Budō (武道) is a Japanese term describing modern Japanese martial arts. Literally translated it means the “Martial Way”, and may be thought of as the “Way of War”.
Budō is a compound of the root bu (武:ぶ), meaning war or martial; and dō (道:どう), meaning path or way. Specifically, dō is derived from the Buddhist Sanskrit mārga (meaning “path”). The term refers to the idea of formulating propositions, subjecting them to philosophical critique and then following a ‘path’ to realize them. Dō signifies a “way of life”. Dō in the Japanese context, is an experiential term, experiential in the sense that practice (the way of life) is the norm to verify the validity of the discipline cultivated through a given art form. The modern budō has no external enemy, only the internal enemy, one’s ego that must be fought.
Similarly to budō, bujutsu is a compound of the roots bu (武), and jutsu (術:じゅつ), meaning technique. Thus, budō is translated as “martial way”, or “the way of war” while bujutsu is translated as “science of war” or “martial craft.” However, both budō and bujutsu are used interchangeably in English with the term “martial arts”. Budo and bujutsu have quite a delicate difference; whereas bujutsu only gives at/tention to the physical part of fighting (how to best defeat an enemy), budo also gives attention to the mind and how one should develop oneself.
The modern interpretation of martial arts as sports has nothing to do with the original Path of those arts. Any true Path leads to freedom: not freedom from dogmas, nor from conventions; of course, rules and laws do exist for the free man also, since they are the only possible way to organized social life. But the Path to legitimate individuality loses all ties and joins an inner meaning when we are able to recognize ourselves. Here freedom begins, characterized by increasing detachment from the restrictions of conventional thought.
The personal committment is enormous. This allows freeing oneslef from the chains of form. Pure imitation of forms, be it knowledge or power, has no sense whatsoever. Following such a path, one does not practice techniques for a particular goal; one practices to keep in touch with the highest possible ideal. Every exercise attempts to bring the practitioner out of his/her little Ego. Such a practice has only value if it lacks any egoistical aspiration, when carried out freely, with no predetermined plans for victory. The practice of martial arts is only justified when it is meant to be an art of the Path (Do). The various systems are only means by which we look for our own sense of life. A man that lets himself go to form without looking for thir meaning is no better than an animal. The Path is meant to reach something higher and to oppose the tendency to let us go to lower instincts. Without this meaning, even martial arts would become a parody with no spirit, made of refined techniques and an intellectualized phylosophy, but with no value or meaning.
Budo practice is not form, it is self-improvement. It is not a sport for measuring our abilities in competition, it is a careful consideration on human values. In martial arts the technique is the means, in sports the technique is the goal.
The aim of the ancient masters was getting free of the fundamental fear of death through the practice of martial arts. They understood that killing, as taught by ancient Bujutsu, did not provide a solution to that problem; therefore they found Zen phylosophy to be the tool for reaching their goal. They quitted the battle against the enemy and started the one against their own Ego.
The old masters goal was break free of the fundamental fear of death by means of martial arts practice. They understood that killing as taught by ancient Bujutsu, didn’t solve the problem; therefore, they found in Zen philosophy the means to achieve their goal. They stopped fighting against the enemy and started fighting their own ego. Even today, this is the great value of Budo. While the masters turned against themselves the very methods thay formerly used against the enemies, a new art of life was bord from the martial arts of death. A dire exercise became the means through which discover the physical and spiritual boundaries; the innate desire for researching was aimed to perfecting interior abilities. Budo practice can lead the man to full harmony with oneself and the entire world. Overcoming the ego, a requirement for following the Path, can teach man how to recognize himself in the practice, and achieve self completeness. If the practitioner rejects this condition by seeking formal perfection, he or she won’t be able to see the Path.
From Budo, la Via Spirituale delle Arti marziali, by Werner Lind – Ed. Mediterranee, Italy,1996