Here are some ideas I have been thinking about recently:
Tai Chi contains wisdom passed down through 5000 years of Chinese culture.
Tai Chi itself has a history going back at least 400 years.
Shintaido is the fruit of 400 years of Japanese fighting techniques and martial arts.
I was VERY fortunate to be able to play a central role in the very early development of Shintaido.
Two years ago, Juliette Farkouh (a Shintaido member from the Bay Area) began interviewing me about my life and Shintaido.
This summer she plans to put together her materials in a book, “Ito’s Life and Shintaido.”
According to her interpretation, I have been “elucidating the samurai code” through the way I live my life.
I realized that what she meant by “the samurai code” is the Japanese concept of bushido.
I had always seen myself as pursuing budo (martial arts) or bujutsu (fighting techniques), but I had never considered that I might be seriously researching bushido.
In my generation, the Japanese people who immersed themselves in the world of budo looked on their relationship to their teacher in the same way that a samurai retainer considered his relationship to his lord.
That impression was strengthened for me when I saw the way that Aoki-sensei served Egami-sensei.
So when we established Sogo Budo Renmei, I considered Aoki-sensei as my teacher, my lord. He was the top of the organization.
From the 1990s, as you know so well, Aoki-sensei and I began to have quite a lot of conflict in our relationship.
A series of three samurai movies, by the Japanese director Yoji Yamada and scripted by Shuhei Fujisawa, depict the sad struggle of the main character, a mid-level samurai who sees the problems that are being caused by his lord, and who is responsible for fixing those problems and trying to make things work well.
I realized that, in the “Life Drama of Fugaku”, Hiroyuki Aoki played the role of the irresponsible lord, while the main character Fugaku had the full experience of this kind of sad struggle.
Two traditional ideas in Japan are “devotion to your parents” and “loyalty to your ruler”. If you follow these precepts and you have good, responsible parents and a good, responsible ruler, you will have a wonderful life and society will be enriched. But if your parents are not so good, and your ruler is not so good, then your life lived under their influence will be “a bushido tragedy”.
Strangely, this is the outline that has been played out in my life, even though I didn’t choose it consciously.
This dramatic plot is being played out in Japan on a larger scale.
Recently there has been a shift to the right in Japanese politics.
There is a superficial view that since our defeat in World War II, the Japanese people have become “brainwashed by American culture”, and that bushido has been eliminated from the Japanese consciousness.
If bushido is revived, then Japan will get better, according to their view. But this simplistic approach misses a deeper understanding of bushido and what it offers contemporary Japanese society. I see both a bright side and a dark side to Japanese bushido.
When I think about “the Nanjing problem”, I realize we cannot afford to revive bushido without recognizing and reflecting on the things that happened as a result of the dark side of bushido.
When we look at what happened in Japan after the war, we must not only demand that those who led us into the war take responsibility for what they did, but we must also examine the traditions handed down from the samurai era. When we do that, we see the responsibility for leading us in the wrong direction was shifted from the real leaders to the military, the WWII equivalent of the “mid-level samurai”. We need to recognize this, and to rewrite our recent history so that it shows where the real responsibility lies.
I believe there is a bright side to bushido, too. I think of this as “bushido for peace” and “bushido for justice”. An example is the driving force of bushido that stood up against invasion through the twin engines of Christianity and colonialism from Europe and the United States.
This spirit is not unlike the struggles of the Native American people when white pioneers invaded and unjustly took possession of their lands during the westward expansion of the United States. The Cheyenne, for example, raised their war cry knowing that they would be defeated.
Their courage is remembered even today.
Here are some errors made by the Japanese leadership before WWII (the dark side of bushido):
• They mimicked their enemies by rushing into imperialism and colonialism, bringing a Japanese military presence into the rest of East Asia.
• In governing (assimilating) the areas that they had invaded, they judged the local people according to bushido sensibilities, and looked down on them.
• They used the philosophy of bushido to oppress not only the conquered peoples in Asia, but also the average Japanese populace, especially farmers, in order to build a militarized nation.
Surely the Japanese people who are moving toward more right-wing thinking today have not thought this through?
This is the project to which I wish to dedicate the rest of my life, the time that I have left.
I plan to share my understanding so that a new generation of bushido can be born.
As Japanese, we can set an example. Our actions and behavior become an art form that can transcend national boundaries and resonate in the hearts of everyone who has ears to hear us, creating a chain reaction that brings peace throughout the world.
It’s a steep hill, but for every step we slide back we will march two steps forward!