Phases of Martial Structuring: Bugei Yonmon

Continuing with the articles on Japan’s martial structuring process, we turn our attention to the one called “Bugei Yonmon” (武芸四門). Unlike the previous ones covered, this focuses on a specific number of skills vital for all warriors to cover. For this discussion, we’ll look into the history behind Bugei Yonmon, its significance in literature, and comparison to other similar listings. Sources used in writing this include (but not limited to) the following:

  • Zusetsu – Kobudoshi (図説・古武道)
  • Zukai Sengoku Gassen ga yoku wakaru Hon (図解戦国合戦がよくわかる本)

UNDERSTANDING THE BUGEI YONMON

Bugei Yonmon translates as “Four Specialties of Martial Arts”. As the name implies, there are four areas that are believed to be essential for any warrior to perform his duties. Realistically, there were more than just four areas of specialties that warriors learned, as well as was adept to. One could view this list as just pointing out the most important of those that truly displayed the strength, and measured the worth, of a warrior in order to step onto the battlefield.

The label Bugei Yonmon is said to have been 1st seen in the 23-volume war documentation of Kai Province (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture) called “Kōyō Gunkan” (甲陽軍鑑). In this, Bugei Yonmon refers to four specific skills¹, which are the following:

  • 馬 (uma) = Horse riding
  • 兵法 (hyōhō²) = military tactics & affairs
  • 弓 (yumi) = archery
  • 鉄砲 (Teppō) = gunnery

Pic of a section from Heihō Yukan, with “Yonkaku no Uchinarashi” highlighted

Kōyō Gunkan is a product of the military-centric activities that took place within the warlord Takeda Shingen’s territory during the later part of Sengoku period. Thus, this version of Bugei Yonmon reflects this. Another war documentation called “Kiyomasaki³” (清正記), which talks about a famous war commander by the name of Katō Kiyomasa, has a similar listing.

Is the idea of 4 specialties significant, and one that was a universal idea throughout Japan? It’s possible, but not much evidence revolving around the concept of four skills. The roots of this are also unknown. It is possible that there were other labels used to signify the same “four skills” idea, but that requires additional research to confirm. For example, from the document Heihō Yukan, there is the label “Yonkaku no Uchinarashi” (四格ノ内習), which means “4 Procedures of Preparations”. This document is also from the house of Takeda Shingen, just like the Kōyō Gunkan. Could it be that Yonkaku no Uchinarashi has the same meaning as Bugei Yonmon?

MORE THAN A NUMBER

Looking at the components of Bugei Yonmon, one can’t help but to think that it’s rather small. Truth is, there are sub categories to help flesh out the required skills. In the book “Zukai Sengoku Gassen ga yoku wakaru Hon”, a chart is provided that shows additional categories, which is provided below.

20200128_2336115924587974680936844.jpg

A chart of Bugei Yonmon derived from Kōyō Gunkan, consisting of the following: ① uma, ② hyōhō with katana and yari, ③ teppō, ④ yumi.

Under Hyōhō (#2 in the picture above) within the circle are 2 important components considered critical for conducting warfare during the late Sengoku period, which are the yari and the ken (written as katana in the pic)⁴:

  • YARI (槍, Spear): Considered the most dominating weapon on the battlefield due to its superior range, and impactful performance in group tactics
  • KEN (剣, Sword): Consisting of daisho (one long sword and short sword combinations, such as ōdachi and kodachi), yoroi dōshi, and other blades, swords were most effective close range for melee

There is another category in the picture to the far left that is occasionally associated to hyōhō , which is yawara, or labeled as jūjutsu (柔術) in the pic above.

  • Yawara (柔, Grappling): Despite considered a minor, was necessary for engaging with an opponent during yoroi kumiuchi (grappling while wearing armor).

There are several koryū bujutsu schools in Japan that express the use of yoroi kumiuchi, such as Kitō ryū (起倒流) and Takenouchi ryū (竹内流).

If the Bugei Yonmon is used as a basis while reviewing other military documentations, scrolls, and artworks that cover the activities during Sengoku period, one can see some connections to how it represents the military approach in Japan at that time. There are recorded tales and accounts (some more exaggerated than others) of individuals who demonstrated great use of each of these skills, like the yari by famous individuals such as Honda Tadakatsu and Hattori Hanzō, or the ken (aka swords) on the battlefield by war-harden survivors such as Ittō Ittōsai, Tsukahara Bokuden, and Yagyū Muneyoshi. Yumi and uma have always had a place in Japan’s history as they were utilized together a great deal, so there are no shortage of tales about exemplary works with these. Despite its use late during the warring times of Japan, teppō made a lasting impression, as it represents continuing modernization of warfare in Japan as demonstrated by the likes of Oda Nobunaga and his teppotai (鉄砲隊). Lastly, strategic approaches in conducting war by famous historical figures have always filled the pages of numerous literature, thus hyōhō has been a skill respected by many to the point that a good number of military manuals on strategies of war were compiled throughout the generations.

BASED ON THE TIMES

A section on Bugei Yonmon from “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi”

The idea of four specialty skills for warriors may not be as old as expected. There are different listings based on the era in question, but making these lists did come about after Sengoku period, and as early as Edo period.

One example of this is a version of Bugei Yonmon based off of the primary skills dotted on during 1100s, which was deciphered from entries in the war story called “Heike Monogatari” (平家物語). In “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi”, it is described as the following⁵:

  • Uma nori (馬乗り) = horseback riding
  • Kisha (騎射) = cavalry w/bow & arrow
  • Haya ashi (早足) = running
  • Chikara mochi (力持ち) = sumō

Another is early Sengoku period, once the Ashikaga shogunate was established and a more military-focused rule was set in motion to recruit more soldiers for armies around the late 1300s to early 1400s. This version of Bugei Yonmon slightly varies:

  • UMA (馬, horse) = Horseback riding was still prided on, and was utilized for flanking & disrupting groups, thus uma (horses) was a necessity. Along with this, new tactics such as wielding a yari while on horseback, was growing in popularity.
  • YUMI (弓, bow & arrow) = Although older methods of archery were losing value, newer methods were being implements, thus the long-range capabilities of the yumi was kept relevant⁶.
  • YARI (槍, spear) = As group tactics and mass number of soldiers became the focus of utilizing an army, the yari showed appealing results when used under such conditions, making this a weapon warlords dotted on.
  • KEN (剣, ken) = Ken was also important not only to assist spear bearers, but for skirmishes once enemies got past the long lengths of yari and visa versa.

There were also subcategories in relation to this period, which are the following:

  • Yawara (柔) = Grappling with an opponent. A necessary component when upclose upon the enemy, allowing a warrior to perform kumiuchi
  • Hō (砲) = Artillery, such as guns (i.e. pistols and rifles) and cannons fall under this label. Artillery was still in its infancy and its usage on the battlefield can be viewed as trial & error. Still, potential was seen in these, especially once the technology improved.
  • Hyōhō (兵法) = Military strategy also developed as the means of conducting war, as well as the weapons & equipment for war, changed and/or improved.

Although considered minor, if these three were placed in the same importance as the aforementioned four skills, then the required skills for warriors during the early Sengoku period would be seven, and can be rightfully called “Nana Gei” (七芸, Seven Skills).

CONCLUSION

Bugei Yonmon works as a list that highlights skills a Japanese warrior must learn. While it appears short and concise, this is to point out the most important of skills needed during the later part of Sengoku period. This concludes this discussion on how Bugei Yonmon shapes Japan’s military combat at one time. Stay tune for the next discussion on this series, which will be out soon.


1) The line in Kōyō Gunkan that states this said to be the following:

「武芸四門とは弓鉄砲兵法馬是れ四なり」とある。」

2) Can also be pronounced heihō as well

3) Title can also be read as “Seishōki”

4) Some analysis on this version of Bugei Yonmon view yari and ken as one respected category of their own, with yawara (jūjutsu) also treated as a valid category as well. In this case, this falls into a new list called “Roku Gei” (六芸, Six Skills).  This can also be pronounced as “Riku Gei” if based off of the original concept of 6 skills found in Chinese literature.

5) In Zusetsu – Kobudōshi, it is stated as the following:

「馬に乗り、はせ引き(ー馳せ弾き。騎射)、早足(ーランニング)、力持(ーすもう)など、ひとえに武芸をぞ稽古せられける」

Translated, it reads as follow:

“Martial skills that should be trained in extensively are horseback riding, equestrian archery, running, (sumō) wrestling, and the like.”

Note that while four areas of skills are mentioned, this statement hints that there are others that are worth mentioning as well.

6) The changes in Japanese archery was discussed in a previous 2-part post regarding Kyūsen no Michi here and here

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