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.