What is Budo?

“What is Budo?” Maruyama Koretoshi, the Founder of Aikido Yuishinkai


Before writing about the nature of ‘budo,’ I should first write about the difference between ‘budo’ and ‘sport.’ This is because even the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology does not properly differentiate between the two.


If we were to properly delve into the nature of ‘sport’ we ought to begin with Baron de Coubertin, who is known as the father of the modern Olympic movement, although to do his works justice would require far more paper than I have at my disposal. So, please allow me to briefly summarise the differences between ‘sport’ and ‘budo’ instead.


There are three essential elements to ‘sport.’


Firstly, the purpose of sport is to compete in order to determine a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser.’ This is why the purpose of athletes who compete at the Olympic Games, which are considered to be the global pinnacle of sporting achievement, is to get a ‘gold medal.’ In other words, it is to ‘win.’


Secondly, in order to ‘win,’ there must be ‘rules.’ If there were no rules, we would end up with fights to the death, such as those fought between slaves in the ancient roman coliseums.


Thirdly, there must be umpires to enforce the ‘rules.’


An activity must fulfil these three elements to be a ‘sport.’


So, what about ‘budo’?


Budo does not include any of these three elements. Naturally everyone wants to win, but that is not the end goal of budo. I’m sure that you have read phrases such as “I will strike a blow, even if it costs me my life” and “at least I will take him with me” in novels etc. about duels between warriors (bushi).


Also, did you know that duels (to the death) between bushi began the moment the time of the duel was decided? This is why once the time of the famous duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro on Ganryu Island was decided, Miyamoto Musashi immediately went into hiding. Many bushi were assassinated in the period between the duel being announced and the date on which it was to occur.


I’m sure this would be difficult to understand for modern people who have been brainwashed into the sporting mindset. Also, Musashi arrived at Ganryu Island three or four hours after the time the duel was scheduled to commence in order to unnerve his opponent. On the other hand, at the duel at Ichijoji Sagarimatsu, in spite of it being a duel, several hundred bushi planned to conceal themselves with bows and muskets to ambush Musashi, but he arrived a few hours early and slayed his opponent with a single cut before fleeing.


Dr Todo Akiyasu, who is a Chinese linguistic scholar, says that the character “武” (the ‘bu’ in budo) is a combination of ‘戈’ (halberd) and ‘止’ (which nowadays means ‘stop,’ but in ancient times referred to legs). Thus, the character ‘武’ originally meant to ‘hold your halberd (weapon) and keep going.’ Apparently the modern interpretation of ‘stopping the halberd (weapon)’ originated with the medieval Chinese Confucian scholar Zuo.

The essence of bujutsu is ‘don’t withdraw, don’t retreat, and don’t hesitate,’ or in other words, ‘courage.’ In a modern context, it is fair to interpret this to mean ‘no matter what difficult circumstances you are faced with, don’t stop, and keep persevering.’


There is one important aspect to learning the techniques of budo. That is ‘kata.’ By practicing ‘kata’ thousands or even millions of times, we can get rid of the bad habits our bodies have developed since we were born, and return to our true selves.


Tsukahara Bokuden, Kamiizumi Isenokami, Ito Ittosai, Yagyu Sekishusai and many others fought on hundreds of battlefields against hoards of enemies, and also fought in tens of duels against other swordsmen, but never sustained even the slightest scratch. This is because, unlike modern training, which involves competition, they just repeatedly practiced ‘kata’ tens of thousands of times.


By repeatedly practicing ‘kata,’ we can train our ‘ki.’ Repeatedly practicing kata also helps to sharpen our ‘intuition.’ Then, we are able to judge an opponent’s power without fighting. This is something that I have experienced, myself, so I am absolutely confident that it is correct. I will tell you about the time I had such an experience


I was walking through the city at lunch time, and I was approached by a middle-aged man. As we approached each other, our eyes met, and I thought ‘he knows what he’s doing!’ He must have thought the same thing about me. We both kept walking without pausing, maintaining our maai while passing each other as though slowly drawing a circle on the ground. At that time, I felt a trickle of cold sweat down my back. The headquarters of a certain school of karate was nearby, and I think the man was the shihan of that dojo.

The ‘kata’ of Aikido Yuishinkai is what we used to call ‘aiki taiso.’ Both I and the instructors in Tokyo practice this kata at least twice each morning and each night. In this way, we train our bodies to perform correct aikido movements, so that we can send our ‘ki’ to our opponents and harmonise with them.


The founder of aikido, Ueshiba Morihei sensei said “aikido is love.” When facing an opponent, first shine your ‘spirit,’ which is behind your heart, towards your opponent’s chest. We do not use the word ‘enemy.’ We say ‘opponent’ (aite). We blend with our opponent, and the light of our spirit brings them into harmony. Billions of years ago, a single life form arose in the ocean. It divided and evolved to form all life on earth, including us. Therefore, we are all descended from a common ancestor. If your opponent makes a wrong decision, use the power of your ki to correct their course. I think that is the role of budo in the modern age. ‘Words’ are mere symbols. By silently and sincerely practicing ‘kata,’ you can develop “the power to move mountains and the ki to encompass the world” and “silence like thunder.”


This is the role of budo in the modern age.


Translated by Robin Boyd