the state of the country.
Japan at that time was in the greatest civil war periods. Some referred to it as a “dog-eat-dog” era. The most famous case was what happened to Lord Nobunaga Oda, who laid waste to almost all the militarily powerful lords who succeeded in having most of the lords in their areas under control. At that time, after the lord who was ruling Japan fled the capital, anything was possible. JAPAN was a unique country. The emperor was there and he was respected but he was more like God or something. He did not have a say in any matter. The only thing he was allowed to do was to assign one of the lords as Shogun or the lord-general who will subdue the barbarians in the East. Being awarded this title meant that he is the ruler of Japan, until such time that the emperor assigns another lord to that position. Harming the emperor is a great treason and nobody would try that because it would give other lords to unite and attack the slayer. So the emperor became a tool to be used by strong lords.
So, the one who decimated most of his strong adversaries, went to the old capital of Kyoto, bludgeoned the emperor into making him the general and fending off all the other ambitious lords who dared challenge him to the throne rather than to kneel before the general was able to open up his own government and have his own way, enjoying all the privileges and prerogatives. it was like a great tournament taking place nationwide with each lord’s life on the line. You decimate all the lords of the manors in your area (some emerged from groups of thieves and thugs). You become the areal champion. Then you beat the champions from other regions. Then you will go to Kyoto and claim your hegemony,. You know the drill.
Then Lord Nobunaga, who achieved the unprecedented upset of all time and beat one of the most powerful lords (who had the army ten times larger than his army) and drew attention, “creamed” most of the other lords and even the radical Buddhism-based lords who had a large number of armed monks. They are such pains in the butt for all the lords because they hid behind the gate of sacred temples when they were attacked. In those days they still had a certain amount of fear and respect toward religious figures. They believed they might get punishment after death (like going to hell) if they kill monks. Then those religion-based lords had a lot of farmers and townspeople under their protection. Most of the soldiers used to be farmers (or part time soldiers and actually farmers when there’s no war) so many relatives of the soldiers were believers of those religions or they were even in the temple when war happened. Then Lord Nobunaga burned all the temples down with civilians in them and gave protection to the religion of his own choosing alone. Actually he took to Christianity who arrived in Japan for the first time in history at that time (so he was a devil to the Buddhists and an angel to the missionaries). Nobunaga, through those missionaries, obtained modern weapons like rifles and armors, and those ‘cutting-edge’ technologies helped him beat the other lords to the punch. The battle against the most powerful lord, Lord Takeda, who was said to be much more powerful than Oda, was all time favorite of the historians. Lord Takeda perished completely by the new tactics which made the most of those rifles by Oda. He was a tactical genius, too. What’s more amazing was he and Yeyasu hired many talented subordinates of Takeda, among whom there were many famous Ninjas and Samurais.
Then just on the threshold of Kyoto, in a small temple, Nobunaga was killed by his right hand man, Mitupsuhide Akechi, which was the greatest, unprecedented “backstabbing” in Japanese history. The rumor had it that Nobunaga said, “if Mituhide is doing this, I am doomed. His plan cannot go wrong. His plan has always been flawless? I will give up and die.” (His corpse was never recovered, though) He trusted the man that much. Mitsuhide, though his plan was perfect and once claimed to be the general, failed to see the future. He was soon killed by Hideyoshi, another right hand man of Nobunaga and he become the general, whose son, after his death, lost to one of Nobunaga’s allies, Yeyasu, and Yeyasu would start Edo period, the most peaceful era in Japanese history which lasted 270 years. So it’s game of the thrones!
As you can see, in this era, military power (and economic power to support it) was everything. So they even headhunted the soldiers of ability. Hideyoshi mentioned above is said to be a son of a poor farmer who was selling a mat. Then he got hired by Nobunaga, got promoted by achieving difficult tasks like building forts inside their enemy territory overnight and rises to be one of the strongest entourages of Nobunaga. A “Japanese” dream (like an American dream) was there. That is why people were honing their sword skills. Musashi Miyamoto in the end gave up, turned into a sacred master of the sword and dwelled in the cave, writing a bible for swordsmanship, but when he was young, he volunteered as a war soldier because he wanted to be the master of a castle, the dream of every ambitious man at that time. So if was exactly like “Game of Thrones” except for the fact that there were no magics and dragons (but who knows, right?).
So what I want to be clear here is the philosophy of that bushido, noble and humble, was developed after the beginning of Edo period partly because Yeyasu wants some noble and humble philosophy that can contain the natural instinct and inclination of soldiers. If he gets rid of them, their government will be weakened and easily turned over because obviously there were so many lords out there who wanted to upset the apple cart and challenge the lord-general to his rule. But if he can’t contain them, they will hurt their own citizens and he was wise enough to know that, in the final analysis, it would lead to grievances that eventually the crack in the wall of the huge strong wall. Also, unless he won over the allegiances of his own soldiers, the same thing he did to the son of the former lord-general would happen. His government would be turned over in his sons’ time. So he saw to it that this philosophy would change the total atmosphere of the “dog-eat-dog” world of the civil war period. Also Japanese society started to be a peaceful one. Then unless those swordsmen had some commercial, political or literal abilities, they could not land any decent jobs and make living. Eventually, the government started to lay off soldiers then that ended up with many unemployed thugs on the street. They rob, kill and rape ordinary townspeople but the government was not capable of feeding all the soldiers. In war time, the government condoned over their robbing the defeated. When there’s no war, there was no quid pro quo. On a large scale, they gathered under some protestors, made war and got killed but many of them became the teachers of the sword skills because to be political leaders or civil servants for that matte, you need to have good sword skills as well as academic skills. It’s a military government, anyway.
So the swordsmanship was the way of murdering, too. When I learned Iai, I learned to draw a sword from any condition. Basically, I keep low-profile. When I am sitting, with drawing up the right knee, you block the attack with scabbard and on the next action, you jump, draw sword, start to cut at your enemy and in a split second you are half standing, ready to defend or attack depending on the situation. You narrow your eyes and never stare at anything. You train your peripheral visions so you can capture any movement at the corner of your eyes. When you stare, most of the time, it is fake. You either try to trick your opponent into attacking the part you want him to attack, so you can, in the next action, dodge and attack your opponent at the same time. Or you attack somewhere else. If you are a basketball player or a football player, you know the drill.
So to describe sword fight, I want to use an oxymoron. Peaceful violence. Or peaceful mind with violence. Either way, the mind works peacefully but the body is so relentless and ruthless. I don’t say it is the best but it is one of the most sophisticated and refined art of killing people. I also sometimes want to see this in an American TV drama.