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Iain Abernethy
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Zen and the martial arts (why it is BS)

Here is a link to a very interesting podcast from the BBC on Zen. I’m a regular listener to “In our time” and this one will be of interest to martial artists. The later part of the podcast touches on Zen and the martial arts, and is clear that it is a connection that was invented relatively recently i.e. there was NO historic connection between the martial arts and Zen. Among other things, the podcast covers the fact that the Eugene Herrigel’s seminal book “Zen in the Art of Archery” was written despite his archery teacher, Awa Kenzo – who Eugene Herrigel credits with teaching him Zen precepts via archery – being on record as saying he hated Zen! The conclusion being that a significant part of this “link” was superimposed by western thinkers.

As karateka, it is also important to note that the very first line of Anko Itou’s 10 precepts of karate (1908) is “Karate did not develop from Buddhism or Confucianism”.

Whilst I am firmly of the view that the austere and challenging nature of the martial arts can develop character, it is wholly wrong to make a religious / philosophical link. The martial arts have no connection with any one faith, religion or philosophy and hence can be practised by people of all faiths and none.

The whole podcast is interesting, but the martial arts element starts at 33:40 for those short on time.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04sxv29

All the best,

Iain

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi Iain,

for those who like to read, here is an article by Shoji Yamada: http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/CriticalZen/The_Myth_of_Zen_in_the_A...

So I guess it is time to hang down all the pictures of Daruma, Bodhidharma or whatever else you wanna call him from the dojo walls. :o).

Regards Holger

Th0mas
Th0mas's picture

I am also massive fan of Melvin Braggs "in our time" podcast. It is on my automatic iTunes download list along with yours Iain... But it significantly outnumbers yours :-( 

So more podcasts please Iain !!

Have a great Christmas break

Cheers

Tom

Peregrine
Peregrine's picture

WRT Anko Itosu's precept.  I suspect that he's right, but the fact that he felt the need to make the claim so distinctly subjects that there was some debate around the topic at the time, or a least that some people were claiming the contrary.

Creidiki
Creidiki's picture

I don't have a chance to listen the podcast right now, but hopefully it does not ignore the link between Chan Buddhism and martial arts in Shaolin temple, (Zen and Shorin Ji in Japan)?

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

ky0han wrote:
for those who like to read, here is an article by Shoji Yamada: http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/CriticalZen/The_Myth_of_Zen_in_the_Art_of_Archery.pdf

Thanks for sharing that! Very interesting!

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Creidiki wrote:
I don't have a chance to listen the podcast right now, but hopefully it does not ignore the link between Chan Buddhism and martial arts in Shaolin temple, (Zen and Shorin Ji in Japan)?

The myth that Bodhidharma was the originator of Shaolin Kung Fu is one that I think we can safely dispense with these days. Claiming origin from a person of great cultural importance is more to do with marketing than actual history. It would be like me, as an Englishman, claiming my martial style originates from King Arthur or Hengist and Horsa.

The following is from Wikipedia and it explains the origins of the myth:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhidharma#Shaolin_boxing

"Traditionally Bodhidharma is credited as founder of the martial arts at the Shaolin Temple. However, martial arts historians have shown this legend stems from a 17th-century qigong manual known as the Yijin Jing.

The authenticity of the Yi Jin Jing has been discredited by some historians including Tang Hao, Xu Zhen and Matsuda Ryuchi. This argument is summarized by modern historian Lin Boyuan in his Zhongguo wushu shi:

 As for the "Yi Jin Jing" (Muscle Change Classic), a spurious text attributed to Bodhidharma and included in the legend of his transmitting martial arts at the temple, it was written in the Ming dynasty, in 1624, by the Daoist priest Zining of Mt. Tiantai, and falsely attributed to Bodhidharma. Forged prefaces, attributed to the Tang general Li Jing and the Southern Song general Niu Gao were written. They say that, after Bodhidharma faced the wall for nine years at Shaolin temple, he left behind an iron chest; when the monks opened this chest they found the two books "Xi Sui Jing" (Marrow Washing Classic) and "Yi Jin Jing" within. The first book was taken by his disciple Huike, and disappeared; as for the second, "the monks selfishly coveted it, practicing the skills therein, falling into heterodox ways, and losing the correct purpose of cultivating the Real. The Shaolin monks have made some fame for themselves through their fighting skill; this is all due to having obtained this manuscript." Based on this, Bodhidharma was claimed to be the ancestor of Shaolin martial arts. This manuscript is full of errors, absurdities and fantastic claims; it cannot be taken as a legitimate source.

The oldest available copy was published in 1827. The composition of the text itself has been dated to 1624.Even then, the association of Bodhidharma with martial arts only became widespread as a result of the 1904–1907 serialization of the novel The Travels of Lao Ts'an in Illustrated Fiction Magazine:

One of the most recently invented and familiar of the Shaolin historical narratives is a story that claims that the Indian monk Bodhidharma, the supposed founder of Chinese Chan (Zen) Buddhism, introduced boxing into the monastery as a form of exercise around a.d. 525. This story first appeared in a popular novel, The Travels of Lao T’san, published as a series in a literary magazine in 1907. This story was quickly picked up by others and spread rapidly through publication in a popular contemporary boxing manual, Secrets of Shaolin Boxing Methods, and the first Chinese physical culture history published in 1919. As a result, it has enjoyed vast oral circulation and is one of the most “sacred” of the narratives shared within Chinese and Chinese-derived martial arts. That this story is clearly a twentieth-century invention is confirmed by writings going back at least 250 years earlier, which mention both Bodhidharma and martial arts but make no connection between the two."

The last line is key and again shows that Anko Itosu was 100% correct when he dismissed the link between karate (and it's forbearers) and Buddhism. It’s a myth that has no historical basis.

This book also has a good section debunking the myth: http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-Martial-Arts-Training-Manuals/dp/1583941940

Basically, martial arts at the temple was primarily do with monks hiring soldiers and bodyguards; and nothing to do with any shared religious origins.

Bodhidharma may have been a key figure in Ch'an and Zen Buddhism, but he had nothing to do with the development of the martial arts at the Shaolin temple or anywhere else.

All the best,

Iain

Creidiki
Creidiki's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

Bodhidharma may have been a key figure in Ch'an and Zen Buddhism, but he had nothing to do with the development of the martial arts at the Shaolin temple or anywhere else.

Martial arts were propably developed as practical solutions to practical problems and Bodhidharma may or may not be a historical figure, but martial arts and religious practice have been combined at least in Pa Kua (Taoism), Katorin Shinto Ryu (Shintoism), Shorin-Ji Kenpo (Buddhism) as well as the physical aspect of Shao lin.

Its of course silly to claim that religion is a basis for martial practice, equally wrong to claim that "traditional" wink arts we have today have no traces of the religious philosophy and practice that sponsored them.

****WARNING:  OPINION DISGUISED AS FACT!!!!******

Europe, China and Japan all went through feudalism, i.e. they maintained pemanent warrior class which was supported by farmers. Knights and Samurais were nothing if not practical in their fighting, ethichs  and loyalties. Chivalric code and Bushido as philosophies later developments when feudal hosts were gradually replaced with standing armies.

Martial tradition survived in religious practice even as it died when feudal system went the way of the dodo bird.

roverill
roverill's picture

When I was an intern in a northern shaolin school in summer 2006 with sifu Shi Xing Ming, it was taught that the shaolin tradition had historically consisted of three pillars: gongfu & quigong; zuochan; and TCM. The zuochan aspect ('seated meditation' = zazen in Jp.) was given equal emphasis with the other two. So maybe a case can be made for the chan connection in the northern shaolin tradition, although it never made it across to Okinawa so Anko Itosu also wrote correctly in his first precept of 1908.

nielmag
nielmag's picture

so I have a question since this thread has completely shatterred my childhood images of "Gong Fu"(in poorly dubbed english over original Chinese audio) movies being practiced in shaolin temples, etc.  what is the connection between budhist monks, and kung fu?  Even today, kung fu is practiced in chinese temples?  even if bodhidharma didnt influence chinese martial arts, how do we explain the monks being so proficient in the chinese arts?  I understand they may have hired bodyguards, etc, but the monks themselves know the arts?  help me Obi-Wan Sifu, youre my only help.  (Next thing you guys will tell me is that The Force isnt real... )  

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

nielmag wrote:
so I have a question since this thread has completely shatterred my childhood images of "Gong Fu"(in poorly dubbed english over original Chinese audio) movies being practiced in shaolin temples, etc.  what is the connection between budhist monks, and kung fu?  Even today, kung fu is practiced in chinese temples?  even if bodhidharma didnt influence chinese martial arts, how do we explain the monks being so proficient in the chinese arts?  I understand they may have hired bodyguards, etc, but the monks themselves know the arts?  help me Obi-Wan Sifu, youre my only help.  (Next thing you guys will tell me is that The Force isnt real... ) 

LOL :-) The “Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals” book I link to above is a very good read and busts most of the “religious origins” myths.

Warriors require a moral code, a sense of serving something greater than themselves, and a way to face death. It’s therefore not surprising that religion and warfare often meet.

You can look at almost any warriors in history and see a religious dimension. The knights of England believed they were serving the will of God. The Vikings wanted to die in battle so they could go to Valhalla. And so on. However, this is a million miles away from shared origins!

When the Christian knights of England were practising their sword techniques, no one suggested that those sword techniques were designed by Jesus and had unbroken line of instruction back to him!

As ridiculous as this sounds, it is comparable with what is being suggested when people say that Bodhidharma was both the founder of Shaolin Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism; or that Zhang Sanfeng (esteemed Taoist monk) was the founder of Tai Chi. Such claims are mythology and “marketing” and have ZERO in the way of historical support.

It’s one thing to note that warriors also had a religion; it something else entirely to suggest that the religion and the fighting method have a common origin and are inextricably linked.

Monks hire in soldiers and bodyguards to protect themselves. They also learn fighting skills themselves from the “hired help”; so you get monks who can fight. There is no link or common origin between the religion and the fighting method though.

Warriors are taught to fight. Like the rest of the population, they also have a religion. So you have religious warriors. But, again, that in no way infers the fighting skill and the religion are linked.

The myth that the religion and fighting skills are inextricably linked has nothing to support it. The fighting method and the religion are totally separate entities. You could be Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Taoist, etc. and learn how to use a sword. People of any religion can learn any skill.

There are no “Buddhist martial arts”, but there are martial arts practised by Buddhists. And that same art could be practised by people of all faiths and none, because there is no link or common origin. Fighting is fighting.

A modern Christian solider does not claim that the methods of using his rifle originate from Jesus, John the Baptist, or Moses. The religion and combative method are separate entities; just as they have been throughout history.

To use your tongue in cheek comment: There is just as much solid evidence to claim a historical link between “the jedi religion” the use of light sabres as there is to claim a Buddhist origin for Kung Fu, a Taoist origin for Tai Chi, Zen being a core component of samurai archery, etc. It’s all demonstrable and discredited fiction.

Personally, I find the true history of the martial arts to be way more satisfying than the myths. Recent history has seen much debunking when it comes to the practicality of the martial arts. I would suggest we also need to “clean house” on the mythology of the martial arts too.

All the best,

Iain

PS The below is from Wikipedia and explains why Zhang Sanfeng cannot seriously be taken to be the founder of Tai Chi. Again, it’s all later day revisionism.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_chi#Historic_origin

“When tracing t'ai chi ch'uan's formative influences to Taoist and Buddhist monasteries, there seems little more to go on than legendary tales from a modern historical perspective, but t'ai chi ch'uan's practical connection to and dependence upon the theories of Sung dynasty Neo-Confucianism (a conscious synthesis of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian traditions, especially the teachings of Mencius) is claimed by some traditional schools. T'ai chi ch'uan's theories and practice are believed by these schools to have been formulated by the Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng in the 12th century, at about the same time that the principles of the Neo-Confucian school were making themselves felt in Chinese intellectual life. However, modern research casts serious doubts on the validity of those claims, pointing out that a 17th-century piece called "Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan" (1669), composed by Huang Zongxi (1610–1695 A.D.), is the earliest reference indicating any connection between Zhang Sanfeng and martial arts whatsoever, and must not be taken literally but must be understood as a political metaphor instead. Claims of connections between t'ai chi ch'uan and Zhang Sanfeng appeared no earlier than the 19th century.”

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Writing the above, made me think of this :-)

There is no religious connection to the use of hand grenades either, and there is as much validity to what is shown here are there is to the Zhang Sanfeng, Bodhidharma and Samurai / Zen myths :-)

Creidiki
Creidiki's picture

nielmag wrote:

 I understand they may have hired bodyguards, etc, but the monks themselves know the arts?  help me Obi-Wan Sifu, youre my only help.  (Next thing you guys will tell me is that The Force isnt real... )  

Members of nobility joining monastic orders is pretty common historical phenomenon, in europe younger sons of lords joined monastery if chances of inheriting title or land were slim.

According to tradition, Siddharta Gautama and Boddhidharma were members of  the Brahmin class and as suchs would have started training in their pre-teens. So its perfectly natural that many members would have extensive martial training prior to joining, it would be minor step to include martial arts as physical training in addition to spiritual teachings.

nielmag
nielmag's picture

Sensei/Sifu/Jedi Masters Iain &  Creidiki and the rest of the Jedi council I feel enlightened(yes pun very much intended).  In all seriousness its funny how much Hollywood and revisionist history can paint such a picture that we (or at least I) have taken the  Bodidharma story  so literally (as well as other martial myths) and never thought once to question it, and I'm very skeptical by nature!  The martial arts and their history are fascinating in and of themselves without the myths. I appreciate everyone's pursuit of the truth, and as the wisest Master once said, "the truth shall make you free"

Creidiki
Creidiki's picture

We had military monastic orders in christian tradition also. Templars, Teutonic Knights and Hospitallers just to name few.

In alternate universe, a living tradition of longsword spear, quarterstaff and unarmed fighting might have been kept withing the surviving orders even as they died out in the lay world. If that were the case they would no doubt be taught with strong christian (roman catholic) ethics.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

nielmag wrote:
In all seriousness its funny how much Hollywood and revisionist history can paint such a picture that we (or at least I) have taken the  Bodidharma story  so literally (as well as other martial myths) and never thought once to question it, and I'm very skeptical by nature!

I think we all have because that was the accepted and widely dispersed story. The great thing about the information age is that we are able to examine these stores in more detail, check sources, and share findings. The martial arts are definitely better for that. To invert the words of Mark Twain, we should never let a good story get in the way of the truth :-)

That said, part of understanding our art is to understand why these myths came about and what purpose they were thought to serve. They can’t therefore be totally ignored either. They may not be true, but they have nevertheless had an impact on the martial arts.

Creidiki wrote:
We had military monastic orders in Christian tradition also. Templars, Teutonic Knights and Hospitallers just to name few. In alternate universe, a living tradition of longsword spear, quarterstaff and unarmed fighting might have been kept within the surviving orders even as they died out in the lay world. If that were the case they would no doubt be taught with strong Christian (roman catholic) ethics.

That’s very true and interesting to speculate on! Part of the reason Karate (and judo, etc) has spread so widely was the adoption of the “do” ethos. And this idea of using the martial arts for physical and mental development draws its inspiration from the way sports were viewed in the English education system. It therefore not at all farfetched to envisage the western martial arts being the ones that found worldwide adherents. As you say, in an alternate universe old style bareknuckle boxing (“The noble art of self-defence”) could have spread globally and also have had myths spread about its alleged monastic heritage. You’d have people visiting the “mystical west” to attend abbeys and learn “from the source” … and then some actual historical research would be done and it would ruin the fun for everyone :-)

All the best,

Iain

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi everyone,

how the whole Bodhidharma myth came into existence is explained in this book: http://www.lulu.com/shop/henning-wittwer/scouting-out-the-historical-cou...

Regards Holger

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

ky0han wrote:
how the whole Bodhidharma myth came into existence is explained in this book: http://www.lulu.com/shop/henning-wittwer/scouting-out-the-historical-cou...

That book gives a very through dismissal of the legend from a karate perspective. To give a little teaser (and avoiding giving away some of the juicy facts about how this myth came into being – you need to support the book! :-)):

That the Bodhidharma legend appeared in karate circles just in those years was helpful in order to give a reasoning, seeming based on ancient tradition, for the transfer of the maxim “zen and the fist are one” into karate. Only a few years earlier one of Funakoshi’s teachers, Itosu Anko, rejected the possibility of religious origins, as can be seen in his 1908 handwritten paper:

“Karate does not come from Confucianism, Buddhism or Taoism”

…. Although both Shaolin and Bodhidharma were examined in Japan (and in China too) with scholarly criticism as early as the 1930s, even today histories on karate contain allusions to Shaolin and Bodhidharma. And even worse, the introduction of philosophical and religious teachings like Zen into karate curricula is advocated in the context of Bodhidharma’s fictional influence on Chinese boxing …

… Insinuations of Bodhidharma and Shaolin could easily be dropped from practise halls and future manuals. In their place verified historical facts should be used instead. In this way, karate does not become “impoverished”; on the contrary karate students get a much clearer view of the real essence of karate. This in turn enables them to engage with karate much more profoundly.

I could not agree more! Great book.

All the best,

Iain

Michael Rust
Michael Rust's picture

Is it not fair to suggest that the only reason there may be link between Karate, Kung Fu, Judo ect. and eastern philsophy is that for the most part it is the dominant  faith of the culture and or country ( being China/Okinawa/Japan)  and so some of it's ideas and principles have crept into the art just by the very nature of who's passing it on.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Michael Rust wrote:
for the most part it is the dominant  faith of the culture and or country ( being China/Okinawa/Japan)  and so some of it's ideas and principles have crept into the art just by the very nature of who's passing it on.

I think that’s a good point. The wider culture is sure to have an impact on everything that is done within that culture. We can see that throughout the history of the martial arts as they move through time and geographic location.

Where I think a firm line needs to be drawn though is when people rewrite history to infer “twas ever thus”. The myths of “shared origin” were religion and martial arts are presented as having a common source need to be dispensed with.

The Shaolin monks are Buddhists who practise martial arts, but it is historically and factually inaccurate to say that the arts they practise ARE “Buddhist martial arts”. Rather they are simply “martial arts practised by Buddhists”. The two are therefore not inextricably linked through fundamental nature and shared origin, but simply by the fact both the religion and the martial arts are practised by the same group of people. Prior to this “coming together”, in a given group and at given point in time, the art and the region were separate entities with differing origins. They will be separate entities elsewhere i.e. people practising the same system who are not Buddhists, and we also have Buddhists who do not practise any martial arts.

I’m a Cumbrian who practises karate. The majority of people in my dojo are also Cumbrian. So it’s inevitable that Cumbrian culture finds its way into our karate. However, it would be a HUGE leap to then state karate is a Cumbrian martial art; and to go further and invent a mythical backstory to justify my claims, which I then present as historical fact. That’s essentially what is being done with the Bodhidharma myth, the Zhang Sanfeng myth, the Samurai Zen Archery myth, etc.

All the best,

Iain

Creidiki
Creidiki's picture

Ahem, to respectfully disagree here

Chan/Zen, has component of Samu, physical work done with mindfulness as essential part of its paractice of Buddhism. Samu can be making tea, tending garden or practicing martial arts.

Did tea drinking originate from Buddhism? Of cource not, but tea ceremony is basically Buddhist practice.

Did gardening originate from Buddhism? That's silly idea, but tending rock garden is Buddhist practice.

Martial arts were not born in Shao Lin temple but they are not simply Buddhists doing martial arts but their martial art is essentially Buddhists in nature.

To expand on that:

The practical fighting skill (jutsu) of Karate is basically dead, it died a natural death that happened to all fighting skills practiced by hereditary warrior class when feudal system was dismanteled everywhere in the world. Karate was introduced to Okinawan elementary school system in an attempt to preserve something of it.

What we are left with it are the remnants of the physical forms combined with the Do-philosophy and Do is strongly influenced by the Chan/Rinzai Zen school which was prevalent int he Samurai class.

Did it originate from Buddhism? No

Is it essentially Buddhist? Not if you choose to ignore the Do philosophy and concentrate on the jutsu.

Is there Buddhist influence in Karate? There sure is.

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi Creidiki,

Quote:
...Do is strongly influenced by the Chan/Rinzai Zen school which was prevalent int he Samurai class...

As far as I know and understand, Do (Tao) is an idea that came out of Taoism. And to summarize and simplify it, Do just means that you acknowledge that your life span is finite and that you should strive to make the most of it. Have you a source that backs up your statement?

There are certainly Buddhist influences in the Karate of some modern masters but can't see any in the Karate of the old masters. When Itosu writes that Karate had has nothing to do with religion, I believe him. Some people use music to perform Kata but that is also a modern thing as well as others like Zen Buddhism.

Regards Holger

Jose Garcia
Jose Garcia's picture

As a Buddhist and karateka I know karate and buddhism are not the same thing. I know a long time ago the moral and spiritual teachings in karate are not the same that are in buddhism. They have similarities but differences too. It is natural if some karate masters were buddhists, but it's also natural that some of them were not, and the ones who were, some of them were buddhist practicioners, while others were just regular believers, which (at least reffering to what meditation is) makes a difference. Sure in karate we even have Mokuso. I guess in many dojos in the East they practice za-zen for long periods of time (half an hour, an hour, four hours a day) like in zen temples or seshin (zen gashukku), but here in the west I'd bet the regular practice of seiza mokuso does not usually lasts longer than 30 seconds two times a week, if if it is even made.

Well, we at least have mokuso, which is for sure zen or taoist rooted, but that does not demosntrate martial arts and religion started at the same time.

We also know (or been told) that some Samurais were zen buddhists, but not all of them. Along with the tale of Daruma starting kung fu history i have read once that by the time Dogen brought Zen to Japan, the islands were in constant wars and buddhism perhaps helped to pacificate and unite them. This is apparently far from the truth too, from two points: Buddhism and Zen were already in Japan when Dogen travelled to China (he just wanted to renew it after travelling to china to learn from Chan masters) and there had been more wars after XIII century in Japan. So sometimes we receive legends which are innacurate.

Years ago I used to practice ZaZen with a buddhist group 2 or 3 days a week and karate in a karate dojo 2 to 4 days a week. Of course I soon lost my hope that karatekas were directly interested in Zen or Taoism, but also the feeling of karate and zazen are not exactly the same (well, althought zazen can be painful karate is more tired :) )  and the attitude of (european) monks and karate instructor is also not the same. I would recommend to anyone to try to mix it, because it's a good mix, and also zen can be studied no matter your religion, but, no, martial arts and buddhism are not the same. And many karatekas and zen buddhists I know may be kinda skeptical about the idea that both are the same or gotta be mandatory connected.

In the other hand, like someone has posted, according to zen, anything can be "Dô", like Ikebana, ChaDô, Samu or whatever. So Bujustu became easily BuDô because that is possible (easiloy in countries with buddhist culture) not because warrior jutsu was born with Dharma. Also there are buddhist schools who don't enphasize on ZaZen the same way as Zen, so little to no mokuso should be not an obstacle "to satori" too.

Sorry if my english is not perfect and some ideas are perhaps badly explained.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Creidiki wrote:
Chan/Zen, has component of Samu, physical work done with mindfulness as essential part of its paractice of Buddhism. Samu can be making tea, tending garden or practicing martial arts.

Did tea drinking originate from Buddhism? Of course not, but tea ceremony is basically Buddhist practice.

Did gardening originate from Buddhism? That's silly idea, but tending rock garden is Buddhist practice.

I’d disagree that the tea ceremony is a Buddhist practise. It is a practise done in a Buddhist way. I’d also disagree that tending a rock garden is a Buddhist practise. Again, it is something done in a Buddhist way. As you say, neither of these practises originate in Buddhism; they are merely practises adopted by Buddhists to help achieve their objectives.

I would suggest that the same applies to the martial arts. They have no fundamental Buddhist link; but the practise could be adopted by Buddhists … just as any other activity could be (i.e. tea making, gardening, washing dishes, etc).

Creidiki wrote:
Martial arts were not born in Shao Lin temple but they are not simply Buddhists doing martial arts but their martial art is essentially Buddhists in nature.

Again I’d disagree. As with the other examples given, the martial arts may have been co-opted by some Buddhists – and are hence approached in a Buddhist way – but that does mean the art is intrinsically Buddhist. Far from it.

As I type this I have a cup of tea on my desk. Making tea was not invented by Buddhists. And the vast majority of people who make and drink tea are not Buddhists either. There is zero in the way of Buddhist influence in the way I made my tea (boiling water, tea bag, milk, tea bag in bin, done). Buddhists could take tea making into a Buddhist exercise, but that does not mean there is any “reverse influence” such that tea making itself somehow becomes Buddhist.

Creidiki wrote:
What we are left with it are the remnants of the physical forms combined with the Do-philosophy and Do is strongly influenced by the Chan/Rinzai Zen school which was prevalent in the Samurai class.

The historical evidence tells us that Zen was not prevalent in the samurai class. The discussion in the podcast which started this thread was clear on this; as were the other sources presented in this thread.

I’d also question the proposed link between “do” and Zen which you are asserting. The “do-philosophy” – perhaps most coherently and completely explained by its leading proponent; Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo) – has no inherent Zen link. Indeed, the core inspiration comes from the way sport was approached to build character in the English education system. Nothing to do with Buddhism.

Creidiki wrote:
Is there Buddhist influence in Karate? There sure is.

Only if one puts it there and buys into some of the mythic backstories asserted by those who want it there. There is no intrinsic link that can be seen via any verifiable source that I’m aware of. Karate has no Buddhist origins, no tradition of Buddhism, and has no greater a link to Buddhism than any other religion. It also important to note that the Zen link with martial arts generally has been historically discredited and shown to be later day revisionism. There is no doubt that this revisionism had an impact on karate, but that’s very different from saying that the revisionism itself has any legitimacy.

All the best,

Iain

Creidiki
Creidiki's picture

Please understand that I'm not trying to troll or prove you wrong, because fundamentally we agree.

  • Martial arts did not originate from Buddhist practice
  • Practicing martial arts is not inherently buddhist, unless you are a Shao Lin monk.

But there is Zen/Buddhist influence in culture of the chinese and japanese martial arts. Some of it came through cultural osmosis from the temples that kept living tradition, some of it was deliberately put there with the neo-bushido ideology that was created in Meiji Japan. The neo-bushido was enforced in pre-war Japan by Dai Nippon Butokukai on all martial arts under its supervision, including Karate and Judo. Buddhist influence in martial arts is not "ancient" or "original" but its undeniably there and in all propability not going anywhere even if the origin is provably false.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Quote:
A young man went to Gautama Buddha and sought the Master’s guidance to achieve Enlightenment, The conversation went as follows:

  • Young Man: Master how long will it take for me to achieve enlightenment?
  • Gautama Buddha: It all depends on you......
  • Young Man: If I put in ten hours of meditation every day how long will it take?
  • Gautama Buddha: Maybe ten years
  • Young Man: What if I put in fifteen hours meditation?
  • Gautama Buddha: Maybe fifteen years
  • Young Man; (getting irritated) What if I meditate for twenty hours?
  • Gautama Buddha: Maybe twenty five years
  • The young man was almost infuriated.
  • Young Man: I cannot understand your logic—the more effort I put in, the more time it will take—this is ridiculous, Please explain.
  • Gautama Buddha: As long as you are fixated and obsessed about your goal you will not achieve it. Just do spiritual practice without one eye on the goal. Let events take their shape.

Now  if someone would use that parable e.g. in a podcast with martial metaforas it wouldn't make the podcaster buddhist, but would show the influence of buddhism in philosophy and ethics in martial arts. laugh

If we strip the philosophical and ethical considerations, then karate etc. definitely have nothing buddhist (or taoist, or confucian) If we strip the etiquette,  uniforms, belts and terminology then they will stop having anything japanese/okinawan. Keep stripping away later added influence and you peel the onion into nothing.

Jose Garcia
Jose Garcia's picture

I have just read an article published in this Spanish website in 10/12/2007.

http://karate-jutsu.net/articles.php?id=55

Althought the title is "Karate and Zen are one" the text explains exactly the opposite. It seems Okinawa was not a strongly buddhist land and Mokuso and Zen was latter introduced in karate in Japan, probably the same way the name of the art changed from To Te to Kara Te, that is as a means for cultural marketing and adaptation for main Japanesse land. So the connection is not western, yet nor Okinawan original, but Japanesse. We all know that many changes occurred to karate when moved from Okinawa to Japan.

I mentioned Mokuso meditation in karate dojos. It seems perhaps it was introduced by Shoshin Nagamine (1907-1997) who recognized there was no Zen Buddhism in original Okinawan karate. The article says he introduced zen meditation in Karate in Japan. But still does not makes us sure if some kind of meditation (with no buddhist creed) existed in Okinawa before and if was related to any Karate dojo. The article also reffers to Motobu's quote perhaps wrongly translated by Patrick McCarthy as "Karate is also a confuit through which learners can discover and transcend the source of human weakness. Such a spiritual theme reveals the profound influence Zen has had upon karate”, when the right translation could be, "Karate also reveals useful in intensifying concentration and elevate the spirit. With its help, firmness and tranquility are maintained. It works in a spirit similar to the one of Zen ". So Motobu maybe was not saying Zen had influence in Karate

Jose Garcia
Jose Garcia's picture

I have also read that one of the masters of Itosu perhaps was Gusukuma, disciple of Annan and Jion, this last one a Buddhist monk who teached the kata known today as Jion. But i guess it is a mistery if he teached any zen buddhism to Gusukuma that passed on to Itosu and to Karate, thought it would have been little if any, according to what I say in my previous comment. I just say but it is most probably anecdotal. If any, perhaps no religious doctrine but some moral comments and advices. After all, moral advices in karate do exist and are very similar to Buddhism. But paralelism does not imply correlation.

I had also found some interesting things Chojun Miyagi wrote once. (EDit: Perhaps I have a mistake translating this because there may be an editing error in the website I found it, where I'm not sure if some words are from Miyagi or from the editor) . He tended to believe that perhaps origins of Karate came from Boddhidarma and the foundation of Shaolin Temple. I don't know if he wrote it because he heared it after Karate was passed to Japan, or, even if he or most Okinawans were not buddhists, there existed that legend accepted by Okinawans. I don't say that Miyagi says Karate comes from zen contrary to what Itosu wrote, but that he perhaps believed that traditional hype. At the same time he says Shaolin styles must be a mix of previous existing styles from India and China. Some paragraphs after, he writes "I guess the ultimate formula to truth is Tao, the way". I dont know if this is Taoist influence in Okinawa or just the Japanesse style of using the word Dô (a little less religious sometimes than Tao and more in the meaning of "art"). Later on, he says there is a static begginers practice for Sanchin which implys standing quiet and breath armoniously till you start to feel the "sanchin trance". So here we have some kind of meditation. Perhaps Jutsu meditation more than Do meditation? Or any meditation is Do already? Then he adds "There is a point to focus which is between your eyebrows. I have heard that zen and other meditation arts are the same than for Sanchin" . There we have another paralelism (not yet correlation, at least in Okinawa, but perhaps yes in China where Sanchin comes from).

http://karate-jutsu.net/articles.php?id=62 Sorry I have read it in Spanish. It appears to come from “Bunka Okinawa” volume 6 nº3 - august 15th 1942

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Creidiki wrote:
Now  if someone would use that parable e.g. in a podcast with martial metaphors it wouldn't make the podcaster buddhist, but would show the influence of buddhism in philosophy and ethics in martial arts. Laugh

Touché! I like it :-)

I did however also quote Roman poet Horace. So does that mean that karate is influenced by roman ethics? I also quoted Nietzsche (an Athiest) too, but I’d suggest that does not mean he, or his worldview, was a major influence on karate. Ralph Waldo Emmerson (a Quaker), Muhammad Ali (A Muslim), Magic Johnson (a Christian),etc, etc were also in there as well.

The lessons of the martial arts have parallels in many, many places; but the co-existence of certain principles does not mean common origin.

Creidiki wrote:
If we strip the philosophical and ethical considerations, then karate etc. definitely have nothing buddhist (or taoist, or confucian)

I’d disagree with the way this is expressed because it infers the ethics are Buddhist, Taoist, or Confucian in nature and origin. I would suggest they are entirely independent.

You can also find parallels in Christianity:

“There is a saying ‘no first attack in karate’ …To be sure, it is not the budo spirit to train for the purpose of striking others without good reason.” – Choki Motobu

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” - Romans 12:18

As another example:

“Karate is not merely practiced for your own benefit; it can be used to protect one's family or master.” – Anko Itosu

“Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” - Psalm 82:4

These are fine ethics regardless of the source, but common ethics does not dictate common source.

These are good ethics that are not exclusive to Buddhism, Christianity, Karate, etc. So we could just as easily say, “If we strip the philosophical and ethical considerations, then karate etc. would definitely have nothing Christian.” However, we all accept there is no historical link there (just as with Buddhism).

Jose Garcia wrote:
After all, moral advices in karate do exist and are very similar to Buddhism. But paralelism does not imply correlation.

Totally agree.

Creidiki wrote:
If we strip the etiquette, uniforms, belts and terminology then they will stop having anything japanese/okinawan. Keep stripping away later added influence and you peel the onion into nothing.

Well, we still have the art itself, but we would lose the more modern aspects of karate. The point I’d make is that the etiquette, uniforms, belts and terminology are not an intrinsic part of karate, they were added later. Likewise, some tried to overlay a Zen influence / mythical origin story, but, as we agree, that does not mean it is a legitimate, inextricable part of karate.

So I would say the karate ethics are entirely independent of Buddhism, do not originate from Buddhism, and the stories that purport to show a link are demonstrably false. It is therefore advisable to acknowledge that and completely sever this false “link”.

I agree entirely with Henning Wittwer when he writes, “Insinuations of Bodhidharma and Shaolin could easily be dropped from practise halls and future manuals. In their place verified historical facts should be used instead. In this way, karate does not become “impoverished”; on the contrary karate students get a much clearer view of the real essence of karate. This in turn enables them to engage with karate much more profoundly.”

All the best,

Iain

Creidiki
Creidiki's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

I did however also quote Roman poet Horace. So does that mean that karate is influenced by roman ethics? I also quoted Nietzsche (an Athiest) too, but I’d suggest that does not mean he, or his worldview, was a major influence on karate. Ralph Waldo Emmerson (a Quaker), Muhammad Ali (A Muslim), Magic Johnson (a Christian),etc, etc were also in there as well.

I'm making assumptions but I'm guessing based on your nationality and ethnic backround that you would have exposure to  Nietzsche, Emerson, Ali , Johnson, Roman and Christian values through education and surrounding culture, indipendent of any martial arts experience, while  your experience in buddhism would come through your martial arts . Your karate is propably is influenced by roman ethics. Few devoted students and 150 years is all it takes for the influence to be widely distributed throughout whatever will be called karate then.

Iain Abernethy wrote:

I agree entirely with Henning Wittwer when he writes, “Insinuations of Bodhidharma and Shaolin could easily be dropped from practise halls and future manuals. In their place verified historical facts should be used instead. In this way, karate does not become “impoverished”; on the contrary karate students get a much clearer view of the real essence of karate. This in turn enables them to engage with karate much more profoundly.”

Agree, mythology should not be taught as history, mysticism should not be taught as truth.

But (ther had to be a but hadn't there.)

Should we also drop Mushin, Zanshin and Shosin and Zazen/mokuso or do they add useful concepts & practice into Karate? Or replace them with something less intertwined with Zen? I don't have an answer to those questions.

I would love to continue but I have to be at dojo in 20 minutes. Meaning I dont have anything constructive to add to this thread. Thank you for discussion.

Jose Garcia
Jose Garcia's picture

Apart from having clear the hystorical fact than religion is not the source of martial arts and Okinawa karate was not originary into Zen Buddhism, I think we can not deny that cultural encounter between martial arts, buddhism, confuncianism or taoism have occured in some places and moments (Shaolin, Sanchin, Mokuso, Tai Chi, Funakoshi perhaps receiving moral teachings which he added to Karate,....), and there is perhaps the question of if Zen brings something useful to martial arts or Karate or not. For me the answer is yes. Not for no reason sporters from other disciplines also include meditation in their training. I'll explain why meditation for me (sometimes) is (or is almost) the same as zen itself.

I have just read one hour ago or so some articles in the blog of Jesse Enkamp. These days I'm having a discussion with a friend about the importance of meditation for health and scientifical evidences of that or the lack of them, while the main aim for meditation is not physical health but peace of the mind. My friend has the point of view that relaxation can be applied to certain therapies without the oriental or buddhist contains, and, while I agree, I think buddhist philosophy and zen techinques enrich meditation way further, in a similar way as modern fighting styles are good but it does not mean that Karate ain't  a really deeply developed fighting art. Jesse Enkamp has the same point of view on karate as my friend on meditation, that there is no need for misticism nor magical concepts in karate even in deeper levels. But Jesse Enkamp defends the idea that Mokuso has to be done in karate and Reigi has to be present (and not just handshakes).

As I have been saying before, meditation is not "Zen buddhism", but for me meditation is almost zen and sometimes is already zen. Well, my point of view is because I am a Soto Zen buddhist. Soto enphasizes the idea that zazen itself is the Buddhism and will teach you way more about Buddha spirit than thousands of buddhist philosophy readings. So when people is making Mokuso, for me they are almost or already touching "Buddha" for a slight moment. The point is about what Soto Zen and I believe "Buddha" is. Frequently, Soto Zen denys the importance of labels in doctrine ("if you see Buddha, kill him!") and sometimes disrespect the official image of zen. Making Ikebana is not neccesarily zen. Tea ceremony is not neccessarily zen. (making karate is not neccessarily zen!). Zen is being what things are, and sometimes official labels, rituals are fake and hardwork has no spirit. Also Buddha is far from being a deity for us. "Buddha spirit" is the clarity of mind, no matter if you are a zen buddhist nor even a buddhist at all. So it's just a matter of language (and zen distrusts language). In zen terms, "having a peaceful mind when practicing karate as a Dô to be a better person and understand what you learn trhough karate", is "finding Buddha in Karate". In regular terms, "having a peaceful mind when practicing karate" is "having a peaceful mind when practicing karate" as a Dô etc. And when "having a peaceful mind" is only "having a peaceful mind", there is no need for Buddha, and that is zen.

What I mean is that while is perfectly possible that any moral or spiritual teaching in karate exists not thanks to buddhism or taoism but perhaps just thanks to the insight of karatekas, even if the stories of Zen being the craddle of karate are BS, anyway having karate mixed somehow with Zen is not a loss but a win.  If other sports practicioners are incluiding meditation in their program, Karatekas can make it yet, even now we know Zen and Martial arts have not common sources, and without the need for specially labelled philosophy. You dont need to read Dogen but you can make Mokuso, and it's ok. But that's what Dogen would do ! :D Only sit and wait.

So what I mean is that for me it's ok making zen next to karate today.

This is Enkamp's article about Mokuso

http://www.karatebyjesse.com/the-true-meaning-of-mokuso-karates-essentia...

At the end of this other article, Enkamp explains very well what I usually name as "knowing how to think" as opposite to "knowing not how to think", related to mokuso and meditation practice to empower both mental clarity and karate training.

http://www.karatebyjesse.com/karate-technique-secret-training-method/

I also think that perhaps Deshimaru was right when he said that meditation alone helps achieveing hara breathing faster than martial arts practicing.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Creidiki wrote:
I'm making assumptions but I'm guessing based on your nationality and ethnic background that you would have exposure to  Nietzsche, Emerson, Ali , Johnson, Roman and Christian values through education and surrounding culture, independent of any martial arts experience, while  your experience in Buddhism would come through your martial arts.

That would be an incorrect assumption. My martial arts have always been entirely independent of any religious component. Not a single one of my instructors has overtly expressed any Buddhist values, ideas or practises in all my time in training. My exposure to Buddhism – what little there has been – has come through both school and self-education (predominately the later) i.e. the same places as my knowledge on the other topics.

Creidiki wrote:
Should we also drop Mushin, Zanshin and Shosin and Zazen/mokuso or do they add useful concepts & practice into Karate? Or replace them with something less intertwined with Zen? I don't have an answer to those questions.

Personally, I strongly think we should avoid “Buddhist labels”; which I see as an unnecessary addition resulting from the Bodhidharma / Zen myths. As the history makes clear, the “Zen links” with the martial arts are a relatively recent fabrication which did not exist in the past. The addition of these Zen labels are part of this false history. As I stated in my previous post, the existence of common ideas does not imply common origin or inextricable links.

Being “in the moment” is an important part of combative skill (indeed most physical pursuits). And while that concept also exists in Zen, that does not infer that “Zen” is a vital or valid part of the martial arts. As we know, there was no Zen in the martial arts of the past; and all inferences that there was can be shown to be historically false. Nevertheless, they fought effectively enough.

If a “Buddhist veneer” has been added to certain concepts, that is part of the later day revisionism. I would suggest it should be recognised for what it is and cleaned off.

To give a timely example, the night before last I watched an episode of the TV Show “Lilyhammer”. In it, one of the main characters, “Torgeir” (see pic to right) – the non-too-bright Norwegian sidekick of a relocated US mobster – attempts a ski jump. Just before he does so, he reflects on the words of his coach when he was younger. We hear him think the following (from my memory so it may not be word for word):

“There are three kinds of jump. The poor ones; where you think about not failing. The good ones; where you think about what you need to do. And the great ones; where you think of nothing at all.”

Now, as a martial artists, that is recognisable to me. As someone with an amateur interest in sports psychology, that is recognisable to me as well. And it would be fair to say it has something of the “Zen” about it. However, Zen does not own that concept. It exists all over the place.

I would be wrong to claim the martial arts are inextricably linked with the musings of fictional ski jumping sidekick and that “Torgeirism” was an intrinsic part of karate. That’s pretty much what we are doing when we posit a Zen link (a common concept wrongly presented as having a shared source via a fictional story).

Being “in the moment”, “going with the flow” etc. are all concepts that are simpler to grasp without the unnecessary addition of Buddhist nomenclature. Those terms are only ever used as a spin-off of the false history / marketing strategy used in relatively recent times. I think we’d definitely be better off jettisoning them from our wider lexicon as part of ensureing we understand the true history of our art.

For me personally, they’ve never been a part of my martial arts and I think that’s made things more authentic. Although I accept that others have other views.

There is a related thread where I argued for the need to drop / simplify such terminology which may also be of interest to some:

http://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/mystical-or-just-common-sense

Many thanks for helping ensure a thorough and balanced exploration of this topic.

All the best,

Iain

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