The Bun Bu Trinity

Bun Bu Ryo Do, “The Way of Both Pen and Sword,” seems like a binary system – with the arts of war and the arts of civil life complementing each other as needed.

As martial artists we learn to fight. We also cultivate the self-control, respect and clarity of mind which free us to connect in a positive, collaborative way with other people.

In the 19th century Prussian General Karl von Clausewitz’ cast war as “a continuation of politics by other means.” This can be seen in reverse as well: civil administration and social organization may be conducted as “a continuation of war by other means,” if advantage and fear are the guiding principles of civil life. This is easy to observe, right now.

It is a constricted view of both war and peace. It is not a good way to live. For accomplished martial artists, Bun Bu Ryo Do is not a binary system.

The Bun Bu Trinity: Tactics, Ethics, Metaphysics

For martial artists and for others, tactical skills include more than ‘fighting.” Techniques, training, operations, strategy, logistics, mission, morale, communication, planning, technology, transport, intelligence, and leadership are all essential components of any tactical engagement – from a streetfight to a war; whether the engagement is personal, corporate, or national. 

Our choice of tactics, and our ability to employ them effectively, in the dojo, in single combat or otherwise, depends on an accurate knowledge of how things work. That consists of more than knowledge of the skills of our opponent, or his manpower, firepower, maneuver, the terrain and the other characteristics of the battlespace. Understanding “how things work” requires an accurate understanding of metaphysical principles. 


For example, if we understand that cause and effect are continually in operation – that everything we see has causes and that everything we do has effects – and if we understand that everything and everyone is continually changing – then we can examine which causes produce which effects and choose to act in ways which will fulfill our goals. That is a metaphysical insight – the validity of cause & effect and of impermanence – which we can use, in action. 

If we choose an erroneous metaphysic – like the view that “everything is a crapshoot,” a matter of chance, or “life sucks and then you die,” or “it’s all about feeling good,” or “whoever dies with the most stuff wins” – then our choices will reflect our view, and sooner or later life will come crashing down, like the total loss of a hopeless gambler. 

Dojo Application

If we understand change and causality, we can look at a kata and see deeply: What attack would prompt which defense? What new targets might be exposed as a result? What counters might be applied? How could those counters themselves be foiled? How can we use the new permutation to our advantage? – and so on, until the threat is resolved.

We can take our time and do the analysis in the dojo. A skilled martial artist can put these insights into action, in kumite or in combat. It will happen faster than we may realize. But with proper training it will happen.


The application of metaphysical insight – the principles of cause & effect, and patterns of continual change – applies in kata, kumite, battle, business, sports, investigations or life. 

This deep way of doing kata analysis may be overlooked, replaced with a simplistic, static approach that fails to recognize the ongoing “rock, paper, scissors” dynamic which allows not just one block-punch interpretation for each move in the kata, but instead will reveal endless permutations.

This endlessly changing “rock, paper, scissors” dynamic has been described in terms of “five-phase” wu-hsing theory, the eight ba gua, and by other symbol systems, esoteric and otherwise. But the premise that transformation is continuous, patterned and caused – is consistent throughout all these systems. And so is the idea that if you can understand how the transformations work then you can employ them to your advantage.


Accurate metaphysical understanding – insight into the way things exist – is only accessible to us if our minds are clear and stable; and our minds will only be clear and stable if we have good relationships with others. People who lie, steal, cheat, rape and kill to get what they want, do not get to think clearly. If you have spent even a little time with murderers and thieves you know this. 

Having meaningful, good relationships with people is a matter of mutual responsibility as well as of affection and respect.  Close relationships require courage – willing vulnerability and tenderness as well as the strength to defend ourselves and others, when the time comes to do that. 

Good relationships require us to treat people kindly, fairly and honestly, considering their well-being not just our own.  Without disciplined, ethical behavior the mind becomes overwrought – stressed, scheming, paranoid, occupied by fear and desire. 

Strong dojos grow where people challenge each other and collaborate. Then skills improve. People get strong, proud and honest. Dojos dissolve when people deceive and exploit each other, whether for gain or status. 

No matter how strong you are, or who you dominate, or how much you take, it will all slip away, if force is all you have to work with.

Tyrants and gangsters fighting their way up to the top of the heap by any means necessary all someday fall, in a collapse beyond any limit they ever imagined.

The Unified Field of Action 

As martial artists our ethics, tactics and metaphysics are not separate realms. They are the three-dimensional universe in which we act. The Bun, Bu and Do. The deeper we penetrate into one of these dimensions, the deeper the implications for mastering the others. Using them we can build a life that is good and strong. And we can leave a legacy that will endure. 


Post Copyright © 2020 by Jeffrey M. Brooks, author of The Good Fight – The Virtues and Value of the Martial Arts

This post is an excerpt from “Bun Bu Ryo Do: Cultivation and Power.”

The featured image shodo is “Bun Bu Ryo Do” brushed by Taneya Ryuhei, Sensei, Tokyo.

Jeff Brooks is a 40-year practitioner of karate; for 20 years was a writer for high profile public figures in business, government, media and the arts; after that he turned to crime, working as a police detective, federal investigator, and law enforcement instructor in multiple disciplines. He is the author of several books and hundreds of published articles on martial arts. 


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