Is Firearm Use a Martial Art?

Morishige Ryu Hojutsu - 41st All Japan Kobudo Demonstration (2018), YouTube,


Periodically on martial arts forums I will encounter debates on whether or not firearm use is, or can be, a martial art. The resistance to firearm use being a martial art usually appears in the more traditional communities. Being "traditional," they see firearms as a modern invention that, logically speaking from this point of view, are not appropriate for armed or unarmed martial arts. Does this make sense, from an historical point of view?

Enter Hojutsu

Yo Ryu Hojutsu  - Onoue Kiyoe - 42nd All Japan Kobudo Demonstration, YouTube,

Today I was watching videos from Japan recorded in 2019 at the 42nd All Japan Kobudo Demonstration. This appears to be an annual event, as I also watched a few from the 43rd event in February 2020. Kobudo means ancient or old martial way, and the event showcases many fighting arts that have continued from their 16th-18th century roots in Japan, like Takenouchi Ryu Jujutsu, Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, and Tenjin Shinyo Ryu Jujutsu.

One of the videos I saw featured Yo Ryu Hojutsu, mean Yo school art of the gun or firearm. My excellent Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial Arts by David Hall says the following about this school:

"A school of matchlock musketry (hojutsu, also referred to as hoto within this school) founded by the Takano Kurozaemon Yosunaga in the late 1500s. The school has been passed down to the present in Kyushu through the Onoe family."

David Hall states in his encyclopedia entry for tanegashima (a matchlock, musket) that the earliest versions were brought to Japan in 1543 by the Portuguese, via an island of the same name. He also notes that Yamamoto Kansuke (1501-1561) suggested that firearms were first imported from China in 1501.

Given that the oldest form of jujutsu with solid documentation, Takenouchi Ryu, was founded in 1532, it is interesting to note that firearms either were or could have been available to contemporary martial artists within that same 16th century. 

The Modern Art of the Gun

Hojutsu Pistol Kata, Rod Kuratomi, YouTube,

I looked for modern equivalents of hojutsu and found an example of a modern pistol kata filmed by Rod Kuratomi, with credit given to Hojutsu founder Soke Jeff Hall. Investigating Hall (likely no relation to author David Hall), I found that he teaches seminars on firearm use and has an impressive law enforcement and firearms background.

A 2010 article in Black Belt magazine talks about Jeff Hall's philosophy concerning martial arts and firearms.

A YouTube user named Chadi posted a video about hojutsu in late February, so that might be another resource to learn about the history of this art.


Morishige Ryu Hojutsu - Shimazu Kenji - Meiji Jingu Kobudo Demonstration 2019, YouTube, 

Hall's entry for hojutsu mentions that "Fujita (1960) notes 455 ryu [schools] that specialized in hojutsu."

455 schools! That's probably more than many modern martial arts styles.

I think there's much less doubt that firearm use can be, and still is, a martial art. However, I'd like to learn more about how the Japanese hojutsu schools such as the Yo Ryu and Morishige Ryu practice. In other words, are they more like Civil War re-enactors, or are they more like practitioners in a martial arts dojo?

It seems that the more a traditional school would argue that their art is derived from the battlefield, the more appropriate it would be to include firearms.

Regarding Jeff Hall's kata, as demonstrated in Rod Kuratomi's school, I believe it's probably one of the better uses of kata I have seen. We're likely all familiar with the military adage "Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast." Moving slowly and smoothly drawing a firearm, as shown in the kata, is one component of practice that could make a difference in a real law enforcement or self protection situation.

If Edo era warriors had access to pistols, it's possible they could have created a kata like that seen in the modern version. Maybe they did, and a reader can point me to it!

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