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Hone Your Skills and Spirit! Learn About the Japanese Traditional Art of Budo

The principle behind the traditional Japanese art of “budo” (martial arts) is to develop one’s character through training their body, soul, and skills. In budo, improving one’s technique isn’t everything – you also need to learn the ethics and etiquette espoused in the art. Here are a few major styles of budo.

1. Judo

Judo is a budo in which the opponent is controlled through techniques such as atemi-waza (body-striking), katame-waza (grappling) and nage-waza (body-throwing). Its essence is represented in the phrase "ju-yoku go-wo seisu" (softness controls hardness). This means that you can defeat someone bigger than you by cleverly manipulating the opponent’s strengths.
A match is decided through an “ippon” (winning move). It is given when the opponent is pinned on their back, signals defeat, or if their movements are held in check for 30 seconds. A pin that doesn’t meet any of the criteria is considered as a “waza-ari” and given a lower score.

2. Karate

There are two main sections of karate: Kumite – where two opponents spar using techniques such as tsuki (punch), uchi (strike) and keri (kick) – and Kata, a solo performance of techniques based on the pretense that one is surrounded by opponents. Karate is in the limelight today because it will soon make its first appearance as an Olympic sport at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
Kumite can be divided into two genres: Full contact karate, with direct physical contact, and Dento-ha (traditional-style) karate, where movements are stopped just before they touch the opponent. There are many schools for each type of karate, so there are no definitive rules, but the Olympics will be held in accordance with the World Karate Federation’s rules.

3. Kendo

Kendo evolved from Kenjutsu (swordsmanship), which was practiced to kill others, to a martial art practiced to develop skills and discipline one’s character. Shinai (bamboo swords) are used to strike each other on designated target areas such as the head (men), wrists (kote), stomach (do), and throat (tsuki).
Kendo competitions are usually a three-point match. The first competitor to score two points wins the match. The competitor must display readiness and hold correct posture both before and after the strike, which means that just hitting the opponent does not guarantee a point. Triumphant poses that may be considered disrespectful to the opponent are not acceptable. They can be deemed contrary to the spirit of budo and result in the strike being disqualified.

4. Iaido

Iaido is a martial art that is closely connected to Kendo. In the past, it was considered to be a martial art in which victory or defeat was determined the moment the sword was drawn. This meant that training was a life or death matter.
Today, predetermined kata (forms) are performed from a sitting or standing position based on hypothetical situations and opponents. Competitors are judged on the depth of their training, accuracy of techniques, readiness, and the union of spirit, sword and body. The performance begins the moment the competitors enter the hall and ends when they exit. Specific etiquette determines their actions all along the way. Real or practice swords may be used in the competition.

5. Kyudo

Unlike other martial arts that have opponents (real or imagined), in Kyudo, an arrow is shot from a bow to hit a target. The archer must flow smoothly through eight basic movements and concentrate on each shot. Participants in this sport train their hearts, technique, and physique to develop the capability to shoot more accurately.
There are two types of Kyudo competitions: The close target and the far target. In the close target competition, participants compete on the number of arrows that strike a 28m-away target. In contrast, in the far target competition, participants aim for a target that is 60m away and are scored based on where the arrow lands. The closer the arrow is to the center, the higher the score.

6. Aikido

Aikido is a martial art where the opponent is controlled by "ki" (life energy). It is divergent from other martial arts in that aikido practitioners do not initiate attacks. They blend their own ki with the opponent's ki and return movements using the attacker's force.
The primary objective of Aikido is to discipline the spirit, so there are no matches or competitions to determine the relative superiority of practitioners. Practitioners learn how to utilize their body and ki by repeatedly practicing kata (prearranged forms and movements) and ukemi (act of receiving a technique).

Budo is practiced by many people of all ages in Japan. There are programs aimed specifically for foreign visitors as well, so why not try them out?

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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