武道 Budō is composed of two characters: 武 Bu and 道 Dō.
The character 武 Bu (pronounced "Wu" in China) is a composite of the characters 止 and 戈. In ancient times (2,000 BCE and previous), 止 represented “foot”, and 戈 represented "spear", so 武 Bu may have originally referred to “a man on foot with a spear”, i.e the primeval warrior. This explains its incorporation into modern day terms in the Japanese language pertaining to "military affairs", "arms", "martial power", etc. However, in the context of modern martial arts, it carries a different meaning:
In more recent times (1,700 CE onwards), 止 has come to represent "stop", while the meaning of 戈 ("spear") has by and large remained unaltered. Thus, in these times, 武 Bu means "stop the spear", i.e. "stop violence". Furthermore, modern Japanese martial arts traditions associate 武 Bu with the term "Musubu" - "to give birth", "to bring together", "to create", or "to give life". So, in this context, 武 Bu has the proactive, constructive meaning of "creating peace".
The character 道 Do (pronounced Dao in China) in this context signifies "way", or possibly "art" (see below). In China, it has a similar meaning, and is the "Dao" of the "Dao De Jing" (Tao Te Ching), and the "Dao" of "Daoism" (Taoism).
In Japan the character 道 Do appears in many composite words including those describing:
- Japanese flower arranging - sometimes referred to as Ikebana (生け花, "arranging flowers") - practitioners refer to this as kadō (華道), the "way(/art) of flowers".
- Japanese tea ceremony - practitioners refer to this as chadō (茶道), "way(/art) of tea"
Inherent in all these usages of 道 Do are the concepts of awareness, reflection, discipline, practice, clarity, appreciation, connection.
武道 Budo has often been translated as the "Way of the Warrior". The term "warrior" is used in a positive sense. In Irish (my own native tongue), a term for warrior is "laoch" ("of the people") and the term "laoch" also refers to hero, which comes from the Greek "ἥρως" (hērōs), literally "protector" or "defender".
In light of the above, i武道 Budo should perhaps more correctly be translated as the "Way of Resolution of Violence", the "Way of Peace", or the "Art of Peace".
Note: The character 武 Bu also appears in the term 武術, pronounced "Bujutsu" (Japan) and "Wushu" (China).