Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Karate - Bugei or Budo?

I'm a little obsessed with classifications in martial arts at the moment. I'm not sure why this is obsessing me, I think I'm just trying to put karate into context with other martial arts. Anyway, I learnt a new word today - bugei. This is probably a very familiar word to you more experienced martial artists but I hadn't heard of it before. If you haven't heard of it before either then it simply means traditional martial arts, i.e. those of the samurai as opposed to the more modern budo, or martial Ways. I have to say that the revelation that martial Ways are a relatively modern concept was a surprise to me. The definition of 'modern' in respect to Japanese martial arts means after the start of the Meiji Restoration in1866, i.e. post samurai era.
Of course that doesn't mean that the concept of a Japanese Way is this modern, just its application to the fighting arts. Indeed the idea of seeking self improvement through the pursuit of mind, body and spiritual harmony is an ancient Japanese and Chinese tradition based on Zen principles going back to about the 7th century. I suppose that once the samurai were disbanded after the Meiji Restoration, applying these self-improvement principles to their fighting arts was a way to retain a purpose to continue to study them now they weren't needed on the battlefield.

Of course many of these bugei have been kept alive and passed down from generation to generation and are still widely practiced today, though not on a battlefield! These included Sumo (Japanese wrestling), Jujutsu (art of indirect force), kenjutsu (swordsmanship training, specifically with a partner), Iaijutsu (art of drawing the sword) and Naginatajutsu (art of wielding the naginata). What you notice about these arts is that they are generally rather 'niche', apart from perhaps jujutsu. This is another feature that distinguishes the bugei from the budo. Budo on the whole have a much wider range of techniques and applications.

The most interesting bugei though are probably those that are not practiced anymore. For example (and my personal favourite) : Fukumijutsu! This is the art of spitting needles into an opponents eye. I think the health and safety fascists would have something to say about that one today! Also: Hojutsu - the art of binding an enemy with a short cord; Sueijutsu - the art of swimming and treading water while clad in light wooden armour. I suppose we just do this one in pyjamas these days! Yadomeutsu - the art of deflecting flying arrows from a bow and Saiminjutsu - the art of hypnotising the enemy into defeat.

But where does karate fit into all this? Is it bugei or budo or both? I think this question is more complex than it sounds, I think it is probably both but I think I'll investigate that for another post....

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Anonymous said...

If you take bujutsu to mean arts that are meant to be used in mortal combat than I think it depends on the style (Okinawan styles tend to be more comprehensive and more geared toward real-life application while Japanese styles focus a lot on competition and character building, eliminating the more dangerous techniques) and your teacher’s intentions and possibly background. Then again since bugei or bujutsu means warrior-arts or arts meant to be used in warfare to kill and maim very few martial arts today would fit that category since it’s pretty immoral to teach people to kill except when you’re training special forces soldiers, not to mention illegal. Wars aren’t fought with swords, spears and bows anymore, therefore the bugei-arts are all but extinct. What is taught today as unarmed combat in militaries all over the world consists mostly of popular combat sports (boxing, kickboxing, wrestling or BJJ) or a blend of generic martial arts techniques that is simple and can be taught in a matter of weeks. In any case this likely won’t be needed (for it to come to unarmed combat means the enemy got passed the airforce, artillery, tanks, mg’s and a whole host of automatic weapons not to mention the infantry’s own small-arms) and in all but the most extreme cases the aim is no longer to eliminate the enemy by any means. Bugei or bujutsu represent a body of knowledge and skills that were developed in a very specific period in history using now obsolete weapons in confrontations against highly trained warriors. These skills took years to master (a samurai was expected to master at least 18 combative arts including swordmanship, jujutsu, horsemanship & archery) and it’s virtually impossible to find decent instruction in the old arts (at least in the west), even when people train in ancient styles like the katori-shinto-ryu it’s only a semblance of the reality of sengoku-jidai and with only a few hours every week it’s only natural you’ll never be as good as people who did this for a living and whose very life depended on their skill with the sword.

To answer your question: I’d say karate is not really part of bujutsu since fighting with hands and feet (even bo or sai as in kobudo) is highly unlikely on a battlefield with massed formations of warriors wearing armor. I think it’s more fruitful to make a distinction between arts that are primarily intended for self-defense and those that are meant for sports or spiritual education.


Sue C said...

Hi Zara, Some interesting background here. I find it very strange that out of all the martial arts available modern soldiers are taught sport combat skills to protect themselves - even if they are not expected to use it! I don't doubt you are right, just suprised that that is what they do. I would have thought a bit of basic krav maga would have been better - wasn't it the Israeli military that developed that?

Anonymous said...

Actual close combat is very rare these days, if soldiers have to use unarmed techniques it's mostly in the context of peacekeeping missions where deadly force or the use of firearms is rarely justified. Of course special categories of soldiers or SWAT-teams will get a different kind of training but for the great majority of soldiers unarmed training is actually meant to develop proper mentality and toughness, they are not expected to fight to the death anymore, not with their bare hands anyway. Even in very close combat with the enemy you're far better off using a knife, the rifle-butt or the bayonet. As far as I know most militaries still train their men in bayonet-fighting, again mostly for agressiveness and the development of a 'do or die' attitude.

The Israeli military is a bit of an anomaly, both because of their unique history (basically the system was developed for use by jews defending their communities and settlers in Palestine, only later was it used in a military context) and the whole arabic terrorism & occupation context. The Korean militaries (both north and south) are also an exception since they actually teach a fairly traditional martial art (taekwondo) and actually spend alot of time training their soldiers in the art.

Since soldiers are generally quite tough and strong combat sports actually make sense since they offer further physical fitness (for overall fitness & stamina it would be hard to supersede a boxer), a change of training against a resisting opponent and implement basic combat skills at the same time. Again depending on the country or the category of soldier additional techniques (dirty fighting or controlling techniques) may be taught aswell but as far I know training in unarmed combat usually has a very low priority and it's quite impossible to actually teach a fairly comprehensive program in the time allocated in basic training let alone a traditional art. Bugei have no place in modern warfare and combat between individuals at close range really is a thing of the past, it may still happen but even in urban conditions there are so many weapons avaiable that are likely to be used first.

I do know the US Navy Seals are taught by Paul Vunak, a protégé of Dan Inosanto and the program he teaches (called R.A.T or rapid assault tactics) consist of very basic, very aggressive techniques and tactics (mostly headbutts, elbows, knees and groinshots combined with a bit of basic JKD trapping) designed to annihilate the enemy as soon as possible and can be imparted in weeks or a few months at the most. Training in traditional arts (even those once meant to kill and be utterly effective) takes way too long: it takes at least a year to get the basics right (more or less) and even then it takes even longer to actually get any good in realistic conditions. Yet when people invest these years and devote themselves utterly to their chosen art they tend to become extremely capable at fighting, fare more than so called streetfighters or soldiers. I'd much rather take on your average brawler or even an Isreali soldier trained in krav-maga (infantry only get a few weeks of training) than a highly trained individual, regardless of the art. Even seemingly impractical arts like aikido become effective when used by a master or grandmaster.



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