Origin of Japanese Martial Arts

‘Martial arts’ is an extremely general term that encompasses a vast variety of self-defense techniques that can be found in Japan. Three of the most commonly used terms are ‘bud?’, or the ‘martial way’; ‘bujutsu’, or ‘the craft, science or art of war’ and ‘bugei’, which literally means ‘martial art’.

The origin of Japanese martial arts can be traced back to the samurai and caste systems. Rigorous adherence to strict warrior traditions of the time meant that commoners who were not samurai had restricted use of weapons. The samurai themselves had to be skilled in both weapons use and unarmed combat. Supreme mastery of fighting skills was the ultimate way to achieve glory for themselves and their lord. Eventually, perfecting a fighting skill became a way of achieving a spiritual goal.

Japanese martial arts history evolved relatively slowly in comparison to the rest of the world outside. Its islands remained relatively isolated from the influences of the outside world. As such, it is believed that the samurai were able to develop a greater understanding of their weapons because they didn’t have many new weapons to adapt to. Instead, they found more innovative and inventive ways to use the arms they had.

Throughout the origin of Japanese martial arts, combatants became more and more specialized in the fighting arts they pursued. At the same time, martial arts gradually changed to encompass a wider interpretation of bud?, which taught that there was a deeper reason for the art of self-defense than just having mastery and superior skill over opponents.

Currently, there are two descriptions of martial arts that have developed throughout Japanese martial arts history. The first of these is kory?, which is simply traditional or old school style martial arts. These are usually arts or schools of art that were developed before the Meiji restoration in 1866 or the Hait?rei edict of 1976. Newer martial arts are referred to as gendai bud?, a generic term that literally means ‘modern martial way’. Given the definition of kory? arts, gendai bud? encompasses martial arts that were created after 1866, or kory? art that had been modified so much that its original status was altered.

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