Keith Vargo concludes his fascinating exploration of why martial artists find tales such as the Bodhidharma legend and Zen in the Art of Archery so compelling.

Continued from Zen in the Art of Archery, Bodhidharma and the Shaolin Temple: Martial Arts Fact or Fiction? (Part 1). There were fighting arts in China before Bodhidharma, and there was Buddhism in China before him, too. But as Robert W. Young pointed out in the September 2001 issue of Black Belt magazine, it’s likely that warriors came to Shaolin Temple looking for sanctuary or redemption and brought their fighting skills into the religious life there. The truth in the Bodhidharma myth is that, through his insistence on mental and physical discipline tempered with wisdom, the Indian monk is more the father of the modern martial arts than the people who invented the techniques of fighting are.

Remember "Grasshopper" from Kung Fu? He's back in this FREE download!
Kung Fu TV Series Flashback: Behind the Scenes
With David Carradine ("Kwai Chang Caine")


The other myth that is dear to many martial artists is that of Zen in the Art of Archery. That’s the title of a classic by German philosophy professor Eugen Herrigel. It’s about learning kyudo in 1920s Japan from an enigmatic archery master named Kenzo Awa. It’s probably the best story of a martial arts teacher/student relationship ever written, but at least one scholar has made a good case that it’s a myth. In the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (2001, 28/1-2), Shoji Yamada published a paper that argued convincingly that Herrigel misunderstood a great deal of what was being said. Yamada claimed that Awa used the language of Buddhism to express ideas about archery that were unique to him. The master archer never studied with a Zen priest and was unusual among his peers in that he experienced a religious conversion through archery. Exchanges between Herrigel and Awa were often confusing — even when an interpreter was present — because Awa used Zen terms liberally to express his idiosyncratic ideas. In short, Yamada argued that what Herrigel learned was not Zen and was not usual in kyudo instruction. Does that mean Herrigel’s classic is a sham? No. It’s a myth in the best sense of the word. Awa really was a master archer. He really did undergo a spiritual transformation that he called a “great explosion,” and it came through archery. Herrigel really did try to get at that experience through archery, too. His book carries the meaning of those experiences and delivers it to martial arts students in a way that only well-crafted literature can. In other words, it shows an ideal of martial arts study and insight, but it’s not the best source on combat Zen and it’s not pure history. Some people do not like this easy acceptance of myth in the martial arts. They like things to be clearly separated: Facts are here, lies are there and fairy tales are somewhere else. But it’s natural to blend truth and fantasy to demonstrate an ideal, and without those ideals, we have nothing to strive for. Myths may not be history, but they change history by compelling us to reach for an ideal. And they show us why the martial arts are worth practicing. About the Author: Keith Vargo is the author of the book Philosophy of Fighting: Morals and Motivations of the Modern Warrior, a collection of a decade's worth of his thought-provoking Way of the Warrior articles from Black Belt magazine. To learn more about this martial artist, visit his website at keithvargo.org.
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
Keep Reading Show less

Whether your martial art has you rolling on the ground and grappling, striking and sparring, or working with weapons (hopefully the unsharpened variety!), there are five common types of injuries martial artists tend to see. It is nearly impossible to avoid all injuries, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of injury that everyone who practices any martial art should be aware of.

Stress Fractures

One of the most common martial arts injuries, stress fractures occur when bones are struck with repetitive force -- think checking kicks in muay thai, or repeatedly hitting a heavy bag with inadequate wrist support. Stress fractures are also very common in runners' feet and legs, so if you've recently upped your cardio to get in better shape for your art, be on the lookout!

Keep Reading Show less

A good pair of gloves is like a dollop of whipped cream on a cake slice—it just makes everything better! Whereas a bad pair of gloves can make your training session feel uncomfortable and awkward, a great pair can make you feel like you could beat Mike Tyson (or at least stay alive in a fight with him for a few seconds). One training session with gloves on either end of the spectrum will quickly make you appreciate the importance of quality equipment.

What to Expect from Creed

In this case, you can definitely expect good quality whipped crea—er, gloves. Made of genuine leather, Creed Heavy Bag Gloves are built to last. After wearing them for many weeks filled with numerous rounds of heavy bag training, the gloves still feel great!

The Creed Heavy Bag Gloves provide a comfortable and protective balance of padding in the appropriate areas. This ensures that they keep their shape well, cover your fist well in the areas that hit the target and ensure the satisfying smack of solid impact rather than the crack of a rolled wrist.

Keep Reading Show less

UFC 250 Poster Featuring Main Card with Amanda Nunes and Felicia Spencer

The UFC 250 main card set for Saturday night will feature five fights in lighter weight divisions that won't disappoint fight fans. The match ups are guaranteed to be fast paced and heavy hitting with three bantamweight matches and the highly anticipated women's featherweight title fight between Amanda Nunes and Felicia Spencer.

Reigning champ Amanda Nunes will be center stage at the UFC Apex arena once again Saturday night to defend her women's featherweight title against her challenger Felicia Spencer.

Keep Reading Show less
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter