Author: Bret Gordon
Recent events in my personal life have caused me to re-evaluate everything, which has lead me on a rather interesting journey with deep implications. In the past, I've written about how Budo is the study of life and death. Essentially, by training in the arts of war you understand both the fragility of life and your own ability to take it. Therefore, having such an appreciation for the sanctity of life should (in theory) lead you down a path of seeking a peaceful resolution to the majority of life's problems. But even this just scratches the surface to understanding Budo.
When you understand the character Do 道 (Tao in Chinese, as in Taoism), it does translate as "The Way," but the way to what? In this context, we're speaking about the path to enlightenment. When you couple it with Bu 武 (which refers to the military, war and combat) you come up with a rather interesting translation. What most people simply translate as "the martial way" is in reality the path to enlightenment through combat. Looking at enlightenment as having attained a higher level of spiritual knowledge or insight, where does the study of combat play a role in this?
Trauma, pain and suffering are often the most powerful catalysts for personal growth, and what human endeavor causes more trauma, pain and suffering than nearly anything else? War. Therefore, it is the study of such that leads us on a journey towards heightened spiritual insight. It's important to note that I'm not talking about academic study. We can read all the books that've been written, but this must be experienced to be truly understood. It is the physical training in the martial arts that simulate war and combat, and so we must submit to it on a regular basis. Real martial arts training must push you to the breaking point. The body must fatigue, the mind must question itself and the spirit must break. You are, in essence, simulating death itself. And it is through these experiences that we begin to understand our own limits, as well as our own strength to endure when there is no other option.
Before I continue, let me be absolutely clear that in no way am I comparing training in a dojo to real combat. The horrors of war are unexplainable except to those who have lived it. That said, the training the military receives prior to being deployed is meant to prepare the individual for such. As the martial arts have historically been warrior and military arts, training in them should focus on the same. If not, I'd hesitate to even call it martial arts training.
Now, the training we endure in Budo could very well be training for physical combat, but to the dismay of the RBSD community, let's be real. Unless you work in a high-risk job or live in a dangerous area, the odds of you needing to physically defend yourself on a regular basis are slim. While the violent crime rate statistics are scary, we have the luxury of living in a relatively safe society. Does that mean martial arts training is unnecessary? No. What it has done, however, is opened the door for the watering down of Budo so much so that martial arts training has been relegated to just another youth sport along with soccer, baseball and football. But I digress...
The training we endure is in fact a metaphor for life. Life is seasonal, and therefore we endure an endless cycle of events that take us on a roller coaster of emotion. Some of these events may even shake us to the core. They make us question who we are, break down any illusions we may have and force us to deal with ourselves in ways that we'd rather not. The repeated breaking down and subsequent growth experienced in the dojo is meant to prepare us for this. We are continually experiencing a cycle of death and rebirth through our training so that when we encounter something earth shattering in our outside lives, we at least have some idea how to push through it and survive. A friend of mine once said that you cannot be considered a martial arts master until you've gone through a divorce, because only then do you truly understand what real pain and suffering is as well as your ability to survive and overcome it. I have to agree.
So then, what really is the meaning of Budo? Simply put, Budo is enlightenment through suffering. Through the hardships of training, we are pushed to our spiritual, mental and physical limits. We are forced to suffer and endure, there is no other option. That is where the true spiritual refinement happens in Budo. You can recite the 7 virtues of Bushido, the 5 tenets of Taekwondo or any other creed all day long, but the spirit is like a sword. It is forged through repeated heating, folding and beating until it is shaped, and even then it must be ground down and sharpened until the edge is finally honed. It is a long, meticulous process that completely transforms the steel from beginning to end.
"Spirit, Mind, Body" has become a punchline of McDojos everywhere, yet it truly symbolizes everything that the martial arts should develop. Unfortunately, many instructors are weary of even talking about spiritual development. They refuse to get personally involved in their students lives, and stray away from topics that might either be controversial or difficult to discuss. These instructors are so disconnected from their students that I can't even call them sensei. This stems from both a complete lack of understanding of the difference between spirituality and religion, and a fear of offending someone in our politically correct culture to the point that they lose students, affecting their bottom line. They view students as nothing more than clients or customers, and in the customer service industry, the customer is always right.
But that's not what a dojo is. A dojo is a family, lead by the sensei through the journey of Budo. They train together, sweat together, bleed together and cry together. While it is certainly possible to make a living teaching martial arts, and an instructor should certainly be compensated for their efforts, when you begin viewing the school as a business you start losing sight of the deeper essence of the arts. What most schools offer is more or less a fitness class, but a grueling workout doesn't even come close to simulating the trials and tribulations of real martial arts training. Not even CrossFit or MMA training can prepare you for the moment when you are facing death and give you the strength to endure. It's just not the same. Physical strength and endurance can only go so far. You must have spiritual fortitude to survive. Just how is this accomplished? You'll need to enroll in a real dojo to find out.
This article was originally published on the US Association of Martial Arts blog. To view the original article, please click here.
About Our Blog
The articles posted here have been shared from the US Association of Martial Arts website, run by our headmaster Bret Gordon, for their relevance to Aiki Jujutsu. For more of his writings, please click here.