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By Christopher Caile

Budo means "martial way" and refers to those martial disciplines whose ultimate goal is spiritual, ethical and/or moral self-improvement. Thus while budo disciplines were (technically) based on the previous warrior arts (bujitsu), they developed a new emphasis, one that separates the martial spirit and mind from an external focus on war and killing (and service to others) and redirects them inwardly towards self-improvement. The characters "Bu" and "Do" in budo are rich in meaning and have many secondary meanings (see below). In earlier periods of Japanese history, however, budo had a different meaning. It was used to define the ethical and moral principles that motivate or guide the practice of bujitsu, the military way or doctrine. This military way later became known as bushido.

"Do" is the Japanese pronunciation the Chinese term Tao (for Taoism) meaning the way to suppress violence and return to the way of the universe. It is a composite of two characters integrated into one, the first signifying movement and the second head or chief. Combined, the characters have the meaning of the chief means of direct movement, or the main road, a term figuratively used to mean the way, as to enlightenment. Implied also are Taoist concepts of non-resistance, goal-lessness, and loss of ego (not surprisingly shared by Zen since the formation of Zen in China was derived from Indian meditative Buddhism strongly influenced by Taoism). But while Chinese Taoism developed strong otherworldly or religious connotations, the Japanese had a more practical, less abstract interpretation, one more focused on the pragmatic dimension of human relationships. This led to the concept of the way or road toward self-development. This could lead to a spiritual awakening, but to a Zen one of intuitive perception, insight and enlightenment.

"Do" martial disciplines were not practiced for fun or lightly undertaken. Training was rigorous, hard, austere - a long process of dedication and discipline. The focus was on the process, the internal fulfillment and joy of just doing rather than being goal oriented (such as a focus on winning). Emphasis was on learning through doing, not words. Ideas and concepts were seen as short lived and shallow. Real learning, it was believed, took time and was slowly accumulated from experience - as the body gained its own knowledge and reactions without the mind needing to knowing why. But the body could not freely move and react or be open to intuitive perception if emotions, fear and thoughts clogged the mind and confused perception. That's where "do" draws on Zen training to free the mind through development of no-mind (Mushin) and an unstaying mind, the mind that may glance at something but not stay (Fudoshin). The nature of unending study of "do" is summed up in the old story of a young disciple who approaches his Zen master and asks how long he will have to study Zen before he learns it. The master replies, "Until you die."

Budo Development & History: Bujitsu arts were perfected during a period of almost constant warfare in Japan stretching from the 8th to the 16th century. During this time "budo" referred to the ethical ideals, or ways of the warrior most popularly known as Bushido, and included such concepts as obedience, loyalty and respect. Budo as a system of fighting ways, however, evolved during the feudal period of peace that followed, the Tokugawa era (1600-1867) (better known as the Edo era), that preceded the modern era. To bolster stability the Tokugawa military authorities instituted a rigid class structure and system of political controls over is populous while externally the nation was isolated from foreign contact. But these measures could only mask deep currents of change (economic and military) that would shake the feudal system to its foundation and and spur the beginning of the modern age.

Economic power, once based on land (agriculture) and feudal relationships (rights to work land in return for obligations), was being challenged by the rise of a prosperous and strong and merchant classmate. At heart of this feudal structure was the professional warrior who provided service in return for stipends or the right to work land. But their role had changed and their military viability (power and predominance) was beginning to be called into question. Seeking to reduce the potential for violence, the government politically subdivided the bushi, and their efforts were re-directed into arts (as poetry, drama, tea ceremony) and education. Training in martial skills was tolerated but as huge numbers of bushi were transformed into bureaucrats, accountants and administrators (especially in urban areas), their motivation to train martial skills suffered. Another and more ominous challenge was rising on a technological level. Government conscripts with guns called into question the very viability and/or superiority of classical weapons and tactics. Moral was low. These changes led to efforts by some bushi, bolstered by strains of Confucian thought, to re-create the experience and preserve spiritual and ethical ideals of the past (classical warrior) but in new form (budo disciplines) and with a new emphasis - on serving the individual and society as a whole. See Classical Budo and Modern Budo for details of the content of budo.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Budo, bu, do, martial arts philosophy

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