How does the philosophy of martial arts manifest itself? Insights from japanese martial arts

Fumiaki Shishida*, Sean M. Flynn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


A martial art can be briefly defined as a set of knowledge about body movements that is intended to help an individual wound, kill and/or capture opponent(s) and/or defend himself against any type of physical attack. Universal laws, for example the concept of force, the concept of the atom, etc. were produced by being abstracted from physical phenomena by metaphysical thinking. A philosopher can consequently hope to understand universal characteristics and fundamental principles by observing natural phenomena. Thus, martial arts can be thought of as abbreviated methods for presenting the nature of the truths related to the best methods to win a fight. These truths are presented to us in the phenomenon of fighting. Judged according to the perspective of Plato's metaphysics, martial arts have very low intrinsic value when thought of as an instrument that serves the purpose of winning. The philosophical samurai's method of practice -of attempting to move from art to the way, of attempting to discern universal truths from their natural manifestations in combat -was taken up and refined by Jigoro Kano, who consciously desired to further develop the philosophy and pedagogy of the Japanese martial arts. Apart from Kano there were also the theories of Musashi and Munenori. All these theories were intended as general theories, which were probably too broad. At least one attempt has been made to create a general theory that encompasses all of the possible techniques, motions, and actions that can be taken in a fight. This is the inclusive theory of martial arts by Tomiki. It explains the relationship between kenjutsu, jujutsu, etc, but is not widely known. It also gives practical advice in any fighting situation and thus encompasses all possible fighting systems and all existing fighting traditions. Since the time of Plato, metaphysicians have seen the world as the existing of essence. Even modern science is a type of metaphysics, and the same goes for modern technology, as well. On the other hand, the metaphysical thinking about Japanese martial arts has evolved as "the metaphysics of Asian martial arts" and it is believed to deconstruct the binary opposition of life and death or victory and defeat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-33
Number of pages5
JournalIdo Movement for Culture
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Jigoro kano
  • Kenji tomiki
  • Metaphysics
  • Munenori yagu
  • Musashi miyamoto

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Philosophy


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