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A Japanese warrior fighting from horseback

Bajutsu (馬術) is a Japanese form of military equestrianism.


Although its origins are closely related to those of mounted archery (yabusame), bajutsu is considered a distinct and separate martial art, and there are a number of traditional schools, such as the Ogasawara, Otsubo, and Hachijo.[1] The art originated in the 7th century AD during the reign of Emperor Tenji[2] but was popularised in the 12th century as large-scale mounted warfare became more common.[3] However, the comparative scarcity of horses in Japan meant that bajutsu was always an elite art, restricted to high-ranking samurai.[4] In spite of this, many contemporary historians ignored the numbers of foot-soldiers in battles and referred to the size of armies by the number of horsemen alone.[5]

The comparative peace of the Tokugawa era from 1600 onwards led to a decline in the military practice of bajutsu, and it became relegated to a more ceremonial role,[6] indeed, the practice of horsemanship was actively discouraged during the reign of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi.[7] By the beginning of the 20th century there were more than 20 schools of bajutsu[8] and the Japan Bajutsu Federation was formed in Tokyo in 1946 to promote it as a modern sport.[9]


As well as requiring proficiency in riding and mounted sword-fighting, the art also included teachings on the care and upkeep of horses.[10] Horses were trained to ignore sudden shocks, and to press forward in the charge, veering off at the last second to allow the rider to kick with his battering-ram-like stirrups.[4] These stirrups (shitanaga abumi) were designed to enable the rider to stand and shoot easily from the saddle.[5] Cavalry charges were made possible by the development of spear techniques from horseback in the late 14th century, supplanting the mounted archery styles that had previously dominated.[11] Such charges were used to great effect by the Takeda clan, who introduced the tactic during the mid- to late- sixteenth century,[12] but after the Battle of Nagashino, were used only in conjunction with infantry manouevres.[13]


  1. ^ Mass, Jeffrey P.; The Origins of Japan's Medieval World: Courtiers, Clerics, Warriors, and Peasants in the Fourteenth Century Stanford University Press, 2002. footnote p433
  2. ^ Kodansha encyclopedia of Japan, Volume 3 Kodansha, 1983 p229
  3. ^ Deal, william E.; Handbook to life in medieval and early modern Japan Oxford University Press, 2007, p155
  4. ^ a b Lowry, d; The Karate Way: Discovering the Spirit of Practice Shambhala Publications, 2009 p55
  5. ^ a b Friday, Karl; Samurai, warfare and the state in early medieval Japan Psychology Press, 2004 p96-101
  6. ^ Ratti, O and Westbrook, A; Secrets of the samurai: a survey of the martial arts of feudal Japan Tuttle Publishing, 1991 p292
  7. ^ Murdoch, J; A history of Japan: volume 3, Routledge, 2004, p192
  8. ^ Frédéric, Louis; Japan encyclopedia Harvard University Press, 2005 p354
  9. ^ Japan Tsūrisuto Byūrō, Japan: the new official guide Japan Travel Bureau, 1957 p221
  10. ^ Durbin, W: The Fighting Arts of the Samurai: a Warrior's Combat Handbook in Black Belt Magazine March 1990 Vol. 28, No. 3 ISSN 0277-3066
  11. ^ Turnbull, Stephen; War in Japan 1467-1615Osprey Publishing, 2002 p16
  12. ^ R. G. Grant (1 March 2011). Commanders. Dorling Kindersley. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-4053-3696-3. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
  13. ^ Stephen Turnbull (19 August 2002). War in Japan 1467-1615. Osprey Publishing. pp. 18–20. ISBN 978-1-84176-480-1. Retrieved 15 June 2012.