The history of martial arts in Japan


Martial arts is a collective term for various types of self-defense or fighting arts that originated in Asia. Most martial arts practiced today were established in China, Japan, and Korea each of which was taught in specific styles or systems.

Martial arts in Japan date back in history to medieval times when they were first born of a need to prepare for combat and protection: it was mainly practiced by the Samurai class.


It was a period of fighting, struggling, and war. A samurai was gifted with this art, which could save him from enemy attack.

The word “Martial” means fighting: it was really a fighting skill rather than a recreational sport during that period, it helped people protect themselves in case of combative attack.

It can not be denied that Japanese Martial Art was a powerful weapon for common people in medieval Japan.


Most of the martial arts were imported from China and they were gradually modified by the Japanese until more arts were developed: archery and sword-fighting are the main two arts and some of them became rituals in Zen Buddhism.

Japanese Martial Arts differ from its Chinese counterpart in style.

Japanese Martial Arts involves straight-line attacks, whereas Chinese techniques are more circular. The martial arts of Japan have a wide range starting from empty hand-to-hand techniques, to fighting with several weapons.

Japanese arts can be categorized generally in to 5 different arts of fighting :  Karate, Aikido, Juijutsu, Judo, and Kendo.


Karate is the most popular of all of these: its origin was in Okinawa. “Karate” means empty hand and this is not ironic, because the people of Okinawa fought empty-handed.

Gichin Funakoshi invented Karate: he impressed the Emperor of Japan by showing his skill and started teaching this Japanese martial art in Japan in 1921.

Within five years, Karate became the most popular Japanese Martial Art. Funakoshi also opened a training hall (dojo) in Tokyo. And after this, Karate gained popularity inside and outside of Japan.

Aikido is another popular Japanese Martial Art : it is a purely traditional and self-defensive art. The name “Aikido” defines the character of this art: “Ai” means harmony, “Ki” means source of energy, and “Do” means the way.

These three words together mean that it is a way of keeping harmony in the body by using the spirit of energy. Aikido has a religious influence and practitioners believe it is the way to save mankind from danger or evil.


Juijutsu is an ancient art and the word “Juijutsu” means gentle art. Ironically, it is a martial art based on several joint locks & throwing techniques of the body to attack enemies. It is a very effective method of defense against an armed opponent. Many Japanese martial arts advocates believe that Jujutsu is the ancestor of all martial arts in Japan.

Additional martial arts include Kendo and Judo.

Kendo is a martial art that utilizes words. It is a fencing martial art that requires a lot of discipline and skill. This art differs greatly from Judo, which is an unarmed combative sport. Its rules are very complex and it is one of the most popular Japanese martial arts practiced globally.

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