About Military Virtue

Sourced from www.aoinagi.com

-Briefly--Early History- -Medieval History- -Tokugawa Era- -Meiji Era- -Resurgence- -Age of Karate- -Preamble to War- -Post World War II- -To America- -Closing Remarks-


The Dai Nippon Butokukai is a martial arts organization. It was founded in Japan in 1895 and except for the period from September 1945 until 1952 the Butokukai opened its doors to military training for the Japanese people.

The word Butokukai means "martial-virtue-organization." Bu means war. Toku means virtue. And, kai means organization.

Martial arts philosophy holds that martial arts have virtue within them. In the history of the world, wars have been fought over nearly every conceivable human cause from land-hunger, to food-hunger, to religions, to politics, to wives and husbands, to children and so forth. War is atrocious and yet modern humans have not yet been able to curb their need for war. In this century alone we have had two World Wars and the Korean war and Vietnam and Desert Storm. Among the violence of war there is always a contingent of virtue. Be it the lowly private who consoles a dying combatant or the rush wildness of a pilot risking his life to save another fighter pilot. These are virtues which escalate during violence and holds to the premises of the good martial artist teachers that martial artists are to look for the virtue in martial training; it is there; it is for us to find. The leaders of good martial arts stand proud for the highest and most noble of human virtues even during the height of violence be it personal conflict or global war.

Early History

The long and complicated history of martial arts in Japan intimately ties around their major military center the Butokuden or Martial Training Hall. Originally founded in a rudimentary form in 720 AD it had grown as the need for military training was necessary to expand the land owned by the Japanese people. During the early centuries of Japan's history the native indigenous people and the Japanese were at war on the northern fronts of Japan. The Japanese needed a military organization and training field. It first described this field at the Butokuden around 720 AD.

A more official date for the opening of the Main Training Hall (Butokuden) was May 5, 782 when the Emperor Kanmu (781-805 AD) sponsored the first martial arts tournament. It was called "Boy's Day" and has been celebrated in Japan ever since. Even today May 5 is official "Boy's Day" and celebrations of all kinds are held throughout Japan.

Long periods of wars with Ainu followed. Then there was a period of relative peace and intercourse with China. The Butokuden continued to have its training hall and its training field. It recieved Chinese emissaries on regular basis. The Chinese martial artists brought with them the philosophy of Lao-Tsu, Confucius, Mencius and Sun-Tsu. They also brought with them the means of armed and unarmed combat, strategy and tactics. China influenced the early Japanese military Butokuden for centuries.

Then, the Japanese shifted to a home-made refinement. Miyabi. About 950 AD the court of Japanese elite began to realize their own culture as separate from the Chinese. They had for so long accepted what was Chinese was good for Japan, but they now found their own culture in miyabi.

Even the Butokuden moved into its own in military tactics and fighting. Sumo developed to a high level under the creative genius of Japanese pugilists. Tactics on the battlefields of the Ainu were refined. Armor was produced; weapons were refined and the government began to take on its own character.

From 950-1100 the Fujiwara family dominated the throne of Japan. Uprisings began which were difficult to squelch. The answer appeared to lie in the major military machine and its academy, the Butokuden. Eventually the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan clashed. The Taira won in 1160 and the Minamoto in 1180.

More wars followed. But now the Butokuden had become the major educator of the military force which dominated Japan. The emperor had become a "figure head;" The Fujiwara had been despoiled. The power lie in the Shogun, the military leader of the Butokuden and the Bafuku.

Medieval History

From 1180-1336 the Butokuden saw a great surgence in military might, skill, tactics and strategy. It also saw the importation of flags, crests, language, philosophy, Zen as well as a creation and proliferation of various fighting styles including Katori Shinto Ryu and Daito Ryu.

After the Godaigo Restoration of 1336 Japan fell into another period of internecine wars. Brother fought brother and hardly a person could be trusted to remain loyal to a leader; but if he didn't both he and his family were destroyed.

The Onin War sent the bravest of the samurai to their graves. No one could be trusted. Military chism and struggling for power, position and wealth led the country into near collapse. Then in 1543 the Portuguese appeared carrying a new kind of weapon. This weapon could kill from a long distance like an arrow but was easily learned and could be supplied to armies of men in a short time. The Butokuden didn't really want it, but...

Hideyoshi, Nobunada and the Tokugawa used the new weapon to consolidate Japan into one nation. Japan was, for the first time in history, unified under Tokugawa in 1603.

The Tokugawa Shogunate

But Tokugawa Ieyasu was a Shogun, a military generallisimo. He maintained that military training was important. He maintained the training fields and places to study the way of martial arts in Japan.

The successors to Ieyasu were his direct descendants for more than 200 years. They had a strangle-hold on the country. Their retainers, then known as samurai, were trained fiercely at first but then as time passed training waned and debauchery increased. Emerging out of the chaos were a few really good martial artist like Miyamoto Musashi and Tajima no Munenori. These people held the respect of the martial arts up to the sunlight of the Land of the Rising Sun. But for many of the lower class retainers only pride and profligacy remained.

The Meiji Restoration

In 1867 a United States admiral by the name of Perry landed in Japan. He came in black ships. The Japanese tried to expel him. But he was armed with guns too large for the Japanese to quiet. The Japanese military was weak from long peacetime and was insufficient to overcome the new technology they faced. Japan capitulated and opened its doors to all the western world for the first time in 250 years.

In 1872 a democratic government was established and the Meiji emperor restored. Samurai were required to remove their swords. Samurai were required to gain employment or starve. Rebellions beyond our comprehension occurred. The samurai had always been too proud to do any kind of work except to protect his overlord and now he was a commoner.

Needless to say the martial arts waned in Japan. There were no longer any reasons to subject oneself to the disciplines of martial arts. The hereditary advantage was gone. The economic advantage was gone. And the need to survive in a marketplace was new.

Jigoro Kano in 1882 opened a small judo dojo.
Naito Takaharu kept open the Hokushin-Itto Ryu dojo with his very ebullient martial spirit.
Isogai Hajime continued Jigoro Kano's dojo.

These men knew the advantage to martial arts training. They had seen the virtue of discipline and training. They knew the "way" and that the people of Japan could and would benefit from the disciplines.

The Resurgence

So in 1895 a very small organization called the Dai Nippon Butokukai was opened in Kyoto and four years later the Butokuden was built next to the Heian Shrine in Kyoto. The full reason for the opening of this organization was for classical martial disciplines and no consideration was given to war like activities.

The first two major leaders were Naito Takaharu and Isogai Hajime. Their ceaseless energies led to a resurgence of the popularity of and martial arts training in Japan again. Soon experts gathered to teach at the Butokuden and technical commissions met on regular basis to discuss the standarization of techniques and procedures.

The wealth of information which flowed from the martial arts masters from all of the major disciplines led to the formation of the Bujutsu Semmon Gakko (Martial Virtues Specialty School). It was founded in 1911. At the same time Naito and Isogai's efforts were rewarded when the Ministry of Education posted a directive of 1911 making kendo and judo compulsory middle school subjects. (Unfortunately just for the males.)

The Age of Karate

In 1917 Gichen Funakoshi was asked to demonstrate Okinawan-Te before the Dai Nippon Butokukai at the Butokuden. He went and gave a demonstration and lecture. The Japanese refrained from admiring the art for they believed that nothing good could come out of lowly Okinawa. Funakoshi returned to Okinawa.

But soon the tides were to turn for karate in Japan. On March 6, 1921 the Crown Prince Hirohito (later the Emperor of Japan in the Second World War) was to visit Okinawa on his way to Europe. The Okinawan Department of Education, who had known of Funakoshi's interest in karate for more than 20 years asked Funakoshi to give a karate demonstration in the Great Hall of Shuri Castle. The Crown Prince never stopped talking of the impressive demonstration during his entire trip to Europe.

The Minister of Education was forced to invite Funakoshi to give another demonstration in Japan. This time it was for the First Atheletic Conference. The intelligencia of Japan was there. Funakoshi's refined speech and deep understanding of the Japanese mind held the people in awe. They were captured.

The same day the Sho family (last king of Okinawa) asked Funakoshi to extend his visit. Funakoshi didn't want to. He was married and wanted to go home. But the requests came flooding in. He soon recognized that he had found his destiny. He never went home.

The creator of modern judo, Jigoro Kano, invited Funakoshi to demonstrate at the Kodokan Judo Hall in Tokyo. Another student of karate in Okinawa, Shinkin Gima, went with Funakoshi. Funakoshi did Kushanku and Gima did Naihanshi. The audience was enthralled. Funakoshi led classes and even taught the great master Jigoro Kano the rudiments of karate blocks, strikes and kicks. Some of these techniques are still seen in judo kata.

Kano asked Funakoshi to remain. Official requests for karate instruction came from the military academy and many high ranking officials. Funakoshi formed the first formal Japanese Karate Club at Meisei Juku in 1922. During the day he worked as a cleaning man.

Preamble to War

Suddenly in 1937 the Japanese and Chinese began fighting near Peking. The fighting escalated into war. The brutality and reported brutality shocked the world. These days were reported in the press as the "rape of nanking." The Japanese moved quickly to establish a puppet government in China. They announced a "New Order in East Asia," and condemned the west for its interference in oriental commerce.

Ultranationalism in Japan led to militarization. The Japanese knew that the day was coming when they would have to defend the "New Order." They mobilized and increased their efforts to create the world's best military machine, discipline, strategy, education and spirit.

The Dai Nippon Butokukai was called to form the standardization of armed and unarmed techniques and teaching methods, the qualifications and examinations for the instructors and the issue of teaching ranks and licenses (menkyo). Soon the awarding of military ranks was determined by the Butokukai. The Butokukai was no longer a classical martial virtue organization but had become a modern military machine.

By 1941 Japan was organized. War.

Post World War Two

The war ended suddenly, too. Japan had over-extended itself early in the war and collapsed. The spirit of Japan was present but the economic structure, the commerce and the military machine fell. Then Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, 1945. Then Nagasaki was bombed on August 9, 1945. Then the Emperor came before the people and asked that they "endure the unendurable"...defeat.

United States General MacArthur moved quickly to consolidate Japan and prevent further violence. The closed all institutions considered to be "the roots of miliarism." This included the Dai Nippon Butokukai, of course, because the Butokukai had taken a military position during the pre-war and war years. Unfortunately the classical martial arts suffered by the close of the Butokukai.

Karate escaped detection.

Gichen Funakoshi had many small schools, none of which appeared more than local training gyms for boxing or wrestling. No notice was given to these small gyms. Karate survived day by day, but not within the Butokukai.

In 1947 a need arose for police. Many violent eruptions occurred in Japan in the post-war years. Extreme nationalism reared up to violence. Crowds, demonstrations, attacks appeared. Police were needed. General MacArthur first moved with an iron hand squelching all resistance with military might. Then he realized the need for a national police force to control the violent eruptions. MacArthur allowed the creation and maintenance of a police academy with a very loose structure so that it could not merge into a war machine. He then allowed the teaching of a Japanese modern discipline called Taiho-Jutsu. But it was mostly police tactics rather than art.

By 1948 the Occupation Force allowed the reinstitution of kendo and judo to supplement the Police Academy. Soon these arts were allowed to be taught as sports. But the Dai Nippon Butokukai remained closed.

The continued closure of the Butokukai led to decentralization of the martial arts organization throughtout Japan. In 1949 karate formed the Nihon Karate Kyokai (Japan Karate Association) under the wealthy Isao Obata and Kichinosuku Saigo. Judo reopened as Kodokan Judo. Kendo came under the umbrella of the Japan Kendo Association. And Aikido became organized as a national association along with the rest. The days of the centralized formal classical Dai Nippon Butokukai were over.

The post-war years were stressful for the Japanese. The Japanese believed that there would never be a war which Japan could ever lose. The Mongols had tried to invade Japan three times in the 1200s. They never succeeded. The Japanese were invincible, so they thought. The defeat of Japan in the Second World War was earth shattering.

When the martial arts again began to appear the Japanese did not attend. Their spirits had been reduced to slavery. Everything they had been taught since infancy of the invinciblity of Japan was wrong. The martial arts, then, too, had to be wrong. They did not go to martial arts.

Luckily for the martial arts, however, there was an abundance of interest in these unusual fighting styles by the occupation forces. The men had money, time and interest. They moved into the schools and kept them alive with their presence and economic support. The masters were again in position of being respected sensei.

Korea erupted in 1950. This caused the United States to realize that a demilitarized Japan could offer no protection against communism. They altered their basic policy of demilitarization.

Soon the ban on classical martial arts was completely removed. A National Police Reserve was established which was allowed to train in any classical martial art although the arts of kendo and judo were most emphasized.

In 1952 the Japanese were allowed to form a military again. The size of the military was carefully guarded so that there were insufficient forces for overseas deployment. But the nation of Japan had been reestablished as a military country.

The next step was to allow the reopening of the Butokukai. In 1952 the Butokukai was allowed to open its doors to classical martial arts again. Once more the kiai were heard in the halls and the sweat poured. The days of the centralized Butokukai were over. Kendo would not return from the Japanese Kendo Association. Shotokan karate would not return from the Japan Karate Association. Judo would not return from the Kodokan.

The Butokukai was now just a small part in the great picture of martial arts in Japan, and no longer its life-blood.

To America

In 1936 a young Hawaiian born man by the name of Sensei Richard Kim went to the orient to further his progress in martial arts. He was already a very respectable martial artist with ranks in judo and karate. He saw the change of Japan to the ultra-nationalism and militarism. But he was American.

On December 7, 1941 he had no escape from Japan.

Luckily, Sensei Richard Kim gained entrance into many dojo across Japan as a trainee (gyosha) under the recommendations of his primary instructor Yoshida Kotaro, a respected Daito-Ryu practitioner. The war years were rough years for Sensei Richard Kim, but he survived the war, the bombings, the Japanese prejudice, the anti-Americanism and emerged as one of the world's greatest martial artists and martial arts historians.

After the war Sensei Richard Kim returned to America briefly. Soon he was back in Japan to further his study. By 1959 Sensei Richard Kim returned to America and opened the first branch of his organization at the Sacramento YMCA in downtown San Francisco right next to Chinatown.Since that time Sensei Richard Kim has taught tens of thousands of students all over the world.

Closing Remarks

The first military organization of Japan, formed out of the remnants of a millenium long martial tradition, weathered the wildest revolutions in Japanese history and, just perhaps, the wildest revolutions in human history. Centuries of wars, brother fighting brother, enemies on all sides, families torn apart and struggles for power and pride stain the history. But emerging from the chaos came the a concept of military virtue which speaks of the virtues of peace. From war came the cry that war is useless.

There may be no solution to human's warlike nature but the virtue of the traditional martial training teaches us that we must not only try but accomplish our feat or die on our feet. And our feat is to learn to live together in harmony forever, from this point onwards.

If humans are going to survive the next millenium their social interactions must come from more than competition. Cooperation, collaboration and negotiation must become a part of their arms, too. And this is the challenge of those who train in depth and reality of the martial tradition.

The inner parts of humans is where the spirit and heart lives. All bonefide martial arts have the development of this martial spirit, not one of killing and fighting alone, but of compassion, cooperation and peace. In Japan that struggled through the wildness of repeated internecine civil war to the America that conquered a continent in less than a hundred years, we the people must not only seek peace but find it.

In the words of the great warrior chief of America, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians, "I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead...I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find...Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad.

From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."

-Briefly--Early History- -Medieval History- -Tokugawa Era- -Meiji Era- -Resurgence- -Age of Karate- -Preamble to War- -Post World War II- -To America- -Closing Remarks-