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Samurai Physical Training

    Childhood Training

    • Children born into the samurai caste would begin their training to become warriors as soon as possible. Even infants wore sword-shaped talismans. When they reached the age of 3, a future samurai would receive his first wooden sword and begin the practice of fencing and kendo, "the way of the sword."

    Kata

    • Physical training in the martial arts was repetitive for medieval samurai: they would practice kata, the name for distinct fighting moves or stances, over and over again, first for technique and then later for speed. The kata would be focused on attack, defense, or counterattack, and the goal was to master fluid, lethal movement.

    Suburi and Sparring

    • In addition to their kata, samurai would also practice suburi, which was the word for sword movements directed at an imaginary opponent. Eventually the samurai progressed to one-on-one sparring with wooden swords, edgeless swords, and padded spears. Though these weapons were supposedly non-lethal, they could still severely bruise or even break bones, and so they took this aspect of physical training quite seriously.

    Tsumeru

    • The highest achievement of a samurai's physical training was tsumeru, which was the ability to stop the blade just before impact while sparring with sharp, unadulterated swords. The legendary samurai Musashi Miyamoto is said to have sliced a grain of rice on a man's head without injuring him—while this is surely a tall tale, it demonstrates the importance of mental concentration to a samurai's physical training.

    Peacetime Training

    • In the relative peace of the unified Tokugawa Shogunate, the military services of samurai were not needed as often as they had been during the earlier periods of civil war, and so reading, writing and mathematics received as much attention as physical training in that time. Later samurai were expected to be bureaucrats as well as warriors, but it's clear that physical conditioning never lost its importance.

    Female Samurai

    • Girls of the samurai class also received physical training, especially in the use of the sword and naginata, a long pole with a blade fixed to the tip. Although they were not expected to ride out into battle, female samurai would aid in the defense of the home if enemies attacked, and so they received both martial arts and weapons training.

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