Until now, it was generally accepted that bōgu emerged sometime between 1751-1772. However, it is incorrect to conclude that bōgu suddenly appeared at any one particular point of time in history. During the period 1661-1681, many new martial schools were created and explored different ways to engage in safer training by developing pieces of protective armour.
I will introduce a few documents of that period which describe some of these incremental developments in form and function. Unfortunately documented evidence from this period is rather scant, making it difficult to piece together a detailed picture. The prominent Tokugawa military and Confucian scholar, Yamaga Sokō, left us some interesting references with regards to the utilization of protective equipment of the early-modern period. “In regards to the benefits of the system of training in kenjutsu with a shinai…protagonists used to attach armour, with an iron protective mask, and were able to engage freely in rigorous mock-combat [without concerns of injury].” In the second month of 1663, we find a reference by Kamiya Denshin Yoriharu , the headmaster of the Jikishin-ryū in an essay he sent to Osawa Tomoemon concerning the use of protective equipment. “In the trainings conducted at other schools, leather armour is worn accompanied with various other pieces of equipment including face masks. In the Jikishin-ryū, however, we do not encourage the use of such equipment...” We can determine from this passage that several unnamed schools engaged in combat training aided by safety equipment from the early Tokugawa period onwards. Ironcially, it was the Jikishinkage-ryū that was to greatly stimulate the widespread use of protective armour from the early 1700s.
In 1682, a collection of illustrations sketched by Hishikawa Moronobu titled Chiyo no Tomozuru depicts two young warriors wielding safety-tipped yari (spears) who are engaged in a contest with another young warrior equipped with men, dō-tare, and a naginata. (Diagram 1)
This illustration was probably completed sometime towards the end of the 17th century. Curiously, the type of bōgu depicted in this illustration is of a men minus the protective padding on top, and also without a nodo-dare (throat protector). The men is no more than a grill covering the face, and appears to be made from bamboo. The tare is attached to the dō (dō-tare), which is also made from bamboo, similar to those made in a later period. Similar drawings by Hishikawa from around 1684 can also be found in Ukiyotsuzuki, which again demonstrate to us that the use of protective training armour was relatively widespread from early in the Edo period.
Bōgu Employed in Sōjutsu (spear combat)
The question arises as to which out of the two disciplines of kenjutsu or sōjutsu first started utilizing training armour. In Shimokawa Ushio’s Kendō no Hattatsu (The Development of Kendo) it states that the differences in technique between kenjutsu (mainly cutting) and sōjutsu (thrusting), and the impending dangers encountered in training, leads to the conclusion that armour such as the dō and tare were first created for sōjutsu and then later applied in kenjutsu.
However during the Edo period martial art schools began to fragment and specialize in a particular weapon, but even a student in a school of sōjutsu would have to learn the intircacies of swordwork, a fact makes it difficult to draw the conclusion that bōgu was developed solely by sōjutsu schools, and then later employed by kenjutsu practitioners.
I will leave the debate of which discipline first started using armour, and turn my attention to the style of bōgu used in sōjutsu, and its gradual development in comparison to that of kenjutsu.
In regards to Diagram 1, I made mention of the style of men being used which seems to be made from bamboo and has no protective padding on top of the head or throat. In the picture and in later illustrations by Hishikawa the warrior is also not using kote.
However, in Kashibuchi Arinori’s Geijutsu Bukō-ron (1768), illustrations of the bōgu used by Masaki-ryu sōjutsu practitioners shows an improved style. The men comes equipped with both protective padding on the top and covers the throat. There is also a metal grill protecting the face. The tare is attached to the bamboo dō, and we can also see under-arm and waist protection. (Below)
Thus, in the space of one hundred years we can see an evolutionary jump in the style of men. It is more robust through the utilisation of metal for the grill, and provides far more effective protection to the fragile head and throat with ample thick padding.
We can also detect the extent of this evolution in a docement written toward the end of the Edo period outlining the equipment used in the Fūden-ryū, it informs us that the tsuki-dare was made from bamboo and leather, and was the same width as the actual men. This same text also has illustrations that show kote, which were probably used for matches against kenjutsu exponents, and sune-ate (shin guards) most likely used in matches against the naginata. This suggests that much of the training in sōjutsu, was not based around yari vs. yari, but also practised against opponents using a variety of different weapons (ishu-jiai), and the evolution of bōgu was dictated by these considerations. This process was possibly accelerated through contests between different schools (taryū-jiai).
Other documents show that the use of the tsuki-dare was not universal among schools even by 1812, as can be seen in this picture that depicts sōjutsu training with a tsuki-dare-less men, and a leather dō at the Nisshinkan dōjō. This particular pictureshows one of the three sōjutsu schools active in the Kaitsu clan (Ouchi-ryū, Hozoin-ryū, Isshi-ryū), although it is difficult to tell which. What we do know is that training was conducted utilising protective armour and safety-tipped yari.
Kote were not used as yari practice was originally done with bare hands to enable the sliding motion for thrusting.Kote were probably introduced into the practice of sōjutsu from kenjutsu. Whatever the case, both disciplines borrowed ideas from each other, and continually made improvements until bōgu gradually evolved into its current form.