Japanese Martial History: The rise and fall of the Imperial system. 4th – 12th century A.D
Japanese history is the embodiment of Imperial history. Its story begins with the Yamato race which established itself in a small province in central Japan during the 4th Century. Over the course of the next three hundred years, the Yamato family gained control over the numerous warring tribes and clans in the surrounding provinces. It was through trade connections with Korea and China (under the Han Dynasty) that Japan gained the political and cultural foundation upon which Japanese culture was built. However, as cultural contact with China was interrupted toward the end of the 9th century, Japanese civilization began to take on its own unique characteristics and form. Life in the capital was marked by great elegance and refinement. While the court gave itself up to the pursuits of the arts and social pleasures, its authority over the martial clans in the provinces became increasingly uncertain. Effective control was passed into the hands of two rival families, the Minamoto and the Taira, who both traced their descent from previous emperors. The Minamoto finally prevailed, annihilating the Taira clan in 1185. The victory marks the end of the Imperial throne as the effective political power in Japan, and the beginning of seven centuries of feudal rule.
The Feudal Age
and the Samurai
At the onset of the feudal age, the Samurai were peasants/farmers with very little training who fought for their lords when the occasion arose. As conflicts between landlords became more frequent it became necessary to train armed groups to protect their respective boundaries. At this time, these armed groups were called samurai or bushi, but their status in society was not established until a military government was formed by the Minamoto family in 1192. This military government (the Shogunate) encouraged austerity and the pursuit of martial arts and related disciplines for the Samurai. These studies were eventually codified and called Bushido — the Way of the Samurai.
Early development of
the Martial Arts (Bugei)
1000 A.D. As the feudal era advanced, the Samurai came to occupy the uppermost strata of Japanese society. Their principal duty was to learn and practice martial arts, the skills necessary to fulfill their allegiance to the feudal lord for whom they were expected to fight and die. There were numerous martial arts which the Bushi were required to learn; kenjutsu (sword techniques), bajutsu (horsemanship), kyujutsu (archery), and sojutsu (spear techniques) constituted the principal combat arts. Additionally, it was necessary that the Bushi learn a secondary system of unarmed combat techniques to support their armed fighting methods. These unarmed techniques were referred to as Kumiuchi and involved a form of grappling techniques which evolved from Sumo (combat wrestling). Throughout the feudal era, the distinction between armed and unarmed techniques became more pronounced.