Active Compassion

Reimagining Zen (Chan) and Martial Arts


  • Som Pourfarzaneh Center for Multi-Religious Studies at Starr King School for the Ministry



zen, martial arts, emptiness, no-self, non-resistance, ethnography, cultural appropriation, inter-tradition dialogue, compassion


In the United States and elsewhere, Zen (Chan) has often been positioned as coupled to, if not synonymous with, Japanese and other martial arts. This essay is a critical exploration of the Buddhist concepts of emptiness and no-self as they relate to Zen and martial arts, drawing upon Lila Abu-Lughod’s “ethnographies of the particular” to articulate the author’s own experience as a Jujutsu instructor and Buddhist practitioner. It offers several modes of understanding the ways in which Zen and the martial arts may be simultaneously incompatible with and reaffirming of one another, concluding with a re-envisioning of how the two diverse traditions may be woven together to benefit self and others in what the essay calls “active compassion.”


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How to Cite

Pourfarzaneh, S. (2023). Active Compassion: Reimagining Zen (Chan) and Martial Arts. International Journal for the Study of New Religions, 12(1), 77–95.