A Brief History of the Samurai

The Samurai is a name given to members of a caste in ancient Japan with one of the greatest military powers. According to the history of the Samurai, this caste system has a greater bearing on the origin of renowned Japanese martial arts. Before the Samurai rose into military power in the 12th century, they operated as provincial warriors. Members of the caste of Samurai are required to live by the traditional code of honor and discipline called Bushido (the way of the warrior).

Earlier in the Heian Period, the Samurai mainly operated as “protectors” of noble landowners. The Samurai introduced the first military dictatorship in Japan, where they served the daimyos (lords), and empowered the shogun. In fact, they dominated the feudal government until 1868 when the system of governance was abolished. However, the practice of martial arts as conceived by the Samurai, has continued to thrive to date.

The History of Martial Arts According to the Samurai

One of the most outstanding elements of the Samurai history, which has been passed on from generation to generation is martial arts. This can even be seen from the ancient times whereby the members of this caste operated as armed servants, offering protection to the wealthy nobles.

Martial arts involves a wide range of activities including, Karate, Kendo, Judo among others. Although some aspects of the Japanese martial arts may have changed today, its roots and rise has a strong connection to the Samurai.

Owing to the many battles that had faced the people on Japan in ancient times, they developed an interest in creating weapons and combat. In order to defend themselves from the sad reality of war, many people across Japan opted to study the art of war. However, their efforts were not realized until in the 12 century, when the Samurai rose to power.

Although the Samurai had been considered elites in the battlefield, their fight with the Mongols in the 13th century made them change their styles of fighting. They began undertaking thorough training in the use of the sword, spears and fighting on foot. However, the Samurai were also fit for fighting on horsebacks.

In the following years, the study of warfare and combat gained significant recognition. During these times, various kinds of martial arts like Kyudo (the art of archery), Sojutsu, Naginatajutsu were introduced. However, the martial arts of Kenjutsu (battle using sword) remained dominant among the rest. Many considered the art of using swords in the battle field to be quite prestigious than others. In fact, even the introduction of firearms by the Portuguese did not deter the Japanese from martial arts. Instead, they came up with a kind of martial art called Hojutsu.

Reports indicate that by the 17th century, the Japanese already had more than 60 combat and fighting systems, and about 9, 000 formal institutions teaching various kinds of martial arts.

The sword and its handling are key aspects that distinguished an elite Samurai from other warriors. In fact, swordsmanship remains to be a great fascination in martial arts with regards to the Samurai. However, it should be noted that the Samurai were not only crafty with the sword but also hand-to-hand combat. They incorporated various techniques known as Jujitsu, which were mainly aimed at giving the Samurai an advantage over their opponents.

The ancient Samurai wore two swords, with varying lengths. The longer one measured about 24 inches and was known as Daito-katana. The other measured between 12 and 24 inches, and was called Shoto-wakizashi. The swords were initially straight but due to the growing desire for sharper and tougher swords, the Samurai began forging curved blades. These swords were instrumental in World War II, whereby the Japanese military used antique Samurai swords.

Popular martial arts like Judo and Aikido are self-defense tactics that are adopted from ancient forms of Jujitsu done by the Samurai. In fact, these two forms of martial arts have today become a pastime for many people across the world. Judo is a sport in the Olympic Games while Aikido and the famous Karate are practiced globally in many learning institutions.

Other forms of martial arts that have been developed throughout the years were imported from Japanese neighbors like China and India. These have also been passed on to generations and are currently practiced across the world. However, all these forms of martial arts still bear great links to the history of the Samurai. For more info on martial arts used by the Samurai visit http://www.mesamartialarts.com

Who Were The Samurai?

When an individual hears the word “samurai”, there are usually two different pictures that come to mind. One is of ancient times in Japan surrounded by wars, blood, and gruesome violence. The other picture is one of honor, a strong moral code, and complete emotional control. In martial arts history, the samurai began in the 9th century as warriors from rural areas. Samurai followed a code of bushido which demanded utter obedience to their leaders, also called daimyos (which literally means ‘great lords’). Samurai’s rose to extreme power in the 12th century. This is when Japan’s first military dictatorship started to develop.
While samurai were expected to be skilled in hand-to-hand combat, it wasn’t always the top priority. Samurai’s were originally very talented in archery and participated in horseback archery until the Mongolian invasion in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is at this time, we can really see the true development of the samurai and how it plays into modern martial arts.
Samurai’s always carry two swords, but these swords weren’t developed until the 12th century. Previous to the Mongolian invasions, the history of samurai states these warriors used mostly bows. These bows were seven to ten feet in height and had a range of around 300 feet. A katana, which is a long sword, and a wakizashi, which is a short sword are the two swords a samurai carries with him at all time. These swords are considered part of a samurai’s soul. They are double edged and always made by hand. In the time of the Mongolian invasions, samurai’s needed to be heavily armored. Their armored outfits were made of iron, brass, and leather and could take anywhere from four to seven months to complete. Their helmets consisted of up to 100 metal plates forged together to give the samurai ultimate skull protection.
With this heavy-duty armor, samurai’s of older times would carry small weapons such as the dagger, a weighted chain, a helmet smasher, and other smaller disguised weapons. Samurai were expected to be the highest skilled fighters of their time and self-suicide was demanded if a samurai was defeated. While samurai were officially abolished in 1868, there are still forms of martial arts that use samurai history.
Using the martial arts history of the samurai, jujutsu and kendo are the closest modern forms of martial arts to this once magnificent display of skill and dedication. Officially, jujutsu means “soft skills” and uses hand-to-hand techniques such as joint locks or throwing techniques to defeat the opponent. However, jujutsu practices do require the use of small weaponry but it ultimately focuses on striking, throwing the opponent, and restraining practices to acquire domination over an opponent. The soul focus of this type of martial arts is so that a smaller, less equipped soldier would have the best skills to defend himself against a larger, well-equipped soldier.
Koryu is also a type of jujutsu, but more developed. This is a type of martial arts one would most likely see in a modern setting and it coincides with laido, which means “the way or mental presence and immediate reaction”. Laido focuses mainly on the personal and spiritual development of warriors. The skills obtained in koryu are meant to help a person defend himself outside of a battle environment and against someone who is unarmed. Most of the training in this type of martial arts is focused around a vital-striking technique that would be frivolous if practiced in the times of original samurai. This vital striking technique takes advantage of the natural pressure points of the body, causing an opponent more pain in himself than would be typical with the output of force from the defender. Some of these points are a pressure point located at the base of the thumb, pressure points on the top of the feet, a point at the bottom of the throat, and breaking the nose – just to name a few.
Another impact samurai has had on martial arts history is the contributions to judo. Judo, which means “way of softness” is a technique formed around grappling. It was introduced to the Olympics in 1964 but was first introduced in the 19th century.
Kendo is a specific type of swordsmanship, revolving around the idea that a sword should maneuver with a vertical, downward cut. Kendo quite accurately means “way of the sword.” There are many competitions with this type of martial arts and they are graded on a two point system. The first competitor to reach two points wins and points can be obtained through a successful blow to the opponent’s throat or a completed strike to the top or sides of the head, sides of the body, or the forearms.
In conclusion, while the dictionary definition of the samurai have officially been abolished, it is quite apparent that their skills of dedication, hard work, and attention to detail play a huge role in the practice of modern martial arts. Hopefully, the skills of jujutsu, judo, and kendo will lead to highly skilled martial artists as the years progress.