Rise & Fall of the Imperial System
(4th Century AD – 12the Century)
Japanese history is the embodiment of imperial history. Its story begins with the Yamato family, which established itself in a small province in central Japan during the fourth century. In the course of the next three hundred years, the Yamato family gradually gained control over the numerous warring tribes and clans in the surrounding provinces.
It was by way of trade connections with Korea and China (under the Han Dynasty) that Japan gained the political and social foundations upon which Japanese culture was built. However, as cultural contact with China was interrupted towards the end of the 19th century due to war, Japanese civilization began to take on its own special characteristics and form. Life in the capital was marked by great elegance and refinement. While the court gave itself up to the pursuit of the arts and social pleasures, its authority over the martial clans in the provinces became increasingly uncertain. Effective control passed into the hands of two rival families, the Minamoto and Taira, who both traced their decent from previous emperors. The Minamoto finally prevailed, annihilating the Taira clan in 1185. The Minamoto victory marked the end of the Imperial throne as the effective political power in Japan, and the beginning of seven centuries of feudal rule.
The feudal Age and The Samurai
At the onset of the feudal age, the Samurai were peasant-farmers who fought for their lords to the best of their ability when the occasion rose. As conflict between landlords became more frequent, it became necessary to train armed groups to protect the respective boundaries. At this time, these armed groups were called Samurai or Bushi, but their status in society was not established until, a military government was formed by the Minamoto family in 1192. This military government (the Shogunate) encouraged austerity and the pursuit of the martial arts and related disciplines for the Samurai. These studies were eventually codified and called Bushido – The Way of the Samurai.
Early Development of the Martial Arts (Bugei) – 1000AD
As the Feudal era advanced, the Samurai came to occupy the uppermost strata of Japanese society. Their principal duty was to learn and practice many martial arts, the skills necessary to fulfill their allegiance to the feudal lord for whom they were expected to fight and die. There were numerous martial arts, which the Bushi were required to learn; Ken-jutsu (sword techniques), Ba-jutsu (horsemanship), Kyu-jutsu (archery) and So-jutsu (spear techniques) constituted the principal combat arts. A favourite saying among the Bushi at that time was “Master Eighteen Martial Arts”.
In combat, A bushi relied primarily upon his sword and spear, nonetheless situations often arose in which this was quite impossible. Metal weapons of the period were not always sufficiently strong enough to withstand a long, fierce battle and confined spaces rendered his sword and spear useless. The Samurai were also restricted from carrying swords and other weapons in certain places during peace time. Therefore, it was essential that the Bushi utilize a secondary system of combat techniques to support their armed fighting methods. These unarmed techniques were referred to as Kumiuchi and involved a form of grappling techniques which evolved from Sumo (combat wresting). Kumiuchi also made use of small weapons. With the development of warfare throughout the feudal era, the distinction between armed and unarmed techniques became greater.