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By Michael Redstone



There is often some confusion between the Japanese terms of Bujutsu, Budo, and Bushido. I hope to give a brief insight to each of these in order that the reader not only understands why they are distinct from one another, but also how they are intrinsically linked together.


The Chronology of Japanese History 

The history of Japan is divided into eras or periods. The names given to each of these periods is linked to the old capitals of Japan, the ruling Shogunate family, or the Emperor’s chosen name.  

Period                                                              Date 

Nara                                                                710-794 AD

Heian                                                               794-1185AD

Kamakura                                                        1185-1333

Muromachi (Ashikaga Shogunate)                     1333-1576

Azuchi-Momoyama                                          1576-1600

Edo (Tokugawa Shogunate)                              1600-1867

Meiji (Emperor)                                                1867-1912

Taisho (Emperor)                                             1912-1926

Showa (Emperor)                                             1926-1989

Heisei  (Emperor)                                             1989-Present

Heian is the present day city of Kyoto; Edo is the present day Tokyo and is the Japanese capital.



Before we start, we must understand some terminology. The literal translation of the word Bujutsu (also known as Bugei) into English is “martial arts” or “martial methods”. The word Bushi can be translated into warrior but it is much more than this. It relates to the Japanese class system and it should really be used to describe the aristocratic warrior that was present in feudal Japan from the 9th century to the 19th century. It should not be confused with the word Samurai, which is a bushi rank. Not all of the fighting men qualified for the rank of bushi, only the professional warrior. Early Shoguns (military ruler) used conscripts to fight their battles, whilst in the Tokugawa period, not all of the bushi were skilled warriors, but only had that title by birthright and in the purest sense, should not be called bushi. 

 It is generally thought that the development of martial traditions, schools (Ryu), or styles did not start until the end of the Heian period when the Bushi class emerged. Before this time it is believed that although there was training in weapons and warfare, there was no codification or system. From the twelve century onwards, martial ryu developed mainly concentrating on sword (kenjutsu), bow and arrow (kyujutsu), spear (sojutsu), and halberd (naginatajutsu). These weapons were not studied separately but rather as a complete system (sogo bujutsu). Since the bushi needed to be ready for the battlefield, a variety of weapons were taught as well as military strategies and tactics. There is an old expression called Bugei Juhappan (18 martial arts). This refers to the training in archery (kyujutsu), horsemanship (bajutsu), spear (sojutsu), sword (kenjutsu), swimming (suieijutsu), sword drawing (iaijutsu), short sword (kogusokujutsu), truncheon (juttejutsu), knife throwing (shurikenjutsu), halberd (naginatajutsu), jujutsu, rope binding (hojojutsu), espionage (ninjutsu), long & short staffs (bojutsu & jojutsu), sickle & chain (kusurigamajutsu), gunnery (hojutsu), and strategy (heihojutsu). It can be seen that the their training was intense and arduous, reflecting the fact that if their techniques failed on the battlefield, they would lose their life. 

The Kamakura Bakufu (military government), under the rule of Shogun Minamoto Yoritomo, recognised the importance of these martial ryu’s and used the best teachers or masters to train their soldiers. The local lords or Daimyo’s also sought out the best schools. Those ryu that did not co-operate or were not chosen simply developed as martial traditions in private domains. Successive Shoguns encouraged the bushi to practice the martial arts and develop their skills, and with this, came loyalty and respect to the Shogun. With this encouragement, more and more schools came into being, so that at one time, according to Donn Draeger, there were more than 9000 ryu’s. As there are no documents to support this, it is not known what happened to these schools, but there must have been some one-student ryu’s! 

Each ryu developed different beliefs and practices so that, in time, they became distinct from one another. With this came the jealousy and feuding between each ryu, leading to duels. Each school, after all, wanted to prove that it was superior to the next one and that their teachers were the best. Every bujutsu school trained using prearranged forms or Kata, as this was and still is, the only way to train without injury or death. As the ryu’s progressed, their knowledge was passed on to successive generations by writing down all their beliefs, customs, history, and fighting techniques on to paper scrolls, known as the Makimono (hand scroll).  

Bujutsu symbolised the strength and prowess of the bushi and the studying and practising of it was exclusive to the warrior class. Commoners were not allowed to study the bujutsu and the possession of weapons used by the bushi was forbidden to them. Studying the bujutsu wasn’t just about the martial arts but also discipline, respect, honour, and courage. 

When the Tokugawa Shogunate came to power in 1600, the political power of the bushi began to wane and although the bujutsu ryu continued to flourish, the end of the classical warrior was coming to an end. By the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the influence of the bushi had all but diminished, with the carrying of swords in public banned. This incensed certain Samurai, who led a series of revolts against the new government, culminating in the samurai’s defeat at the battle of Saigo. With this defeat, many schools that were thought to support the samurai were banned, and had to go underground, (for example, some jujutsu schools pretended to be judo ryu). 



The term, Budo, can be translated as “martial way” or  “path” but it derives from something more complex. The kanji is made up of the words “to stop”, “two”, and “spears”, giving the literal translation of “stop two spears”. This meaning has been interpreted by some as “martial ways to peace” or “peace through training” and it can clearly be seen that this bears no relationship with the origin of Bujutsu. With the word budo comes the idea that both inner and outer peace can be achieved by pursuing martial disciplines. Budo places an importance on the spiritual and meditative side of the martial art. Budo is not concerned with the battlefield arts, merely the perfection of oneself. One could study the Tea Ceremony (Chanoyu) and probably achieve the same result.  

The first evidence of Classical Budo emerged in the mid 17th century, when kenjutsu was transformed into kendo. During the Tokugawa period, Japanese culture changed to reflect more peaceful times. Literature and the Arts developed at the expense of bujutsu and the bushi became surplus to requirements.  

It should be of no surprise that the sword art was the first to change. After all, the sword was the most important weapon to the bushi, not only was it his “soul”, but it is one of the divine objects of the Japanese Imperial Family (Sanshu no Shinki, or “Three Sacred Regalia”, consisting of a sword, a mirror, and a jewel). The transformation of kenjutsu to kendo was also the first time that swordsmanship in any form was open to all classes of people. This was not the only change. Previous kenjutsu instructors had realised that it was impractical to train with real swords. To overcome this, they used wooden blades, usually made of oak. They had the same weight and length as real sword. With new the “way of the sword”, kendo, a new weapon was developed. It had a long handle and, being made of split bamboo, it was also very light. The blade part was tapered, with no curvature. If you were hit with this “new” weapon, then it would hurt, but it would not be as painful as a hardwood sword. The new weapon was called a Shinai. 

Kenjutsu was not the only martial art to change. Iaijutsu developed into Iaido, “the way of drawing the sword”. The movements in iaido are much slower, and more perfect. Every move is meticulously planned, from the time when the sword is unsheathed, to the cut, and back to re-sheathing. The combat value of iaido is almost nothing when compared to iaijutsu.  The aim of the practitioner is to harmonise the spirit and the body, not to kill. 

Perhaps the most spiritual of all the budo is Kyudo, “the way of archery”. This evolved from kyujutsu. Kyudo encompasses not only archery, but also Zen Buddhism. It also has connections to Shinto (“the Way of the Gods”) rituals. The archer must not think about hitting the target, but rather he or she must concentrate on harmonising his or her breath, thoughts, and action. It takes years of study to develop the techniques required for kyudo. According to the Zen Nippon Kyudo Remni, there are eight positions and rules to kyudo: 

1. Positioning the feet                            ashibumi

2. Steadying the body                           dozukuri

3. Holding the bow                               yugamae

4. Raising the bow                                uchiokoshi

5. Drawing the bows in stages               hikiwake

6. The union                                         kai

7.The loose                                          hanare

8. Follow through                                 zanshin

 There are other martial arts that have been transformed into budo:

 1. Jujutsu                                              Judo

2. Aikijujutsu                                        Aikido 

3. Naginatajutsu                                    Naginatado

4. Karatejutsu                                       Karatedo



Bushido, “The Way of the Warrior” refers to the ethical system governing the bushi. It has been popularised by writers such as Inazo Nitobe (“Bushido-The Warrior’s Code”), and Mishima Yukio, who committed suicide in public. Its origins are in Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism.  Central to Bushido philosophy is Giri, or the notion of moral duty. This is not duty in the Western sense of the word but more to do with honour and loyalty. Giri has been described as “the debt the most heaviest to bear”. 

There is no definitive guide to Bushido, but many books have been written over centuries describing the virtues of the bushi, the best known being Budo Shoshin Shu written by the samurai intellectual, Daidoji Yuzan. He wrote “true courage lies in living when it is right to live and dying when it is right to die” and “loyalty, a sprit of justice and bravery are the three natural virtues of the samurai”. It can be seen that there is a relationship between bushido and the Japanese concepts of life and death.  

Although Bushido is not a martial art or form, it is still related to the origins of Bujutsu and Budo. It is one of the reasons how and why the bushi developed bujutsu. 



There is no reason why the modern budo disciplines of Kendo, Aikido, Judo, Karate, Iaido, and Kyudo cannot exist along side those of the bujutsu traditions of Jujutsu, Kenjutsu, Iaijutsu, Aikijutsu, etc. Both the “art” and the “way” have a place in the martial arts community. The tradition of older bujutsu ryu’s against the esoteric of the new ryu’s. Personally, I can see advantages in both. The bujutsu schools give a very good grounding in self-defence, whereas the modern budo schools expound the virtues of meditation, inner peace, and self-discipline. In particular, Kyudo is a great example of this. I will carry on studying my own particular martial art, jujutsu, whilst exploring others.



Classical Bujutsu                                               Donn Draeger

Classical Budo                                                  Donn Draeger

Modern Bujutsu & Budo                                  Donn Draeger

The Way Of The Warrior                                 Howard Reid & Michael Croucher

The Martial Arts                                               Michel Random

Martial Arts                                                      Michael Finn

Bushido: The Warrior’s Code                           Inazo Nitobe

Koryu Bujutsu                                                  Edited by Diane Skoss

Sword & Spirit                                                 Edited by Diane Skoss



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