Knights, Samurai & the Oaths of Olde

posted in: Values-Based Business | 1
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Knight Horse and Sword

The Middle Ages were notorious for plagues, famine and war yet out of the midst of chaos emerged two groups of principled warriors called to bring order.  The knights of Europe and the samurai of Japan arose thousands of miles apart and yet interestingly, each group held to a code of ethics that bound them together.  In the West, the code was known as Chivalry while in the East, they called it Bushidō.

While the codes were passed on orally for generations, they eventually were codified into these generally accepted lists:


  • Faith
  • Charity (Love)
  • Justice
  • Sagacity (Discernment)
  • Prudence (Wisdom)
  • Temperance (Moderation)
  • Resolution
  • Truth
  • Liberality
  • Diligence
  • Hope
  • Valour (Courage)


  • Rectitude (Justice)
  • Courage
  • Benevolence (Mercy)
  • Politeness
  • Honest and Sincerity
  • Honor
  • Loyalty
  • Character & Self-Control

Interestingly, both codes contain Plato’s four cardinal virtues of Wisdom, Justice, Moderation, and Courage (380 BC) and elements of St. Ambrose’s three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (339-397 AD).  While Bushidō’s seven virtues do no explicitly list wisdom, it was seen as the fulfillment of the virtues.

Let’s not forget that both knights and samurai were warriors.  What’s fascinating to me is to think about how they were not only heralded for their military prowess but also for their gentleness in lifting up those that were weaker than themselves.  This is particularly interesting in a modern day business context where all too often results at all costs are the name of the game.

Since the late 5th century BC, the medical field has had the Hippocratic Oath to guide doctors in the practice of medicine, but what does the business field have?  In 2004, my business school, Thunderbird School of Global Management, became the first business school in the world to adopt an Oath of Honor:

As a Thunderbird and a global citizen, I promise:

I will strive to act with honesty and integrity,

I will respect the rights and dignity of all people,

I will strive to create sustainable prosperity worldwide,

I will oppose all forms of corruption and exploitation, and

I will take responsibility for my actions.

As I hold true to these principles, it is my hope that I may enjoy an honorable reputation and peace of conscience. This pledge I make freely and upon my honor.

In 2009, Harvard Business School followed with its MBA Oath.  But is an oath alone enough?  Accountability is key.  We typically hear the word after some public failure but proactive accountability before the fact is probably more important.  Being surrounded and supported by peers who subscribe to a similar ethical code can be a powerful force for staying on the straight and narrow.  While some groups like Young Presidents’ Organization can fill this void, I believe that Christian groups like C12 and FCCI do a better job at providing positive accountability, because each member subscribes to a common ethical code and has a strong reason behind the following of the code.  The business world today is rudderless and can learn much from the knights and samurai of old.

*Attributed to Philip The Good, Duke of Burgundy
**Written by Nitobe Inazō in his book Bushido, the Soul of Japan (1900)

Photo Credit: Hartwig HKD

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One Response

  1. Joel
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    Dr. Ted Malloch at Yale University’s Spiritual Capital Institute made me aware of another business oath, The Oath of Virtuous Capitalism, that he and some colleagues created.

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