Author: Bret Gordon
Budo has become a generic term for the martial arts as a whole, but in reality it's a word without direct translation. Therefore, it is somewhat open to interpretation. People try to place a date on the inception of Budo, to say that Budo is a modern concept following the Meiji Restoration (1868) and the end of the samurai class. They like to say that prior to that, it was all Bujutsu, pure combat with no spiritual misconceptions. While I agree that Bushido (the Warrior's Code) as we know it is a relatively modern invention, the concept of Budo is much older and is something mankind has been seeking since the beginning. To truly understand what Budo is, we need to break down the two characters 武道 that comprise it.
The first character, Bu, refers to war and combat, anything martial. The suffix -do literally means "way" or "path." So does Budo translate as the "martial way?" To me, that's a very superficial interpretation, and just like everything else in Asian culture, the true meaning is hidden within. When talking about the Path, what is it a path to? Because of the spiritual undertones of Asian society, the path speaks about enlightenment. Enlightenment is to reach the highest vibration, to seek ultimate peace and understanding while transcending human suffering. But if that's true, how does war and combat make any sense being on that path?
I personally translate Budo as the "path to enlightenment through the study of combat." Essentially, by studying war and combat, you are hardening the spirit to withstand and transcend the worst of human interaction, ultimately leading you to seek a higher level of peace and compassion. But isn't that the long way around? Surely there's an easier way to reach enlightenment? Maybe so, but Budo is the most profound in my opinion. I could write an entire book on this subject, so in the interest of time I will try to keep this as short as possible.