From swordsmanship to aikido to kendo and more, centuries-old Japanese martial arts have crossed overseas into its neighboring countries and even into the West. Japanese forms of martial arts are now more prevalent in the U.S. than ever before with dojos popping up in every city and classes found in many universities and recreation centers. Martial arts that originated in Japan are extremely diverse, with vast differences in training tools, methods, and philosophy across various schools and styles. Japanese martial arts is generally divided into koryu and gendai budo based on whether they existed prior to or after the Meiji Restoration (in the 1860s), respectively. To begin picking up on the martial arts vernacular, there are three key Japanese terms that are most often used:
1) “budō”, which means “martial way”,
2) “bujutsu”, which translates close to science, art, or craft of war, and
3) “bugei”, which literally means “martial art.”
How it all began
The origin of Japanese martial arts is found in the warrior traditions of the samurai and the caste system, which restricted the use of weapons by members of the nonwarrior classes. Samurai warriors were expected to be trained in many weapons, as well as in unarmed combat. This purpose created a philosophy of achieving spiritual goals by striving to perfect martial art skills. “Japanese martial arts revolves from having the sword first,” said Sensei Lyle Benson, Kaizen Martial Arts. “The fighting martial arts without a weapon was considered a back-up, if the sword were to be broken or taken away.”
At Benson’s dojo located in Littleton, Colo., he teaches Ninjutsu (ninja), Jujutsu (samurai), and Swordsmanship, which are considered to be “old-fashioned Japanese martial arts”. Benson is a personal student of the grandmaster in Japan, having visited the country to receive direct training. He acknowledges that even in Japan, most of the students are foreigners (mostly European and American). He began martial arts as a child practicing kung fu and tae kwon do but as he grew older, he seeked something that was more spiritual and mystical.
Swordsmanship, the art of the sword, has been considered the paramount martial art, surpassing all others. The sword itself has been the subject of stories and legends through most cultures. Originally the most important skills of the warrior class were proficiency at horseriding and shooting the bow, but eventually it gave way to swordsmanship. The primary development of the sword occurred between 987 A.D. and 1597 A.D. This development is characterized by exceptional artistry during peaceful eras, and renewed focus on durability, utility, and mass production during the intermittent periods of warfare. This development of the sword is paralleled by the development of the methods used to wield it. During times of peace, the warriors trained with the sword, and invented new ways to implement it. During war, these theories were tested. After the war ended, those who survived examined what worked and what didn’t, and passed their knowledge on. “What’s unique about our dojo is that the art we teach goes beyond 900 years,” said Benson, “You can trace who taught who what. They are tried and true techniques that have been used in combat throughout time.”
An Evolution in Tools and Teachings
The history of Japan is somewhat unique in its relative isolation. Compared with the rest of the world, the Japanese tools of war evolved slowly. Many people believe that this afforded the warrior class the opportunity to study their weapons with greater depth than other cultures. Nevertheless, the teaching and training of these martial arts did evolve, first with conditions on the battlefield (archery turned into the sword; which gave way to the spear), then through a long period of peace, and finally into modern times.
Jujutsu, literally translates to “art of pliance”. More accurately, however, it means the art of using indirect force, such as joint locks or throwing techniques, to defeat an opponent, as opposed to direct force such as a punch or a kick. Its objective is the ability to use an attacker’s force against him or her, and counter-attack where they are weakest or least defended. Methods of combat included striking (kicking, punching), throwing (body throws, joint-lock throws), restraining (pinning, grappling, wrestling) and weaponry. Defensive tactics included blocking, evading, off balancing, blending and escaping. In the present, jujutsu is practiced in many forms, both ancient and modern. Various methods of jujutsu have been developed into judo and aikido, as well as being exported throughout the world and transformed into sport wrestling systems, adopted in by schools of karate or other unrelated martial arts.
Kenjutsu means “the art or science of the sword” and its meaning refers to the specific aspect of swordsmanship dealing with partnered sword training. It is the oldest form of training and at its simplest level. The practice consists of two partners with swords drawn, practicing combat drills. Historically practiced with wooden katana (bokken), this most often consists of pre-determined forms, called kata. Among advanced students, kenjutsu training includes increasing degrees of freestyle practice.
Karate developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom in Okinawa prior to its 19th century annexation by Japan, in which it was brought to the Japanese mainland. By 1932, all Japanese universities had a dojo. In the 1960s and 70s, martial arts movies served to greatly increase its popularity, and the word karate became a generic term referring to all striking-based Oriental martial arts. Karate schools quickly began to appear across the world. At Colorado Budokan, Sensei Gary Tsutsui teaches a traditional Japanese style of karate named Shotokan. This style is characterized by large movements and an emphasis on physical and mental development. “Initially I was attracted to this form because of its emphasis on delivering a single technique to gain victory,” said Tsutsui. “Through advanced study of this art I soon realized that practicing the Shotokan style involved much more than simple physical training. More importantly, to seek perfection of character.” Tsutsui reflects, “After the war my family relocated to Denver and I began formal training in the art of karate in 1965 under Mr. Yutaka Yaguchi.” He has now been teaching karate for more than 40 years. The sensei is a bronze medalist at the Fourth World Union of Karate-do Organizations (now named World Karate Federation) World Championships in Tokyo, Japan. He is the first and oneof only two American males to receive a medal in individual kata competition in the World Karate Federation World Championships. In July 2001, he was inducted into the USA National Karate-do Federation Traditional Karate Hall of Fame. “My favorite part about teaching classes is watching students get stronger - physically and mentally,” said Tsutsui. “And, enjoying the fact that their shared love of karate impacts their daily lives and contributes to their successes as productive, compassionate citizens.” Together with his wife Candice Tsutsui, the couple opened Colorado Budokan on Monaco Parkway and Hampden Avenue three years ago. The sensei also teaches at Colorado School of Mines and Colorado Athletic Club.
Aikido is a relatively young martial art which was founded by Master Morihei Ueshiba around 1925. According to Sensei Seiji Tanaka, “They learned various Jujutsu techniques, even Kenjutsu [sword] techniques from many masters and after long and hard training of these original forms of Jujutsu, they reorganized thousands of techniques and created the new martial arts of Judo and Aikido.” Aikido techniques emphasizes circular movements, which implies “no beginning and no ending,” which provides power with the most efficient movements. A circle contains infinite amount of power. A key principle in Aikido is blending with an opponent’s power rather than colliding with each other. “Through Aikido training our ultimate goal is to attain unification of body and mind and to learn the proper way of life,” said Tanaka. Prof. Kano, the founder of Judo said that he created Judo in order to become a better person. “Through diligent training of any martial arts, students become better persons attaining good human virtues like humility, mutual respect, patience, courage, thoughtfulness and decisiveness,” said Tanaka. Tanaka has served as the chairman of the Japan Aikido Association, USA which has over 80 schools across the nation. He teaches at his school, known as Tomiki Aikido. Other schools do not allow competition with full resistance will, as they do at his school. With more than 40 years of teaching and practicing Aikido experience, Tanaka has never received any monetary payment for his teaching. “I just want to keep this on a volunteer bases in the future too in order to keep Aikido as my pure joy,” he said. “Because of Aikido, I have been lucky to have many many friends all over this continent and other countries which any amount of money never able to buy.” “On a personal level, Aikido really helps to keep my body and mind in good shape that is my biggest and best reward. I am 70 years old now and I practice Aikido regularly.”
There are many more forms of Japanese
martial arts that AAm aims to cover in the future.