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A Deadly Art in Tension
“A balance maintained in an artistic work between opposing forces or elements”

By Duane Burkholder

From time to time society has called into question the validity of training and practicing in the art of combat. Many questions have been raised regarding a civilized society having any need for an individual to possess the skills and means for combat.  In this essay I would like to demonstrate that it is the code by which I hold my martial skills in tension which validate these skills. I personally find no difficulty in reconciling a civilized society as also being a martially trained society. What I cannot reconcile is a martially trained society within a virtue-less society or one with low morale. The governing code of the art I currently train in follows the Seven Virtues of Bushido. This code hearkens back to the days of the Samurai in feudal Japan. The original meaning of samurai meant “one who serves,” and it referred to men of noble birth assigned to guard members of the Imperial Court. The Samurai used this code to conduct both their personal and professional lives. Although not all Samurai held themselves to this high standard, most did use these virtues to conduct themselves in a chivalrous manner.

The Seven Virtues of Bushido, carved in the heart of the true Samurai:

Justice - Gi Justice
I believe that justice is the most cogent virtue of Bushido and could be translated literally as “the right thing to do”. Without justice, or rectitude, no amount of talent or learning can make a human into a true martial artist. Samurai Inazo Nitobe states, “Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.” It is the personal rectitude, not martial rectitude alone, which makes this one of the strongest virtues in Bushido.

Courage - Yuki Courage
Courage within martial arts has many facets.  It takes courage to learn a martial art, to push through both the mental and physical conditioning. In addition there is a close relationship between courage and justice. Confucius says: ‘Perceiving what is right and doing it not reveals a lack of Courage.’  Courage is worthy of being counted among these virtues only if it’s exercised in the cause of righteousness and rectitude.

Benevolence - Jin Benevolence
A man who has trained in a deadly art should be acutely aware of the tension of benevolence and the weight it carries in his life.  Anyone with the ability to kill should also be expected to demonstrate equally extraordinary powers of benevolence.  The traits of benevolence include sympathy, mercy, love and affection for others combined with magnanimity of character. Benevolence is among the highest attributes of the soul.

Politeness - Rei Politeness
Politeness and respect go hand in hand with benevolence.  Without benevolence how would you consider the feelings of others? Thus politeness might be described as the benevolent regard for the feelings of others. This aloneis a poor virtue if it’s motivated only by a fear of offending good taste but in its highest form politeness may approach love.

Veracity - Makoto Veracity
Veracity by its definition is “Habitual truthfulness.” However, without the building block of courage, veracity becomes weak and insincere.  Any man or woman who intends to guide their life by the virtue of veracity will need the courage to speak the truth. Life presents us with unique dilemmas that threaten our desire for truthfulness.The other facet of veracity is honesty. In the code of Bushido honesty directly related to money, business, and our dealing with others.  It is my opinion that honesty and truthfulness can be summed up within the Golden Rule or the ethic of reciprocity which state that “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself”.

Loyalty - Chugi Loyalty
Loyalty, through the lens of our martial art, speaks to holding to the tradition of honoring our elders. We hold to a strong feeling of support and allegiance to the ones that have blazed a trail before us thereby enabling us to more efficiently learn and apply our art. Loyalty in our modern culture is a virtue that has been almost completely lost. Loyalty to a samurai meant the difference between life and death. I contend that the lack of loyalty has been a large contributor to the downfall of our society.

Honor - Meiyo Honor
Honor though last, is the strongest tension in the martial artist’s life and above all defines him the most. The other six virtues mean nothing without honor. It is the glue that holds them all together.  Honor is a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth. It takes the other six virtues and rolls them into one word and says this is who I am and I would never want to dishonor that.


These 7 principles are more than a guide for MY martial training; these principles are equally a guide for every other aspect of life. A man who endeavors to live his life in peace and harmony with all men must hold to a morale code that will define him.

“As a samurai, I must strengthen my character;

As a human being, I must perfect my spirit.”

From The Sword of No-Sword, Life of the Master Warrior Tesshu by John Stevens


(Submitted March 8th, 2015)

Budokai South Defensive Arts Institute
Minami Budo Ryu
Ju Jitsu / Aiki Jujitsu / Judo / Self Defense
Aiken, SC
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