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The History of Budo in Japan

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.

The Roots of Aikido: Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu

The art of Aikido evolved from a variety of classical Japanese combative arts. Many forms and movements in Aikido stem from sword, knife, stick, spear, or archery movements. However, the majority of Aikido comes from an extremely effective open-hand fighting art called Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu.

The development of Aikido from a purely combative art to a study of the way of harmony can be followed from the founding of the roots of Aikido in the ninth century to the teachings today.

The very early history is not completely clear, but the roots of this art are found in the ninth century in a fighting style developed by Prince Sadazumi, the sixth son of Emperor Seiwa. This art, still in simple form, was passed down in their family, the Minamoto, to Shinra Saburo Minamoto no Yoshimitsu, who developed and organized the fundamental principles of Daito-ryu. Yoshimitsu allegedly gained insight by watching spiders subdue their prey. To develop more effective techniques, he also studied the anatomy of joints and tissues by dissecting cadavers.



Yoshimitsu’s second son, Yoshikiyo, moved to the Kai region of Japan and established the Takeda family and clan. The family’s very sophisticated fighting art was passed down through the Takeda group in secrecy. Eventually this art took on the name of Daito-ryu (or Daito-style). The title “Daito” is said to come from the name of Yoshimitsu’s Daito mansion. It is also attributed to a twenty-fifth generation Takeda retainer, Daito Kyunosuke. Throughout the history of the clan, only a select few were allowed to study Daito-ryu.

In 1574, after the Takeda clan was defeated in a war, Takeda Kunitsugu fled to the Aizu region, bringing the art of Daito-ryu with him. The art was still only practiced by a chosen few and was one of the secret Aizu Otome-waza, a group of secret martial arts in Aizu. Eventually called Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, it was to remain completely unknown to the general public until three centuries later.

In the late nineteenth century, as Japan was evolving from a feudal Samurai culture to a more Westernized modern society, a descendent of the Takeda family, Takeda Sokaku, brought Daito-ryu to the public for the first time in nearly a thousand years.


Takeda Sokaku traveled through Japan demonstrating Daito-ryu and refining his techniques through actual combat by challenging other martial artists—or anyone willing to fight. He finally settled in Hokkaido to teach his secret techniques. Takeda Sokaku’s descendants still follow his example and continue to teach Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu today at their Daitokan Dojo in Abashiri, Hokkaido.

Chin Kon Ki Shin

Chin Kon Ki Shin

2004 Article by Dan Penrod

“A practice intended to aid one in joining with the universal spirit and to help one understand the devine mission that is one’s life goal to fulfill.” – From the glossary of… The Principles of Aikido by Mitsugi Saotome

Chinkon is defined as… to settle down and calm the spirit and Kishin is defined as… returning to the divine or kami, which refers to achieving a profound contemplative state where one is grounded to the divine universe.  Chinkon and kishin are generally practiced together where the first part, chinkon, involves revitalization of the senses and the gathering of spirit, while the second part, kishin, involves an alert meditative state.  It’s been said that chinkon and kishin together form a method of achieving unity with the divine, although each has it’s own function.  Chinkon is said, by some, to gather the spirits of the souls wandering the ether into the tanden (abdominal center) while kishin activates those spirits.

Chinkon-kishin has ancient roots that are referenced in the old Shinto texts such as the Kojiki.  The shamanistic practice of mystical breathing and meditation of uniting the divine and human spirits was often used in old times in the preparation of waterfall misogi, an ascetic practice of standing under a freezing waterfall for long periods of time, in meditation, with the objective of cleansing the mind, body, and spirit.  O Sensei often practiced this kind of misogi (spiritual cleansing), but to O Sensei, aikido was his daily misogi practice.  For this reason the founder would prepare for the misogi of his aikido training by performing chinkon-kishin techniques in his warmups.

Masumi Matsumura and Morihei Ueshiba performing chinkon kishin in Mongolia, 1924The practice of traditional chinkon-kishin largely fell out of practice in the Shinto tradition until Onisaburo Deguchi and revived the practice within the Omoto Kyo Shinto religious sect, in the early 1900’s.  When O Sensei met Onisaburo and embraced the Omoto religion he also embraced the practice of chinkon-kishin as taught and practiced by Onisaburo.  O Sensei had embraced the rich Shinto culture and mythology since his childhood.  Omoto Kyo, as a new form of an ancient religion and the charismatic leadership of Onisaburo, had a profound effect on O Sensei’s spiritual path.  The founder and another Omoto follower are show here practicing kishin meditation with their hands folded into various mudra or hand postures.

According to Yasuaki Deguchi, grandson of the Omoto leader Onisaburo Deguchi, Onisaburo’s received his knowledge of chinkon-kishin from a revelation he had while engaging in ascetic practices on Mt. Takakuma.  He also referred to a method of kishin mentioned in the section concerning Emporor Chuai in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and in the record of Empress Jinko in the Ni-honshoki (Chronicle of Japan).  In later years the practice of chinkon-kishin was abandoned in the Omoto Kyo religion because of the profound and often surprising effect it had on its practitioners.  However, the practice was never abandoned by O Sensei and is found mixed into aikido warmups in dojo everywhere today.

There are several forms of chinkon-kishin that O Sensei integrated into the warmups of aikido training.  These exercises, although generally not clearly understood, even by uchideshi of O Sensei, are still practiced in many aikido dojo around the world.  They are practiced largely for their obvious physical benefits.  They are also practiced, in part, for their historical significance.  The founder’s students who retained the practice differ significantly in the details as well as the level of importance they place on this practice, and most of them profess not to understand it.  One student of O Sensei said… “We practice it because it is very important… Sensei said that we would discover the meaning of these techniques for ourselves.”

FuritamaFuritama: “soul shaking”, “settling the ki”, or “vibration of the spirit”

Furitama is practiced standing with the legs shoulder-width apart.  The hands are placed together with the right hand over the left.  A small space is left between the hands.  The hands are placed in front of the abdomen and shaken vigorously up and down.  Inhale to the top of the head rising up naturally.  Then exhale to the bottom of your feet as  you continue shaking your hands up and down.  The exercise if finished in silent and still meditative kishin.

This chinkon exercise was intended to gather the spirits of the divine into ones center… calming the spirit… vibrating the soul.  It’s an effective way to gather your thoughts, center your mind and focus your intention.

Another form of “vibration of the spirit” can be seen in the practice of raising the hands over your head, shaking them vigorously while fingers are extended.  Then throwing the hands down toward the ground.  The founder would speak of shaking the dust from the joints when referring to this wrist loosening exercise.  For him it was a vitalizing movement to shake the impurities from the body… a form of misogi to prepare for aikido practice.

Torifune: “rowing the boat” or “bird rowing”

Torifune, also know as kogi-fune or the rowing exercise involves the arms and body moving in a boat rowing motion.  According to the Kami no Michi, an important text on Shintoism, the hands were clenched in fists, with the thumbs inside, and hand movement was very linear.  Pictures of O’Sense show him with his hands in traditional punching fists, with the thumbs outside.  In old video footage he can be seen practicing  torifune with both linear punching movements as well as sweeping, rowing movements.  Today torifune appears to be mostly practiced with open hands, fingers pointing down, writs being thrust forward and drawn back to the hips.

It’s practiced by first placing the left foot forward.  While thrusting the hands or wrists forward you vocalize the sound “eh”.  While drawing the hands back you vocalize “ho”.  This push / pull is performed rhythmically 20 times, then the right foot is put forward.  Now as you thrust forward you vocalize “ee”.  While you draw back you vocalize “sa”.  In some schools they’ll will do a 3rd set back on the left leg.  “eh” is sounded on both the pushes and pulls.
Ibuki Kokyu: “deep breathing”

Ten-no-kokyu: Breath of heaven
The breath of heaven involves the deep inhalation, with the hands together in front of us, raising the hands in ten-no-kokyu (breath of heaven) posture, together and over the head.  We then proceed to the breath of earth

Chi-no-kokyu: Breath of earth
The breath of earth involves exhaling slowly and bring the hands down in chi-no-kokyu (breath of earth) posture.  The hands are brought down the sides of our body as though pushing down the universe until the hands come back together in front of our abdomen to complete the circle.

Generally, the cycle of ten-no-kokyu and chi-no-kokyu is repeated 3 times in succession.  When practiced by itself, there is usually a quiet pause of kishin at the end of the breathing cycle.  When combined with the other exercises the transitions change and the kishin may move to the end of the combinations.

Furitama, torifune, and ibuki are often practiced together in various combinations.  Sometimes the furitama is interwoven with ibuki.  Other times furitama is interwoven with torifune.  These practices vary a great deal from aikido association to aikido association as well as from dojo to dojo even within associations.

It’s interesting to note that aikido associations heavily influenced by Koichi Tohei practice a great many other kihon undo exercises that Tohei embraced and extended… said to help manifest ki.  As his interests shifted from the old Shinto ways and his attention became focused on the principles of ki, he took some of chinkon-kishin exercises and modified them to compliment his newly codified catalog of ki exercises.

When I began practicing aikido, almost 20 years ago I can’t recall ever seeing Mitsugi Saotome Sensei ever lead us in any of the chinkon-kishin.  This may be because O Sensei de-emphasised the practice in his later years.  Or, it may be because O Sensei left his students, especially in the later years, to wonder about or ignore the older Shinto practices which were seen as increasingly anachronistic in a modern Japan.  It was some years later that I noticed Saotome Sensei introduce his students to furitama, torifune, and ibuki kokyu, possibly as he was rediscovering his own roots in aikido and paying respect to those early traditions.