Both Budo and Bujutsu are common terms to refer to Japanese martial arts. Japan has a long and rich martial tradition and is therefore easily misunderstood by Westerners and Japanese alike. For non-Japanese it might be a bit of a challenge, but then again there is no such thing as samurai DNA or samurai heritage at birth. For Westerners, Budo can never be about becoming Japanese, but it “can” be about learning Budo principles and internalizing them into the person we actually are. The Japanese themselves have always been exceptionally good at adapting and surpassing foreign knowledge, customs and technology into their own Japanese culture and identity. The trick is to strike a good balance without embarrassing yourself, your Dojo, or the art you practice.

Be enthusiastic and curious: if a foreigner were to read a good book about Amsterdam, he would probably know more about the city than most Dutch people ever will. It is quite striking how few people take the time to get to know their own background and culture. It is no secret that only a minority of Dutch people know where e.g. Easter or Pentecost is about. The majority don’t care at all. They enjoy the day off without thinking about the sense and nonsense of it all. Would we have to be Christians before we can fully appreciate and understand these holidays? Is it just old-fashioned stuff, does it still fit in today’s society, should we perhaps stop celebrating it? As Christians, we can guess the answer, but what does it all mean if you are not?

This question may also apply to Budo. How Japanese is Budo really?, and how Japanese do we have to become to really understand the art? The Japanese themselves tend to think that their language and culture is somewhat impenetrable to foreigners. Some even suggest that Budo is exclusively Japanese heritage and should be promoted and preserved as such. So what does it mean for westerners, are we in or are we outsiders? The problem with defining Budo is that there is no real consensus on it. Sometimes its history is even debated. In addition, there are many more Budo practitioners outside of Japan, so the need for a revised, international and more inclusive definition of Budo is absolutely desirable.

Finally, the vast majority of practitioners we meet practice Budo on a superficial level without ever understanding the essence of the art they practice. This transient understanding of Budo leads to unrealistic expectations and sooner or later disappointment and frustration. This will eventually cause students to stop practicing earlySuch a shame considering the time and effort it took. So let’s ask ourselves what Budo is about. How can Budo benefit you as a person and how in turn, can you be of service to Budo? In the quirky world of social media, it is difficult to find reliable and academic sources based on historical facts rather than personal opinions and emotions. But keep in mind that a good book or article can give you more insight than decades of hard but pointless training. Of course, as with any art form, you can’t put in enough training hours to get it right. Nevertheless, at least you know what you’re getting into and what you’re doing, and not. It’s really up to you.

Now let’s see what is said about Budo:

General perceptions


Budo 武道

Budo is a form of Japanese physical culture that has its origin in the ancient tradition of Bushido ‘the Way of the Warrior’. Although Budo literally translates as ‘Way from War’, it actually refers to the warrior ethos of Bushido. Japanese speak of Gendai Budo when referring to the more modern disciplines developed after Japan’s feudal period (from 1868 onward).

Official Japanese definition of Budo: Practitioners study martial skills as they strive to unify mind, technique and body, develop character, and cultivate a respectful and courteous demeanour. Thus, Budo serves as a path to self-perfection that will contribute to social prosperity and harmony, ultimately benefiting the people of the world. Well-known Budo disciplines are Judo, Aikido, Kendo, Sumo and Karatedo. [source Nippon Budokan]

Budo is also seen as a reinterpretation of ancient Bujutsu (below); a transformation from an art of war to an art of peace. Looking from a fitness or spiritual perspective, Budo emphasizes personal growth over functionality and effectiveness of combat .

Bujutsu 武術

Bujutsu disciplines represent the classical feudal traditions developed before 1868.

Westerners in particular, refer to classical traditions as Koryu or “Old Style,” with the term Kobudo or simply Bujutsu being used for disciplines that emerged between 1600 and 1868 when Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate (a type of military government). This period came after the chaos of the Sengoku period, a period of near constant civil war and social unrest, and it was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, lasting peace and popular enjoyment of art and culture. It is believed that during this period of relative prosperity and peace, strongly influenced the mainly military environment of the samurai, not only strategically but also their morals and values.

Before 1600, however, Japan was divided by warring states. The term Bujutsu or Koryu Bujutsu is therefore used to indicate the military nature of these Martial Arts.

The famous Donn F. Draeger argued that military and civilian strategies have existed in ancient as well as modern times. He therefore proposed the following constructions:

  • Civil Combative Systems; are those whos primary intended design and function are aimed at civilian based outcomes. (classical and modern Budo)
  • Martial Combative Systems; are those whos primary intended design and function are aimed at application to the military battlefield. (classical and modern Bujutsu)
  • Primary objectives of Budo        1. Morals   |  2. Discipline  |  3. Aestethic form
  • Primary objectives of Bujutsu    1. Combat  |  2. Discipline  |  3. Morals
  1. Modern Budo – 1868 onward | civil Martial Arts | the 9 Budo disciplines that are affiliated with Nippon Budokan
  2. Modern Bujutsu – 1868 onward | Police, Army etc.
  3. Classical Budo – Medieval ~ early modern period | civil Martial Arts
  4. Classical Bujutsu – Medieval ~ early modern period | battlefield combat, soldiery

The Philosophy of Budō