Military Training to Become a Samurai

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Military Training to Become a Samurai
Samurai have been one of the central figures in Japanese history. (Samurai image by Pontus Edenberg from

The samurai are one of the central elements of Japanese history. Scholar Lisa J. Robertson reveals that the Japanese warrior class dominated Japan for nearly 700 years, from 1185 until 1868, during which they controlled the Japanese government and fostered a military code of behaviour. Their lives revolved around warfare and the continued need to master military skills. Thus a military training regimen was part and parcel of their activities.

Initial Training

As scholars Thomas Louis and Tommy Ito discuss in "Samurai: The Code of the Warrior," even male children born into samurai families had to be immersed in warrior culture from the moment of birth. Babies were given miniature sword talismans to wear. At the age of 3, a young boy would learn the rudiments of sword fighting with blunt wooden swords. At 5, boys would receive their first real swords for self-defence. Between 13 and 16, they would come of age, receive their first armour and samurai swords, and could fight in battles.

Formal Training

Louis and Ito say that during the Age of Warring States---from the 15th to the 17th centuries---samurai schools were established in which masters or senseis would teach students from wealthier families the intricacies of battle, life as a samurai, and literature and the arts as well. Particularly emphasised was Bushido---the code of conduct that samurai strictly followed, and which emphasised key virtues like self-sacrifice, obedience, loyalty and honour. Lower-class families that could not afford such training had to be content with sending their children to village schools for basic instruction and to their male warrior relatives for samurai training.

Samurai Women

Louis and Ito reveal that although women born into samurai families and clans did not receive formal education, they managed and defended their husbands' estates while they were away---and as such also did receive martial arts training. Many examples exist of such trained women fighting alongside their husbands. Tomoe Gozen, the most famous samurai woman of all, was a famed warrior who fought during the Gempei War, the vicious battle between the Taira and Minamoto elite clans.

Practice Sessions

Irrespective of warriors' rank, wealth or age, daily practice sessions were a vital part of samurai life. When not on a military campaign, most of a samurai's time was spent honing his fighting abilities as well as his mental strength. Practice sessions and movements focused on building attack, defence and counterattack skills.

Weaponry Skills

Samurai training and practice sessions intended to confer skill at wielding a very wide array of Japanese weaponry. Aside from the basic samurai sword, or katana, samurai were also trained in the use of other weapons, like a special short version of the yari or straight-headed spear, the naginata---a wooden shaft incorporating a blade at the end---and the yumi, or longbow. Samurai women were trained in the use of the kaiken, or knife. In more modern times, samurai even became skilled in the use of Western weapons like cannons and guns.

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