Recently during evening keiko sensei told us “Aikido was not a martial art. It is budo.” At the time he was specifically talking about training. How budo training and competitive martial arts training were different. I actually wrote a small blog post about it a while ago. Since then I have been turning this idea over in my mind, trying to think about what this statement would mean in the wider sense. Then today I had an interesting idea come to me and I thought I would share it.

Today I was watching a video.  In the video a teacher was teaching at a seminar. I’m always very impressed when I watch him, even though my opinion differs from his on a great deal of things to do with Aikido. He is very good at what he does. He moves quickly and looks low and balanced. Also many of his students look just like him. So you have to say he is a very good teacher too. Although its not often that I listen to him speaking becuase  his opinions are too different from what I have been taught here in Iwama and what seems logical to me. Still that does not stop me from appreciating how great he looks when he does techniques. However, as I watched him performing techniques something struck me. The way that he performed techniques had what would be called “unnecessary movement” here in Iwama. Also there were sometimes instances during the technique where he would be open to attack. Of course the way he moves the uke around quickly means that there would be a pretty low chance of an uke being able to hit him. Still the openings are there. So the thought hit me. Maybe this is the difference between budo and martial arts.

Budo is about life and death. Techniques should be as efficient as possible with almost no openings. If there is even one small opening someone will eventually exploit it. Even after using a technique to successfully defeat 100 enemies you could be killed by the 101st.

You could also characterize the difference between budo and martial arts as being the same as the difference between pre-Edo era schools and those that developed during the Edo era. Allow me to explain a little. In my opinion there is a division in Japanese martial arts between those that were made during, or are based on the martial fighting systems from the Sengoku era, and those that came after during the Edo era.

The martial fighting systems from the Edo period (A largely peaceful period in Japanese history were samurai had little chance to test their skills on the battlefield.) tend to emphasise, form, movement and spirit over martial effectiveness. A good example of this is Kendo. Where participants score by striking the armor of their opponents, and can only score if they have correct form as the strike hits. Form, spiritual and mental development were all prized as swordsmen looked to go beyond mere technical mastery and find enlightenment.

In contrast to this you have martial fighting systems based on techniques from the Sengoku era. The Sengokujidai or “The Period of Warring States” was the heyday of the samurai. Rival lords would fight for land, political influence and power. Armies of samurai would frequently come together to settle the disputes of their lords. In this period martial effectiveness was king. The best form is the one that killed your opponent and left you unscathed. (In this time of primitive medicine even a small wound on the battlefield could be fatal) Martial fighting systems of this period actively avoid striking the armour in favor of unarmored areas such as the inner thighs, armpits and wrists. On the battlefield you could be surrounded by enemies. Techniques needed to be fast, direct and devastating. Slaying your opponent quickly, allowing you to focus on the next threat.

Perhaps the difference between the Sengoku and Edo periods is the same as the distinction between martial arts and budo. Form vs function. Perhaps budo lies in the the removal of all unnecessary movements and extras. Where techniques are reduced to the most pure and effective form. Where we offer our partner no opening or chance to counter attack and where we train with sincerity and stringency.

If we are have to use Aikido to defend ourselves it is a matter of life and death. There is no room for extras. Budo is serious, it deals with the knife edge between life and death. It is the way of the warrior.

Anyway, Just a thought. Hope this was interesting.