Ron Tisdale wrote:
Hmm, no offense, but...
Though I am not professional like Chris Li, I spend a lot of my time translating and interpreting from Japanese to English and vice versa. I see this mystification all the time, especially with Japanese, which has semantic features which are quite different from those of English. As a linguist I really do not believe that the 'stopping spears' stuff stands up to close examination and I have one dictionary which states that this explanation rests on a mistake (p.1279 of Tetsuji Atsuji's Gendai Kanjigo Jiten, published by Kokogawa Shoten).
My non-western language training is in Chinese. The kanji character -- Japanese "bu" 武 Chinese "wŭ" is indeed formed of two radicals. When decomposed into these two stand-alone characters, they do carry a meaning in Chinese of "stopping spears," or a like command as Mark suggests.
止 zhĭ = halt, stop, desist, detain
戈 gē = halberd spear lance
兵法 bīng fǎ = strategy (Suntzu- "art of war" lit. - soldier-method)
where 兵 bīng is composed of two radicals that mean, respectively, hand and axe.
But false folk etymologies of this sort abound in Chinese, and kanji, as an adapted system, is fertile ground for more.