The Japanese marital arts include kendo, judo, karate, kyudo (archery), aikido, naginata, jukendo, sumo and shorinji. The are dozens of others as well as different branches and schools within the major martial arts.

Japanese martial arts — particularly judo and karate — are known around the world. By one estimate 200 million people engage in some form of Japanese martial art around the globe. But sometimes it seems as interest in Japanese martial arts increases abroad, interest decreases at home, where young people are more into video games and soccer.

Many Japanese martial arts are rooted in the strict samurai code of conduct — known as “bushido”, or the way of the samurai. Bushido and Japanese martial arts have traditionally put as much emphasis on character development and respect for traditions as development of fighting skills. Bushido virtues include loyalty, devotion to duty, rising early, having impeccable manners, maintaining a clean and modest demeanor, having skills in practical matters such as administration, showing courage in warfare, having compassion for the oppressed, exercising justice, and possessing a willingness to die for honor and for one’s lord.

Many of the Japanese martial arts grew out of ju jitsu, which in turn is adapted from samurai training exercises. Ju jitsu was a ruthless form of martial arts that included strangleholds and arm-and-wrist locks as well as throws and chops. Many Japanese martial arts have their origins in China, where kung fu was developed.

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One of the basic premises of all martial arts to use the strength of an opponent against them rather than relying on your own individual strength. A good book for gaining insight into the samurai code and Japanese martial arts is “Miyamoto Musashi”, a novel about a legendary swordsman by Eiji Yoshikawa.

Links in this Website: SPORTS IN JAPAN (Click Sports, Recreation, Pets ) Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SUMO RULES AND BASICS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SUMO Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; KARATE, AIKIDO AND JAPANESE MARTIAL ARTS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JUDO, JAPAN AND THE OLYMPICS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; KENDO, ARCHERY AND JAPANESE MARTIAL ARTS WITH WEAPONS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BOXING AND PRO WRESTLING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on Japanese Martial Arts Wikipedia ; Japanese Martial Arts allmartialarts.com ; Classical Martial Arts Resource koryu.com ; Karate: World Karate Federation wkf.net ; Wikipedia article on Karate Wikipedia ; Karate in Okinawa wonder-okinawa.jp ; International Karate Organization, Kyokushinkaikan, Kyokushinkaikan ; All Gojuryu Network gojuryu.net ; International Shuri Ryu Association shuri-ryu.com ; Order of Isshin-Ryu isshinryu.net ; Classical Ryu Te Okinawan Karate kushu.com ; Shotokai Encyclopedia shotokai.com ;Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ;

Aikido Aikido.com aikido.com/ ; Aikikai Foundation Aikikai Foundation; Aikido FAQs aikidofaq.com ; Tom’s Aikido International Pages hosmanek.com/aikido ; Wikipedia article on Aikido Wikipedia ; Encyclopedia of Aikido aikidojournal.com/encyclopedia ; Aikiweb, Aikido Information aikiweb.com ; Aikido Journal aikidojournal.com ;

History of Martial Arts in Japan

Most of Japan’s martial arts, or “budo”, have histories extending back to the protohistoric era. “Yabusame”, or archery on horseback, can be traced to the seventh century. With the rise of the warrior class in the late twelfth century, the “bushi” or “samurai” (members of the warrior class) trained in such disciplines as “kenjutsu” (sword art), “iaijutsu” (sword-drawing art), “jujutsu” (unarmed combat), “kyujutsu” (Japanese archery), “sojutsu” (spear art), “bajutsu” (horsemanship), and “suijutsu” (swimming). These gradually became standardized into styles or schools, which continued even after the country’s feudal domains were pacified during the Edo period (1603 — 1868). [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“With the abolishment of the social class system of the Edo period soon after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the warrior class, which had dominated the farmer, artisan, and merchant classes (the “shi-no-ko-sho” system), disappeared; and with the adoption of modern military weaponry, participation in some of these arts declined. In 1895, following the Sino-Japanese War, a national organization called the “Dai Nippon Budo Kai” (The Great Japan Martial Arts Association) centralized martial arts and oversaw their introduction into the educational system. This led to the revival of many of the arts.

“Following World War II, Occupation authorities imposed a ban on martial arts for five years, because those that had been revived before the war were thought to foster the regimentation and nationalistic spirit that led to the growth of militarism. The ban was lifted in 1950, and efforts were made to stress their positive aspects, treating them as sports rather than martial arts.


Karate is the phonetic spelling of a Japanese word meaning "empty hands." It is generally used to describe the empty-handed arts of punching, kicking, striking and blocking in Japan and Okinawa. A person who practices karate is called a “karateka”. In “karate”, every part of the body can be turned into a fighting weapon. But equally important are defensive techniques used to sidestep or block an opponent’s thrusts and kicks. One aspect of training includes repeatedly striking a “makiwara”, a post covered with straw, to toughen the skin covering the knuckles, wrists, balls of the feet, and other areas. More advanced practitioners often demonstrate their power by smashing boards or breaking roof tiles, but this is not recommended for beginners.

Karate movements tend to be straight ahead and direct, like Korean tae kwon do, not circular like kung fu and judo. Tae kwon do and karate are oriented towards delivering kicks blows. Tae kwon do emphasizes kicking while karate stresses blows. There are approximately a 100 different kinds of karate.

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There are an estimated 60 million people practicing karate worldwide. The World Karate Federation is the main organizing body for karate. It is recognized by the International Olympic Committee and has 178 member countries. Karate is aiming to be an Olympic sport.

Book: “Moving Zen: One Man’s Journey to the Heart of Karate” by C.W. Nicol (Kodansha International) is regarded as one best books in the marital arts ever written. It is by a fiery Welshmen who, in the 1960s, became one of the first foreigners to get a black belt in karate.

History of Karate

Chinese Kung Fu
Modern karate developed in the 20th century but its roots go back much further, The breathing techniques that are so important to karate have their origins in yoga from ancient India and the predecessors of Zen Buddhism from China.

The traditional form of karate evolved in Okinawa, as anyone who has seen the Karate Kid movies already knows. It began to take shape in the late 15th century when Chinese kung fu masters fled to Okinawa (formerly an independent kingdom) during a period of upheaval in China and merged their knowledge with tradition forms of the ("hand") fighting techniques indigenous to Okinawa.

Early forms of karate were known as “Tang hand,” a reference to their Chinese origin (Tang is the name of a famous Chinese dynasty). These methods found followers during the Edo Period Japan when firearms were banned in Okinawa as they were in Japan and people embraced the martial arts.

The art was a late-comer into Japan proper, having been introduced by Funakoshi Gichin in the 1920s. Karate acquired its name in 1922 when it was formally introduced to Japan and incorporated some aspects of jujitsu. The name "empty hand" was chosen to expresses it links to Zen and the idea that they best technique came from reflexes and a mind empty of distractions.

Karate spread outside of Japan mainly with the help of U.S. servicemen stationed in Okinawa. In the 1960s and 70s karate had a large following in the United States. It has since been displaced by tae kwon do introduced from Korea by service stationed there and Koreans immigrating to the U.S.

When British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited Japan for a Group of Seven meeting in Tokyo in the 1980s she was offered protection by 20 female karate experts. British officials lobbied successfully against the move because they worried about the negative publicity generated by the “karate ladies” and they wanted Thatcher to be treated the same as the other world leaders attending the meetings.

Philosophy of Karate

The philosophy behind karate stresses “shin, gi” and “tai” — heart technique, and body. The concept of shin also encompasses concentration, endurance, self-control, and, most important, modesty of mind. A teacher who had practiced karate for 50 years told the Daily Yomiuri, “Practicing is like fighting yourself. It’s not an objective, but a means to develop yourself.”

The aim of many techniques is to deliver as powerful a blow as possible at a specific target and focus all of one’s mental, physical and spiritual energies at that target utilizing ki ("vital force"), which is believed to flow from the pelvic area to the extremities and points for contacts.

Karate also emphasizes counter attacks and exploiting an opponents weaknesses. One 90-year-old karate master told National Geographic, "The Japanese believe that he who attacks first will be the winner — like Pearl harbor. Not in Okinawa.”

Techniques of Karate

Karateka try to develop a strong diaphragm and believe that strong exhalations assist muscle contractions, increase their power. focus and direction. They also believe controls breathing helps reduce fear, focus attention and attain a state of calm alertness.

Karateka are taught to utilize their whole bodies, particularly the bony parts as weapons. A master can exert great force with a single finger. Often time the small the area of contact the more focused and powerful the blow is.

Punching is preferably done for stance in which the legs and are spread wide and the center to gravity low. Some positions are suited for putting up a strong defense. Other are suited for making attacks and delivering kicks.

The hands and feet can be used in a variety of ways. Strikes and punches can be made with the fist, fist edge, knife hand, palm heel, wrist, the fingertips, the thumb, half-clinched fist, elbow and forearm. Kicks can be delivered with knife foot, instep, heel, ball of the foot or knee. The head can also be used.

Forms of Karate

The main forms of karate found in exhibitions are “jiu-kumite” ("free-style fighting"), “kata” ("training dances") and “tamashiwara” ("wood breaking"). Training session also include “kihon” ("basic technical training").

Kata is a fixed sequence of about 30 basic defense and attack moves that are designed for practice and take the form of imaginary fighting against attackers approaching from different directions. Kata performed by a master is sharp, effective, well-balanced and incorporates quick changes of technique and slowness and quickness.

Jiu-kumite is a combative form of karate performed between two individuals. A team usually consists of five karateka that battle their opponents for two or three minutes. Points are scored by landing a perfectly delivered blow to defined areas. If an “ippon”, perfect blow, is landed the bout is over. A wasari is awarded for an almost perfect blow. Two wasari is equal to an ippon. Karateka can also win by decision or if their opponent is disqualified.

Kihon involves executing a variety of strikes, blocks and kicks using the correct position, technique, mental attitude and breathing. They can be performed by individuals or groups.

The goju-ryu style of traditional Okinawan karate is know for its rigorous training methods which often incorporate rocks and earthen pots, The karate master played by Pat Morita in the film “Karate Kid” was modeled after Goju-ryu founder Chojun Miyagi.

Karate as a Sport

Karate used be known primarily as an exhibition sport — with karateka breaking boards and kicking high in the air — rather than a competition sport with combatants aiming for gold medals but now is aiming more to become a . The clothing worn by karateka is similar to that worn by practitioners of judo.

The ranking system is similar to judo with kyu describing the novice levels, and dan, the higher levels. The criteria for each level vary according to style and standards of the instructor. Many students don't get far because the training to hard for them.

In the old days, karate was sometimes a fight to the death and many of the blows have the potential to kill somebody. Now there are the rules and equipment that prevent the combatants from getting killed.

A total of 890 competitors from 99 countries participated in World Karate Federation karate tournament at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan in 2008. Karate was a sport in the Asian games in 2006. Kata events feature an athlete performing against an imaginary opponent. Kumitee vents feature two combatants . Japan not surprisingly won several old medals in the sport. Karate is one of six sports aiming toe be included for the first time at the 2016 Olympics.

Tournament Karate

Tournament karate has two main forms: “kumite” , sparring under specified rules; and “kata” , formalized movements as if fighting multiple opponents.

“In sanctioned competition, “karate” practitioners generally wear protective gear and are cautious to prevent accidental injury. They avoid blows to the head and pull their kicks and punches. In a sparring match, called “kumitejiai”, points are scored by landing thrusts and kicks. “Kata”, which involve a series of ritualized movements, are used to judge form and concentration. While teaching the fine points of their art, “karate” instructors also pay close attention to a student’s attitude and code of conduct. In recent years, more women have begun taking up “karate”. Together with Chinese and Korean martial arts, with which it bears many similarities, “karate” has become popularized throughout the world. The population of “karate” enthusiasts in the world is said to be 50 million. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Kumite matches take place on an eight-square-meter fighting area. Fighters attack with fast “tsuki” punches and kicks, but follow a “non contact” rule, under which they control their attacks by using full-power kicks and strikes but stopping them as close to the opponent as they can without hurting them to avoid injury. Some contact is allowed. But if a competititor strikes or kicks with full force it s regarded as rule violation.

In kumite there are seven division for men and four for women. Men’s matches last three minutes and women’s two minutes. Winner are determined by the number of yuko points given for effective technical attacks with three points given for an effective high kick

Kata routines are judged on the correctness and the accuracy of the kicking and striking, the quality of energy and spirit, and the overall pacing of movements. Various kata performance have become formalized in karate history and kata participants choose from the routines officially designated by tournament organizers.

Breaking Boards

“Tamashiwara” ("wood breaking") is a controversial subject within karate. Some people believe it has a place demonstrating discipline, power and mind over matter. Others regard it as too flashy.

Karateka break roofing tiles, patio cinder blocks, one-inch thick pine boards and other objects with their hand, foot, elbow or head. More flashy tricks include chopping off the top of a bottle or thrusting the fingers into a flying watermelon. Blows are not struck at anything that can't be broken. Boards have there grains aligned with the blow so they break easily. Patio blocks are usually broken rather bricks, which are much less brittle.

To increase their strength, power and accuracy and tighten up the hands and feet, karateka train by striking a post wrapped in foam and canvas. Over time, the “shuto”, the knife edge of the hand develops a callus that acts exactly like a car bumper. One grand master told Discover, "In the beginning your skin is so soft you may end up cutting it. And then comes the blood. This is not recommended. You practice every day hitting harder and harder, and then you can hit as hard as you can without really getting hurt."

Power to Break Boards

To break objects a blow must be delivered with great power, speed and accuracy to a very small area. A black belt capable of breaking five boards delivers a blow at about 46 feet per second with a force of 2,800 newtons. [Source: Curtis Rist, Discover, May 2000]

Karateka are able to break objects that boxers can’t because karate blows for not have the follow throw of boxer's punch. Instead a blow strikes like a cobra and is quickly withdrawn. This caused the object to oscillate to it elastic limit and break. By contrast a punch sets off the oscillations but the a follow throw dampens them and the object doesn't break.

"Amazingly there are no trick involved at all," Mic Feld, an MIT physicist, told Discover magazine "What you have here is one of the most efficient human movements ever conceived. We found nothing in our studies to improve upon the art."

Karateka are not really limited by strength but rather by the size of the hands hitting the boards, which dampens the blow. A hand doesn't break because bone can withstand about 40 times more force than a board.


“Aikido” has its origins in “Aiki jujutsu” of the Daito school of “jujutsu”, founded by Minamoto Yoshimitsu (1045-1127). Ueshiba Morihei (1883-1970) is credited with developing “aikido” into its present form. Although “aikido” may appear similar to “judo” in some respects, the contestants do not grasp each other’s collars and sleeves, but rather remain apart from each other. “Aikido” techniques mainly seek to take advantage of an opponent’s weakness in wrist and arm joints. “Aikido” practitioners do not hold competitive tournaments. Its techniques place emphasis on self defense, which is a principal reason why it is popular among women and those in law enforcement. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Aikido is regarded as less combative than other martial arts. It emphasizes self-cultivation and improvement not necessarily defeating opponents. Some even assert the goal of aikido is to bring about social harmony and world peace. There are two main types of aikido: competitive and non-competitive. The Yoshin and Tomiki schools of aikido put more emphasis on self-defense and fighting and overcoming opponents through neutralizing their power.

Aikido is popular with women partly because it involves less fighting and requires less strength than other martial arts. The action movie actor Steven Seagal practices aikido.

Aikido regards competition as egotistical and humiliating. Practitioners of aikido are taught to follow their instructors and defeat bad vibes in the mind, not fight their opponents, by utilizing “aiki” ("harmonized energy") and “ki”, which can help little guys defeat big bullies. .

In non competitive aikido, partners move each other around while maintaining a center axis and try to remain in harmony with one another. In Tomiko (competitive) aikido, forces is not meet with counter force but rather is avoided, enabling the defender to take advantage of the attackers temporary loss of balance.

History of Aikido

founder of Aikido
The origins of aikido are traced back to “daitoryu”, a secret, thousand-year-old canon of self defense methods that developed from a study of anatomy and ki, based in part on the study of cadavers at execution grounds, dancer and the eating habits of spiders. It was also influenced by other schools of jujitsu, sword and stick fighting, Buddhism and Shintoism.

Aikido was founded by Morihei Uyeshiba (1883-1969), master of martial arts from Hongucho (naw Tanabe) in Wakayama Prefecture who was determined to come up with alternative to fighting after watching his father get physically attacked for his political beliefs. According to legend Uyeshiba once broke the ribs of six attacking thugs by projecting his qi (life force) into a wet towel and once threw to the ground a well known sumo wrestler with a single finger.

Other Martial Arts

Other styles of modern Japanese martial arts include jukendo, jodo, and tankendo.

Udan Ti is a style of Okinawan martial arts that was kept secret within a single family for more than 400 years until it was made public by the 12th head of the family Seikichi Ueharda (1904-2004). Originally developed to fight several opponents at the same time, it emphasizes continually facing one’s opponents, keeping one’s arms and legs straight when making an attack and remaining in constant movement,

Brazilian capoeira, Indonesia pencak silat, southern Chinese kung fu forms such as Hop Gar and Hung Gar kung fu and Mongolian wrestling have reasonable large followings in Japan.

"Combat fitness," an exercise regimen that combined aerobics and the marital arts was popular among Japanese women in the early 2000s.

Image Sources: 1) Andrew Gray Photosensibility, 2) 3) 9) Japan Photo 3) Okinawa tourism 4) 5) 6) 7) World Karate Federation 8) Japan Zone

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2012

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