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The Martial Arts of the Samurai Included 18 Different Disciplines. Perhaps the greatest warriors of all time, known around the globe for their fearsome skill. The Samurai Began their training around 10 years of age and learned Sword, Horseback Riding, Archery, and these hand to hand combat styles and weapons including...

Martial Arts of The Samurai

In medieval Japan, there were more martial arts taught than just Karate and Katana disciples like many assume.

In total, 18 martial arts (called bugei or bujutsu in Japan), which covered the use of weapons, unarmed self-defense tactics, swimming, and equestrian skills were taught to noble bloodline families and military grade citizens.

Originally developed to refine each warriors' talents for greater military success, many of the arts were later adopted by civilians as a means of cultivating discipline, agility, health and mental alertness.

Numerous arts, most notably judo, kendo, karate, and aikido, continue to be popular today. Karate even debuted in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics.

Several of the martial arts that became popular in medieval Japan were adopted from China, where they originated as a way for Buddhist monks to maintain their fitness and focus while sitting in meditation for hours on end. They often used it to defend against thiefs in normal life when necessary.

With time, these drills developed to integrate weaponry skills and spread to Japan during the feudal era when war was prominent.

Kendo, for example, which places a premium on sword proficiency, was most likely introduced as early as the seventh century AD.

Nonetheless, the Japanese infused martial arts with their own weapons, abilities, and psychological emphasis to meet both their military and philosophical demands.

From the tenth century AD and throughout the medieval period (1185-1603 AD), soldiers, particularly samurai, honed their weaponry and horsemanship skills in order to prepare for the trials of the country's internal conflicts as opposing warlords struggled for power over regions of Japan.

The Longbow played a major role in the history of the Samurai, and was the first major skill necessary due to horseback riding, siege tactics, and the ranged effectiveness.

However, it was not until the Edo period (1603-1868 CE) that these practice activities became officially known as the martial arts as we know them today, that is, peacetime activities intended to promote not only martial skills but also discipline and a philosophical and spiritual approach to life in general, like the terms bushido and Budo.

Takemikazuchi-no-kami, the warrior and thunder god, is regarded the patron of the martial arts in Japan, and many Dojo still contain a tiny shrine called KamiDana dedicated to him.

Eighteen Traditional Samurai Martial Arts

Medieval warriors frequently specialized in a few martial arts, and training organizations frequently focused on certain disciplines such as swordsmanship, horseback riding, or unarmed combat.

In medieval Japan, there were 18 traditional martial arts. These were generally referred to as bugei juhappan:

(kyudo/kyujutsu) archery
barbed personnel abilities (mojiri)
slinging a linked sickle (kusarigamajutsu)
throwing daggers (shurikenjutsu)
Kendo/kenjutsu (fencing/swordsmanship)
firearms proficiency (teppo)
cavalrymanship (bajutsu)
spitting needles (fukumibarijutsu)
polearm abilities (naginata jutsu)
rope abilities (torite)
abilities with a short sword (tanto)
spies (ninjutsu)
personnel abilities (bojutsu)
proficiency with a spear (sojutsu)
scuba diving (suieiijutsu)
drawing a sword (iaijutsu)
abilities with a truncheon (jitte)
(judo/jujutsu) yawara

Samurai Archery or Kyuudo Longbow

For much of Japan's early history, the samurai warriors' primary weapon was the longbow, and proficiency with this weapon was taught through the martial art of kyudo or kyujutsu ('the way of the bow').

Archery had two separate forms dating all the way back to at least the sixth century CE. The first was a formal civic event in which the standing archer's elegance and technique were deemed more significant than hitting the target.

The archer first pointed his arrow at the sky, then at the earth, symbolizing the union of these two elements, before aiming at a set of three circular targets while mounted on a horse.

Each target was around 60 metres apart, and the archer was required to strike one of their five concentric circles while riding on a circular track. The archers who successfully hit all three targets advanced to the next round, which required them to strike three significantly smaller clay targets.

The archer whose shots were closest to the center of the targets, as determined by a judge, won the competition. This style of archery is called Yabusame and dates all the way back to the 11th century CE. It is still popular in modern-day Japan.

The second style of archery was far more martially valuable rapid firing of bows while mounted on a horse. Archers also practiced fake battles, and in certain instances, real conflicts were settled by two mounted archers repeatedly charging at one another to determine who would win.

Bows typically measured 1.5-2.5 metres (5-8 feet) in length and were made of wood and laminated bamboo, which was frequently lacquered.

Bamboo arrows varied in length but were typically measured in fists, with a conventional arrow measuring 12 fists, or 86-96 cm (34-38 inches). Three or four feather fletchings were added to arrows to boost their flying stability.

While the sword eventually supplanted the bow as the primary weapon of soldiers during the medieval period, it was the arrival of firearms in the late 16th century CE that precipitated the bow's ultimate demise on the battlefield.

The bow and its associated archery expertise were a lesser-known samurai weapon. According to Yamamoto Tsunetomo, author of Hagakure: The Samurai's Book, a man is useless if he is a master of only one thing.

A warrior should be adept at a variety of tasks in order to be effective in a variety of scenarios.

One extremely beautiful art form that is still performed in Japan today is Yabusame, or samurai horse archery. These practitioners' pursuit of precision and perfection is inspirational.

Traditionally, bows were fashioned by laminating bamboo strips around a wooden core.

Additionally, cane may be used for increased strength, and the entire structure may be varnished to protect against rain.

Arrows varied in length according to the archer's skill, but a typical length in medieval times was between 86 and 96 cm (34-38 inches). Shafts were fashioned of young bamboo, heads were made of iron or steel, and three or four fletchings were composed of bird feathers to give the arrow stability during flight.

When fired from horseback, the rider's hefty wooden saddle with leather stirrups served as a sturdy platform and allowed the rider to stand while firing.

Samurai Spear Arts and Yari

Another important traditional weapon in Japanese combat was the spear (yari), which was built for thrusting rather than throwing, and proficiency with it was taught in the art of sojutsu.

Most possessed a lethal double-edged blade of between 30 and 75 centimeters (12 and 29 inches) in length.

A common variety had an L-shaped blade designed to assist in dismounting an enemy rider.

Samurai Naginata

Similarly, the single-bladed polearm (naginata) was a standard infantry weapon until the 17th century CE, when it developed its own distinct martial art.

The latter was one of the few arts that could be practiced by men and women, the latter being often the daughters of samurai.

Foot soldiers carried the weapon, which was a cross between a spear and a sword. Similarly to many militaries that face mounted foes throughout the world, they provided the standing warrior with the capacity to reach a mounted foe.

To fans of historical samurai culture, the naginata has become the second most recognizable icon of the samurai, behind the katana blade.

Nonetheless, it was a highly situational and battle-specific weapon. The more modern method that teaches its application is called Naginatajutsu.

These weapons included the spear (yari) and the polearm (naginata).

Although yari blades varied in length, they were all double-edged and were between 30 and 74 cm (12-29 inches) in length.

Spears were rarely thrown in Japanese warfare, but were frequently used to jab the adversary.

The naginata was a long pole with an attached long curved single-edged blade. The pole portion measured between 120 and 150 cm (4-5 feet) in length, while the steel blade reached a maximum length of 60 cm (2 ft).

The weapon was used to sweep, cut, and thrust at an adversary, and its use developed into a form of martial arts, one that was particularly learned by samurai daughters.

Swords and the Samurai Katana, Wakazashi and Odachi

The sword (nihonto) has always held a unique place in Japanese culture since it was a weapon used by the gods during the Shinto creation narrative and is one of the three things comprising the ancient Japanese royal regalia.

Swordsmanship was practiced in kendo ('the way of the sword'), which began with real swords but was subsequently supplanted by less-lethal bamboo-bladed weapons (shinai). The traditional Japanese long curved sword (katana) was approximately 60 cm (2 ft) in length and was made of solid steel with a single razor-sharp cutting edge.

It was held in both hands, and the martial art was designed to hone the reflexes and mental acuity necessary on the battlefield.

The sword will eventually supplant the longbow and become the primary weapon of the Kamakura period's elite samurai soldiers (1185-1333 CE).

Effective sword drawing was a skill in and of itself (iaijutsu), and the objective in actual combat was to cut one's opponent in a single movement with grace and speed. As with unarmed martial arts, the emphasis was on defense rather than assault in swordsmanship methods.

Horses of the Samurai, Bajutsu, Equestrian Arts in Japan

From the fifth century CE, horsemanship, or bajutsu, was a critical ability in Japanese combat.

Japanese horses, which originated primarily in the country's rugged northeast, were often short yet robust.

Stallions were desired, although they had a reputation for being volatile and difficult to handle.

The rider's control was enhanced with reigns, bit, bridle, and a wooden saddle (kura) with cup-shaped stirrups, which allowed the rider to fire his bow while standing and made it significantly more difficult to unseat him.

Although horses were rarely armoured, their feet were shod, and they occasionally wore straw sandals (umagutsu) to lessen noise when they approached an adversary.

The ability to ride a horse proficiently and fight from a horse afforded a substantial edge to any army that could field a sizable contingent of them. They were the ancient world's tanks. When employed properly, a mounted samurai army in the right terrain can be the determining element in any fight.

Swimming Samurai, SuieiJutsu, underwater swimming for Espionage

Swimming, or suieiijutsu, became a prominent martial technique in the 12th century CE.

It was not simply a matter of crossing a body of water rapidly but also discreetly, especially underwater. This was undoubtedly in response to the proliferation of castles in Japan and its defining feature of a broad protective moat.

Samurai Skills: Espionage and the famous Ninja arts

Ninjutsu was the martial art practiced by ninjas, the specialized forces assigned to sabotage, assassination, espionage, and assaulting castles in the Japanese army.

Ninjutsu entailed developing a high level of proficiency with a variety of weapons and equipment, ranging from grappling hooks to the fabled throwing stars (shuriken).

A ninja, trained from childhood at a specialized school by a master or sensei, learned all the other ancient martial arts and then advanced to highly specialized skills like as map reading, camouflage, and rooftop jumping, as well as how to tie up a prisoner, mix poisons, and utilize explosives.

Samurai Grappling Martial Arts

Judo ('the way of gentleness/softness') became popular in the nineteenth century CE, but it grew from jujutsu ('soft techniques') which had been prominent in Japan since the eighth century CE.

The strikes, grips, and throws evolved from far more primitive types of wrestling. Essentially a self-defence technique, practitioners must be extremely agile and move quickly and precisely, aiming for weak places in their opponent's anatomy.

Other latecomers to the martial arts repertoire include karate ('empty hand'), which gained popularity in Japan only in the twentieth century AD, and aikido ('method of meeting spirit'), which immobilizes assailants by applying pressure to joints, occasionally dislocating them.

Samurai Grappling

When weapons were lost or broken, ancient versions of Jujitsu and Akijitsu were practiced to aid in hand-to-hand fighting.

Utilizing an opponent's force to throw him off balance was a significant advantage when swords or knives were used. In the face of an edged weapon attack, a downed opponent was in an extremely vulnerable position.

Jujitsu & Judo are Modern Grappling Arts Based on Samurai Skills

Jujitsu is the Japanese forerunner of the more modern sport of Judo.

Both emphasis disabling an opponent's balance, throwing them to the ground, pinning them down, and, if required, employing greater joint manipulations or choking techniques.

Jigoro Kano initiated the divide between Judo (ten ways) and Jujitsu (the gentle art or free style) in 1882.

He desired to eliminate techniques that could not be practiced with training partners at full speed. As a result of this movement toward what we now refer to as sport, Judo became an Olympic sport in 1964.

Striking with No Hands

Not only did empty hand striking play a significant role in a Samurai's skill set when a weapon was unavailable, it was also a necessary component of weapon-based warfare. Interweaving attacks involving many body parts may disarm or incapacitate an opponent long enough to regain control.

Samurai Details, From Armor to Adventure

Armor of the Samurai

Samurai (or bushi) were premodern Japan's warriors.

They later became the dominant military elite, which eventually rose to become the Edo Period's greatest social caste (1603-1867). Samurai used a variety of weapons, including bows and arrows, spears, and guns, but the sword was their primary weapon and symbol.

Samurai were expected to live by the bushido ethical code ("the way of the warrior"). Bushido was strongly Confucian in origin, emphasizing ideals such as master loyalty, self-discipline, and polite, ethical behavior. Numerous samurai were also captivated to Zen Buddhism's teachings and practices.

Samurai Armor

Cuirasses for Samurai Armour consisting of metal plates sewn together and lacquered date all the way back to the Kofun period (c. 250-538).

A more flexible armour was later created by connecting narrow pieces of bronze or iron with cord or leather ties. Leather plating was another popular armour material throughout the medieval period due to its light weight and flexibility.

From the Heian period (794-1185), samurai frequently wore a silk cloak (horo) over their armour when riding, which was secured at the neck and waist. It was intended to inflate with passing air and serve as a deflector for arrows or as a means of identifying the wearer.

Suits of armour were available, such as the box-like oyoroi that hung from the shoulders.

This species weighed approximately 30 kg (62 lbs) The simpler and more adaptable haramaki outfit had a closer-fitting cuirass for the chest and an eight-section short skirt.

Guards (haidate) were used to defend the thighs, greaves or suneate were worn to protect the lower legs, and half-armour sleeves or kote were worn to protect the wrists and forearms.

Once firearms were introduced to the battlefield, a solid plate of chest armour became popular, which was frequently imported or replicated from Europe. Curiously, despite all this body protection and possibly not having heard of the Achilles story, samurai wore simply socks and simple rope sandals on their feet.

A samurai's helmet (kabuto) was typically composed of riveted iron or steel plates and resembled a skullcap with protruding flaps at the sides and neck for further protection.

A face-mask or menpo with fiercely sculpted features and moustaches was occasionally worn.

Certain helmets included spectacular crests in the form of crescents, horsehair plumes, or actual or stylized animal horns and antlers, but these were more frequently worn by daimyo.

To boost their comfort while wearing a helmet, samurai frequently shaved their front hair, which became fashionable in the 16th century.

The remainder of the hair was left long and wrapped back in a bun (chasen-gami) or a three-fold folded cylinder of hair (mitsu-ori). Samurai let their hair down during battle (in every sense).

Through their coloured stitching, heraldic emblems, and painted symbols, some of which were affiliated with their families or military house, medieval armour and helmets often signified a samurai's rank, division, and home region (buke).

Dragonflies were a popular armour insignia since the insect cannot fly backwards, symbolizing the samurai's no-retreat spirit.

Banners were also employed to denote who was who on the battlefield, albeit their size was limited and directly related to the samurai's particular standing.

Samurai Adventures

Experience Kyoto's Samurai & Ninja Museum!

Immerse yourself in the Experience-based interactive samurai history museum. Samurai armors, katana demonstrations, a samurai costume trial, samurai instruction, sword cutting, and guided tours are all available. 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Throughout Japan, Samurai-related attractions include castles, historic residences, museums, historically themed amusement parks, and dress-up excursions. Today, travelers can learn about and experience samurai culture and lifestyle in a variety of ways.

Castles of Japan

Castles evolved over ages from modest defensive forts perched atop mountains to gigantic buildings in the midst of cities, serving as a status symbol, administrative hub, and dwelling for the local lord.

Samurai vassals of the ruler lived in the town surrounding the castle; the higher their status, the closer they could live to the castle.

Today, Japan has over a hundred castles, including twelve historic castles (which survived intact during the post-feudal years) and numerous modern reconstructions.

The majority of castles have exhibitions or entire museums dedicated to samurai artifacts and culture. I recommend seeing OsakaJo, a personal favorite!

History of the Samurai Martial Arts

Samurai origins date all the way back to Heian Period battles to conquer the indigenous Emishi people in the Tohoku Region.

Simultaneously, warriors were increasingly hired by wealthy landowners who had developed an independence from the central government and established armies to protect themselves.

The two most powerful of these landowning clans, the Minamoto and the Taira, finally rebelled against the central government and fought for dominion over the entire country.

Minamoto Yoritomo triumphed and established a new military administration led by the shogun, or supreme military commander, in 1192. For the majority of the next 700 years, the samurai would rule over Japan.

Japan broke into dozens of autonomous states continually at war with one another during the turbulent age of warring states in the 15th and 16th centuries. As a result, fighters were highly sought after.

It was also the era of greatest activity for ninja, warriors skilled in unconventional warfare. Many of Kurosawa's iconic samurai films are set during this time period.

The kingdom was eventually reunited in the late 1500s, and during the Edo Period, a severe social caste structure was established, with the samurai at the top, followed by farmers, artisans, and merchants.

During this period, samurai were confined to castle cities, were the only ones permitted to own and carry swords, and were compensated in rice by their daimyo or feudal lords. During the 1600s, ronin, or masterless samurai, created minor havoc.

During the roughly 250-year Edo Period, relative calm reigned.

As a result, fighting skills became less important, and many samurai became bureaucrats, teachers, or artists.

Japan's feudal era ended in 1868, and the samurai class was disbanded shortly thereafter.

Samurai, members of a prominent military caste in feudal Japan, began their careers as regional warriors before ascending to power in the 12th century with the establishment of the country's first military dictatorship, known as the shogunate.

As servants of the daimyos, or great lords, the samurai bolstered the shogun's authority and endowed him with authority over the mikado (emperor).

Samurai would continue to dominate Japanese government and society until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when the feudal system was abolished.

Despite being stripped of their customary rights, many samurai rose to prominence in modern Japan's elite circles of politics and industry.

More significantly, the traditional samurai code of honor, discipline, and morality known as bushido–or "the way of the warrior"–was resurrected and adopted as the main rule of conduct for a large segment of Japanese society.

History of the Samurai in the Early Period

During the Heian Period (794-1185), the samurai were the armed supporters of wealthy landowners–many of whom deserted the imperial court to seek their own fortunes after being ousted from power by the Fujiwara clan.

The term "samurai" translates roughly as "those who serve." (Another, more generic term for a warrior is "bushi," from which bushido is derived; this term does not imply servitude to a master.)

In feudal Japan, a samurai's wealth was measured in koku; one koku was believed to represent the amount of rice required to sustain one man for a year and was approximately 180 liters.

Beginning in the mid-12th century, true political authority in Japan progressively shifted away from the emperor and his nobles in Kyoto and toward the heads of the clans on their vast country estates.

The Gempei War (1180-1185) set two of these powerful clans against one another in a quest for control of the Japanese state.

The conflict ended when Minamoto Yoshitsune, one of Japan's most famous samurai heroes, led his clan to victory over the Taira near the settlement of Dan-no-ura.

The Samurai of the Kamakura Period

Minamoto Yoritomo, the victorious leader and half-brother of Yoshitsune, whom he exiled, founded the Kamakura administrative center.

The formation of the Kamakura Shogunate, a hereditary military dictatorship, cemented the samurai's hold on all actual political authority in Japan.

Because Yoritomo's authority was contingent upon their strength, he went to considerable efforts to establish and define the samurai's privileged status; no one could self-identify as a samurai without Yoritomo's approval.

Zen Buddhism, which was introduced to Japan from China at this time, appealed to a large number of samurai.

Its austere and basic rites, combined with the concept that salvation comes from within, created an appropriate philosophical backdrop for the samurai's own code of conduct.

Additionally, throughout the Kamakura period, the sword gained prominence in samurai society.

A man's honor was supposed to reside in his sword, and sword craftsmanship–including meticulously hammered blades, gold and silver inlay, and sharkskin handgrips–became an art form in and of itself.

Japan's Ashikaga Shogunate History

At the end of the 13th century, the strain of defeating two Mongol invasions weakened the Kamakura Shogunate, which fell to a rebellion led by Ashikaga Takauji.

Around 1336, the Ashikaga Shogunate, centered in Kyoto, began. For the following two centuries, Japan was almost perpetually at war with its fighting territorial clans.

Following the extremely divisive Onin War of 1467–77, the Ashikaga shoguns ceased to be effective, and feudal Japan lacked a strong central authority; local lords and their samurai stepped in to preserve law and order to a greater extent.

Despite political upheaval, this period–dubbed the Muromachi after a district in Kyoto–saw significant economic growth in Japan.

It was also a golden age for Japanese art, as samurai culture began to succumb to Zen Buddhism's expanding influence.

Along with the now-famous Japanese arts of tea ceremony, rock gardens, and flower arrangement, the Muromachi period saw the flourishing of theater and painting.

The Tokugawa Shogunate Samurai

The Sengoku-Jidai, or Period of the Country at War, concluded in 1615 with Tokugawa Ieyasu's unification of Japan.

This period saw the beginning of a 250-year period of peace and prosperity in Japan, and for the first time, the samurai assumed the burden of ruling via civil rather than military methods. Ieyasu established the "Ordinances for the Military Houses," in which he instructed samurai to train in both weaponry and "polite" learning in accordance with Confucian ideas.

This comparatively conservative faith, with its focus on loyalty and duty, supplanted Buddhism as the samurai's major religion throughout the Tokugawa period.

During this time period, the concepts of bushido developed into a broad code of conduct for the Japanese people. While bushido evolved in response to Buddhist and Confucian influences, its warrior spirit remained constant, with a stress on military prowess and bravery in the face of an adversary. Bushido also placed a premium on thrift, kindness, honesty, and concern for one's family members, especially one's seniors.

Many samurai were obliged to become officials or take up some form of trade in a tranquil Japan, even as they retained their sense of themselves as fighting men.

In 1588, the privilege to bear swords was confined to samurai, further separating them from the farmer-peasant class.

During this period, the samurai earned the moniker "two-sword man" by wielding both a short and a long sword as a badge of honor.

However, many samurai's material well-being deteriorated throughout the Tokugawa Shogunate. Samurai had historically subsisted on a set stipend from landowners; as these stipends dwindled, many lower-level samurai became angry at their inability to improve their lot.

Samurai during the Meiji Restoration and the End of Feudalism

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Tokugawa regime's stability was threatened by a number of issues, including peasant revolt caused by famine and poverty.

Western incursions into Japan–particularly the visit in 1853 of US Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry on a mission to convince Japan to open its doors to international trade–proved to be the final straw.

Japan signed its first trade deal with the United States in 1858, followed by similar agreements with Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Holland.

The contentious decision to open the country to Western business and investment fueled opposition to the shogunate among Japan's traditional elements, including many samurai, who began agitating for the emperor's return.

In early 1868, the powerful Choshu and Satsuma clans joined forces to depose the Tokugawa Shogunate and proclaim a "imperial restoration" named for Emperor Meiji.

Feudalism was officially ended in 1871; five years later, everyone save members of the national armed forces were prohibited from carrying swords, and all samurai stipends were turned into government bonds, frequently at a severe financial loss.

Several samurai rebellions were put down by the new Japanese national army in the 1870s, while some disaffected samurai joined secret, ultra-nationalist societies, including the infamous Black Dragon Society, whose mission was to incite trouble in China in order for the Japanese army to invade and restore order.

Ironically–in light of their loss of privilege–the Meiji Restoration was actually orchestrated by members of the samurai class.

Three of the new Japan's most powerful leaders–Inoue Kaoru, Ito Hirobumi, and Yamagata Aritomo–had studied with the renowned samurai Yoshida Shouin, who was killed in 1859 following a failed attempt to assassinate a Tokugawa official.

Former samurai laid the groundwork for what Japan would become, and many would rise to prominence in many spheres of modern Japanese life.

The Bushido Way in Contemporary Japan

Following the Meiji Restoration, Shinto was established as Japan's state religion (unlike Confucianism, Buddhism, or Christianity, it was entirely Japanese), and bushido was adopted as the country's governing moral code.

By 1912, Japan had strengthened both its military and economic capabilities–it had formed an alliance with Britain in 1902 and destroyed the Russians in Manchuria two years later. By the end of World War I, the country was acknowledged at the Versailles peace conference as one of the "Big Five" countries alongside the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France, and Italy.

In the 1930s, the liberal, cosmopolitan 1920s gave way to a renewal of Japan's military traditions, which directly resulted in imperial aggressiveness and Japan's entry into World War II.

Throughout that struggle, Japanese soldiers wielded antique samurai swords and committed suicide "banzai" attacks in accordance with the bushido tenet of death before dishonor or defeat.

At the end of the war, Japan leaned on its strong sense of honor, discipline, and commitment to a common cause–not the daimyos or shoguns of the past, but the emperor and the country–to rebuild and reemerge as one of the world's greatest economic and industrial powers in the late twentieth century.

Samurai lived an honorable life rooted in martial skills. Yet, what were the martial techniques they practiced, and is it possible for someone to reproduce the samurai's abilities today? The answer is enthralling.

The Samurai developed their combat tactics through wrestling, hitting, swordsmanship, archery, riding, and knot tying. Their comprehensive fighting system would have encompassed Akido, Judo, Kendo, Iado, and Karate, among others.

However, could someone train and live as the samurai did hundreds of years ago?

It may take a lifetime, with each day dedicated to learning the various skills of the 18 martial arts taught.

Samurai Katana, or Nihonto, the Sword

These systems included weaponry for ranged and close quarter fighting on the battlefield and in honor duels.

The majority of the Samurai's weaponry were used in combat and to settle land disputes amongst Diamyo (feudal lords).

Unless a samurai fighter was engaged in a battle, their skills were primarily used in group warfare.

The growth of the Katana paralleled its use. As with the majority of sword cultures, the blade began relatively straight and was wielded more like a sharpened club.

Later on, the blade developed its famed curvature. With this physical transformation came a shift in how it was used. From a basic hacking weapon to a highly stylized slicing Katana, it evolved.

As the samurai's method evolved through time, they began carrying two, and then three, swords.

The longer version was intended for use in outdoor warfare or duels.

The shorter one was employed for inside fighting or to defend dignitaries from indoor danger. The third and shortest was utilized in later eras in ritual suicides, allowing for the restoration of family honor.

Today's martial art styles that utilize these swords are:

Iaido — the art of quickly drawing the sword in self-defense or attack.
Kendo — the art of slashing with a sword while wearing armor (sport included)
Kenjutsu - the art that asserts that it is capable of synthesizing all others and forming a comprehensive system

Samurai swords were curved and fashioned of steel, a design combination that dates all the way back to Japan's eighth century.

Master craftsmen handled the steel, meticulously controlling the carbon concentration in various areas of the blade to achieve optimal strength and flexibility.

As a result, it is reasonable to assert that Japanese swords were among the best and most precise ever made in the medieval world. Although blade lengths varied, it became customary for elite samurai to carry two swords - one long and one small.

The longer sword (katana) had a blade of 60 cm (2 ft) in length, while the shorter sword (wakizashi) had a blade approximately 30 cm in length. Both swords were carried with the cutting edge facing forward.

The tachi, a longer sword than the katana (up to 90 cm / 3 ft in blade length), was worn with the cutting edge facing down and hung hanging from the belt, whilst the other types were shoved through the belt.

Sword handles were fashioned from wood and then wrapped in the thick skin of the giant ray (same), before being securely bound in silk braid. A tiny circular hand guard separated the blade from the handle.

As a final option, a samurai may also carry a small dagger (tanto). Swords and daggers were carried in lacquered scabbards that might be rather ornate.

Samurai Hand to Hand Combat Martial Arts

Aikido and Aikijujutsu, Samurai Hand Combat

Whereas Judo and Jujitsu focus gross motor motions and locking of bigger joints, Aikido and its forerunner Aiki-jujutsu emphasize manipulations of smaller joints.

All of these techniques, along with those of Jujitsu, were used to varying degrees by samurai, depending on the situation and the individual.

The distinction between these two distinct forms is that Aiki-jujutsu include 'hard techniques' such as striking.

Aikido has evolved into a highly artistic flowing discipline with an innate sense of beauty in its motions. Some argue, correctly, that this reduces the system's usefulness as a combat or defensive mechanism.

Jujitsu evolved as an unarmed martial art in a culture where almost everyone carried a weapon, and hence the primary objective was to deal with an attacker's weapon.

Samurai trained to protect themselves against swords, spears, and knives.

While strikes to the eyes, nose, crotch, and other important spots were introduced, striking was not the primary focus of Jujitsu due to the fact that their impact would be negated by Samurai armor.


Karate Is An Empty Hand Striking Art That Was Developed Around Ancient Samurai Principles by Post Feudal Japanese peoples.

This technique originated in China and spread to Okinawa, Japan's southernmost island.

Initially known as Toudi 'Chinese Hand,' it became increasingly popular as 'Empty Hand' or Karate as a result of conflict with China.

In Korea, a same phenomenon happened with TangSooDo (literally 'China Way'), which was renamed TaeKwonDo (meaning the way of the hand and foot).

The name Karate did not arise until 1936, a little-known fact. Though the samurai used empty hand methods extensively as warriors and soldiers, they were more of a supplement to their other systems.

Even though the term "Karate" is a more contemporary term for the study of empty hand arts, its origins are unmistakably feudal Japan.

Bushido, or 'warrior's way,'  then vs today.

When you examine the military training of the majority of a country's forces, you will notice that the same elements that comprised the ranks of samurai armies are there.

They will receive empty hand training in conjunction with grappling, with a particular emphasis on weapons training in accordance with current military requirements. Tank and artillery divisions have supplanted mounted horse warrior divisions.

The governing class was comprised of land-owning lords referred to as Daimyos.

Daimyos were constantly threatened by battle, and in order to protect themselves, they hired mercenary fighters to man and lead their armies.

The majority of soldiers during this period were mounted archers - the bow was considered the pinnacle of military technology, and archery was regarded as the most vital skill a warrior could possess.

In exchange for their services, these hired soldiers were granted special status by their local Daimyo, which eventually resulted in the foundation of these warriors as a noble class. These aristocrats who fought were known as Samurai.

As smaller kingdoms were swallowed by their larger neighbors, fighting became increasingly enormous.

The value of raiding forces such as horsed archers was diminished in favor of infantry. Samurai began fighting with sword, spear, and bow. After 900 A.D., all Samurai began carrying swords and became predominantly sword combatants.

By the 1100s, Samurai had developed into a fully developed warrior culture and had risen to prominence as Japan's governing elite; all Daimyo were Samurai.

As a noble class, Samurai were among a relatively small fraction of individuals who did not rely on self-sufficiency.

They subsisted on food grown by others, which afforded them the opportunity to hone their craft: fighting.

Samurai who lived to old age passed on their effective talents to others through fighting academies, which Samurai sent their sons to study the techniques of war.

These schools sprouted up all over the dozens of nations that comprised Japan over the next few centuries. Jujitsu was one of the skills taught at these institutions to young Samurai.

Japan's nations lived in relative peace under military dictators known as Shogun, and each nation had its own army of highly trained Samurai.

However, as the Shogun's power waned, hostilities between opposing nations increased.

Japan's powder keg ultimately exploded into all-out war in the mid-1400's, and for the following 200 years, Japan would be immersed in virtually constant battle.

The Samurai fought in all 200 years of these battles, and it was during this time that Jujitsu was put to the test by fire.

When the opportunity presented itself, Samurai would use a variety of trips and throws to dispatch armored opponents.

Typically, these would be utilized following a sword clash to acquire a fatal advantage. Once in command, the victorious Samurai would swiftly execute his victim with everything from his sword to eye gouges to the fallen man's own knife.

While this is a fantastic display of the genuine discipline, it does not convey the speed and intensity brought by Jujitsu to a sword combat.

As the time of constant battle came to an end, the 1700's ushered in a golden age for the Samurai.

Due to the rarity of major combat, the martial arts developed, as large numbers of Samurai did not perish in battle. Schools arose, and techniques grew and evolved.

Despite its name, which translates as 'art of gentleness,' Jujitsu was a desperate art of survival that made use of anything available.

Numerous techniques gained an advantage through the use of knives, shackles, biting, eye gouging, or simply physical muscle. Having said that, the most universal strategies relied on motion and leverage to vanquish adversaries rather than strength.

Despite this period of calm, Japan remained fractured by political divisions.

Schools located in various countries or islands would have little touch and would create their own styles, or Ryu.

Representatives from other schools would pit their martial arts prowess against one another in death-defying duels. Schools concentrated on various weapon combinations and approaches to Jujitsu.

Certain Ryu placed a premium on the usage of Jujitsu in conjunction with other weapons.

Certain schools of Jujitsu developed techniques that required one to be on one's back. Here is a video demonstrating something resembling early guard work.

It is critical to understand that Samurai would not have worked from the back.

In combat, any Samurai who survives being thrown and retains his awareness will be unable to utilize anything resembling a modern guard.

Rather than that, it would be a desperate scrabble back to the relative safety of their feet, fending off his attacker's efforts to stab through the armor's breaches.

The Samurai were Japan's dominant force until 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy launched his steam-powered vessels armed with modern guns into Tokyo Bay. As a result, the Japanese people were roused from their self-imposed exile. This would be the end of the Samurai and Jujitsu.

The samurai (also bushi) were a class of soldiers that emerged in Japan in the tenth century and served in the military until the nineteenth century.

Samurai were a vital component of Japanese forces throughout the medieval period. They were elite and highly trained soldiers competent at both bow and sword combat.

While samurai and samurai culture have been overly romanticized since the 18th century as the ideal of chivalry and honor, there are several cases of them demonstrating extraordinary courage and commitment to their masters, even committing ritual suicide in the event of their lord's defeat or death.

However, warfare in medieval Japan was as deadly and unforgiving as it was in any other place, and money was frequently the primary motivation for many samurai to fight.

From the 17th century, when samurai were no longer required for military purposes, they frequently served as key moral educators and advisors to the community.

Development & Present Situation

Conscription was abolished in Japan in 792, and throughout the subsequent Heian Period (794-1185), private armies were organized to preserve the landed interests (shoen) of aristocrats who spent the majority of their time at the imperial court.

This was the genesis of the samurai, a phrase derived from the Japanese word for 'attendant' and the verb samurau, which means to serve; thus, the term originated as a term of class rather than the military vocation it subsequently came to denote.

There were other warrior classes as too, but the samurai was the only one associated with serving the imperial court.

The Samurai Created Bushido Code

Samurai were hired by feudal lords (daimyo) for their material skills in order to defend the lord's territory from rivals, to fight government-identified foes, and to confront hostile tribes and robbers.

As a result, samurai might dwell in barracks, castles, or their own private residences.

As samurai finally organized themselves into organizations led by powerful warlords, they were able to usurp a weak imperial court in the 12th century, under the authority of such warlords as Minamoto no Yoritomo.

Thus, during the Kamakura period (1185–1333), a new military government structure dominated by soldiers and led by a shogun was established (military dictator). and thus it would remain until the nineteenth century.

Numerous samurai originated on the Kanto plain and earned vital experience fighting the Emishi (Ainu) tribes in the north.

Warriors began to construct a code of conduct during these encounters, which enabled them to earn a reputation and elevate their rank among their peers and masters.

Naturally, battlefield bravery was vital, and a custom evolved of samurai riding into battle screaming out their ancestry and past deeds and challenging any adversary to single combat. In samurai culture, these loud statements would eventually be supplanted by the usage of banners.

Not until the Edo era (1603-1868) did a fully defined system of samurai status and ranking emerge. Three distinct ranks existed.

The lowest level vassals of a feudal lord are called gokenin (house men).

They may plow their land as goshi (rustic warriors), but could not possess the two swords associated with the full samurai rank.

The highest rank is hatamoto (banner men).

Only these warriors were expected to die in the service of their lord.

While all samurai were monitored by their lords, in 1180, the national Samurai-dokor (Board of Retainers) was founded to monitor gokenin in particular and to administer disciplinary penalties for any misdemeanors as needed.

From 1591, samurai were no longer able to be both farmers and soldiers and were forced to pick one or the other, with the intention of increasing their dependence on and thus loyalty to their lords.


The bushido or shido, literally 'warrior's way,' is the renowned warrior code of conduct followed by the samurai, but it was not compiled until the late 17th century by the scholar Yamago Soko (1622-1685), at a time when the samurai were no longer active militarily but served as moral guides and advisors.

As a result, determining the level of chivalry that samurai actually practiced throughout their history is challenging.

As with any other fighter in any other culture, it appears likely that pragmatism would have ruled the day when actual combat occurred.

While samurai exhibited considerable courage and martial ability, agreements and truces were regularly breached, communities were torched, and the defeated slain, since honour came only from victory.

Samurai were primarily driven by financial gain and social advancement, which explains their unsavoury fixation with collecting their victims' severed heads.

Additionally, despite the gallant reputation of warriors placed on Japanese medieval history in subsequent centuries, particularly in terms of austerity, loyalty, and self-discipline, mass defections, including generals, were not unusual during conflicts.

For example, at the Conflict of Sekigahara in 1600, no fewer than five generals and their troops switched sides in the midst of the battle.

Samurai were not always particularly honorable in their dealings with the peasantry.

The warriors gained notoriety among subsequent European visitors for beheading complete strangers on the highway to ensure their swords remained sharp, a heinous practice known as tsujigiri or 'cutting down at the crossroads.' This was outlawed in the next era, and those who continued to practiced were hunted down.

The Japanese, at this time, were very superstitious and believed performing 1000 tsujigiri could cure any illness. It was often done on merchants, who were seen as the lowest class.

Nonetheless, the samurai had the law on their side, as the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868) explicitly guaranteed them the power to murder anyone of lesser rank than themselves if they deemed that person to be acting rudely - loosely defined as 'acting in an unexpected manner.'

Samurai Began Formal training around age 10

Numerous samurai had their own committed assistants, or baishin, who worked their master's property as well.

Samurai accounted for only 5-6 percent of the overall population (18 million in 1600), and none were women (although there was a separate and extremely limited warrior class of women known as onna bugeisha or'martially trained ladies').

Samurai were trained in martial arts from the age of ten or even earlier, and rode and fought on horseback in the early medieval period, primarily with a bow but also with a curved long sword when necessary.

They also had a second, shorter sword, and a decree issued by the king Hideyoshi in 1588 stipulated that only true samurai were permitted to wield two swords, which became a significant status symbol.

Samurai also studied martial arts, of which there were eighteen during the Edo period, but the most coveted samurai talents were always horsemanship, archery, and then swordsmanship.

From the 17th century, the sword supplanted the bow as the ideal samurai weapon - owing partly to the bow's lower cost and accessibility to regular foot soldiers - and therefore the more exclusive sword earned the moniker'samurai spirit.'

Both weapons fit the samurai ethos of combat as personal duels.

Teppo, Samurai Matchlock Firearms

Although the Japanese were familiar with gunpowder weapons due to their connections with China, it was not until the arrival of the first Europeans in the mid-16th century that firearms entered Japanese warfare.

By the end of the nineteenth century, approximately one-third of field troops were armed with weapons - the matchlock arquebus - and some later samurai carried pistols.

About the Author:

Colton Woodard is a 7th Degree Black Belt and Sword Master.

He loves to teach Karate, Write Blogs, and is a self proclaimed Ramen Connoisseur.

You can connect with his on Instagram @theamericansamurai

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About the Author:
Colton Woodard is a 7th Degree Black Belt in Kuniba Kai Karate Do and holds the title of Kyoshi as well. He loves to teach Karate, Kobudo, and Iaido and considers himself a lifetime student in pursuit of self improvement in both Martial Arts and in Character. Colton loves to visit Japan and speaks conversational Japanese and can write quite a few Kanji. He is a Karate competitor and coach and loves to exercise and make new memories with people all over the world.


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