Is True Budo Beyond Western Reach?
August 17, 1997 · 8:00am EST · Posted by D. Seidman
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389
"From my grandfather, I learned good morals and the government of my temper. From the reputation and remembrance of my father, modesty and manly character. From my mother, piety and beneficence, and abstinence not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts, and further, simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich. Since it is possible that you may depart from life this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly. Throwing away then all things, hold to these only which are few, and besides bear in mind that every man lives only this present time, which is an indivisible point, and that all the rest of his life is either past, or uncertain." - Marcus Annium Verus

These words may have been uttered by a samurai when instructing a pupil. But they were not. They were written by Marcus Annium Verus, also known as Marcus Aurelius, who was Emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD. "Meditations", as this work is known, is not a sacred text, nor was it meant to be, but the thoughts of a man who attempted sincerity, and for those who can read not just words but also feelings. I have been told - he succeeded.

The proper virtues of the human character, those which could be described as righteousness, are not exclusive to one single culture. Neither are the faults of ignorance and indifference.

Budo has its roots in human survival, but it grew beyond the mere skill to become a martial discipline whose greatest strength lies in the spirit. Fierce warrior deities, like the Nioh, embodied that fighting spirit. Other mysterious, mythical characters, like the tengu, taught divine technique and gave origin to diverse ryu. Good warriors rose to fame, and better warriors avoided it. A life-giving sword became a greater exponent of a samurai's strength and ability than a life-taking sword.

Knowledge of life's frailty increases appreciation for life's subtleties. The same mind who meticulously trained itself to recognize the exact points in the human body to strike to inflict the most damage - as seen in the charts of atemi jutsu kyoden - also sought enlightenment and purification through meditation and ablutions. Sitting in contemplation in a temple garden was as profitable for martial skills as the actual training, because it strengthened the spirit and opened the mind.

The warrior sought peace. The individual who might have become a one-dimensional entity, with no other facets to his character besides killing or being killed, was able to cherish subtle beauty, and add to life. This he did through poetry, through calligraphy, through the intricacies of the tea ceremony, through ink painting, through carving, through the cultivation of filial piety and prayer.

None of the true warriors allowed himself to weaken enough to become a cynic. Some see in this development a complex paradox, but the reality is much more simple. It is the inquisitiveness of an outsider that puts the answer out of reach by seeking answers compatible with linear logic, instead of allowing the facts to just be, as death and beauty just are. There were no reasons beyond the Way, and that was, and is, all the logic needed.

Are the principles of Budo unattainable to the modern mind? How tempting it is to "humanize" old heroes, old prophets, old teachers! The weaker we are, the greater our need to diminish others. After all, if Ito Ittosai Kageisha was indifferent to the spiritual and moral aspects of Budo, so can I be! If Matsumoto Bizen was inclined to immerse himself in the pleasures of alcohol, so can I! If Musashi was reluctant to take baths, why shouldn't I do the same? After all, if I cannot match the master's skills, I might be able to indulge myself with their weaknesses ... or at least use them as an opportune excuse for my own. Comfort zone indeed! But what a sad reflection on the character of the modern budoka that he can feel at ease with the memory of great teachers only after he has dug out all of their flaws, and that he is more inclined to partake of mediocrity than he is to imitate greatness.

Is modern man incapable of embracing Budo? Or more precisely: Is the Western mind incapable of accepting the Budo spirit without rationalizing away respect, loyalty, benevolence, humility? We can hardly believe that. Righteous thinking is not limited to one region of the planet, to one country or to one group of men, or to one time in history. Cynicism is often mistakenly equated to wisdom, but if the latter is the byproduct of an upright spirit, then the former is, almost always, the backbiting of a weak and resentful one, and can also be found in every corner of the Earth. The direction we choose defines us, and it makes no difference if we frequent Ginza street on weekends, stroll through Picadilly Square on dry days, or are regulars at the Mea Shearim.

If we would write about technique, we know that many would devour every word and try to squeeze as much aiki knowledge as they can. If there were photos of techniques, they would try enhancing a particular area to analyze the proper grip, or the exact moment of kuzushi. But since we write about spirit, it is likely that a much smaller number of readers has got even this far, and this - as I have experienced - happens all over the world, East and West, North and South.

On the other hand, I have also found commitment, loyalty, respect, humility, sobriety, true Budo spirit, all over the world. The numbers are smaller, to say the least, but detectable nevertheless. That's encouraging!

The mark of a sincere budoka is defined by the kei list, which we recommend that you research and try. If any of those items is not present in us, it is time to re-evaluate our priorities. The list begins with Keiten and Keichu, and continues though Keigyo Suru, Keisho Suru, Keicho Suru, Keiken, Keibo, Keiai, and ends with Keijo Suru. Without them, there's no Budo in us. Could you imagine how many budoka would flock to a seminar offered by a teacher whose proposed topics are those in that list? Would you do it as readily as if the topic was hiogi no waza?

Juvenal wrote that it is hard not to write satire, so we will not go any further into that area, but it remains open for self-analysis. Or so we hope.

Budo is not a mere collection of skills, but a principle of life and a state of mind, painfully uncomfortable for braggarts and for fools. But it is neither archaic nor unattainable, regardless of our nationality. Epictetus could have been referring to it when he said, "You must know that it is no easy thing for a principle to become a man's own, unless each day he maintains it, hears it maintained, as well as works it out in life."

Good description of gosei and seishin (spirit). Precise method for Budo.


Current Class Schedule