Bushido and bullfighting share many points in common, and there are quite distinct parallels between the ethical code of the samurai warrior and that of the bullfighter. These ideals are generally challenging to fulfil but guide the heroes’ decisions, give them conviction and impose moral values they must respect.
Bushido is the code of moral principles governing the samurai and is analogous to the ethical code of bullfighters and the European code of chivalry. All of them share that they are unwritten codes, transmitted mouth to mouth as a choral work created over decades, with no authorship of their own and as a code of ethics based on honour and respect for oneself and the opponent that imposes fair play in combat. It is an unwritten code transmitted orally from master to pupil, always subject to reinterpretation and the avoidance of outdated or unnecessary aphorisms.
SEVEN COMMON VIRTUES
Japanese scholar and member of the samurai class Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933) has said that there is nothing more despicable in the samurai code than underhand dealings and enterprises and that he values seven virtues supremely.
- 1. Rectitude (義, gi) is to strike when it is right to strike and to die when it is right to die or to be gored when it is right to be gored. As a bullfighter has once said, ”I knew I was going to be gored, but I had to stay in that place”. It is also necessary to do your duty even if you don’t like it; even if you don’t want to show off, you must do your duty to kill a bull as quickly as possible, even if the bull is showing complications.
- 2. Courage (勇, yū) is used to defend righteousness and do what is right. To maintain control of oneself in the face of the threat of death, in balance, the truly brave are always serene. However, to show recklessness and take unnecessary risks is not true courage. In bullfighting, when the matador wants to evoke fear, he will most likely be met with disapproval from the public.
- 3. Benevolence (仁, jin) is the disposition to do good. Mencius, the Confucian philosopher (372-289 BC), based his ethical philosophy on compassion and the goodness of human nature. The chivalric codes of honour are very similar in different cultures, such as benevolence towards the weak and defeat for the honour and respect of both, killing a weak bull with dignity to make its agony lighter. There is a saying that ”there is a moment when the bull asks for death”; therefore, the bull’s suffering should not be prolonged without purpose.
- 4. Courtesy (仁, jin) is being considerate and not boasting about oneself. In the bullring, the president is greeted and asked for permission, the banderilleros (matador’s helpers) are brought out to greet, or the bull is given a turn around the bullring to acknowledge his bravery. Politeness and respect are also demonstrated towards the master and the veteran.
- 5. Truthfulness (誠, makoto) and sincerity are the beginning and end of all things; these concepts carry within themselves the value of the word given; a promise was already a guarantee of fulfilment. In bullfighting, the word of the samurai and the European medieval knight is modelled on the ”classic handshake”, which is used as a ”sign” parallel to a power of attorney in contracts.
- 6. Honour (名誉, meiyo) that is implicit in the awareness of the dignity and personal worth of bullfighters and samurai who are educated in the esteem of the duties and obligations of the profession intrinsically carry rests on their self-awareness of duty and doing the right thing. To have a good reputation and not to be ashamed.
- 7. Loyalty (忠義, chūgi) is of primordial importance in the chivalrous code of honour. Loyalty to the superior, to the matador, to whom the whole cuadrilla(matador’s helper’s banderilleros, picadores,etc.) owes absolute obedience, forming an integral and inseparable entity where each of the members performs a job with the sole purpose of serving and helping the matador.
PARALLELS BETWEEN SAMURAI AND BULLFIGHTERS
The dress: The importance and exquisiteness of the costumes are present in all Japanese theatre. The symbolic and evocative power of the kimono manifests the patent rejection of realism, rediscovering the realm of the imagination. Only the traditional professions maintain the kimono as a uniform. The bullfighter usually wears a new suit for the first time before a critical engagement, as the public’s judgement of his dress is the first test he must pass. The image of the samurai and the bullfighter always fascinates those who see them as a hero’s dress; they are so powerful that they represent Japan and Spain.
The sword: The katana has been called the samurai’s soul, although when riding on horseback, the spear and the bow were more convenient weapons. The katana is single-edged; it has a curve to be more appropriate for the cut to be drawn on horseback, and this curve is analogous to that of the estoque (rapier), commonly known as ”death”. The clothing, instruments and equipment have a patina of antiquity that provokes respect and reverence. The sword is a mystical object that inspires admiration for its solemnity, as it possesses those inexpressible elements that elevate it to the rank of an artistic production.
SEPPUKU AND THE DEATH OF THE BULLFIGHTER
Seppuku or hara-kiri is self-immolation by disembowelment, a noble way of dying in the Japanese mentality that turned into a sublime, legal, and ceremonial act. Defending honour or redressing a grievance was reason enough.
To die in the bullring is honourable, almost ideal, for the bullfighter, just as it is for the samurai to expire by seppuku. To die for no reason, for everything as an act of freedom, or losing his life expressing his art and thus to be remembered forever are all realizations of this principle.
Bullfighters see the splendour of life through the confrontation with death, and the romantic attraction of death through its closeness and knowledge becomes a companion. It has often been reflected upon, in fact, that there is a not inconsiderable list of suicidal bullfighters, perhaps because when you risk your life every afternoon, you also have the right to choose when your life is over.
To be and to live as a bullfighter is difficult. One’s life is a martial art, full of sacrifice, training, and daily practice. Ironically, both professions of extraordinary freedom at the moment of acting are, at the same time, activities of great slavery, as there is never a pause. They are bullfighters and samurais twenty-four hours a day; they are not civilians and must always respect their ethical code.
José Miguel Tur is a teacher and art historian. He is currently writing his doctoral dissertation on art and bullfighting.