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Legacy of war in Asia

Japanese children can now learn ‘jukendo’ bayonet style fighting at school

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 2:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 11:04pm

Students at Japan’s junior high schools will be taking up bayonet practice after the education ministry approved the introduction of “jukendo” in physical exercise classes.

The mock combat sport uses wooden representations of a rifle with a bayonet attached and has its roots in military drills introduced from France in the mid-1800s. Those exercises were combined with traditional Japanese spear fighting moves and taught to soldiers before and during the war.

As the war progressed and an invasion of Japan’s home islands appeared imminent, children were also instructed in how to take on their enemies with whatever weapons were to hand, including bamboo spears.

Under the ministry’s original revisions to guidelines on the appropriate martial arts for junior high schools, issued in February, there was no mention of “jukendo”. That changed after the 30,000-strong All Japan Jukendo Federation submitted a formal request that the discipline be added to the list of approved sports.

Watch: Jukendo, the art of bayonet fighting

“Jukendo” appeared on the list for the start of the new school year, in April, although only one school has so far adopted the sport. Combatants wear a face mask and protective clothing that covers their upper body from injury caused by the 166-cm weapon of their opponent.

Nationalists have welcomed the ministry’s decision on the grounds that “jukendo” should never have been banned by the Allied Occupation forces after the second world war and because plenty of other nations drill their young people in martial arts.

“Children in lots of other countries learn martial arts at school so there is absolutely no problem with these skills being taught in Japan,” said Hiromichi Moteki, acting chairman of the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact.

“The only reason Japanese children could no longer study ‘jukendo’ was because we were prohibited from doing so by our conquerors,” he said.

“I imagine there are some people who feel it is not appropriate to teach this to children, but I believe it is quite natural.

“Judo is a martial art, so are kendo and karate, so it is extraordinary to me that there is any sort of problem over teaching ‘jukendo’ in schools,” he added.

Moteki also angrily dismissed coverage of the story in foreign media, including a story by Xinhua on the ministry’s decision, which pointed out that “bayonet fight[ing] was a training item for the Japanese Imperial Army before and during WWII.”

“Bringing it to schools could revive nostalgia for militarism in Japan,” the Xinhua article added.

“Chinese people practice military exercises, they have a huge army and they are equipped with nuclear weapons,” Moteki said.

“They have no right to say such stupid things. It is the height of hypocrisy.”