Budo: Service to Society

Budo translates to "martial way" or "martial path", but what does it mean in a broader sense? Why strive for the deeper "martial way" as opposed to "martial sport"? What role could you, as a martial artist, possibly play in society as a whole?


Tradition of Service

In sport, one trains to glorify the self. Winning means trophies, medals, and bragging rights. Once you commit to pursuing budo as a way of life you are following in the footsteps of warriors. In doing so, you begin to look at life differently and your training takes on new meaning. The ego becomes less import and you begin to shift your focus to others. The warrior tradition is one of service to the community: as protector, healer, and scholar.

Warrior as Protector

"Think about it. If we went just a single generation without men (and women) who are willing to go out every day and confront evil, then within the span of that generation we would surely be both damned and doomed.” -Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, On Combat

Throughout all of history the responsibility of protecting the rest of society has fallen to a relatively small group of individuals. These are the few who choose to study violence, to become extremely efficient at it, are willing to use it when necessary against those who truly seek to harm others, all while avoiding being consumed by it. I would argue that those with the ability to protect others, also have the responsibility to do so. In his book, On Combat, Lt. Col. Grossman breaks society down into three types of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. According to Grossman, sheep are the average, productive people of society who seek to avoid violence. Wolves are people who have a capacity for violence with no empathy for other human beings. They prey upon the sheep. Sheepdogs are those people with a capacity for violence, but also have a deep love for their fellow citizens. They confront the wolves and protect the flock. Humans are complex and perhaps Grossman oversimplified the human condition here. However, he does a great job at illustrating the fact that there will always be those people in society who seek to use intimidation and violence in order to take advantage of others. The warrior dedicates himself to the study of violence in order to protect himself and others.

Warrior as Healer

In the old times, it is said, one could not be considered a true master if he only possessed the ability to kill. He must have also possessed the ability to heal. 

Knowledge of the human body grows in lockstep with knowledge of martial principle. Even without exclusively committing to the study of anatomy or kinesiology, one who trains for any period of time intuitively learns these things through experience. In the past, as in modern times, this kind of medical knowledge could mean the difference between life and death. The martial artist who knew where on the body to strike or apply leverage, in combat, had a better chance of survival. It was also beneficial to the warrior to have a working knowledge of medicine in order to treat injuries; not only battlefield injuries, but training injuries as well. A warrior who could expedite the body's healing mechanisms could get back to training faster and lessened the risk of having a handicap in battle. In the east, and especially in China, warriors blended martial arts with Classical Chinese Medicine to produce herbal remedies for illness and injuries, as well as adopting other practices for their medical benefits such as massage, acupuncture, meditation, and qigong. The Shaolin monks are a famous example of warriors who also utilized the healing arts. In the west, many centuries of war between various countries has led to the development of sophisticated and effective trauma medicine which has crossed over to the civilian world.

Warrior as Scholar

"Knowledge is power."

Warriors, in addition to their extensive knowledge of martial teachings, in times of peace as well as in times of conflict, have sought to further themselves through academic pursuits. As part of their formal education,  many in the warrior class of the Ryukyu Kingdom were sent off to China to study its culture, language, and administration and to bring that knowledge back with them in order to enrich Ryukyuan society. The samurai sought to perfect their character during peacetime by dedicating themselves to art or literature as well as martial arts. Many martial artists with the experience and desire to do so, go on to share their art with others and blend it with other fields in which they have expertise. 

The knowledge gained by warriors can be of great benefit to the rest of society in several ways. For example, the rise of karate in America was due to the fact that warriors in WWII, the first generation of American karate-ka, brought it back home and shared it with their fellow citizens. Many martial artists are avid historians of their arts and the cultures from which they originated. Some spend years researching and translating written works from other languages. Others publish original works so that a wider population may benefit from their knowledge. Many martial artists are sources of vast information on many different subjects as well as guardians of specific cultural practices that might otherwise be lost if not for their effort of preserving them. Through the warrior tradition martial knowledge is able to survive through times of peace, without being lost or discarded, so that the knowledge is available should conflict arise and it is needed once again.

The Challenge to Serve

Adopting budo as a way of life is a personal decision that is not to be taken lightly and is not for everyone. If, however, you find that you are up to the challenge then there are several ways to apply yourself in each facet of service that was discussed above:

Become a protector: Start training as if your life and the lives of people around you depend on it. Accept the responsibility for the protection of those around you. Research the nature of violence and how to recognize its indicators. Learn these things so that you can avoid it when possible and respond effectively when required. Develop a sense of awareness for danger so that you are not caught off guard.

Become a healer: Martial artist, heal thyself! It starts with you. Right now is the perfect time to make yourself healthier. Commit to better nutrition, get more sleep, quit those unhealthy habits. A healthy life is the sum of small daily healthy choices. Don't discount alternative forms of medicine. Many effective remedies to common ailments are readily available to those with the knowledge of them. Do your research and draw your own conclusions. You don’t have to be a medical professional to be helpful. At the very least, keep a first aid kit on hand and brush up on basic first aid and CPR.

Become an scholar: Simply find something you are knowledgeable and passionate about and start researching. Don't let your study of martial arts stay limited to your time in the dojo. Realize that you have a lot to offer through the things that you are passionate about. If you dream of passing on the art to other students one day then strive for that. If you are already a martial arts instructor then find a way to blend one of your other areas of expertise into your classes or encourage students to seek out things which you think would bring them value.


This list is by no means comprehensive. It is merely a collection of ideas based off of my own personal experience. However, I hope it will serve as an inspiration to consider some of the things which you are capable of doing.

I sincerely hope that those of you reading this will embrace the challenge of service that budo offers!

If you enjoyed this article:




for updates on future articles and content!

Luke Pecor