View Full Version : Budo and religion

30th July 2004, 00:12
I have trained for about twelve years in two types of Kempo styles. One style was void of anything to do with Okinawaian culture (Americanized) and the other implied that Kempo was a religion in itself. I also trained in iajitsu for a short time. Is religious study or philosophy ever a part of training? My experience with iajitsu was that religion and philosophy was kept seperate from the actual training. In other words you could learn it if you chose to after class. Is this correct Budo?

30th July 2004, 00:35

Joseph Svinth
30th July 2004, 02:55
For the traditional JMA, try Prof. Bodiford's essays on the role of religion in the Japanese martial arts in "Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia," ed. by Thomas A. Green.

It has also been argued that martial arts can be viewed as Gnostic sects. See, for instance, Prof. Goodger's article at http://ejmas.com/jalt/jaltart_goodger_1201.htm .

Most martial arts in America, though, are taught and practiced as some combination of recreational activity, creative anachronism, or sport.

Joel Simmons
8th August 2004, 11:39

Hmmm...if you're Kempo guys taught that Kempo is a religion, I'd look elsewhere for training. No martial art is a religion in and of itself.

As for religion and philosophy in martial arts I can only comment about traditional arts. In most koryu arts there is going to be a sort of disposition towards life that permeates the thinking, methods and teaching of the art. It might not be evident early on, but if a person has practiced a koryu long enough they will eventually take on some of the philosophical angles of said art. That is part of the purpose of koryu training.

In terms of religion, well it really depends on the koryu. Some koryu will require a certain amount of participation at some level in the religious belief system that has rendered the most influence upon it. Again, this is just part of the nature of koryu arts.

If you only dabbled in iai, then I wouldn't expect the religious or philosophical aspects of it to be on the immediate list of things for your sensei to teach you.


9th August 2004, 23:00
IN Japan, Shorinji Kempo is, in fact, registered as a religion. As for classical arts, many are said to be transmitted directly by a particular deity and some involve particular Buddhist or Shinto practices as part of the esoterica of the ryu.


Joel Simmons
12th August 2004, 04:33
If, Shorinji Kempo is registered as a religion in Japan, I'm sure it is viewed in the same way most Americans would react to someone preaching a martial art as a "religion." Japan has its share of new-agey hoodoo voodoo folks just as well. If you can show me where that info is, I'd like to see it.

As for koryu arts, most will not require beginners to participate in esoterica. Later on there will be a certain amount of acceptance or tolerance required on the part of the practitioner to accept the inherent Buddhist or Shinto aspects of the koryu art.

Anders Pettersson
13th August 2004, 07:39
Originally posted by hawaiianvw67
If, Shorinji Kempo is registered as a religion in Japan, ...

If you can show me where that info is, I'd like to see it.
You can find info on Shorinjikempo here: www.shorinjikempo.or.jp

Actually today the organisation (because of domestic laws in Japan) is separetad in four parts (decribed here (http://www.shorinjikempo.or.jp/group/index.htm)) where one is the Kongo Zen Sohonzan Shorinji 金剛禅総本山少林寺 (short description here (http://www.shorinjikempo.or.jp/group/SHORINJI.htm)).
The Kongo Zen Sohonzan Shorinji is registered in Japan as a Shukyo Hojin 宗教法人 which means "religious organisation".

I hope this give you some answers.


14th August 2004, 17:26

There is an old issue of the Japan Martial Arts Society newsletter from the 1980s which features Shorinji Kempo and which mentions SK as religion. I do not have it on hand as I am at work and do not have a computer at home. Perhaps Wayne Muromoto has this issue in his archives.


8th August 2006, 17:25
I think there is a real difference between the Eastern and Western ideas of what a 'religion' is.

In the West (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism) the truth is revealed by a great prophet or teacher, and religious practice is a response to believing that truth.

In the East (Daoism, Zen, some forms of Buddhism) the practice or tradition comes first, by following certain practices (Budo, Tai Chi, meditation, yoga, etc.) the follower develops body and soul until at a certain point they are able to attain some kind of enlightenment, the process is in some ways more important than the outcome.

Some Christians have suggested that this implies a satanic/demonic agenda in the Eastern religions (i.e. if the devil revealed himself straight away, nobody would accept it, but if he gets people to slowly change through esoteric practices, eventually they will be ready to embrace him). I cannot agree. If the process is as important as the outcome, then a bad person will just become worse, a good person better, through that process. Martial Arts are just that, arts.

For example, Michealangelo is famous for his painting/sculpture, Mozart for his music, Mas Oyama for his punches and kicks. Religious practice is different, a great religious figure like Francis of Assisi isn't famous for their teaching or prayers alone, but their whole life.

I suppose a martial art becomes a religion at the point that it becomes about the whole of life instead of about the techniques. To some extent this can be a good thing, but if taken too far it can be dangerous, as can any other kind of cult or fundamentalist religious behaviour that has its' origins outside of the individual's relationship with God/Reality.

Jim Wilson
9th August 2006, 18:53
Good Friends:

I agree with the above post by Beginner David. One way of looking at this is from the perspective of syncreticism. In the East Asian area it is fairly common for people to belong to more than one religious organization. Even people who are famous for their commitment to a particular tradition will often be members of more than one tradition. I am thinking of D. T. Suzuki as a good example; he is famous for his commitment to Zen, but he was also, throughout his whole life, a member of a Pure Land congregation and even wrote a few essyas in praise of this approach. In the west this would be considered highly problematic. It would be like someone being a member of a Presbyterian Church and simultaneously a member of a Baptist or even an Orthodox Christian congregation.

It goes further. Many people in East Asia have commitments that cross religious lines. It is common for Japanese to be both Shinto and Buddhist. It is fairly common among Chinese to patronize both Buddhist and Taoist Temples, while also having a kind of Confucian family altar at home as well. This might be roughly equivalent to being a member of Jewish Synagogue and a Methodist Church.

I think David touched on the central issue in this difference. In the west a particular monotheistic tradition is defined by a set of beliefs, credo, that one must agree to in order to be a member of that tradition. It seems that East Asian traditions are not primarily defined by a set of beliefs. Beliefs, theology, philosophy have an important place, but it does not seem to be the same place.

If one looks at religious commitments as something one does, rather than something one believes, the paradox is resolved. For example, there is no contradiction between studying tea ceremony and calligraphy and martial arts because those are understood to be activities. Similarly, if one views religions primarily as activities, and only secondarily as belief systems, then it is possible to have multiple religious commitments.

For those who have an interest in this topic of syncretism and tje place of religion in East Asia I recommend "The Syncretic Religion of Lin Chao-en", particularly the introductory essay. This is a good introduction, but I also want to point out that beyond syncretism there is the idea of multiple religions affiliations and commitments, which is even stranger from a western perspective.

Best wishes,

Jim Wilson