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28 Aug 2015
Hired Mercenaries - Feudal Japan (1185-1600)

The samurai, who had been warriors for the daimyo or warlords, played pivotal roles in wars plus Japanese history all the way from the Heian Period (794-1185), the very last period of Classical Japan (537-1185), towards the end of the Feudal or Medieval Japan (1185-1600). Within these period samurai who were also bushi (warrior) developed military fighting systems collectively referred to as 'bujutsu', 'budo' or 'bugei'.


Unlike the way we often picture the samurais, they obtained with the yumi (bow) and arrow for their main weapon and mainly installed on horseback in their o-yoroi armour. They eventually became headhunters who ran far from battlefields after slaying their opponents to get their reward upon presenting the heads of their enemies, as payments were made upon proof of kill. They grew disloyal with their warlords as they switched from warlords to warlords, in other words reserved no loyalty firstly, like how modern career men switching from companies to companies.

From Warriors to Practitioners - Edo Period (1603-1868)

The Edo Period (1603-1868) was the age after Feudal Japan became peaceful prosperous and unified ruled through the Tokugawa Shogunate. This became the setting for a lot of samurai movies, TV shows and Anime where society was divided into four classes based on Confucianism: samurai, farming peasants, artisans and merchants.

Samurais composed only 7-8% of the population and had legal rights to carry the katana (long sword) and the wakizashi (short sword) also to cut down commoners who compromised their honour. Despite their weaponry rights, they'd no military significance and served only denoting class rather than for combat, and were limited from owning land. On the other hand, peasants, merchants and artisans owned land, produced goods and income, paid taxes to the daimyo, but were outlawed from carrying weapons. Commoners grew wealthy whilst the daimyo collected taxes and paid their samurais a stipend. Even though some samurai were aristocrats and remained their relationship making use of their lords, masterless samurai became known as ronin.

Without having rights to land and lots of free time, the skills in the samurai were preserved as a form of discipline and warrior-like art as opposed to for actual combat use. It absolutely was also in this time that the warrior code of ethics and chivalry, Bushido was formalised.

From Practical Skill to Philosophy - Meiji Period (1868-1912)
Using the introduction of Bushido, the samurais 'officially' transformed from murderous warriors to symbols of class, discipline and ethics after the Edo Period. As the last of the ronin disappeared in the face of the land with the rising sun, like a mirage from the past, style practitioners transformed from practitioners of killing arts and disciplines to practitioners of a way of life and philosophy within the mid of the Meiji Period using the introduction of budo.

What was originally meant to be a powerful, effective fighting system and most importantly simple and quick to learn for military purposes included complexity as it became a form of physical discipline that takes lifetime to master. This physical discipline was philosophised and to some extent mystified becoming a way of life for not just body, but mind and soul also. The popularisation of Bushido in the modern world as an introduction to free airline and revival towards the East further promoted the idea of martial art as a philosophy and life-style as opposed to pure combat.


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