Budo and the Inherent Symbolism

Ueshiba Morihei 31

In the Far East, everything is deeply linked to symbolism. Ancient customs and traditions still coexist with modernity and the most advanced technological advancement. In this contemporary era where humanity seems to be increasingly driven towards exotericism, an unaffected world still survives where the most generous and chivalrous virtues can still inspire us: the world of Budo


Budo means “The way to achieve peace through martial arts practice”. This term comes from Bushi (which means nobleman, knight, protector and guardian of the established order, guarantor of justice and holder of the highest moral and ethical values; he is the guardian of the Temple) and Do (which means the Path, intended as a spiritual search). Budo is, therefore, the way of the knight intended as the one who embodies the noblest virtues and places them at the service of society.

This subject is broad and would require a lot of space and time to deal with it exhaustively, consequently, in this instance I will focus only on describing the symbolic significance of three fundamental aspects in the initiation to Budo

  • Dojo (Place where the Way is practised):
  • Dogi (Uniform of the Way);
  • Reigi (Ceremonial or Ritual).


The Dojo is symbolically oriented in such a way as to harmoniously integrate Earth, Humankind and the Universe. Within the Dojo, there are appropriate spaces connected by analogies and symbolism to particular energies, entities, egregores and numbers.

At the centre of the north-facing wall, we find the Shinza, literally “place where the Heart-Spirit resides” or “residence of the Gods”. In this area, there is an altar (Tokonoma) above which a sacred calligraphy is affixed and swords (Katana) and other sacred objects related to the ritual are placed. The Shinza is the object of deep respect on the part of the initiated since it spiritually represents the existence of the Original Spirit: it is the Dojo‘s Sancta Sanctorum (“Holy of Holies”). Shinza is the place where the subtle energies emanating from the Original Heart-Spirit communicate with those of the individual Heart-Spirit of each practitioner. This union of energies represents Budo‘s egregore. Shinza is anti chaos because it represents the Cosmic Order that emanates from the Creator God.

To the right of the Shinza is located the Kamiza literally “the place where the spirits of fire and water reside”. The Kamiza symbolizes the elements of living nature: according to Eastern tradition Fire/Creativity is oriented southward and linked to summer, Metal/Intuition is located westward and connected to autumn, Water/Wisdom is turned northward and associated to winter, Wood/Imagination is oriented eastward and linked to spring, while Earth/Will is at the centre. The Kamiza, in addition to the mythical union of fire, water and other elements, represents the blending of male and female, of love and spirit.

To the left of the Shinza is the Shimoza, the place where the spirits of the ancestors are held. It therefore symbolizes the forces of the past, that is, the basic experience of the evolution of all human beings, animals and plants. The set of Shinza-Kamiza-Shimoza is a trinity comparable to that of the universal esoteric doctrine.

A central line symbolically cuts the dojo into two parts, right and left, east and west and is called Seitchu Sen: it represents the axis of the manifest world, the horizontal, the plane of the manifestation of the human on earth. It is a symbol of communication between heaven and earth. The most experienced sit on the right of this line, the less experienced on the left.

Traditionally the dojo is not heated, because climatic variations and scents related to the various seasons must be perceived.

Shinto cleansing ritual

The Dojo is consecrated with purification (Misogi) and exorcism (Harai) rites, in order to attract beneficial spirits (Kami) and drive out hostile entities. A ritually consecrated Dojo is a protected place, a place that has a soul, a place where it is possible to practice in total safety, away from prying eyes, from the harmful influences of the profane world and from the sulphurous emanations that come from the invisible and diabolical worlds. The Dojo is a sacred enclosure, a protective magic circle, which allows the brave to continue their individual research and improvement.

Selflessness, mutual respect and gratitude to the Master must rule in the Dojo. The combination of these feelings, called Kansha, also includes expressing gratitude to all other practitioners. The students (apprentices) listen in silence and receptive to the Teacher who teaches. He must be as accessible as possible, open his heart with joy and compassion and give without reserve. The only enemy to kill is selfishness, a feeling that divides, a real and frightening devil. Only those who give can receive: this is the badge of the true Master.


Dogi is a term composed of Do which means “Path” and Gi which indicates “dress, uniform”. It is, therefore, the uniform for the practice of the Way. This uniform is made up of Keikogi (white cotton trousers and jacket), Obi (white or black belt) and Hakama (black, blue or white pant-skirt). Before wearing the Dogi, one must strip (in silence) of civilian clothes, which symbolically has the value of abandoning the negative aspects and influences of the profane world. Next, we put on the uniform to practice the Way with the right frame of mind, ready to seek for the qualities we lack.

The Keikogi is white, symbolizing purity, sincerity, moral temper. White is also an expression of light, knowledge, clarity, virginity. On the physical level, it is linked to sunlight, which can be broken down with a prism into all the colours of the Way. White is a symbol of origin. By balancing the three faces of the human prism – the intellectual that leads to truth, the emotional that leads to love, the physical that leads to wisdom – we will be able to manifest the colours or virtues contained in white light.

The jacket is put on starting from the right sleeve and the same goes for trousers and hakama, which are put on starting from the right leg. The right side symbolizes justice, sincerity, reason (in fact, in the righteous we speak of moral dexterity). On the contrary, the left side is tied to intuition, love, sensitivity, but also to darkness, falsehood, simulation (it is said in fact of an evil person who is “sinister”).

The Obi (belt) is placed around the waist in a clockwise or dextrorotatory direction: it is interesting to note that in all the rituals related to white magic dextrorotatory movements are used, unlike those related to the rituals of black magic which are left-handed. The wrap-around movement of the belt balances the individual’s solar and lunar aspects. The Obi also indicates the centre of gravity (Hara), which is a point located a couple of centimetres below the navel, where the source of the sacred fire chakra (Seika Tanden) is located. The belt knot is a flat knot that symbolizes the number 8 lying down (∞), the sign of infinity. This symbol represents the evolution and recycling of energies, movement in all directions, the infinite space of the human spirit in search of alchemical marriage with the universal soul. The knot also symbolizes passive mental receptivity in front of the creative activity of the Divine. The Obi knot is a symbol of brotherhood, shield and protection of mysteries.

The Hakama is the traditional ritual dress: the first distinctive sign of belonging to the class of the Bushi (knights). It is worn starting from the rank of black belt. The person who is allowed to wear Hakama is concurrently invested with great responsibilities and duties. They are above all loyalty, integrity, courage, respect, decency and purity: virtues that distinguish the true knight. The highest grades (starting from the 6th dan), when awarded the honorary title of Shihan (person to imitate), may wear a white Hakama, a symbol of achieved purity. The knot of the front ribbons of the hakama has the shape of a cross, a symbol of pursuit and profound research work: it signifies the union of horizontality with verticality, of the passive with the active, of the feminine with the masculine: it is the symbol of the agreement of opposites. This cross-shaped knot is in front of the Seika Tanden, the chakra that corresponds to the source of the sacred fire.


The Reigi (ceremonial or ritual) includes the set of attitudes, behaviours and salutations that take place in the dojo. The ritual is of the highest importance in all the initiatory ways. As already mentioned, the Dojo is a place dedicated to the search for the Way, but its consecration is futile if not accompanied and protected by an Orthodox ritual that leads to making it endure and refresh its moral meanings. Rituals are different for each level of work and research and must be lived and observed meticulously.

Each traditional martial art has its specificity as regards to the ritual but there are common points which are the standing salutation (Ritsurei) and kneeling salutation (Zarei) that are addressed to the Dojo, to one’s partner and to weapons. When entering the Dojo and then in the area reserved for practice, one always steps forward with the right foot. We already explained the symbolic meaning of the right side; in addition, it must be remembered that advancing on the right foot has the value of a voluntary act animated by noble sentiments to enhance virtues such as loyalty, courage, justice and purity. Instead, we kneel down with our left knee, symbolizing the resolution to sacrifice our attributes related to materiality and subdue negative influences.

Another common point in the different Budos is the distance (Maa-ai). This term is made up of Maa, which means space-time, and Ai, which means harmony: it is, therefore, the ideal space where it is necessary to place oneself so that there is total harmonization with the partner. It is the ideal place to resolve conflicts peacefully in regard to the Divine Order. The more experienced the practitioner (Master), the greater the distance, since he is able to bridge it with his spiritual radiation and it is precisely thanks to this that direct contact or conflict becomes useless. The hypothetical enemy will be radiated by a vortex of love and compassion that will transform him into a better being with whom to build a society based on tolerance and cooperation.

A true ritual cannot be performed unless there is an atmosphere of mutual trust. An ideal environment will allow building reciprocal sincerity and developing paranormal faculties that concern the field of extrasensory and intuitive perception (Haragei).

Thanks to these faculties we will be able to perceive the intentions of the partner, his feelings, thoughts and essence, and we will finally be capable to seek an understanding, a balance that is the reflection on this earth of universal harmony.

Copyright Paolo N. Corallini ©2013
All rights reserved. Any unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited

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