BUDO: THE MARTIAL WAY
By David Alexander
………Aikido, as well as other budo (martial arts) including judo, kendo, karate-do, and disciplines, such as sado (the tea ceremony) and kado (flower arranging or ikebana) can be considered as paths up the mountain of spiritual development. As students of zen, budo, chado and shodo (calligrapgy) continue to climb by way of their intensely disciplines training, the may be able to achieve progressively higher levels of spiritual enlightenment known as satori. Thought the distant goal of students in all of the Japanese traditional arts may be to progress towards a final satori at the “top of the mountain,” it is unlikely that any human begin ever reaches that place while alive on this planet.
The last chinese character in the names of the Japanese traditional disciplines is do, meaning “path” or “way.” Thus, chado is the “way of tea” and Ko do is the “way of incense.” People who want to climb the mountain may choose from many of these different paths which all lead up the same mountain, according to their own personal preference. People will often be attracted to study the art to which they are most inwardly attuned.
The first character in budo is bu, which means “martial.” Thus, budo is the “martial way,” or the path of spiritual unfoldment through combat skill and readiness. Budo was derived from Bushido (the “way of the warrior,” though it was originally referred to as “the way of the horse and the bow”), which was a code of conduct and honor for samurai during the period of many civil wars during Japan’s feudal period beginning around 1200 A.D. This was a code of duty and self-sacrifice with physical training consisting of battle proven techniques which were designed to kill the enemy as efficiently as possible.
The bushido code of life developed as a reaction to the extravagant and decadent lifestyle of Kyoto aristocrats from the previous era. It stressed frugality and Spartan living along with fierce loyalty to one’s lord. Zen meditation was a familiar element in bushido, assisting the practitioner not only to break his attachments to the physical world, but to free him of his own irrational beliefs and emotions, fostering patience and the ability to think and act under pressure-all valuable assets on the battle ground. This training and strengthening of the consciousness enabled the warrior to overcome the fear of death and face battle with resignation. The code was severe and included seppuku (ritual disembowelment, also known as harakiri) as the acceptable means of balancing dishonor.
Bushido began to lose its primary purpose during the Edo period, when the Tokugawa Shogunate unified Japan in 1603 A.D. and brought centuries of civil wars to an end. The lack of nee for warriors resulting from a prolonged period of peace, as well as the slow economic erosion of Samurai society brought on by government policies greatly weakened the Samurai system. With the arrival of the Meiji period in 1868 and the abolition of the shogun system of government, the remaining Samurai were even prohibited from wearing their swords.
Although the Samurai were still free to practice their martial techniques, the end goal of using them for war was no longer primary. Many varied schools of swordsmanship and other martial arts sprung up all over the country. In the earlier days of the Edo period, interschool rivalries and individual desires for reputation provided competitions including duels to the death. A number of swordfighters, comparable to the gunfighters of the American Old West, wandered through Japan looking for matches.
It was during the peaceful Edo period, which lasted over 250years, that the practice of martial arts began to move away from simple effectiveness towards its appeal ant art form. The older concepts of bushido began to evolve into budo, the “martial way” up the mountain of self-discovery and self-improvement. ”Martial power” was now regarded as a way to preserve peace, both outwardly and inwardly.
The Chinese character for bu consists of two subcharacters, one of which represents a halberd (a combination spear and battle-ax, symbolizing all weapons), while the other means ”stop.” As such, the character for bu means to stop the use of weapons, and thereby war. Budo, the “martial way,” taken literally, is the way of stopping war.
Budo differs from other paths up the mountain in that it consists of learning martial techniques which were originally designed to kill an enemy in battle. It is fascinating to consider that the mastery of it can bring about the same kind of inner attunement and self-mastery one seeks through other Japanese traditional disciplines, such as arranging flowers or carving masks for the Noh Theater.
The practice of budo is actually more difficult than its predecessor, bushido, in that the techniques must be adapted to provides strenuous physical conditioning without actually injuring training partners. This must be accomplished without losing the effectiveness of the techniques and instilling consideration and a deep respect for the safety and well being of fellow students.
Fortunately, recent history has seen great martial artists such as Jigoro Kano of Judo, Morihei Ueshiba of Akido, Gichin Funakoshi of karate do, who have achieved this goal and produced martial art training systems training partners are able to push each other to their limits without undue fear of injury, using the kind of strong power which would be required to prevail in a violent engagement.
In training the body leads the mind, as people feel and learn proper execution of the technique with their bodies first. Students later intellectualize that technique so they can provide guidance for junior trainees. Hard training against resistance is absolutely essential for learning with the body, as without it a trainee will never learn what is effective and what is not.
Budo is path up the mountain which provides tanren (tempering) of the mind, body and spirit, exciting physical engagement, practical self-defence skills, and the camaraderie of others who are striving for the same goals.
Although achieving levels of satori is quite challenging, requiring tremendous effort over many years, it is the process or journey along the way that provides those who are involved in the practice of budo enjoyment and benefit on a daily basis.
David Alexander is the owner and chief instructor of the Westlake Village Akido Club. He trained with Morihiro Saito Sensei in Iwama from 1972 to 1984. Dave also currently works as a registered patent agent for a low firm in downtown Los Angels. His Akido studio is located on the premises of the American Karate studio.
- Shono Tokuzo
- SHODO-The art of black and white