Thursday, 13 November 2014

Two Important Concepts Within Karate Do Practice (Part 2)

The next concept that I would like to write about is 文武両道 Bun Bu Ryo Do, this is the concept of developing one's academic and physical skills and is commonly a focal part in the foundation of the approach to teaching many Japanese martial arts especially 剣道 Kendo and 空手道 Karate Do.
I am sure that the concept of Bunburyodo is familiar to you or, at the very least, you have heard your Sensei talk about the concept during your training. Its presence in the Japanese education system is resonant. I have often heard references made to this concept both in the classroom and the dojo during my time here. I'm confident that you can find a great deal of information on this topic on the Internet and in martial arts texts.
At first glance, this may seem to be just another mystical Asian concept, but like many of these concepts, it will quickly become clear the more you research that there is nothing mysterious about it at all. If anything, the concept is poetic. Have you heard the famous saying, The pen is mightier than the sword? While this concept combines both of these in an eloquent balance. In fact, this is one of the main principles of Bushido. In this is where we find the beauty and the strength of the way of the 'warrior'. In modern society this concept has become more and more theoretical, but in feudal Japan this is what helped many 侍Samurai maintain their sanity enabling them to balance the grotesque nature of the gruesome things that they did during war time with the ability to recognize and appreciate the beauty of something like the cherry blossoms in full bloom while at peace. The contrast of feelings and actions, of what is in our hearts and what our bodies must do could also be likened to bunburyodo. (Our thoughts and feelings are represented by the pen and our actions are represented by the sword)

However, in the modern academic context the study of subjects has taken precedence over the practice of combat so much so that many teachers whom I know and have taught with often stressed the importance of the physical element in the form of maintaining a strong healthy body in order to achieve the best academic results possible.

Deconstruction of the Kanji
Bun Bu Ryo Do is comprised of four distinct kanji, ,, and let's look at the last kanji first and work backwards through the order. I am sure you recognise 道 because it is the Do, from 空手道 and the 道 Michi, from the title of my blog which is often interpreted as meaning Path or Way as in the Way of Karate or the Way of the Sword in the case of Kendo.

道 & 両 In this case the kanji is read as Do and the meaning can also be closely tied to 道徳 Do Toku, moral principles, i.e. one's journey toward excelling in both literary and military arts is grounded in the moral principles of both concepts. So this is quite literally means the way to understanding both things which is the next kanji in the sequence, 両 Ryo, often written together with the kanji 方 (両方) meaning Both,  or both sides. In this case, both 文 Bun and 武 Bu.

In most cases this kanji refers to 'letters' in the academic context as in the 'study of letters' or 文学 Bun Gaku, Literature. This kanji is also commonly grouped with other kanji such as 文化 Bunka, Culture which is also encompassed in this usage to include the pursuit or study of Cultural things, implying that one who studies these things will become higly cultured. Placing importance on academics is something that set the Japanese warrior class apart from other soldiers in Asia. Generally speaking the soliers focused on developing their physical fighting skills and the elite or upper class focused on developing their understanding of complex things, i.e. the soldiers fought and the elite strategized. This was not the case in Japan. Many Samurai devoted a significant amount of their time to pursuing their own cultural development. Many if not most higher class Samurai were literate and were able to write and phiolosphize, practices which were not common for the mercenary type soldier of the same time period in other countries. (as with anything, there will always be exceptions to the rules and therefore, I am intentionally being somewhat vague here)

I'm sure you've seen this this kanji many times over the years especially since the movie 'the Last Samurai' made 武士道 Bushido so popular in North America again. Bushido is a very deep and well rounded military philosophy which holds bunburyodo at its core. One might go as far as to say that bunburyodo is like the soul of bushido. You may be interested to know that the character 武 is comprised of radicles that are based on defense and protection rather than offence and destruction. This is why many people feel that the term 'warrior' does not adequately describe the true meaning of Bushi. The radicle of 止まる Tomaru or Tomeru, to stop or hold back, is located in the centre of the character indicating the importance of this concept in the definition. The other radical that makes up the rest of the character is a derivative of 矛 Hoko, a Halberd (a combined spear and battle axe) indicating an attack. Therefore, the true nature of Bushi is not to wage war and destroy but rather to protect from and fend off attacks from the outside.

In a modern context we must make efforts in our training to attain a degree of well-roundedness through developing our mental abilities through the pursuit of knowledge, perhaps through higher education in a specialized field or some other pursuit that will enhance our quality of life, as well as hone our physical skills through practice and repitition.

Because the Bun aspect is rooted in culture I recommend accenting Karate Do trainin with learning a traditional Japanese art such as 書道 Shodo, Japanese Calligraphy (something I chose to do shortly after arriving in Kumamoto), or 生花 Ikebana, sometimes called 華道 Kado, the Art/Way of Flower Arrangement, or 茶道 Sado, the Art/Way of Tea. Each of these are beautiful in their own way and each focus on the simple and quiet beauty bringing the practioner's mental focus inward while at the same time allowing one to appreaciate the beauty of nature.


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