Daito Ryu & Religion
April 27, 1997 · 2:38pm EST · Posted by D. Murphy
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389
No human conflict has ever been solved by bloodshed or violence. The results of such methods are fleeting at best, and illusory at worst. History is a good witness, but mankind is a poor learner. True bujutsu, and true budo are "life giving sword", not "life taking sword". Not mere self defense. Certainly not a sport. To be of true value, bujutsu and budo must involve the spirit. But upon hearing this many back off with an uneasy feeling, wondering what is expected of them, and how anyone would dare to do it.

"True victory happens within", teaches koryu bujutsu. "Every battle begins and ends in the hara" was one of the precepts drilled into the minds of the students of the Nishinkan. Both experience and wisdom, point inward to find true answers, and true solutions. And so do bujutsu and budo. For that very reason they receive criticism from agnostics and atheists alike.

For some people without religious faith, the traditions and the ethics are too much like a religion. For others, those very same traditions are a threat to their faith.

In truth, the first common denominator between both groups is ignorance, the second is fear. These are the same characteristics that produce violence, rudeness, prejudice, vice, and other common weaknesses in man.

But the greatest strength in what bujutsu teaches is that the answer that is sought within is not one involving worshipping, but sincerity. No idle and indulgent exploration of selfhood is necessary, but spirit forging is. The only reason there is an inner search has nothing to do with a "journey of self discovery", but is a search for improvement, because true selfhood is not suddenly found in a crevice of the mind. True selfhood is created.

Sincerity, loyalty, honor, and all other virtues, need to be exercised, not waited upon to be found. bujutsu teaches this issue very clearly. And in doing so, it takes nothing away from any believer, for being a person of clean, peaceful and sincere spirit that can stand to his or her own scrutiny is not an unreasonable expectation. It makes absolutely no difference what faith a man or woman professes, if it cannot stand an honest look.

Which religion contradicts the virtues of honor, courage, sincerity, respect, loyalty, etiquette, compassion, and righteousness? Conversely, are these virtues too much for someone who professes no religious faith? We hope that the answers are negative in both cases.

To train in Daito ryu one does not have to be a Shintoist, a Buddhist, a Christian, or a Muslim. It is not mandatory to go to a synagogue on Saturday nor attend the yearly O-bon celebrations. But neither is it wrong to do any of these things.

For someone of religious faith, bujutsu teachings would help define their sincerity. For someone without such faith, it would help to improve their humility. The main objective of spirit forging does not deal with theology, but with character. That is where the definition of spirit begins. Where it ends is up to us.

A divinity, or a man, who ignores or rejects teachings of honor and compassion is indeed deserving of questioning.

A friend of ours, who is both a Christian by faith and a martial artist, told us how her bujutsu improved her faith, when it made her look into her motivations as she meditated. Involved with her church's works of charity, she discovered that she was practicing what she called "elegant Christianity" (socially involved in neat worship), but how strong would she be, she pondered, if she suddenly found herself sent to a remote island, without a comfortable bed, clean clothes, and proper food and no hope of coming back. Would the lack common toiletry products have any weight against her professed faith? At the same time, could she ignore the lack of medicines of her brothers and sisters from a poor country, while she buys without any guilt a pair of new curtains for her living room or a pair of expensive shoes? Which is more important, how she looks during the Sunday service, or the needs of children in desperate need of antibiotics

It is at that level that individual discerning makes the difference. Bujutsu recommends a sincere answer. From within. This would be an evil practice only if we do not like what we see when we look in, and we are asked to refrain from comfortable rationalizations.

And, as an extension, the same level of ethics should apply to an individual without religious beliefs. This person does not make himself accountable to a divine power, but surely - if his claim to atheism is not used as a blank check to pure self indulgence - respect, sincerity, kindness and integrity should already be part of his character and he is accountable to it.

True bujutsu and budo begin with spirit. Spirit begins as integrity of character. Neither meditation, nor sword training, nor bowing before the kamiza can contaminate the spirit of anyone. The true pollutant, regardless of the faith of the individual, is the lack of integrity.

A proper character, a proper attitude, and a proper spirit is what is expected of a student. The faith he or she may profess is entirely up to the individual.

The teachings and traditions (and what is expected of a student) of Daito ryu, as in any form of true bujutsu, or budo, do not go beyond that. Wisdom shall do the rest.

When considering the bujutsu and budo code of conduct, we become aware of the importance placed upon it. An old densho reads:

Seishin o yashinaeba, katana wa shitagai, yo o okotareaba wa gi to nari mueki to naru. (Develop the spirit and the sword will follow. Neglect the spirit and the sword will become false and useless).

To expect respect, loyalty and proper behavior, inside and outside of the dojo, from a student is not unreasonable, excessive or unfair. Being admitted to the dojo, and being given the honor of learning the art, is a privilege and no one should lose sight of that. As a teacher once said, "The dojo fees entitle the student to leave his shoes at the door. All else must be earned."

The majority of classical ryu have been preserved through the years within a particular family, or a succession of teachers, who rightfully considered them to be priceless legacies, something worthy of the utmost respect. Still, there are many who expect to receive the teachings served on a platter, garnished to their taste, and totally unconditionally, for a price, like dish at a restaurant. Fortunately, not all arts have degenerated to the point where "profitable trade" is the main priority.

A student of a particular ryu becomes, whether he or she wants it or not, a representative of the ryu, his dojo and his teacher at all times, and everywhere. He carries this responsibility, and he must worth of trust not to teach the techniques he learns in the dojo to others, without proper permission, as the keppan[blood oath] specifies.

An individual who is vain and arrogant, who is disrespectful of others, who is abusive, or ill tempered, who is a drunkard or a drug addict, shames the art he or she learns. Worse yet, other students may consider such traits to be acceptable and emulate them.

How often do we find teachers of competitive martial arts who give preference to certain students whose skills are above average, and are an asset to the "reputation" of the dojo when these students go to tournaments and come back with trophies (which often end up in a window display)! In many cases these students do not have the best of attitudes, but regardless, they are favored. Junior students look up to them, and imitate them. More often than not, no correction is given and these students carry on with their conceit, boasting and laughable narcissism. Eventually, and shamefully so, they open dojos of their own, carrying on with a teaching which, by example, negates proper spirit. At this point a dojo is no longer "the place of the way". It is place where people go to learn technique laced with arrogance, insolence, shallowness, and a dosage of swollen ego. All that for a moderate price, and perhaps the free gift of a brand new keikogi.

These things are irrelevant only to those whose word cannot be trusted, to those who do not deserve to be part of the ryu in the first place. Of course, one can always find excuses for ignoring the proper principles, but if our excuses can reach as far as our loyalty, we have no idea of what loyalty means. We should not be taught a martial art It is a simple as that.

A good teacher keeps those principles and tries to instill them in his students.

There is a good reason for this. First, let's imagine that you are the proud proprietor of a rather expensive (and logically irreplaceable) sports car, loaded with all that modern automotive technology can offer so far. It can do everything but serve you breakfast in bed. It has incredibly luxurious upholstery and a sound system that can be heard from two time zones away. Second, let's imagine you have two friends who ask to borrow your car. One is a reliable friend, loyal enough to follow all your instructions to the letter, and by doing so keeping that car in perfect condition until he returns it to you. The second, irresponsible, full of himself, will discard most of your advice as soon as you turn your back, and rationalize the rest, so he can drive the car "his way". He will do anything he wants to it, including spilling beer on the upholstery, driving it through muddy roads, and changing gears like there is not tomorrow, taking you for granted in a big way.

Now, to whom of those friends would you lend your car?

Considering that, to a true teacher, whose ryu is more valuable to him than any car that has been, or will ever be built, if your answer is the first friend, you would have understood the fundamental feeling behind the principles taught to the student, and in doing so, you will have protected the ryu.

If you chose the second friend, you either do not care about cars, or are in deep need of therapy.

If your answer is that you would not lend your car to anyone, you may also have understood how some teachers feel, and the logic behind their caution.

To be of any value to today's society, bujutsu and budo should be taught in order to offer proper spirit and technique; compassion and technique; respect and technique; honor and technique. Not egotism and technique, arrogance and technique, violence and technique. That second variation is equivalent to buying a gun and spending every evening drinking at the local pub. That does not make any spiritual or ethical demands either.

True bujutsu and budo are like a straight and honorable path to follow, between heaven and earth. Which direction one takes at the end of that road is, of course, a personal decision.


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