In the book "Hagakure: Book of the samurai" there is a short story:

A certain son of Mori Monbei got into a fight and returned home wounded. Asked by Monbei, "What did you do to your opponent?" his son replied, "I cut him down." When Monbei asked, "Did you deliver the coup de grace?" his son replied, "Indeed I did."' Then Monbei said, "You have certainly done well, and there is nothing to regret. Now, even if you fled you would have to commit seppuku anyway. When your mood improves, commit seppuku, and rather than die by another's hand, you can die by your father's. " And soon after he performed kaishaku for his son.

My question is why in this case seppuku was a needed procedure? Why the life should be over after such a duel?

In general I am puzzled how easily samurais end lives of professional warriors and much effort they pay to raise and train one.

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    This has nothing to do with martial arts. It might be better suited to history.se... Oct 23, 2016 at 8:13
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    Stereotypes rarely make sense compared to reality. Suicide shows up more in the stories than actual history. Some historians even believe a lot of bushido was basically a projection backwards from the Tokugawa period, in part because they needed social tools to help control masses of a warrior class w/o actual wars to fight.
    – Bankuei
    Oct 23, 2016 at 15:33
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    Your question isn't how bushido or samurai culture shaped or affected martial arts, however.
    – Bankuei
    Oct 23, 2016 at 17:25
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    Indeed, before thinking about it I would like to better understand bushido. And I thought that martial art enthusiasts would help me much better than historians. Oct 23, 2016 at 17:42
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    The Hagakure should be regarded just as historically accurate on samurai in the same way as the Geste De Roland is to early medieval knights or La Morte dathur is to chivalry. It has no relevance to martial arts whatsoever. The tale in question has nothing to do with martial arts: it's an allegory of how cool it is to commit suicide. Oct 24, 2016 at 7:38

3 Answers 3


Googling Mori Monbei turns up some extracts from a book called Samurai Weapons: Tools of the Warrior by Don Cunningham, wherein he explains:

Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1658-1719), a Buddhist priest and former retainer of Nabeshima Mitsushige, third daimyo of Saga, shared a series of anecdotes over several years with Tashiro Tsuramoto, a samurai from the Nabeshima fief in Kyushu. Record by the younger samurai and published as Hagakure [Hidden Leaves], these offer many insights into daily life and attitudes of his era. The following example illustrates how a samurai might be expected to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) to atone for brawling and murder:

He then lists the anecdote in the question.

This is actually what I was expecting, and I don't know if Don had any evidence for his interpretation, but my thinking is that the samurai times were pretty rough and some tough laws were needed to discourage fighting over personal slights (after all - samurai were supposed to risk their lives for their lord), and if a young man fell into a brawl and killed his opponent, his own life may well be forfeit as punishment, or perhaps as some form of "justice" for the lord and/or family of the person killed in combat, who've lost a servant or family member.

More anecdotes: I live in Japan and haven't yet confirmed this with the only police officer I know, but have heard from Japanese folks that if there's a fight all parties may well be punished without as much concern for who was "at fault" as we're used to in the West, much as responsibility for the costs of repairs may be divided between parties in a car accident even if one had "right of way". Consequently, fights are almost unheard of, despite a good deal of drinking going on and an enormous population packed sometimes too tightly, with many high-stress jobs and crowded trains. Similarly, the car thing encourages defensive driving - rather than a sense of entitlement - and may well ultimately save lives even if it seems unjust. Perhaps on some level it's unjust not to encourage safe driving in such a way and have more victims of traffic accidents.

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    I think this is the correct answer and should be accepted. It is all about preventing dishonorable behaviour to stain a family's reputation. Seppuku in general was seen as the only means to restore one's honour once you've ruined it. Oct 28, 2016 at 19:37

I'm not familiar with this reference, but what it sounds like to me is that the wound was severe, and eventually he was expected to die from it.

The dying process from deep wounds was slow back in feudal times. Their medicine was primitive. They didn't have modern surgical techniques or antibiotics. They would invariably develop a serious infection, which often took their lives. They would go into shock from sepsis. Their appendages would gangrene and would have to be chopped off to prevent death (and that might be too embarrassing for a samurai who relies on his arm for wielding a sword). Their stomach and intestines, if punctured, might leak causing severe pain and an agonizing death.

The man would be in agony, crying, and delirious. He would lose his mind. It would be a long and emotional sight. For samurai who value self-control and keeping a calm mind, this alone would be embarrassing enough to ask for death instead.

What his father wanted was for his son to die "honorably" rather than die like this from a wound caused by his enemy. It would also mean that his duel was not a tie, but instead he won the duel, if he didn't die from it.

Now that is nonsense thinking, of course. Technically, if you committed suicide because of a mortal wound, then the real cause of your death is still the wound. Everyone knows it. Even the samurai. They weren't stupid.

So the only thing left to conclude is that dying quickly from dismemberment was a preferable way to die compared with a long, lingering, agonizing death. It would save everyone around him from the emotional pain as well.

The tie-in with samurai code and spiritualism is just the icing on the cake. It's the religion to make the medicine more palatable. It transmutes a really bad way to die into a good way, one where he is showing how strong he is mentally and spiritually.

A lot of things about the samurai way of life is incomprehensible to us westerners in modern times. Suffice it to say, there's a reason for everything. And as a side note, just because there's a reason, it doesn't mean it's a rational one. It's okay to be critical of them.

My thoughts anyway.


The Hagakure should be regarded just as historically accurate on historical samurai lore in the same way as the Geste De Roland is to early medieval knights or La Morte dathur is to chivalry. While not utterly useless, it is of very limited value. Using it to gleam some truth of what samurai were thinking is utterly useless: it is fiction!

Since the Charter Oath promulgated at the enthronement of Emperor Meiji of Japan on 7 April 1868, the samurai class is no more. There are no samurai, nor can there be any new ones. As such any studies on samurai belong to history, not martial arts. Furthermore, no serious martial artist think of themselves as a samurai. Any that do are either trolling or idiots.

The tale presented is an allegory of how cool it is to commit suicide. The Hagakure is full of it. It was written in time of peace, where all samurai had to do was write poetry. It glorifies a mythical age (based on Sengoku-jidai) where combat and death were common and tried to exalt the current samurai as descendent of perfect warrior-gods. It has nothing to do with the reality of war. Furthermore, as a martial art text, it is utterly useless. It contains no great truth, no hidden techniques, and no advice beyond "be ready for death all the time". The latter is a terrible advice to give soldiers.

If you are really interested in real life samurai, anything by Stephen Turnbull should be your first port of call: Amazon link to author page.


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