Japanese traditional sports generally grew out of the various
fighting techniques used by the samurai warrior class in feudal Japan. While the samurai were highly
important in feudal society, after peace was established by Tokugawa
Ieyasu in the early 1600's, their fighting skills were diverted into
more spiritual activities. The fighting arts were combined with
Confucianism, Shinto and Zen Buddhism as a means of
spiritual as well as physical training. Over the
years, the names changed also: kenjutsu, for example, meaning Sword
Technique changed to kendo or the Way of the Sword to imply the spiritual discipline inherent
in these arts. After the Meiji Restoration
in 1868 and the subsequent collapse of the samurai class, the
martial arts went into a short period of decline until they began
to be introduced at schools across the country. But prior to World
War II, they were once again encouraged as part of Japan's militarisation.
And as a result, during the Occupation, they
were banned. But soon after, martial arts federations were
set up and once again they found their way back into the school
Judo | Kendo | Aikido | Kyudo | Karatedo
A nagewaza, judo throwing technique
Ace judoka Tamura Ryoko
The literal meaning of Judo is the Way of Softness. The kanji
character for 'ju' is taken from a Chinese military saying that
'softness defeats hardness'. The emphasis in this sport is not
on physical size or strength but on agility, balance and practise
of waza, or techniques. The never-ending, repetitive practise of these
waza or kata (forms) until they become as natural as breathing is central
to all martial arts and takes up most of the time spent in the
Jujutsu, the origin of judo, began in the Nara Period (710~794)
as a kind of entertainment for the Imperial court.
As with other martial arts, it underwent a transformation during
the Tokugawa Shogunate and went into decline after the Meiji Restoration.
The first judo school was established at the Eishoji temple in
Tokyo by Kano Jigoro in 1882. Kano also introduced the system
of dan (ranks) and kyu (classes) used today. Shortly after, judo was introduced in schools.
Following the Occupation, the All-Japan Judo Federation was set
up in 1949, and judo was re-introduced in schools. At the 1964
Olympics in Tokyo, judo made its first appearance as an Olympic
sport. Japanese judoka or judoists dominated the sport for many years at World and Olympic
levels. Yamashita Yasuhiro (1957~ ) won the All-Japan Judo Championship nine times in a
row and the Olympic gold medal (open category) in 1984. The most
famous Japanese judoka today is Tamura Ryoko (1975~ ) who for more than 10 years has dominated her under-48kg
weight class at the national and World Championship level but
only managed to win an Olympic silver medal until finally getting
the gold at Sydney in 2000.
The two types of waza used in competitive judo are nagewaza
(throwing techniques) and katamewaza (grappling techniques). Following recent
changes to competition rules, contest duration is 5 minutes (senior men/women), 4 minutes
(young men/women, U20 years) and or 3 minutes (juniors, U16 years). Some national bodies
have even shorter contest durations for younger children. A match can be won by ippon using
either type of waza: using nagewaza so that the opponent lands on their back or using katamewaza
to hold them for 25 seconds. If a match is tied after the normal duration, a recent innovation
is to have an additional period of time where the first to score wins - referred to as the 'golden
Sword fencing was probably introduced to Japan from 6th or 7th
century China. Kenjutsu grew out of the two-handed sword techniques
used by the samurai. In the late 1700's shinai or bamboo
swords and protective clothing were introduced to ensure
safety. After the collapse of the samurai class, kenjutsu went
into a decade of decline until the police started a course for
their trainees. Even today, kendo is an important part of police
training and police officers dominate the top levels of the sport.
In 1952, the All Japan Kendo Federation was established and since
then kendo has been part of the middle school curriculum, particularly
The shinai is made of four bamboo shafts, bound with a silk or
nylon cord and a leather thong. The length of the shinai depends
on the age group of the fencer. The protective clothing has many
parts, including a men or face mask, a do (chest)
protector, quilted tare or flaps to protect the thighs and
kote or fencing gloves.
The strike zones are the head, throat, chest and forearms. The
key elements are stance, footwork, cuts, thrusts, parries and
feints. When training, fencers practise a series of offensive
and defensive waza. Competition consists of a match of up to 5
minutes with the winner being the first to score 2 points. A clear
hit to the opponent's head, torso or forearm or a thrust to their
throat scores a point.
As aikido is purely defensive, it is not really a sport but is
one of the martial arts. It was developed from jujutsu by Ueshiba
Morihei (1883~1969) who, mainly for religious reasons, wanted to move
the art away from its competitive elements. By 1922, he had developed
his own techniques which he called aiki bujutsu, aiki meaning
meeting of energies. He later renamed it aikido.
It consists essentially of using an attackers strength and energy
to defeat him. Twists and holds on the arm and leg joints are
used to throw or immobilize the attacker. The popularity of aikido
has grown in Japan and internationally since the 1960's. Many
people from around the world, as well as Japan's own riot police,
train at the Yoshinkan Dojo in Tokyo.
Aikido is considered by most to be one of the gentler martial arts it
literally means "the way of the meeting of life-force" and to be as
much a philosophy as a form of physical movement. The photo on the left shows
Shioda Gozo, the diminuitive founder of the Yoshinkan, effortlessly throwing
a much bigger and heavier man and making it look as graceful as a dance move.
If a little old guy can do that...It was for this reason as
much as anything that I decided to give it a go back in the early 1990s. I
had never set foot in any kind of dojo, but no allowances were made for this
fact. As in any martial art, or indeed any traditional Japanese art form, the
onus is on the student to observe and learn. What I learned very quickly was
that I had made a big mistake.
I had joined the above mentioned Yoshinkan Dojo as it was close to where I
lived. At the time, I didn't realize that this particular aikido dojo was more
"physical" than most. But I found out pretty quickly. I was in a group of
students who were all pretty new to the dojo, though not necessarily to martial
arts. They showed me the ropes, or helped me in my struggle to to find them
myself. And I did make a real effort to learn the posture, arm and hand movements
and leg sweeps of the basic kata the latter being a lot harder on my carpet at
home than on the tatami mats of the dojo. But what made me rethink my suitability
for martial arts was the practice of arm blocks on, I think, my fifth or sixth visit to
Without wanting to whine too much, the pain I endured as a result of repetitive
forearm blocking was not something I had expected to have to deal with at this point.
But I decided I could handle it. And with my arms swollen and bruised, I turned up
to the next class, during which there was a farewell for one of the sensei (teachers).
This involved everyone standing in a circle and, one by one, throwing the sensei to
the mat using as advanced or tricky a throw as possible. Now I didn't really know
any throws, let alone advanced or tricky ones. But the sensei basically told me where
to grab and how to move and next thing he was there on the mat as I lost my balance
and fell, too. Not pretty, but I felt a hint of what it was like to belong to the dojo.
And then it was time to practice more forearm blocks.
"Bugger that, I've had enough pain." And that was it as far as my martial arts career
was concerned. Not an effort I'm particularly proud of, but at least I gave it a go.
Kyudo (the Way of the Bow) is Japanese archery, which has been
practised since ancient times. There are several schools of kyudo,
the most prominent being the Ogasawara, Heki and
Honda schools. The Amateur Archery Federation of Japan was established
in 1949 and membership runs to about 300,000. Archery from horseback
is still part of several festivals held each year.
Archers wear a traditional costume which includes a yugake
(deerskin glove) on the drawing hand and tabi (Japanese-style
socks). They stand with a stance equal to half
their height. The 2.21 meter bow is held with two thirds of the
bow above the grip. As a martial art influenced by Zen Buddhism,
the emphasis is on form rather than accuracy. In competition,
there are long-range and short-range matches. In the former, the
target is 100cm in diameter and 60m from the archer while in the
latter, there is a 36cm target at a distance of 28m.
Kyudo looks deceptively simple to the uninitiated. But even the simplest
of movements must be practiced over and over to make them look that effortless.
Even without the bangs and knocks of other martial arts, the barriers to the
beginner aching muscles and endless frustration are not dissimilar.
Although karatedo (Way of the Empty Hand), or simply karate, is
usually thought of as a native Japanese martial art in the West,
in Japan it is not. It started in the Ryukyu kingdom (modern-day
Okinawa) as a hybrid of indigenous fighting techniques and the Chinese
form of boxing known in the west as kung-fu. After the Sino-Japanese
war in 1895, Okinawa became a prefecture of Japan and karate began
to spread to the mainland. The sport developed in Tokyo's universities
after the Okinawan master Funakoshi Gichin was invited by
the Education Ministry to give a demonstration
at Keio University in the early 1920's. Two main schools and many
different styles have evolved over the years. Following a postwar
decline, the sport became increasingly popular around the world.
Karate uses three main techniques: uchi (arm strikes),
tsuki (thrusts) and keri (kicks). For each attacking technique, there is a corresponding
uke or defensive technique. There are two types of karate competition:
in a kata competition, the participants demonstrate a choreographed
series of kata, both offensive and defensive; in a kumite (sparring)
match, the aim is to be the first to score 3 points
within 3 minutes, with a point for each punch, thrust or kick