The Way of the Warrior: The Development and Virtues of the Martial Philosophy in Feudal Japan and Europe
Beiting, Christopher J.
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Many cultures in history have passed through what we call a feudal age. The most basic unit of feudalism is the bond of loyalty between an individual and his lord. The stronger that bond, and the more important it is to a culture, the more both individuals and their oath will undergo a process of ritualization, and acquire a position apart from and usually above other classes in society. Most of the individuals binding themselves to an overlord tend to be warriors of one stripe or another, and in a strong feudal society will be among its most visible and important members. Many historians, chiefly Archibald Lewis, have remarked upon the similarity of the feudal developments of both Japan and Europe. Most of them confine their analyses to a consideration of the nature of the feudal contract, with the divisions of land, or with the nature of power in general. Lewis' work is entitled Knights and Samurai--a somewhat misleading title, since the chief focus of his work is an analysis of comparative historical development, but he does briefly consider the similarities between the chief vassals in both cultures, the samurai in Japan and the knights in Europe. Without a doubt, both groups occupied a similar position in both their societies, and were also very similar in character. In both feudal Europe and feudal Japan there arose a set of beliefs adhered to by the members of these military classes that we may identify by the general term Way of the Warrior. Japan's version of the Way of the Warrior we call bushido, Europe's we call chivalry. Both possessed striking similarities. It is at this conclusion that most historians tend to stop. Yet stopping here leaves a few questions uncovered and unresolved: How did this Way develop? How similar was it in both cultures? What comprised its practices and beliefs? How was this Way formulated, expressed, and disseminated in both cultures? It is upon these questions, rather than upon the nature of political power or the individual fighting man and his tactics that this paper will focus. Specifically, I address the question: How did the philosophical development of the Way of the Warrior occur in each culture and how may we compare and contrast it in each culture? I wish particularly to focus upon the component virtues of the Way of the Warrior. By using the term "philosophical" I mean that for the purposes of this paper I will examine only works which set out to consider and/or teach the Way of the Warrior, rather than works which make use of the Way of the Warrior primarily with entertainment in mind. In many ways this will then be a work of comparative philosophy.