A Brief History of Japanese Martial Arts

Obviously Japanese martial arts all originate from warfare. Prior to the Mongol invasion by Kubla Khan in 1274 Japanese warfare was somewhat ritualised. The Mongols engaged in modern warfare using massed ranks of archers to deliver fire, poison and even exploding arrows using gunpowder. Although the the Mongols failed in their invasion attempt it forced the Japanese to re-examine their battlefield techniques.

Early History

The use of the sword was the first choice but became ineffective for close combat when it could no longer be used. It was this that became the root of unarmed techniques. Due to the armour worn on the battlefield striking was largely inneffective so technique was developed using other methods although striking still formed part of technique this stemmed primarily from using of a dagger to weak points in the armour or to distract the opponent in order to apply another technique. Many of the techniques used were still based around the way the sword was used. As much training and instinctive responses revolved around the sword it would have been more efficient and quicker to train a soldier to use his sword techniques for use in anarmed combat. The roots of that use of the sword are still apparent in many of the techniques, even today.

Jujutsu (柔術)

Jujutsu originated in Japan in the 1500's though it does not get commonly mentioned as Jujutsu until around the 1600's. It was a general term to describe a wide variety of hand to hand combat techniques for use on the battlefield. All modern martial arts of Japanese origin (with the exception of Karate) can trace their roots back to these early forms. Jujutsu translates roughly as soft technique. Many schools (Ryu) practicing jujutsu developed over time. One of the better know being Daito-ryu (Great Eastern School) Aiki-jujutsu which claims to have a lineage dating back over hundreds of years. The one thing to emphasise is the use of the kanji, Ju (柔). This means soft or supple and refers to a non reliance on strength alone. Aiki (合気) translates roughly as harmonious spirit and emphasises the blending and flowing movement used in technique.

This emphasis on lack of strength is demonstrated by the fact that in Japan Samurai wives were expected to defend the family and household and used many of the same unarmed techniques as used by the men. In some instances they also fought on the battlefield with men and were then known as On'nabugeisha (martial woman).

During the Meiji period martial arts again went through a period of reform. This reform was driven primarily by Japan needing to modernise. As part of this modernisation a reform of the armed forces took place turning it from what was essentially a fuedal, medieval fighting force into a modern army. Part of this reform was a review and reforming of unarmed combat which with the advent of modern weapons became less significant. Modern Jujustsu or Judo (the distinction between the two was virtually non existent in Japan in 1900) was the chosen form for unarmed combat for the armed forces. Some of the subtlety and skill gained over time that had existed prior to these reforms was abandoned in this modernisation. The requirment was for a quick and efficient training system for troops that met the requirements of the growing nationalism of Japan. The original emphasis on softness has become lost over time and now most sport forms of Jujutsu and Judo place reliance on size and strength combined with techniques developed in the reform period. Akira Fujimori Shihan stated that if the techniques used could not be done by women, the young and the old effectivley then they were not being done correctly. His training is based on the the older styles and techniques that were largely abandoned in the late 19th Century. He has combined these with a set of ethics more appropriate to the modern era.

Aikido (合気道)

Aikido is a purely defensive martial art specific to the teachings of Morihei Ueshiba 1883-1969. Aikido has the roots of it's technique firmly rooted in Aiki-jujutsu. Specifically Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu. Early versions of Aikido during Morihei Ueshiba lifetime were much closer to jujutsu than the style later developed. In fact the name Aikido did not become official until 1942. The main difference between Aikido and Jujutsu is a philosophical one. Akido emphasises maintaining ones inner harmony during being attacked whilst inflicting minimal injury (preferably none) to the attacker. This has sometimes come to mean some kind of benign attitude to the attacker. This is not really true. Rather the idea is for the person attacked to maintain a calm and harmonious mind and to supress their own anger or urge to inflict harm. It does not mean the attacker will not get hurt, it would depend upon the intent of the attacker as the response is proportionate and uses the energy they provide back against them. If the attacker is injured that injury should not have come from any intent on the part of the person being attacked. The aim of the defender is to not be disturbed and to deflect, re-direct and control their attacker.

It would however be wrong to regard Aikido as in someway purely spiritual and esoteric. The most obvious example of practical application would be the use of Aikido as part of the Tokyo riot police training.

Butoku Ryu Aiki Jujutsu (武徳流合気柔術)

Butoku Ryu Aiki Jujutsu (or more correctly, Tanaka-Ha Butoku Ryu Aiki Jujutsu) is a style of defensive Aiki Jujutsu that is specific to and developed by Akira Fujimori Shihan 1937-2012. It embodies the guiding principles of Fujimori's mentor Shihego Tanakea Sensei who was a senior student of Morihei Ueshiba. Akira Fujimori was a history professor at Tokyo Univerisity and studied martial arts over many years. One area of interest was in the study and understanding of the principles used in martial arts. Specifically to re-discover their original principles. In the old training schools the secrets of the schools were transmitted through banners, documents or certificates called inkajou. Reading these however would give no insight into the methods or principles except to those trained in the art. It is the application and the understanding of these principles that is key to this style. In addition there is a philospical element to this style of Aiki Jujutsu referred to as Butoku.

The most notable difference in style between this style and traditional Aikido is that it is far more direct and favours a style closer to the origins and principles of the original schools of Aiki Jujutsu combined with the ethos of Butoku.