What is Budo?


Taisen Deshimaru

Zen Way to the Martial Arts

Budo is the way of the warrior; it embraces all the Japanese martial arts. It explores through direct experience and in depth the relationship between ethics, religion, and philosophy. Its association with sports is a very recent development; the ancient writings are essentially concerned with a particular form of cultivation of the mind and a reflection upon the nature of the self: who am I? What is I?

In Japanese, do means the way. How do you walk on this way? How can you find it? It is not just learning a technique, still less is it a sporting match. Budo includes such arts as kendo, judo, aikido, and kyudo or archery; yet the ideogram bu also means to cease the struggle. In Budo the point is not only to compete, but to find peace and mastery of the self.

Do, the way, is the method, the teaching that enables you to understand perfectly the nature of your own mind and self. It is the way of the Buddha, butsudo, that leads you to discover your own original nature, to awaken from the numbness of the sleeping ego (the little self, the limited “me”) and accede to higher, fuller personhood. In Asia this way has become the supreme morality and essence of all religions and philosophies. The yin and yang of the I Ching, the “existence is nothing” of Lao Tsu, have their roots in it.

What does this mean? That you can forget your personal body and mind; attain absolute spirit, nonego. Harmonize, unite sky and earth. The inner mind lets thoughts and emotions pass by; it is completely free from its environment, egoism drops away. This is the wellspring of the philosophies and religions of Asia. Mind and body, outside and inside, substance and phenomena: these pairs are neither dualistic nor opposed, but form one unseparated whole. Change, any change, influences all actions, all relationships among all existences; the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of one person influences every other person; our movements and those of others are interdependent. “Your happiness must be my happiness and if you weep I weep with you. When you are sad I must become sad and when you are happy I must be so too.” Everything in the universe is connected, everything is osmosis. You cannot separate any part from the whole: interdependence rules the cosmic order.

Throughout five thousand years of the history of the East, the sages and philosophers have fixed their attention on this spirit, this way, and transmitted it.

The Shin Jin Mei is a very ancient book, originally Chinese, and at one point it says, shi dobu nan: the way, the highest way, is not difficult, but you must not make choices. You must entertain neither affection nor distaste. The San Do Kai (or “interpenetration of essence and phenomena”) says, similarly, “If you cherish one single illusion, separation comes, as between mountain and river.”

One of the things Zen means is the effort of practicing meditation, zazen. It is the effort to reach the realm of thought without discrimination, consciousness beyond all categories, embracing and transcending every conceivable expression in language. This dimension can be attained through the practice of zazen and of Bushido.