What are Japanese Martial Arts?
Japanese martial arts are any type of martial art that was developed on the island of Japan. This includes a variety of different Japanese martial arts with swords and other weapons.
That is why we want to spotlight the Japanese martial arts with swords and other weapons. We’ll give you a little history lesson on these martial arts and why they were once so popular.
Are there Japanese Martial Arts That Practice with Real Swords?
There are many different types of Japanese martial arts that use real swords and other bladed weapons in training. Although the ones that use real weapons do not practice them with partners.
They are more practiced alone in different types of movements and katas. Martial arts that use real weapons also implement the use of targets to practice accuracy, precision, and power.
Other martial arts that practice weapons with partners do so with wooden swords like bokkens or shinai. Students also must wear full body protective gear in order not to get seriously hurt.
Katana Martial Arts
The most known weapon in the history of Japanese warfare is the katana. There are two classes of martial arts that practice techniques with this sword. kendo martial arts and kenjutsu martial arts.
Kendo is a weapon martial art that means “way of the sword.” You practice with a wooden sword called a kendo to develop basic skills in sword fighting. Also to develop discipline within oneself.
What is Kenjutsu?
Kenjutsu is another style of sword practice that means “the technique of the sword.” This is a weapon art that is done more for war and is practiced with actual swords.
Kendo vs. Kenjutsu
While they may seem the same, there are many differences between kendo and kenjutsu. The biggest difference between kendo and kenjutsu is that kenjutsu is more designed for warfare, whereas kendo is more of a sport.
Kenjutsu will also at times practice with real katanas, whereas kendo is strictly done with wooden swords. It’s more of a game where both competitors wear full protective gear and try to land points on each other.
Japanese Martial Arts Weapons List
Different types of Japanese martial arts used a variety of different weapons. Here is a list of martial arts weapons that are used within Japanese-based martial arts.
- Bo Staff
- Kusarigama(Sickles & Chain)
- Gunsen, Tessen, Gunbao (War Fans)
- Kiseru (Battle Pipes)
- Wakizashi (Short Samurai Sword)
- Yumi (Bow & Arrow)
- Fukiya (Blow Dart)
- Bohiya (Fire Arrows)
- Horokubiya (Bomb)
- Tanegashima (Matchlock Gun)
- Shurikens (Throwing Stars)
- Kunai (Throwing Daggers)
- Tetsubishi (Metal Thorns)
- Yawara (Loaded Fist)
- Kon (Six Foot Staff)
- Ono( Hatchet)
- Kanabo (Spiked Bo-Staff)
- Otsuchi (Battle Hammer)
- Kyoketsu (Hook, Dagger & Rope Combo)
- Teko-Gagi (Metal Claws)
- Kakute (Spiked Rings)
- Bokken (Wooden Sword)
- Iaito (Unsharpened Metal Sword)
- Shinken (Basic Japanese Metal Sword)
- Yumi (Bow)
A List of Japanese Martial Arts with Swords
The art of aikido is more known for being a self-defense style of grappling. But the martial art also includes various weapons training.
Aikido creator Morihei Ueshiba wasn’t just proficient in grappling but also in the use of weapons. This is why he included three different types of weapons training within his martial art.
These three weapons include the short staff (jo), wooden sword (bokken), and knife (tanto). Some more modern styles of Aikido also include techniques for disarming firearms within them.
Battojutsu, which is also called iaijutsu or batto, is a classic style of Japanese sword training. It is a live blade style of training that was integrated into the more known and modern art of kenjutsu.
The training in this martial art is strictly for combative purposes. You train specifically with a katana and learn the importance of distancing, timing, and targeting.
This martial art was specifically designed to be used in battle and not as a sport. Due to the changing of the times, this martial art is not as widely practiced as it was centuries ago.
Bojutsu is the art of learning how to use the bo-staff. The long stick is generally made out of a hard word like bamboo.
This weapon is revered as being incredibly effective against bladed weapons like the katana. Early users, who were not permitted to carry swords, had to improvise and began training with long bamboo sticks.
Bojutsu is the combination of the words bo and jutsu, with bo meaning wood and jutsu meaning art or method. Put together, the word bojustu means “the art of the staff.”
Some of the techniques in bojutsu include defenses, strikes, sweeps, spins, and disarming an opponent.
Bujutsu is a blanket term that covers the arts of kenjutsu, sojutsu, jojutsu, and various other styles. The word is a combination of the words “bu” and “jutsu.”
Bu means war and jutsu means techniques, which together the word means “techniques of war.” The term “budo” is very similar to “bujutsu” and is the more commonly used of the two terms in modern times.
It’s similar to the Chinese terms wushu or kung fu, which are also umbrella terms for various things. Not just pertaining to martial arts styles.
Another Japanese martial art that focuses on training with a staff is hanbojutsu. This martial art is practiced with a particular type of staff called the hanbo staff.
A 3-foot (914.4 cm) long staff that is much shorter than a jo or bo staff This weapon could not win a battle against a sword of equal or greater strength.
But in hanbojutsu, students are taught to get inside a swordsman’s range. Using the hanbo to pin their arms and prevent their attacker from using their sword against them.
Due to hanbos being shorter, many of the attacks are similar to other attacks that are used in cane martial arts.
Iaido is the art of drawing a sword from its scabbard. Just like with guns in the west, the one who drew the fastest would be the winner.
Iaidokas or iaido students would train with three different types of weapons: bokken (wooden sword), iaito (unsharpened metal sword), and shinken (sharp metal sword).
Students of this martial art would work on stancing and gripping in order to unsheathe their sword and strike. They will also only practice strokes or cutting attacks that come off of the unsheathing of the sword.
This martial art has similarities to kendo but does not include sparring within it.
Iaijutsu is one of the older styles of sword drawing that iaido developed from. It is the combat version of iaido that focuses on the quick draw of the katana and wakizashi swords.
It is generally taught alongside kenjutsu and bujutsu and different sub-styles of these sword arts.
Itto-Ryu is one of the oldest Japanese martial arts with swords. It includes various substyles such as enshin itto-ryu, hokushin itto-ryu, kogen itto-ryu, mizoguchi-ha itto-ryu, nakanishi-ha itto-ryu, and ono-ha itto-ryu.
This style and its sub-styles were founded on three basic skills.
- Kumitachi: Practice against an attacker.
- Tameshi giri: Cutting targets using a real sword
This martial art influenced any styles that came after it that used swords. One of the most practiced styles that itto-ryu influenced is the art of kendo.
Jojutsu is another martial art that uses a type of staff called a jo. A staff that is around 4 ft, which is shorter than the traditional 6 ft bo staff.
This style was created by Muso Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi, a student of bo-staff expert Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto.
The legend goes that Muso challenged legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi to a sparring match and lost.
After being defeated, it is said that Muso went into the mountains and developed jojutsu. He cut the traditional bo-staff by two feet and made it thinner.
He would develop a variety of new techniques with his jo that would catch on and are still taught.
Jukendo is a martial art that trains students how to use a bayonet. The blade is connected to the end of a rifle. This martial art was founded in the late 1700s when rifles began to be added to the Japanese military.
This martial art includes various thrusting and defensive techniques. Today, the martial art is still taught within the Japanese military. Members of the Japanese military also teach these bayonet techniques to other militaries and police forces around the world.
Kendo is the most well-known and practiced weapon art that was developed in Japan. It was developed during the 18th century.
The art nearly died due to the Meiji Restoration, when the samurai class was abolished. But it made a comeback in 1887 due to the uprisings against the government.
It would be used in the training of police officers and later members of the military. Kendo would then be added to the physical education curricula of schools in the early 1900s.
This martial art would rise in popularity before being banned after WW2 and then make another comeback.
Students wear full armor, which is called a bogu. The bogu consists of four different pieces of armor.
- Helmet (Men)
- Body Protector( Do)
- Gloves (Kote)
- Groin Protector( Tare)
Students use two types of wooden swords which are called bokken or shinai. They practiced different swordsmanship techniques and did them in a sports setting. Kendo students also practice iaido to learn different cutting techniques.
The martial art has a loyal following in Japan and various smaller kendo federations throughout the world.
Kenjutsu is a sword martial art that dates back all the way to the 8th century. It is the polar opposite of kendo, which is more of a sparring sword art.
In Kenjutsu, the focus is more on technique and katas. Students use real swords and go through movements that were designed to be used in battle.
They also practice eight basic cuts during their training.
- Shomen Uchi: Vertical downward face cut
- Hidari Kessa Giri: left diagonal cut from shoulder to hip
- Hidari Ichimond Giri: Left Horizontal Cut
- Hidari Joho Giri: Left upward diagonal cut(waist to shoulder)
- Migi Joho Giri: right upward diagonal cut(waist to shoulder)
- Migi Ichimonji Giri: Right horizontal cut
- Migi Kessa Giri: Right diagonal downward cut from the shoulder to hip
- Tsuke: Sword Thrust
- Uke genashi: Block and deflection techniques
- Uke Tomi: Direct blocking techniques
- Uke kiri: block and counter cutting techniques
Not only is the body targeted in kenjutsu, but also the hands and wrists. This is to try and disarm an enemy before landing a death blow.
Kenjutsu is also one of the most influential Japanese martial arts with swords. Any Japanese sword art that came after it was likely inspired by kenjutsu or took something from it.
Kobudo is the weapons system of Okinawan martial arts that has centuries of history. The legend goes that Okinawan farmers began using farm tools as weapons against occupying samurai warlords after Japan took control.
The name kobudo translates to English as “the old martial way of Okinawa.” This weapons system doesn’t teach the use of one weapon but several types of weapons.
All of these weapons were taught along with hand-to-hand combat. Early karate practitioners were well versed in the use of any one of these weapons.
Some of the original Kobudo kata forms are still practiced by many weapons experts.
All cultures teach a form of archery, and the Japanese style is known as kyodo. Before the invention of guns, kyodo was one of the most practiced weapons systems in Japan.
The art of kyodo is more of a sports form of archery than one used for combat. Its name translates to “way of the bow.”
During a time of peace during the Edo period, kyodo was one of the sports established during that time. This sport would even become part of the physical education program in many Japanese schools.
Today, the sport of kyodo is overseen by the Kyodo Federation and has a loyal following of practitioners.
Kyojutsu is another form of archery that was taught along with Kyodo. But unlike kyodo, the art of kyojitsu was developed for war.
Primarily to target weak points within a samurai’s army to land a fatal shot. This also includes shooting an arrow while riding a horse.
The art of kyojitsu has faded due to innovations in military technology, but kyodo is still widely practiced in Japan.
The art of naginatajutsu is the practice of using the ancient Japanese weapon known as the naginata. A long staff with a spear end that has been part of Japanese warfare for centuries.
This weapon was specifically designed to attack mounted enemies on horseback. It has a length of about 6 ft, which makes it perfect to attack mounted enemies.
The bladed end of a nagata is called a monouchi, while the butt-end is called the ishizuki.
Attacks with a nagata include:
- Furiage: Overhead strikes
- Mochikae: Switching grips
- Furikaeshi: Spinning attacks
- Kurikomi: Short-ranged attacks
- Kuridashi: Long-ranged attacks
In modern times, naginatajutsu has become sort of a sport similar to kendo. Full armor is worn and the first competitor to score a certain number of points wins.
Nunchaku-do is the art of using nunchaku or nunchucks which is the more used name.. Different Asian cultures have variations of nunchakus, but in Japan, they were developed in Okinawa.
The legend goes that they were originally farm tools but were used as weapons during the weapons ban in Okinawa. This weapon can be single-wielded or dual-wielded with various possibilities for an attack.
Everything from blocking an enemy’s sword or hitting them from various angles at a long range.
Nunchaku-do is a more modern use of the weapon that was actually founded by a Dutchman named Milco Lambrecht. A sport where competitors wear helmets and point spar with nunchakus.
They are also widely popular within karate, where they are used in kata competitions.
Shintaido is a hybrid martial art that mixes various disciplines with its system. Everything from karate, kenjutsu, bojutsu, and meditation practices.
It is both an open-hand striking system and also implements the use of weapons. This mix of hard and soft techniques is designed to cultivate self-discipline in students along with developing their spirit.
Sijun Dobup is a fusion of Japanese and Korean art that practices the use of the katana. This discipline combines the Japanese sword arts of Koryu Toyama-ryu and Nakamura-ryu with Chosun Sebup. The Korean sword art of Chosun sebup (Also spelled bonguk geombup)
It has many similarities to the art of iaido in that it primarily practices unsheathing and first strikes. Although in sijun dobup, you start in a neutral standing position, whereas iaido begins on your knees.
Beginner students begin learning with a wooden sword, then work their way up to a blunt steel sword. Once they’ve proven proficiency with their technique, they are then permitted to use sharpened swords.
Sojutsu is the Japanese weapon art of fighting with a long spear called a yari. A traditional Japanese weapon made from bamboo with a blade placed on the end.
Techniques in sojutsu are either performed mounted on a horse or on your feet. designed to either strike enemies from on high or take someone off their horse.
This weaponry was taught to the low-ranking foot soldiers that would be on the front lines of a battle. High-ranking samurai would also learn this art to hit enemies on top of a horse.
Taiho Jutsu was developed by feudal-era police who used weapons and joint locks to arrest criminals. Many of the techniques have been modernized and are used by present-day Japanese police.
Taiho Jutusu’s teachings now include elements of karate and Japanese jiu-jitsu. The International Taiho Jutsu Federation has developed its own belt system that consists of 6 colored belts before black belt ranks.
Tessenjutsu is the practice of the bladed war fans that are known as tessens. They are disguised as normal fans that were regularly used to stay cool on hot days.
Samurai or assassins would go into areas where swords weren’t allowed with tessens disguised as normal fans. They were discreet but powerful weapons that could do damage.
Depending on the types of blades a tessen had, they could be used for a variety of attacks. Everything from slashes, thrusts, joint locks, or even strangulation techniques.
Yabusame is another form of Japanese archery that is performed on horseback. This style would prepare samurai to use the yumi bow while riding horseback.
Students would practice yabusame by trying to hit targets as they rode past them on their horses. To be considered proficient at this form of archery, students must hit 3 targets within 20 seconds on a 300-yard track.
One of the most difficult styles of archery that was practiced was
Yamanni ryu is another Okinawan martial art whose focus is on practicing traditional weapons that were used on the island. It has similarities to Kobudo, which also focused on the practice of different weapons that were used in Okinawa.
The weapons that were used in Yamanni ryu include the bo, sai, and tonfa. Out of these three weapons, the most used was the bo staff.
Even though times have changed, there are still numerous Japanese martial arts with weapons that are still being practiced today. Students of these centuries-old arts are ensuring that they will live on and are never forgotten.