Finding Zen in Martial Arts
The principle of avoiding conflict and never opposing an aggressor’s strength head-on is the essence of aikido. We apply the same principle to problems that arise in life. The skilled aikidoist is as elusive as the truth of Zen; he makes himself into a koan—a puzzle which slips away the more one tries to solve it. He is like water in that he falls through the fingers of those who try to clutch him. Water does not hesitate before it yields, for the moment the fingers begin to close it moves away, not of its own strength, but by using the pressure applied to it. It is for this reason, perhaps, that one of the symbols for aikido is water. – Joe Hyams, Zen In The Martial Arts
Zen is synonymous meditation, which serves as the simplest form of explanation to a philosophy and way of life that many find too difficult to explain. It is described in many ways — a mindset, attitude, belief system, a sense of peace, mindfulness, and so much more. For many, the journey to understanding Zen takes years or a lifetime. Something that many of its followers embrace.
Many martial arts, especially ones popular in Japan like Aikido, Karate, Kendo (swordsmanship) and Kyūdō ( Japanese martial art of archery) have a deep connection with the teachings of Zen. There are stories of warriors during the ancient times like samurais gaining interest in Zen. The warriors who have studied and practiced were drawn to benefits like increase in mental focus among others.
While not directly taught or embraced by most martial arts nowadays, Zen continues to provide inspiration to many practitioners. Martial artists who study, follow and incorporate its teachings claim to have experienced the mental, emotional, and even physical benefits it provides. Zen may not be part of a black belt test, but those who practice it consider it as an integral part of their martial art journey.