Ancient Japanese Samurai Training Methods

Written by daniel r. mueller
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Ancient Japanese Samurai Training Methods
Samurai armour was made of composite materials, not plate metal. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

In ancient Japan the samurai formed both the bulk of military forces and a separate social class, making the form and content of their training more diverse than that of the average medieval era soldier. The primary areas of training for the samurai focused on Kenjitsu (swordsmanship) and Kyudo (archery). Emphasis was also placed upon the use of heavy battlefield armour and, as a consequence, in the physical fitness required, as well as agility training. Since the samurai was a social class in addition to a military title, samurai were well versed in philosophy, and they were highly literate.

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Martial Disciplines of the Sword and Bow

The chief military disciplines taught to the samurai class involved the use of the sword, the bow and a military spear known as the yari. Higher ranking samurai had the option of sending their children for training at a formalised dojo; however, lower ranking samurai families often passed martial traditions from father to eldest son or daughter. A martial discipline of the sword known as kenjitsu focused on the art of single combat, using either a single Japanese longsword called a katana or a two-bladed style utilising both a katana and a short blade known as a wakizashi. Kyudo, the art of samurai class archery, was also commonly taught because it was used for both hunting and military purposes, offering a significant strategic advantage to those trained in both melee range and long-range disciplines. Kyudo is still taught today in modern Japan in a largely historically accurate manner, with archery remaining a culturally significant mainstream sport in Japan.

Armour Training

Like their European knightly counterparts, samurai warriors were trained in the use of specialised heavy armour. However, the materials used in construction of samurai armour were different, consisting of far less plate metal and far more composite materials. Another key difference between the armour training of medieval knights and the Japanese samurai was that swimming in heavy armour was emphasised by the samurai, because of the nation's many rivers and coastal settlements.

Philosophical and Arts Training

The samurai, being a social class rather than simply a form of soldier, also trained in the arts of philosophy and literary studies. Most samurai were able to read and write and were familiar with both Zen Buddhism and Shinto religious ideologies. The study of poetry was another mainstream literary pursuit of the samurai class, as was the reading and writing of full-length books as typified by the widespread study of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" and other more period-specific local works. These included "The Book of Five Rings" treatise on Bushido (way of the warrior) and swordsmanship, and "The Tale of Genji," which can be described as one of the world's earliest novelisations.

Women in the Samurai Class

Women played an important role in the samurai class and were often trained in the martial arts in a similar fashion to their male counterparts. Samurai women, however, were a rare sight on the battlefield, with their role being the protector of the family and household while their husbands and sons left for war. Among the samurai class it was commonplace to have women function as the head of the household in place of their husbands for significant periods of time, in stark contrast to the European customs of the time.

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