Bodhidharma, the twenty-eighth in line of succession from Shakyamuni Buddha, traveled to the Shaolin Monastery in China to spread the word of Buddhism in 520 C.E. During his self-imposed nine-year period of meditation there, he developed a series of physical movements used both for exercise and for defending himself against wild animals. These techniques of moving meditation were passed on to the Shaolin monks who incorporated them into their spiritual training. This was the origin of martial arts, a powerful and complete way of being.

In the sixth century, Buddhism arrived in Japan. Later, in the thirteenth century, Rinzai Zen was brought to Japan from China, and Soto Zen arrived there from China with Dogen Zenji. In the seventeenth century, the samurai incorporated Rinzai Zen along with the martial arts into the Way of the Warrior (bushido), When the samurai class was in power, it was highly cultured, steeped in the study of Buddhism as well as painting, poetry, calligraphy, and literature. The bond between Zen, particularly Rinzai Zen, and the bushido reached its zenith following the end of the nineteenth century. This connection, however, was broken after World War II. Without its spiritual core the martial arts dissolved into a sport and a system of self-defense.

In response to this, Kaicho (Grand Master) Tadashi Nakamura, ninth-degree black belt, founded Seido Karate, an international network of more than 100 dojos (schools) around the world. Headquartered in New York, Seido (which means the sincere way) emphasizes rigorous technique, Zen meditation, compassion, and community involvement. Seido schools sponsor karate training for the blind, deaf, and devlopmentally disabled. Every year, benefit tournaments are held to raise money for various charities such as those for children with HIV and victims of domestic abuse. During the holiday season, students participate in walking meditation and feeding the homeless. In summer, students make an annual pilgrimage to the beach to train in the surf.

“Many people think the martial arts are completely separate from life,” Kaicho explains. “They are not. They are the same. Karate-do is a way of being which must be experienced by each individual in his or her own unique way. Its goal is to train the body, mind, and spirit in order to realize the fullness of human potential. Karate is not a sport. There is no competition with others. The real competition is with the self. Karate, like life, which it mirrors, is a struggle: a struggle with our own weakness, with our egos and our selfishness, with our narrow-mindedness and prejudices.”

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