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Freestyle (Mixed) Martial Arts is Nothing New

Unveiling the Martial Arts of the Samurai

A Glimpse into ancient freestyle mixed martial artists.

The samurai, Japan's revered warriors of the feudal era, were not only skilled in combat but also deeply rooted in traditional martial arts, which involves development of the body, mind and spirit. Their training extended beyond mere physical prowess, encompassing discipline, honor, and a deep connection to their code of ethics, known as Bushido. Here are some of the areas that the Samurai trained in:


At the core of a samurai's training was the art of swordsmanship, known as Kenjutsu. The samurai's primary weapon, the katana, was a symbol of their status and skill. Through rigorous training, samurai mastered various techniques such as drawing the sword (Iaido), striking (Tachiuchi), and parrying (Ukenagashi). Kenjutsu was not just about physical combat but also about cultivating a focused mind and unwavering spirit.


Another essential skill for the samurai was archery, known as Kyujutsu. The samurai's proficiency with the bow and arrow was crucial in battle and hunting. The art of Kyujutsu emphasised precision, focus, and control, reflecting the samurai's disciplined approach to warfare.

Jujutsu (Unarmed Combat):

In situations where weapons were unavailable or impractical, the samurai relied on Jujutsu, the art of unarmed combat. Note that their Jujutsu techniques included not only joint locks, chokes and throws, but also strikes, enabling samurai to subdue opponents with minimal force. Jujutsu emphasised flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to overcome adversaries through skill rather than sheer strength. Punching armor was not ideal and empty hand strikes were more effective. Some of the unarmed strikes commonly utilized by samurai include:

  1. Shotei (Palm Strike): A strike delivered with the palm of the hand, often aimed at sensitive areas such as the chin, nose, or solar plexus.

  2. Tegatana (Hand Blade/Knife Hand): The samurai would use the edge of their hand, similar to a knife-hand strike, to deliver powerful blows to vital points or to chop at the opponent's neck or collarbone.

  3. Hiji Ate (Elbow Strike): Utilising the elbow as a striking surface, the samurai could deliver devastating strikes to the opponent's body or head, especially in close-quarters combat.

  4. Koshi Ate (Hip Strike): This technique involves using the hip to generate force for striking, often employed to bump and disrupt an opponent's balance or to execute throws and takedowns.

  5. Hiza Geri (Knee Strike): The samurai would use their knees as striking weapons, targeting vulnerable areas such as the groin, abdomen, or thighs.

  6. Ashi Barai (Foot Sweep): A technique involving a sweeping motion of the leg to unbalance the opponent and create openings for further attacks or to set up takedowns.

  7. Kakato Otoshi (Heel Drop): This technique involves driving the heel downward onto the opponent, often used to strike the head or collarbone.

  8. Seiken (Fist Strike): While less commonly emphasised than in Western boxing, samurai were trained in punching techniques, delivering strikes with the knuckles to suitable targets on the opponent's body.

Kendo (Way of the Sword):

While Kenjutsu focused on practical combat techniques, Kendo emerged as a modern martial art derived from traditional swordsmanship. Kendo emphasises the principles of discipline, respect, and self-improvement through rigorous training and sparring with bamboo swords (shinai). Practitioners of Kendo strive to embody the spirit of the samurai and uphold the values of Bushido.

Sumo (Traditional Wrestling):

Although not exclusive to the samurai, Sumo wrestling was a popular martial art practiced in feudal Japan. Sumo bouts required strength, balance, and technique, making it a valuable skill for samurai both on and off the battlefield. Sumo competitions were not only displays of physical prowess but also tests of mental endurance and strategic thinking. The martial arts of the samurai were not merely combat techniques but reflections of their ethos, values, and way of life. Through dedicated practice and unwavering commitment, the samurai honed their skills to become formidable warriors and guardians of honor. Today, the legacy of the samurai lives on in the practice of traditional martial arts, embodying the spirit of discipline, respect, and mastery that defined these legendary warriors.


In addition to combat training, the samurai were educated in a variety of other disciplines to cultivate a well-rounded skill set and mindset. Some of the key areas of study for samurai included:

Literature and Poetry:

Samurai were expected to be well-educated in literature, including classical Japanese poetry such as haiku and tanka. They often studied works of famous poets and writers to refine their own artistic expression.


Mastery of calligraphy was considered an essential skill for the samurai. They practiced brushwork and handwriting to create elegant and expressive characters, which were valued for their aesthetic beauty and cultural significance.

Tea Ceremony (Chado):

The tea ceremony was not only a social ritual but also a form of artistic expression and spiritual practice. Samurai studied the principles of chado to cultivate harmony, respect, and tranquility in their daily lives.

Buddhist and Confucian Philosophy:

Samurai were often deeply influenced by Buddhist and Confucian teachings, which emphasised moral virtues, ethical conduct, and spiritual enlightenment. They studied philosophical texts and engaged in meditation to develop their character and moral integrity.

Strategy and Tactics:

Samurai were trained in the art of war, including strategic planning, battlefield tactics, and leadership principles. They studied classical military texts such as Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" and Miyamoto Musashi's "The Book of Five Rings" to hone their skills as military commanders and warriors.


Riding and equestrian skills were important for samurai, especially in feudal Japan where mounted combat played a significant role in warfare. They trained in horseback riding, archery from horseback, and maneuvering in battle formations.

Etiquette and Protocol:

Samurai were expected to adhere to strict codes of conduct and etiquette in their interactions with others. They studied proper manners, protocol, and social customs to navigate the hierarchical structure of Japanese society with grace and dignity.

Overall, the education of the samurai encompassed a diverse range of disciplines, emphasising not only physical prowess and martial skill but also intellectual, artistic, and spiritual development. This holistic approach to education was intended to produce individuals who were not only skilled warriors but also cultured and enlightened leaders who had achieved self-mastery, being mastery over the body, mind and spirit, which are the final four tenets of Cobra Martial Arts.

A Cobra Martial Arts samurai kneels in meditation outside the dojo training centre
A Cobra Martial Arts samurai warrior kneels in meditation outside the dojo training centre


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