When Buddhists Attack: the Curious Relationship Between Zen & the Martial Arts

Released: 18-Oct-2012 11:00 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: Dick Jones Communications
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Newswise — What does a religion known for teaching non-violence have to do with martial arts disciplines designed to cripple or kill? A great deal, it turns out.

“Popular Culture has long exploited the image of the serene Buddhist monk who is master of deadly hand-to-hand combat,” says Jeffrey K. Mann, associate professor of religion at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., and author of the new book, “When Buddhists Attack: the Curious Relationship Between Zen and the Martial Arts” (Tuttle, 2012). “While that may romanticize the relationship between a philosophy of non-violence and the art of fighting, the link between Zen and the martial arts is not only real, but natural.”

Exploring the origins of Buddhism and the ethos of the Japanese samurai, Mann – who is a martial arts practioner – traces the connection between the Buddhist way of compassion and the way of the warrior.

“From samurai meditating in Buddhist temples before heading off to decapitate each other, Zen priests teaching Imperial Japanese soldier to die bravely in battle, to a karate teacher lecturing on both compassion and how to break a clavicle in the same afternoon, Zen and budō – the martial arts of Japan – have a long history, and ongoing relationship, with each other.”

The idea of the Asian martial artist studying Zen has become stereotype, says Mann.

“It’s an oversimplification,” he says. “A lot of the stories or accounts are either not accurate or overblown.” As a result, there’s been a reaction among some that Zen holds no special role in the martial arts. “But this backlash is also problematic,” he says. “The reality lies somewhere in between.”

By offering insights into how the qualities of a true martial artist are linked with ancient religious philosophy, Mann hopes to help other practitioners reconnect to an authentic spiritual discipline of the martial arts.

“When I first started exploring this material, I was interested in the benefits of Zen on the practice of martial arts,” he says. “It helps the mental game, if you will. But as time has gone by, that interest has shifted. Where I initially looked at Zen as a tool to help my martial arts, I’ve come to see the martial arts as a path to self-cultivation.”


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