Many teachers of NIHON KORYU BUJUTSU “Japanese Old School Martial Arts” claim that their art alone is the oldest of all Japanese Martial Arts (JMA). Some of them, at first seem to have a good case for this claim. The legitimacy of their lineage charts have been corroborated by the top scholars in the field and their arts are mentioned in historical records made by independent historians not directly associated with their school. Some Ryuha legitimately do stretch back over a thousand years into Japanese history.
There are however other less than scrupulous JMA teachers who purport to teach the oldest of all Japanese Arts. One well known instructor not only claims to be the 58th generation SOKE “Head Master“of a particular art, he also traces his family’s history all the way back to AMATERASU OMIKAMI, the Shinto sun goddess. I always found that fascinating since Amaterasu is of course not a real life, flesh and blood historical person like George Washington was, but is instead a mythological archetypal representation of the Sun. That would be like me tracing my family’s lineage back to DAZBOG, the Slavic sun god of wealth and power!
So what is the oldest JMA? SUMO of course! Although not a lineage art, Sumo is most definitely the oldest of all JMA. The origins of Sumo are closely linked to prehistoric shamanic Shinto practices. The earliest written historical records of Japan, which are dated from the 8th century CE, record the first Sumo match in 23 BCE (2,034 years ago!), occurring specifically at the request of the emperor and continuing until one man was too wounded to continue. Beginning in 728 CE, the emperor Shomu Tenno began holding official Sumo matches at the annual harvest festivals. This tradition of having matches in the presence of the emperor continued, but gradually spread, with matches also held at Shinto festivals, and sumo training was eventually incorporated into military training. By the 17th century, sumo was an organized professional sport, open to the public.
You don’t need a PhD. in Japanese History to know that Sumo is indeed the oldest of all Japanese Martial Arts.