The evolution of martial arts and the Meiji reconstruction

The evolution of martial arts and the Meiji reconstruction

It is impossible to deny the impact of globalization on the cultural or social aspects of our lives. Technologies are developing, information is transmitted instantly from one point of the world to another. Even sending a signal into space is not a problem. Although people regularly fly into space and Elon Musk even sent a car there.

The centuries-old foundations undergo changes and adapt to modern realities. Many dogmas that previously seemed inviolable, one way or another, pass the test of time. Even the human body changes a little, adjusting to new gadgets, inventions and the benefits of civilization. The principle is simple – adapt or die. This is the law of evolution.

The impact of progress on the world of martial arts

This phenomenon was not spared by the world of martial arts. Globalization, development of transport communications, new ways and tools of communication. All this helps to maximize the dissemination of information. This influenced the expansion of the geography of martial arts, and entailed changes that occurred in techniques and approaches.

First, the general appearance of color gradation of the belts. There is an opinion that it was with the entrance to the European market that they began to carry out certification for belts and introduce the belt system. For the representatives of Eastern cultures themselves, the path of self-improvement is important. But all external manifestations are considered secondary and distracting from the essence. But, nevertheless, the introduction of colored belts is an accomplished fact.

Secondly, the change in the color gradation of the belts after the introduction. We talked about this in more detail in our big article System of ranks in martial arts (part 1). Originally in aikido, the first few student degrees (Kyu) were designated by a white belt. Despite successfully passing the rank test, the color of the obi did not change. Over time, this principle was adjusted, which allowed students to use color segregation earlier.

Interesting Facts:

  • In some schools, although it is formally allowed to wear colored belts, craftsmen and students choose not to change the white belt until they are brown or black.
  • Some federations of classical Aikido, despite the introduction by the Main School of a new system of division of belts depending on the student’s level, did not begin to make changes in the work at the local level.

Third, the change and modernization of techniques. For a long time Japan remained a closed island state, cultivating and developing its foundations and worldview. But when faced with the Europeans, the Japanese began to change and adopt many of the achievements of scientific and technological progress, while trying to preserve their national identity.

This was also reflected in martial arts. People stopped walking the streets with swords. They could attack using not just improvised means, such as a stick or a bottle, but already with knives, or even firearms. That could not but affect the techniques. As well as the emergence of special branches for police and army units.

The Meiji Revolution and Japan’s Changing Foundations

Many martial arts have their origins in Japan. Aikido is also one of them. Therefore, if you really understand the basics and primary sources, then Applied Aikido is also rooted in the teachings of Ueshiba Morihei. Therefore, we will begin our today’s conversation with the Japanese part.

As we wrote above, Japan is an island state with a very clear hierarchy, strong traditions and a samurai system of government led by a shogun. The shogunate period lasted several centuries in Japan, from the 12th century to 1868.

It was this year in the history of the Land of the Rising Sun that became a turning point. Then a truly historical process began, which is called the Meiji Revolution or the Meiji Restoration.

In fact, this period lasted until 1889 and completely transformed the state. Being a rather backward agrarian country, Japan in two decades was able to become one of the leading countries in the world.

This required titanic efforts and changes that affected all areas of life:

  • military;
  • political;
  • socio-economic;
  • legislation;
  • financial policy;
  • diplomacy;
  • religion;
  • education and many other areas of life.

This was the period of transition from the shogunate to imperial rule. During the Meiji Restoration, the foundations were actually broken and the existing achievements of Western civilization were fully implemented. Thus, the state of modern times and the Japanese national identity were formed.

During this period, we are most interested in military reform:

  • the shogunate was liquidated;
  • the shogun is deprived of all titles and possessions;
  • as a result, the liquidation of the principalities, their troops, consisting of samurai, were abolished or reassigned;
  • the imperial power was faced with the goal of creating its own combat-ready army.

In the same period, compulsory military service was introduced, which did not depend on social status. Thus, the biggest part of the army was now made up of peasants who could not buy off military service.

And it was this transition that, in fact, put weapons, including firearms, into the hands of ordinary people. And to make training in the art of war the prerogative of not only the rich and wealthy. The art of war has ceased to be the province of exclusively samurai. The wearing of swords in everyday life began to recede into the past, which could not but affect the technique itself.

Social renewal, return to tradition and access to knowledge

Despite the fact that Japan was moving by leaps and bounds towards development and globalization, no one was going to forget the tradition. Quite the opposite. The Meiji reconstruction took them to a whole new level and breathed new life into the world of martial arts. All this laid the foundations for what we can see in modern times.

Bujutsu, or the traditional martial arts of Japan, was available, as a rule, to a limited circle of people. The learning process very often took place “behind closed doors”, and representatives of the lower classes could not see not only training, but at least some demonstration performances.

The secrets of bujutsu were passed down in several ways:

  • from father to son, or from grandfather to grandson;
  • within the same clan among the warriors;
  • among the upper classes, as a mandatory attribute of training and education.

Commoners mastered only blue-collar occupations and their corresponding skills.

But with the global and comprehensive renewal of the state, its foundations, principles of functioning and the vector of development, the correct upbringing of the younger generation has become an important point. And, oddly enough, the basic principles were taken from the samurai approach.

It was necessary to instill in the young generation several qualities:

  • harmonious development of body and spirit;
  • politeness, education and respect;
  • hard work and craving for self-improvement;
  • striving for the development of culture, both personal and national;
  • be sincere in all your deeds and actions.

These points were intended to form a generation that would have goals aimed at creation:

  • love for your country;
  • respect within society;
  • the advancement of all mankind towards peace and prosperity.

And to implement all of the above, martial arts were chosen. That which brings up the body, spirit, craving for self-improvement and instills the correct universal human values.

After all, the Japanese argue that from early childhood it is necessary to lay the foundation of a fortress, which will be the inner “core” of each personality. And the walls of this fortress are simple:

  • physical health;
  • spirituality;
  • socialization;
  • knowledge and self-improvement.

Take one away – all the rest will fall down like a house of cards. Therefore, it was decided to lay martial arts and the principles of budo in education from early childhood.

For this purpose, the Society of Martial Virtue of Great Japan, or Dai Nippon Butokukai, was created. Among the founders of this organization were practically all the leading martial arts masters of Japan, the most famous of which can rightfully be called the founder of judo, Jigoro Kano.

The organization is very actively involved in the process of educating the younger generation, performing several functions at once:

  • the training system was structured;
  • martial arts were included in the curriculum of general education schools;
  • the training form was approved;
  • new styles of martial arts (including Aikido) were approved and recognized;
  • rank tests were carried out in all types of Japanese martial arts;
  • the process of training coaches and teachers of martial arts took place.

Thus, from rather scattered schools, directions and teachings, a single structure was created, which was engaged not only in improving the qualifications of all representatives of the world of martial arts, but also in promoting martial arts not only within the country, but also within the world.

Modern martial arts of Japan

Thus, the great renewal of the Land of the Rising Sun had a huge impact not only on the economic, military, administrative, or religious component, but on all areas as a whole.

As a result, there was a serious impetus in the development of martial arts, which led, among other things, to their recognition and distribution, as well as the emergence of new styles. In this and the subsequent period, it is worth highlighting several main points:

  • the origin of judo, which is rooted in jujutsu;
  • the emergence of kendo, as a derivative of kenjutsu, with the aim of reviving samurai traditions, educating character and instilling the Japanese spirit of youth;
  • recognition, evolution and spread of karate;
  • the emergence of Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu and the subsequent emergence of Aikido;
  • the formation of Shorinji-kempo.

All these events are an integral part of the processes taking place in Japan at that time.

Among other things, in addition to the educational and military component, a sports and competitive aspect appears, which gives a new round to the development and popularization of martial arts. Globalization and Japan’s interaction with the outside world contribute to the popularization of martial arts in other countries and on all continents.

One of the turning points can be considered the inclusion of judo in the Olympic program:

  • judo first appeared at the 1964 Olympics. What brought this direction to an incredibly high level.
  • Since 1992, the competition has been included in the women’s Olympic program.

In 2020, at the Tokyo Olympics, postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, karate was to be introduced for the first time.

But not all martial arts took the competitive path. The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, created his own direction, in which any competition is completely absent, as contrary to the essence of this martial art.

Aikido, in the understanding and interpretation of the founder, is a kind of synthesis of the martial and spiritual aspects based on the religious beliefs of Ueshiba Morihei himself. One of the goals of the creation of classical Aikido was the emergence of a martial art that would help protect not only the defender, but also the attacker from injury. Deeper work, all aimed at the same self-improvement, respect and creation. In fact, this is a topic for a whole and long conversation, so we will definitely devote a separate article to it.

Thus, having created Aikido, O-Sensei himself banned the holding of competitions as contrary to the essence of the direction. Which, however, does not at all prevent many schools and federations from conducting them. We discussed this topic in more detail in the article Competitions in Aikido: Pros and Cons.

But, regardless of what the federations are doing now, it is extremely difficult to overestimate the contribution of Aikido to the popularization of martial arts. After all, this style has a huge number of followers around the world.