The Development and Psychology of
Bushido and Budo


Paul D. Short


(for Hon 3391T, The Japanese Psyche, Dr. Fling, Southwest Texas State University)


November 6, 1995


(Revised and expanded December 12, 1995)


Misconceptions about the martial arts are overwhelming. Popular notions of bushido (The Way of the samurai) and budo (Japanese martial arts) are no exception. Although the samurai were not the only originators of martial arts in Japan, they were the most significant. By tracing the development of bushido and budo, a better understanding of the Japanese people can be reached--the centuries of military rule has had significant effects on the Japanese, especially with a warrior class as large and influential as Japan's.(1) More important, by studying the development of Japanese martial arts, a better insight on the nature of conflict can be gained.

The nature of Japanese martial arts has changed drastically, especially during the Tokugawa, Meiji, and Modern (Post World War II) eras. Since World War II, the Japanese martial arts have spread, further complicating the perception of bushido and budo. However, Westerners have taken a great interest in the martial arts, and budo can no longer be considered confined to just the Japanese. The development of a particular martial art, aikido, is used here to show the development of budo and to demonstrate the psychology of a martial art. Aikido was chosen because the author is familiar with this style, and also because its founder is considered one of the last major disciples of the samurai arts. This does not imply that aikido is the only modern budo, nor does it imply that it is "better" than other styles. "Better" is a relative term, just as bushido and budo are.

The Martial Ethos of Japan


Contrary to popular belief in both Japan and the West, bushido--the way of the samurai--was not a universal, stratified code passed down as law, as Inazo Nitobe hints at in his influential work Bushido: The Soul of Japan. According to Hurst, "in every way imaginable, Nitobe was the least qualified Japanese of his age to be informing anyone of Japan's history and culture." (1990, p. 511) Hurst points out that Nitobe was a scholar of Western culture who lived in an isolated Christian community in Hokkaido, far removed from the culture of Japan. His writings have been criticized as misleading and full of historical inaccuracies. When he wrote bushido, he thought he had coined a new word, and was surprised when a Japanese pointed out to him that the word existed since Tokugawa times (p. 513).

Nevertheless, Bushido: The Soul of Japan reflects the views of many Japanese during Nitobe's time. He wrote Bushido at the turn of the century, during the whirlwind of the Meiji Period. The restoration of the emperor Meiji, which marked the end of Japanese feudalism and the beginning of a movement that would propel Japan into World War II, was sparked in part by the intervention of the United States into Japanese affairs. When Commodore Perry arrived in 1853 and forced the acceptance of an unwanted--and unfair--"treaty," it broke 250 years of stability in Japan. The Tokugawa shogunate collapsed under the political dissention caused by the Perry incident and an Imperial government was established. As Japan rapidly began its Westernization, the slogan "Restore the Emperor and expel the Barbarians!" was coined.

Nitobe's Bushido caught on during the nationalistic movement of Meiji Japan. It was the root of the propaganda that the Japanese carried with them to World War II. Hurst sums up Nitobe's Bushido as "merely an illusion created by projecting Puritanism, which he had learned from the West, on Japan." (p. 513) The samurai ideals of the Meiji Period are comparable to the Teutonic symbolism of Nazi Germany: propaganda drawn from ancient warriors to fit the needs of a nationalistic movement. But Nitobe was not the sole originator of bushido propaganda; the accounts presented in the Hagakure and the Budo shoshinshu were late sixteenth century portrayals of earlier [Heian] samurai (p. 514), much in the same way that sixteenth and seventeenth century Europeans painted romantic images of knights in shining armor that endure today. Even much of the great medieval war chronicles found in the Hogen monogatari, the Heiji monogatari, the Heike monogatari, and the Gikei were 13th-15th century glorifications of the 11th century Heian age (Friday, 1993, p. 1). The Japanese are not exempt from the human tendency to exaggerate and glorify the past.

To avoid these same exaggerations, the term bushido in this paper refers to the loose collection of Pre-Meiji samurai ideals, not to be confused with the bushido in Nitobe's work, or bushido used in other contexts by other authors. Many authors have cited the Tokugawa period as the birth of bushido, but this can be misleading. Although bushido first appeared in print during the Tokugawa era (by Yamaga Soko in 1685), during the strict Tokugawa regime, many laws and codes were passed, including those covering the samurai class, such as the Buke- Shohatto (Laws of the Military House, 1615). Although these laws were influenced by the rich martial ethos of Japan's past, it was also influenced by the political agenda of the Tokugawa shoguns. To say that bushido, or the "Way of the Warrior", is confined to a collection of Tokugawan laws and military regulations is just as misleading as saying bushido is confined by the definitions in Nitobe's work. Both may represent the martial ethos of their time, but they do not accurately reflect the attitudes of the samurai before them. Although samurai ideals and samurai "codes" varied according to time and geography, approaching bushido as a loose collection of warrior ideals and codes of conduct that began with the rise of the samurai class and ended with the Meiji Restoration (the official end of Japan's feudal age and, therefore, the end of the historic samurai) serves as a way to separate the martial ethos of the samurai from the political ideology of the Meiji Period--and the misconceptions that persist in popular culture today.


Budo(2) --bu meaning "martial" and do meaning "Way"--is a more appropriate term for the Japanese martial arts than bushido, since bushido can be translated as "The Way of the Samurai." A practitioner of the Japanese martial arts can be considered a samurai only in the figurative sense; the purpose of budo is different from bushido. (But the spirit of bushido is certainly prevalent in budo.) Generally speaking, bushido was the combined whole of the samurai lifestyle, a code of conduct geared toward developing military administrators, professional armies, and elite soldiers. Budo, on the other hand, is the application of samurai knowledge as a way to improve one's life, and the life of others. If bushido is the "Way" of the samurai, then budo is the "Way" of the modern Japanese martial artist.

The relation of bushido to budo is analogous to the development of acupuncture: during centuries of warfare, the Chinese collected massive amounts of data on the effects of puncture wounds on various parts of the body. Some of these turned out to beneficial. This information was put to use alleviate pain and promote health and healing. The same knowledge, however, can be used in lethal striking techniques. Similarly, bushido, and the military sciences developed by the samurai, can be used for propaganda and violence, but it can also be put to positive use in budo. Benefits of budo not only include psychological well-being, physical health, and self-improvement, but also the intellectual growth and spiritual enrichment of the budo practitioner. Exactly how, why and when budo was developed is a complicated issue which requires a historical examination of conflict in Japan.

The Development of Bushido and Budo

The Rise of Civilization and Conflict in Japan

Until the 2nd century BC, the Japanese were primarily hunter-gatherers (Yamaguchi, 1987.) When the Japanese began cultivating rice, centralization of labor became necessary. Since rice can be stored for long periods, any surplus could be accumulated as wealth, so class distinctions began to appear (p. S5). This pattern based on rice cultivation has been repeated throughout Asia, where rice farming is labor intensive and requires much organization. Consequently, Japanese ideas of hierarchy and the importance of the group began to emerge.

According to Chinese chronicles from the Han Dynasty, primitive Japan was divided into many states without a centralized power until the Yamatai state began to control its neighbors. Although historians do not know what became of the Yamatai after the death of its ruler, they have verified legendary events recorded by the Kojiki and Nihonshoki as early as the 6th century. It was during this era when the much older Chinese culture began filtering to Japan (through Korea in the 4th-5th centuries and through direct contact with China in AD 607), bringing, besides art, technology, architecture, and writing (AD 405), Buddhism (AD 552), Taoism, and Confucianism. Confucian doctrine reduced the importance of the clan matriarch and instituted a male-dominated doctrine for political and social government. Confucianist filial piety and loyalty were adapted so that society became a reflection of the family (Pieter, 1993, p. 21), which formed the bond between lord and retainer. The emperor Tenmu established a political system known as ritsu-ryo, based on the Confucianist legal system of the Tang Dynasty.

Early Samurai Age (Heian, 794-1185, and Rokuhara 1156-1185)

The emperor remained supreme until the end of the 10th century. When rival princes began to eliminate each other to gain the throne, the Fujiwara clan eventually came to power (866-1160) by providing the emperor with a regular supply of wives, who in turn influenced their royal sons (Yamaguchi, p. S6).(3) This marked the beginning of the Heian Period (794-1156) and a long series of skirmishes called "The Golden Age of the Samurai." Members of the Fujiwaras began to push themselves into high military and administrative positions, which caused political dissension. Taking advantage of the political chaos, the warrior (bushi) Minamoto clan took control of the government, forming a network of generals who ruled separate provinces. The emperor became a powerless figurehead.

Although the Heian Age is known as the Golden Age for the refinement of court life and the arts, samurai of later periods also looked back at the Heian Age as their Golden Age, an age where they advanced to the top of the hierarchy. These highly skilled, professional soldiers devoted their entire lives to the battlefield. Since they fought mostly mounted during this period, the sword was an auxiliary weapon, much like an officer's pistol today (Friday, p. 4-5). The bow was the preferred weapon of the Heian samurai. However, the sword was often used off the battlefield in duels to defend one's honor, or "duty" to one's name.

The heian military unit was analogous to a family, according to the Confucian ethic embraced by the samurai and the Shinto traditions that bound groups and families together. These small units were often conglomerated to form armies and retained their autonomy when dismissed. Because the samurai fought as relatively independent soldiers, staying only in small, close-knit units, ideas of personal honor were strong. The central issue to a samurai's personal honor was his martial abilities (Friday, p. 15). This idea of honor was passed on to later medieval samurai.

Rise of the Buke (Gempei War, 1180-85, and Beginning of Kamakura Period, 1185)

The Heian Period ended when the Minamotos were defeated by the Taira clan (1156). In turn, the Tairas were defeated in 1185 by an alliance of clans lead by a Minamoto clansman, Minamoto Yoritomo, who assumed the title of Seii Tai Shogun, or "supreme general sent against the barbarians." After his victory, he killed his generals to ensure his position. He then set up a military government, the bakufu ("tent government"), in Kamakura, far from the effete and powerless court of the kuge (court nobles) in Kyoto. Although the shogun was the commander of the Emperor's armies, "with Yoritomo's rule the title came to denote the military dictator who ruled in the name of the Emperor." (Saotome, 1993, p. 105.) The buke (samurai(4) class) became the de- facto ruling class. After Yoritomo's death in 1205, succeeding shoguns came from his allies in the Hojo Clan (1185-1336), then by force from the Ashikaga clan (1336-1568), and after a great civil war (Momoyama Period, 1568-1600), the Tokugawa clan (1600-1867).

From the fall of the Emperor in the 10th century until the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1600, the samurai regularly fought in skirmishes and intermittent wars and dominated both politics and warfare. During the Tokugawa shogunate, which was to be the last shogunate, war was almost non- existent and the samurai acted primarily as a privileged class of administrators and policemen. The samurai of the Heian, Rokuhara, Kamakura, Ashikaga, and Momoyama periods differed from the samurai of the Tokugawa period both in purpose and thought. These differences reflect an evolution of the warrior ethic which would eventually manifest itself as budo.

Middle Ages (Kamakura, 1185-1336; Ashikaga, 1336-1568; and Momoyama, 1568-1600)

In contrast to the early samurai, the Medieval samurai fought in larger armies regulated by the daimyo.(5) Instead of the bow and arrow, medieval samurai preferred the sword and spear (Friday, p.15). The Japanese changed their armor so that they could fight on the ground. As fighting grew more technical and more strategic, the samurai had to learn several weapon systems, including unarmed combat. Since punching and striking armor did not make much sense(6), methods of grappling, locking, and throwing armored opponents evolved.(7) So many weapons and techniques were developed from centuries of fighting that the samurai had to be familiar with all of them. Although firearms were introduced to Japan in 1543, most samurai felt the weapon was too impersonal, and "left it to the lower ranks of the farmers and ji-samurai (low ranking foot soldiers, not members of the samurai class) and, with their elegance and pride still intact, charged into battle wearing their two swords." (Saotome, p. 124.)

As military science advanced, so did the thinking of the samurai. Although the term bushido did not come into print until later during the Tokugawa period (and then only in a much narrower context than today), much of it was formulated during the middle ages in a loose set of laws, social norms, and military regulations. One of bushido's strongest roots, however, was Zen.

In 1191, Rinzai Zen came from China, and Soto Zen followed in 1227 (Pieter, 1993, p. 16). Rinzai Zen, with its emphasis on satori (sudden insight) became the favorite religion of the samurai and soon became the de-facto state religion. Samurai often turned to Zen priests for advice and counseling, and sometimes even retired as Zen monks. Zen Buddhism appealed to the samurai because it emphasized intuition, something that they often had to rely on in the fast-paced battlefield. Unlike the Confucianism of that era, which took on an airy, aristocratic, intellectual taste, Zen was pragmatic, stressed self-discipline, and appealed to the military mind. It dealt with death, something Shinto and Confucianism did not adequately provide. Zen also acknowledged the interrelatedness of all things, including the mind and body. Mind and body unification was essential for survival on the battlefield, where a moment of distraction meant the difference between life and death. This kind of discipline went beyond technical ability; an intuitive awareness that Westerners often refer to as the "sixth sense" was essential.(8) Zen further refined the Eastern concept of ki, which, as will be discussed later, forms the crux of Eastern thought. Zen began to fuse into the military sciences and all quarters of Japanese life.

Tokugawa Period (1600-1867)

When the Tokugawa shogunate gained power in 1600, it marked the beginning of 250 years of isolation and relative peace. Military sciences evolved into systems of martial arts sometimes known as classical budo, bujutsu, or kobudo (old or pre-Meiji budo). Laws passed down by the Tokugawa shogunate, along with local military practices and social norms expected of the samurai, formed a doctrine which is collectively known as bushido. According to Hurst, the famous quote, "The sword is the soul of the samurai" appeared for the first time in the Tokugawa Naraiki hyakka-jo, a seventeenth century legal code. Although this transformation of the martial arts and the formulation of bushido ideals are regarded as creative adaptations since Meiji times, Tokugawa contemporaries perceived this as a decline in martial skills. (Hurst, 1993, p.44) Few could attain the experience of a battle-field tested warrior such as Miyamoto Musashi, Japan's most famous samurai.(9) Hurst says that "Musashi himself was already critical of those whom he saw as "selling" their skills, talking of having one or more dojo and teaching heiho [military training] to students." (p. 44) Tomo Tokihide of Shibuka-ryu jujutsu even goes as far as to say that students of legendary samurai such as Miyamoto Musashi and Yagyu Jubei only learned to imitate their masters, rather than fully understanding them, which consequently lead to later generations of students who only learned forms(10), reducing the martial arts "to the level of watching puppets play." (Tokihide as quoted and translated by Hurst, 1993, p. 44.)

In order to maintain control over Japan, the Tokugawa shogunate instated Neo-Confucianism as the state religion. Neo-Confucianism, simply put, was Chu Hsi's (Shu Ku in Japanese, 1130-1200) interpretation of Confucianism which "stressed the unquestioning and loyal attitude of inferior toward superiors" (Adele and Westbrook, 1973, p. 73). Since Chu Hsi's interpretation of Confucianism was "the theoretical foundation for feudal society" (Goedertier, as cited by Adele and Westbrook, p. 74), this philosophy became the Tokugawan shogunate's justification for its strict laws. Besides using Neo-Confucianism as a philosophical device for maintaining power, the Tokugawans also developed an intricate network of secret police and a system for indoctrination. Espionage became so predominant that its influence can be seen later in the Meiji Restoration and the network of informants in Asia before World War II. The Tokugawans indoctrinated their top samurai by educating them in Neo- Confucian daigaku (universities). With so much emphasis on culture, literature and art, and with so many rigid customs, codes of conduct, and various duties to fulfill at the shogun's court, the Tokugawa shogunate kept its samurai too occupied to prepare for rebellions or wars. (Saotome, p.115) Although the government ruled with a firm grip, it also kept the peace and cultivated the arts.

In Tokugawa Japan, Neo-Confucianism began to influence bushido more so than religious Zen. Although Zen was already embedded in culture of Japan, "few warriors were firm believers or advocates of Zen Buddhism." (Hurst, p. 46.) The decline of Zen in the Tokugawa era was in part caused by the revival of Chinese studies, originally sparked by the Neo-Confucian movement. Since most samurai acted as administrators and government officials, they were educated in Neo-Confucianist daigaku, with Zen priests as teachers of composition. Samurai authors often imitated the ambiguous style of Zen writing, thus creating the illusion that Neo-Confucianist Tokugawa samurai were Zen followers. The influence of Zen on the samurai should not be underestimated, but Neo-Confucianism played at least an equally important role. Hurst points out that several authors have overemphasized the influence of Zen in the martial arts, interpreting things from an exclusively Zen point of view. He even goes as far as to say the works of Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki, especially his chapters on Zen and the art of swordsmanship, wrongly suggests that the Zen priest Takuan heavily influenced the writings of Yagyu Muneyoshi, and that Muneyoshi himself received sharp criticisms from his contemporaries for overemphasizing the importance of Zen.

The Meiji Period and the Development of a Modern Budo: Aikido

The Tokugawa era represents just one step toward today's popular image of the samurai and bushido . Bushido, as it was defined by Nitobe's "Bushido: The Soul of Japan", can be considered a Meiji interpretation of Tokugawan bushido. In turn, Tokugawan bushido can also be considered a Neo-Confucian interpretation of Medieval and Heian samurai ethics. Indeed, the warriors of Japan--whether they be samurai of the Heian, Medieval, or Tokugawa period, or even Meiji reformers and World War II Kamikaze pilots--all drew upon samurai ideals, each interpreting them according to their environment and the needs of their superiors. The Japanese businessman, whose Western contemporaries see as engaged in modern economic warfare, carries with him the bushido as interpreted by Medieval samurai, the Tokugawa shogunate, and even the Meiji reformers.

According to Drager (as cited by Maliszewski, 1992), the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate marks the beginning of modern budo. The Meiji government redirected classical (Tokugawa) budo to develop a "new sense of personal pride and national spirit." (p. 23) However, budo became used for other purposes besides personal cultivation and patriotism. Although the Meiji Restoration re-instated the Emperor as the ruler of Japan, as Japan grew more ambitious and began to exercise its growing military power, the Emperor was slowly but deliberately transformed once again into a figurehead.

As Japan grew in military strength, it began to use budo as a tool for training its future soldiers. In 1872, early in the Meiji Period, Western-style sports and physical education, not the martial arts, were part of the school curriculum. As Japan expanded its military powers, military drills and gymnastics were added in 1885, and in 1913, elementary schools began to adopt martial arts training. Shortly after, secondary schools added judo, kendo, and sumo. In 1941, Japan's war time National School Reform act replaced physical education teachers with military instructors and made intense training in judo and kendo mandatory, as well as "squad drills, military maneuvers, and the use of hand grenades." (Neide, 1995, p. 37.) According to Neide, martial arts "provided the training for a psychologically efficient soldier" (p. 37) and was a way for future soldiers to learn "strategy, self-control, and above all, allegiance to authority." (p. 38.)

Although many Japanese saw this as an opening of budo to the masses and a transformation of the budo instructor into a spiritual leader and public educator, many masters resented the government's nationalistic movement to centralize, define, and reorganize budo for war. According to Dundas, an Imperial edict prohibited the practice of old style martial arts, including classic jujutsu.(11) Many masters went underground or left the country.(12)

Aikido's founder, Master Morihei Ueshiba, is fondly remembered as "O-Sensei," or "The Great Teacher," by his students. Ueshiba interpreted the meaning of budo differently than some of his Meiji contemporaries, and avoided the nationalistic conglomeration of the martial arts by other budo proponents during World War II(13). Nevertheless, aikido is a product of the Meiji Period. As a young man, he was motivated by the Meiji bushido doctrine of his time and enlisted in the army during the Russo-Japanese War, advancing to the rank of sergeant. Although he was a patriotic man who supported his country publicly, he personally did not agree with Japan's involvement in World War II (Stevens, 1987.). His affiliation with one of Japan's "new" religions, the Omoto-kyo, as well as the effects of the war, greatly influenced his interpretation of budo, making aikido the unique art that it is today.(14) The Omoto-kyo was an esoteric blend of Asiatic shamanism, Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity based on the idea that all religious teachings evolved from a single origin. The cult's leader, Reverend Onisaburo Deguchi, encouraged Morihei Ueshiba to transform deadly samurai daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu techniques into a non-violent and spiritual budo.

When Ueshiba was ordered to join the Dai Nippon Butokukai (Greater Japan Martial Virtue Association) as part of the war effort, he registered aikido as an independent budo with the ministry of education in 1942, and isolated himself to the mountains of Iwama during the war.(15) He also resented the government's severe persecution of his comrades in the Omoto-kyo: members became political prisoners, their homes and shrines were dynamited, and the entire movement was suppressed. Ueshiba's personal influence within the Meiji government and the royal family, as well as his public support for his country, may have saved him. He revealed his personal resentment only to his family and disciples, saying how much he detested having to teach at the royal military academies. He complained to his son: "The military is dominated by reckless fools ignorant of statesmanship and religious ideals who slaughter innocent citizens indiscriminately and destroy everything in their path. They act in total contradiction to God's will, and they will surely come to an end. True budo is to nourish life and foster peace, love, and respect, not to blast the world to pieces with weapons." (Stevens, 1987.)

Aikido is, according to Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the current doshu (grandmaster) over the hombu dojo (original school) and son of Morihei Ueshiba,

. . . essentially a modern manifestation of the Japanese martial arts (budo). It is orthodox in that it inherits the spiritual and martial traditions of ancient Japan, first recorded in the eighth century literary historical works, Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihongi (Chronicle of Japan). This does not mean that aikido blindly carries the tradition of the ancient fighting arts, merely preserving and maintaining its original form in the modern world. (1987, p. 14.)

World War II and the allied occupation of Japan were critical to the development of aikido. According to Kisshomaru Ueshiba had his father not retreated to the mountains of Iwama, aikido may have been assimilated by the merger of Japanese martial arts during the war, and "both the names of Master Ueshiba and aikido . . . might have been regulated to history books and with time become only obscure legends in the annals of the martial arts." (1987, p. 104) During his stay at Iwama he began to integrate more of his personal and spiritual beliefs into his art, thus transforming the nature of its techniques. According to Stevens (1987, p. 47), Ueshiba was compelled to go to Iwama because he perceived that a "black rain" prophesied by the Omoto-kyo would soon fall on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A "divine command" directed him to go to Iwama and prepare himself to be a guiding light for Japan. Mitsugi Saotome, one of Ueshiba's top disciples, gives another, less esoteric reason. According to him, Ueshiba said,

The Way of Budo is to put new life into the original universal life force that gives birth to all things. Harmony, love, and courtesy are essential to true Budo, but the people who are in power these days are only interested in playing with weapons. They misrepresent Budo as a tool for power struggles, violence, and destruction, and they want to use me toward this end. I'm tired of their stupidity. I have no intention of allowing myself to become their tool. I see no other way but to go into retreat. (Saotome, 1993, p. 11.)

When Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, Master Ueshiba told his students not to worry. "Hereafter," he said, "the true Aikido will emerge." (Stevens, 1987, p. 47.)

A closer examination of Master Ueshiba's enlightenment in the spring of 1925 may clarify things. Morihei Ueshiba was well-known in Japan as a master of several prestigious samurai arts. A naval officer, who also happened to be a well-known kendo master, sought Ueshiba out and challenged him to a duel. Unarmed, Master Ueshiba defeated the swordsman without harming him, letting him attack until the officer became too exhausted to continue. Unscathed, Master Ueshiba walked to his garden and rested under a persimmon tree. According to his own account (K. Ueshiba, 1985, p. 155), the ground quaked and he felt a golden spirit engulf his body, changing it into a golden one. He suddenly became enlightened, freeing himself from the illusion of personal desire, including ambition and the desire to be strong. As tears streamed down his eyes, he came to realize the true meaning of budo: the source of budo is God's love, the spirit of loving protection of all things (ai love or the maternal amae love); budo is not about defeating opponents with force, nor is it a means to lead the world to destruction; true budo is to accept the power of the universe, maintain peace, and to protect and cultivate all life; and training in budo is to take God's love, assimilate it, and use it in the mind and body. (Stevens, 1987 and K. Ueshiba, 1985)

Master Ueshiba's idea of budo is different from Western portrayals of the macho, aggressive martial artist or the deadly, sword wielding samurai. Indeed, he goes as far to say that "the true meaning of the term samurai is one who serves and adheres to the power of love" (M. Ueshiba, 1992, p. 45). Yet he is also known for sayings such as "One should be prepared to receive ninety-nine percent of an enemy's attack and stare death right in the face in order to illuminate the Path" (p. 92) and "Left and right, avoid all cuts and parries. Seize your opponents' minds and scatter them all!" (p. 102) Aikido is typical of Meiji budo in that it emphasizes practice for personal cultivation, but it is unique in that it carries Ueshiba's interpretation of the samurai ethic, an interpretation that appears to match the findings of writers and historical researchers today.

The Benefits of Budo

What research says about today's martial artists

Empirical research on the psychological effects of martial arts is weak, in part from the simplistic view of the martial arts by researchers and a general lack of knowledge in this area. (Fuller, p. 326). Another weakness may be a lack of cross-cultural comparisons in studies conducted on the martial arts. However, a few studies have reinforced some traditional views of the martial arts and cleared up some stereotypes.

According to a 1985 CPI scale study conducted by Knoblaunch (as cited in Fuller) of 103 male and females with less than one year's experience in an internal (hard) or external (soft) martial art, novice external martial artists appeared more dominate and competitive than novices in internal arts, but did not appear more aggressive. The novice internal stylists cited personal, self-improvement reasons for choosing their styles. There were no significant gender differences in the motivation for choosing a style, nor were there any gender differences in dominance, aggression, or competitiveness.

A 1981 study conducted by Nosanchuch on 42 traditional karate students (as cited by Fuller) found an inverse relationship between skill level and aggressiveness, which supports the traditional view that training in the martial arts reduces aggressiveness, contrary to what some social psychologists have theorized. Fuller supports the view that tactile communication between partners in the soft arts, especially aikido, is important in reducing aggressiveness. This may because that in soft arts such as judo, jujutsu, and aikido, partners learn how to manage and "feel" each other's balance, energy, momentum, and intent, while in external arts such as karate and tae kwon do(16 ), the emphasis is more on projection of strikes and less on a working partnership. This attitude can be explained with the concept of ki (energy): soft style arts emphasize harmonizing ki, while hard style arts emphasize projection ofki.

Ki and Inner Strength

Perhaps the most difficult topic to talk about in the martial arts is ki (Chi or qi in Chinese). Ki not only forms the basis of aikido and Chinese Tai Chi, but more importantly, "forms the crux of East Asian philosophies and religions." (K. Ueshiba, 1987, p. 25.) Ki is as fundamental to Eastern thought as the idea of Good and Evil is in the West. Ideas of ki, as a refined metaphysical principle, came to Japan in the 7th Century (Locke, Olson, Seitz, and Quam, 1990) infused with Taoist and Buddhist philosophy. The idea of ki fit in with Shinto views of nature, which implied the existence of a "life-force" permeating all substance and events.

Most martial art instructors purposely avoid too much discussion on the subject--the interpretation of ki is usually left up to the student. Ki should not be mistaken for magic (Locke, Olson, Seiz and Quam, 1990, and McCann in Short, 1995)--it is a natural, simple concept which can be interpreted many different ways. Only a few interpretations of ki will be introduced here, but this does not mean that these are the only interpretations.

A traditional Taoist-educated Chinese physician would probably say that chi (ki) is a microbiomaterial which circulates through the body, maintaining life itself (Ho, 1995.). An Eastern philosopher might say that ki is the matter-energy of which the Universe itself is made. In keeping with this line of thought, a physicist might describe ki with the Big Bang Theory. According to Cosmologist Carl Sagan (as cited in K. Ueshiba, 1987, p. 28.), "Our bodies are made up of the dust from the stars. The same atoms that constitute the stars make up our bodies. . . . Indeed, we are the children of the stars." One can consider the dynamic energy generated during the Big-Bang as ki or life itself. Ki can be conceptualized as both energy and matter, similar to the relationships expressed by Einstein's famous "E=MC2" and quantum theories.

At a recent aikido seminar (Kokikai Fall Camp, 1995, Arizona State University), Kokikai aikido founder Sensei Shuji Maruyama continually stressed that ki should be approached as simply "a feeling." In aikido, a feeling of correctness, good posture--a natural, relaxed yet active state(17 )-- not a mysterious magical element. He demonstrated the absurdity of "magical ki" in several ways: once by pretending to exert an invisible force through his hand to stop an attacker, and another by mimicking a person desperately worrying about an aikido test, hoping for divine intervention through ki power.

Unity of ki, mind, and body is the ultimate goal of aikido (K. Ueshiba, p. 26). Sensei Shuji Maruyama uses a physiological example of ki-mind-body unification: the adrenaline rush that a mother uses to lift the end of a car off her fallen child. Another example can be found with yoga, where one learns how to control heartbeat and blood pressure with, according to Skidmore, much better results than conventional bio-feedback therapy (p. 142).

Some may dismiss ki as merely a placebo effect. However, unlike any other placebo effect, which the subject generally believes to be directed from the outside, with ki, the subject believes it to be directed from within (p. 146). Whether ki exists as an entity or not is left up to the individual; many martial artists are content to simply view ki as an overall "blanket concept," or a tool for conceptualization. A personal definition of ki can only be established with experience.

Conflict Resolution

Most contemporary cognitive-behavioral therapy in the area of stress management employs techniques ranging from bio-feedback and self monitoring to Socratic discourse and social skills training (Fuller, 1988, p. 325)--highly verbal and cognitive approaches to dealing with stress. In internal martial arts such as aikido, stress management is dealt with in a non-verbal manner, using the body itself as a tool for learning. This has the two-fold effect of relieving stress both physically and mentally.

Thomas Crum, author of The Magic of Conflict, applies his practice of aikido in his Aiki Approach To Living seminars. Along with cofounder John Denver(18), Crum heads Aiki Works, Inc., an educational organization dedicated to teaching conflict management. Crum views conflict as neither negative nor positive. "Conflict just is." (Crum, 1987.) Crum explains that conflict is necessary for change, and teaches students to go with the flow of things, much like the samurai view of conflict, echoing the words of Morihei Ueshiba: "I have no attachment to life or death. I leave everything as it is to God.(19 ) Be apart from attachment to life and death and have a mind which leaves everything to him, not only when you are being attacked, but also in daily life." (M. Ueshiba, 1992.)

Crum uses the principles of aikido to actively resolve conflict. One principle in aikido is to never meet force directly on with force; instead, one takes the force given and controls it by acting perpendicular to the energy--this analogy is similar to a principle in physics that essentially states zero work is required when one force meets another a right angle, or the way a bent pipe can channel a stream of water without doing any work. (Personal communication with former physicist Sensei Bob McCann.) Another useful analogy that demonstrates avoidance of direct force is the conversion of linear energy to circular energy in a watermill: by turning against the force of a waterfall when its pedals are struck, the mill rotates and generates circular force as its center (axis) is stable. In aikido techniques that involve the use of tenkan (turning, pivoting), the aikidoka avoids the linear force of an attacker (punch, strike, kick) and it to circular energy by turning and maintaining a stable axis, an axis that can guide and control the greater force of the attacker, as long as it avoids clashing against it. Crum shows how aiki (harmony with ki) principles work in such a manner in daily life, especially in conversations, arguments, and anywhere stress or conflict may arise.

Crum views depression as a spiralling reaction to conflict. According to him, one of the culprits is a natural tendency for people to label difficulties as bad. These feelings accumulate and the person "spirals down" into depression. Using a relabeling technique he calls "the expansion spiral," Crum uses the wisdom expressed by Master Ueshiba: "Be grateful even for hardship, setbacks, and bad people. . . . do not feel animosity toward others when they treat you unkindly. Instead, feel gratitude toward them for giving you the opportunity to train yourself to handle adversity." (M. Ueshiba, 1992.) Instead of viewing a problem negatively, Crum suggests using the situation as a learning experience.

Centering, or Keeping One-Point

Resolving conflict in the martial arts also means resolving conflict within the self. Koichi Tohei, founder of Shin-Shin Toitsu Aikido (or Ki Society Aikido) once helped a doctor with insomnia by suggesting that he use aikido centering techniques instead of sleeping pills. He pointed out to the doctor that insomniacs sometime suffer from a condition where too much blood rushes to the head, accumulating too much heat and hindering sleep. Tohei showed the doctor how to "sink your mind into the one point in the lower abdomen and think with all your heart that your blood is flowing from that point to the very toenails of the feet." (Tohei, 1994, p. 82.) The technique worked, and the doctor became an enthusiastic Ki Society follower ever since.

Keeping One-Point (Centrum, tanden or the physical point two inches below the navel) is vital in the practice of aikido--an aikidoka maintains One-Point while controlling an attacker's One-Point, or balance. This also applies psychologically--the losing one's center mentally also means losing of one's physical center, as demonstrated by a deafening kiai intended to distract an opponent--and ethically: the very intent of aggression means that the attacker has morally lost One-Point, which also means that the person has lost One-Point psychologically and physically.


The focus of this paper has been to clarify misconceptions about budo and bushido, and to demonstrate the constantly changing martial ethic. The author has purposely avoided the typical approach to bushido, such as detailed examination of seppuku (hara kiri, or ritual suicide), accounts of samurai legends, and so on. The point that the samurai lived a Spartan life of self-sacrifice, which ultimately included the taking of his own life, has been thoroughly covered by other writers. Also, a rather narrow, simplistic view of samurai development was taken in order to generalize on the psychological factors of bushido--this is due to the limited scope and space constraints of this paper. There are probably exceptions to almost everything mentioned.

The section Benefits of Budo is a very brief introduction to the mentality of a martial artist and the concept of ki. It does not mention other important practices such as ki breathing and the importance of "cosmological" breath power; "sixth sense," or awareness training; misogi (spiritual cleansing) exercises, including mantrayana and kotodama (chants, sentic state expression, etc.); mediational exercises, and the like. The more esoteric practices are often treated as supplementary or personal exercises by many dojo. Another limitation is that this paper concentrates on aikido as model for both budo and an internal, or "soft" martial art--definitions of "hard" and "soft" are relative to individual perception. Ki training is not limited to just aikido--other budo, including "hard" styles such as karatedo, have their own interpretations of budo and ki. Self-improvement and conflict management methods in other martial arts are just as valid.

A martial art can be a way to seek enlightenment, resolve conflict, develop character, or improve the quality of life. It can also be used to indoctrinate--in the case of the Meiji Restoration, it led Japan to a war that would eventually end with the dropping of the atomic bomb, but it also fired the Japanese industrial movement which continues to this today. Although practice in budo requires much patience, if one perseveres long enough the wisdom of the samurai will be at his or her disposal, just as it has been for Japan.


1. About 10%, significantly larger than the knight class of Europe. The samurai influenced the lifestyle of the common people in Japan (mostly farmers and fishermen) much more so than the knights did in Europe.

2. Bujutsu ("martial art") is often used synonymously with Budo in Japan. However, it is important to distinguish between jutsu and do outside of Japan for the benefit of Westerners. Jutsu implies emphasis on technique or the cultivation of martial skills as an art form. Do implies a deeper synthesis of jutsu as a way of life or as a way to improve one's life. Budo, however, was not commonly used to refer to martial arts in Japan until the Meiji Period (Hurst, 1993, p. 42.). Martial arts founded before the Meiji Restoration are now known as kobudo ("old martial arts").

3. This corresponds with Doi's work on amae (the passive, dependent love that an infant instinctively harbors toward its mother and carries on into adult behavior) and demonstrates the maternal influence on the Japanese psyche.

4. Samurai were commonly referred to in Japan as "retainers" (mononofu, wasarau) or "men of war" (bushi). The world now refers to them by the Chinese-derived name samurai, which means "to serve" (Ratti and Westbrook, 1994, p. 83).

5. Barons in the Japanese military feudal system.

6. One exception is the system of striking and punching developed by Okinawans known as karate. When the samurai invaded the Ryukyu islands, they encountered fierce resistance by the Okinawan peasants. The Okinawans integrated Shaolin kickboxing from China with a system of fighting known as Te. Desperate peasants highly skilled in karate could strike hard enough to shatter the same armor that earned the respect of the Koreans in earlier campaigns (Adele and Westbrook, 1973, p.37.) The samurai learned their lesson in Okinawa and assimilated striking methods into their curriculum.

7. One samurai style of unarmed combat, aiki-jujutsu (according to tradition, founded somewhere between 900-1100 AD), was a predecessor to aikido. Aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba, was the last major disciple of daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu. Master Ueshiba was the one of the last students of several other significant samurai arts as well. Had he never founded aikido, he still would have been known as virtually "the last of the samurai."

8. Westerners often refer to the five senses, while Easterners refer to the six senses, with the mind being the sixth. Instead of treating these senses separately, they are seen as integrated and forming an sum greater than the whole. Intuition and mysticism does not seem as far-fetched in Eastern thought.

9. Mushashi was both feared and respected during his time. He was a ronin (masterless samurai) who killed his first opponent at age 13. After settling a vendetta against the Yoshika family at age 21, he wandered across Japan, seeking enlightenment by "the Way of the Sword." He was so skilled that he got into the habit of killing other swordsmen in live duels, with himself armed only with a wooden bokken (practice sword).

10. This is one reason why the founder of aikido stressed waza (practice) and randori (free style aganist multiple attackers) instead of kata (forms).

11. Jujutsu was exported to Britain by Jujutsu masters fleeing Japan (Dundas).

12. The 33rd grandmaster of Togakure ryu ninjutsu even kept his art underground until well after World War II. Ninjutsu practitioners wore judo gi (judo uniforms), so that passerbys would assume that they were practicing some form of jujutsu (Hayes, 1984, p. 4.) This was not totally far from the truth, since jujutsu influenced ninjutsu taijutsu.

13. One major difference between aikido and other budo is the denouncement of competition by mainstream aikido. In many ways, the founder of aikido resisted the nationalistic modernization movement of Meiji Japan and preserved many important samurai ideals in his art.

14. One can trace the development of aikido by examining the names of its prototypes. Master Ueshiba called his art aiki-bujutsu in 1920, although most people continued to refer to it as Ueshiba-ryu aiki-jujutsu. In 1936 he renamed his art aiki-budo, do meaning "The Way," as opposed to jutsu, meaning "art," "technique," or "method." In 1940 his art became known as an official organization under the name Kobukai Aiki-budo . In 1942 Master Ueshiba finally called his art aikido, meaning, among many things, "The Way of Harmony," or "The Way of Love and Harmony with the power of the Universe."

15. During the American Occupation, General McArthur outlawed the Dai Nippon Butokukai, which had first been established in 1895, in order to "eliminate any organization with residual military emphasis." (Neide, 1995, p. 40)

16. A Korean style similar to karate.

17. According to Sensei Maruyama, "Your strongest state is a relaxed state." His four basic principles of Kokikai aikido can be summarized as: "Keep one-point (hara), Maintain positive mind, Develop positive mind, and relax progressively." (Bob McCann in Short, 1995.)

18. The singer.

19. Morihei Ueshiba had a very broad interpretation of God. According to him, God was the deities of all religions, including Shinto and Christianity. He also viewed God as the Universe itself.


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Author's Note: The Aikido-L mailing list on the Internet was a major source of information on aikido and budo, and was instrumental in verifying the sources used in this paper, including sources not cited as a reference that were vital to this paper's formulation.

Reference syntax: A menu path has been given for documents available on-line from the World Wide Web, since the information contained in the 1994 4th edition of the APA style manual does not yet cover information found in HTML format. However, the HTML annotations here follow the suggested FTP format, with several modifications: (a) Headers within a page are separated by a colon [:], (b) Links to other menus or URLs are indicated by pointer notation used by programmers, i.e., a dash and a "greater than" symbol or right angle bracket [->], (c) The actual document title is underlined as it actually appears in the menu, indicating a link.