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Old 12-06-2007, 10:13 PM   #1
dps's Avatar
Join Date: Apr 2006
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Definition of Budo

I ran across these two old posts on Aikido Journal on the definition of Budo as not "stopping the spear" but "advancing with a spear".


(PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2002 8:29 pm Reply with quoteBack to top
"I think 'bu' and 'budo' is a classic example of mystification (discussed on another thread). The term is left in Japanese, usually on the grounds that equivalents like 'martial' or 'martial way' do not "capture" the 'real' or 'true' meaning of the term. But it is treated semantically as if it were an English word. Thus we talk about 'true budo' or the 'true idea of budo', as if there were an eay way to find out.

It would not make sense to ask if the object on my wrist was a 'true' watch, but it certainly would make sense to ask if it was a 'true' Rolex, especially in Asia. There is a recognised way of finding out, by examining the certificate, or asking the makers to check the serial number etc. I am not aware that there is much of a problem with recognising 'true' judo or 'true' kendo, but budo seems to be treated as if it were a religion. Probably there is no satisfactory way of finding out this side of the grave whether 'x-ism' is a 'true' religion or not.

I practise aikido in Japan and here it is called budo. This term has a clear meaning, even it is not as precise as the English equivalent might be (it is different from 'bu-jutsu', for example). Is it 'true' budo? I have no idea, but I do not believe it is particularly false.

As an abbreviation of 'bushido' the word does not have a history earlier than the Tokugawa period, but it might have been used before this time to relate to purely technical, i.e., killing, proficiency with the sword, spear, horse etc. It did not have any philosophical, ethical or religious overtones before the period when Tsunemoto wrote the "Hagakure" around 1710 onwards. Before the Tokugawa era, the samurai were a military class following an honor code resting on the instant and efficient use of violence and killing. Was it 'true budo'? If it worked, absolutely. The ethical questions were quite separate, but were not important enough to warrant a special term.

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)."

Best regards to all,

P A Goldsbury)


(PostPosted: Sun Oct 06, 2002 6:40 am Reply with quoteBack to top

quote:Originally posted by P Goldsbury:
"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).

That's the way that I've always seen it, considering that the character originated at a time when "stopping the spear" meant stopping it in your enemy's belly Smile. FWIW, my copy of the Kanji Gen also lists the "stopping the spear" definition as an error and gives the explanation as "advancing with a spear" (actually a kind of Chinese halberd), which seems like a pretty good definition of "war" to me."



What do you think?



Go ahead, tread on me.
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Old 12-06-2007, 11:44 PM   #2
Carl Thompson
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Re: Definition of Budo

There's some interesting stuff regarding the "stop" element on this thread.


Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
Yes, currently it means "stop". But then, "stop" didn't always mean "stop", if you know what I mean. (It originally meant, "to stop something up", and not "halt".)

If you look closely at the ashi kanji, you'll notice that below the box is the kanji for tomeru! You see, the 止 character was originally a pictorgraph of foot, specifically a footprint. Look at the character for "walk" 歩, and you can see the character at the top representing one footstep, while the character below represents the other foot, hence, "walking".

Because 止 represented a footprint, it took on the sense of standing still (enough to leave a print), and from that, to stop, halt. To represent foot, then, 足 was created. This character, incidently, means "foot", not leg. The character for leg, also read ashi is actually 脚.

In general, it's best not to assume that component kanji parts mean what their individual characters mean, as there as been both linguistic shift in Chinese and Japanese, as well as orthographic shift in the kanji. For example, one may look at the kanji for shoulder 肩, and see "door" 戸 and "moon" 月. Hmmm, how did the Chinese get "shoulder" from a door on the moon?! But in fact, what looks like 戸 is actually a pictograph representing the skeletal structure from the collarbone down the arm, and what looks like 月 is actually a reduced form of 肉, "flesh".
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Old 12-08-2007, 12:24 PM   #3
Dojo: Messores Sensei (Largo, Fl.)
Location: Florida
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Re: Definition of Budo

FWIW, I posted an historical accounting of this a while back essentially summarizing Bodiford. The refs and URL follow:

For a very enlightening read--revisionist even--see Bodiford on Religion and Spirituality in the Martial Arts: Japan in the Martial Arts of the World Encyclopedia.

Title Martial arts of the world : an encyclopedia / edited by Thomas A. Green.
Call Number R 796.803 MA
Publisher Santa Barbara, Calif. : ABC-CLIO, c2001.

In the teens, 20's and 30's, Jp was in the clutches of fascists who oriented education to inculcating sentiments of suicidal allegiance to the emperor. The Jpn recognized their technological incapacities and intended to take up the slack with "SEISHIN", fighting spirit (remember the women in Okinawa fighting flame throwers with sharpened bamboo poles? One modernizer who tried to build up Jpn armaments was accused of treason).

To this end, the famous Hagakure ("The way of the samurai lies in death"), written by a romantic gasbag born during the peace of Tokugawa who never had to draw his sword in anger, was widely circulated to inspire fanaticism; martial arts were taken over by an organization called the Butokukai founded for this purpose to introduce youth to fighting and sacrifice; Momotaro, a children's story about a superhuman toddler who drives off the long-nosed barbarians, becomes canonical.

Samurai had become unwelcome in Meiji (1868-1911). They were conservative dinosaurs in a time of cataclysmic change. Nitobe Inazo, a Quaker (I think) wrote Bushido, in English, to reconcile Jpn values with Christianity. After the Jpn womped the Russians, however, an event inspiring peoples throughout the colonial world where whites had theretofore been regarded as undefeatable, values of the samurai were reconsidered. "Bushido" (Nitobe had thought he invented the term which had alternately been referred to as "budo", "samuraido", etc.) was appropriated by the politicos and "DO" took on the meaning of emperor worship (Here, Bodiford explicitly corrects Draeger who denies this history).

A police superintendent wrote that "bujutsu" ought to be written "budo" and this soon occured. In the 30's, the term "dojo" became widespread; borrowed from Buddhism, it lent a patina of spirituality to the rough business of preparing an army of suicidal maniacs. Constabularies regularly policed dojo to enforce the requirement that they have KAMIDANA at the front of their practice area, and bowed to it before and after class.

Offers new perspective to the standard "harmony of the universe, self-perfection thing", doesn't it? Kano, founder of judo, must have rolled over in his grave and it's said that Ueshiba Morihei retired to the countryside to avoid being part of the prostitution of his art thus.

Evidently, after the war, many martial artists acquiesed to the association of their arts with Zen through what had become "The Ways", not because it was actually so, but in order to rehabilitate their practice with the appearance of social utility. YMMV.

Don J. Modesto
St. Petersburg, Florida
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Old 12-09-2007, 04:37 AM   #4
Location: Frederick, MD
Join Date: Sep 2000
Posts: 509
Re: Definition of Budo

The 'bu' of budo is broadly translated as simply 'martial' ... there's a slippery slope when you start deconstructing kanji to decipher meanings.

Sometimes, the deconstruction can be meaningful, at others, it leads to interpretations that have nothing to do with the current meaning.

In the case of 'bu' being interpreted as 'stopping the spear', I've also read arguments for the meaning being 'stopping conflict'.

One of my favorite teachers used to opine that stopping conflict sometimes meant ending the conflict by pounding the opponent down.

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Old 12-09-2007, 07:11 AM   #5
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Re: Definition of Budo

So "bu" could mean stopping your opponent's spear by using yours first?


Go ahead, tread on me.
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