Since I have been blogging and reading other martial arts blogs I have been struck by the different 'mindsets' that people have in relation to their martial art. By 'mindset' I mean their approach to studying martial arts - their aims, focus and priorities. It seems to me that people fall into two broad camps - those with a mainly 'bugei' mindset and those with a mainly 'budo' mindset.
Bugei simply means traditional martial arts, i.e. those of the samurai. Budo means martial Ways and is a more modern concept, where the definition of 'modern', in Japanese martial arts, refers to the period after the start of the Meiji Restoration in1866, i.e. post samurai era. Of course that doesn't mean that the concept of a Japanese Way is modern, just its application to the fighting arts. Indeed the idea of seeking self improvement through the pursuit of mind, body and spiritual harmony is an ancient Japanese and Chinese tradition based on Zen principles going back to about the 7th century. Once the samurai were disbanded after the Meiji Restoration, applying these self-improvement principles to their fighting arts was a way to retain a purpose to continue to study them now they weren't needed on the battlefield.
The traditional bugei arts such as jujitsu, kobujutsu, ninjutsu, sumo, kenjutsu, and others together with the more contemporary combat arts such as krav maga or reality based systems are very much about learning practical defensive fighting skills and training mainly involves working with a partner to perfect skills. Modern budo (karate-do, aikido, judo, kendo, iaido, kobudo etc), on the other hand, use the art of learning to ‘fight’ as a means to master control of one’s body and mind with the lofty aim of achieving ‘self-perfection’. In other words budo becomes the medium through which one strives for self-improvement. In Japanese terms one could just as easily achieve this through the medium of ikebana (flower arranging), chado (tea-ceremony), shado (calligraphy) or any other of the Japanese Ways.
In order to follow a bugei or contemporary combat art it seems that a very pragmatic mindset is needed. The primary aim is to learn effective self-defense and this is valued above all else. This means that training methods become direct and technique driven. Indirect techniques such as ippon kumite or kata are generally much less valued, particularly in contemporary combat arts. In my jujitsu/kobujutsu club the training is very syllabus focused. Students work on the syllabus for their grade, generally with the same training partner. There is very little whole class teaching or 'off syllabus' stuff introduced. Once you have graded you start on a new syllabus and learn some new techniques - the training is very linear. However, progress in achieving the aim of learning self-defence is fairly rapid.
The mindset of the budo practitioner appears very different. Indirect training methods are valued very highly because the primary aim is mastering control of ones body and mind rather than learning to 'fight'. Thus in karate-do the student sees merit in drilling kihon, practising kata and perfecting distance and timing through sparring practice. This does not mean that the budo practitioner does not value the self-defence aspects of martial arts it's just that they are not necessarily the primary focus.
In my karate class, training is not so syllabus or technique focused. Obviously each grade has a syllabus for grading purposes but these are often not looked at until a grading is coming up. Instead, most of the time is spent in 'whole class' teaching. Even when working with partners everyone will be working on the same thing whether it be from the red belt syllabus or the black belt syllabus.
The emphasis is much more on learning to move properly, react quickly and have proper control of your limbs.The only time we break into grade groups is to practice kata, which is grade specific. Working in this way means that techniques, combinations and various other exercises are met again and again - training is much more circular. However, this method of learning self-defence is clearly the slow route and requires much patience.
I am not for one minute suggesting that one mindset is better or worse than the other - they are just different and drive us to persue the style of martial art that suits our aims and needs better. However I do think that one should be cautious in judging a budo art with a bugei mindset or vice versa because they will always be found wanting. Of course we are not all so easy to categorise and many of us may change our mindset as we progress along our martial arts journeys or even weave back and forth between the bugei and budo arts in search of a more fulfilling and complete experience. I expect our backgrounds, jobs and life experiences affect our needs and determine our priorities when it comes to choosing a martial art so it is fantastic that there is such a plethora of different arts and Ways to suit every conceivable mindset.