The Nature of Modern Martial Arts by Kenji Tomiki

Statue on Ganryu Island representing the famous duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro

“When peace came the samurai no longer wore protective equipment. Ryoma Sakamoto was killed at an inn while drinking tea, by an assassin charging at full speed down the corridor.”

From Aiki News #95 (Spring/Summer 1993)

This essay has been edited with the help of Fumiaki Shishida of the Japan Aikido Association from tapes made during Aiki News interviews with Kenji Tomiki Shihan in 1979. Tomiki describes the evolution of the martial arts and stresses the historical inevitability of competition to keep these arts alive. He also emphasizes the need to look at budo from a broad educational perspective so that its essential value will be preserved and can be spread throughout the world.

From live blade to kata

The Japanese fought with real swords up until the beginning of the Edo era. Those who are known as the founders of various schools of swordsmanship, such as Musashi Miyamoto, Sekishusai Yagyu, and Tajimamori Yagyu, grew strong and cultivated their abilities by using their skills to kill.

The famous duel on Ganryu island between Musashi and Kojiro Sasaki is one example. Kojiro was, despite his youth, one of the best swordsmen of the western region of Japan, while Musashi, though a middle-aged man, was known to be the best in the eastern region. People were curious about which of the two was strongest, and so the duel on the island was set up.

This contest was similar to a modern sports match. Two excellent men challenged each other for the right to be known as champion. However, they used real swords and unfortunately young Kojiro was killed. Musashi, on the other hand, survived and became famous. Survivors such as Musashi became the masters of various schools of swordsmanship. It is not possible to know one’s true martial ability without fighting. During the peaceful days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the government issued an official notice prohibiting such violent killings. Thus, swordsmen began to practice kata [forms] exclusively.

When you train in kata you must release your strength at the very last moment. It is permissible for the swords of the opponents to knock against each other, but one must stop just short of killing his adversary. Thus, it is necessary to practice the basic movements for a long time before beginning to train in the actual kata. One must be able to stop the sword no matter where it is. It is dangerous to attempt to practice the kata before having learned the basic movements. Once the basics are learned, the teacher will then instruct the student to strike at him.

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