One of the precepts and arguably the most important and misunderstood precept of Bushido is rectitude. Rectitude can be defined as “right thinking”, “moral thinking” or righteousness.
Webster’s dictionary defines rectitude as follows:
Main Entry: rec·ti·tude
Pronunciation: \ˈrek-tə-ˌtüd, -ˌtyüd\
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Late Latin rectitudo, from Latin rectus straight, right
Date: 15th century
1 : the quality or state of being straight 2 : moral integrity : righteousness 3 : the quality or state of being correct in judgment or procedure
Anyone who subscribes to the Code of Bushido would have to believe strongly in “right thinking”. Rectitude really is an umbrella term that lays over the top of integrity, morality, courage, honesty, loyalty and obligation.
A well known Samurai described it in this way: “Rectitude is the power of deciding upon a certain course of action, in accordance with reason, without wavering; – to die when it is right to die, to strike when to strike is right.”
Another speaks of it in these terms. “Rectitude is the bone that gives firmness and stature. As without bones the head cannot rest on the top of the spine, nor hands move nor feet stand, so without rectitude neither talent nor learning can make of the human frame a Samurai. With it the lack of accomplishments is as nothing.”
Even in the last days of Feudalism when the Samurai class fell into a life of leisure and dissolution the term Gishi (a man of rectitude) was considered to be superior to any other title of accomplishment or learning.
In the popular legend, the “47 Ronin” were also called the “47 faithful” or the “47 Gishi”.
A derivation of rectitude is Giri, which literally means “the right reason” but is often thought of as obligation.
My interpretation of the precept of Rectitude and how it fits into and guided the life of the Bushi and to some degree the martial artist of today is fairly straight forward. We think and therefore act based on our core values. Much as organized religion gives us the structure meant to guide our lives, so does Bushido.
We, as martial artists, have the power to harm and we also have the power to do “good”. The precept of Rectitude guides us along the path of “right thinking” and by extension right “doing.”
Think right and do “good” along with demonstrating the tenderness of the warrior.
Rectitude is another concept that leads us down the path of martial arts mastery.