Japan: The birthplace of martial arts
What are the first words that come to mind when you hear the words “classic Japan”? One is certainly “samurai,” right? Of course-and rightfully so: medieval Japan warriors have become legends and their fighting methods and weapons (especially the razor-sharp katana swords) attract millions of people to Japanese culture.
Part 1The martial arts (or “budo”) are still alive and, well, kicking and anyone visiting Japan can see them and, quite possibly, experience them firsthand. Although not all dojo (i.e. training halls) accept visitors or offer trial sessions, several do and in any municipal or communal sport center, you’ll come across a karate, judo or kendo class with students of all ages.
What budo are available? There are nine officially registered “Nihon Budo,” “Japanese Martial Arts”: karate, judo, aikido, (amateur) sumo, Shorinji Kempo (combining elements from karate and judo), kendo (fencing), naginata (fencing with the Japanese halberd also called “naginata”), jukendo (rifle-andbayonet fencing) and kyudo (archery). Together with kendo go iaido (real sword-drawing) and jodo (use of a 3’9” stick) and together with jukendo goes tankendo, another style of fencing with just the bayonet.
Part 2But there’s more! The above are “gendai budo,” “contemporary martial arts,” created in the late 19th-early 20th century. But the older arts from which they evolved are still taught-from horseback riding to grappling (or even swimming) in yoroi (samurai armor) to firing matchlock guns. These arts are called “kobudo” (meaning “old arts”) and you can find their dojo all over Japan.
Part 3So how do you search for budo? Each gendai budo has some governing organization (like the All-Japan Judo Federation, aikido’s Aikikai Foundation or the All Japan Kendo Federation) but a good starting point for all is the Nippon Budokan in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Besides being a great venue for budo events (championships etc.) it also offers information about the various federations and other budo organizations. As for kobudo, the Budokan is also home to the Nihon Kobudo Kyokai, (Association of Classic Martial Arts)—there you can ask about the various schools and their contact details.
Part 4Also, look out for public events. Regardless of when you visit Japan, there’s probably some budo event taking place somewhere. Especially kendo and judo (easily the most popular budo) are being practiced on school, college and even corporate level so championships are being held all the time. Kobudo events are a little scarcer but there are three big ones in Tokyo: on November 3, in the Meiji Jingu Shrine, on February at the Budokan and on April in Asakusa’s Riverside Sport Center—in first you can also catch an exciting yabusame (horseback archery) tournament.
So since you are already in Japan, don’t miss this opportunity. Look for budo, watch a training and ask if you can participate in a class; unlike other aspects of Japanese culture, budo is something you can experience in the fullest sense of the word. Chances are you aren’t going to regret it!