The Art of War

By the end of the eighth century, the Samurai (meaning “those who serve”) were peasant-farmers who fought for their lords. As conflict between landlords became more frequent, it became necessary to train armed groups to protect the respective boundaries. At this time, these armed groups were called Samurai or Bushi (prestigious warrior). Their status in society was established with the feudal era, a military government (the Shogunate) that was formed in 1192. This Shogunate encouraged austerity and the pursuit for martial arts and related disciplines for the Samurai. These studies were eventually codified and called Bushido – the Way of the Warrior.

As the feudal era advanced, the Samurai came to occupy the uppermost ranks of Japanese society. Their principal duty was to learn and practice martial arts, the skills necessary to fulfill their allegiance to their lord for whom they were expected to fight and die. There were numerous martial arts, which the Bushi were required to learn: Kenjutsu (sword techniques), Bajutsu (horsemanship), Kyujutsu (archery), and Sojutsu (spear techniques) constituted the principal combat arts. Additionally, it was necessary that the Bushi learned a secondary system of unarmed combat techniques (Jujutsu) to support their armed fighting methods.

During the 16th century, Japan was embroiled in civil wars. Each feudal lord (Daimyo) struggled to maintain a power independent position within the country. In order to survive, each Daimyo had to create a stable, unified force of his own, which required a very strong bond between the lord and his Bushi.

Bushido, the code of the Samurai, encouraged the development of combat techniques, cultivated the qualities of justice, benevolence, politeness and honor; and above all inculcated the idea of supreme loyalty to lord and cause.

The next two and a half centuries were relatively peaceful for Japan. The Samurai class saw little combat, though they continued to practice and refine the various martial arts

Buddhist concepts strongly influenced the martial arts and all Japanese culture. Beside discipline and military education, the life of the Samurai became enriched by the cultivation of the spirit and mind through the arts of writing, painting, calligraphy, and philosophy. Many of the truly Japanese arts that were born of the Samurai still exist today, such as sword drawing, Kendo, archery, as well as tea ceremony.

The fighting arts were transformed from combat techniques (Bugei) into “ways” (Budo), stressing self-defense, self-perfection, and certain philosophy of life. The dimensions of the martial arts expanded – beyond the simple objective of killing an enemy – now including many aspects of everyday living. Particularly, after the decline of the Samurai Class, the martial “techniques” became martial “ways”, and a great emphasis was placed upon the study of Budo as a means of generating the moral strength necessary to build a strong and vital society.

The Meiji restoration (1868) brought not only the return of Imperial supremacy, but also a westernized culture, political, and economic way of life to Japan. The Samurai Class virtually disappeared under a new constitution that proclaimed all classes equal, but the essence of Bushido, cultivated for many centuries, continued to play an important part in the daily lives of Japanese. Budo, being less combative and more concerned with the spiritual discipline by which one elevates oneself mentally and physically, were more attractive to the common people and were readily taken up by social classes.