Many who have spent a good number of years studying Japanese martial arts have probably heard the term bunbu ryōdō (文武両道). It is one that was used to identified individuals who were true warriors of the military family class. While purists of the martial arts today still make use of this term, bunbu ryōdō has also evolved for use in modern times for those exemplary individuals who display the same excellence as warriors of old…but in the field of sports and education.
EARLY USE OF THE TERM BUNBU RYŌDŌ
Bunbu ryōdō is a term which has been in use in early times, possibly going much further than Heian period (794 ~ 1185). In a simple definition, it refers to the dedicated study in both military affairs and cultural areas of interest¹. This comes during a period when nobles, military families, and those of the imperial line, were structuring a sophisticated lifestyle based off from many kinds of teachings gained from literature, religion, and cultural influences. In the case of individuals who, coming from a clan with a background in military affairs, were being groomed into a profession of a warrior, they were expected to develop their physical abilities and mental fortitude as much possible to be a complete package.
When looking into what bu (武), or military-related topics, pertain to, it involved not only the physical training in the instruments utilized for war, (i.e. bow & arrow, sword techniques, pike techniques, equestrian skills) but it was also important to understand the ideology and tactics of war. This included studying from the Chinese military classics (i.e. “Art of War” by Sun Tzu and “36 Stratagems” of the Southern Qi Dynasty), as well as understanding the Japanese methodology towards warfare, which entailed such tasks like shiro tori (城取, setting up an encampment during expeditions), jin tori (陣取, strategic occupation of an area with troops), kōjōsen (攻城戦, laying siege on & capturing an opposing castle), and shinheiki no tōjō (新兵器の登場, adapting new technologies for warfare). Shifting roles and being able to engage in domestic affairs during peaceful times, all the while being prepared & able when it was time to go back to war (generally labeled as heiji [平時]), was also a must. This did not mean that a warrior had to be physically unbeatable, but versed in all aspects pertaining to military affairs that they could be overall effective in either small matters to large matters.
As for bun (文), or cultural-related topics, one of the areas usually dotted on is literacy. For a warrior to be balanced, it was viewed as a good thing to be able to read & write, as well as be versed in renown works made by famous poets and writers, understand senseigaku (占星学, astrology), uranai (占い, divination), and tenki yohō (天気予報, meteorology). All these were a part of everyday society in the past in every right. In the later periods such as the Middle century, having an appreciation of the arts, such as shodō (書道, calligraphy), kadō (華道, flower arrangement), chadō (茶道, tea ceremony), and suiboku-ga² (水墨画, ink-wash painting) were also seen as important activities for developing a balance. Famous figures from history such as Miyamoto Musashi, Hosokawa Fujitaka, and Uesugi Kenshin are viewed as those who exhibit talent as role models of bunbu ryōdō.
MODERN DAY ADAPTATION
In modern Japan, bunbu ryōdō is still being utilized to inspire excellence as in the past…but in a completely different field. With the warrior class abolished and a reformed government from a military state, the current generation is not mandated to study combative arts. Instead, as a civilized country, citizens are expected to focus their energy by getting a good education and getting into the workforce to help drive businesses forward. As a means to see this happen, many educators have adopted the term towards students and encourage them to excel in both sports and education.
The roles in which make up the term bunbu ryōdō have now switched from military and cultural activities, to sports and education. Since competition in many types of sporting events is a huge driving force around the world, educators encourage kids to participate in sporting activities from a young age, such as baseball, soccer, basketball, and volleyball. They are expected to dedicate much of their time in their respected sporting activity on a daily basis, from early in the morning to late in the day after school is finished. During the school year there are numerous games against other schools’ teams which kids are expected to participate in, all in an effort to help their school stay on top of the rankings. The competitive nature found in sports, along with the rigorous training, is liken to that of a warrior training for war, similar to how principles of war were incorporated in business as a means for business men and women to gain success against their rivals³.
As for education, it doesn’t differ a great deal from cultural studies in the past. In actuality, education was already being applied to bunbu ryōdō little by little from the Edo period (1603 ~ 1868) onward, as a component to bring balance to everyone who were actively engaged in their occupation, whether you were born in the warrior class or a commoner such as a farmer. Fast forward to today’s world, education is a driving force in society, with it being available to all throughout Japan. Yet, different incentives are put into place to identify those who are the cream of the crop. Kids generally go to an elementary school closest to them within their neighborhood learning fundamental skills such as mathematics, reading, science, as well as life skills such as cooking, health, and crafts. However, they will eventually need to prepare for good high schools, which requires them to not only have good grades, but study a great deal to pass entrance exams. The same for when they pursue top colleges and universities, where once admitted, they will need to choose a major such as Engineering, Economics, and Agriculture. Those who have a full schedule keeping up with sporting activities aren’t the exception; they need to excel in their studies no matter what little time they have between practice sessions and traveling to take part in competitive games in their respected sports. A grueling task for those who want to keep up in the sports they enjoy indeed.
To have an exemplary school career can lead to a brighter future with plenty of opportunities opening up to each individual. Being both a great athlete and a grade A student who attended a top university is the new face of bunbu ryōdō⁴. Examples of those who’ve achieved this level present-day include professional soccer player Kawashima Eiji, former pro ice skater Yaginuma Junko, and swimmer Tominaga Kohei.
The ideology behind bunbu ryōdō was to inspire a balance for those involved in military-related activities with and literary-cultural studies in ancient Japan. It was a reflection of the times and what was deemed as important in the structural makeup of society. In modern times the term continues to bear its aged meaning by those who specialize in Japanese martial arts, but on a national level it has evolved in accordance to the change in society to be geared towards the youth and inspire them to do good physically and mentally during their school career as an athlete and a scholar. In essence, athletes today are liken to that of warriors, and their training regiment to excel in competition is similar to that of how warriors refined their skills for the battlefield. Yet, just like a warrior being versed in finer cultural arts, an athlete who is educated is viewed as one who is balanced, and can be a good role model to all.
1) This duality is usually summarized with the phrase “pen and sword”. This complies more with the samurai during Edo period who carried a katana (刀, sword) in preparation to fight, and held the fude (筆, pen) to write and create documents.
2) A more familiar term for this is sumi-e (墨絵).
3) In the late 20th century, many of the philosophies and advice from Miyamoto Musashi’s Gorinsho (五輪書) were being adapted in how businessmen could succeed in their ventures, how they interacted with clients, surpassing potential “rivals”, and so on.
4) A word that is said to truly express the meaning behind today’s use of bunbu ryōdō is “student-athletes”.