Kult of Athena


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Armored Ninjas

Samurai. The word means "to serve." In any function, in any scenario, in any way the Emperor or the lord of their daimyo, their clan, asked them too, these noble and savage swordsman, these elite warriors of feudal Japan, would obey. Their one life's purpose was the dedication to perfection. Their training was disciplined and precise. Their focus, unwavering. These men, would train their minds, bodies, even their very souls in Bushido, the way of the warrior. Solemn, dignified, noble, and very deadly, the Samurai were at the right hands of every ruler of the island of Japan until it's modernization, and eventual outlawing of the wearing of swords and the Samurai code, in the late 1870's. Theirs is a rich and vibrant history of savage warfare and unyielding honor.

To this day, many modern and major businesses in Japan still utilize the teachings of Bushido and the Samurai to ens till a fearlessness, honor, calm, and at times even ruthlessness, in their executives. But what is the code of the Samurai? To what personal goals do they aspire? The seven main virtues of the code of Bushido, which every Samurai, every true Samurai, not Ronin (masterless Samurais and outcasts) thieves calling themselves true Samurai, would adopt are:

  • Justice

  • Courage

  • Benevolence

  • Respect

  • Honesty

  • Honor

  • Loyalty

The Samurai based everyday of their lives on these principles, but coupled with their incredible fearlessness and fighting prowess. There is a translated text, "Bushido: The Way of the Samurai, that is written by Minoru Tanaka.

This book is a translation of the "Hagakure" or "Hidden Behind the Leaves (the secret thoughts)" of Tsunetomo Yamamoto, a legendary Samurai from the 1700's. Within its pages, you will find not only the explanation of Bushido, but the Samurai perspective on all aspects of life from death ("Always choose death, every morning. Die anew everyday and that way you can free your mind of the troubles of life and serve your master and lord"), to "Yes Men," ("They, obedient "yes men," will always fall behind their colleagues. A man should be strong and full of vitality in his choices."), dreams ("Dreams are the expression of your inner most person."), victory in battle ("Cut down the gods if they stand with your enemy"), even how to stop from yawning ("Stroke your forehead to prevent from yawning. If not that, then lap the inside of your lips with your tongue.If you yawn in someones face it will look silly and foolish.")

This book, like the Samurai themselves, takes careful measure of many of the major social and physical aspects of daily life and produces expert ways in which to overcome them and live by their code.

But aside from the great philosophies of wizened Samurai like Yamamoto, the Samurai's daily life consisted of some of the most rigorous and intricate martial training known to man. These were the upper caste warrior elite of Japan; charged with the protection of the life of their lord. Failure through weak training was not an option. If they brought any dishonor to either themselves or their names, they would KILL themselves on the spot using a process they called Harakiri or Sepuku.

The Samurai were masters of Kendo, "The Way of the Sword," Judo, Aikido, Kung Fu, Karate, and Tae Kwon Do. They were as deadly with their hands as with their razor sharp swords and trained thoroughly everyday in order that they may hone their fighting skills and reflexes to perfect precision.

(As a student and lover of the sword and the martial arts, I have located a Kendo Club here in Massachusetts in which to learn the marvelous art: South Shore Kendo and Swordmaster Martial Arts at 582 Washington Street in Quincy, MA)

Now, aside from the fierce fighting discipline of the Samurai in hand to hand combat, one of the greatest, if not the greatest legacy of the Samurai are their fabulous swords. These works of the highest magnitude of craftsmanship were the Samurai's most prized possession. It was the extension of his arm's fighting ability and the essence of his very soul. A Samurai's sword was brought to the birthing chamber for his first draw of air and laid to rest with him at the moment of his last. Swords were passed down from father to son as heirlooms of strength and power and a symbol of the nobility, divine inspiration, and an ultimate weapon to uphold the Samurai Code.

The finest examples of these weapons that I have had the privilege to witness was an exhibition at the British Museum when I was a lad of 20 summers. A girlfriend at the time and I had just ended our tenure as a couple in London; leaving me to view these amazing treasures in my own time. Awwww!

Stop that! Be like a Samurai and do not weep for my pain. She hated the sword (God forbid!) and would not have gone in either case. But, I went and what I saw was no less than epic.

There were three major styles of the sword in Japan: Koto (Old Swords)(794-1185)

, Shinto (New Swords)(Approximately 1600),

and Shinshinto (New-new Swords)(1750-1852)

I wanted to kneel. I wanted to stay there forever marveling at the way man had used his hands to create something so graceful, so light, and yet so sharp and deadly. When you consider the forging techniques of each one of these harbingers of death, you cannot help but feel awe. Japanese swordsmiths, though some slight aesthetic elements have changed, as have the strength of the metals and alloys used in the forging process, have been adopting the same methods for forging as their ancestors did in ancient days.

It's Discovery and They Have British Accents So You Know It's Super Educational. I'll Let The Video Speak For The Forging Process

The pieces of the sword are then constructed to form the whole of the sword,

and the Samurai would be ready for battle

The Japanese Katana is one of the world's strongest and most elegant weapons. But, it pales in comparison to two of the deadliest Samurai (and human) weapons of all: the Samurai's mind and the hand that wields the sword. Nowhere is this more evident than in the legend of Japan's most renowned swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi. As the story goes, Musashi, who is now known as the "Sword Saint" in Japan, lived under the rule of Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was an unmatched fighter and by the time he was 28 years old, he had defeated and killed over 60 Samurai in one-on-one combat and fought in war 6 times. His sword was so deadly that Ronin, as well as feudal lords, would seek him out to make their names great by his death. None ever succeeded.

On one such occasion the great Samurai swordsman Sasaki Kojiro challenged Musashi to a duel on a deserted island. But, when the time for the duel came, 8:00am, Musashi was not there. An emissary was sent to find Musashi, and the man stumbled upon the Samurai happily snoring away in his room. Wakened by the nervous attendant, Musashi got up, without washing, and went to the boat that would take him to his duel. Along the way, he fashioned a bokken, or wooden sword, from an extra oar and gave no more heed to his opponent.

Infuriated at the young upstart for being late, and for coming unwashed and seemingly unprepared, Kojiro angrily threw his scabbard into the water that surrounded the island.

"You see," said Musashi "I have already won. No man who thinks he will win would dare to throw away his scabbard, the resting place for his weapon." Kojiro, overcome by his rage at this point flew at Musashi with a vicious overhead chop. His enemy, blinded by this brilliant psychological tactic, Musashi blocked the descending blade and sidestepped the warrior easily. Musashi then raised his bokken oar and smashed Kojiro hard in the head.

Kojiro's blood stained the peaceful waters. Musashi bowed to the stunned onlookers and then rowed slowly away in his boat.

The cunning of Musashi, his reluctance to stand on ceremony to gain the advantage, and his deadly skill with his hands, no matter what they were holding, won him the day. The true Samurai spirit lives in the man, and the sword becomes a living extension of that skill.

In modern Japan, and worldwide, the spirit of the Japanese Samurai lives on through the martial training and self discipline of dedicated students. The living steel, forged by masters taught in the ancient traditions, lives on through collectors and devoted students of the blade. The prices for such weapons can range from $60.00 to approximately $14,000.00, depending on the craftsmanship of the weapon.

There are a multitude of US and Japanese vendors, all located and well priced at your favorite vendor and mine, Kult of Athena. But more than that, there are men who embody the heart and soul of the Katana. Men like Kiyochika Kanehama. Kanehama is the real Hattori Hanzo (played by Sonny Chiba in the Kill Bill movies).

(It is a common misconception that Hattori Hanzo was or is a real swordsmith on the island of Okinawa. In reality, Hanzo (Chiba) is one of two things: Pure Hollywood or the fictional embodyment of the character of Hattori "Devil" Hanzo, a Japanese Samurai in the late 1500's.Whatever the case, Chiba's role was superb in Hollywood, and Kanehama fills it perfectly in the real world.)

Whether on film or on the islands of Okinawa, whether made of wood or of the finest hammer-folded steel, whether in the hands of a young boy from Fukushima city in the Tohoku region of Japan (where original Katana, Ko-Katana, Wakizashi, and Tanto blades are created), or a young boy from Illinois receiving an amazing Christmas gift, the spirit of the Samurai and the Samurai sword lives on. The pride and valor of these noble warriors echoes through the ages and beckons us to stand and face evil and injustice with a steady heart and strong shining steel.