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martial arts


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Martial arts is a broad term that covers a variety of schools and forms whose unity derives only from their origins in the arts of war and single combat. Thus, it covers the ‘empty-hand’ fighting style of karate as well as forms that concentrate on the use of various weapons, from swords and bows and arrows to farming implements such as sickles and threshers. Within Buddhist history, the martial arts have been closely identified with the teachings and practices of Ch'an andzen from an early period, a situation that arose when the military classes discovered that Zen practice enhanced fighting techniques by eliminating the fear of defeat and death and by enabling the combatant to keep his mind and energy focused in the present moment, thus shutting out distraction and enhancing concentration and reflexes.

In China.the origin of this connection is traced to the putative founder of Ch'an himself, Bodhidharma (3rd–4th centuries). It is said that when he arrived at the Shao-lin monastery (vihāra) in Honan Province, he found the resident monks in poor physical condition and subject to the depredations of local bandits, and so he taught them fighting techniques to improve their health and security. To this day, the monks of the Shao-lin monastery are famed for their fighting skills. A similar school of Buddhist Martial Arts (as opposed to ‘Royal Court Martial Arts’) arose in Korea. In Japan.the association of Zen and fighting led the samurai class to associate primarily with the Rinzai school from the mid-Kamakura period onward. They found in the Rinzai school an active, goal-oriented programme of self-cultivation that accorded with their own drive to self-discipline and achievement, and so a symbiotic relationship developed. Rinzai saw in the practice of martial arts a way to self-realization and expression of one's Buddha-nature of much the same sort that other arts (such as painting, calligraphy, and poetry) provided. The samurai found in Zen practice a way to further their own goals in becoming more skilled warriors. Some figures even straddled both worlds, such as Suzuki Shōsan (1579–1655), who as a young man was a warrior who made use of Zen in his combat, and later in life became a Zen monk whose teachings were filled with martial images.

Subjects: Medicine and Health — Buddhism.


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