|Memorial Cathedral for World Peace, Hiroshima. photo by scarletgreen|
But most martial arts have their roots in violence that was either forced on them by lovers of war, or developed by those who loved war. True peace lovers would never train to do what we do, right? I don't know. I don't think it's that black and white.
武道 Budo means martial way. The character of Bu 武 is composed of three different kanji radicals two 二, shoot or spear 弋, and stop 止. So the essence of Bu is the way of stopping two people from shooting at each other or from fighting! Budo prevents or stops fighting among people. Martial arts are to promote harmony and act to stabilize society.
During the 1860's in Japan, a time marked by bloody infighting among various samurai factions, this meaning seemed lost.
For training to cut human flesh, men were forced to perform executions or to act as seconds for those condemned to commit seppuku. I guess this is how they learned to decapitate. It is said that if the trainee even grimaced or turned a little pale at the sight of the gore, he would fail the test.
They would then skewer the bloodied heads onto bamboo stakes and leave them near bridges with a note attesting to 天誅 Tenchuu or heaven's revenge.
The author Kan Shimozawa wrote about how they bragged of their bloody feats:
"Every day the men would go out and cross swords with the enemy. One corpsman claimed the blood of the man he had killed today splattered on the ridge of the adjacent house. Another said that the blood [of his victim] hadn't splattered beyond the white paneled wall. Still another boasted that the blood of the man he had cut down had reached the roof of the house."One of the men's mistresses described their bloodlust:
"People would talk about whom they had killed today, and whom they were going to kill tomorrow. It was all so frightful."One group of hit men even adopted the nickname 人斬 hito kiri which is like calling yourself "the beheaders".
Not all were so enamored of blood. Katsu Kaishū, founder of the Japanese navy said,
"I despise killing and have never killed a man. Take my sword for example. I used to keep it tied so tightly to the tsuba, that I couldn't draw the blade even if I had wanted to. I've always been resolved not to cut a person even if that person should cut me. I look at such a person as no more than a flea. If one lands on your shoulder, all it can do is bite a little. This causes nothing more than an itch, and has nothing to do with life."I think that whether you have an affinity for violence and martial arts bring you some measure of peace, or you are a peace lover who wants to understand the other side, training taps into some very primal aspects of our dual natures. To be a whole complete human requires knowing the dark and light and gray.
So go ahead and learn how to bruise, break, maim, and kill… all the while embracing the understanding that our training leads us to a place of never needing to use these violent skills. If you have a good teacher they will show you the path from one to the other. Do not neglect the depths of real combat and violence with the power contained therein, nor the heights of love and peace and the great powers that arise from this stillness.