Education About Asia: Online Archives

Walk Like a Samurai: Using Japanese Performing and Martial Arts to Teach Historical Inquiry

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The Need for Historical Inquiry

In his Winter 2010 EAA article, “Can Samurai Teach Critical Thinking? Primary Sources in the Classroom,” Ethan Segal offers several constructive methods to help students discern truth from fiction regarding the historical samurai. Woodblock prints of Saigō Takamori garbed in Western military uniform; images from the Mongol Invasion Scrolls depicting the disorderly chaos of samurai warfare; and the historical fiction of The Tale of the Heike, which for centuries passed as historical fact, all offer instructors opportunities to help students think critically and dispel many of the romantic visions of the samurai we have all likely held at one time or another.1 I wish to offer a different approach to teaching about the samurai in this article—one that allows students to make intellectual connections and advance original theses about the past based, in part, on their experiences in a traditional martial and performance arts workshop that takes them outside the classroom and beyond the typical historical archive. This method of historical inquiry is every bit as important and necessary as the rigorous skepticism offered by Segal, and students need to develop both sets of skills as they learn to practice history.

1. Ethan Segal, “Can Samurai Teach Critical Thinking? Primary Sources in the Classroom,” Education About Asia 15, no. 3 (2010): 5–8.

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