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What Is Budo Karate?

The word Budo is derived from the words:

武  Bu  meaning "Martial" or "Combat"

道  Dō  meaning "Way"

Budo, the "Martial Way", is a Japanese term for arts that use peaceful combat as a means of perfecting the self.  The word Dō 道 comes from the Chinese word Tao and the philosophy of Taoism.  Do does not mean the "way" or method of learning something, such as the learning the techniques of karate, but rather it is the path of life whereby what is learned is transcended into wisdom.  Do and Zen are complementary.  Zen 禅 seeks self-perfection through passive means, such as meditation.  Do seeks self-perfection through active means, such as the training itself.  In fact, the practice of kata is sometimes referred to as Dōzen 道禅, or "Moving Meditation".  That which is gained through Budo is much more than just the techniques and applications of the martial arts, and it transforms all aspects of life.

​Karate and Budo are sometimes combined as Karatedō 空手道, or the "Empty Hand Way".


The word Dōjō 道場, or training hall, literally means the "Way Place", and it is also the name of the room used for meditation in a Buddhist temple.  A karate dojo is not a gym, even though the training is physically demanding and a lot of sweat is shed in a Kyokushin dojo.  It is a sacred a place of learning, and as such, it is treated with respect.  Karateka (karate practitioners) bow before entering or leaving the dojo.  Shoes are not worn in the dojo not only to keep the dojo clean, but to keep the "outside world" out.  Mokuso 黙想 (meditation) is sometimes done before training to clear the mind and depart from the "outside world", and after training to clear the mind again in order to return to the "outside world".


 A karate uniform is called a Dōgi 道衣 (or Gi for short), and the word literally means "Way Clothes".  Just as a dojo is not a gym, a karate dogi is not just clothes in which to train.  A dogi is what a karateka wears on the path toward self-perfection.  It should always be kept clean and in good repair.  According to Mas Oyama, "to repair a torn uniform is no disgrace, but to wear a torn or dirty one is."  However, the Obi 帯 (belt) should never be washed.  Over time, it becomes frayed and stained with the sweat and blood of hard training.  An old, worn and stained obi reflects the karateka's unique experience of training, which should not be washed away.

Budo developed from Bushidō 武士道 (the "Way of the Warrior"), the code of moral conduct and way of life of the Samurai.  At the time, the extent of a warrior's skills and ability often determined whether he lived or died.  According to the karate master Gogen Yamaguchi:

​Budo did not originate in a peaceful atmosphere.  It was necessary to protect one's life at the time, and to learn how to use Budo as a weapon and achieve one's responsibility as a warrior.  It was the warrior's duty to develop spirit. ... It was necessary to obtain a technique to protect oneself, and one had to have a strong spirit to correspond to that.  When one could overcome a conception of death, there was an improvement of a human being as a Samurai.  When it was developed, karatedo was used in place of weapons and studied that way, so that the spirit of the Samurai was needed at the beginning of its conception to learn karate.


For the most part, this is not the situation today (although some martial arts can be used effectively for self-defense).  Yamaguchi continues:

​Now there are rules, but the techniques and elements have not changed...  Now, karate is the battle against one's self and a means of the Way of one's life, not to defeat others or to die.  This solitary fight is to know one's own spirit and the desire to the naught that is superior to the limitation of the body.


Mas Oyama fully understood the nature of

Kyokushin Karate as Budo Karate, a path toward self-perfection though the practice of the martial art:

​Karate is the most Zen-like of all the Martial Arts.  It has abandoned the sword.  This means that it transcends the idea of winning and losing to become a way of thinking and living for the sake of other people in accordance with the way of Heaven.  Its meanings, therefore, reach the profoundest levels of human thought.

​For a long time, I have emphasized that karate is Budo, and if the Budo is removed from karate, it is nothing more than sport karate, show karate or even fashion karate – the idea of training merely to be fashionable.

Karate that has discarded Budo has no substance.  It is nothing more than a barbaric method of fighting or a promotional tool for the purpose of profit.  No matter how popular it becomes, it is meaningless

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