Zhang Shun, the White Streak in the Waves (Rôrihakuchô Chôjun), from the series One Hundred and Eight Heroes. 19th century Japanese Woodblock print.



Welcome to week five of “History of East Asian Martial Arts.”  This series follows the readings being used in Prof. TJ Hinrichs’ undergraduate course of the same name at Cornell University.  This is a great opportunity for readers looking to upgrade their understanding of Martial Arts Studies.  It is also important for those of us in the academy who are thinking about how we can craft classes, or create new units, that draw on Martial Arts Studies in our own teaching.  Rather than reporting on the class discussion and lecture, this post will introduce the readings and some of the study questions that have been assigned.

At this point in the class most of students have completed their observations of one or more local martial arts schools.  Additionally, the first short paper was just assigned but more on that below.  That doesn’t mean that we are letting up on the readings.  This seems to have been one of the heavier weeks in the class.  It is not realistic to try and make it through all of the required and suggested readings.  I would suggest picking a topic in advance (17th century fightbooks, gender and sexuality, romance of the urban gangster, birth of modern samurai fiction, etc….) and go with it.  In fact, that sort of tightly focused textual approach will help when it comes time to write your paper!


Required Readings for All Students

  • Cameron Hurst. 1998. Armed Martial Arts of Japan: Swordsmanship and Archery. New Haven: Yale University Press. 53-60, 64-88, 92-100.
  • Miyamoto Musashi. 2005. The Book of Five Rings. Trans. Thomas Cleary. Boston: Shambhala, “Preface,” xiii-xix.


Additional Readings: Choose 2-3 of the following based on your own research interests.

(The notes under the readings are by Prof. Hinrich and were included on the syllabus.  Most of these topics were also mentioned in class to help the students contextualize these readings.)


17th Century Fencing Manuals

  • Book of Five Rings:
    • Miyamoto Musashi, “The Earth Scroll,” “The Wind Scroll,” 3-16, 49-58.
    • Yagyū Munenori, “The Killing Sword,” (from The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War, reprinted in Cleary) 65-85.

Popular Samurai Romances

  • Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693), “The Midō Drum is Beaten—So Too the Enemy,” Tales of Samurai Honor: Buke Giri Monogatari, Caryl Ann Callahan, trans., (Tokyo: Monumenta Nipponica, Sophia University, 1981), 51-61.
    First published 1688. Saikaku, the scion of a merchant family, wrote and published poetry and fiction, the latter notably popular, especially among townsmen. Saikaku payed homage to the Tokugawa regime (“this well-governed realm where the sword remains forever sheathed and peace reigns eternal,” Tales of Samurai Honor, p. 145), but also depicted contradictions between official values and actual behavior.
  • Ihara Saikaku, “A Sword His Only Memento,” The Great Mirror of Male Love, Paul Gordon Schalow, trans., (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 85-96.
    First published 1687, Great Mirror of Male Love features stories of male love among samurai and in the kabuki quarters. Norms governing sexual relationships between male samurai were adapted from those first developed among medieval Buddhist monks, a core principle dictating that relationships be between adults (19 and older) and youth (under 19). When men passed into adulthood, they were supposed to switch to the senior role. See Schalow, “Introduction,” Great Mirror, 1-5.

Stories of Urban Gangsters

  • Gary Leupp “Five Men of Naniwa” in Wakita Osamu ed., Osaka (New York: Cornell University Press, 1999), 125-157.
  • Inge Klompmakers, “The Development of Musha-e,” Of Brigands and Bravery: Kuniyoshi’s Heroes of the Suikoden, (Leiden: Hotei Pub., 1998), 14-17.


Judkins’ Notes on The Readings

As I stated above, there is a lot of material here and I doubt many of us will make it through all of this in a single week.  I know I didn’t. The discussion in Hurst provides the historical context that the rest of the reading lean on.  One way to approach this week is to focus on Hurst and disregard all of the additional primary texts.  As much as it pains me to say that, if you look at the page selection it becomes obvious only the sections on fencing are being assigned. That means that all of his discussion of traditional Japanese archery is excluded from this term’s readings.

Obviously the sword provides students with a clear through-line to make sense of the various primary source introduced above.  Still, Kyudo is important as it provides a much needed second source of information on how martial schools came together and developed in the early and mid Tokugawa period.  If your main interests is the evolution of Japanese martial arts, I think there is argument to be made for tackling all of the material in Hurst.

Still, this is an era when really interesting primary sources start to emerge.  One could write any number of papers based on close comparative readings on Miyamoto Musashi Book of Five Rings or Yagyū Munenori Book of Family Traditions.  The students in class spent a lot of time comparing and contrasting these two swordsmen and asking what their books revealed about changes in Japanese society and the martial arts. Cleary’s translations of this material has the advantage of being very readable and easily available.  If you walk into your local bookshop there is a decent chance that he is the edition you will find sitting on the shelves.  That said, pretty much any translation of Miyamoto will do, and you can find a few of the older one’s available on the internet for free.

If you are going to buy a translation I might humbly suggest Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings (Shambhala 2004) by Kenji Tokitsu. It discusses translations of all of his known works and provides a very careful overview of what we do and do not know about the biographical traditions which have attached themselves to him.


Study Questions

With all of that out of the way, lets get on to our study questions:

  1. Consider the following following developments during the Tokugawa era: the freezing of the class system; the growth of cities and wealth in the merchant class; the spread of literacy and leisure.  How did these generate both new forms of martial arts practice, as well as new understandings of the social purpose of these fighting systems?
  2. In what ways did new institutional structures, including the decline of dueling, the rise of the urban dojo, and the creation of a class of professional teachers lead to the development of new types of martial practice?
  3. How did the explosion of art (literature, theater, woodblock prints) containing romanticized visions of the samurai and their values influence the lives of urban merchants and craftsmen? Why were these stories produced?  Who was influenced by them?


First Short Paper (3-5 pages), due February 28th at Midnight.

At this point I typically provide my own quick take on the week’s readings and some of the key issues that they raise. If I were to do that now I would doubtless discuss Ihara Saikaku, “A Sword His Only Memento,” and why it would have made the greatest episode of Samurai Champloo of all time.  Seriously.  Maybe we will come back to this…

Sadly we don’t have time for that as the very first of three short paper topics has just been distributed. It is time for everyone who has been following the class at home to apply what you have learned!



Based on an analysis of primary sources, compare and contrast the values that Ming/Qing and Tokugawa era writers attached to martial figures and their behaviors. I recommend that you focus on just one value or on a narrow range of related values (e.g., righteousness/integrity and loyalty), behaviors (e.g., modes of training, pursuit of vendettas), and texts (e.g., do not need to include both Nezha and Shi Jin if it does not suit your comparison). Drawing on assigned secondary readings, also discuss how particular portrayals of martial figures related to their social positions (marginal, subordinate, dominant).

Note: Your choice of comparisons will tend to dictate your choice of texts. I recommend that you choose texts of similar types (e.g., popular fiction, writings about martial arts by martial artists) from Japan and China.  Think carefully about which of the secondary, or more theoretical, articles had the most to say about that pair.

Good luck!