When I was a young man new to the martial arts one of the things that attracted me was the historical aspects of the martial arts. I was fascinated by the story of warriors from the past. Old movies such as Ivanhoe, El Cid and others would entertain me for hours on end. One particular group that attracted me for the warriors from ancient Japan known as samurai. I found the stories of their adventures to be exciting and it inspired me to seek out martial arts instruction. After I began my martial arts training I discovered that much of the training involved more than just the physical. Ancient warriors had to be well disciplined in order to accomplish the great feats of courage, bravery, and honor. The samurai are the legendary armored swordsmen of Japan, known to many westerners only as a warrior class, depicted in countless martial arts movies. While being a warrior was central to a samurai’s life, they were also poets, politicians, fathers and farmers. Samurai played a pivotal role in the last 1,500 years of Japanese history. In fact, the history of that period in Japan essentially is the history of the samurai.What is a Samurai? The samurai served many functions in Japan. However, the role in which they are best known is that of warrior. But what is it that makes a samurai different from other warriors in other parts of the world? Wearing armor and using a sword is not enough to make someone into a samurai. Although the samurai and the role they played in Japan changed throughout the centuries, there are four factors that define the concept of the samurai:
- The samurai is a well-trained, highly skilled warrior.
- The samurai serves his master, with absolute loyalty, even to the death. In fact, the word samurai means, “those who serve.”
- The samurai is a member of an elite class, considered superior to common citizens and ordinary foot soldiers.
- The samurai’s life is ruled by Bushido, a strict warrior code emphasizing honor.
The self-discipline required to perfect my martial arts moves had to constantly be tested. Ultimately, my most difficult opponent was myself. Much later, when I began to teach martial arts, I would adapt much of the ancient samurai teachings and principles into my own programs. As a result of many years of research I discovered the “Seven Precepts of Bushido”. I found these precepts best described what we later called “Black Belt Excellence”, which is a phrase we use to describe our constant drive toward becoming a better black belt and person. Some of these precepts might seem a bit extreme especially if they are not training in the martial arts. However, it doesn’t take long to find that these ideals will spill over into the students everyday life. Once that happens the student will see improvement in all areas of their life.
- Honor “A Black Belt does what he believes is right, even if he dies by it. He cannot be bought, because he values respect above money. He cannot hide from himself. He is a free man, but he knows that freedom without honor is barbarity. And when his life is over, if he has honor, he can look at God and say ‘I tried to do Right.'”
- Honesty and Justice (Gi)Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. Believe in justice, not from other people, but from yourself. To the true Black Belt, there are no shades of gray in the question of honesty and justice. There is only right and wrong.
- Complete Sincerity (Makoto)When a Black Belt has said he will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop him from completing what he said he would do. He does not have to “give his word.” He does not have to “promise”. Speaking and doing are the same action.
- Polite Courtesy (Rei)Black Belts have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. A Black Belt is courteous, even to his enemies. Without this outward show of respect, we are nothing more than animals. A Black Belt is not only respected for his strength in battle, but also by his dealing with other men. The true strength of a Black Belt becomes apparent during difficult times.
- Compassion (Jin)Through intense training the Black Belt becomes quick and strong. He is not as other men. He develops a power that must be used for the good of all. He has compassion. He helps his fellow man at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise, he goes out of his way to find one.
- Heroic Courage (Yu)Rise up above the masses of people who are afraid to act. Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. A Black Belt must have Heroic Courage. It is absolutely risky. It is dangerous. It is living life completely, fully, and wonderfully. Heroic Courage is not blind, it is intelligent and strong.
- Duty & Loyalty (Chu)For the Black Belt, having done some “thing” or said some “thing,” he owns that “thing.” He is responsible for it, and all the consequences that follow. A Black Belt is immensely loyal to those in his care. To those he is responsible, he is fiercely true.