The Spirit Behind Japanese Martial Arts


An aikido practitioner throws his counterpart during his test to rise in “belts”. Aikido, like Karate, is one of the martial arts to have emerged from the older fighting schools of Japan. (Used with permission from the Butoku of North Georgia Facebook page)

Bim Peacock, Literature Editor

A flow of tradition has opened wide across the ocean between Japan and America. Since the

time of the Shogunate’s fall in World War II, their foods, their stories, their art, countless things

have melted into our culture from our island brothers. Beyond the many superficial ideas,

however, and even important cultural aspects, lies that which has been overshadowed and

plasticized in modern day times: the Japanese martial arts, or Budo, in their language. Society

finds such things difficult to take seriously, for example, as people bearing its title break their

hand upon a wooden plank. Budo has become little more than a petty sport, a feeble threat

thrown when cornered, and a laughingstock. Before they were warped into this, however, the

Japanese martial arts carried a far deeper importance.

From the very beginning of the East, with the great dynasties of China constantly looming, Japan

has been a center of strife and ever conflicting leadership. Even in ancient days before their

society gained any structure, they already faced warfare as the Chinese ever sought to invade and

conquer. From this beginning, they learned to defend against overwhelming odds and created

quite a golden empire despite such strife. Even so, they were not able to keep from descending

into chaos, and by the late Dark Ages, Japanese society was run by warlords and battling states.

Here lies the birth of our Martial sports. A society in constant battle must learn to become

greater than any rival. As Europe found this in their weapons and technology, Japan found it in

the skill of combat. Masters of fighting emerged from those that survived among the battles of

their states, each having realized a skill that could give them the upper hand. Some found it in

unmatched sword work, such as the esteemed Miyamoto Musashi. Others found it in hand to

hand combat, creating schools that would inspire the modern day art of Karate and other known

styles. Others discovered far more efficient ways of bow mastery, or battling with melee

weaponry, and in far later times, firearms. These fighting styles meant far more than simply

another tradition to be practiced; they were the means of survival, passed down from generation

and warband. They taught the body how to move more effectively in any realm of life, and how

the body’s movements are nothing but reflections of any movement, physical or otherwise.

The Japanese culture grew great on this almost philosophical understanding of war, allowing it to

morph and adapt through time. It was upon this that they were able to face the outreaching

world and conquer as ever through the 1800’s. However, no amount of skill could save the

Japanese culture from the massive blow of an Atomic Bomb, and the consequences that would

follow for their actions in WWII. In the treaty following, they were forbidden to practice any

form of war, including the martial arts they had prided themselves on.

Well, one cannot simply give up the traditions that their ancestors prided themselves upon, and

the Japanese were certainly not going to throw away countless generations of work. As all great

cultures do when faced with such a challenge, they improvised. Many masters of the martial arts

learned to conceal their teachings and practice in secret, while a majority turned to an unlikely

opportunity: turning their arts into sport. The many schools of fighting coalesced into “innocent”

sport leagues in order to preserve their culture: swordsmanship schools formed the Japanese

fencing art, Kendo; certain forms of hand to hand combat combined into Karate and Aikido and

such. Though reduced to a mere game, the Japanese martial arts were able to survive long past

their intended demise.

Remember that not all sports were created as a source of mere entertainment. Some, such as the

martial arts from Japan, helped carry on a nearly lost history, and all the honor it carried for such

a nation.