Armed Martial Arts of Japan

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Author: G. Cameron Hurst III
Pub: 1998 by Yale University
Pages: 243
Ranking:Four Star Rating
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Written with scholarly detail, and just a few photos, this book has a great deal of information about swordsmanship and archery. One fascinating detail for Judoka that emerged from the book was the fact that Jigoro Kano was the assistant to the head of the committee that reorganised the kata of Kendo in 1912. This book is volume one of a promised two volume set, the second volume will be on unarmed traditions of Japan. Needless to say, I'm rather anxiously awaiting the second volume...



 Preface                                                   vii


 CHAPTER ONE Martial Arts and Japanese Culture               7

 PART I. SWORDSMANSHIP                                        

 CHAPTER TWO The Early Tradition                            27
 CHAPTER THREE From Self-Protection to Self-Perfection in     
      the Early and Mid Tokugawa                            53
 CHAPTER FOUR The Sporting Element in the                     
      Late Tokugawa                                         82

 PART II. ARCHERY                                             

 CHAPTER FIVE The Way of the Bow and Arrow                 103
 CHAPTER SIX The Quest for Records in the Tokugawa         125


 PART III. ARMED MARTIAL ARTS TODAY                           

 CHAPTER SEVEN Swordsmanship and Archery:                     
  The Modern Transformation                                147
 CHAPTER. EIGHT The Martial and Other Japanese Arts        177
 Epilogue                                                  197

 Notes                                                     201
 Glossary                                                  227
 References                                                229
 Index                                                     237


Inside Front Cover

Swordsmanship and Archery
G. Cameron Hurst III

This unique history of Japanese armed martial arts-the only comprehensive treatment of the subject in English - focuses on traditions of swordsmanship and archery from ancient times to the present. C. Cameron Hurst III provides an overview of martial arts in Japanese history and culture, then closely examines the transformation of these fighting skills into sports. He discusses the influence of the Western athletic tradition on the armed martial arts as well as the ways the martial arts have remained distinctly Japanese.

During the Tokugawa era (1600 -- 1867), swordsmanship and archery developed from fighting systems into martial arts, transformed by the powerful social forces of peace, urbanization, literacy, and professionalized instruction in art forms. Hurst investigates the changes that occurred when the military training that was no longer necessary took on new purposes: physical fitness, spiritual composure, character development, and sport. He also considers Western misperceptions of Japanese traditional martial arts and argues that, contrary to common views in the West, Zen Buddhism is associated with the martial arts in only a limited way. The author concludes by exploring the modern organization, teaching, ritual, and philosophy of archery and swordsmanship, relating these martial arts to other art forms and placing them in the broader context of Japanese culture.

G. Cameron Hurst III is professor of history and director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He first studied Shito-ryu karate in Japan and then practiced Shotokan at the Nihon Karate Kyokai headquarters and in Hawaii. Later he began the practice of T'aekwondo, receiving his black belt at the Kukiwon headquarters in Seoul.

Jacket illustration: Yabusame, a form of mounted archery, at Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine, Kamakura. (Courtesy of Japan National Tourist Organization)



This is the first of two volumes devoted to Japan's martial arts. The project had its genesis when Edward Tripp, editor at Yale University Press, contacted me about it, far longer ago than I now choose to recall. But I still remember the scene vividly. It was during the summer, and I was home eating lunch when Mr. Tripp called to say that Yale University Press was interested in a book on the martial arts. Would I be interested in writing it? I was taken aback, and my immediate reaction was to look for Allen Funt lurking behind the couch with camera in hand. "Am I on Candid Camera?" Yale did not publish karate books.

Once I regained my poise, I established that this was indeed New Haven calling and Mr. Tripp was serious. I was interested because I had long considered writing a book on Japan's martial arts that might combine my study of Asian history with my training in karate and t'aekwondo. Initially, we both planned on a single volume dealing with the martial arts of China, Japan, and Korea. After some thought, however, I decided that my own practical knowledge and academic training were sufficient only to cover the traditions of Japan and Korea. So we agreed that the book would deal with those two countries.

I assumed that it would be rather simple to research and write a book on Japanese and Korean martial arts for that elusive "informed reader." But the task turned out to be vast in scope. One basic problem was that although there are many English-language works on the martial arts, most are devoted to instruction and give only the most rudimentary historical and cultural analysis. Virtually all the available materials are popular in nature, aimed at an audience of martial arts practitioners. There was a dearth of academic works on which I could build. Another problem was that Japanese primary and secondary materials proved to be more extensive than my reading over the years had suggested. But the reverse was true for Korea: Primary and secondary materials were almost nonexistent. Not only were studies and original texts unavailable, but there was also the ticklish problem of dealing with the rising nationalist concern to prove Korean martial arts older than others. For those reasons, I decided to limit myself to the martial arts of Japan.

After gathering much of the data, I began to write the proposed volume; but it soon became clear that the material was far too extensive for one book. At the suggestion of Mr. Tripp, I decided to divide the material into two volumes, the first one dealing with the armed martial arts of archery and swordsmanship and the other with the unarmed tradition. Thus do simple projects turn into nightmares.

The book has been further delayed because it was placed on the back burner during several career moves. Two years in Korea as an associate with Universities Field Staff International, a year teaching at the University of Hong Kong, and two more serving as dean of Lehman Hiroshima College of the City University of New York all took more time away from researching and writing than was anticipated.

One valuable outcome of such globe-trotting, however, was that a number of colleagues in the United States and Asia have listened patiently to different chapters of this book and offered their comments and criticisms. Thanks are due especially to friends and colleagues at the Universities of Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pittsburgh, and Washington; Stanford University and the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii; and the Centre for East Asian Studies at the University of Hong Kong, the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, and Tsukuba University Japan).

As with any project, a few people need to be singled out for special mention. First, let me thank the students in the course that I have taught several times at Kansas and once each at the University of Washington and the University of Pennsylvania entitled "Japan in the Age of the Samurai," a course in which I tried out many of the ideas that ended up in this book. Part of my eagerness to write the book wass a desire to provide a useful resource on Japan's martial arts to give those students, so their encouragement, patience, and suggestions are gratefully noted.

Individually, no one has been more supportive and helpful than Karl Friday, student, friend, colleague, and fellow martial artist. In classrooms and conferences, in dojo and coffee shops in three countries, Karl has listened patiently, nodded enthusiastically, shaken his head in disbelief, and urged me to get on with the project. H. Paul Varley has remained a sympathetic and understanding mentor over the years and has always been willing to read chapters and make valuable comments. It was Paul Varley's knowledge of and enthusiasm for medieval Japanese warrior society that aroused my own developing interest in the samurai in his classes at Columbia University so many years ago. A special note of thanks is owed to a newer friend, John Rogers, one of the most knowledgeable young scholars of martial arts, who made helpful comments on the manuscript, found important materials that I had overlooked, helped locate photographs, and offered warm encouragement. A number of anthropologist scholars of martial arts also made very helpful comments; David Jones, John Donohue, and Michael Davis deserve special thanks.

Several scholars at the Tsukuba University deserve thanks as well. Seki Humitake, a marine biologist and head of the Kashima Martial Science Federation, gave me great support and provided important materials and introductions. Watanabe Ichiro, the dean of Japan's martial arts historians, often broke his heavy schedule to listen to my uninformed questions. Above all, I owe a great deal to Professor Nakabayashi Shinji and his graduate students at Tsukuba's Institute of Sport Science, where I spent a semester in research. I relied heavily upon his scholarship and friendship and was encouraged in my endeavors every step of the way. My greatest regret is that he passed away unexpectedly before this project was completed. Accordingly, I have dedicated this volume to him. In Nakabayashi-sensei the world lost a talented scholar, devoted teacher, and excellent kendo instructor.

I am extremely grateful to two organizations for financial support for the research in Japan that led to this book. Funding was twice provided by the Graduate Research Fund of the University of Kansas to support work in the summer, and a grant from the Council on International Exchange of Scholars facilitated my research at Tsukuba. I especially thank Carolyn Yang at the Fulbright office in Tokyo for making the Tsukuba stay so pleasant. I am grateful to Ed Tripp at Yale University Press for encouraging me and to Charles Grench, who succeeded him as editor in chief. The text itself owes whatever readability it now enjoys to the persistent efforts of Mary Pasti to rein in my verbosity. Being a technological incompetent, I am deeply indebted to typing and word-processing support from a host of typists at Kansas and Hong Kong Universities; Jerry Schultz, Pam LeRow, and Bertha Jackson top the list.

As you grow older, you learn that time, not money, is the most precious commodity in the world. You can never have enough of it, nor allocate it fairly. The need to balance the demands of career and family life plagues all of us in the modern world. Far too much of my time has been allocated to academic tasks than to nurturing a loving family, although I like to think that time well spent with family has to some degree slowed the pace of this project. But without the support of my sons, Ian and Mark, my daughter, Lynn, and my wife, Chini, this work would never have been completed. I owe them all more than I can ever repay.

One would think that with all this encouragement, expertise, and funding, the book would write itself. Alas, the unique job of synthesizing everything into a final product is the job of the author. In the end he is alone: alone with the mistakes and alone with the dread feeling of having ignored too many things that ought to have been included and including too much that could best have been dropped.



ORGANIZED FIGHTING IS A universal form of sporting endeavor, enjoyed no less in ancient times than today. Although observers have for centuries lamented as inhuman and brutalizing our fascination with watching one combatant inflict pain upon another, it is uniquely human to derive emotional satisfaction from watching a Mike Tyson render an opponent senseless with a frenzy of powerful blows or to roar with approval as a Hulk Hogan hurls his foe to the canvas. Since time immemorial, people have organized combat between representative contestants to appease the dead, glorify courage, fulfill ritual needs, and provide vicarious pleasure for spectators. In spite of the evolution of culture, we cannot totally deny our biology of violence.

Sport is a physical activity involving competition between opponents under specific, mutually accepted rules and regulations for purposes at least symbolically separate from the serious aspects of life.' The high degree of diversity in the sporting traditions of societies far apart in time and space, however, suggests that the approach to sports differs significantly. Combat sports, for example, may have been nearly universal in human history, but not all societies have held similar views toward organized fighting. Contemporary Japanese are little different from Americans or Europeans in their voyeuristic approach to professional wrestling, but their ancestors knew a very different tradition from the one that developed in, say, Greece or Rome.

Japan has a historical record going back to the fifth century A.D., and legends dating from several hundred years B.C., but combat sports were developed rather late in the nation's history. Sumo, for example, was a ceremonial court event by the ninth century but did not become a sport with mass appeal until the seventeenth century. In archery, a sporting tradition developed quite early, and by the eleventh century there were several forms of archery competition; but again, the sport did not develop widespread popularity until the seventeenth century. Fencing did not really develop out of combat swordsmanship until the eighteenth century.

A modest tradition of sport developed in premodern Japan, but it did not leave a significant impact on the literary or artistic heritage. There is archaeological and textual evidence of hunting, hawking, wrestling, archery, and horse racing from rather early in Japanese history, but these activities did not become the focus of literary or artistic concern until well into the Tokugawa period (1600 - 1867). The scroll painting of Sugawara Michizane enjoying an archery match in the garden and the description of Fujiwara Michinaga's heated competition with his nephew Korechika in the historical tale Okagami are exceptions. Sport, as the English term implies, was regarded as frivolous. Martial activities, on the other hand, were very serious matters, generally associated with warfare rather than friendly competition. The most common modern Japanese word for "sport" is the English loan word supotsu. "Sport" or "athletics" can also be rendered with a venerable if stilted term borrowed tom the Chinese: undo, which literally means "physical activity" or "motion." (It is the term used in Chinese to translate Newton's laws of motion, for example.) No native Japanese term evolved to convey precisely the meaning that "sport" has in English. Terms like asobi (play) or tawamure (amusement, diversion) did, however, appear in premodern texts and were used to condemn once-valued social practices when they appeared to be degraded or trivialized. Sometimes the words were combined into the compound verb asobitawamureru, meaning "to disport" or "to amuse oneself'; the same characters in Chinese pronunciation yield the term yogi. The great Japanese Confucian scholar Ogyu Sorai criticized eighteenth-century competitive fencing as a "child's amusement" for both contestants and onlookers.

The traditional Japanese experience differed significantly from the experience of the Greeks, who gave us such valued terms as "agonist," "athlete," and "stadium"; and the Romans, who, though skeptical of the Greek passion for sport, still glorified organized fighting for public exhibition. Virtually absent in premodern Japan were athletic festivals, gymnasiums, rings, palaestrae, coliseums, and other institutions and structures found in the highly organized sporting tradition of the ancient Mediterranean world. Japanese literature consequently lacks poems, inscriptions, and texts that lionize athletes, and tracts that condemn excessive compensation for professional athletes. Similarly, although the contemporary United States shares with ancient Greece the linguistic practice of applying combat sport terminology metaphorically in different contexts-I am thinking of common English phrases like "wrestle with a problem" or "bring someone to his knees"-such symbolic use of athletic terminology is comparatively unknown in Japan.'

Ancient Japan was not agonistic in the narrow sense of the term. Athletic contests between individuals were not widespread-not that competitions and contests were foreign to the Japanese. The nobility competed fiercely for the political, economic, and social rewards of high office. Heian nobles outdid rivals in urban construction, elegant dress, and land acquisition. Cultural sensitivities were tested in group contests (called abase) involving poetry recitation, the identification of subtle scents, or the pairing of singing birds. Medieval samurai took enormous pride in their combat record against opponents. But for most of Japanese history, competitions were not athletic: an individual was not praised above others because of an ability to run faster, to hurl a sphere farther, or to pummel an opponent to the ground. Japanese heroes were of a very different sort.

Japanese history is replete with heroes revered for their combat prowess: Yorozu ("the Emperor's Shield"), Minamoto Yoshiie, Minamoto Yoshitsune, and Miyamoto Musashi. But these were men who distinguished themselves on the battlefield or in life-or-death duels. Their skill and courage were demonstrated in the heat of battle, not on a playing field. Although any Japanese today can list a number of sports heroes, from home-run king Sadaharu Oh to former sumo grand champion Chiyonofuji, it is doubtful that anyone could name one premodern sports hero. A seventeenth-century Edo (Tokyo) resident could probably have identified a wrestler or archer of acclaim, but Japanese source materials are largely devoid of references to, let alone exaltation of, athletes in combat or other sports.

My treatment of Japanese combat sports is quite different from an analysis of European and American wrestling or boxing. Indeed, given the definition of sport offered earlier, it might be argued that combat sports never existed in premodern Japan and that today's martial arts-judo, karate, kendo (fencing) - are not sports either. My assumption is that some martial arts are sports and others are not. Judo, for example, is clearly a sport. Both men and women judo players compete under international rules in the Olympic Games, receiving medals just the way sprinters do. And full-contact karate fighters, like boxers, have managers, trainers, and handlers; they are rated by professional organizations and receive money from gate receipts. These are sporting endeavors, but are they martial arts?

Many activities included among the martial arts are not sports. A karate club established out of concern for the rising violence against women may be totally devoted to self-defense, with no sporting competition whatsoever. Most practitioners of aikido-except in those few schools where sparring is emphasized-are involved in an activity combining mental and spiritual development with graceful body movement. It is an effective self-defense technique, and some choose to study aikido for that reason. But rarely does someone learn it because of an interest in sport; it lacks the crucial element of competition. Aikido is a martial art but almost never a sport.

For the suburban youth raised on a steady diet of Bruce Lee, Karate Kid, and Jackie Chan films, however, karate, with its competitive tournaments, may well be an alternative to Little League baseball. The youngster may fantasize growing up to be the next Bill Wallace or Cynthia Rothrock, just as the teenage ballplayer dreams of becoming a Ken Griffey Jr. or a Cal Ripken. Yet another martial art, Japanese archery-kyudo, often referred to outside Japan as Zen archery-falls somewhere in the middle: it offers both competitive sporting aspects and mental and spiritual development. The world of martial arts is fascinating because it presents a wide variety of approaches. There is something for everyone; seekers after sport, physical fitness, spiritual growth, discipline, and confidence can all find their niche.

Whether an activity is a sport or not must ultimately lie in the mind of the practitioner. However rigorous the physical exertion, sport martial arts are distinguished from other martial arts by the presence of opponents and the competitive motive. Perhaps we should label judo and other sport forms as martial sports and narrow the definition of martial arts.

However, some consider it anathema to call any of the martial arts sports, as though doing so would diminish their value. Taisen Deshimaru asserts that sports "train the body and develop stamina and endurance. But the spirit of competition and power that presides over them is not good, it reflects a distorted vision of life. The root of the martial arts is not there.'" In the minds of such people-and Deshimaru is a Zen priest as well as a kendo instructor-the martial arts traditionally were, and ought to be, spiritual. Yet we could argue that even in such idealized, spiritual martial arts, there is competition-an internal struggle, an attempt to improve, fully understand, or even transcend the self.

As common as negative attitudes are in works on martial arts, the attitudes toward competition and power expressed by Deshimaru should not be taken as orthodox even in Japan; they do not reflect some "truth" about a mystical martial tradition going back to the shrouded past. Japanese history is filled with archers and fencers who sought to excel in heated competition with others. Still, since early modern times certain individuals have idealized the spirituality and noncompetitiveness of these skills, their attitude having developed from their reaction to complex social changes-lasting peace and the concomitant decline of combat techniques-and their interaction with other cultural and artistic traditions. The organization and the teaching of the martial arts, and the philosophical assumptions behind their elaboration in late medieval and early modern times, are intimately linked to other art forms, such as the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, Noh theater, the blending of scents, and even culinary practices, all of which were heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism. This artistic dimension of Japanese martial arts both distinguishes them from non-Asian combat sports and supports the passionate disagreement over whether martial arts should be called sports. It also makes them an integral part of the Japanese cultural experience, not separate and apart, unrelated to the main flow of Japanese civilization, worthy of no more than a footnote in passing-which is essentially the way they have been treated by the academic world outside Japan.

Circumstances have conspired to make the martial arts less understood and respected than they deserve. First, a negative attitude toward the study of sport has long been common among scholars. There is a deep-seated feeling that sport is not integral but peripheral to "real" human activity. The synonyms assigned to "sport" bear this out: "diversion," "amusement," "pleasure," "pastime," "enjoyment," "merrymaking." Although scholars from Huizinga on have stressed the role of sport, and play in general, in human culture, the prejudice persists.'

Second, although the Japanese scholarly community shows some appreciation for academic research on the martial arts, academics in Europe and the United States have all but ignored the subject. Japan scholars have long been fascinated by the world of the samurai-their rise to power, the administration of their lands, the transmittal of their property, and their ethical beliefs. The exquisite and superbly made samurai swords and even the decorated sword guards are considered worthy of study, as are warrior legal codes and literary works glorifying samurai exploits. Yet few scholars have shown interest in samurai fighting techniques, although it was largely by monopolizing combat skills that they dominated Japan for almost seven hundred years. Not surprisingly, the martial concerns of the Japanese warrior are essentially absent from the pages of nearly all scholarly works on medieval Japan-my own included. There has been a virtual conspiracy of silence.'

Ironically, probably more people today study the martial arts of Japan than study such academically respectable cultural forms as the tea ceremony and flower arrangement. Numerous books and articles are devoted to aspects of the martial arts; the authors are practitioners, but rarely do they venture successfully beyond the instructional level. My students often bemoan the glaring errors on the most basic aspects of Japanese history in some martial arts publications. Few practitioners seem to have acquired the linguistic and area-studies training necessary for serious scholarship in the field, and few Japan scholars have chosen to practice martial arts. The disjunction has unfortunately kept the worlds of Japanese studies and martial arts apart.

What I am presenting here is a history of Japan's armed martial arts - archery and swordsmanship - that have a significant sporting tradition. I omit other armed martial arts, such as use of the spear, naginata (halberd), and other weapons, that have not developed sufficiently in that direction or whose practice is confined mainly to Japan. Because combat sports evolved only very slowly in Japan, I shall deal with both their history as martial arts and their subsequent development as sports. The emphasis will be on the transition from combat to sport, with as much attention devoted to combat techniques and forms of archery and swordsmanship as to sport forms.

The presentation is thus essentially chronological. In the first chapter I define terms and present an overview of the martial arts in Japanese history and culture. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 deal with the use of the sword up to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, by which time fencing was a sport. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with the history of archery over the same period. In Chapter 7, I discuss the transformation of these two arts into modern sports after significant contact with the Western athletic tradition. In Chapter 8 I consider the organization, teaching, and philosophy of the martial arts in order to relate them to other Japanese cultural forms and at the same time suggest why the Japanese martial arts do not quite fit Western notions of sport.

Throughout the book Japanese names appear in Japanese order, with family name first, except for a few modern names likely to be more familiar in typical English-name order.



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