Japanese Martial Arts are often summarized under the Umbrella Term Budo [武道]. Nothing wrong with that(IMO), but it’s important to note that the literal Translation of Budo is ‚martial ways‘. The Do/Tao[道] has deep Meaning in chinese Philosophie on one hand, but is here quite simplified and indicates a lifelong commitment to reach the goal of perfection(however one might define that) in the given discipline. So while somebody can train, lets say Aikido as a workout using the Art to keep fit and have fun learning the ‚Aikijutsu‘ of Aikido, a ‚real‘ Aikidoka who is serious trains in the art to master it till ones life ends. Making it an important part of his whole being.

One literal translation for Martial Arts would be Bugei[武芸]. But this Term is rarely used today for martial arts, atleast in the west and as a huge umbrella term can also link to more of a performance act of an artistic endavor, which were quite popular in the Edo Period of Japan. Wandering Showmen, often from impoverished warrior Families would give public perfomances of their martial arts for entertaiment purposes making this their way of living, which were also labeled Bugei. I would want to note that the ‚gei‘ Part of Bugei is the same ‚gei‘ for Geisha[芸者]. This doesn’t mean that Bugei isn’t a term for serious and effectiv martial arts, but that their is a direct link to a sense of artistic aesthetics in the kanji.

Another term often used for martial arts is Bujutsu[武術]. Meaning ‚martial/military technique‘. This term is quite often used in the west if somebody wants to underline the effectivness of ones Art. Like „oh our Style is for real fighting, it’s real Bujutsu“. This type of thinking is often derived of from a distorted understanding of a proposed definition from Budo and Bujutsu originating by Donn Draeger. Which states (simplified) that martial arts from the Edo Period on were more of a tool of self perfection for which he used the term Budo and schools who derived before that, in the Muromachi Period were schools concentrating on true warfare and tactics aka. Bujutsu.

Some People distinguish even further in their definitions. Using the term Koryu Bujutsu[古流武術] for Ryuha from the Muromachi Period concentrating on schools of ‚real warfare‘, Koryu Budo[古流武道] and Koryu Bugei[古流武芸] for the ‚declining and losing in effectivness‘ (as they argue) Ryuha from the Edo Period and Gendai Budo[現代武道] or Shinbudo[新武道] for modern martial arts for self perfection and character transformation. While such heuristic is a good way to introduce people to the topic, this way of black and white thinking isn’t followed by most japanese Teachers. Using the terms Budo, Bujutsu, Bugei and often also the term Bushido simply synonymous for the same thing.

Ellis Amdur, Shihan of Araki-ryu torite-kogusoku notes that his own teacher used the term Koryu Budo for his school. Which is noteworthy because Araki-ryu is quite famous for their brutal and effective combat techniques and to this day rough training. Which shows that in effective use a universal definition of this terms is quite unrealistic because the Japanese themselves move in many shades of grey.


Budo, Bujutsu, Bugei what is what?

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