Call#: Van Pelt Library GV1100.77.A2 H87 1998
“Martial Arts and Japanese Culture,” the first chapter of Cameron Hurst’s book, Armed Martial Arts of Japan: Swordsmanship and Archery, examines the dichotomy between the function of martial arts in contemporary and medieval Japan. Furthermore, Hurst takes issue with the facile popular conception of the feudal Japanese warrior.
Hurst begins his study with a syntactical analysis of the Japanese terms applied to various schools of martial arts. By identifying the differences between contemporary and ancient Japanese characters for martial arts, Hurst documents the evolution of the sport. In opposition to the vast array of martial arts styles practiced today, the feudal samurai were primarily concerned with budE . But rarely did samurai use budE to refer to specific combat activities. Instead, “it represented a moral ideal for the samurai” (Hurst, 11). Hurst then transitions to an investigation of samurai military practices, citing that contrary to the widely held belief that the samurai was a “solitary wandering warrior” wielding a sword; the samurai were chiefly mounted archers. Hurst does concede however, that the sword did find prevalent usage by the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600 AD). Hurst also corrects the widely held notion that the samurai were blood-lusting mongers. On the contrary, the Japanese viewed death and blood as forms of pollution and ritual impurity. He continues, “There were even taboos against causing bloodshed, incurring wounds, and being contaminated with blood” (Hurst, 21).
Hurst’s chapter provides a scholarly evaluation of Shogun Assassin’s (1980) historical inaccuracies. While he recognizes the sword’s popularity among Tokugawa samurai, he would take issue with the Shogun Assassin’s “wandering warrior” protagonist. He emphasizes that the samurai was predominately a mounted archer. Of course, Shogun Assassin is a chambara (swordplay) film, so its rampant swordfights are acceptable cinematically, if not historically. But in direct opposition to Hurst’s chapter, Shogun Assassin’s characters are obsessed with blood. One villain even describes aspirations of cutting a man across the neck so that the squirting blood makes the sound of a “wailing winter wind” (Shogun Assassin). In this way, Shogun Assassin’s producers pander to Western misconceptions about the samurai.