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Budo Sai: The Spirit of the Samurai

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Reviewed by Timothy A. Ross

budo sai film cover
Courtesy of Films for the Humanities and Sciences, Inc.

This video presentation of Okinawan and Japanese martial arts was filmed at the Budō Sai exhibition in Durham, United Kingdom. It was produced by Ed Skelding and is narrated by Terry O’Neill, a veteran martial artist and editor of Fighting Arts International magazine.

First the video introduces the Japanese bushi (warrior), commonly known as the samurai, and his code of ethics (bushidō), with scenes from traditional picture scrolls. The video then explains that with the imposition of civil peace in the early seventeenth century, the samurai sought to preserve their fighting skills by transforming actual fighting techniques (bujutsu) into fighting techniques practiced as Ways to personal transformation and character-building (budō).

The video employs as an organizing principle the “three Ks” of kihon (basic moves), kata (forms involving combinations of basic moves), and kumite (sparring in which the partners use their basic moves and combinations).

Thus, in the first martial art presented, we see a single swordsman performing kihon, then kata, and finally two swordsmen with naked blades, carefully executing kata. Since kumite with real swords would be dangerous, practitioners of kendō (the Way of the sword) don padded armor and fight with shinai (mock swords of split bamboo). Ryūkyūan bujutsu developed in response to Japanese conquest. The Okinawans, denied the right to bear arms, resorted to homely farm and work implements for selfdefense. Eight different implements became weapons, and their use was termed kōbujutsu; in modern times this evolved into kōbudō. Masters of the art demonstrate kata using tonfa (rice-grinder handles), kama (sickles), bo (staff), nunchaku (rice-pounding flail), etc.

illustration of a samurai in gold colored armor
Image of samurai courtesy of Films for the Humanities and Sciences, Inc.

The greater part of the video is devoted to Okinawan and Japanese karate. Some attempt is made to explain the “family tree” of the Asian martial arts, but unless the viewer already has some familiarity with the subject, this is covered too briefly to be of much use. The video explains the key role of Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shōtokan karate, who, after learning the art on his native Okinawa, introduced and popularized karate in Japan. Kihon, kata, and kumite of Shōtokan karate are performed. Then, two variant styles, Shōto-kai and Yuishinkai, are introduced.

The origin of Aikidō, a martial art developed by Ueshiba Morihei and based in part on an earlier system called Aikijutsu, from Aizu (a feudal domain in the Edo period), are explained, and a master demonstrates the powerful throwing techniques of this particularly non-aggressive style.

Okinawan Goju-ryu karate is represented by Master Higaonna Morio (who was also featured in the book The Way of the Warrior: The Paradox of the Martial Arts, reviewed in Education About Asia, vol. 2, no. 1) and Wado-ryu, a Japanese style of karate, is represented by Master Masafumi Shiomitsu. Seeing these masters sparring with their advanced students should convince any viewer that karate is indeed a lethal system of unarmed combat. In conversations with the narrator, however, both Higaonna sensei and Masafumi sensei are genial, modest individuals who emphasize the importance of basic techniques, and stress the character-building value of martial arts practice. Proper training under a qualified master should produce a student who is self-confident, but never aggressive. The same conclusion was reached by C. W. Nicol, an Englishman who went to Japan as a young man in 1962 and earned a black belt in Shōtokan karate; his experiences are described in Moving Zen: Karate As a Way to Gentleness.

This video, which is about one hour long, has excellent photography, and an unobtrusive but appropriate musical score. It does not offer an inclusive overview of all the Asian martial arts, but it does cover Okinawan and Japanese armed and unarmed martial arts very well. The demonstration of Brazilian capoeira, which was part of the Durham exhibition, seems somewhat out of place here. All in all, this video should be useful for middle school, high school, and college-level classes, because in addition to showing exciting fighting sequences, it does give the viewer some idea of what the martial arts are all about.


Nicol, C. W. Moving Zen: Karate As a Way to Gentleness (New York: Quill, 1982).

Reid, Howard and Michael Croucher. The Way of the Warrior: The Paradox of the Martial Arts (Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1995).