The meaning of Do in Budo

By Yossi Sheriff

We must not forget the effects of our physical experiences on Dō.

Dō is an important concept in our discipline, it is a word loaded with the effects of our actions, movements and physical habits on who we are. Many things have been written on the concept of Dō; however, the things that interest me are the things actually done to achieve it.

In order to convey my meaning of Dō, I will give a few examples: I am not certain that a man who wakes up early each morning to milk cows is practicing Dō, hard as it is, however, a carpenter performing his craft professionally and creatively for many years is closer to Dō. I am not always convinced that a parent raising children practices "the Dō of raising children", however a veteran marathon runner who has practiced for decades is certainly performing a certain Dō. A boxer that has been practicing for years to be a champion is not necessarily doing Dō, but I am pretty sure that if he were to keep practicing regularly many years after retiring from competition, that would be a type of Dō.

It is possible that the Dō of a man practicing meditation at home every day is getting strong, but the Dō of a man meditating every day while engaging in mondo with an experienced teacher is even stronger.

From the examples I have presented it is possible to isolate a few characteristics of Dō (there are several more):

  1. Dō is always achieved through action and participation of the body.
  2. Dō is always performed in a regular and constant discipline and never in an unstable manner.
  3. Dō is unaffiliated with material or egotistic achievements.
  4. In every Dō there is a stage of healthy communication with a person who understands the more complex aspects of the discipline.

In this article, I would like to focus on just the first characteristic I mentioned, the physical one. Our entire Budo discipline relies on physical experiences. Years of endurance, willpower, physical difficulties, having a WORD, all these can only evolve on the basis of physical work. Even the practice of meditation (as a part of a Dō, not for relaxation purposes) uses the body as a vehicle, as a basis for mental understandings.

Years of practice in Ninjutsu change the body, some of us are at the stage of being dumb and strong, so the bodies of almost all of the veterans (including myself) are dumb and strong. This is a necessary milestone on our path because our discipline revolves around combat efficacy and in order to achieve that, on our basic level, we need strength. However, in the not so distant future awaits an age in which skill and experience will hopefully replace strength. Our bodies will then change and become wiser, and we will be able to enjoy its non verbal insights. At the present time it is important to understand that this is the way to make progress, working hard, you don’t give steaks to a baby. We are still babies. I personally do not believe in any “Kefizat Haderech”, any attempt to make short-cuts and skip road marks leads to loosing the way. Through our physical experiences we generate a huge change in what we define as self, this change has to be gradual, lifelong and pre-trodden.

It is important to go through all the stages; I just reread a short story that I really love. In Zen Buddhism it is essential to study for at least ten years with a master before receiving teaching qualification, this path is usually very organized.

One Zen practitioner, who has trained many years and already began teaching, arrived in pouring rain, as occurs in Japan, to the house of another teacher. Upon entering, the teacher residing at the house asked nonchalantly: “when you walked in, you placed your sandals down at the porch, what side of the sandals did you placed your umbrella at?” The sodden teacher did not have any answer and was honest enough to promptly stop teaching and practice an additional six years with the second master. As for me, I usually do not remember where I left the stupid umbrella at the first place.

Doing our discipline -Ninjutsu- is stronger than writing about it, even though some insights have to be conveyed through talking, it saves time. I try not to forget: Dō depends on physical action and awareness, even while meditating.