Recently I was having a discussion with some fellow Bujinkan students about Budo and what it means. We arrived at the conclusion that it means something different to everyone as everyone's experience within martial arts is different. This made me reflect on my own experience within the Bujinkan as well as life experience and what Budo means to me as well as how I practice it.
Budo is often translated as "martial way" or "the way of martial arts" or some relative approximation of these things. It is important to remember that "martial" is an anglicized derivative of the Latin word "Mars"; the Roman god of war. As such the word "martial" really doesn't have any roots in Japanese. The word "bu" is translated as such because it's the closest approximation in English that we have. But like all things Japanese there's a lot more intricacy and subtlety to "bu" than the English translation allows. Wendell E.Wilson notes:
"The oriental concept is actually much different from the Western concept. The character bu is constructed from the characters meaning “arms of war” or “violence,” and “to stop, prohibit, or bring to an end.” Therefore, bu is more accurately translated as “to stop violence,” or perhaps “to bring about peace.” Thus budo, bujutsu and bugei might more appropriately be known as the “arts of the peacemaker.” The warriors of China and Japan saw their skills as tools for maintaining the peace rather than indulgences in a love of war. And although warfare was sometimes necessary to restore peace, peace was always the ultimate goal". - (Wilson 2010)
So it can be argued that Budo can be translated as "the way of bringing an end to violence". For me, this manifests as inner violence; being unkind or violent with ourselves mentally and emotionally. Is your growth and development as a human being hampered or impeded by an inner struggle or an inner conflict? Budo can be a remedy for that conflict. Budo is the path that we take to understand ourselves better both intrinsically and extrinsically.
When I train in a dojo, I operate from a different space than if I was to train in a gym. If a dojo were just to train physical technique it would be called a "jutsu-jo" rather than a "dojo". Technique and from can be drilled anywhere (and they should!) but the dojo is a place to practice bujutsu and budo together. Budo is a way to practice self-awareness and self-reflection in an effort to improve as a human being and to improve society. One can be a very proficient technician but without the proper heart and intention, the arts are liable to corruption and misappropriation. This is why a mirror is placed on the kamidana; to encourage self-reflection and to remind the student that the dojo is a place of honesty, growth and learning. In the early days of training I often sought to understand these abstract lessons without the necessary experience. As such it was a futile exercise. Now I'm beginning to understand that the real lessons found with martial arts can only be attained through honest, peaceful and diligent hard work.
I apply this same approach to my musical practice. Before I developed a perspective on Budo, I attempted to "get good" at music as quickly as possible. Little did I realise that I was cheating myself by rushing too far ahead. Only recently have I begun to approach music with an honest mind and heart. Now I practice the form of music (scales, theory, arpeggios, harmony etc) as I would approach kihon (basics); with attentiveness and sincerity. I'm only now beginning to mature as a musician because of honest reflection on my limits and shortcomings.
Alan Watts commented a lot in his lectures on the nature of desire within Buddhism. He tells the story of the Zen student who comes to his master expressing his frustration in his practice. He tells his master of his desire to quiet his mind but try as he might he just can't seem to. His master explains that his desire is the problem, and he must simply abandon his desire for enlightenment and all will be well. So the student, excited with this new insight and eager to engage in a new state of 'desirelessness' happily trots off to his practice. Sure enough, as the Zen master expects, the student returns and laments to his master that his frustration has now exponentially grown since he now desires not to desire.
You may have heard the saying, "we suffer because we desire". I sincerely believe this to be the case. I believe from my own practice of music, martial arts and meditation that desire can be a huge stumbling block to progression. How often as musicians, do we rush through our practice material because we're assured by the wider community that it's a 'must know'? Or how many times in our martial arts practice do we brush past the basic steps of a waza (technique) in order to attempt to execute the end product? When we focus on the end product, we fail to properly digest all the material that helps us navigate the process. As the old martial arts cliché goes: "with one eye on the destination you have only one eye left with which to make the journey". This can be observed in music when a student rushes through technical exercises such as scales and arpeggios without digesting the harmonic context that these concepts should be applied. The same can be seen in martial arts, when a student attempts to affect the structure of the opponent, without first understanding their own structure and how to use basics movement principles to affect structural change.
In all aspects of our lives, the desire to be something, to achieve something or to possess something creates a conflict within us. By desiring, we create a vacuum that needs to be filled. And just as nature seeks to fill a vacuum so too does our ego seek to fill the vacuum that we create for ourselves. This conflict arising from who we are vs who we want to be, or what we have vs what we don't have, or what we've done compared to what we haven't done, can be extremely distressing, especially in such a world so focused on appearances.
Reflecting on my experiences as an artist, I have come to the conclusion that one of the biggest obstacles to 'getting good' is the desire to get good! So my advice, for anyone struggling in their practice, with their craft or with their self-worth; is to slow down and go back to basics. Try not to worry so much about where you want to be and just focus on the task at hand. You'll be surprised at the amount of progress that can be made by operating like this. Getting good will take care of itself. Just keep going!