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The civil wars that swept Japan during the 12 Century brought in a new age of strength and steel. Men from all over Japan joined ranks of the warlike Taira and Minamoto clans in their battle for control of the country. A fierce new breed of armed nobleman, the samurai, began to emerge. Artisans turned their talents to the production of superb swords and armor, which combined beauty with deadly practicality.

It took more than just a sword and metal suit, to arm a samurai. Part of his equipment was moral and psychological - an austere, unwritten code of personal courage and loyalty roughly paralleled to the rules of fealty in medieval Europe. The code, known as bushido, or "The Way of the Warrior" demanded an almost religious commitment to military life, in which physical hardship was the order of the day, and a heroic death in battle the most honorable goal.

A warriors defense was his skill at fighting, acquired through years of rigorous training designed to build strength of character asa well as physical prowess. Future samurai were apprenticed to masters of archery and swordsmanship, who toughened their bodies and spirits with extended fasts and barefoot treks through the snow. These hardships were to be endured without complaint, for as a character in a Japanese epic explains, if a man is a samurai, "when his stomach is empty, it is a disgrace to feel hungry."

Combat readiness extends beyond matters of equipment, and a good samurai was so thoroughly indoctrinated that he reacted instinctively to attack. A Japanese story tells of a young swordsman who apprenticed himself to a famous fencing master. One day, while cooking rice, he was given a painful whack with a wooden sword by his master. This treatment was repeated at unexpected hours of the day and night, until the youth learned never to relax his guard and became the greatest swordsman in the land.

Once a samurai has mastered the techniques of his craft, he never lets them drop. He trained daily and often traveled about the country to search of ever-more-exacting teachers. His commitment to the art of war was total and unceasing, for according to his military code, "A samurai shoal live and die sword in hand... To be brave and warlike must be his invariable condition."

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