In this month’s ‘Karate Essence’ column, as I answer the question, ‘what makes a Budōka?’ I will be revisiting some of the philosophical Budo themes I have previously examined in depth. While I allude, briefly, to an aspect of a Budōka I will reference a previous article or column for those readers not fully conversant with that characteristic. By TD McKinnon
Budōka: The Etymology of the Word
Budo (武道), of course, is a Japanese term; literally translated, it means the ‘Martial Way’, and may even be thought of as the ‘Way of War’. Budo is a compound of the root Bu (武:ぶ ), meaning War or Martial; and Dō (道:どう) meaning, the way or the path. However, in this modern era, it has become a reference, describing the spiritual foundation of most Japanese martial arts. In that perspective Budo becomes an idea. Modern Budō needs no external enemy. The enemy is within; it is the ego that must be defeated.
The suffix, ka (家), with its kanji character meaning ‘family, house, home’, is recognised in Budōka (as in Karateka) as meaning ‘student’ or, perhaps more accurately, a devotee of the aforementioned, Budo. The Budoka follows a path of self-improvement, formulating propositions and subjecting them to philosophical critique.
What is a Budoka?
According to the hypothesis that Budo is the spiritual foundation of Japanese Martial arts, and that Ka is a student or devotee of said spiritual foundation, then a Budoka is, quite literally, one who studies or practices the art of war. In other words, it could be said that it is a warrior.
For the Budoka, it is not about winning or losing a competition, as in Sport Karate for instance. I am not saying that the Budoka cannot also be a sportsman, just that the Karate sportsman is not necessarily a Budoka.
Originally, for the Budoka, the idea was to safely learn techniques that would lead to victory on the battlefield, or in any hostile encounter. The trophy on offer, of course, was surviving; as opposed to being killed or maimed by an adversary.
In everyday living in today’s environment, the practical importance of technique has become less vital for actual physical survival. However – while other aspects, including spiritual, aesthetic or competitive may come to the fore – it is still essential to the Budoka that there remains a realistic practicality to their training and teaching.
So far, I have talked about Budoka as an exclusively Japanese concept. I would like to add here that, the more I have learned about the meaning of the term, the more I realise that I have been a Budoka for most of my life. You do not have to be a Karateka, as such, to be a Budoka. I have already stated that not all those who practice Karate (Karateka) are Budoka; being a one involves a certain spiritual element, which not all Karateka embody.
In my humble opinion, those who merely go through the physical motions (as an exercise or for sport) may be Karateka but they are not Budoka. Those Karateka who embrace Karate-Do (the way/path) as a way of life, to be better each day (holistically) than they were the day before, are Budoka.
I have trained in the art of war (of fighting in all of its aspects) since my earliest memories. My rational was not to be able to hurt and dominate others; my goal has always been to defeat the fear, in me, of being hurt and dominated.
The true Budoka does not strive to be undefeatable but to be fearless. True fearlessness is a spiritual quality that the one acquires, eventually, through the acquisition of Zanshin, Mushin, Shoshin, Fudoshin and Senshin.
1. Zanshin (残心): ‘the lingering mind’ is aware of everything, without distractions.
2. Mushin (無心): ‘the uncluttered mind’, without judgement and emotion, deals with situations from the moment point.
3. Shoshin (初心): ‘the open, eager mind’, with its lack of bias, sees all options.
4. Fudoshin (不動心): ‘the peaceful, determined and courageous mind’ provides the confidence to endure, no matter the odds.
5. Senshin (洗心): ‘the enlightened mind’, striving to protect and be in harmony with all life, completes the five spirits of Budo.
Embracing the five spirits of Budo – the full Mantle of the Spiritual Warrior – endows the advanced Budoka with fearlessness; thus rendering that him, virtually, undefeatable.
Long before I had heard of the philosophical terms, of Zanshin, Mushin, Shoshin, Fudoshin and Senshin, I was on the path. And, while walking the long and winding road of the spiritual warrior, I have had the great honour and pleasure of the company of others; some were Karateka and some were not. In fact many of them, and at one time that would have included myself, had never even heard the term. Let alone the above Japanese terms for the five spirits of Budo.
So, what does make a Budōka?
I do believe that a thorough understanding of the five spirits of Budo can help the devotee on his path to enlightenment. However, I personally, firmly believe that an innate knowing and empathetic appreciation of the philosophies behind the labels is much more important than an intellectual verbatim of the philosophical labels themselves.
I will finish with a quote from lifelong martial artist and prolific writer, 88 year old, Bujinkan Soke Masaaki Hatsumi: “There are three kinds of Budoka: ones that try to look strong, ones that try to perfect there technique and ones that try to gain a good heart.” For me, being a Budoka, is about what is in the heart.