Japan and Martial Arts
(This article was written by a friend Mike Russel- san.)

Japan and the Martial Arts

As an Island Nation, Japan is rightly proud of its heritage and its developments in the fields of engineering, technology and sciences. Japan can also be rightly proud of its culture and history.

The development of the Japanese Martial Arts is one aspect of this culture, which fascinates people from all over the world, not just the Japanese.

The Martial Arts are practised diligently and, due to the nature of each individual Art, most practitioners or gBudoKah stick to one Art throughout their lives. In the western world, there is a tendency to gsampleh as many Arts as possible, which, by their very nature means few people ever reach the standard of gMasterh.

Japan has the longest direct Imperial lineage in the history of the world. The present Emperor can trace their bloodline back over 2000 years. In order to understand the Martial Arts, it means we must delve back in time almost as long.

By the 6th Century AD, the Imperial family had grown to almost unmanageable proportions. The Imperial Court was huge. The Emperor couldnft afford to keep every member of the family in a manner to which they had become accustomed. The emperor took the decision to gtrim a few branchesh.

Distant relatives of the Imperial Household were given new gfamilyh names, land and told to look after themselves. Naturally, a few of these new families were angry of their lesser status, some merely afraid of the future but, for whatever reason, it soon became apparent that these families would need some form of protection as much from each other as from the dangers of forging out on their own.

Thus, the Samurai was born. Literally translated as gService or, One who Servesh the Samurai were professional warriors whose skill with the Bow and Arrow was highly prized. The samurai was originally a mounted Archer who could ride at the gallop firing arrows accurately at the enemy.

As these families grew in wealth, the number of samurai increased as did their skills with weapons other than the Bow and Arrow. The sword, so synonymous with Japanese Culture, grew out of the need for defence in situations where the longbowfs reach proved useless. As the Centuries passed and Armour became better and more elaborate, so did the sword develop until the distinctive curved design and legendary strength, flexibility and sharpness that we know today, appeared about the 11th Century AD.

At times of national emergency such as the Mongol invasion around the 12th Century, the Emperor chose one of the Samurai to lead the nationfs warriors. The appointment of Shogun carried great power and, the first Shogun set up his Capital in Kamakura. Just south of Edo (Tokyo) The Shogun repelled the Invasion with the help of the Kami Kaze (divine wind) ? A typhoon which destroyed much of the invasion fleet. When the Shogun died without leaving a natural successor, the Country was plunged into civil war as rival Samurai clans vied for the position.

In 1603, one powerful Samurai emerged victorious after the battle of Sekigahara. Tokugawa Eiyasu became the Shogun. He moved the Shogunate Capital to his stronghold of Edo and through the next 18 generations, ruled the country in the Emperorfs Name. Tokugawa sealed Japanfs borders and banned foreigners from entering Japan save for a small trading port of Nagasaki. This isolation left the Samurai to develop the Art of the sword to a highly effective degree. It also lead the Samurai to keep the basic (but elaborate) design of their armour, since the main weapon remained the sword, the armour was designed against this weapon. Guns, although introduced to Japan in the 15th Century were seen as crude and uncivilised and thus largely ignored until the 19th Century.

The Edo period saw the greatest development of the code of Bushido - the way of the warrior, as Samurai no longer needed their skills in battle but, needed to keep their skills sharp. Real Swords were replaced with a less lethal practise sword made of wood which was eventually replaced with a bamboo sword or gShinaih. The elaborate Armour including fiercesome helmets, became less cumbersome and lighter and the Art of Kendo (way of the Sword) was born. The Samurai method of unarmed combat, including grappling and throwing was refined further into a system in its own right. Yawara and Jiu Jitsu, still flourishing today, became further divorced from the skills of the swordsman.

The Edo period also saw great strides forward in Art and the great artists of the time all sought to practise their craft in Edo. As peace settled after years of war, entertainment in the form of theatre began to flourish. Stylised plays such as Noh and Kabuki became popular. Other Arts also took on stronger and more stylised rituals. ChaDo, the way of Tea for example.

The Edo Period came to an end when, in the 19th Century, an American Naval vessel carrying Commodore William Perry, arrived in Yokohama harbour. The last Shogun realised that Japan would have to modernise and decided to unite the country by handing back power to the Emperor Meiji. The time of the Samurai drew to a close as modern weapons and clothing were introduced. The Emperor set about modernising the country and a rapid period of economic growth and industrialisation ensued.

The Martial Arts however, still flourished as more people sought relief from the stress of Modern living and, now no longer the exclusive domain of the Samurai, more and more people began to take an interest.

By taking an aspect of Jiu Jitsu, mainly the grappling techniques, Kano Jigoro founded the art of Judo.
Morihei Uoeshiba did the same with an aspect of Yawara and founded the Style of Aikido. Thus the modern aspects of traditional Martial Arts began to spread throughout Japan.

On the Island of Okinawa in 1868, Funakoshi Gichin was born. A rather sickly child, his parents asked a Friend to teach their son Karate (The Way of the Empty Hand).

During the early years of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Okinawa was invaded by the Satsuma Clan and the local inhabitants were banned from carrying weapons. This lead the Okinawans to develop two distinct Martial Arts in secrecy for fear of discovery. One involving weapons based upon farming and everyday work tools and another, unarmed method. This unarmed Martial Art, they named simply gTeh or ghandh.

Funakoshi Gichin grew strong and healthy and, a scholar of the Chinese Classics, he became a school teacher but, like generations before him, he continued to practise Karate in secret, often late into the night. At this time there were 3 main styles of Karate, centring on the three main population centres on the Island: Shuri-Te around the capital of Shuri, Naha-Te around Naha and Tomari-Te around the Port of Tomari.

In 1916, Funakoshi was invited to demonstrate karate at the Butokuden in Kyoto and, 5 years later, after further demonstrations for the Crown Prince as he stopped off in Okinawa before a tour of Europe, he was invited to give a demonstration in Tokyo. At this point, the name of gKara-Teh or gempty handh was given to the Art.

Funakoshi was convinced that Karate was worthy of a gDoh or gWayh and so Karate Do was born. Funakoshi Sensei was inundated with requests for instruction and so postponed his return to Okinawa indefinitely. Thanks to patronage from Kano Jigoro and others, Karate established a foothold on the mainland. Funakoshi was followed by other notable Okinawan masters thus Karate Spread throughout Japan.

Funakoshi systematically went about changing the names of the Kata (Set forms) into Japanese from the original Okinawan dialect and would often write poetry under the pen name of gShotoh which means gPine Wavesh and it was this name which his supporters chose when in 1936, the first ever purpose built Karate Dojo was built in Japan. The Dojo or gPlace of the Wayh was named the gShoto Kanh or, Shotofs Building. Tragically, the building was completely destroyed during World War II. It was this name which went on to classify his style, the Shotokan Ryu although, Funakoshi himself never referred to his Art as anything except gKarateh.

In 1957, at the Age of 89, Funakoshi Gichin, O Sensei, passed away, just as his students were beginning to spread Karate to the rest of the World. His remains were placed in the grounds of the Enkaku-Ji Temple in Kamakura. The Words gKARATE NI SENTE NASHIh gThere is no first attack in Karateh are written on his memorial stone.
In the same year, the first All Japan Championships were held and the first winner of the tournament was a young Kanazawa Hirokazu. Kanazawa was charged with spreading Karate to Hawaii at first, then Great Britain and was the first Japanese Instructor to reside in Great Britain.

In 1978, Kanazawa Sensei left the Japan Karate Association and formed the Shotokan Karate Do International Federation. This organisation is now the largest single style Karate Organisation in the world with over 2.5 million members in over 106 countries.

Thus the Martial Arts, from their beginnings based in Japanfs feudal Past, have become global phenomenon.

It is perhaps now that the Martial Arts are fulfilling their true potential. From practical applications in fighting situations, the Japanese Martial Arts have become a discipline where anyone, anywhere in the World, can peacefully enjoy their exercise and strive to better themselves through practise.

As Funakoshi Sensei said, which can equally apply to all of the Martial Arts:

gThe ultimate aim of the Art of Karate lies, not in victory or defeat but, in the perfection of the character of its participantsh

Please note, the webmaster does not accept any responsibility for the views and opinions expressed in this article. The Author, a Martial Artist from Scotland, has spent over 20 years practising the Martial Arts, has taken every care to ensure the accuracy of this Article, any mistakes regarding dates etc are accidental and the Author craves your pardon.

If you are interested in learning more about the Japanese Martial Arts, follow the following links:

Shotokan Karate:







Kabuki is a traditional stage drama characterized by a combination of rhythmical words, dancing, elaborate costumes, colorful make-up and stage sets. It is performed only by men actors to the accompaniment of songs and music. The word Kabuki came from an archaic verb 'kabuku' meaning to act in an unusual manner or behave strangely, which presumably referred to the way a troupe led by a female dancer named Okuni danced in the early 17th century in Kyoto. This Okuni's Kabuki dancing became very popular but the Shogunal authorities (the government then) thought it was too sensual and that it was corrupting public morals because fights often broke out among the spectators over the entertainers who also practiced prostitution. So it banned women from appearing on stage. Young male performers took their place but they also ended up getting into trouble with authorities. Then came the Yaro Kabuki that was performed by older men who took pride in their acting skills rather than in simply becoming popular. As mentioned above, to this day all kabuki performers are men, and the discipline of the actor who takes a female role is particularly rigorous.


Zen is a school of Buddhism that emphasizes attainment of Satori
(Enlightenment) through sitting in meditation (Zazen). It has influenced many aspects of Japanese culture including the tea ceremony, landscape gardening, flower arrangement and martial arts. Zen Buddhism was founded in the 6th century by a monk named Bodhidharma in India and introduced to China where it achieved further development. It wasn't until the 12th or13th century that Zen developed into a major branch of Japanese Buddhism when a Japanese monk named Eisai introduced the Rinzai school of Zen and Dogen introduced The Soto school. While the Soto school emphasizes that single-minded devotion to Zazen is enough to attain enlightenment, the Rinzai school encourages its practitioners to exhaust their thinking in the contemplation of riddle-like Koan to help reach the point where rational thinking gives way under the pressure and a breakthrough occurs.Although these two schools have different approaches, and there was even some dispute between them, they both teach that all people inherently possess the Buddha nature and , by awakening to this nature, one may achieve enlightenment through Zazen.

Ikebana is a Japanese traditional art in which seasonal flowers, branches or grasses are arranged in vases to express the form, beauty and vitality that flowers have, as well as the human spirit. Ikebana dates back to the 6th century, when the custom of offering flowers to the Buddha by Buddhist monks came to Japan from China and Korea along with the introduction of Buddhism. This was followed by a long period of development that culminated with the establishment of Ikebana in the 16th century as a distinctive art form, independent of Buddhism. There is more to Ikebana than just creating a pretty arrangement. There are techniques and rules for positioning flowers as well as certain significance associated with the arrangement. After the 16 th century many schools have been founded in the course of its history by head masters advocating different styles of flower arrangement. Now there are said to be as many as 3000 schools.

The pictures above are the works of art of people who belong to a school called Sogetsu, which is known for its innovative style.


Sado, which is also called Chado or Chano yu, is an art and a traditionallyritualized way of preparing , serving and drinking powdered tea mixed with hot water. During the Nara period (710-794), tea, in conjunction with Buddhist meditation (zen), was brought to Japan, but it wasn't until the Kamakura period when tea became widespread. At that time tea was consumed marginally by monks who tried to remain alert to perform their religious duties.Then came a monk named Juko Murata, who raised this custom of drinking tea to a fine art. Another important figure in Sado that should be mentioned here is Rikyu Senno, who mastered the Murata style and then refined and perfected it. The tea ceremony has influenced many aspects of Japanese culture such as architecture, fine arts and ways of thinking and living.

Ukiyo-e, literally meaning pictures of "floating world", is a genre of art, chiefly in the medium of the woodblock print, developed during the Edo period (1603-1867) which became very popular among the middle classes. Part of the reason why ukiyo-e became so popular was that unlike paintings that came before it, it dealt with everyday life of people in Edo.

Moronobu Hishikawa: Moronobu, who discovered a way to make monochromic woodblock prints, is considered to be the creator of woodblock ukiyo-e. He took the themes of his prints from the Yoshiwara licensed quarter.

Harunobu Suzuki: Harunobu developed the technique for making multi-colored prints in mid 18th century. His works of Bijinga (pictures of beautiful women) were very popular.

Utamaro Kitagawa : It was Utamaro who brought pictures of beautiful women to their full glory. He created a technique called Okubie, in which the head is enlarged for emphasis.

Sharaku Toshusai : This somewhat mysterious artist, as very little is known about his career, was extremely good at depicting the expressive characters of kabuki. He produced about 150 pictures in a period of 10 months in 1794-1795.

Hokusai Katsushika: Hokusai, together with Hiroshige, breathed new life into ukiyo-e by turning their talents to the field of landscape. His "Thirty-six views of Mt. Fuji" is said to be an ukiyo-e masterpiece.

Hiroshige Ando: Hiroshige's "Fifty-three stages of Tokaido road" brought him fame and his depiction of Japanese scenery and travelers in the series leaves very warm and sensitive feelings in the hearts of the viewers.


(This section was written by a friend Brenda Vilcans.)


Legends have it that sumo was used as a method of prediction and interpretation. People prayed with hopes of large and plentiful harvests ; they also wanted to know what was the desire of their departed ancestors. Nominosukune and Taimanokehaya are the names of the two wrestlers who battled in what is considered the first official sumo match. From there sumo became an imperial ceremony, entertainment for shogun (and training for samurai), and finally a professional sport.

The beginning of modern sumo as we know it came in 1909, when a flurry of changes including east-west competition were implemented. After that rikishi went on tours to Hawaii and the mainland United States, the winner's cup was established and two sumo associations came together to form one Japan Grand Sumo Association (today known as JSA.) With the first televised sumo matches in 1953 more people were exposed to the ancient sport; for those who had only followed matches by radio it was the first opportunity to see what their idols and heroes looked like. Sumo enjoyed an increase in popularity as more people gained access and began to follow some of sumo's greatest rivalries. From the stars of yesteryear (Tochinishiki, Taiho, Chiyonofuji), to the stars of today (Takanohana, Akebono, Musoyama), sumo's future looks as bright as the careers of the young stars of tmorrow. (Chiyotaikai, Miyabiyama.)

It's a full house for day 12 action. The nobori (banners) above the ring read Manin onerei ("Full house, thank you.")


Basho schedule
There are six official tournaments (basho) per year. They are held during the odd-numbered months, and each lasts 15 days. Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan hosts three of these: the Hatsu (first) in January, Natsu (summer) in May and Aki (autumn) in September. March's Haru (spring) basho is held in Osaka at the Osaka Municipal Gymnasium; July's Nagoya basho is held at the Aichi Prefectureal Gymbnasium; and Novermber's Kyushu basho is held in Fukuoka at the Fukuoka Kokusai Center.

A different view of the action. I was under the stands.

Going to the Basho

If you are in Japan during a basgho you should attend it. It's a great way to get a big dose of Japanese culture. Not only do you get to witness one of the world's ancient sports, but you also get to watch the people (which is sometimes as interesting as the wrestling itself.) Tickets are always available: standing room tickets are sold beginning at 7 a.m each day. However, they are very limited---only about 400---and people line up very early for a chance at these. Only one ticket to a customer, please. =)

The most popular days to watch a basho are the first(shonichi), last (senshuraku) and any Saturday or Sunday., Special events are held on shonichi, senshuraku and the 8th day of each tournament.

Shonichi: championship flag and cup are returned; greetings from JSA by its chairman and top makuuchirikishi; portrait unveiling if it's a Tokyo basho.

8th day (nakabi): introduction of new recruits ishinjo shussei hiroj

senshuraku: JSA greeetings, awards ceremony for lower levels, sanyaku assembly, makuuchi awards, sansho (special prize )awards, new apprentice rikishi ceremony.

While most people arrive at the sumo hall about 3 p.m. for the juryo and makuuchi buots, the action begins early in the morning (9 a.m. or so) with the lower ranked rikishi. Family and friends are usually the only spectators there, sometimes an occasional die-hard sumo fan. As the action progresses (even-numbered days will see the day's action start wth pre-sumo) the only ways to tell which level is fighting is by watching the gyoji's costume and how rikishi wear their hair. Generally, the longer a rikishi's hair the higher his level but not always Miyabiyama, sumo's hottest new star who made his debut in the 1999 haru basho, has gone from makushita to makuuuchi so quickly his hair isn't long enough to form even a chon-mage! (For the natsu basho, however, he will hve a small chon-mage.)

It's easy to tell when the big boys are getting ready to rumblec. Before the juryo bouts, juryo rikishi,have a ring entrance ceremony: one for the east side, one for the west. Buckets of strength water and strength paper and salt boxes are brought out for purification, a privilege only sekitori are allowed. They're also allowed to wear kesho-mawashi for the dohyo-iri and have their hair done in the form of a big ginkgo leaf (oitcho). (Kesho-mawashi, by the way, are elaborate aprons presented to sekitori by their sponsor or support group.) makuuuchi rikishi also have a dohyou-iri, but each yokozuna gets his own.

After the day's matches are done, a makushita rikishi performs an act of thanksgiving called ymitori shiki. This bow-twirling ceremony not only honors the final bout winner but gives thanks for all the wins of the day. If it's senshuraku award ceremonies and other festivities will follow.

Parade of kensho (prize banners). Each banner represents a sponsor who has given prize money to that match.

Popular wrestlers

Everyone has their own criteria for choosing favorite athletes: looks, teams, skill, hometown, mawashi color, amount of salt pitched, fat contentc Sumo is a fascinating, exciting sport to watch for those who have the patience and are into Japanese culutre.

Japanese sumo fans like to cheer for rikishi that 1) are from the prefecture in which they live or originally come from or 2) belong to a certain stable. Some are even member of support groups that back a particular rikishi. (How do you think they are able to wear those expensive kesho-mawashi? If you look just above the fringe at the bottom of the apron it will tell you who paid for it.) Some of the current rikishi enjoying immense popularity are sibling yokozuna Takanohana and Wakanohana, Hawaiians Akebono and Musashimaru, Chiyotaikai, Kyokushuzan, Tochiazuma, Takatoriki, Mitoizumi and Terao (sumo's ironman)

Makuuchi division dohyo-iri(ring entrance ceremony.)

The wonderful world of sumo.

How do they get in?

There are two ways to enter the sumo world.
1) meet the basic requirements: height, 173cm; weight, 75 kg; age 15-23; and completion of compulsory education (in Japan it's junior high school) or
2) wrestle in college or on a company team.
3) If a prospect has done #2, he may start at the makushita level. Otherwise, it's way down to the bottom of the ladder and mae-zumo (pre-sumo)

For the new apprentice, mae-zumo competition begins on the second day of a tournament. He needs three wins in six months before he can be listed n the banzuke as a new jonokuchi rikishi. During this time the apprentice also attends sumo school, studying everything about sumo---from anatomy and history to calligraphy and shigin (a traditional form of singing.)

Yokozuna dohyo iri.

Joining the ranks

Every time a rikishi gets a majority of wins (kachi-koshi) he gets promoted. Likewise, if he gets a majority of losses (make-koshi) he is demoted. Here is a brief look at the levels.

Jonokuchi: lowest of sumo's six levels. Trains early, eats last , wears almost nothing (thin kimono, wooden geta with bare feet)

Jonidan: second from the bottom; a lot like Jonokuchi.

Sandanme: Hey, these guys get to wear haori jackets! That's a big step up. If you are not here in five years, you're done.

Makushita: Still not paid, but able to wear a lot more clothes (tabi socks, tatami sandals, coats and mufflers.

Juryo: the better side of sumoc. Salary, separate mawashi for practice and competition, a fancy apron, a trunk to carry it all in , and an errand boy to carry it! Has 15 bouts per tournament.

Makuuchi: top of the heap, the hightest level in sumo. The ranks in this level, from bottom to top are; maegashira, kousubi, sekiwake, ozeki and ---the every top of the sumo world---yokozuna.

Entrance to the tournament site. Teahouses that are part of support groups have stalls here where their patrons can register for drawings and receive bags containing souvenirs and food. This is their way of saying thank you for purchasing the masu seki(box seats).
Nobori (banners)displaying names of top ranking sekitori (juryo rank and above), their heya (stable) and the tate gyoji(chief referees).


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