Michi – “Do”


Many have seen these words used in martial arts and would attest to understanding the difference and when to use them.  In reality this is not the case and they are so often used out of context or misunderstood.

Whilst living in Japan I was exposed to both daily and realised there was a difference quite quickly in normal life.  It was not initially easy as my understanding was poor and the use of English for all I encountered was limited.  Like the use of Japanese the education is often subtle and requires perception and feeling as much as stark clarity.  This is very much in keeping with Japanese martial arts.


An initial tangible meaning road, street, path, course, route or lane.  Japanese relate to this in everyday life.  The cars drive on the road (Michi) and people walk on the path (Michi/Hodo).  This is the simplest way to initial discern the difference.

The meaning however entwines the route of Jutsu to “Do” and it is now accepted that for some in martial arts it is its equal.  This is the cause of confusion.

The root cause may have stemmed from Buddhism where it is not uncommon to see the ideology of Michi as Japanese philosophy and life practise, a way of life.  History has the usage common in eras such as the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333) where the way of Fencing, the way of Archery or the way of Martial Arts are documented.  Some styles have now formalised the term Michi into their study and this can be commonly seen in the study of Aiki.

The calligraphy (Kanji) for Michi is the same as for “Do” and is the overriding unification.

Michi is also known as “way” if you mean roads in life!

Japanese say “Michi wo kiwameru” to master the way in many things in life. This Michi meaning way needless to say is not a physical road in front of your house.


Mostly synonymous in Japan to Martial Arts and you do not hear this is every day conversation.  Originating from the Chinese Dao or Tao meaning way, its link to Michi is thereon evident.  The philosophy of “Do” (Tao) was conveyed from China by Roushi, a Chinese Philosopher in B.C. 550 who explained the way of life in the human world. This Philosophy was continued by Koushi who is the founder of Jukyo. He wrote the philosophy on “Do” in poems and in historical Chinese books. Although Bukkyo (Buddhism) came to Japan in the 6th century the teachings of Jukyo entwined Bukkyo separately.

Most martial artist know the phrase “Budo” meaning in character translation the way of warfare.  “Bu” being war or martial and “Do” being the path or way.

The Tokugawa era 1601 to 1866 saw Japan raise her walls and isolate herself from the outside world.  This culminated in the greater study of the way of the sword and the way of all martial arts and strengthened the usage of Bushido.  As warfare reduced practice and training changed entwining religion (Shintoism) and it is in this period we see the emergence strongly of the term “Do” to significance.  This was further strengthened in the Meiji period from 1866 and most know the birth thereon of Judo under the tutelage of Kano Sensei as an example.

There are a lot of words using “Do” in Japan as well as the well known for martial artist such as Budo, Karatedo, Judo, Kendo, Kyudo and Aikido. Some examples of ways of are:

  • Geido – Arts
  • Kado – Flower arranging
  • Sado – Tea ceremony
  • Shodo – Calligraphy
  • Ohdo – King’s way
  • Jyado – Evil or wrong way

Although the kanji, characters of Michi and “Do” are the same, Michi is Kunyomi and “Do” is often Onyomi by Japanese pronunciation. Kunyomi expresses the definition of the kanji and its sound makes to understand what it is. Onyomi is based on Chinese original sounds and therefore the sound on its own does not mean what the kanji is meant. Onyomi is used in Jukugo, which consists of more than two kanji. This explains why Budo does not read as Bumichi! When the kanji Michi is read as “Do” on its own it means teaching as well as way.