Budo – Japanese Martial Arts

May 29th, 2009 | By | Category: History & Culture

karate Budo Japanese Martial Arts Many of us are familiar with the martial arts of Karate, Judo and Kendo but did you know that there are a others officially recognized as Budo (Japanese martial ways) as well?

“Budo, the Japanese martial ways, have their origins in the age-old martial spirit of Japan. Through centuries of historical and social change, these forms of traditional culture evolved from combat techniques (jutsu) into ways of self-development (do).” Source:  Nippon Budokan Official website, Budo Charter

In ancient Japan fighting was done with the hands and later with swords as well as the bow and arrow – all of these skills make up what we now know as the martial arts of Japan.  Over the centuries a number of different schools or styles emerged, nine of which are now officially recognized by the Budo Charter.  While the weapons and forms of fighting may be different all the sports seek the perfect unity of mind and technique.


Jigoro Kano combined what he considered the best of Jujitsu, a form of wrestling, with mental discipline and established in Judo 1882.  Men’s Judowas officially recognized as an Olympic Sport at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and the women followed at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.  Today more than 180 countries are active in the International Judo Federation.

imageKendo Budo Japanese Martial Arts


The concept of Kendo (pictured above right) is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).  A shinai is a flexible bamboo pole that is used to represent a sword with the goal of the sport to obtain “shin-ki-ryoku-itchi (unification of mind, spirit and technique)” utilizing the weapon.  The All Japan Kendo Foundation is a great resource for those who want to learn more about the sport.


Not as common as Kendo, Jukendo is a similar martial art that employs wooden poles replicating bayonets rather than using the shinai used in kendo.


Kyudo is a form of archery and literally translated mean “Way of the Bow”.  The practice is said to have developed base upon the hunting techniques used by the Yayoi people as early as 250 BC.   The bow is considered a symbol of authority and to wield one skillfully at the time provided the bearer with much political power.  Like other Japanese Budo, modern Kyudo is practiced primarily as a method of physical, moral, and spiritual development and the perfect shot is said to exist before the arrow strike the center of the target. Learn more about this ancient sport at Kyudo.com.

Kyudo Budo Japanese Martial ArtsSumo Budo Japanese Martial Arts


Probably one of Japan’s most famous sports, Sumo  is a specialized form of wrestling that has a history dating back prior to 720 when it was mentioned in the Nihon shoki (Chronicle of Japan).  Sumo was first practiced as part of religious ceremonies patronized by the Imperial Court in Nara.   Today Sumo Basho (tournaments) are held across the country throughout the year and are watched by millions in television.  The Grand Sumo home page offers some great information for those who want to learn more about the unofficial “national sport” of Japan.


The Japan Karate Association dates the practice of Karate to Okinawa as te over 500 years ago.  Karate-do literally means “the way of the empty hand” and practitioners use no weapons to attack and defend, only the hands, feet, and body. (pictured top right).  If you visit Tokyo it is possible to practice at the Tokyo Karate Dojo.


Kenpo is a form of Karate that is also practiced unarmed.  Literally translated as “Fist Law”, Kenpo (pronounced “kempo”) is thought to have come to Japan from China over 700 years ago.  Kenpo Karate is a good resource for those who want to learn more about the sport and it’s history.


The Aikikai Foundation says “Aikido movement maintains this firm and stable center with an emphasis on spherical rotation characterized by flowing, circular, dance-like motions. These pivoting, entering and circling motions are used to control and overcome the opponent. The principle of spherical rotation makes it possible to defend one self from an opponent of superior size, strength, and experience.”  Similar to the martial arts of Judo and Karate, Aikido is practiced unarmed.

Aikido Budo Japanese Martial Arts Naginata Budo Japanese Martial Arts


Dating back to the 6th century, Nagingata is practiced with a a long pole with a sharp curving sword blade at one end.  With the advent of rifles the use of Nagingata as a method of combat was relegated to women and priests (pictured above right).

“By the Edo period, when the naginata was hardly ever used in combat, it became the representative weapon of samurai women. They would engage in training in order to polish the virtues of Harmony, Order, Chastity and Moderation” Source: What’s Nagigata?


As the overarching term describing the martial arts of Japan, Budo incorporates the precepts of Zen Buddhism and encourages practitioners and teachers of the various official sports to “build their character, enhance their sense of judgement, and become disciplined individuals capable of making contributions to society at large.”

Respect, courtesy and self-control are valued traits in the practice of Budo and the Nippon Budokan advocates these nine sports as a way to enhance these characteristics outside of the dojo (ring) where they are taught.

Image Credit:  Flickr, Nikkei Rio Expo – Apresentações de artes marciais, Kendo, Arqueira, Karate kata, Apresentacao de Aikido & IBU rhythm naginata final pose

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  1. There are many other martial arts, many based around swords. For example, Iai-do and Iai-jutsu are the arts of defense, based on drawing swords quickly and going through stylized movements in order to dispatch an attacker. In many ways, such arts have more in common with tea ceremony than with, say, fencing.

  2. This article is not about Budo. It is about sports invented after 1900 + sumo. Do some research inte real budo before misusing the word.

  3. @love - All of these sports have histories that date back well before 1900 and are the sports that are members of the Japanese Budo Association. (check the link in the article to the Budo Charter) I suspect your quibble about the use of the word may be with them and the sports that choose not to apply for membership in the organization rather than my use of the word…

  4. Saying that these sports have a historical connection with ancient budo is like saying that modern fencing is linked to how medieval knights fought. Sure at some level it is true but most people probably see how pathetic such a connection is.
    I think it’s sad how the word Budo has been high-jacked.

    An article on the subject:

  5. I just want to clarify that I have the utmost respect for most practitioners of these arts. And there are many out there who practice them with the spirit of budo in mind. But this article implies that budo is something akin to the sports we see today - wich it is not - and therefor the article has to be disputed. And that it tries to link ancient budo to modern martial arts sports wich most historians dispute.

    (Sumo and Kyudo have their roots intact)

    But this article is flawed, it should be mentioned. People should not read this and think that it is the whole truth. That is why I comment it.

  6. what of Isshinryu karate

  7. Budo saved my life. What is a better gift than the gift of life?
    I practise Genwakai Karate at Bushido dojo two times a week in Amstelveen and Amsterdam.
    Dennis Huizer

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