Butoku – Martial Virtues

Without virtues there are no martial arts. This is one of the most important lessons that all martial arts instructors should teach their students. Being from a Kempo background it is easy to see the inherent truth in this statement, in that the very creation of Kempo stems from this idea. Looking at the beginning statement from a historical point of view gives it credence for the martial artists of the past and the present.
Around 525 AD, legend has it that Bodhidharma traveled from India to China and arrived at the Shaolin Ssu monastery in Honan Province. There he began to instruct the monks in his form of meditative religion. He found the monks, however, in poor physical condition and with poor concentration. This made it impossible for them to undergo the rigors of a dynamic religious life. Therefore he began to instruct them in a series of exercises which were based on the Vajramushti, the fighting art of the Kshatriya, the warrior caste of India, to which he had been born. Bodhidharma also taught them a mental exercise which was designed to increase their ability to perform the religious meditation which was at the heart of his faith.
The fighting skills, eventually known as Kempo, he merged with the concept of virtue, instilling in the pacifistic monks the idea that they did in fact have the right to protect themselves and the innocents of the world, from those who had fallen from the level of man and into the nature of animals. From this merger of fighting skills and virtue came the idea known as Butoku, what we interpret as ‘martial virtue’, but more appropriately translated as ‘the virtue to stop violence’. The mental exercises, eventually became the basis of Zen, or meditation in Bodhidharma’s unique way.
So Doshin, the founder of Nippon Shorinji Kempo, has stated that Zen and Kempo are actually the two sides of the same coin. Zen, more appropriately, Zazen, seated meditation, could be considered the passive form of religious training. Kempo would be the active form and should be taught and considered the moving meditation. In the ancient times there was less structure in both methods of training, in that the highest goal of both forms was the development of freedom. Today there are many prearranged forms of these arts, yet each seeking the same goal, freedom. In example, the Hung family martial art of China seeks to achieve the same level of freedom in their Chuan Fa, so that after learning the prearranged sets of the art, they then begin to seek the ability to freestyle. To them this is the highest level of achievement.
Historically speaking, we know that by at least the twelfth century, Kempo and Zen had made considerable impact on the Japanese martial arts and life. Eventually both would contribute strongly in the development of the whole Japanese society. From these influences there developed in Japan the idea of the Bushi, warrior, whose existence was one of making peace, upholding peace, and maintaining peace in the Japanese public domain. If we take the meaning of Bu, ‘to stop violence’, we see a different attitude in the job of the warrior, from one of just waging war, to establishing a peaceful nation, and working to maintain that peace. Thus the Butoku, martial virtue was actually a peaceful virtue, which created the idea that the practice of the Bugei, was not a learning of the art of war, but rather the arts to ‘stop violence’ or perhaps to ‘insure peace’.
A Bushi, and their lower ranked brothers, the Samurai, were expected to develop the Santoku, three primary virtues, which should progress naturally out of their martial arts training. By looking at these three virtues, and how they affected the Japanese warriors, it might be possible to see how the martial arts should affect our lives and our training in modern times.
The first virtue taught to the young warrior, both male and female, was valor. Yu is the Japanese term for valor and can be taken to mean at the most basic level simply courage. Yet the concept of valor gives the idea of Yu a greater depth, meaning that one is courageous for a reason. In order for a Samurai, whether male or female to uphold their duty, it was necessary that they be brave, with the courage to give their lives to their duty if necessary.
The second virtue is wisdom. Known in Japanese as Chi, wisdom was more than the accumulation of knowledge. We have all known the genius who could answer any question put to them and yet not have enough common sense to get in out of the rain. It is said that while the men who worked on the atomic bomb during World War II were among the greatest geniuses available during the time period, that some of them had to be driven to the location of the Manhattan Project each and everyday, because if they tried to do so themselves they would have either had a wreck or never found it, due to the level of distraction they lived in. So knowledge and wisdom are two different things. And the Samurai was to develop wisdom, which meant an accumulation of knowledge, and more.
Finally, there is the last virtue, and in many ways the most important, and that is benevolence. In one of the main faiths of Japan, benevolence was looked upon as the single most important achievement. That is why in that faith the central figure was referred to as the benevolent Buddha. Benevolence was looked at as good works, but once again it was understood that there must be a proper motive for those good works in order for them to be seen as truly benevolent.
In each of these virtues it is seen that there was an inferior quality; in Yu-bravery, in Chi-knowledge, and in Jin-benevolence (good works); which could constitute the actions of someone with those virtues, but that something more important needed to be considered, in order for the virtues to be truly those of a warrior. In explanation, many people are stupidly brave, so that they do dangerous actions for the reward of praise or the rush of adrenaline. There are those who read and study a lot in order to accumulate knowledge, but they only use it to show off, once again for praise or simply keep it to themselves for their own pleasure, not thinking of the rest of mankind. Finally, there are those who do good works for the self fulfilling pleasure they receive from doing it, or once again, to receive praise from other people. In each of these situations, while good may be done for others, and in some cases not, the motivation for the behavior is selfishness and not altruistic.
These motives would not have been accepted for the Bushi or the Samurai. Any behavior of the warrior was expected to come from purer motivations. And while this may seem idealistic, no other group lived, or tried to live, up to such lofty idealism as the warriors of Japan.
There was one other virtue that the warriors were expected to cultivate. That virtue was to be the element that elevated the others from mere self aggrandizement to the idealistic level expected of the Samurai. This virtue was love. Ai, the Japanese word for love, was a very special quality. All loyalty in Japan was ‘suppose’ to be based on love. It was love for one’s parents, one’s lord, and one’s country that was suppose to motivate all behavior.
It was love that should motivate courage so that it became valor. It was love that was suppose to direct knowledge so that it became wisdom. And it was love that was suppose to be the motivation behind all good works so that they were truly benevolent. True martial arts were suppose to be matters of love and the development of love.
Modern martial arts practice has receded far from the methods of the Samurai of the feudal years of Japan. It has been misunderstood, people thinking that martial arts training had to be rugged and harsh. When we watch people practice in a typical sparring situation, it is easy to see animosity build within the same school, and people just waiting to get even with one another in the next days session.
But in ancient Japan, the man you trained with today, could be the one watching your back the next day in battle. You wanted him to share in a common love, one for another and both for the lord of the clan, so that both aided one another and sought to achieve the greatest results for the clan. Training in the truly traditional manner was not the harsh, competitive arena that we are lead to believe by many modern instructors.
That form of training, which emphasized brutality and severe treatment of students, is actually a growth out of post feudal Japan trying to catch up to the rest of the world and build a fierce fighting force with which to build an empire. In the most ancient of times, fathers and mothers taught their sons and daughters the martial arts so that they could defend their own land, and eventually serve their lord to their fullest capacity. When Daimyo, feudal lords, finally did start to hire Sensei, teachers, of the martial arts to train their Samurai, these teachers were expected to teach the limited number of warriors how to battle well, while keeping them in good health in case they were needed immediately for combat.
Modern warfare, even that which is based on the infantry concept, thinks of men as expendable items. If a person is hurt training, what is to worry, there are more where he came from. But in Japan in the ancient times, only about ten percent of the people were Samurai. There was not an endless number of candidates to draft. Starting with the conscript army of the Meiji Restoration, the men were looked at, as all draftees, cannon fodder. This is one of the sad truths about warfare, where people are drafted, in training and in battle, they are too expendable.
In ancient times, it was to the best interest to make sure that while training was austere and made soldiers strong, it was not harsh or brutal, because that type of training has a tendency to kill people, and a Daimyo, or the Sensei of a lord, knew that he had only a certain amount of men to draw from, and that more would not necessarily be forthcoming. True martial arts training was geared towards making students strong warriors and good fighters through non-brutal methods. Those people who think the harsh methods that came out of the Meiji era were the actual traditional methods of training in the martial arts, are simply showing their ignorance of true history.
One final point that needs to be made, a lot of times when it is made clear that martial arts began and developed to a high level in the temples and then were spread to the Samurai, many Karate people who are more wrapped up in the violence of the art, rather than the art itself, will proclaim, that is fine for Chinese and Japanese martial arts, but Karate was developed by common people for self defense, and it does not have a basis in Butoku or any other form of virtue. This is completely false.
It is believed that the Okinawans would have first learned the concepts of Butoku from the Buddhist monks who traveled all over the Orient spreading their faith. This was especially strong during the Twelfth Century, when there was a great resurgence in Buddhist missionary work. Also during this time the Minamoto Samurai came to Okinawa to escape the Taira and to build up their strength for a return engagement. Tametomo Minamoto married an Okinawan woman of the royalty and had a son by her. He would have made sure his son learned martial arts and the virtues upon which it is based. Finally, when the ‘Thirty Six’ families came to Okinawa from China in the Fourteen Century, among the people were monks trained in the martial arts, which would have assuredly taught Butoku along with their martial arts.
But for more definitive proof we need to look at a more well known figure of Okinawan history. This would be Takahara, the instructor to Sakugawa. Prior to Sakugawa, it is believed that there were no Dojo for the martial arts on Okinawa. If your parents were royalty, especially those descended from the Minamoto Samurai, you would learn martial arts. If you were a sailor, who had the opportunity to study somewhere with someone, you might know some martial arts, though it would probably be very basic. Finally, if you were fortunate, you might get a monk to teach you the martial arts, if you showed proper character and self control.
Takahara had been an Okinawan warrior, who as many warriors of the time, upon retirement became a Buddhist monk. He had taken Sakugawa under his wing and considered him an excellent student. When the opportunity presented itself, he sent him to learn under the great Chinese martial artist, Kushanku. Eventually, realizing that the martial arts were of great value to all people, Takahara called Sakugawa to his side and instructed him to open a school and teach all those who would learn. This is the reason Sakugawa wrote the Dojo Kun, code of conduct for a school. Prior to his school students trained under their parents or monks, it was understood the rules for dealing with such exalted personages, but a martial arts teacher, who was not family or ordained, was a brand new idea. Thus Sakugawa established a code of conduct that set the stage for ethical and proper behavior based on the virtue he had learned from Takahara. So Butoku is a part of the Okinawan martial arts heritage.
A final story might help us put these virtues, and the most important one of all, Ai-love, into perspective for all martial artists. Very possibly the greatest martial artists of the last generation was Morihei Ueshiba. His skill and ability is legendary. There are those who think he was possibly without peer, even among today’s martial artists. As Ueshiba studied and learned the martial arts he underwent a great deal of change. At first he was a hard and harsh teacher. He pushed his students extremely hard and injuries in some of his Dojo were common. And during this time he changed the name of his art to reflect his development. At different times his art was known by many names; Kobukan Judo, Ueshiba Ryu Jujutsu, Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, Aikibujutsu, and Aikibudo. When he finally found the pinnacle of his personal development, his art reflected that as well. The art then became Aikido.
Written with the Kanji; Go, Ki, Do, (Go also being pronounced Ai), Morihei wanted to emphasize to his students that true martial arts are about spiritual harmony, hence Aiki, and following the way of heaven, hence Do. Towards the end of his life, Morihei Ueshiba wanted his students to understand that the greatest of all harmony is love. Thus he entertained at one time the idea of changing the Kanji from Go/Ai, meaning harmony, to the Ai of love. This would place at the focal point of Aikido the virtue of love, which is the greatest virtue of all. However, before he could implement this change, he died.
There are no martial arts without virtue. All the greatest masters of the past have understood this. If present martial artists want to achieve the levels of greatness of the past masters, then they too must accept the teaching and training of virtue as a part of their martial art. Only when all martial arts instructors turn away from the violence of the competitive side of their respective styles and turn to the virtues which are at the heart of all true martial arts, will we see the decline of violence that terrorizes our modern society. It is in the Butoku, martial virtues, that an understanding of peace truly lies. It is in accepting love as the greatest virtue of all, that people can stop fighting and killing one another and begin the upward journey of peace and prosperity insured by the virtues of cooperation and the greatest harmony of all.

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