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How Samurai Martial Arts influenced Modern Japanese Bayonet Fighting

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.


It’s a common knowledge, that modern martial arts, particularly the one used in the military has traditional fighting roots. People, especially the commenters in the internet might blast traditional martial arts as outdated and unrealistic, but without them, some effective modern day combative won’t came to be. And unlike what people believe, traditional martial arts (especially when trained correctly) could still bite, as what Lyoto Machida showed in the octagon. Then here is boxing and wrestling, respected martial sports that date back in the antiquity.

Overall, modernized martial arts is just an improvement, or a hybridized version of traditional martial arts in order to adapt to modern nature of fighting. And one good example of which, is bayonet fighting.

In the west, the usage of bayonets is still being taught in boot camps. And the techniques trace its roots in staff and spear fighting. But in Japan, the usage of the bayonet had a strong samurai influence.

A samurai is a skilled archer and a shooter, but it’s a common knowledge that he also fights with melee weapon. The sword was just a sidearm, and pole weapons were preferred. And as Japan entered modernization, the knowledge of samurai spear fighting, and other related martial arts evolved into Jukenjutsu, the art of bayonet fighting. And eventually, it will be modernized into a combat sports Jukendo.

Samurai Spear fighting

A photo of a samurai with his yari.

A photo of a samurai with his yari.

A rifle with an affixed bayonet is basically a pole weapon, hence one of the foundations of Jukendo, is the samurai martial Sojutsu (art of spear).

Although the samurai was always associated with the sword, the spear also had a place in the battlefield. It requires less training and cheaper to produce, plus the reach gave it an advantage over the sword. And it was after the Mongol Invasion attempt that spears carried by massed soldiers gained popularity.

The yari is the traditional spear-type weapon of the samurai, and it comes in several variation, like straight headed (with dagger profile for penetration) and with prongs. There are also yari variants for slashing. Musashi Miyamoto praised the yari as a weapon, when he mentioned it in his Book of Five Rings: “The Naginata is inferior to the Yari. With the Yari you can take the initiative. The Naginata is defensive, in the hands of one of two warriors of equal ability the Yari gives a little extra strength. The Yari and Naginata both have their uses but neither is beneficial in confined spaces”.

Going back to sojutsu, techniques include fighting on horseback, or on foot. And when in use, it utilizes its prime advantage, the reach. Hence thrusting is more preferred, although cutting and spinning actions are also included, as well as defensive moves like blocks. When fighting with the yari, distance is controlled, especially if one is up against a sword wielder. If done correctly, a perfectly executed spear thrust will shoot out before returning to guard position. It must be faster than the opponent can close the distance.

Fusion with French Bayonet Fighting

French bayonet charge.

French bayonet charge.

When Japan entered the period of modernization, soldiers then shifted to rifles. And like all infantry units of their time, they also fixed bayonets to convert their weapons into polearms. Upon the request of the Tokugawa shogunate, the emperor Napoleon III formed a French military mission to Japan, to help modernize the army (1867–1868). One of the military disciplines they brought was bayonet fighting. And during the early periods of Meiji era, the Sojutsu fighting techniques, and the French bayonet system was formalized into a fighting system known as Jukenjutsu (or Juken Kakuto). It should be noted that earlier bayonet fighting system in Japan already exist way before the introduction of the French system (1700). In firearm drilling styles like Takashima Ryu Hojutsu, which was developed by Shuhan Takashima, a form of bayonet style was included, based on the Dutch tactics, though the Jukenjutsu system is more heavily based on the French style. Shinsaku Takasugi, a samurai pioneer of armed forces modernization once remarked that he wasn’t happy about the western bayonet system, hence sojutsu spear fighting was included:

The western techniques of the bayonet combat are poor, so we should use Japanese techniques of spearmanship instead. That would make bayonet combat more effective.”

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Up until now, when Jukenjutsu evolved to Jukendo, the influence of French bayonet system is apparent.

Usage of the Unmounted Bayonet

Japanese Type 30 sword bayonet.

Japanese Type 30 sword bayonet.

W E Fairbairn once witnessed how the Japanese used their weapons in 1903. He noted during a bayonet competition between Japanese and English soldiers that the Japanese soldiers not only used the blade, but also the butt of the rifle, as well as leg sweeps:

“…For the first time, we had been hit with the butt of the rifle, tripped and thrown and what was worse, shouted at by our opponents.”

And the soldiers are even trained to fight with their detached bayonets. During that period, armies employed the long sword-bayonet for added reach, to fight a mounted soldier. The Japanese soldiers back then used the Type 30, fixed on their Arisaka rifles. But when unmounted, the bayonet could serve as short sword, with its 15.75 inches blade. In terms of size, the Type 30 bayonet is close to a wakizashi, or an earlier short sword, the kodachi. Hence, the Toyama Military Academy looked back at kodachi fighting system, and Tankendo was born.

The first impression of a Tankendo bout is a combination of Kendo and Kali. The kodachi is a one-handed weapon, hence a shorter version of a shinai was used that matches the size of the short sword. The rules will be discussed below, but practitioners will fight each other with one hand swinging or stabbing the weapon, and with the others fixed on their belts. One might also observe how there are more stabbing and thrusting here than slashing, for obvious reason. When using a sword short, stabbing makes sense due to the limited reach.

Modernization into Sports

Scoring a hit in Jukendo.

Scoring a hit in Jukendo.

It was in the Meiji period when Jukenjutsu was formalized, and it became a part of the Imperial Japanese Amry training. In fact, as people noted, Jukenjutsu is always associated with pre-World War II Japan, and at some point, it became stigmatized. People were aware on how the Imperial Japanese Army soldiers, with their military nationalisms went into fanatical rampage, while the martial arts itself saw a lot of usage in the Second World War, and claimed a lot of victims. Not surprisingly, the practice was banned by the Allies, yet it returned as a modern sports, Jukendo, though much of the practitioners are from the military.

Unlike its original form (and like many of the previously banned martial arts of the Allies), Jukendo is a watered-down version, with techniques like rifle butting removed. And as observed, bayonet thrusting is its primary form of attacks, as well as defensive parries, blocks and slashes. The main target is the heart, the throat and the lower body (originally aimed to quickly kill a person).

The sports of Jukendo and Tankendo have much in commons with kendo, and even with modern western fencing. The bout, called Shiai is played in a point fighting manner, whereas the play is reset whenever a hit is made. The uniform used by the practitioners reflect its militarized nature. The gi has high collar and lapel, resembling the older military uniforms though players also wear hakama. For protection, the Bogu set is used with some added equipment, like shoulder cover, padding under the gi and three fingered gloves for the rear hand (the front hand uses padded gloves kote). For Tankendo, the rear hand is bare and the shoulder is unprotected.

A wooden version of the rifle with bayonet is used for bouts, like the Mokujo, while Tankendo uses a shorter version of the shinai (Tanshinai). In case one is wondering, both arts have kata.


1.Tanaka, F. (2003): Samurai fighting arts: The spirit and the practice (p. 222). Tokyo: Kodansha International.

2. Draeger, Donn F. (2007) [1973]. Classical Bujutsu: Martial Arts and Ways of Japan. Boston, Massachusetts: Weatherhill. pp. 71–72.

3. Jukendo & Tankendo - A Brief Introduction (23 September 2018). Retrieved from JUJUTSUKAN: Jukendo & Tankendo - A Brief Introduction.

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