Budo and the Modern Age

I admit it: I am not a strict follower of budo. Oh sure, I’m familiar with some of its tenets; a practitioner of a Japanese martial art could scarcely avoid learning something about the “Way of the Warrior.”

Yet, I have not dealt deeply into what it means to follow budo. I suppose I can offer a simple explanation for this: In my opinion, budo demands not just the dedication of the individual, but the dedication of an entire community. For example, if you read A Book of Five Rings, you would find that it speaks at length on how society is divided into four groups: the farmers, the merchants, the politicians, and the warriors. Only those in the final group, the warriors, were expected to follow the code of budo. Everyone else was supposed to support the warrior group and each other. There was a balance that allowed these four groups to form, together, a functioning society.

We don’t have such clear delineations between groups anymore. A person who works full-time as a storeclerk could also be in the Army reserves. To which group do they belong? A person could be in the armed forces, but spend much of his time as a chef; to which group does he belong? The lines have been blurred tremendously, and with that so does the support a follower of budo requires.

This is not to say that the tenets of budo are defunct; by no means is this true. But it does mean that its tenets must be adapted to both acknowledge our current (and, in the United States, more Western) perspectives and the fact that the caste system on which budo previously depended is no longer available.

For example, I’ve often been taught that, in budo, many things that we would consider minor offenses today were, in the past, a matter of life, death and honor. Of course this makes sense; the path of a warrior was a dangerous one. The warrior needed to keep a sharp eye out at all times. In addition, the entire society knew what was a capital offense and what was not. Today, this is not the case. And I have lost count of the number of people that claim to follow budo, only to get angry at society at large because they refuse to follow along. In most cases, these people seem to have convinced themselves that the world must adapt to them. While this might be true in a dojo, it is certainly not true elsewhere. And, in my opinion, forcing a system of beliefs and punishments on an unsuspecting individual is neither in keeping with my own personal value system, nor in keeping with the principles that underly Aikido.

My point today? That the values on which Aikido is based must be adapted to suit the needs of our modern society. We must be vigilant, walking a fine line between upholding our code of ethics and honor while simultaneously acknowledging that our society’s mores constantly shift. To do anything else is, quite simply, folly.

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