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The Japanese warrior, known as the samurai, has played a significant role in Japan's history and culture throughout the centuries. Their ancestors can be traced back to as far as can be remembered. Some stories have become mysterious legends handed down over the centuries. In this report you will learn who the samurai were, their origins as we know them, how they lived and fought and their evolution to today. It will be clear why the samurai stand out as one of the most famous group of warriors of all times.

Looking back in time, the first Japanese battles recorded are in the first few centuries AD. At this time Japanese warriors went across the sea to Korea to help one kingdom battling two rival kingdoms. Four hundred men set out and fought on foot carrying their bows, spears and swords. They were quickly beaten by warriors attacking on horseback. They probably had never seen an attack like that before, with horses being ridden. Even though there were horses in Japan they had not been used for riding or fighting, but to help in carrying and pulling goods. In the next century, however, there is evidence that horses were being ridden and used in warfare by warriors who would later be called samurai (History Channel).

The term samurai was first used in the 10th century and means "those who serve". In the beginning it stood for men who guarded the capital for the Emperor, some where used as tax collectors. Later the word grew to include any military man who served a powerful landlord, almost like a police force for that time. They would go around the countryside on horseback collecting taxes from the peasants, often this was in the form of rice. This money helped the Emperor pay for his lavish life style. The word, samurai, quickly spread and was respected (and maybe feared a little) for the men it represented.

The noblemen depended on the strength of the samurai. Since their power and wealth was directly related to how much land they owned, the noblemen kept small armies of samurai to protect their property from thieves and invaders. Eventually many noble families joined together to form clans that became more powerful than the emperor, who was the traditional head of the Japanese government (How Samurai Work 11). In the 12th century the two most powerful clans were the Minomoto and the Taira. The two came to battle in 1160 with the Taira winning. Twenty years later in 1180 those Minomotos who had escaped death (they were children during the first attack) led a new attack that turned into a war that lasted five years and was called the Gempei War. The Minamotos won, and the emperor made Minamoto Yoritomo shogun, the head of the military. Yoritomo however wanted more and took all power away from the emperor and made himself dictator. At this time the samurai gained power, through land given to them by the new shogun. Their rise in status was beginning.

The battles that were fought during The Gempei War were very important in the history of the samurai. They set a new and honorable standard for all samurai to live by. These standards would last throughout the existence of the samurai warrior. The Gempei War provided a role model for Japanese samurai's courageous and noble behavior (Turnbull 14). Almost all the important characteristics attributed the samurai culture came out of the Gempei war; "Archery, hand-to-hand fighting, undying loyalty to one's lord and the tremendous tradition of ritual suicide all have key passages and proof texts in the tales of the Gempi War"(Turnbull 15).

The samurai had an unwritten code of honor called the bushido. Bushido means "way of the warrior" (History of the Samurai 3). This provided them with a code to help show them how to live and conduct themselves at home and in battle. One of the most important duties of the samurai was their loyalty to their lord. The samurai would defend their lord until the death. Revenge was also central in the samurai's life and if someone had killed their master or attacked their master's honor revenge must be gotten. The same vengeance was given if they themselves or their family were disrespected or defeated.

Not just anyone could become a samurai warrior. You had to be the child of a samurai, being born into this class was a privilege. The samurai were not all rich, in fact their wealth was judged on the amount of Koku (which is the amount of rice that the fields produced). Other things like the size of the samurai's house were based upon the wealth and rank of the samurai.

There were also strict traditions to be followed for a young samurai. When a samurai was born, he would be given a small sword charm to wear on his belt. When the boy is five he gets his first haircut and begins to learn martial arts. At age seven he receives his first wide trousers called hakama. When the young samurai is fifteen he goes through a ceremony called gembuku where the boy becomes a man. He then receives his adult name, his adult haircut, and his first real sword and armor. Most boys would be taught combat skills by their father and eventually as he got older he would be taught by a local sensei. Those boys from wealthier families were expected to be educated men and may be sent to an academy where they would study literature and the arts along with martial arts.

The training of the samurai for battle was intensive. There was more than just physical training involved. Strong mental concentration and focus were necessary to channel their energies before battle. The samurai warrior would spend endless hours practicing a set of complex battle movements called kata. "This practice started slowly at first increasing speed, until they became effortless and perfect. The movements were based on strategies of attack, defense, and counterattack" (Gaskin & Hawkins 73). However, the only way these young samurais would ever gain experience is to take part in actual battle. So the sons of the samurai would follow their fathers into battle to test their newly learned fighting techniques.

The samurai were also known for having a psychic awareness of the world around them in addition to their great skill. This is something practiced from an early age as well. An example of this keen awareness is seen in the story of three brothers told by their father. The father decided to test the ability of his three sons. He placed a vase on top a door so that it would fall when someone entered. The youngest son entered the room and he cut the vase in half with his sword before it hit the ground. The father's response was, "This son has a long way to go." Then he called for his middle son, this son caught the vase right above his head. This time his father's response was that, "he is strong and improving but still has much to learn."



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