A process-sociology analysis of religious practices and Japanese martial arts


  • Raúl Sánchez García Universidad Politécnica de Madrid




Religious practices, martial arts, Norbert Elias, civilising processes


The author received no funding for this work.


This paper uses primary and secondary sources to provide a process-sociological analysis of the relationship between religious practices and Japanese martial arts. It problematises the taken for granted role of Zen Buddhism as the sole influence on the development of Japanese martial arts. Such essential connection is inaccurate and anachronistic. Religious and martial practices developed as part of processes of sociogenesis (state formation) and psychogenesis (habitus) during three different key stages: (1) Medieval Japan (1185-1600): during this stage, warriors (bushi) progressively became the predominant rulers across the country, enforcing law by sheer force. Warriors seasoned in combat used esoteric practices (spells, magic rituals) as part of their psychological arsenal for warfare, as practical means of action. The cult of the Buddhist deity Marishiten held special interest for the bushi originating martial traditions (ryu). (2) Tokugawa shogunate (1600-1848): the pacification of the country by the central military court implied a more detached approach to martial arts by samurai. Within this milieu, the samurai acted as a retainer/bureaucrat whose main mission was to keep order in a stratified society and to serve his lord, something that Zen practices helped to incorporate in the samurai ethos. (3) Early Showa period (1926-1945): this stage featured a progressive militarisation of people and the instigation of a strong involvement towards the Japanese nation, considered as the main (symbolic) survival unit. Budo (martial arts) was connected to shinto (functioning as a ‘state religion’) and embodied the imperial bushido message. Zen provided a legitimation of violence for citizen-soldiers with a personality structure that presented self-doubts on killing someone and fear of being killed.


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Author Biography

Raúl Sánchez García, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

Raúl Sánchez-García (Spain) is Lecturer at the Social Sciences department of the School of Sports Science (INEF), Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM). He is the secretary of the Sociology of Sport working group within the Spanish Federation of Sociology (FES) and co-editor of the academic journal Sociología del Deporte. His recent book The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts (2019) was awarded the Norbert Elias book Prize 2020. E-mail: raul.sanchezg@upm.es


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How to Cite

Sánchez García, R. (2023). A process-sociology analysis of religious practices and Japanese martial arts. Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas, 18(1), 23–40. https://doi.org/10.18002/rama.v18i1.7479