If you have been training in martial arts, whether Japanese or Chinese, strictly for the purpose of self defense you are wasting your time.
Yes. I said it. And I know I am going to get a lot of haters for it. But let me explain.
Before we start, lets define the word BUDŌ. I find it easier to understand the meaning of these abstract concepts if we understand the meaning of the word first.
Lets start with the first one: BU 武. BU means military, martial, or arms. And the second one: DŌ 道 means way, path or journey. We can say that BUDŌ literally means the Way of the Military.
Now lets state what BUDŌ does not mean. It doesn’t mean the Way of the Warrior because that’s BUSHIDŌ 武士道. It doesn’t mean the Way of War, because war is SENSŌ 戦争. And it couldn’t mean martial arts because that is BUGEI 武芸. All these have superficial meanings, while BUDŌ carries a deeper meaning.
What gives BUDŌ’s meaning it’s depth is the word DŌ or TAO in Chinese, which is defined as the Way of Life or our Journey of Life.
Martial simply means something that is “warlike” or appropriate to war. So martial arts are practices to use in a fight. BUDŌ has its historic beginning in wartime Japan, where warriors or BUSHI, where constantly figuring out ways to win in battle. Their entire existence was devoted to preparing themselves, physically and psychologically, to participate in war campaigns. This lifestyle was not easy to maintain, and in order for warriors to truly win in combat they needed to let go of the fear of death. The essence of BUDŌ training was to deal with the fact that at any given moment one could die in battle. It was a life-threatening situation. Therefore, BUDŌ training was not just training in combat techniques, but also dealt with the emotional and spiritual concern of loosing ones’ life.
Having said this, can we conclude that there is no real BUDŌ training without fighting? Can our training be real without a life-threatening conflict?
Yes and No.
This is where the path ends for many people who train in martial arts for self defense. Their understanding is shallow and they are stuck in just the fighting aspect of BUDŌ training. While it is true that true BUDŌ training needs to have some sort of fighting component, the training is incomplete if that is the only goal.
Eventually the development of BUDŌ extended beyond the battlefield. Religion and literal arts (calligraphy and painting for example) had huge influences in the way warriors developed their characters and polish their spirits. Warriors also studied Zen in order to approach the problem of fear of death; just because they were warriors didn’t mean they weren’t afraid to die. Zen training allowed them to clear and focus their minds, become non-attached to feelings and emotions, and embrace the truth that death is part of life.
Because of this, BUDŌ training was not just about knowing how to fight, it was about dealing with transcendence. Therefore, training in order to deal with the problem of transcendence is not restricted to warriors alone and it does not depend on knowing how to fight. In fact, the answer to this problem was not found in the battlefield, but often during meditation or while creating art.
Conflict, war, and violence are real ways to come face to face with transcendence, but this is not the only way one can be enlightened about life and death. These are all destructive behaviors and activities, and if anything, they only deal with death. What about life? What about creative activities such as art? What about behavior that encourage the preservation of life?
Students of martial arts need to strive to see past the fighting aspect of BUDŌ and realize that unless they are dealing with the question of transcendence, they are not practicing BUDŌ. Training this way encourage not only to practice effective martial techniques but also to take the values learned from these techniques and apply them to our daily lives (one that is not lived in a battlefield) so they can become better members of society.
If you practice martial arts with the goal to learn self defense, you should ask yourself: What is the self that you are defending?
If you say: I defend my house, my wallet, my car, etc. those are material things, they are not the manifestation of your true self. If you say you are defending your life, well, death is inescapable. So what do we truly need to defend?
The deeper meaning of BUDŌ is martial, spiritual and artistic training used to realize the meaning of life and death and how we transcend from one into the next.
This is why I practice Aikidō, Zen, and Shodō.
PS: Watch the video below to see me brush the calligraphy of BUDŌ