JAPANESE BUDO: AN EAST ASIAN RELIGIOUS PARADIGM FOR SELF-CULTIVATION, MORALITY AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION
The purpose of this paper is to counter misconceptions with respect to the martial arts and their purpose. These misconceptions view martial arts as violent, militant and aggressive, or as arcane methods of violent self-defense. I contend that the long-standing relationship between religion and the martial arts led to the creation of an intricate system of ethics and morality and that the martial arts are, in fact an ancient form of self-cultivation and practical conflict resolution, as well as a source of moral teachings. Through an etymological, as well as historical, study of the East Asian (mainly Japanese) martial arts, I illustrate the connections between martial arts, religion and conflict resolution in a new and unique way. According to our earliest records, the East Asian martial arts have been highly influenced by, and have in turn influenced, the religions of that region of the world. The following analysis begins by exploring the historical connection between Buddhism and the martial arts, revealing the long and rich history of the association of Buddhism with martial arts and militarism in East Asia, particularly Japan. Next, the discussion turns to the Eastern use of physical practice and discipline aimed at spiritual self-cultivation as a means of attaining religious understanding and enlightenment, rather than simply as a form of physical exercise or as a way of becoming a more effective combatant. The martial arts, at various times throughout history, have been viewed in this way. I argue that it is these connections with religion that have created within the martial arts an inherent system of warrior ethics and morality, characterized by an emphasis on the pursuit of peace and the avoidance, or transformation, of conflict. This raises the question of whether a system of warrior ethics and morality entails a paradox or a logical and inherent consistency and where conceptually and practically one finds the religious, or specifically the East Asian philosophical, principles in the martial arts. Lastly, the analysis shifts slightly to a discussion of the relationship between martial arts and conflict resolution, which has, as a field, largely ignored the possible benefits of the lessons and teachings of the martial arts. This is because the field has mistakenly viewed these as contrary to their philosophies. However, conflict resolution and martial arts have more in common than many practitioners of either pursuit realize, and actually have much to learn from each other. Though the martial arts have an obvious potential for much violence and destruction, I maintain that this potential can be mitigated by strengthening the relationship between martial arts and the field of conflict resolution in various ways. This paper will hopefully lead the reader naturally to the conclusion that martial arts, conflict resolution and religion have in the past, and should again in the future, engage each other in a symbiotic relationship.
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