Competition issues in organizing unauthorized types of traditional Japanese martial arts


PhD, Associate Professor M.G. Smirnov1
Head of martial arts school, kyudo instructor of the 3d degree, aikido instructor I.K. Toschenko2
Lecturer, chairperson of Chelyabinsk regional office of society “Russia – Japan” N.Yu. Smirnova1
PhD, Associate Professor Т.V. Kalashnikova2
PhD, Associate Professor Yu.A. Zeremskaya2
1Chelyabinsk State University, Chelyabinsk
2National Research Tomsk Polytechnic University, Tomsk

Keywords: Japanese martial arts, spiritual and practical aspects in organizing competitionы, competitive sports, non-competitive sports, kyudo, aikido.

Introduction. Today various schools of Japanese martial arts are widely spread in Russia. The key driver of development and popularization of these schools is the competitive activity that attracts young people, develops contacts with Japan and expands the directions of martial arts development. Japanese martial arts (jado) that appeared in foreign countries (not in Japan) as a way to preserve the Japan’s national cultural heritage emphasize not spiritual but sporting component that is more understandable to foreigners.  

The dichotomy of spiritual and sporting development of jado can be more clearly manifested in running competitions. This problem is unescapable for non-competitive types of Japanese martial arts. On this basis, the purpose of our study is to identify the issues of organizing non-competitive types of Japanese traditional martial arts.


The methodological basis of the study is located at the junction of theoretical studies based on the criteria for determining competitive and non-competitive sports and applied studies connected with the organization of competitions in the Japanese traditional martial arts.

Nowadays the term “competitive sports” is generally accepted. Competitive sports are organized competitive activities regulated by the general agreements of participants; the purpose of such activities is to identify the participants with the best results in a concrete sport and to achieve athletic perfection.  Athletic perfection is very important, as the best records are the new limit for the next sport participants in the sport. However, non-competitive sports lack special generally accepted accounting rules for sports scores and there are no criteria for winner identification. Thus, the key challenge of competition organization is the lack of agreement on a criteria-based approach in winner identification.

This issue is particularly acute in organizing jado competitions as it is complicated by the following factors:  

  • As a result of unsustainable standards existed in various schools in Japan, new Russian approaches to understanding the criteria for winner identification appear;
  • There are two approaches to understanding of martial arts and rules for sports scoring: the first approach based on improving physical skills perfectly fits into the classical paradigm of sport; the second (traditional) approach is based on the harmony of soul and body. If western sports traditions are characterized by the principle “where there is a sound body there must be a sound mind” then Japanese traditions say that the soul determines a healthy body. 


The challenges in terms of planning and holding non-competitive sport (jado) competitions are described.

During traditional budo (martial arts) a practitioner needs to compare his/her own techniques and preparation with the standards or with the results of senior practitioners.

Due to the specificity of Japanese martial arts, it is connected not only with winning competitions but also with getting a rank (kyu – a low rank and dan – a high rank) and this determines the practitioner's status in the hierarchy of the organization and his/her personal spiritual and physical level.  In Russia some martial arts have not only a dan ranking system but also a sports classification system, however, it does not correlate with it. In Japan where the principle of hierarchy exists in all spheres of society, the system “senpai – kohai” (senior – junior) is a fundamental one and the dan system imposes the duty to instruct and to teach martial arts.

The common thing for Japanese martial arts is that they are based on the practice of the past and having lost its applied significance, the traditions of training a warrior have translated into modern sports schools. The key tasks of modern Japanese martial arts schools are to preserve cultural traditions, to realize the concept of the self-improvement path (Dὰo signifying “way”, “path”, “route” – the way of the universe). Sports competitive tasks are on the second place. Nevertheless, in Russia a competition is a development source of various schools of Japanese martial arts.

To solve the problem, we should determine non-competitive Japanese martial arts as traditional ones (kyudo - a Japanese archery with asymmetric bow) and relatively new ones (aikido – a throwing martial art based on redirecting the attacker’s strength). These jados are widespread in Russia and represent different kinds of martial arts.

Kyudo is the first systematized military art in the history of Japan and is traced back to the twentieth  century. Before kyudo shifted from a practical military discipline to a way of spiritual and personal development, it had not had competitions. The bow was considered a sacred weapon and was used in temple ceremonies, in prayers appealed to God, in rituals for blessing a place or new beginnings.[1]

When samurai saw the benefits of a firearm on the battlefield, some masters asked the government to create conditions for preserving the art of archery as a cultural tradition. When technologies were preserved for the sake of technologies and traditions – for the sake of traditions, the first archery competitions appeared. They were hold not for finding the best participant but for exchanging experience.[2]

Today kyudo rests on some postulates that emphasize the practitioner’s spiritual development and exclude a competitive aspect (for instance, “to hit the target is not a goal, the goal is the expression of harmonious beauty …”, “competitions kill the spirit of kyudo …”).[3]

With this approach, the question is how to hit the target if the key part of training is the process of preparation for a shot and the state after it. Short answer – it is impossible. In many dojo (term used to name a hall or space for learning or meditation) practitioners are not able to shoot at the needed distance (28 meters), they shoot the target placed 2-3 meters and practice the shooting technique.

Modern kyudo has a competitive aspect that is gradually turning this martial art into a sport. This aspect is becoming more and more popular as it is more available but the specificity of kyudo cannot be understood in the context of sports and competitions. That’s why it is said that competitions kill the spirit of kyudo. Nevertheless, at kyudo competitions awards for excellent technique are more preferable than the awards for the first place.

We can try to modernize the practice of competitions assessments. For instance, instead of focusing on the process of preparation for a shot and the state after it we can focus on the balance evaluation of muscular strength, accuracy of shooting, coordination of movements while drawing a bow and shooting.[4] However, it is contrary to the primary task of preserving traditions and it leads to the creation of a renewal branch of kyudo but it is not viable in the existing kyudo schools.  

There are some challenges connected with these competitions organization – a perfect place available for such competitions (600 square meters), high proficiency requirements applied to judges and participants. The disruption of the ceremony can lead to the fact that participant’s points will not be scored, and furthermore, he/she can be disqualified. As a result, despite the number of correct shootings as an objective indicator of accuracy, the key elements of the competitions are to control oneself, to demonstrate restraint and to meet the requirements for the aesthetics of performance.

Unlike kyudo, aikido was developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of philosophy, religious beliefs and martial studies at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Thus, there are some differences between kyudo and aikido:

  • Practical applicability. Warriors with bows became a history of the past; however, self-defence issues remain relevant today.  
  • Conceptual simplicity. There are no needs in a space for competitions, in purchasing individual costly equipment and in following the steps of the ceremony. It is enough to have a small room with an even floor for safe falling and simple clothes.

If we look at the contact types of martial arts providing for full-contact a resulting attack takes place: kendo consists of blows made with bamboo swords towards specified opponent’s target areas; in judo practice clothing hold can be done for throwing; in karatedo, taekwondo and wushu Sanda punches or kicks landed on the right opponent’s body parts are scored.  Aikido has no attacks; this martial art aims to centralize aggression without hurting an opponent (attacker). [5] Aikido has not got a competitive aspect due to the lack of attacks.

The first man who gave aikido a competitive aspect was Kenji Tomiki, he did it in the first half of the XXth century. His efforts resulted in a new style of aikido called tomiki aikido, its principles contradict the general spiritual idea honored by more orthodox styles.[6] Tomiki aikido has two kinds of competitions.  The first one is freestyle wrestling.  An attacker who is empty-handed or has a safe training knife tries to hit a certain opponent’s body part. And a defender should throw or perform joint-locks on the attacker. In case of success, the defender is awarded points but in the case of using brute force or carrying out an illegal hold, he is given penalty points. Then an attacker and a defender change their roles and everything repeats. In fact, it is a good system for assessing participants. There is a competition when two pairs perform. Each pair rehearses a set of attacks and defenses in advance, and judges should assess whose demonstration is more natural but safe, spectacular and keeps with the spirit of aikido. However, both form of assessments contradict the spirit of aikido.


The problems connected not only with the organization of competitions but also with the activity of Federations and some Japanese martial arts schools are identified:

  1. The lack of unified approaches to the rules for counting the results of competitions used to determine the winner exists. The reasons for this are: high professional requirements to judges, different standards used by schools of the same style, differences between Russian and Japanese approaches, qualitative indicators of competitions dominating over quantitative ones. Even a compromise does not lead to standardization and large-scale application.
  2. The original meanings and tasks of the Japanese martial arts schools contradict the principles of organizing competitive activities. Competitive activity promotes the popularization of these schools and keeps the members of the schools to be in a good form but this activity destroys the original principles of martial arts and turns them only into sports. In Russia such schools are closer to Physical Education than to sports as they lead not only to moral perfection, health but also to becoming a part of their lives.
  3. Russia cannot give up a competitive aspect of competitions as they provide the material basis for supporting the schools of Japanese martial arts.  In Japan, for instance, Nippon Budokan Arena was originally built for judo competitions but today a number of pop and rock concerts are performed at this arena and this brings profits to Martial Arts Federations that build an opportunity for self-sufficiency.  

Thus, we can conclude that despite the successful experience of organizing Japanese martial arts tournaments, the contradiction between the nature of Japanese martial arts schools and the necessity of competitive activities is too great to overcome. The replacement of a competitive activity by freestyle wrestling and ranking system cannot solve the problem. To resolve these contradictions in the Russian Federation Japanese martial arts schools can be naturally divided into two types. The key element of the first schools is competitive aspects and members of these schools take part in competitions, but for the second type the most important element is to keep original traditions.    


  1. All Nippon Kyudo Federation (A.N.K.F.). Kyudo Manual: Vol. 1, Principles of Shooting. Tokyo: A.N.K.F. publ., 1994, pp. 136
  2. Genzini L. Kyudo - the Way of the Bow: The art of shooting the traditional Japanese bow according to the HekiInsai Ha School: Technical Manual. [Available at:]
  3. Illarionova A.V., Kapilevich K.V.  Distinctive features of intramuscular and intermuscular coordination at power graduation in context of balance training. Teoriya i Praktika Fizicheskoy Kultury, 2014, no. 12, pp.44-46.
  4. Akimov О.G. Kyudo. Мoscow: NIIYaU MIFI publ., 2013, 104 p.
  5. Vestbruk A., Ratti О. Aikido i dinamicheskaya sfera [Aikido and dynamic sphere]. Мoscow: Astrel АSТ publ., 2005, 383 p.
  6. Nobuyosi Tamuro. Aikido. Etiket i peredacha traditsii [Aikido. Etiquette and transmission of traditions]. Kiev: Sofia, 2002, 176 p.

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The article is devoted to topical issues related to modern development of Japanese martial arts in Russia and other countries. The authors study the competition rules for non-competitive types of Japanese martial arts, examine traditional Japanese martial arts in the context of non-competitive sports and give the concepts of “competitive” and “non-competitive” sports. Due to some traditional Japanese non-competitive martial arts, the issues of organizing and conducting these sports in Russia are revealed and the key problems of organizing such competitions and possible solutions of these problems are given. 

[1] См.: Akimov О.G., Akimova E.S. Kyudo. Мoscow: NIIYaU MIFI publ., 2013, 104 p.

[2] См.: Genzini, Luigi. Kyudo—the Way of the Bow: The art of shooting the traditional Japanese bow according to the HekiInsai Ha School: Technical Manual. (printout of PDF file, 77 pp).

[3] All Nippon Kyudo Federation (A.N.K.F.). Kyudo Manual: Volume 1, Principles of Shooting. Tokyo: A.N.K.F., 1994 (pb, English translation of official ZNKR manual, 136 pp). P. 11

[4]См.:  Illarionova A.V., Kapilevich K.V.  Distinctive features of intramuscular and intermuscular coordination at power graduation in context of balance training. Teoriya i Praktika Fizicheskoy Kultury, 2014, no. 12, pp.44-46.

[5] Вестбрук, А., Ратти О. Айкидо и динамическая сфера: иллюстрированное пособие / пер. с англ. А.Н. Степановой. - М.: Астрель: АСТ, 2005. С. 3

[6]См.:  Нобуёси Тамура, Айкидо. Этикет и передача традиции. Пер. с французского - К.: София, 2002 - 176с.