Zen & martial arts
Zen has had a strong influence on the development of martial arts in Japan. Essentially, Zen and the martial arts have the same spirit, the same essence.
Centuries ago in Japan, Zen had profoundly influenced the development of martial arts like Kendo (Kenjutsu), Kyudo (Kyujutsu), Judo (Jujutsu), Karate, and Aikido.
In ancient Japan, Zen had a major impact on Samurai warriors, and it and was widely adopted as their official religion. The Samurai achieved perfection in martial arts such as kenjutsu, kyujutsu, and jujutsu through the practice of zen meditation.
The practice of Zen was ideal for the Samurai way of life as it put emphasis on self-composure, vigilance, and tranquility in the face of death. Because of this, Zazen is called the religion of the Samurai. Even the great swordsman Musashi Miyamoto and some of the 47 Ronin were Zen adepts.
Zen Buddhism also taught the Samurai to have an intimate awareness of death, and it stressed the importance of detachment from material possessions. Thus, Zen concepts became the heart and soul of the Bushido.
Understanding true martial arts
Many people in the Western world practice martial arts as a sport, without the spirit of Zen or the Bushido as their foundation.
Without a foundation in Zen, one can hardly understand the full extent of the philosophy of the practice of martial arts. Without Zen, the practice of martial arts is a meaningless practice, and it becomes simply a sport like hockey or baseball. Of course, there is nothing wrong with sports, but they are only games that function as a form of amusement. However, the tradition of Budo, or Japanese martial arts, is of a higher dimension and is certainly more than a game.
Budo is a way to find peace and self-mastery. It is a teaching that enables you to correctly understand the nature of your mind and self, and to grow spiritually as a human being.
If you're seeking to explore Zen or Buddhism more deeply, here is a list of my favourite Buddhist books that you can use to learn more about this ancient tradition.