Budo/Martial Arts

What is Budo? Part I: Definitions

What is budo? I use this term more than any other in my blog and have never taken the time to explain it. One day I just threw it out there and expected everyone to immediately realize what a perfect fit it was. Funny thing is, I practiced martial arts for over five years before I really knew what it was. I don’t mean that I “knew” what the meaning was and just didn’t “understand” it. I literally mean that if someone said, “Hey, Zac. What do you think about budo?” I’d say, “Eh? What’s that?” A few years later, this word defines much of my life and I could spend hours, pages, blogs, years, talking about the subject, perhaps because of it’s ambiguity.

You see, budo isn’t so easy to define. If it was a concept with one clear definition, we could just say what it is, all agree, and move on to the next puzzle. For example, I think “martial arts” is pretty easy to define:

Practices related to potentially violent circumstances that could be described as art.

Ha! What do you think of that? I’m guessing the martial artists who just read that are not perfectly content with that definition. Obviously it is my own, made on the spot, in about 30 seconds. I hesitated at a couple parts, but I’m not going to get fussy about it because it’s not all that important. The term “martial arts” covers such a vast array of activities, thoughts, and beliefs, I don’t think it can be defined much better than I just wrote. Like “not enough butter spread over too-much toast” (thank you Bilbo Baggins), the topic is just too broad for a single happy definition, so to me, such an endeavor feels like a waste of time.

Instead, I think we can have a more interesting conversation with the term, budo. It’s just specific enough we can start laying concrete blocks without smashing too many flowers, and yet nebulous enough to never really be able to find a finishing point. In a way, it is a sub-genre of martial arts, but deep and wide enough to blow the term, martial arts, out of existence.

So we’re probably not going to mention “martial arts” again in this discussion. There is another term however, which acts as a great foil and base for comparison with budo: bujutsu.

I’m here to embellish in interesting feelings and stories about budo, not give definitions, so for all of you who have been reading this waiting for some substantial facts, or at least clearer explanations than I am used to delivering, I’m going to cite the main beef of Wikipedia’s entry for budo, which also explains this newly introduced term of bujutsu:

“Budō is a compound of the root bu (:ぶ), meaning war or martial; and (:どう), meaning path or way. Specifically, is derived from the Buddhist Sanskrit mārga (meaning “path”).[4] The term refers to the idea of formulating propositions, subjecting them to philosophical critique and then following a ‘path’ to realize them.[5] signifies a “way of life”. in the Japanese context, is an experiential term, experiential in the sense that practice (the way of life) is the norm to verify the validity of the discipline cultivated through a given art form. The modern budō has no external enemy, only the internal enemy, one’s ego that must be fought[6] (state of Muga-mushin). Similarly to budō, bujutsu is a compound of the roots bu (武), and jutsu (術:じゅつ), meaning technique[7] Thus, budō is translated as “martial way”,[8][9][10] or “the way of war”[citation needed] while bujutsu is translated as “science of war” or “martial craft.” However, both budō and bujutsu are used interchangeably in English with the term “martial arts”.[citation needed] Budo and bujutsu have quite a delicate difference; whereas bujutsu only gives attention to the physical part of fighting (how to best defeat an enemy), budo also gives attention to the mind and how one should develop oneself. Modern budo uses aspects of the lifestyle of the samurai of feudal Japan and translates them to self-development in modern life.”



I think that’s a pretty good starting point.

-Budo has it’s roots in warfare.
-Budo is different from bujutsu.
-Do = way. Jutsu = technique

What necessary givens were forgotten in the entry?

-Budo comes from the Japanese language (duh)
-Budo is understood five billion times better in the context of Japan

I wanted to say something about Japanese culture, but when I say that, my mind is flushed with images of temples, tea, monks, and swords and stuff … and that’s not what I mean.

Modern day budo is understood best in modern day life … in Japan.

Well … mmmmm …

Modern day budo should be understood in the context of it’s root in traditional Japanese culture, and one doesn’t have to be in Japan to understand it … BUT … in my expereience I’ll say again,

Modern day budo is understood best in modern day life … in Japan.

So I guess that will be my tint on the discussion. This is a conversation to visit here and there in pieces, not to be just stripped down all in one go, so I’ll leave it at that. Please check again later, for the continuation of “What is Budo?”.


2 thoughts on “What is Budo? Part I: Definitions

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