Tattooing in martial arts. Fashion statement or spiritual affirmation?

Midtown Toronto Karate School

There are differences and similarities between the words Bu 武 martial and Gun 軍 military. Not just the kanji stroke number, but the commitment to enduring violence. The martial artist trains for many different often personal reasons. Ranging from emotional self-improvement to challenge of combat sports. The member of the military has a more obligatory purpose. Train, follow orders, engage in peace keeping or actual warfare. Members of these two diverse groups engage in tattooing words and images that evoke purpose, or perpetuate an emotional experiences.

The art of martial arts and the duties of the military may seem like completely different worlds, but there are actually many similarities between the two. Both require a strong commitment to physical and mental training, as well as a dedication to enduring violence.
However, one key difference is the motivation behind this training. Martial artists often train for personal reasons, such as self-improvement or the challenge of combat sports. On the other hand, members of the military have a more obligatory purpose – to protect their country and its citizens.

Despite this difference in motivation, both martial artists and military personnel share a common trait: the use of body art to express their commitment and experiences. Tattoos are often used as a way to permanently display words or images that hold deep personal meaning.

The bearded ‘natives’ of Brooklyn and shirtless rappers might think they invented tattooing, but they would be off by 5000 years. Tattooing has been practiced across the globe since at least Neolithic times times, as evidenced by mummified preserved skin, ancient art and the archaeological record. With evidence found on mummies and cave paintings. It has been used for various purposes such as decoration, social status, religious believes and cultural identification.

The stigma of Japanese tattoo.

There is a historical reason for this. During the Edo period (1603-1868), criminals were brandished with tattoos in order to identify and punish them. The practice was know as Irezumi Kei, or tattoo penalty. Despite the fact that this practice was banned during the Meiji period, the stigma remains. In theory tattooed individuals are not welcomed in public baths, swimming pools or beaches. But that’s no longer the case. You can stand at Shibuya Crossing, the busiest intersection in Tokyo, and see hundreds of young man and women covered in colorful ink. They are not members of Yakuza, or other clandestine groups, but Millennials trying to assert individuality.

Some like tattoos, others hate.

Military experience and warfare have had a direct impact on the purpose, subject matter, and reception of tattoos in modern popular martial culture. You might snicker at mysterious Chinese characters, but never at Semper Fidelis emboldened on the forearm of a grey haired gentleman.

Most martial artists get tattoos in order to express themselves and make a statement. They can be anything from a permanent reminder of an accomplishment (getting your Shodan) or showing your personality as a way of outward expression of your beliefs and values. Respecting your tribe (dojo). Tattoos are also a great way to commemorate those close to you, a form of remembrance. Whether it’s a symbol, name or quote, tattoos are a powerful form of art that can hold significant meaning.

The process of getting a tattoo is also a form of mindfulness. The act of sitting still for hours, enduring discomfort, and trusting the artist to create something permanent on our bodies requires mental strength and presence. It teaches us ‘to suffer for our beliefs’.

So if you ‘ink’ Mom, significant date… Jesus, cool Koi fish, or Fudo 不動 (steadfast), or Hissho 必勝 (certain victory), or countless other heartfelt ideas, I hope it brings you peace, motivation or necessary closure. Decoration or Affirmation, it’s your choice. Just get a great tattoo artist (master), and together you will create a piece of art that will provide a soul-stirring experience for the ages.

Tattoos have been around for centuries, and their significance has evolved over time. From being used as a form of punishment or identification, to now being seen as a means of self-expression and art, tattoos hold a special place in many cultures around the world. In recent years, tattoos have become more than just decorative markings on our skin. They can also serve as powerful reminders of our hopes, dreams and values.

Chibariyo! – Cezar Borkowski