Budo & Bujutsu

Budo and bujutsu are two concepts that exist within Japanese and Okinawan martial arts. These terms are tossed around quite frequently so it is beneficial to have an understanding of their meaning. Furthermore, both carry certain connotations and mean different things to different people. In this article, I'd like to share my own personal understanding of these two concepts, how they relate to each other, and what each approach could mean for your martial journey.

The Meaning of "Bu"


The most common Western translation of bu (武) is “martial”. However, to gain a better understanding of the concept of bu one must study the meaning of the kanji. The kanji for bu is a combination of two radicals: 戈 ("spear") and 止 ("to move forward"). So a more literal translation would be, "to advance with a spear" or "to advance the spear". This has connotations of combat, war, and battle. It pertains to the use of violent force. As far as I can tell through my research, this is the original meaning of the idea of bu. 

In modern times, the original interpretation of the meaning of bu has been somewhat altered. After the Meiji Restoration, when Japanese martial practices took on a more philosophical role, the radical “止” became commonly interpreted as, "to halt/stop". Therefore, the interpretation of bu became "to halt the spear". The connotations reflected a shift to the idea of restraining aggression, especially after WWII.


The Meaning of "Bujutsu" 


In Japanese thought, there are two classifications of a craft. The first one I will discuss is jutsu (術). Jutsu translates to "art" or "science". Therefore bujutsu means "martial art" or "martial science". It pertains to all the technical aspects of the craft. It deals with the applications of the craft’s techniques and includes strategy and tactics.

Functionality is the primary concern of bujutsuThe objective of training is to prepare the practitioner to prevail in physical combat with another person. Bujutsu emphasizes study of anatomy, physiology, striking, grappling, throws, joint locks, chokes, strangulations, etc. The training methods of a bujutsu will reflect the value placed upon the effective application of principles and execution of technique.

The Meaning of "Budo"


The second classification is that of do (道). Do is the Japanese adaptation of the Chinese concept of tao. The literal meaning of both words is "way" or "path". More subtly, it implies a "way" or "path" to enlightenment in the Zen Buddhist tradition. In modern times we could compare this concept to a lifestyle or a journey of self-actualization. 

We can translate budo as "martial way/path" and define its as the journey of self-actualization through the study and practice of martial arts. Budo goes beyond the technical aspects of the art and involves something deeper. It touches on all aspects of a person's life: body, mind, and spirit

Linking Bujutsu and Budo

As previously stated, at the heart of both bujutsu and budo is bu. It is what defines the art/path as being martial and is what differentiates it from other arts/paths. In the absence of bu the art/path has no martial context. Bu is the root of the relationship between bujutsu and budo.

Although bujutsu and budo are different concepts, they are far from being mutually exclusive. They actually enhance each other and can be found within each other. The absence of one or the other precludes the practitioner from realizing the full potential of martial training. If a person focuses on the external and physical aspects of the martial tradition he or she will no doubt become an impressive technician of the art. However, if all one focuses on is prevailing in a physical confrontation then they may not come to understand the deeper value of training. On the other hand, if all one ever does is focus on the internal and philosophical aspects of the martial tradition then every bit of the knowledge one has of the concept of bu will only ever amount to ungrounded theory.

In order to fully appreciate the martial tradition one must integrate both the external/technical with the internal/philosophical. Together, they form a relationship that informs and enhances the other. Thus, you stand to gain much more benefit from pursuing both together than you do from either one on its own. 

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Luke Pecor