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What is Bushido? Introduction to the Samurai Way of Life

Bushido is a Japanese concept that filters into most forms of Japanese martial arts, but it has its origins in the Samurai era in Japanese history. Bushido may be an ancient concept, but the principles have impacted Japanese life to this day, including aspects of business.

Bushido is the moral code by which the Samurai lived and conducted their affairs, including their family lives. The warrior code included aspects of honor, integrity, justice, courage, mercy, loyalty, self-control, and manners. Breaking the code would bring dishonor to the family of the Samurai.

Bushido has been romanticized in modern times, especially by the moviemaking industry. The code is not as defined as many portray it to be and has a varied history, which is interesting and enlightening. We explain Bushido in simple terms to gain an understanding of this cultural aspect of the Japanese way of life.

The History of Bushido

Bushido originated in the era of the Samurai in Japanese history. The Samurai were warrior clans that offered their fighting skills to many people, mostly certain nobles and warlords of 10th-century Japan.

The Samurai were considered nobility and were born into the Samurai tradition rather than choosing it as a way of life.

The military clans had a strict way of life, living to code of loyalty, sincerity, frugal living, mastery of martial arts, and honor till death.

Not all the Samurai subscribed to the same ethical code and moral values, leading to variations in Bushido from clan to clan. Each Samurai applied the code differently, depending on their moral character and devotion to their clan.

Bushido is an umbrella term used to describe the code by which the Samurai clans lived and performed their business. In later years, Bushido was condensed into a code of 8 virtues or principles.

Bushido is often compared to the western ideology of chivalry but was a much more complex and disciplined personal code than chivalry.

Not all Samurai lived by the Bushido code and were scoundrels that abused their position of power and upper-class standing in the community and were only interested in personal gain.

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What Does Bushido Mean?

Bushido translates as “the way of the warrior” and dictates the morals, lifestyle, behavior, philosophies, and principles expected of a noble warrior of this stature.

The Samurai were essentially soldiers for hire, the equivalent of the western mercenary. While the western mercenary was looked down upon in western culture as someone with low morals and few principles, the opposite was true of the Samurai.

Western mercenaries were considered greedy soldiers with no principles, only after financial gain, and would switch sides if the price was right.

The Samurai, in contrast, was seen as a soldier of character, discipline, and upstanding morals, loyal to the point of death.

Bushido was a way of life for the Samurai and consisted of several moral codes by which every aspect of their lives was governed. 

What are the Bushido Codes?

Although there were variations in the Bushido code between different Samurai clans, the code can be summed up in 8 values of principles that covered the majority of the codes of these clans.

The book Bushido: Soul of Japan, written by Inazo Nitobe, condensed the principles into the 8 codes of Bushido.

  1. Justice. Justice or rectitude is described as doing the right thing in the pursuit of war and daily life.
  2. Courage. Courage in Bushido is not the same as bravery. Courage in Bushido is defined as the courage to do what is right and stand for justice. 
  3. Mercy. Benevolence is often the better word to describe Bushido’s mercy. It is seen as having the power of life and death in your hand but choosing wisely in the execution of that power.
  4. Politeness. Politeness in the Bushido code is not from a position of servitude to a master, but rather manners in the western sense of the word, or mutual respect.
  5. Sincerity. Honesty, sincerity, and frugal living were seen as virtues for a Samurai. Luxury and money were seen to make a man weak, whereas the abstinence of a frugal life taught the discipline required by a warrior. Samurai did not talk about money or flaunt their riches.
  6. Honor. Dignity and a high moral standing were considered more valuable than life itself. Rituals of death were often implemented to restore tainted honor.
  7. Loyalty. Loyalty was a core principle of the Bushido code, even if it meant the Samurai had to die for the person to whom they were indebted or had hired them.
  8. Self-control. Self-control was seen as a manly warrior trait in the Samurai and a sign of good character. How a man lives his life demonstrates his standing, honor, and pride in his clan, requiring self-control in all aspects of life.
This video further explains the eight codes of Bushido

Is Bushido a martial art or a philosophy?

Bushido is not a martial art, and it is more than a philosophy. It is a moral code that dictates a lifestyle. Bushido was not a teaching or a theory but a set of rules by which the Samurai chose to live their lives, conduct business, war, and their households.

The spirit of Bushido and the discipline it evokes has found its way into the core principles of many eastern martial arts.

Was Bushido created for Samurai?

Bushido was not created for the Samurai but by the Samurai as a moral and lifestyle code that suited their warrior culture.

Bushido was important for the Samurai because it set them apart from other clans, and the discipline required to stick to the warrior code followed through to their disciplined life as a warrior.

Training to master the art of war and martial arts techniques required a level of discipline that most other people do not encounter in their daily lives. Following the Bushido code allowed the Samurai to take their warrior training into the way they lived their lives, and it became a lifestyle.

Following the Bushido code was not limited to Samurai only. Anyone was allowed to choose to adopt the Bushido principles for their lifestyle, but you cannot call yourself a Samurai simply by following the code. True Samurai was born into the role rather than choosing it as a lifestyle.

If a Samurai broke the Bushido code, he was considered to have lost his honor and disgraced his family. Generally, the only way to atone for this code breach and regain honor was to commit ritual suicide. The ritual suicide was either seppuku, a ritual decapitation, or hara-kiri, a ritual disembowelment followed by seppuku.

Is Bushido still around?

Bushido as a philosophy and way of life still exists today. Many Japanese businesses operate with a set of principles that stem from the Bushido code.

Even in this modern age, people are free to live according to the Bushido code and adapt their lifestyles to align with the code’s principles.

Some people find that the discipline that Bushido gives them helps to stay focused in other areas of their lives.

UFC fighter Jiří Procházka is a student of the Bushido code and has decided to apply these principles to his fighting career and lifestyle.

Prior to UFC 282, Prochazka severely injured his shoulder while training and couldn’t defend his UFC light heavyweight title. Instead of holding onto his title, Prochazka voluntarily vacated it out of respect for other fighters in the division so they could fight for it. Here, Prochazka demonstrated that he adheres to the Bushido code of respect for others.

Is Bushido applicable to non-martial artists?

Bushido is a moral code that can be applied to any area of life and to people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Non-martial people can apply Bushido principles in their business dealings, personal relationships, and family lives. The sense of justice, discipline, manners, and honor integral to Bushido can benefit anyone in any walk of life.

What is a Samurai?

Samurai were a warrior class of families in ancient Japanese culture. War was their specialty, and they were skilled soldiers that hired themselves out for their fighting skills.

drawing of a group of four Samurai

Most Samurai lived by a strict moral code that dictated every aspect of their lives. This code was applied to their fighting style, business negotiations, and family life.

Do Samurai still exist?

The Samurai clans of the past still exist in Japan today, but they are no longer in the business of war or hire themselves out for their fighting skills.

The modern descendants of the Samurai are normal people in society, although still fiercely proud of their warrior heritage.

Is “The Last Samurai” movie a true story?

The blockbuster movie, The Last Samurai, was a work of fiction based on real historical events. Saigo Takamori, or Takanaga, was indeed the last Samurai and died in 1877 during the final battle of the Satsuma Rebellion, the battle of Shiroyama, where the Samurai were defeated, and Saigo was killed.

The white man in the movie is depicted as an American, but the only white man to ever be honored as a Samurai was Frenchman Jules Brunet, upon which Tom Cruise’s character in the movie, Captain Algren, is based.


The Samurai may no longer be around, but Bushido, the moral code by which they lived and conducted their lives, is still alive and well. The disciplines of Bushido are evident in many martial arts and in the ethos of Japanese business and economic policies.

Bushido principles can benefit anyone on any walk of life and bring discipline and integrity to their lifestyle!