The martial arts have existed for as long as there have been records of human conflict. At first glance, it’s difficult to imagine the origins of some modern martial arts. How and why were they developed in that place and time? Examples of these would be practices such as Capoeira in Brazil, Krav Maga in Israel or Boxing in the United States. The martial arts have been developed independently across the world at different points in history, but a great deal of them have originated in Asia, predating the Christian era.
Today we discuss the origin and evolution of ancient martial arts of Japan, which we understand to be those that were born there centuries ago.
The origin of these martial arts dates back to, and sometimes may even predate samurai culture. Although originally born as combat martial arts which included techniques with and without weapons, eventually they developed into something much deeper and spiritual, even becoming a lifestyle.
Sometimes it’s difficult to say if Japanese martial arts should be classified as traditional or modern, as not all great instructors seem to agree. From our point of view, we can consider as traditional and ancient martial arts those that were created to be used in war, as military training Many of these are can be found practiced today, but no longer as a tool of war.
Some of these martial disciplines to which we refer are Sumo, Jujutsu or Kenjutsu, which despite their traditional underpinnings, are still practiced today in many areas around the world.
In sumo, two huge fighters, known as sumotori, wrestle and push each other out of a ring, known as the dohyo. This martial art has its origins in religious Shinto rituals from millennia ago, only evolving into a professional sport a few centuries ago during the Edo period . Sumo was also included in military training for the soldiers of the times. Modern sumotori are celebrated individuals in Japanese society, and carry out the age-old rituals of sumo’s origins with a solemn respect for tradition.
Jujutsu is a centuries-old martial art that was taught for the purposes of close-quarters combat. Emphasizing empty-handed combat, or combat with a short weapon, the art involves throws, locks, chokes, and submissions, designed to defeat the strengths of armor, which made striking attacks ineffective. Modern jujutsu still exists in various sport forms, but has been primarily superseded by its derivative arts , judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Kenjutsu, or “the technique of the sword,” refers to the martial arts in Japan that are associated with the use of the sword. These may cover many different disciplines, but most of them are hundreds of years old, dating back to the 14th century. Kenjutsu was adopted by the samurai and refined into what would become its modern form during the Edo period, and then fell into disuse during the Meiji period. Today Kenjutsu’s most well-known descendant is Kendo, a sporting martial art which is still practiced today. Both Kenjutsu and Kendo have schools and competitions worldwide.
There are many modern Japanese martial arts today that have descended from these ancient arts, but these traditional forms remain today as a reminder of the rich cultural heritage of every combat discipline.