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One of the most well-known religions in the world is Buddhism. So much so that many cultures have adopted, adapted, incorporated or whole-heartedly embraced it. Not to mention the impact that it has on other systems, such as martial arts.
The historical Buddha, Shākyuamuni1, created the religion in the sixth and fifth centuries (between 500 and 600 B.C.E.). Buddhism entered Korea in 372 C.E.3 It wasn’t until the “Unified Silla period (668-935)” and the Koryo Dynasty (935-1392) that Buddhism became a strong part of their culture.
Between 1392 and 1910 there was severe “persecution”3 of the religion. It did, however, make a comeback after the Confucian Chosean Dynasty ended in 1910 through 1945 of the Japanese occupation. It became a strong religion in the country and has influenced many martial art styles through its core teachings.
Shākyuamani developed the Four Noble Truths, his core lessons, he also created the Eightfold Path. These concepts (Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path) are the core of Buddhism. The main objectives of the religion are living a decent life and attain enlightenment to reach Nirvana.
The Four Noble Truths are suffering, arising, cessation and the route to Nirvana. Suffering is the daily struggles and frustrations people face. Arising is an explanation of sufferings; it “comes from cravings or ‘thirst’…for things to be other than they are.”2
Specific to cravings in the Second Noble Truth, it is broken into three categories: sensual pleasure, existence and “denial.”2 People desire new experiences, they want to live and they seek to “destroy”2 or “reject”2 foreign and unfamiliar things.
Cessation opens the door to resolving problems, or the prior Noble Truths, by accepting life as it is. The final Noble Truth is about the route to attaining Nirvana.
The Eightfold Path intertwines with martial arts through several aspects. The path is divided into three categories: wisdom, morality and meditation.
This category include acceptance of the Noble Truths in that people are open to learning of these, this is called Right View. The other is Right Resolve, this portion of the path is about wisdom and compassion. It pertains to the constant growth of these attributes.
The next category is Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. These components are characterized by speaking honestly (and in a kind way); or not participating in “harmful behavior.”2 Finally, it’s about living in a way that is not harmful to other through chosen occupation or otherwise.
The final category is the “control of one’s thoughts,”2 through Right Effort. This also means being positive as opposed to negative.
Furthermore, understanding oneself through the path of Right Mindfulness is a person’s thoughts, body, feelings and so forth. Lastly is Right Meditation. This is the concentration of the mind to promote calmness and insight.
Where these paths specifically play with martial arts are: Right Action, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Meditation.
The Right Action in martial arts is to avoid hurting your partner or others (unless necessary in defence). Martial artists learn potent, practical techniques that can damage the body easily. As such, being aware of one’s actions is essential to both the path and the martial artist.
When it comes to Right Effort, control over one’s mind is essential for martial artists. When practicing patterns (commonly known as kata or forms) or techniques, the artist should not be a revolving door of thoughts. Instead, there should be a positive focus.
To have Right Mindfulness is extremely important to practitioners of martial arts. People who study and train in martial arts must always be acutely aware of their bodies. Each motion, every detail, has a purpose. If the martial artist is unaware of their body’s actions (and in minuscule detail) then forms and techniques will, a) not look good, b) not be done correctly, and c) will not be stable (like a volcano of vinegar and baking soda).
The final prominent path is Right Meditation. Some styles focus deeply on this (meditation) than others. Meditation is a useful tool that calms the mind and promotes harmony in the body.
“The principle of body, speech and mind”1 is a strong component of Tibetan Buddhism. Similarly, Kuksool Won Hapkido has a focus on the harmonization of body and mind—training them to work in sync.
The Eightfold Path is a part of that harmonization of body and mind. They all come together in a melodic string of martial arts and Buddhism to strengthen the people utilizing the paths and remembering the history of it all.