Hawaii Karate Seinenkai

The following article appeared in Issue #3, Winter 1994-1995 of Furyu: The Budo Journal. Photographs have been omitted. Copyright © Charles C. Goodin. All rights reserved.


Daruma: Determination and
Zen Training in Budo

By Charles C. Goodin

If you have visited a Japanese home, restaurant or business, you have almost certainly seen a Daruma doll, a round-shaped depiction of the character Daruma. Like the one shown in the accompanying photograph, it is typically embellished with the Japanese character for good luck. But are you aware of the humble figure's martial arts and Zen significance?

When new, the red-cloaked Daruma doll usually comes with two blank eyes. Upon purchasing or receiving it as a gift, you are supposed to make a wish or begin a project and paint in one of the eyes. The second eye is painted in when the wish comes true or the project is successfully completed.

The doll itself is bottom heavy and designed to right itself if it is knocked over. Nanakorobi yaoki, jinsei wa kore kara da. This Japanese saying translates as "To fall seven times, to rise eight times, life starts from now." Thus, Daruma teaches us to be dedicated and persistent, to rise no matter how many times we stumble or fall-to never give up.

Daruma is based upon an actual historical figure -- Bodhidharma, the 28th patriarch or successor to Buddha according to Zen (or Chinese Ch'an) Buddhism. Daruma is the Japanese pronounciation for Bodhidharma. A woodblock print by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892) from the Series One Hundred Views of the Moon shows Bodhidharma practicing zazen (sitting meditation). Paintings and woodblock prints of Bodhidharma typically emphasize his thick facial and body hair, dark skin and Indian features.

When I studied Kenpo Karate in Hawaii during the mid 1970's, we were taught that Bodhidharma traveled from India to China in 525 A.D. to teach the true meaning of Buddhism to Emperor Wu (Wu-ti). Upon arriving in China, he found that the priests and peasants were being attacked by armed bandits. He meditated on the situation and told the people that fighting and killing are wrong. However, a person must be able to defend himself. Thus, he taught them Go Shin Jitsu Kenpo Karate (or Shorinjiryu Kenpo), an unarmed system of self-defense in which the hands and feet became weapons.

Much of this oral tradition is historically correct. Bodhidharma lived from approximately 470 A.D. to 543 A.D. and was taught Buddhism by the sage Panyata who gave him his name in recognition of his knowledge of the Truth (bodhi) and the Law (dharma). He arrived in China about 520 A.D. after a three year trip from India. Some say that he made the arduous trek overland. Others say it was by ship. In China he was known as Ta-Mo.

Buddhism was already established in China with an extensive written and oral tradition when Bodhidharma arrived. Emperor Wu had built and supported many temples and was anxious to hear what Bodhidharma considered to be the central principle of Buddhism. Bodhidharma's curt reply of "vast emptiness" apparently upset the emperor who had expected something more substantial from his long-awaited guest.

After his brief meeting with the emperor, Bodhidharma traveled to the Shaolin (Japanese: Shorin) Temple on the Wu-tai Mountain in Honan. The Shaolin Temple is renowned in martial arts legends for the development of Chinese martial arts. Many Okinawan or Japanese schools of pugilism trace their lineage to the temple and are known as Shorin- or Shorinji-.

Bodhidharma is primarily known for his intense practice of Zen, or Ch'an, as it was called in China. Upon arriving at the Shaolin Temple, legend has it that he was so determined to attain his true self that he sat down before a wall to practice zazen and did not rise for nine years. Some say that he sat like a wall rather than before a wall.

His legs atrophied so badly that he could not walk. Thus the Daruma doll has no legs! The woodblock print by Yoshitoshi clearly shows Bodhidharma in a zazen posture with his eyes fixed diagonally toward the ground. He is seated on a bed of straw amid the ruins of a building.

Naturally, Bodhidharma fell asleep from time to time during his effort. He became so irritated by this that legend says that he cut off his eyelids and tossed them to the ground. At that spot, tea plants grew which is why we drink tea (ocha) to stay awake. The wide-eyed stare of the Daruma doll also shows his lack of eyelids.

Many people came to Bodhidharma with religious questions but he would not disturb his zazen by answering them. Finally a persistent aspirant named Hui-Ko (Eka in Japanese) appeared. After numerous refusals from Bodhidharma, Hui-Ko chopped off his left hand and gave it to the sitting master. "I'll cut off my head next unless you teach me!" he is reported to have said. Bodhidharma had finally met someone as determined as himself and accepted Hui-Ko as a disciple.

Bodhidharma's Words

Bodhidharma's message to his disciples is the foundation of Zen:

A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence upon words and letters;
Direct pointing at the soul of man;
Seeing into one's own nature and attainment of Buddhahood.

Hui-Ko, Bodhidharma's successor, wrote the following verse to express his understanding:

From the seed bed
Flowers rise,
Yet there is no seed,
Nor are there flowers.

Other stories describe how Bodhidharma taught martial arts to his disciples in order to strengthen their bodies. He found that meditation without physical training led to ill health and weakness. His disciples were known to pass out during zazen due to physical exhaustion. Proper meditation required a strong mind and body.

The Martial Teachings of Bodhidharma

According to Gichin Funakoshi in Karate-Do Nyumon, the disciples of Bodhidharma were taught a method based on the Ekikin and Senzui Buddhist sutras. He described the method as follows:

Senzui refers to "washing away the dust of the mind" to uncover its true light. Ekikin, which is composed of characters for eki ["change"] and kin ["muscle"], means to "discipline and toughen the body." By strengthening the body through the method described in the Ekikin sutra, one can acquire the prowess of the Deva Kings. Polishing the mind through the Senzui sutra develops the strength of will to pursue a spiritual path. It is said that these two sutras together give one the power to move mountains and the ki (Chinese: ch'i) to envelope the universe.

This method of training was the original form of training in the martial arts. (Emphasis added) (Page 21)

Bodhidharma is an example of a person who combined the study of religion (Zen or Ch'an) and budo. It is likely that he learned a form of martial arts in India where he was a kshatriya, a son of a warrior king, and modified it to suit the conditions he found in China. As his teachings spread to Okinawa and Japan, so too did his emphasis on dual forms of training.

Zen continues to be a central principle of many forms of budo. Ken zen ichijo can be translated as "Karate and Zen as one." In The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, karate master Shoshin Nagamime writes:

The fusing of mind and body in karate is indescribably beautiful and spiritual. The flow of the mind, when totally absorbed during kata practice, brings a person into total contact with the essence and core of his being. One is both humbled and uplifted by this knowledge of self.

. . .I have pursued the study of karate in an attempt to bring karate and Zen together as one. This has been a life-long effort, and one which can never be fully realized by any one person. (Pages 271-272)

In Karate-Do My Way of Life, Gichin Funakoshi wrote about his use of the Japanese character for "empty" in the term Karate. Confusion had arisen because the word kara- could either mean "China" or "empty" depending upon the ideographic character which was used. Since so much of Okinawan Karate or Te was traceable to China, the term "China hand" was a reasonable interpretation. Wrote Funakoshi:

The kara that means "empty" is definitely the more appropriate. This defense makes use of no weapons, only bare feet and empty hands. Further, students of Karate-do aim not only toward perfecting their chosen art but also toward emptying heart and mind of all earthly desire and vanity. Reading Buddhist scriptures, we come across such statements as Shi-soku-ze-ku and Ku-soku-zeshiki, which literally mean, "matter is void" and "all is vanity." The character ku, which appears in both admonitions and may also be pronounced kara, is in itself truth. (Page 35)

Budo and Zen have been intertwined since the days of Bodhidharma. One without the other could lead to physically weak priests or spiritually weak martial artists. Sadly, one does not have to look very far to find examples of "spiritually weak" martial artists today.

What is budo without Zen or a guiding spiritual principle? Some would say that it becomes sport. I cannot agree with this. The -do found in judo, kendo, aikido, iaido, karatedo, etc. shows that the arts are part of a "way" or "path" as opposed to mere sports or a collection of techniques.

Many martial arts instructors stress the importance of mind, body and spirit but offer little or no guidance about the spiritual aspect. A budoka must cultivate a quiet and calm spirit which looms like a mighty mountain. The emphasis is on "non-thinking" as opposed to complicated moral principles or rules. It should be recalled that Bodhidharma practiced "outside the [Buddhist] scriptures" and without "dependence upon words and letters" to cultivate such a spirit. Perhaps in future articles, the subject of budo and Zen (and other spiritual practices) can be more fully discussed.

One of my Sensei (who has since passed away) described his religion as Aikido because that was what he did. Religion, to him, was what a person actually did with his life-how he lived rather than a particular church to which he belonged. I was always deeply impressed by these words.

This Sensei also recounted an incident which occurred when one of his seniors visited from Japan. The senior addressed some of my Sensei's students and told them that a particular practice they performed in the mountains was for nothing. At least some of the students were apparently offended by the remark. My Sensei told me that "of course their training was for nothing!" The students had in fact been complimented for seeking the nothingness, the emptiness or the void which my Sensei often described as being like the eye of a hurricane (but he added that even that was something).

A wealth of history is hidden behind the facade of a common Daruma doll. Daruma teaches us two main things. The first is determination- to rise no matter how many times we fall, to try hard and never give up, to always be willing to start anew. We also learn that Bodhidharma originated both Zen (Ch'an) and budo in China. Although most of use will never sit before a wall for nine years or sever our hand to become a disciple, we can nevertheless learn by his example that budo and spiritual training should be practiced as one.


Contact Charles C. Goodin


Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.