The Japanese developed their fighting systems out of necessity. They were not the more gifted, nor the best. But they did it for a longer time than us.
When you try to understand the development of Japanese Budō it is important to keep in mind the time-line of Japanese history.
In the West we do not really understand the reality of Japanese warfare and we take for granted that the 江戸時代, Edojidai (1603-1868) is the “golden age” for martial arts. This is a common misconception.
The 鎌倉時代 Kamakurajidai (1185-1333) didn’t survive the Mongol invasion of China (1279)*. Japan since the T’ang Dynasty (618-906)** has been in close contact with the Chinese Empire. Through its “embassies”*** Japan had been copying everything from China since the 7th century (coins, writing, silk, arts, science etc), in fact the Japanese society was a copy of the Chinese structure (political and economical). So when the Mongols invaded the Empire in the 13th century, and tried to invade Japan twice in the process****, the Japanese economical and political system collapsed and gave birth to a new type of society.
The 鎌倉時代 Muromachijidai (1333-1573) that followed tried to keep things the way they were, but when the 応仁の乱 Ôninran began (Ônin war 1467-1477) it was too late. It was the beginning of 下剋上 Gekokujō; a time when the lower daimyô tried to take power and replace the ancient rulers*****. It ensued a period of permanent wars 戦国時代, Sengokujidai (1467-1568), that ended up with the unification of the country and the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603.
Even though many of our fighting systems had been created before the 14th century, this is during these centuries of warfare (14th – 16th) that our ryûha were developed and refined. Not after.
In fact, I consider the Tokugawa period as the end of creativity in the martial arts. Because this is during this Edo period that the ryûha were systemized and lost the creativity that made them survive until then. As explained brilliantly in “the principle of Lucifer” by xxx, “every living cell, plant, animal, if not under the risk of being destroyed will not carry out the necessary actions in order to survive”. survival is what triggers creativity. Peacetime is not.
Hatsumi sensei often says that we are training Muromachi techniques. I never heard him say that we were training Edo techniques. So when unification was finalized by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the development of Budō techniques stopped. And what I love about the bujinkan is that we keep these old techniques alive as well as their creativity.
There is no other martial art as complete and true as the bujinkan because we train the ways of the past in order to apply them in the modern world instead of reproducing dead techniques carved in granite by four centuries of peace time.
* “The Mongol invasion of China spanned six decades in the 13th century and involved the defeat of the Jin dynasty, Western Xia, the Dali Kingdom and the Southern Song, which finally fell in 1279. The Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan started the conquest with small-scale raids into Western Xia in 1205 and 1207. By 1279, the Mongol leader Kublai Khan had established the Yuan dynasty in China and crushed the last Song resistance, which marked the onset of all of China under the Mongol Yuan rule. This was the first time in history that the whole of China was conquered and subsequently ruled by a foreign or non-native ruler, compared with the Manchus (who established the Qing dynasty) who did so a few centuries later”. From http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_invasion_of_China
** T’ang dynasty: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tang_dynasty
*** Embassies: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_missions_to_Imperial_China
**** The Mongol invasions of Japan (元寇 Genkō?) of 1274 and 1281 were major military efforts undertaken by Kublai Khan to conquer the Japanese islands after the submission of Goryeo (Korea) to vassaldom. Ultimately a failure, the invasion attempts are of macrohistorical importance because they set a limit on Mongol expansion and rank as nation-defining events in Japanese history. During both invasions, the Japanese defenders were aided by major storms which sunk a sizable portion of the Mongolian fleets. From http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_invasions_of_Japan
***** Gekokujō (下剋上) is a Japanese term for “overthrowing or surpassing one’s superiors”. It is variously translated as “the lower rules the higher” or “the low overcomes the high”.