by Mike Murphy
“In deference to the ways of bujutsu, a master of budo is one who had never used his skill.” Unknown
Budo is an entity that cannot be touched, heard, or seen; “a journey of the mind and the spirit, and ultimately, the soul,” according to martial arts author Dave Lowery.1 It is a conceptual and cultural phenomenon that has evolved in Japan because of centuries of martial arts training in China, Okinawa, and Japan itself. Budo is the transformation of the practice of combat techniques (bujutsu) to seeking perfection in movement through the martial arts. It has evolved by combining the martial arts dogma from the aforementioned nations and the influential doctrines of the various Eastern religions/philosophies.
The indigenous fighting systems of Japan and the influence of the various religious philosophies of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism resulted in the eventual development of budo. Without these influences, it is doubtful that the concept of budo would have spread globally the way it has, and doubtful it would have survived the results of countless crises, such as the mass destruction of that geographical area by World War II. Moreover, it continues to grow and develop because of the intense dedication of the people that have struggled to keep it alive. How did the different martial arts and religions change the physical and philosophical training of the Japanese practitioner?
The answer is as complex as it is speculative. The native forms of martial arts in Japan slowly evolved to a point where they became less militaristic over time. The arts grew as they changed from bujutsu (martial arts) to budo (way of stopping conflict or martial way) and became a search for perfection in motion while incorporating some of their militaristic methods of the past. The difference is that bujutsu is a martial designed for combat purposes, used in a time that necessitated the warriors to always be in a state of readiness, while budo is a martial “way” practiced for self-development.2 Although its name and meaning have changed as social conditions have changed, its status in modern Japan has been solidified.
By the unlikeliest of paths, the development of budo has become an international concept in the world of martial arts practiced by millions in all nations.3 According to the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, budo more commonly translates as a martial arts system which “includes almost any fighting art, but especially those associated with the Eastern cultures.”4 It places emphasis on moral development through discipline in the aesthetic form. The techniques of budo are derived from principles which in turn are based on philosophies. These philosophies came out of the Eastern religions and the observance of nature. They have formed from the concepts of each religion; each one adding to the next, creating a geographically unique system of martial arts. The martial arts historian, Michael Finn, further defines budo as “a classical fighting system in which the emphasis is on victory in combat, but which has the secondary motivations of self-perfection through training.”5
In either definition, the concept was intended to be studied and developed throughout one’s lifetime, and which through the discipline of form, the individual began to understand more about themselves, later coming to an understanding of their relationship to other aspects of their environment. In other words, the emphasis in budo is on the path of the training and not the destination, as in bujutsu. In a society where individualism was almost non-existent, budo training offered the practitioner a chance to not only experience it, but to understand it. As the noted budo master Sato Shizuya of the Kokusai Budoin in Japan states, “[b]udo serve[d] as the irritant and catalyst for the individual’s positive evolution.”6
With individual change and self-awareness, budo became a method of self-expression: and expression of the true self that never stopped. Budo then, was not only a physical art form but philosophical in nature, and became a way of life the more a student practiced. As an art it may be best expressed by this quote from an unnamed contemporary martial arts master in Okinawa: A teacher who has mastered his medium has evolved a philosophy from such an experience, and whether we agree or not, his thoughts act as a catalyst on our own: he had contributed to the dynamic ideas of our time.
Rarely do such concepts get written down clearly so students all over the world may read that which is the ultimate expression of those concepts. He continues with: It’s not the mere technique that is important rather, the technique as a vital medium of expression, a way to get in touch with the most vibrant aspects of existence. It represents a way of life, a way of working, a process which leads one to discover ways to fulfill oneself and to make a special resonance available to others.7
Whereas the results of bujutsu were demonstrated only in actual combat, the results of budo could be seen in everyday life. Although not as noticeable as bujutsu’s influence on Japan, it has survived and flourished in the rich Japanese culture to an extent that cannot be entirely measured. Bujutsu brought the warrior into a confrontation with life and death, and pain and comfort, while budo practitioners were concerned with the matters of the soul. According to Dave Lowery, it (budo) “requires moral stamina along with visceral and emotional courage. It demands a social conscience as well as physical endurance.”8 Consequently, in order to appreciate budo’s development, the separate martial arts histories of China, Okinawa, and Japan will need to be related, as well as the influences of the different philosophies of the Eastern religions in order to see how they came together to create a concept that changed the way the Japanese trained the martial arts.
Copyright 2000 by Mike Murphy