Kamakura Japan's Big Buddha & the Origin of Martial Arts
By Mike in Tokyo Rogers
Today, I want to take you on a short trip outside of Tokyo to Kamakura to share a video showing monks chanting at the Big Buddha at Kamakura and, while I'm at it, explain the origins of martial arts.... After reading this, you will understand why these two subjects; martial arts and great buddha statues are closely related.
Japan is an ancient country that was established over 2,700 years ago. Beliefs and ways of life are handed down through many generations. Of course all things change over time. But even in today's Japan, not only hand-guns, but even "Katana" (Samurai swords), are illegal for the average person. It has always been this way in Japan.
At about the time of the death of Christ, all Asian countries were very class segregated societies. There were the aristocrats, the farmers, the merchants, the warrior class, peasants, outcasts, etc.
Even in the old days of Western class society – during the European Monarchies, it was forbidden for classes to intermingle. This is where many ideas of fables of princes marrying commoners, like Cinderella, were born. In Asia, it was the same; excepting the girls had dark hair.
These were the days of struggle for control of the land between various warlords. So in most of Asia, including Japan, only the warrior classes were allowed to have weapons.
For over a thousand years, wars were fought between the warrior classes for control of territory and for honor. These wars were first generational warfare. The armies would decide when and where to meet and they would fight it out at the appointed place. To be defeated, would mean to bring disgrace upon one's name and family.
These battles, as well as who won or lost, usually did not affect the people in the other classes. For the merchants and farmers, it didn't matter who was warlord at the time. They would be taxed. Of course there was no concept of democracy – or even the notion of the people rising up and fighting the warrior class.
But if only warriors could have weapons, then how did the other classes of people defend themselves?
And here is where Martial arts like Karate were born. Even though the exact history is unknown, it is generally believed that the origins of Martial arts in Japan can be traced back to around 2000 years ago. Even further back, these methods of training and self-defense are said to come from a priest from India, named Dharma, almost 4000 years ago.
Since the peasants and farmers were not allowed to own weapons, they learned how to use farm tools and sticks as lethal weapons for self-defense. The local warlords could not outlaw sticks or scythes from the farmers. The farmers needed these tools to care for their crops.
These tools, then, became the tools for Kung Fu and other ancient Eastern ways to fight.... Karate, by the way, means, "empty hand."
Since the warriors were all employed by the aristocrats, the warlords – in order to consolidate power – ordered all weapons taken away from the other classes. In Japan's case, Toyotomi Hideyoshi instituted this law, called the "Sword hunt" in 1585. The collected weapons were all melted down and the Great Buddha statues were built.
Now you know why the Great Buddha and Martial Arts are so closely intertwined that it's difficult to knowledgably talk about one without knowing the other.
Now, for your enjoyment, here's some monks chanting at Kamakura Big Buddha:
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