Kobudo (Japanese classical martial arts) (古武道)

Kobudo is a generic name which refers to the systematized Japanese traditional martial arts to fight without arms or with arms like dull weapons, cutting tools, firearms, and so on (kobudo is sometimes called koryubujutsu, kobujutsu, etc. which have almost the same meaning as kobudo).

Based on bugei (a military art) or hyoho (an art of warfare) which had been a practical art for samurai (warriors) to fight with, since around the end of the Muromachi period, kenjutsu (swordplay), jujutsu (classical Japanese martial art, usually referring to fighting without a weapon), sojutsu (the art of spearmanship), kyujutsu (the art of Japanese archery), hojutsu (gunnery), etc. have been evolved technically and systematized as various schools respectively. These were called 'bugei, bujutsu, hyoho,' etc. throughout the Edo period, and in modern times after the Taisho period, a generic name 'budo' was used to call them including schools established after the Meiji period.
(However, even during the late Edo period, some people had already come to call them budo.)

In the present age, we distinguish gendai budo (modern martial arts) established after modern times from the schools except gendai budo established mainly before the Meiji period, and call the latter kobudo, koryubujutsu, kobujutsu, and so on from the viewpoint of the present.

While gendai budo establishes the systems of the arts and places emphasis on competitions or matches for the purpose of disciplining mind and body from the point of view of the human development and physical education more than polishing the arts (for example, judo, kendo), the fundamental purpose of kobudo was not winning a match (some of the schools had forbidden trainees from competing in the contest between different schools), but defending themselves actually to live or disciplining themselves to carry out their missions as samurai. So, some of the fighting techniques and the various kinds of disguised weapons, the ways of resuscitation, the usage of medicine, the secret of casting a spell, and so on that had been eliminated from gendai budo because they were considered to be dangerous, may have been maintained in kobudo even now. And there are many cases in which the method of the mind (how to control one's mind, or the techniques regarding the mind) and the religious philosophy attached to Zen, the Esoteric Buddhism, or Confucianism have been closely connected to the physical arts of kobudo and were handed down together. For example, we can list Shinkage-ryu connected to Zen, Kito-ryu and Sekiguchi Shin Shin-ryu connected to the thoughts of Laozi and Zhuangzi, and so on. Moreover, a lot of the other schools have incorporated Esoteric Buddhism. The philosophy to place emphasis on human development such as the moral improvement in the ascetic practices of bujutsu had already been formed during the early Edo period as it is seen in Shinkage-ryu and the Shogun family. Nevertheless, there are also some cases where the actions whose meanings have not been transmitted to the successors of the school, the unreasonable content, and the actions that were added in the Edo period to improve the formal beauty (in Japanese, "kahoka") are included.


Kenjutsu, jujutsu, iaijutsu (technique of drawing real swords), kyujutsu, etc. were called bujutsu (武術) in general.

In 1914, when Hiromichi NISHIKUBO, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Commissioner, delivered a lecture at the Police Training Center ("Budo Kowa" (The Lecture On Martial Arts), the Hokkaido Branch of the Police Association, 1915), he told that 'jutsu' (術, which means arts) in the name of bujutsu must be changed into 'do' (道, which means way). The reason was said to be that the term 'jutsu' was not suitable because it focused on only progress of the arts and was likely to result in the idea that 'courtesy' was unnecessary, and that 'do' had to be used to clarify the concept that 'bu' was not an art.

On January 29, 1919, Nishikubo assumed the posts of vice-president of Dai Nippon Butoku Kai and the principal of Bujutsu Senmon Gakko, and insisted on changing the name. On May 15 of the same year, Jogiinkai (the permanent committee) approved of changing the name from Bujutsu Senmon Gakko to Budo Senmon Gakko (Vocational Training School of Martial Arts). On August 1 of the same year, the Ministry of Education authorized changing the name.
From then on, all branches of Dai Nippon Butokukai were directed to use 'budo.'

Research done by Tamio NAKAMURA, Professor of Fukushima University, and Ichiro WATANABE, Professor Emeritus of University of Tsukuba, reveal the background of it and explain that the name 'budo' was used to mean the ascetic practices which were educationally useful and serious, in order to distinguish it from bujutsu which was (considered to be) so corrupted as to give bujutsu performances.

After the lifting of the Budo Ban imposed by the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers after World War II gendai budo was revived, and then the schools which were established before the Meiji period came to be called kobudo to distinguish them from gendai budo. Later on, kobudo came to be called koryubujutsu, and also called kobujutsu in recent years.

Moreover, in iaido (the art of drawing the Japanese sword) and jodo (a form of martial art using a cane staff) the regular iai form of the All Japan Kendo Federation Iai and the regular jodo form of the All Japan Kendo Federation Jodo are provided respectively, and for both of them the forms of each school are also called koryu.


Ancient times

The artifacts such as yoroi (armor), ken (swords with two edges sharpened), hoko (long-handled Chinese spears), yajiri (arrowheads), yumi (bows as a weapon), haniwa (clay figures), and the like of the Yayoi period have been found, and Japanese Mythology in the "Kojiki" (The Records of Ancient Matters) and the "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), etc include descriptions of the weapons such as ken, hoko, katana (swords), yumi, and the like, so it can be guessed that there were some kinds of bugi (martial practices), but the details can't be known.

In the "Nihonshoki" there is a description of a sumai match in which one competitor kicked the opponent to death, and it is said that sumai in this period was the beginning of sumo (Japanese-style wrestling). From this description it can be guessed that kicking techniques were also used in sumai, which is different from Ozumo (grand sumo tournament), Shinzumo (new sumo wrestling), and so on in the present age.

The Tenchi Tenno ki of "Nihonshoki" says that lectures on martial arts took place in Omi Province between August and September 668.

The Kamakura period

The way of samurai (warriors) was considered the way of kyuba (archery and equestrianism), and therefore, kyujutsu and bajutsu (Japanese horse-back technique) were the compulsory bugei (military arts) and the practical art for fighting in the battles. Yabusame (horseback archery) contests were held frequently. Also, in books such as "Soga Monogatari" (the tale of Soga) famous for the revenge of the Soga brothers, it is recorded that the samurai practiced sumo wrestling as one of the military arts which was different from present-day sumo. This samurai sumo had later gone out of date, and only a trace of it can be found in the Sumo Densho (a manual on sumo wrestling), the densho (books on the esoterica) of Sekiguchi-ryu jujutsu written in the early period of the Edo period, and so on.

The Muromachi and the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States)
The so-called three major origins of hyoho (Kage-ryu, Shinto-ryu, and Nen-ryu schools) were formed. And, schools such as Shinkage-ryu, Shinto-ryu, Itto-ryu, and Chujo-ryu were derived under their influence to make ken-no-michi (the way of the sword) spread. Besides, for the martial art of the jujutsu group, the Takeuchi-ryu school was established. Bugei was regarded as one of the artistic skills such as Noh (traditional masked dance-drama) and uta (poetry), and its theories came to be gradually established and deepened. There appeared those who followed the path to be hyohosha (tacticians) that devoted themselves exclusively to bugei, some of whom showed the arts of their own schools to the shogun and the like.

The early Edo period

Looking over at the various schools of bujutsu (kobudo), a few of them were formed in the Sengoku Period (Japan), and many were developed during the Edo period rather than the previous one, when the chaos of wars had already been over. Under the bakuhantaisei (feudal system characteristic of the shogunate), each han (clan) appointed shinanyaku (instructor), or designated a particular ryugi (style) as goryugi (authorized style).

After the middle of the Edo period

As the peace which lasted for a long time developed the economy and produced the townsmen culture, bujutsu was practiced for pleasure in the spare time widely in both the urban and the rural agricultural areas. The number of the schools is thought to have exceeded several hundred (or a thousand) by the end of the Edo period, and in the nineteenth century, mushashugyo (a samurai warrior's quest), taryujiai (a contest between different schools), and bujutsuryugaku (practicing martial arts in another domain) began to be popular all over the country, and the books which listed the names of shihan (grand masters) in various places were published.

Various exchanges were made between different schools or styles, and the manners of a match or the tools for a match were being made common in sojutsu, kenjutsu, jujutsu, and so on. And as we can see from the cases in which a lot of the patriots during the end of the Edo period practiced at famous dojo (training halls) in Edo and expanded the networks of personal relationships all over the country, the dojo of bujutsu were getting to perform a function as some salon in a sense just the same as with gakumonjo (academic temples).

Meiji Restoration

After the Meiji Restoration, when the social status of samurai was abolished and the society entered so-called civilization and enlightenment, bujutsu was judged to be out of date and was likely to decline at one time
Bujutsuka (martial artists) put on the shows or entertainment performances of swordsmanship to promote bujutsu. Later, under the influence from the Seinan War, etc., bujutsu such as kenjutsu and jujutsu were adopted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, and avoided an extinction crisis.

Changing the name to budo (from Meiji to the end of World War II)
In modern times, under the social environment in which judo was newly founded by Jigoro KANO and Bushido (the code of the samurai) was re-imported and praised after the Japanese-Sino War, Dai Nippon Butoku Kai was organized and adopted as the moral improvement of the Empire of Japan, and that organization changed the name from bujutsu to budo by replacing 'jutsu' (arts) with 'do' (ways). A lot of the local schools not only belonged to Butoku Kai, but also accepted kendo or judo, so that the forms and the practicing methods which had been handed down from their ancestors began to be lost little by little.

The birth of Gendai Budo (the post war period)
It is said that, immediately after the surrender in World War II, several causes such as the deaths in the war of the successors of many schools resulted in their shitsuden (the interruption and loss of the tradition). Moreover, with the Budo Ban by the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers as a turning point, the new gendai budo which had given up being battle techniques and which emphasized only moral improvement was formed and has been prospering. Judo, kendo, etc. are being practiced now, too.

The present situation

Various kobudo have been surviving till now, and many are not only observing their ancient styles, but also changing their styles to follow the current of the times. On the other hand, a lot of schools disappeared after the war. Some of them have turned into gendai budo, but have been handed down in various forms even in the present day.

And small schools that keeps isshi soden (transmission of the secrets of an art from father to only one child) even now, do not set up dojo on a large scale and the art has been transmitted in succession only within the family, so that if there is no candidate to succeed the next generation, it can easily come to an end while the conditions of the times change.
There is a case where because such a small school never advertised its style, to give an extreme example, it was not until someone attended the funeral of a relative of his or hers that he or she knew 'the family had kept the secret of some bujutsu and the departed was the successor of it.'

Bugei Juhappan (The eighteen skills of martial arts)
The practical arts which Japanese samurai used to fight in the battle were called bugei. With this as a foundation, kenjutsu, jujutsu, etc. came into existence.

Bugei Juhappan is the term that was originally introduced into Japan from China during the early Edo period, and has become the generic name which referred to the eighteen kinds of bugi all of which samurai were required to master in the Japanese bushi class of the Edo period.
The contents of these eighteen kinds of bugi were different from time to time or from group to group, so it is impossible to show a general list, but basically the following were included:

The way to transmit
In many of the kobudo schools, a variety of licenses were issued, based upon the judgment of the grade in the progress of techniques and character as a man. For example, in the case of kenjutsu of Tennenrishin-ryu school, first Kirigami was issued, and then Mokuroku, Chu-gokui, Menkyo, and Shinan-menkyo were issued in order, and at every grade the densho was given in which the catalog of the forms, the secret methods of the style, the origin of the style and so on were written. The one given a Shinan-menkyo was able to become independent, and be a new shisho (teacher).

And many schools held a ceremony for becoming a disciple when they admitted a newcomer, and the newcomer put a seal of blood on the oath document where the rules of the style were written. The contents of the oath were common to most schools: for example, not to tell the contents of the style to even one's parents or brothers and sisters till they are given a license, not to instruct others without permission, not to criticize the other schools, to observe the laws and politics of the government, and the like: and the end of the document stated that the one who violated the before-mentioned vows would surely receive divine punishment.

Besides, although gendai budo is often seen giving group-class lessons with loud orders, kobudo was taught exclusively with individual tutoring, and not in group-class lessons.

Nowadays, very few schools adhere to the time-honored initiation form, and there exist some schools that have adopted the dan grading system or the group-class lesson method like gendai budo.

Iemoto (the head family of a school), soke (the head family or house)

Basically, in kobudo one shisho rarely put Isshi Soden into action, but often trained a number of shihan (however, the art higher than a certain grade are sometimes transmitted to only family members or close relatives.)

Every school had different characteristics: in one school if someone was qualified as Shinan-Menkyo, he or she was allowed to take disciples in and to instruct them freely, in another school he or she was allowed to issue licenses but needed to get the shisho's permission beforehand, and so on. However, in fact unlike today it was difficult to build a nationwide organization, and several cases could be found in which someone that learned in Edo instructed in his hometown without getting permission to instruct. For the foregoing reasons, many styles were formed in one and the same school and name...-ryu (school)...-ha (style).

After the Meiji Restoration, especially after World War II, because traffic and communications developed, and a lot of schools declined and doryutaha (multi styles in the same school) decreased, Soke Seido (system of the head family or house) pervades also in the world of kobudo, and we can see cases where a nationwide organization has been established.