Kamakura Period 1185 - 1333
In this period, the power falls in hands of the samurai with their shōgun as their lord.
With this, a feodal government is introduced to Japan.
Kamakura warfare was mostly fought through carefully placed archers. Archery 'battalions' could either by cavalry or infantry.
The high ranked samurai primarily used horses for transportation and were equipped with tachi, a highly curved sword worn edge down – as all cavalry swords in history.
The high curvature allowed high speed cut downs without getting stuck in opponents.
The absolute basic foot soldiers known as ashigaru were equipped with spears. New in this period was the occasional uchigatana for foot soldiers. The high quality mounting was left behind (such as saya decoration and fancy metal work) and the sword was inserted cutting edge up into the obi due to the lack of ashi on the saya and to allow fast single handed drawing. This was especially possible due to the shorter length of uchigatana compared to later katana.
Later in Kamakura period, even high ranked samurai would also start wearing uchigatana or chisakatana as a second sword complementary to their tachi.
Schools for warrior fighting arts in this period are founded and documented. These schools are:
Muromachi period and Azuchi-Momoyama period 1336 – 1603
The last years of this period are known as the Sengoku peiod in which from 1467 to 1603 many wars were fought between regional war lords.
Because of these wars, many samurai schools from this period (such as Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō ryū) expanded their learning portfolio with a wide range of weaponry as well as armored combat.
Edo period 1603 – 1868
The Tokugawa-family rules Japan in relative peace for over 250 years. The border of Japan are closed for foreigners and the Japanese culture and arts flourish.
The Samurai class is kept exclusive and is used by the Tokugawa family as an elite police force. The attire of these warriors is reduced to normal clothing and schools such as Niten Ichi ryū and Mugai ryū focus themselves on sword (or daisho) practice and unarmored combat unlike previous kobudo schools. Also the more esoteric and psychological aspects are given more attention as a part of the warrior arts.
The wealth and status of the samurai also allow them to develop themselves in artistry, calligraphy, poetry and tea ceremony.
The Meiji restoration 1868
In 1868 the samurai class comes to and end during the Meiji restoration, in which Japan became a constitutional monarchy. The modernization of Japan has started and the once to important samurai are banished and forced into other professions. The wearing of swords in public is strictly forbidden, as well as wearing of traditional samurai attire.
Japanese martial arts schools that were founded after the Meiji restoration are considered Gendai (modern) schools. The older schools are called koryū. Both new and existing schools teach martial arts as a way of personal and spiritual growth.
This process continues after the Japan capitulates after the second World War. Initially the Americans consider the Japanese warrior arts as ‘nationalist breeding pits’ and forbade the practice of budo.
However the Japanese government convinces the Americans that these arts have the sole purpose of conservation of the culture and tradition of Japan. The years after WWII, many martial arts associations are founded for numerous gendai budo arts such as Aikido, Judo, Kendo, Iaido and Kyudo.
The way is open for martial arts clubs with point based competition, performance competition and demonstrations and since then, many school have found their way to all parts of the world.
This creates an even stronger distinction between the new and what once was the art of killing for the very elite of society – the Samurai.
This article is a loosely translated version of an article written in Dutch by Arjan F. Tervoort of the Kochōkai dojo.