Systems of martial arts utilize of variety of weapons that include polearms, blades, and blunt objects among others. While Systema and some branches of ninpo budo taijutsu include firearms as part of their training, why have firearms not historically become part of most other martial arts systems or assimilated into practice?

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    I have a problem answering this with such a short answer, so I'll post it in comment and others can run with it if they so choose: They are and have been for a very long time – for example, Seki-ryu Hojutsu is a kobujutsu school dedicated to musketry (or gunnery, which tends nowadays to carry a connotation of artillery) as are other schools listed here.
    – stslavik
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 17:08
  • @stslavik I would love to hear the story of Seki-ryu Hojutsu, or even some good links about them. Sounds like fun :-D Commented Feb 4, 2012 at 15:39
  • There's not much in English. The best resources for an introduction to relatively unknown arts were a series of videos produced in the 80s for the Japanese education system called Nihon no Kobudo.
    – stslavik
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 16:47
  • Well, there is at least one fictional example, the Gun Katas: youtube.com/watch?v=lcTft47wsDg&feature=related . Unfortunately though, in real life, once you have a firearm in your hand, martial-arts-like skills do very little value addition to your fighting ability.
    – HNL
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 10:39
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    @HNL Incorrect. If you're thinking of martial-arts-like skills as punching and kicking in a very limited fashion, then perhaps; however, the principles of angles, distance, and timing along with the philosophical preparedness to cause injury to another, as well as balance and coordination all have a great deal to do with your fighting ability with a firearm.
    – stslavik
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 17:44

7 Answers 7


I would disagree with the premise that firearms arent in the 'martial arts' world. Firearm training most definitely falls into the category of martial arts. It may just not immediately be recognized as what we typically consider to be a 'martial art' because its not surrounded by the trappings of Japanese/Chinese technique names, uniforms, and cultural influence.

That said, I suspect the reason it hasn't been picked up and assimilated into 'traditional' martial arts is two-fold.

First, economic/social. In most places in modern America you can walk into a gun store, plop down $500, and walk out with a high quality, reliable handgun (assuming you pass the instant check and such). But in the locales where most of the 'traditional' martial arts were developed, that simply wasn't feasible at the time. Even if it was legal in such places, and at a time when the technology was available, a hundred or two hundred years ago the residents of those places simply wouldn't have been able to afford it. Most were subsistence farmers. We'd be talking spending a year's earnings on a single weapon (and then starving to death). That's why Karate uses nunchuku (rice flails), and Filipino arts use sticks - that's what they had available to them. (and some extent, that still holds true in a lot of places around the world). Had they had M1911A's freely and cheaply available to them, the arts you know of now would be very different.

The second part of the reason is tautological. The reason most arts don't then assimilate firearms training after the style matures is because they aren't firearms training arts. That is, the art exists to train people in unarmed fighting, not to train people with firearms. That's what firearms trainers are for. Its the same reason Judo hasn't 'assimilated' Filipino stick fighting techniques. No one denies that hitting someone with a stick is effective. Its just not what they are there to teach.

  • Minor correction: FMA do not use sticks because that is what is available to them. The sticks are analogs for swords. Simply put, sticks are used so you don't have to replace your training partner everyday. Commented May 29, 2014 at 19:06
  • FMA instructor here. Sticks are sometimes used as sword analogs, but they're also used as... well, sticks. Often in classes, we specify before a lesson whether we're treating the sticks as blades or treating them as impact weapons, and adjusting striking methods and targeting accordingly (e.g. "blade seeks flesh, stick seeks bone"). Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 12:51

Okay, after reflection, I'm going to try to answer this with the respect it deserves:

  1. Firearms became a part of military life in China in the late 12th century, as the invention of gunpowder led to the development of portable cannonry. This sort of firearm and others were introduced and adopted by the Japanese sometime in the 15th century.

  2. The musket was adopted into the regimented lifestyle of the Japanese Bushi in the 16th century (I may be mildly off on the dates; I believe it was brought to Japan by the Portuguese), and the traditions that formed around the militaristic use of these weapons led to the later development of schools of Hojutsu (gunnery skills). Many of these schools had teachings on the use of the firearm in hand-to-hand combat based on common stances (kamae) in which the wielder might find himself (reloading, ready, marching, etc.)

  3. Many modern martial arts teach the use of the firearm as a weapon, both insisting or instructing in the proper discharge of the firearm, or its adaptation as a weapon. Systema Ryabko (commonly referred to only as Systema in the US) teaches a number of ways to adapt the pistol and the very common AK-XX (the 47 and 74 can be interchanged) weapons to hand-to-hand combat.

  4. Many arts come from countries that were, at one time or another prior to the present day, largely disarmed. The Communists disarmed the Chinese people, and manipulated the ways that many martial arts were taught by making these traditions into nationalized sports. The same was true of the Russians, in which the traditional styles of folk wrestling and hand-to-hand combat were prohibited to the general populace. We can draw the likely assertion as well that firearms, commonly deemed more dangerous and more easily controlled than the human body, would likely have been stripped from the majority in places with Socialist or Nationalist political ideologies. This also occurred in Post-War Japan under the American occupation.

Since the firearm has a long and lustrous history, especially in the east from which many of our currently fascinating martial arts stem, it is completely illogical to ignore historical occurrences when wondering why firearms are largely ignored in modern training.

  • +1 - Great answer, the Hojutsu is something complete new to me.
    – anonymous
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 19:31
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    Capoeira is another good example of #4. Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 21:52
  • @RobZ: I notice it tends to be a rather unknown skill set. Not quite as rare as, say, tosuijutsu (combative swimming), but surprisingly under appreciated.
    – stslavik
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 22:43
  • The history of guns in Japan (which were indeed introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century, became dominate on the battle field and later almost completely disappeared) is a fascinating story told in the book Giving Up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879 by Noel Perrin. The book has been out of print at times, but amazon seem to have some. Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 2:54
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    I will defer to your knowledge on that, but allow me to find those...uhm...unappealing. Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 18:37

I would say that they have become part of martial arts in the greater sense of martial arts. By this I mean in training relating to war. It is just a very vague and unstructured one.

All military and police forces will teach firearms use. There are set movement and training regimes -- very similar to kata in hand to hand and ranged weapon styles. Body position and breathing are taught before you handle a gun. Philosophy is even taught -- "This is my gun, This is for fun". Practice is strongly suggested. There are even sport competitions: quick draw, target shooting, clay pigeon, and biathlon to name but a few. There are "teachers" and "students" and "ranking systems" -- snipers as black belts? There are dojo or shooting ranges where one can practice.

However, most people would not equate martial arts with fire arms. I think this stems from a misunderstanding (or rather a narrowing) of the definition of martial arts. Merriam-Webster defines martial arts as any of several arts of combat and self defense (as karate and judo) that are widely practiced as sport. As such, I see fire arms as one.

Maybe ease (as compared to other weapons) with which fire arms can taught means that there is no need for the whole classical structure of martial arts. This, I believe, is the real reason why Aikido or Muay Thai do not have gun-kata in them.

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    The Merriam-Webster dictionary amusingly defines "several" first as "more than one", then "more than 2, but fewer than many", then "being a great many"... I think they need to re-evaluate their definition :D
    – stslavik
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 20:49
  • This is an excellent answer, though I think the idea that firearms can be taught easily is a bit misleading. It's true that a competent instructor can show the basics in just a couple of hours, but true mastery of even one type of gun requires a substantial investment in time and effort and you handle rifles differently from pistols which are different from shotguns which are different from machine guns, so trying to master "guns" as an entire class is a major undertaking. Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 23:45
  • @TimothyAWiseman: Good comment. Master in anything takes time no matter what your skill is. Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 6:48

As near as I have been able to tell, it is more due to the philosophy of most martial arts systems as firearms do not require the same skill and arguably grace that other weapons require. There was a book on the history of dueling that touched on this briefly from a different perspective, namely that dueling with pistols was looked down upon because they didn't require any significant skill (i.e. you can train someone to be competent in an hour or so) when compared to dueling with swords which would require months of training and a high degree of skill to be competent with.

If we look at most of the weapons that are incorporated into martial arts systems, they tend to either be very simple (i.e. knives) or fairly exotic form the standpoint of combat (i.e. nunchaku) and either require a great deal of practice to become extremely dangerous with, or are actively dangerous to their wielder if they are not properly trained. This tends to mesh well with the philosophy of most martial arts of not just being a way to defend yourself, but also a form of long term self improvement that firearms just don't offer.


Some martial arts trace their lineage back to times that predate firearms. Other martial arts are more of sport arts and focus on point systems and forms. Others are for physical and mental fitness rather then actual combat. A martial art that would be used totally in real work scenarios where weapon use would be common or viable is pretty specific. But this by no means that there are no martial arts the focus on firearms.

As started in other answers most law enforcement and military organisations teach weapon use, multiple firing positions, stances, grips, drills (kata's) and actions that are very much an art form.

I would say that because of the requirements, legalities and logistics required to teach people how to use a gun, fire it and practice with it are outside the capabilities of most organizations other then government ones. Martial arts can be dangerous, but it's very seldom fatal, one tiny mistake with a firearm and someone can die, there is no margin for error.

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    "A lot of martial arts trace their lineage back to times that predate firearms." Some, but not a lot... Late 12th c. to early 13th c. saw the adaptation of firearms in the form of handheld cannons in China; these were introduced to Japan in the 15th c. as was jujutsu. Most martial arts aren't as old as people like to think; even if they were founded at that time, they have evolved further than that origin. Likely, the reason you see this less is the oppression of civilian martial artists in Communist and Post-Imperialist societies.
    – stslavik
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 18:36
  • @stslavik Yes some is a far better qualifier. When studying the history of some of the martial arts a lot were far younger then I had originally thought.
    – Swift
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 18:39
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    Plus figure in traditions of the culture your studying (The Japanese love, for instance, to claim mythical figures in their lineages) and the average education level of the society from which the art developed. Sociology of martial arts is quite fascinating :)
    – stslavik
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 18:42

Most of the arts are very practical, and deal with things you will always have with you, such as your body, your sword (in some cultural roles, for some historical periods), etc.

Martial arts meant for categories of people using weapons which include firearms naturally include firearms: systema, ninpo, etc. To some extent, it could be argued that the military is trained in a martial art regarding their weapon, as they become intimately acclimated to it.

Since the arts are practical, it does not make sense to add a study of firearms when you, or the people likely to force you to use your skills, will likely not have a firearm.

In today's world, the situation is a bit different - and if no one has managed to include firearms training in a traditional art, there may be many reasons:

  • Instructor is not skilled enough to do it. Adding a new skillset in a coherent and cohesive manner into an existing art is HARD.
  • Legal reasons. Pray tell, WHY do you need to purchase twenty handguns and five thousand rounds of ammunition? Oh, right, your martial arts school. Stand over here while I call the police.
  • Instructor is not thinking about it.
  • It is still not very likely that you will encounter a firearm (I do not have data available to argue this fact in either direction, and it depends on where you are anyway).

I know of at least one example (sorry, no source) of someone who has brought handgun manipulation into their bagua training. I can't find it again, unfortunately.

It is happening, but not very quickly, because it's hard. A lot of small skills come into play when managing a weapon.

  • Gun crime statistics should be available from either your local or global government statistics office: Crime statistics in the UK for example. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 11:34
  • I didn't feel like looking up all the available data for every region in the world, compiling it all and then coming up with a "you are likely" or "you are not likely" answer. It's left as an exercise to the reader. :)
    – Anon
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 13:59
  • And for countries such as the UK - it isn't going to happen. We have to visit the US when we want to play with guns :-)
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 16:09

Tradition, inexperience. That is all I suppose. :) More often it is probably such that one hasn't been trained by their teacher, neither has ever had a gun, so they don't do so themself. Tradition continues.

Another thing to consider, depending on school of thought, the main intention of weapons training is not always to learn to use a weapon, but to act as an extension in training the body/mind. Weapons are also weights, and they require other considerations beyond the body, such as not hitting yourself, and how to put your energy through something that is not necessarily your body. It is not necessarily about the weapon, but enhances existing body/mind refinement.

Military, law enforcement or "combat training" is not really the question. I think what we want to know is why aren't they slinging guns in Aikido, Karate, Kung Fu? Rubber guns are not fatal.

  • Our aikido school does train with rubber guns.
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 11:48
  • Does it have gun forms/kata the same as it might have for sword or staff?
    – Ael
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 18:39
  • Gun tachidori is included in one of our upper level kata - I can't remember which one right now. (It is a relatively obscure kata that we practice rarely).
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 18:44
  • Ah, that's interesting. Does it focus on the student wielding their own gun or defending against? I've seen the latter here and there, but not so much the use of one's own.
    – Ael
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 20:45
  • Tachidori - removing the gun from the attacker. It is part of the goshin ho no kata - We tried to practice it Saturday, but we realized that nobody remembered the whole kata.....
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 11:26

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