Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The Historical Role of Relligion and Spirituality in Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from a post at Kung Fu Tea regarding the historical role of religion and spirituality in traditional Chinese martial arts. The full post may be read here.

Can the confused lead others to clarity?  Perhaps the title of this essay risks overselling the contents as I can think of no subject within the field more demanding of nuance, yet less likely to receive it, than the relationship between the martial arts, religion and spirituality.  Entire books have been written attempting to define the latter two terms, both of which are always culturally and historically bounded.  And we all expect that it’s only a matter of time until someone decides to give us a book length definition of martial arts as well. (Whether that is a good idea is another question altogether). 

 All of which is to say that bringing these three subjects together in the same sentence is a recipe for complexity.
Nor is it a coincidence that this subject creates polarized opinions within the ranks of practitioners and scholars of martial arts. How could it be otherwise? On some level I think that we all look to the actions and opinions of others to lend credibility to our own investments in the martial arts.  And what could be more fundamental to understanding the nature and purpose of these practices than the notion that they convey a deeper mystery that transcends the outward practices which we all observe?
If you are of a certain generation, chances are you were introduced to the Chinese martial arts by the image of either David Carradine (Kung Fu) or Bruce Lee (Enter the Dragon) philosophizing with warrior monks in mysterious temples.  This orientalist imagery fit nicely with the growing currency of the TCMA in a counterculture movement that was steeped in the writing of popularizers like Alan Watts. Nor was it simply a product of the Western imagination. Important early teachers of the Chinese martial arts in the West, individuals like Zheng Manqing, explicitly framed their efforts with the promise that one could combine martial, artistic, medical and spiritual achievement through the mastery of a single martial discipline.  Such a promise must have been music to the ears of a generation dealing with the disenchantment of globalization, social upheaval and geo-political conflict.  When looking at period sources it is thus interesting to note that the Asian martial arts seem to be spiritualized in the discussions of the 1970s-1980s in ways that even the same systems were not in the 1920s-1940s.
The excesses of this countercultural approach to the martial arts sparked their own backlash.  In the practical realm a number of arts and schools increasingly defined themselves in opposition to these images or, in their view, misconceptions.  Wing Chun schools in America tended to do away with the incense burning and memorial walls so common in other Hong Kong derived kung fu traditions.  Ip Man himself discouraged the practice of music and Lion Dancing within his organization and moved any discussion of traditional medicine into the private realm.  His practice was to be a modern self-defense art open to all.  And in a situation like this, it is hard to read the term “modern” and not also think “secular.”  The post-war process of embedding and localizing the Asian martial arts in North America (such as the rise of competitive contact Karate or Olympic Judo) often seemed to be accompanied with the distancing of these practices from their “traditional” (or perhaps spiritual) missions.
Researchers like Stanley Henning, Brian Kennedy and others in the first generation of what we might think of modern Martial Arts Studies would tackle the supposed spiritual origins of these practices head on.  Both individuals were influenced by traditions of Chinese martial arts histography that were established by scholars of the 1930s-1940s. These were the decades of the state sponsored Guoshu reform movement, perhaps the first moment in China’s history when the tools of modern scholarship and cultural criticism could be turned on the Chinese martial arts.  In general, scholars of the era (individuals like the pioneering Tang Hao) attempted to place the martial arts on a sound materialist footing by rejecting stories of wandering monks, Daoist immortals and divine inspiration. They instead sought to find the origins of systems like Taijiquan or Bagua through documentary criticism, sociological theory and fieldwork in places like Chen Village.
The image of the Chinese martial arts which the work of Kennedy and Henning generated was remarkably secular and mundane compared to the clear flights of fancy that television programs like Kung Fu had promoted a few decades earlier.  They focused on martial arts traditions that were eminently practical, the domain of village militias, KMT sponsored military academies, government sponsored programs or university-based physical culture programs.  All of this stuff did exist, and it did dominate much (though not all) of the public discussions of the Chinese martial arts in the 1930s.  I have written about these same subjects in many places on this blog. These were the sorts of modern martial artists that were sent to represent China at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
Its probably worth noting that the reformers guiding the KMT and the Central Guoshu Association during these years were very influenced by Western ideology and scholarship. Indeed, their writings are full of contemporary concepts like “Social Darwinism.” They were well versed with the sorts of theories and concepts that are now called the Modernization Hypothesis, and they seemed to accept its corollary, the Secularization Hypothesis. They believed that China could not reach its potential as a modern state without dumping the superstition and backwardness of its past.
In effect that meant purging traditional religion and activities associated with ritual religious practice (such as vernacular theater traditions which were at the heart of every town’s temple festival) from their reformed and modernized martial arts.  Given that individuals supporting these notions both wrote many of the surviving records of the period and laid the theoretical foundations for future historical studies of the Chinese martial arts, it is perhaps no surprise that later scholarship came to see the traditional martial as being primarily practical and secular practices.  The always excellent work of Peter Lorge would be one example of this school.  As is so often the case, the sort of image that the Central Guoshu Institute wished to project into the future also came to define much of how we see China’s past.
Clearly much of this scholarship has value.  And we are all better off if we are not forced to rely on David Carradine as our defining image of the Chinese martial arts.  The vast modernization efforts of the early 20th century generated a broad base of support within Chinese society and largely continue to define our experience of the Chinese martial arts today.  They are the proximate cause of the world that we have inherited, and so scholars must respect and deal with these impulses.  Still, it would be a mistake to assume that this is all that has ever existed.
My own historical work on the development of the Southern Chinese martial arts illustrated, at great length, how successful Guangdong’s martial arts community was at resisting and subverting these modernization efforts during the 1920s-1930s.  When Masters fled the Pearl River Delta to areas like Hong Kong, Taiwan or Malaysia in the 1950s they were able to preserve many of the “superstitious” cultural practices and beliefs (practices like spirit writing, spirit possession, and exorcism rites) that the KMT had worked so hard to stamp out decades previously. And the love of supernal warriors that had dominated Cantonese opera stages soon found a new home (minus its former ritual context) in Hong Kong’s martial arts film industry. Anthropological scholars like Daniel Amos were able to document all of these practices in the 1970s and 1980s during the course of their fieldwork.
While the practice of the TCMA seems to be struggling, we are currently living in the golden age of martial arts studies scholarship.  We now know, as Scott Phillips has argued, that accounts of Southern Chinese martial arts interacting with the world of opera are very plausible (though it did not always take the glorious forms that various kung fu stories would have one believe).  While scholars like Shahar have demonstrated that the Southern Shaolin Temple of legend is a myth, interviews and fieldwork have demonstrated that Guangdong and Fujian had multiple Buddhist temples where monks really did supplement their income by teaching marital arts (in addition to basic literacy) during the early 20th century, and a few of these seem to have adopted the Shaolin label as good advertising.  

Further, the careful ethnographic work of Avron Boretz in Southern Taiwan and Southern China has demonstrated that the religious and spiritual aspect of the martial culture is not only very much alive, but also remains a primary method of self-actualization for marginalized young men throughout the region.
Yet Boretz’s work also located and illustrated the point where this conversation becomes difficult.  

While his field work initially focused on martial arts students in Taiwan, he became interested in the fact that many of them were also members of temple ritual societies. These temple troops led processions through the neighborhood and were often practicing both a mixture of mundane skills (music, lion dancing, theatrical martial performance), as well as more exotic spiritual technologies (possession, exorcism rituals).  In point of fact, the individuals who ran these groups were often martial artists.  Yet the temple troop (which was a community non-profit organization) often maintained a separate corporate identity from any of the commercial martial arts schools that these individuals may also have been part of.  So to what extent can we say that the practice of martial arts in Southern Taiwan, in the community of marginal individuals that Boretz observed, had a religious or a spiritual component to it?

Friday, July 03, 2020

Judo Giant Seiichi Shirai

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at the Mokuren Dojo blog about one of the sometimes overlooked giants of classical age of Judo, Seiichi Shirai. The full post, which contains some interesting vintage videos, may be read here.

Our judo and aikido teacher, Karl Geis, attributed a significant portion of his newaza doctrine to seemingly little-known judo sensei (at least in America) Seiichi Shirai. Geis even called part of his groundwork doctrine, "The Shirai System." .
But there is relatively little online about a Shirai-sensei, so who was this Shirai guy? It turns out that he was one of Kyuzo Mifune's uchideshi, favorite ukes, and later Mifune's nephew-in-law. That clue gives us some research leverage because there IS a lot online and in print about Mifune!
We can get a glimpse into Shirai-sensei's thinking on judo from these quotes in Draeger's Training Methods book:

...and from Draeger & Otaki's Judo Formal Techniques book:

...and from some lessons quoted from the Spring Park Judo Club at Garland TX:

"...Another of judo’s first generation who trained under founder Jigoro Kano was Seiichi Shirai. He also trained with Mifune and eventually married Mifune's niece. ...a story that Shirai would tell about the importance of repeating a lesson:.The mind is like a tea cup. And if you fill it again and again with green tea, the cup will eventually turn green, absorbing the lesson. “And that’s the way,” Shirai would say, “I would repeat a story, over and over and over again.”...Another lesson ... from Shirai was about gaijyu and naiko. While the outside appearance of people in dealing with each other should be soft and gentle – gaijyu, the mind and the heart inside should be strong like steel – naiko."


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Cook Ding's Anniversay

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Cook Ding's Kitchen. In these fifteen years, over 2100 posts have been made along with almost 1.5 million hits.

So who's this Cook Ding cat? The "skill stories" from Zhuang Zi's Inner Chapters have always resonated with me and in particular, the story about Cook Ding:

Prince Huei's cook was cutting up a bullock. Every blow of his hand, every heave of his shoulders, every tread of his foot, every thrust of his knee, every whshh of rent flesh, every clink of the chopper, was in perfect rhythm — like the dance of the Mulberry Grove, like the harmonious chords of Ching Shou.

"Well done!" cried the Prince. "Yours is skill indeed!"

"Sire," replied the cook laying down his chopper, "I have always devoted myself to Tao, which is higher than mere skill. When I first began to cut up bullocks, I saw before me whole bullocks. After three years' practice, I saw no more whole animals. And now I work with my mind and not with my eye. My mind works along without the control of the senses. Falling back upon eternal principles, I glide through such great joints or cavities as there may be, according to the natural constitution of the animal. I do not even touch the convolutions of muscle and tendon, still less attempt to cut through large bones.

"A good cook changes his chopper once a year — because he cuts. An ordinary cook, one a month — because he hacks. But I have had this chopper nineteen years, and although I have cut up many thousand bullocks, its edge is as if fresh from the whetstone. For at the joints there are always interstices, and the edge of a chopper being without thickness, it remains only to insert that which is without thickness into such an interstice. Indeed there is plenty of room for the blade to move about. It is thus that I have kept my chopper for nineteen years as though fresh from the whetstone.

"Nevertheless, when I come upon a knotty part which is difficult to tackle, I am all caution. Fixing my eye on it, I stay my hand, and gently apply my blade, until with a hwah the part yields like earth crumbling to the ground. Then I take out my chopper and stand up, and look around, and pause with an air of triumph. Then wiping my chopper, I put it carefully away."

"Bravo!" cried the Prince. "From the words of this cook I have learned how to take care of my life."

ZhuangZi (Lin YuTang)

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Inside and Outside of the Dojo

Below is an excerpt from a very good piece from The Thoughtful Sensei - Aikido Musings regarding the difference between inside and outside of the dojo. The full post may be read here.

What we do in the dojo needs to be as real as we can possibly (and safely) make it.  It’s Budo.  It is not a sport.  It is not a game.  It is an activity where we practice the very serious art of controlled violence where mistakes have consequences and even the little things can often be critical so everyone’s head must always be on straight.  The quantum 8-dimensional algorithm may therefore be stated as:

PIE (Physical, Intellectual, Emotional) ………….. R (Reigisaho) Squared. 

Reigisaho can be considered many times more important than simple PIE.  PIE can be looked at as how “teachable” a student is (a measurement of their capacity and potential so-to-speak).  R (Reigisaho) can be looked at as “how seriously” that student views the training and whether they develop the proper mental attitude to understand that the dojo (and indeed Budo) are not sports nor are they games.  Reigisaho should then be looked at as R-Squared.  Maybe even R-Cubed and beyond.  That is how important Reigisaho is to the life of a dojo and to its’ existence in the Budo-Verse.

A dojo, if one pauses to consider, is an unrealistic and impractical idea; a waste in the business sense of unoccupied space and underutilized facilities since 24/7 classes are impossible.  Many Sensei have described the dojo in their own fashion so there are many ways to consider the idea of the existence of such a place.  A place of competition?  No.  A place of combat?  No.  A place of pure contemplation?  No.  A place of self-realization and enlightenment?  No.  An institution of learning?  No.  A place of social discourse?  No. 

What then?

It is not a gymnasium, a sports bar, a church, a social club, a rec center, a temple or monastery, a beer or dance hall, a business or a corporation.  Some Sensei have used the term “sacred place” although that term while more complete than others, is still insufficient.  It’s not even a school although most of the advertising one sees describes it as such because the normal Western civilian is simply unable to grasp the idea that it is something beyond a mere “school” per se.

It is also not a “physical” place.  Yes; it has walls, roof, floors, and other structures that one can walk into and “be” within, but a dojo is more a mental and spiritual state of being than of mere body.  Yes; the dojo is a physical manifestation of the ideals of Budo, and a dojo is said to absorb the “energy” of those who train and spend time there to the point that a sensitive can enter and “feel” those energies.  

A Dojo however is better considered a larger existence with all other descriptive possibilities attaching themselves to that one point; a locus as-it-were.

We all work and struggle and rejoice and suffer in our efforts to prosper or just to survive in our society with its emphasis on achievement, money, politics, etc. so the dojo becomes an offset to that life-battle.  It becomes a space that exists for our larger selves, and that space is energized by us going beyond the binary yes-no, win-lose idea.  The dojo needs several things that create, support, and maintain its “being”.  Those are within the overall encompassing aspects of Reigisaho.

There is a widely told teaching story in Budo concerning kendo and kickboxing.  A high-level championship shiai is held and when the winner is declared there are two differing reactions.  In the kendo match the facial expression of the winner and of the loser both remain the same with no real emotion.  The winner is the one who first bows (to the loser) to show his respect for the efforts made by him.  The respect from each to each is obvious.  In the kickboxing match when the winner is declared, the winner begins to raise his hands in the air, jump up and down and beat his chest as-if to gloat and disrespect the loser.  Two different reactions.  Two different personalities.  Only one understands.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The 48 Laws of Power, #33: Discover Each Man's Thumbscrew

One of my favorite books on strategy is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers.  Where The Art of War, by Sun Tzu is written as an overview of the whole topic of strategy, seeking to provide an overall understanding of the subject; and The 36 Strategies tries to impart the knack of strategic thinking through 36 maxims related to well known Chinese folk stories, Mr. Greene focuses on how we influence and manipulate one another, ie "power".

Mr. Greene draws from both Eastern and Western history and literature as his source material. Sun Tzu and Machiavelli as cited as much as wonderful stories of famous con men. 

Each of the 48 Laws carries many examples, along with counter examples where it is appropriate that they be noted, and even reversals.

It is a very thorough study of the subject and the hardback version is beautifully produced.

One of the things I admire about Greene is that he not only studied strategy, he applied what he learned to his own situation and prospered.

Today we have #33: Discover Each Man's Thumbscrew

  • Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is usually an insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.

  • How to find weaknesses:
    • Pay Attention to Gestures and Unconscious Signals: everyday conversation is a great place to look.  Start by always seeming interested. Offer a revelation of your own if needed. Probe for suspected weaknesses indirectly.  Train your eyes for details.
    • Find the Helpless Child: knowing about a childhood can often reveal weaknesses, or when they revert to acting like a child.
    • Look for Contrasts: an overt trait often conceals its opposite. The shy crave attention, the uptight want adventure, etc.
    • Find the Weak Link: find the person who will bend under pressure, or the one who pulls strings behind the scenes.
    • Fill the Void: the two main emotional voids are insecurity and unhappiness.
    • Feed on Uncontrollable Emotions: the uncontrollable emotion can be a paranoid fear or any base motive such as lust, greed, vanity or hatred.
  • Always look for passions and obsessions that cannot be controlled.  The stronger the passion, the more vulnerable the person.
  • People’s need for validation and recognition, their need to feel important, is the best kind of weakness to exploit.  To do so, all you need to do is find ways to make people feel better about their taste, their social standing, their intelligence.
  • Timidity can be exploited by pushing them into bold actions that serve your needs while also making them dependent on you.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Old Stories of the Diety Agni

Today we have a guest post byRichard Bejtlich in which he discusses what may be the oldest martial arts manual extant. Richard is the founder of Martial HistoryTeam and a jiu-jitsu practitioner with Team Pedro Sauer.

The Agni Purana

By Richard Bejtlich, founder, Martial History Team

Most martial artists are familiar with East and South-eastern Asian styles through practice and movies, but many are not aware of the martial traditions of other parts of Asia. India, with a population of over one billion people, is home to a rich martial tradition. India offers opportunities for study that are sometimes lacking in other countries.

For example, although there are discussions of warfare in old Chinese documents, one does not find detailed extant (i.e., still surviving) manuals of warfare until the 16th century. One example is 正氣堂集 (Zheng Qi Tang Ji), "Compilation of Vital Energy,” by 俞大猷 (Yu Da-You), who lived 1503–1579, and was a Ming dynasty Chinese general. Another is 紀效新書 (ji xiao xin shu) "New Book of Military Efficiency," written by another general, Qi Jiguang, who lived 1528-1588.

One of the oldest, if not the oldest, extant Indian military manuals is the Agni Purana, a Sanskrit text. “Agni Purana” means “old stories of the deity Agni.” The 1904 translation and commentary titled Agni Puranam (not “Agni Purana,” incidentally) by Dutt M.N. dates the text to the “8th or 9th century,” while Martial Arts Studies of the World (2010) dates it to the 8th century. Phillip B. Zarrilli’s book on the Indian art of Kalarippayattu, When the Body Becomes All Eyes, claims the text was written “no earlier than the 8th century.” Whatever the exact date, this book contains specific material on martial matters many centuries before many other extant book on martial arts.

The Agni Purana is not purely a martial arts text, however. In fact, only four of its 382 or 383 (depending on the edition) chapters address martial content. In this sense the book is more like an early encyclopedia of Indian thought. The four chapters of interest to martial artists are numbered 249-252. They are available online, although split between two volumes, available as Agni Purana English translation parts 2 and 3 at The four chapter headings are “science of archery,” (twice), “method of using a noose,” and “the mode of wielding the sword, maces, etc.” In the format available online, the text occupies about eight pages of text.

The emphasis on archery is not unique to Indian martial arts. Those familiar with Japanese traditions will remember that the samurai were first known for their expertise as mounted archers. The four martial chapters of the Agni Purana belong to the Dhanur Veda tradition of Indian martial arts. Dhanur Veda means “science of the bow,” although scholars apply the term to all ancient Indian martial arts. Some Indian martial arts still practiced, such as Kalarippayattu, trace their origins to Dhanur Vedic texts, including the Agni Purana.

The four martial arts chapters of the Agni Purana are short enough to read in their entirety, but in brief they discuss topics such as warfare via chariots, elephants, and horseback, plus combat by infantry and wrestling. The text includes five types of weapons, such as arrows and similar missiles, spears, the noose (as a weapon that is thrown but retained, unlike an arrow or spear), swords, and unarmed combat. Zarrilli noted that the chapters reflect a progression that might resonate with modern martial artists, saying “The consummate martial master progresses from training in basic body postures, through technical mastery of techniques, to single-point focus, to even more subtle aspects of mental accomplishment.”

Readers looking for additional free book-length material on Indian martial arts might enjoy two older texts published by the Internet Archive:

On the Weapons Army Organisation and Political Maxims of the Ancient Hindus by Gustav Oppert, published in 1880, 182 pages, with a special focus on the text Nitiprakasika aka Niti Prakashika aka Neeti Prakashika:

The Art of War in Ancient India by P C Chakravarti, published in 1941, 252 pages.

Indian martial arts may not be as popular, in terms of practice, when compared to their East and South-eastern Asian styles, but they offer several texts worthy of modern study. In this respect they are similar to historical European martial arts (HEMA), although texts like the Agni Purana are comparatively brief and lacking the illustrations found in many European manuscripts. I encourage readers familiar with these Indian traditions and their texts to share what they know!

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Kenichi Sawai and Taikiken

Kenichi Sawai brought the Chinese martial art of Yiquan to Japan after WWII, which he called Taikiken. His students were known to be tough fighters and indeed, he was close friends with and influcenced Mas Oyama of Kyokushin Karate fame.

Below is a Japanese documentary about him. Even without understanding Japanese, there is plenty to see. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

The Immovable Fudo Myoo and Martial Arts

Today we have a guest post by Jeremy Thomas. He previously wrote an article for us about his background in both Japanese and Chinese martial arts.

Fudō Myō ō:
Immovability and Martial Arts

不 動 明 王

"A sword to cut through our ignorance; A rope to bind our desires"


The concept of "immovability" is an attractive one, especially to a warrior or martial artist. The idea that one can maintain an immovable inner stillness, regardless of the onslaughts of external forces, is a virtue also sought by certain religious sects and ascetic monks. This is where the Buddhist deity Fudō Myō ō (Sanskrit; Acala) enters into the warrior traditions of the bushi, or samurai military class.

Fudō Myō ō translates to "Immovable Wisdom King". As previously mentioned, this idea of immovability appealed to warriors both in Fuedal Japan up to modern day Traditional Martial Artists. The famous daimyo and strategist Takeda Shingen, known as "The Tiger of Kai", had a statue of Fudō Myō ō built in his image:

"Famous for his battle standards quoting from Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Takeda Shingen was the 19th family head of the Takeda Clan. In 1559, at the age of 39, he became a monk and was afterward known by the Buddhist name Tokueiken Shingen. A resourceful tactician, Shingen built his position by fighting battles that he couldn't lose, listening closely to the advice of his vassals and building consensus. His armies were high in morale and bestowed upon themselves the title of "strongest under heaven", a reputation which soon spread. Shingen also had a statue of Fudo Myo-o built in his image."


This statue still stands today at the Takeda family temple at Tokueiken Shingen.
In my early days of studying Budo and bushi history, I always found it curious that an adolescent bushi, whose life would almost certainly be spent in military service, would have his combat training interrupted to be sent to a Buddhist monastery, ostensibly, to learn the ways of Peace, or the mental discipline of Zen. After quite a bit of research, what I found was an answer very similar to the aforementioned concept of immovability; these young bushi were developing what could be described as a "stable-inner platform". From this inner stillness, relaxed musculature, and iron constitution, martial techniques could be performed spontaneously and decisively, without conscious thought.

An analogy might be seeing a house cat, laying lazily in the sunny spot of the living room floor; and in a flash, he's alert, on the other side of the room.

These concepts of immovability and inner-stillness is what drew me to Fudo-san, along with his virtues. As a father of two severely autistic children, discovering a deity who despises injustice, protects the innocent and is a guardian of children, the elderly and the infirm was a great encouragement.

For my breathing and meditative practices, it gives me a point with which to focus during meditation sessions, whether I focus on the image or the mantra. For lack of a better term, it becomes a "jump-off point", to practice Mushin (no-mind; empty mind).

A recurring and persistent warning, of sorts, I've gotten from experienced Buddhist practitioners, is to not "get caught up in images".

Virtues and Imagery

In the MAT text, Fudō Myō ō's description translates as:

"He holds a sword and a noose,
His plaited hair hangs from the left of his head.
He is well adorned and one of his eyes squints.
He abides amidst his own light*,
Wrathful, seated upon a rock.
His face is creased in anger,
And he has a robust, youthful form."

 - (MAT II.40. Hodge : 113)

In his right hand, the sword in Fudo-san (as he is often called in Japan) wields is known as "Kurikara" (demon-subduing sword), which is used to ward off demons and cut through human ignorance. The hilt resembles a Vajra (lighting bolt), a Buddhist ritual tool sometimes used as an improvisational weapon. In his left, he holds a noose, or rope (depending on translation), with which to bind our evil, selfish and self-destructive desires.

Fudo-san's fierce, wrathful countenance reflects his hatred of the injustices that exist in the world; as a colleague once pointed out, "If he is angry, he is angry for all the right reasons".

However, in essence, Fudo-san is a guardian and a servant. Fudo-san displays this aspect of his service by having his hair knotted in seven knots, falling to the left of his face, in the style of a traditional servant. He has two protruding, fang-like teeth, a lower tooth and an upper tooth. The upper tooth is pointed downward and this represents his bestowing limitless compassion for those who are suffering. His lower tooth is pointed upward and this represents his desire to progress in his service for the truth. his blue-ish black body and fierce face reflect the force of his will to draw all sentient beings to follow the teachings of the Buddha. The flames that materialize as his powerful and purifying aura are the flames which transform bitterness and blind anger into selfless and reflective wisdom. While he is considered a wrathful deity, his essence is one of compassion, and he has vowed to be of service to humankind for all eternity.

Immovability and Combat-Application

Fudo-san's huge rock base (盤石座, Banjakuza) the flat rock upon which he sits, eternally unmoved, is easy to draw comparisons from, in regards to a fighter's desire to develop body-structure, solid stances and rooting power in combat. Knowing what stance configuration makes one most "immovable", or solid, in the situation is crucial, whether it's ma bu, hanging-horse, sankokutai, neko-washi, bow-and-arrow, misubidachi...whatever the situation calls for (it's worth noting at this point, understanding and considering terrain is a big part of understanding what is the most "solid foundation" appropriate for the situation).

Just like building a house, if the foundation is wrong, it's all wrong.

Weak stance,
Weak structure,
Weak strikes.

Stance-work, rooting, and structure are all things my students start day one, just as I did, and it is the theme of a chapter from Musashi's "Book of 5 Rings", which I revisit often. This could also tie-in to the Pak Mei concepts of thin, flat and round "body shapes", and understanding the strong and weak points of those 3 shapes.

Perhaps more important is the internal "immovability"; not succumbing to fear and anxiety, controlling one's breathing and heart-rate, not being caught in the enemy's fierce countenance, not allowing oneself to be goaded or provoked, being able to control one's emotions so technique can arise spontaneously, without concious thought, and one can strike decisively, without hesitation.

This inner stability is what the young bushi (samurai) were meant to learn from Buddhist and Zen practices; to maintain an inner "immovability", and be mentally and spiritually prepared for the harsh realities of combat and war, and to remain fearless in the face of death.

Fudō Myō ō and My Musha Shugyo

I began studying Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu in 2006. This art comes directly from the Takeda Clan, through Sokaku Takeda, who was the first to teach the art publicly (the art was previously known as 'oshikiuchi', or 'inner palace art'). This was the clan of the Daimyo Takeda Shingen mentioned above, who was a devotee of Fudo-san. Studying the Takeda clan art of Daito-ryu, seeing effigies of Fudo-san and his sword "Kurikara" were commonplace, and I enjoyed seeing the different interpretations, and crafts and weapons with those images and themes.

It wasn't until 2019 that I started to truly feel drawn to Fudo-san, in what my teachers describe as a "karmic draw". Despite his fierce countenance and generally scary imagery, I find the portraits, tapestries and statues quite comforting, especially when practicing breathing or zazen. The mantras are soothing, and if vocalized correctly have a lovely harmonic effect on the skeletal-system. Through developing this inner stability, it allows me to be more disciplined in both my training and in day-to-day life.

According to several active practitioners who are personal friends of mine, as well as fellow martial artists, apparently practitioners specifically devoted to Fudo-san are fairly rare. I am not Buddhist, but I do use the imagery, mantras and words of Fudō Myō ō to help cultivate my own inner immovability. I do not believe Fudo-san is a real entity or deity; simply a mental tool to help me develop and control my thoughts and emotions, let logic and reason take the lead, and, hopefully, become a more proficient martial artists and strategist.

I also really like the artwork and many interpretations of Fudo-san!

I hope this shed a little light on what Fudo represents, and takes some of the "mystery and strangeness" out of his images.

I hope you enjoyed, and thank you for reading!

- Jeremy

Compassion Mantra

If you would like to try Fudo-san's compassion mantra, it is quite easy comparatively. Simply repeat the mantra as long as necessary, while sitting in seiza or your posture of choice:

"Nômaku sanmanda bazaradan,
Senda makaroshada sowataya,
Un tarata kanman.."


"Homage to the all-pervading Vajras!
O' Violent One of great wrath!Destroy!*
hûm trat hâm mâm"

* (this mantra is invoking Fudo-san to "destroy" human ignorance and injustice; despite the moniker "Violent One", this is not a mantra encouraging violence)

Special Thanks to: Alan Cicco and Patrick Dunn, for their help with reliable resources for Fudō Myō ō and insight into Buddhist practices.

Additional Thanks to: Chris Wargrimm for recommending "Kurikara: The Sword and The Serpent", and keeping me company through my nights of insomnia.

Last and Most Importantly, Thanks to my significant other, Terra, for putting up with the lifestyle of a relentless martial artist. You are truly a saint, dear.

Dedicated to Saya and Orion


Compassion Mantra: Request for Help:

Fudo Myoo and Martial

Kyoto Festival:
300 Years of Tanukidani Fudo Myoo


Hodge, Stephen. The Mahāvairocana Abhisaṃbodhi Tantra : with Buddhaguhya's commentary. London, Routledge Curzon : 2003.
Linrothe, Rob. Ruthless compassion : wrathful deities in early Indo-Tibetan esoteric Buddhist art. London, Serindia : 1999.