Loyalty is one of the shining points in any list about the virtues important to the samurai. There are endless stories about loyal warriors doing this, or the faithful samurai did that. Someone's loyalty is often the main point in any plot. Commitment is integral for a warrior, martial artist, and obviously any regular person.
How loyal were the samurai? That depends on which period of history you look at and what your personal definition of loyalty is. There were many different ideas of what loyalty was amongst bushi, samurai, and bugeisha over the last five-hundred years. Bushido is touted as a checklist that all samurai followed. It is frequently regurgitated ad nauseam by many "martial artists". The ideals expressed in bushidō, such as gi 義, change with each clan and period. It is difficult to throw a list of values on a wall and say, this right here is what all ancient warriors believed in. Frankly, I am more interested in my budō study in the 21st century and what these ideas of bushidō and the path of a warrior mean to my school and myself.
Chū 忠 or chūgi 忠義 refer to fidelity to your clan and superiors within bushidō. Chū means loyal. It is the center of one's mind. The point from which all actions must emanate. It is within our hearts. What is important and matters are carried at the center or within us. This is represented by the character chū 忠. Chūgi is a deeper loyalty that might be translated as devotion or righteous fidelity.
Different Loyalty At Different Times
There is a school of thought where blind loyalty is the true way of the samurai or warrior. It is an outdated idea that no matter what actions your superior might give you, you must follow them. That will demonstrate chūgi and express the warrior's ideal of loyalty. It goes against the righteousness that maintains the wholesome relationships between people. Indeed, in the past, it was cultivated from a position of authority to control their population of warriors. It created an undying loyalty that can only be broken by their master's word, which created salves to the system in which the samurai worked and lived. Chūgi though is not so cut and dry as it once might have been.
In the early 1700s, there was the Ako incident, the story of the 47 ronin. Most people interested in martial arts have heard this story. It is debatable whether or not the 47 disciples of Asano Naganori were behaving with true loyalty or not. My opinion is if the actions produce unwholesome consequences, then taking a life based on ideals of loyalty is never the right course of action. Harming others or malicious scheming in support of your ideals of loyalty is never the right path to travel.
In some ryū-ha (schools) or martial arts circles, loyalty is blind and extremely rigid. Students adopt a religious zeal for their style and teacher. And loyalty is often misplaced This is not actual chūgi in my view. What kind of loyalty should bugeisha have?
Let us use the phrase faithful to commitments. Firstly we must have a commitment to ourselves and the wholesome path. This is the righteousness present in gi of chūgi. We must be faithful to the way which radiates wholesomeness, not just for ourselves but for others in our care.
As a student, we must have a strong commitment to the school and teacher. Loyalty resides in the starting phase of shu-ha-ri. If we wish to learn properly we must be faithful to our keiko and our teacher's words. If we are asked to practice or train in such a way then it is our loyal obligation to do so. We must be faithful to the commitments of the ryū-ha. Not only to the waza (techniques) should we be faithful but to the whole training. Physical, mental, spiritual must be combined. That trinity should be where our commitment is place.
As teachers we must be committed to the ryuha, dojo, and those arriving to learn. Those seeking guidance require us to be faithfully providing it. Keeping a strict sense of duty to the school and the student is essential in studying and teaching the martial arts. In keeping a sense of loyalty to the school one should not be harming any students physically or spiritually. Whether its school dogma or stretching techniques, a teacher has a parent's responsibility to his student's wellness and health.
As I am sure all our mothers and fathers have told us, trust is a two-way street, so too is chugi in bujutsu. A pure bugeisha is one that walks a path without malicious intent nor greed. Bugeisha stands firmly loyal in a proper way to others in his world. Inside or outside the dōjō, they must keep a loyal fire burning within their hearts. We must not become mired in improper loyalty, which is tainted by greed, ignorance, and hatred.
Be well, do your best, and press forward. Let us all examine chugi in our bujutsu and beyond.
Saneteru Radzikowski is the head sword instructor of Shinkan-ryū Kenpō. He lives and teaches Iaijutsu and Kenjutsu from Nara, Japan.