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 ~

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.

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