By the same authors

From the same journal

Olympic samurai: Japanese martial arts between sports and self-cultivation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Published copy (DOI)



Publication details

JournalSport in History
DateAccepted/In press - 3 Mar 2020
DatePublished (current) - 10 Mar 2020
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)328-355
Original languageEnglish


One of the longest-standing debates in the martial arts relates to their being either ‘sports’ or methods of self-cultivation. Traditionalists often ascribe unique spiritual characteristics to the martial arts, while criticising the ‘sportification’ of certain practices. In this view, the martial arts are seen to have declined from ancient ideals and become focused on ‘superficial’ competition and techniques. This paper argues that the supposedly intrinsic connection between martial arts and mental self-cultivation is largely a product of the last 150 years, and developed from the historical context of Japan’s modernisation in the late nineteenth century, as martial arts were codified while experiencing a powerful challenge from the arrival of Western sports. This dynamic was closely related to the development of the nationalistic ideology of bushido, the ‘way of the samurai’, which was frequently invoked by promoters of the martial arts. In this context, intangible elements such as ‘spirit’ were used by martial artists to include and exclude people along lines of gender, nationality, and ethnicity. This paper uses three Tokyo Olympics, 2020, 1964, and the cancelled 1940 games, to examine how the Japanese martial arts were ‘spiritualised’, and to consider the enduring legacy of imperial ideologies.

Bibliographical note

© 2020, The British Society of Sports History. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded with permission of the publisher/copyright holder. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.

    Research areas

  • Japan, Martial Arts, Olympics, Samurai, Bushido

Discover related content

Find related publications, people, projects, datasets and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations