Are we practicing Bujutsu or Budo?
Or, does it matter?
Chairman, JKS Americas
Are you practicing karate as Bujitsu or Budo? Do you care? I hope you do. I believe it does matter and we must ask this question to all karate practitioners and instructors. Unfortunately, many of them do not care. Even if they do, they either fail to understand the differences or they are too lazy to research these concepts.
Let’s look at the popular reasons for the people to pick up karate and practice:
Stress reduction/mental wellness
All these reasons are good and respectable ones. We must not pass judgment on any of the reasons or to regard any of them as better than the others. Though I am glad to see the people practicing karate for whatever the reasons, I have a strong concern with the current trend of tremendous amount of participation in the tournament activities, especially by the children and the youths. In fact too much emphasis is put on winning. The participants are told to do whatever necessary to win the matches. The things they are encouraged to do is use only the certain techniques that are easier to score, to bend the rules, to do illegal things (by hiding them from the judges), to change kata moves to look “fancy”, etc. Their ultimate goal is to win without paying much attention to anything else and that is the essence of Bujutsu, martial arts. The 16th century Japan was in a war period and they cared only the best swordsmanship in order to survive in a battle.
Well then, what is different between Bujutsu and Budo? I believe a half of the problem comes from many of us not having clear understanding of the differences between the two terms and concepts. Most of us consider them as the same or believe that they are inter-changeable. This is the gravest misconception and it is where the serious problem begins.
I wanted to see if I can find a definition of Bujutsu in an encyclopedia. So I checked for it in Wikipedia but strangely I could not find it. Instead, it took me to the page of Budo. According to this internet encyclopedia, Budo means “a Japanese term describing martial arts”. Then it goes on to explain the literal meaning of the Japanese words and its history. After that explanation, Wikipedia has a paragraph comparing Budo vs. Bujutsu. .
It says “It is very difficult to precisely delineate the differences between budō and bujutsu. Sometimes, the differences are considered historical; others cite differences in training methods, training philosophy, or emphasis on spiritual development. Although the distinction was first popularized in the west through the writings of Donn F. Draeger, many consider the difference a false construct with no historical basis.”
Whoever put the information in Wikipedia (the author is of course anonymous) did not know the clear difference thus gave a misleading statement.
Wikipedia continues with the differentiation in the categories of “New vs. Old”, “Civilian vs. Military” and “Individual preference”:
“There is no test or standard to determine the classification, and it is certainly possible to consider these distinctions illusory. Generally speaking, a school of martial arts chooses whatever term they feel most comfortable with. A martial arts school might choose to call their practice bujutsu, because they desire a connection with the past, or to emphasize that their art is practiced as it was during a certain point in history. A school might choose to call their practice budō to reflect an emphasis on spiritual and philosophical development, or simply to reflect that the art was developed more recently, such as aikido, which was synthesized by its founder during the early twentieth century (the older name is aikijutsu or aiki-jūjutsu, which are still in use by some martial arts). Some schools may even choose bujutsu as an express rejection of the modern emphasis on spirituality and philosophy.”
In essence it says it is up to the practitioners and instructors to decide whether they are practicing or teaching Bujutsu or Budo. I strongly oppose this opinion. As I stated before Bujutsu is the art of fighting or killing. On the other hand, Budo is the art of living or life (In Aikido it is also called “love”). It is the way that develops and improves the practitioner’s character (Dojo Kun) and help building principles in their minds. Budo enables you to live honestly and righteously or at least with principles.
Some people are under the misconception that Bujutsu is superior or better than Budo. Perfecting the karate skills is the objective in Bujutsu and winning in a match is most important for them. Whereas winning is not considered to be the most important factor in Budo, thus the Bujutsu people claim Bujutsu is the Samurai way and is therefore better. Certainly, improving the karate techniques and skill is a part of (and important one too) training in Budo as well, but unlike Bujutsu, it is not the ultimate goal. If the goal of anyone’s interest is only winning (killing people) then why would we bother learning the ancient and not so proficient method like karate? It is much easier to win (kill) by using more lethal weapons such as guns and knives. Only in Hong Kong or Hollywood movies a karate-ka or a martial artist could beat up the bunch of enemies with swords and guns.
I heard the anguished comments in the past from many of my students that they could not understand why some of the masters (8th and 9th Dan) would do the things that are ill fitting to the image of “masters”. I heard that some of the masters had lied, acted dirty with money, and other unmentionable things. The students thought many years of karate training would automatically improve those high ranking practitioners’ characters. They also expected the examination boards of their organizations would have considered the character aspect as a part of the requirements for high rank promotions. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. A highly skilled karate practitioner without Budo discipline is like an Olympian winner who would do whatever to win including cheating, taking drugs and bending rules. This shows clearly that mere physical superiority does not automatically guarantee to bring about the non physical qualities such as sportsmanship, etiquettes, fairness, respect to the competitors, judges and spectators, etc.
By practicing karate in a Budo way, you can go beyond the physical skills. It teaches you how to be a better person free from ego, wanton desire for money and power, and hatred. How do you do Budo way? Is it difficult? The answer is yes and no. It is only a mind set so it is not difficult to start and train. But it is extremely difficult to reach the goal (perfection of character). This is why Budo is often compared to a religious experience or concept. Actually, in Aikido they incorporated religious rituals in their training ceremony. It is interesting to see the relationship of ancient Chinese martial arts (a father of Karate) with Buddhism (Shaolin Temple is famous for its role in Kung Fu training).
There is a good example of the changes that came about from Bujutsu to Budo with a well known 17th Century swordsman, Musashi Miyamoto. He had more than 60 duels and won in all, thus he is considered one of the best swordsmen in the history. Though he won in all the duels and became very well known, no Daimyo (feudal rulers) asked him to become one of the advisors. The domestic war period finished early 17th century and the feudal rulers were no longer looking for a good fighter. He was considered to be a great swordsman (Bujutsu) but had no wisdom or vision. He could have continued his dueling in his 40s and by doing so he could have gained more feathers in his cap so to speak but he had decided to turn his art into Budo. After he decided to stop fighting (the last duel at the age of 39), he got into the arts of painting and sculpturing in which he excelled remarkably. In his mid 40s, one of the rulers in Kyushu island, Hosokawa retained him as an advisor. He stayed there until he died at the age of 61. During the last years, he also wrote some famous books including Gorin no Sho (Book of Five Rings) that proves he had great understanding of not only Bujutsu but also Budo. Musashi was not the only sword master who became an advisor to feudal rulers (Yagyu Muneyoshi , the founder of Shingageryu became an advisor to Shogun) but I took up Musashi here as he is known to the westerners because of his famous book, Gorin no Sho which is read by the business people and used as a textbook at some famous universitites.
By mastering Budo, a modern day Budo-ka may never become a Prime Minister or President of his country, but the people will know that this person has developed the immovable courage, unstoppable determination and a firm principle to live and die peacefully. He is now free of ego and wanton desire for money and power. He will never be a coward as he has the courage to risk his life for the principle he has. We now live in a more peaceful world than that of 16th and 17th centuries but the terrorism and robberies are pretty common in a big city. If a robber wants your wallet, it is not wise to risk your life for the sake of small amount of money. Instead, you will hand over your wallet to the robber but you do this not because of cowardice. However, if a robber or a terrorist threatens to kill your loving family or your friends or maybe the passengers of an airplane you may be on board, a Budo master would risk his life to save them.
I am not bashing on the tournaments. Participating in one of the tournaments may be an interesting and educational experience for the young people. However, I feel too much emphasis is put on tournaments lately around the world, including Japan. The practitioners and instructors are both knowing and unknowingly seeking Bujutsu but moving away from Budo. A shiai is meant to be an occasion where the practitioners can try out their techniques and to learn. We need to tell the students that winning and losing in matches is secondary. However, karate itself is changing in order to accommodate the tournament rules and to win. Funakoshi sensei was strongly against tournaments. He had feared the trend I mentioned above would occur. I am afraid his fear is coming true but we still have a hope as many practitioners are found who wish to go beyond “techniques” and physical skills.
How do we do it? It is simple, follow Master Funakoshi by exercising Dojo Kun. We must not recite it without meaning it. By reciting it with your sincere desire to follow you will internalize it and finally you are able to make it a part of our character. This is as difficult as perfecting karate skills. It may take many years, possibly your life time, to achieve it. But I guarantee that you will have a very peaceful life and know how to face death with a smile once you reach that final goal.