The Best of Budo – Bushido for The Modern Warrior

Strange uniforms, weird bowing, mystical movements with lethal potential, alien terminology and hierarchy have become incredibly unhip in today’s martial arts world, where MMA is king. But modern martial arts have an unexpected amount to learn from traditional budo. Here we look at what Budo and the 7-5-3 code of contemporary Bushido can bring to the modern warrior.

Let’s start with some vocabulary. Budo (way of fighting) is a collective name for modern Japanese martial arts such as kendo, Aikido, Judo, Karate-do and others. It is considered a modern take on the older, classical martial traditions often referred to collectively as bujutsu (martial arts).

– Budo is about self-perfection, and bujutsu is self-defence, according to budo authority Donn Draeger.

The shift from bujutsu to budo occurred in Japan when the country underwent many reforms. What was considered old and traditional was unnecessary and inappropriate in modern Japan, which took inspiration from the West in many ways. Philosopher Aizawa Yasushi distinguishes budo from bujutsu as follows:

– The arts of sword, spear, bow and saddle are bujutsu; to know etiquette and honour, preserve rectitude, strive for frugality, and thus become a bastion of the state is budo.

But why learn techniques to harm each other when you live in a peaceful society? The techniques have spiritual, sporting and other reasons that have much more to do with personal development than combat effectiveness.

The British educationalist Herbert Spencer wrote the book ”The Theory of Education”, which left a deep impression on the young Jigoro Kano, the founder of modern Judaism. His teacher training emphasised that a perfect education system should develop the practitioner’s mind, intellect, morals and body. Many judo scholars claim that this precisely made Kano decide that Kodokan judo should be a bodily (physical), mental and even aesthetic training medium.

If we look at Japanese Karate-do, Aikido and Iaido, the consequences of this new niche cannot be ignored. The shift in focus from combat effectiveness to spiritual balance and personal development has meant that the training focused on repetition and copying.

– ’Karate as practised today is very different from how it was practised 40 years ago,’ recalls Shigeru Egami, one of Gichin Funakoshi’s (founder of Shotokan Karate) earliest students and Shotokai’s founder.

The self would be tamed with countless repetitions of defence, attacks and position changes in predetermined patterns (called kata). Uniformity was prioritised over personal adaptation and efficiency, and why not? The Japanese pride themselves on having one of the safest countries in the world. The need for practical self-defence dropped drastically. But for a single instructor to oversee a large group of students, the etiquette of budo training was added, which was absent in the days of bujutsu (martial arts).

A samurai trained primarily to be an effective warrior soldier did not need routines and rituals like a banker studying aikido for personal development potential. The former adapt the art to its conditions and needs, while the latter adapts to the requirements of the art.

It is precisely the East Asian subculture that made these martial arts so famous in the West between the 70s and 90s. That is suits, belts, bowing, screaming, mystical movements with lethal potential, foreign terminology, hierarchy and even values. These were discarded with the arrival of early MMA (or NHB – No Holds Barred, as it was called). Suddenly, there was no need to wear identical snow-white suits or colourful belts, learn a foreign language or say ”osu” and bow before entering the gym. Given the Gracie family’s early success in the cage, all martial artists of all styles searched high and low for historical evidence that their style also included grappling elements.

Gi was traded for rashguards and shorts; all dojos suddenly offered MMA on the schedule. Suddenly there was a period where you couldn’t flip through an issue of Black Belt Magazine without some karate or taekwondo practitioner demonstrating a poorly executed armbar. ”Yes, our systems always had throws and joint locks”; it was claimed everywhere.

Crosstraining became big thanks to the early UFC; of course, it was a positive phenomenon. We can’t deny that a more well-rounded fighter is better. The only question is: at what cost?

When martial arts instructors a la year 2005 abandoned uniforms, bowing in line and other formalities, martial arts lost something that distinguished the activity from others, such as tennis, athletics and other individual sports. For better or worse, the attitude towards old traditions became somewhat discouraging, and people no longer wanted to associate themselves with the old. It was felt that foreign titles such as sensei or sifu symbolised brainwashing and blind obedience; indeed, one can see this argument.

The problem was that many took the lack of titles as an excuse to dispense with common courtesy. Of course, you don’t have to bow if you don’t want to… But what’s wrong with expecting people to greet the instructor or each other before stepping onto the mat or starting pair practice?

The question, then, is how we could re-incorporate the benefits of modern and classical budo (the budo spirit, focus on training for life, self-defence, mental challenge, discipline and putting the group’s best interests before one’s own) into today’s MMA. And once we do, how can we avoid all the negatives, such as blind hierarchy, unscientific training and repetitive strain injuries?

THE 7-5-3 CODE
The answer again lies in the culture you create in the club, consciously and unconsciously. The Valente brothers in Miami, who have run a very famous and successful academy where Helio Gracie’s jujutsu system and traditions are held in the highest regard, summarise their view of the budo spirit in what they call the 7-5-3 code.

The seven principles of Bushido:
1) Justice (gi; 義) is all about ensuring you have the right way when making a decision. You have the power to make a decision quickly is about ensuring that you do not become indecisive and that your decisions are made based on the right reasons.
2) Courage (yū; 勇) is about ensuring that what you do is correct and that you dare to do the right thing, not just what people think you should do. If you are raised in a particular way, you think in a way you believe in. this is about making sure you do what you believe in and have the courage to do so.
3) Benevolence (jin; 仁) is about ensuring you are balanced in your thinking – strength must be balanced with kindness. Show compassion and sympathy and give help at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise, go out of your way to find one. This will build your character.
4) Respect (rei; 禮) and being polite means respecting your peers’ choices and beliefs; respect for life and yourself. You are not only respected for your strength but also your dealings with others.
5) Honesty (makoto; 誠) is essential, as honesty gives you respect and means you can be trusted. Everything starts with being honest towards yourself.
6) Honour (meiyo; 名誉) is judged by your deeds. The decisions you make and how these decisions are carried out reflect who you are. You cannot hide from yourself.
7) Loyalty (chūgi; 忠義) is, first and foremost, something you must be towards yourself but also to those in your care. You are responsible for your promises, and you should be fiercely faithful.

The five key factors to long-term health
1) Daily exercise
2) Proper diet
3) Adequate rest
4) Hygiene
5) Positive attitude

The three mental states of Zen Buddhism
1) Zanshin: ”The residual mind”. It is casually aware of one’s surroundings and enemies but simultaneously prepared to act. In several martial arts, Zanshin focuses more narrowly on the body’s posture after performing a technique.

2) Mushin: ”The no-mind”. One of the essential concepts in Budo is the Japanese term Mushin. In verbal judo, the samurai’s tactical state of mind is unconscious awareness. The spontaneous, unrestrained mind is also called ”the zone” in other sports.

3) Fudoshin: ”The unwavering mind”. Only people who have endured great trials can achieve a state of complete calm and fearlessness. This state of equilibrium is essential in the practice of Zen and Budo.

Martial arts clubs have a sense of community unlike any other, and it’s no coincidence. People come to a martial arts club with different fears, confidence, and anxieties. You might quit if you’re not a natural talent at table tennis, playing the guitar or throwing a ball. Nothing more to it. But having it confirmed after a session or three that you suck at fighting and defending yourself against attackers is much harder to swallow and put behind you. When a beginner steps onto the mat, they are immediately met with a realisation and a choice: I suck at fighting or defending myself. I can now either return until I learn or pretend this never happened.

An instructor with integrity will want everyone to choose the first option and should therefore manage the club’s culture to favour this. Safety. Reliability. Unity. Focus. Together they promote a happy martial artist. With the right approach to what budo can bring to modern martial arts and sports, a happy medium can be found where everyone wins in the long run.

Here are four ways you can give yourself and your club a well-deserved ”Budo-boost”:

1) Rules create safety.
Introduce clear rules about requirements for participation in different sessions, acceptable dress and hygiene, punctuality and attendance. Print these out, frame them, make them visible throughout the premises and refer to them at every opportunity.

2) Routines create reliability.
Create routines and stick to them: plan beats no plan, as they say. Create routines such as mat etiquette, session structure, cleaning schedule, and six-month curriculum. Any instructor in the club with the right expertise should be able to step in and substitute for another by looking at the plan and the session theme.

3) Meetings create unity.
Hold regular meetings between instructors. At least once a month (preferably more often), all instructors should attend a meeting to check where the club and the members’ development is going, which rules and routines work better or less well, and what new ones must be introduced.

4) Tests create focus.
Knowledge tests: the martial arts world is divided on this sensitive point. To test or not to test? But the more significant questions are instead: who to test, what to test, how to test it, and what do the test results mean in the big picture? Often you hear instructors telling students that competition results are less important than the preparation on the way there. The same is also true with tests. The real value comes from training in the weeks and months before the test.

[This article was originally published in Fighter Magazine issue 1-2016.

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