What does a religion known for teaching non-violence have to do with martial arts disciplines designed to cripple or kill? It turns out that these practices keep the mind sharp enough to meditate effectively.
The idea of the Asian martial artist studying Zen has become stereotype. Religion expert Jeffrey K. Mann says, "Popular Culture has long exploited the image of the serene Buddhist monk who is master of deadly hand-to-hand combat. It’s an oversimplification: the reality lies somewhere in between. While that may romanticize the relationship between a philosophy of non-violence and the art of fighting, the link between Zen and the martial arts is not only real, but natural.
"From samurai meditating in Buddhist temples before heading off to decapitate each other, Zen priests teaching Imperial Japanese soldier to die bravely in battle, to a karate teacher lecturing on both compassion and how to break a clavicle in the same afternoon, Zen and budō–the martial arts of Japan–have a long history, and ongoing relationship, with each other.
"When I first started exploring this material, I was interested in the benefits of Zen on the practice of martial arts. It helps the mental game. But as time has gone by, that interest has shifted. Where I initially looked at Zen as a tool to help my martial arts, I’ve come to see the martial arts as a path to self-cultivation."