By the second century A.D., there was widespread use of sharp-edged tools in Japan. Tools such as hatchets, knives, and arrowheads were made of copper. These weapons were used for protection and to compete and exert one’s power over other people or other groups. With the development of weapons came the study and development of fighting techniques.
The strongest of these groups was the Yamato family (the ancestors of Japan’s Royal Family). The history of the Yamato was told and handed down by professional kataribe—storytellers who would memorize and recite tales of their history before the written word was used. Kataribe selected children with superior memories to carry on the stories of the Yamato. When the written word was introduced in Japan from China, these words were changed to become Japanese. Using these words, the stories told by the kataribe were written down to form Japan’s oldest book, the Kojiki.
In this book are stories of how the country of Japan was formed, how the ancient Yamato planned the conquest of Izumo no Kuni, and how battles were fought using weapons. The story of these battles begins with Amaterasu, who sends her own child, Takemikazuchi no Kami, to conquer Izumo no Kuni. He was met with resistance by the ruling family of Izumo no Kuni, and his powers were challenged by Takeminakata no Kami, the eldest son of the ruler of Izumo no Kuni. When Takeminakata grabbed the arm of Takemikazuchi no Kami, the arm was thick and strong like an ice pillar and could not be fully grasped, like the edge of a sword. However, when Takemikazuchi grabbed Takeminakata’s arm, he could easily swing him around and throw him as if he were swinging a piece of straw. In this way, it is said that Takemikazuchi no Kami was able to take over Izumo no Kuni without a deadly battle.
This type of story is interesting because of its similarities with Aikido. Through these stories, we can see that martial arts-like principles existed even in ancient times. Since then, groups and individuals studied and practiced martial arts, which led to its further development. In the eighth century, martial arts study was promoted with the establishment of the Butokuden, a government-sanctioned dojo, in the city of Kyoto.
The actual basis of martial arts was established during the Samurai rule of Japan during the Kamakura Era (twelfth century). From this time until the breakdown of Samurai rule in the nineteenth century, all Samurai were required to create, study, and develop martial arts. In the beginning, however, fighting techniques were designed mainly for exceptionally strong individuals.
During the Muromachi Era (fourteenth century), fighting techniques became systematized and organized and were taught and passed down. Complex techniques that had never been seen before were developed. The techniques that were founded during this period became the basis of the various martial arts that were created or changed over the next several hundred years. Many of today’s martial arts can be traced back to this period.
With the arrival of the gun in Japan in the sixteenth century, there was also a major change in martial arts. Techniques that were originally designed for men in armor were changed and improved for use with lighter clothing. Techniques of this sort became the mainstream for martial arts during this period.
The Age of Provincial Wars came to an end in the seventeenth century with the coming of the Edo Era. With the absence of battles and less need for fighting techniques, the purpose of martial techniques changed from solely a tool for fighting to a method for training and disciplining one’s body and mind. The development of Bushido, the code for the Samurai’s life, was deepened under the influence of Shintoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, and with the development of Japanese literature. The purpose of the martial arts evolved from simply killing the enemy to the development of a higher level of technique and philosophy.
In the nineteenth century, the Samurai society came to an end. Budo and Bujutsu were not as essential in the new society. Newly introduced Western ideas and technologies were more favored than old traditions, and Budo dojos and Budo styles dwindled rapidly as lifestyles changed.
Upon entering the twentieth century, Budo was looked upon with renewed interest as a part of the education of Japanese youth. Budo, centered around Judo and Kendo, became so widespread that it seemed that all Japanese were once again studying some sort of Budo. However, after World War II, the Allied nations who occupied Japan outlawed the practice of Budo in the belief that the martial arts lead to militarism. With the rebuilding of Japan and the slow return of stability in the lives of Japanese, this misunderstanding of Budo slowly faded, and around the 1950s Budo began to regain its popularity once more.
However, with the widespread popularity of Budo, keeping a high standard of teaching sometimes became difficult, and Aikido had its share of instructors and high-ranking persons who did not have a full understanding of correct techniques and philosophy. Consequently, rank was easily given to many students who were not worthy of those ranks. The number of groups or instructors who studied correct Budo and correct Aikido were few.
In Florida, we give the utmost effort to study and spread what we believe to be the most correct and pure Aikido, with an understanding of the history of Bujutsu and Budo. It is Saotome sensei’s wish that his teachings can reach each and every member and that they go forward in this wonderful Aikido.