While many may have heard of the highly popular Japanese martial art of sword fighting, Kendo, Jukendo is its lesser known brother, with a focus on utilizing a bayonet instead of a samurai sword.
The practice of Jukendo dates as far back as the Meiji period, where the fighting techniques for the bayonet fell under the fighting system known as Jukenjutsu. Influenced from French bayonet fighting techniques and traditional spear combat styles, Jukenjutsu was largely promoted by the Imperial Japanese Army. While there is no single founder associated to Jukendo, one prominent figure that stands out among the rest is Morihei Ueshiba – the founder of Aikido. During his training, it has been noted that he had trained in Jukenjutsu and applied some of the techniques into his own art form.
When firearms were introduced into Japan, more individuals began to see the use in learning bayonet techniques. Although there were techniques that had been developed as early as the 1600’s, they have become more standardized as the use of firearms grew near the 1700’s. These bayonet techniques were mainly taught in Toyama Gakko – a military training school in Tokyo. However, the slow rise of Jukenjutsu eventually came to a halt when its practice was banned by the Allies after the events of World War II.
Before long, after the Allies occupation ended, Jukenjutsu made its return, changing it’s name to Jukendo. Just like other combat styles that possess the word, ‘do’ (meaning ’the way of’), Jukendo began to train its students in more than just bayonet techniques – placing focus on both mental and physical training.
Like Kendo, Jukendo practitioners aim at targeting the chest, throat and lower left side of their opponent. For the most part, the equipment is quite similar to Kendo, but there are slight differences between the two. For example, in Jukendo, the men (helmet) possess a wider throat protection pad. Additionally, the do (chest and abdomen protector) has an extra layer of leather meant to prevent a bayonet from accessing under the armpit. When practicing Jukendo, students use what is known as mokuju, a wooden stick used as a mock rifle.
Much like Aikido or other various martial art styles hailing from Japan, Jukendo consists of three primary methods of practice: Kata Geiko, Kihon Geiko, and Shiai Geiko.
Kata Geiko involves the practice of form, where two practitioners face off with one another without the use of Jukendo armour. The two students go through a series of pre-arranged patterns of techniques that allow them to practice and properly refine posture, precision, and execution. It is only through deliberate practice in Kata Geiko do practitioners learn elements of effective timing and calculating distances between one another.
Kihon Geiko involves the practice of offensive and defensive bayonet techniques, where the practitioners spar with one another wearing Jukendo armour. However, usually they do not wear the helmet (also known as ‘men’). Each student will take turns practicing their thrusts and techniques against the other, while the opposition trains in receiving the attack.
Shiai Geiko involves the practice of everything they learned, with the practitioners wearing the full Jukendo armour. Much more intense and fast-paced than the previous two ways of practicing, students only reach this point after they have gone through the basics. In this method of practice, the students engage one another with the mindset of preparing themselves for an actual competitive match.
Compared to major martial art styles such as Judo or Kendo, the number of people that are aware of or practice Jukendo is smaller. However, there is still a somewhat rather large amount of people registered as members of the sport. According to the Jukendo Federation, there are approximately 30, 000 people in Japan that are recorded to practice Jukendo as a sport, with a few hundred junior members.
While most people in Japan that practice Jukendo are in the military (training in this fighting style is common in Japan’s Self-Defense Forces personnel) there has been a recent push for it to be taught in junior high schools across Japan, considering it is listed as one of the nine Japanese martial arts by the Japanese Budo Association.
However, whether this attempt will pull through is yet to be said, considering the controversy that lies in its ties with the Imperial Japanese Army decades ago. It remains to be seen weather “The Way of the Bayonet” will see a revival in popularity, or be overshadowed by the more popular art of Kendo.