Topic: "Spirituality in the Martial Arts"


Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D.
Spirituality in the Martial Arts: An Overview

This paper will examine some more fundamental questions: is there an element of spirituality in the martial arts, and can we define or identify it in some way?  Definitions of spirituality are usually linked directly to various religious institutions and practices.   for example, in Asian martial arts, this could include Daoism, Confucianism, Shinto, Hinduism, Buddhism and even Islam, as well as various local religious practices.  Can Western definitions of spirituality be applied to Asian martial arts practice in the West?  Or is there a non-sectarian definition that can apply cross-culturally?   How can we, as scholars and martial artists, consider spirituality in the framework of our research and practice?  Contrarily, without a spiritual element,  is our practice really martial arts or something else (and if so, what?)?  I will draw on my experiences as a teacher and student, as well as anthropological discussions of spirituality and some consideration of spirituality in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Scott Brady B.A.; Lisa Brooks, Ph.D.

According to historic teachings, spirituality in the martial arts was embodied in the courage displayed by Samurai in the face of death and dismemberment on the battlefield.  This ability of the Samurai to be able to "step under the blade" was seen as a direct result of their strong religious training in the Shinto and Buddhist faiths.  Even though not all Samurai were religious people, the majority of them were, including such legends as Myamoto Musashi.  As the inheritors of this legacy, modern day students of the Japanese sword arts must develop this ability to "step under the blade". How can this be achieved? Must a martial artist become a Buddhist or are there underlying non-religious factors that can be identified and developed by the individual within him/herself?  This paper will address these questions from the perspective that entering under the sword cut does not have to be a religious based idea, but instead is a deeply developed spiritual concept that each person must find within him/herself.

Peter Boylan

In the last several decades there has been a growing body of popular literature describing martial arts as being primarily a spiritual and/or religious practice.  The idea of budo as a spiritual practice is first presented to the west in the works of D.T. Suzuki, who presented swordmanship as means of spiritual development.  That idea has grown and expanded in the western literature until today the martial arts sections of bookstores bulge with books about how one can become more spiritually developed, and even achieve enlightenment, throught the practice of the martial arts.

In order to discover how deeply this idea has penetrated the martial arts community in the United States, it was decided to research how practicioners of one martial art, the Japanese art of Aikido, to see how its practicioners view and treat their practice.  Detailed, face-to-face interviews were conducted with 33 Aikidoka ranging in experience from a few months to 25
years.  Of these, approximately 65% treated their Aikido practice as a form of spiritual or religious practice.

Raymond Sosnowski, NH
Spirituality in the Martial Arts -- A Personal Pilgrimage.

Abstract: There is a quality that separates Budo, Kobudo and Bujutsu, generically speaking, "Martial Arts," from mere pugilism and military combat training, that is, philosophy rooted in the spiritual practices and beliefs of the Far East; in similar fashion, Reiho (etiquette) distinguishes a Dojo from a gym or health club.  With a Martial Arts career of twenty-seven years in a variety of practices, I have personally come across no one who discussed philosophy or spirituality in the Dojo
(Jap.), Dojang (Kor.) or Kwoon (Chin.) except for Mr. Kanjuro Shibata XX, soke of Heki-Ryu Bisshu Chikurin-ha Kyudo.

Whenever I posed the question -- when do we learn the philosophy? -- I would get a standard response that we did not even have enough time to learn the physical aspects and that we could learn "that other stuff" on our own [does this sound familiar?].  Now if you study in the Far East, the associated culture does tend to permeates the practice.  Here in the West, our culture is alien to those which underscore the Arts we practice.

The rest of us, as Martial Artists in the West, must go out of our way to discover the spiritual roots of our practices; as such, there are those among us who have ignored this aspect, as well as those who have tried to force fit western culture values in general, and Christianity in particular, into the Martial Arts with varying degrees of success.

It is my intention to highlight where I have found spiritually within the various arts that I have come into contact with over the years, including Aikido, Iaido, Jodo, Kendo, Kyudo, Naginata, Tae Kwon Do, and T'ai Chi Ch'uan.


Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D.

Deborah Klens-Bigman began her interest in swordsmanship by taking up foil and sabre fencing at the University of Minnesota in 1978.  She continued to fence at Salle Santelli after moving to New York in 1980, and also studied period rapier and dagger and fight choreography.  She began studying Muso Shinden ryu iaido (art of drawing the sword) in 1986 at New York Budokai (then New York Iaikai) under Founder Yoshiteru Otani and Instructor Philip Ortiz.  Though she has focused primarily on Japanese swordsmanship from that time, she has also studied kyudo, jodo and naginata.  DKB became dojo manager in 1995 and associate instructor for New York Budokai under Mr. Ortiz in 1998.  Among other activites, the Dojo regularly takes part in the annual Sakura Matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and sponsored a Shinkendo seminar with headmaster Toshishiro Obata in 1999.

DKB earned her Ph.D. from the Department of Performance Studies at New York University in 1995.  Her current research interests include Japanese Classical Dance (Nihon buyo), and a manuscript-in-progress on martial arts as a performing art.  She has been an adjunct professor at several colleges and universities, most recently at Gustavus Adolphus College in January 2000.  She has recently launched her own business, The Rogue Scholar, which features business support, writing and editing services.  She is married to artist Vernon Bigman and lives in beautiful East Harlem, NYC with two fat cats and two tanks of fish.

Scott Brady and Lisa Brooks, Ph.D.

Scott Brady started his training in the martial arts in 1985 with the Korean art of Tae Kwon Do. While attending college at Montana State University, he was introduced to the Japanese art of Aikido and began his study of the Japanese martial arts.
In 1994, he attained his Bachelor of Science in Business from Montana State. He is currently continuing to train in Aikido and has recently began his study of Muso Jikiden Eishen Ryu Iaido.

Lisa Brooks is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at SUNY College in Buffalo. She earned her Ph.D. in Learning and Comparative Experimental Psychology in 1996 at the University of Montana. While teaching at Bozeman, Montana, Lisa had the opportunity to train in Aikido at the Big Sky Aikikai. For the past four years, she has pursued her interest in Aikido and related Japanese Sword Arts, through training and research.

Peter Boylan

Peter Boylan is a wandering martial artist and researcher of Japanese and America relious practice.  He has been practicing martial arts for nearly 14 years, starting with Judo, and adding Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, Shinto Muso Ryu, and Shinto Hatakage Ryu during his various sojourns in Japan.  He is currently searching for an appropriate Ph.D. program, and full-time work.

Raymond Sosnowski

Mr. Sosnowski began his Martial Arts training over twenty-seven years ago at the Stevens [Tech] Karate Club in "Korean Karate," which was then a euphemism for Tae Kwon Do; he trained for over sixteen years in the ITF style, teaching for the majority of that time.  He has practiced Kuang P'ing Yang style T'ai-Chi Ch'uan for the past twelve years, and taught for several years, giving several local seminars.  His first weapons were the T'ai-Chi [straight] sword and the Chinese iron fan.  He came to the Japanese Arts nine years ago, initially training in Aikido, first Tomiki-Ryu and then Aikikai style, and Aikido weapons (Aiki-Ken and Aiki-Jo).  Japanese weapons training was acquired over the past five years, including Iaido, Jodo,
Kendo, Kenjutsu, Kyudo, and Naginata.

He is a co-founder and the first Secretary of the East Coast Naginata Federation, and co-director of the Guelph School of Japanese Sword Arts in 1998, 1999 and 2000.  In addition, he is a contributing author of articles, book reviews and seminar reports to "The Iaido Newsletter" (TIN), the "Journal of Japanese Sword Arts" (JJSA), and "Ryubi -- The Dragon's Tail"
(the newsletter of Kashima Shinryu/North America) as well as an occasional contributor to Iaido-L and Kyudo-L.

He was raised as a Roman Catholic, going to parochial grade and high schools.  Dissatisfied with the accompanying religious dogma, he abandoned Catholicism in college, and eventually Christianity after college.  After a decade-long hiatus of no formal affiliation, for a few years he was a member of a Sangha that focussed on Buddhist-Christian dialogue using Zen, until that group disbanded (the leader, a RC priest, was transferred to the Mid-West).  At present, he considers himself to be a "minimalist" Buddhist with practices of Zazen and [meditation] Kyudo.

In his "other" professional career, Mr. Sosnowski is an Engineering Fellow and Director of Emerging Technologies at Sonetech Corp. (Bedford, NH), specializing in Artificial Intelligence methodologies and Numerical Analyses, as well as being an expert in all phases of software development.  Prior to defense electronics, he worked in environmental consulting, solar energy research, and oceanographic data collection and analysis.  He holds three Masters degrees from the University of Connecticut in [Physical] Oceanography, Rivier College (Nashua, NH) in [Applied] Mathematics, and Boston University in Cognitive and Neural Systems, as well as a Bachelors in Physics from the Stevens Institute of Technology.

He lives with his wife Valerie, daughter Janet, and rabbit Juniper in southern New Hampshire.