Zen is a discipline that stresses meditation, and direct transmission of teachings from master to student. Zen, as it is known to Japan, was introduced there by Buddhist monks returning from China in the 13th century. Attracted by its austerity, many samurai sought to perfect themselves in it’s study. They hoped in this way to face battle and even death without expressing fear.
The aim of Zen is complete control of the mind – to attain a state of enlightenment and a sense of detachment from the physical world. This is achieved by constant meditation and strict self-discipline.
It is generally claimed that Zen was the foundation of martial arts in feudal Japan, that it provided the doctrine of bujutsu with a theory and a philosophy, and that it provided the martial artist with proper disciplines for developing a strong character and personality. A man thoroughly versed in the techniques of concentration and meditation might achieve complete indifference to physical discomfort, pain, and eventually, even death. It is no wonder, then, that Japanese warriors, who were professionally fascinated by the various ways of meeting death, came to believe that Zen masters made “sport of death.”
The most important contribution of Japanese Zen to the martial arts was its insistence upon intuition, believed by Zen masters to be the most direct way of reaching truth. Intuition was the quality the feudal warrior needed to develop most particularly to respond quickly to the promptings of a dangerous situation.
Finally, Zen seems to have also influenced the style of recording the techniques of the various ryu (schools). The task of writing them, of preserving and guarding them, was generally assigned to a Zen priest residing in a nearby monastery, when not performed by the master of the school himself.
In relation to moral conduct, however, Zen had little or nothing to add to the code of loyalty and obedience that ruled the life of a samurai. Instead, it sustained them morally and philosophically. Morally, because Zen teaches one not to look backward once the course is decided upon; and philosophically, because it treats life and death indifferently.