Rosemary McLeod: Jukendo - survival of the fittest

Bayonetting or jukendo may be a way to entice people to join the armed forces. Photo/Getty
Bayonetting or jukendo may be a way to entice people to join the armed forces. Photo/Getty

If only girls at my boarding school had learned the Japanese art of jukendo, or bayoneting. What a wistful thought. The roll call would have rapidly dwindled; living in a large group of people leads unfailingly to loathing; but the fittest would have survived.

I was fitter then, and played hockey, a form of weapon-wielding; whacking a hockey ball releases built-up aggression, and I relished it at the time. I would have formed a short list of possible jukendo victims to dispatch with pleasure. Habitual nose-pickers would have been on it, and snorers, and girls who snitched to matron about hidden biscuits.

We had our outlets, and compulsory sport was one of them. We also had generous servings of pudding. And along with that went the Anglican religion, according to which England sat at the centre of the spiritual universe. We sang Jerusalem and I Vow To Thee My Country with a thundering piano accompaniment from the music teacher. Militarism wouldn't have been far behind had England called, but fortunately England didn't.

So much opportunity lost to knit socks for the troops and roll bandages made out of old sheeting.

Boys did the real warlike stuff. Their secondary schools had cadet practice, which was compulsory, and was basically the art of killing. If the idea of schoolboys in shorts practising bayoneting astounds you, imagine them with .303s. The war was still recent then, and they might be needed for future problems with the Japanese, went the theory, who had been expected to arrive any day.

With returned servicemen for parents, boys had access to real bayonets, bullets, and guns back then. Some claimed to have grenades. Nobody thought much about whether this was a good idea, because they knew boys could be needed for one day defending their mothers and sisters against kamikaze fighters. The Japanese still loomed in our parents' imagination as bogey men, closer to home than German fascists and more scarily foreign, until the 60s.

And then all that militarism stopped, and boys grew long hair, smoked dope, and wore peace signs, with the result that I wouldn't rely on the average male of call-up age to front for fisticuffs with a hedgehog, let alone spear a man with a bayonet. Our militarism ended when men started talking about feelings and growing hipster beards. Girls, with their lurking nastiness, have become our only hope.

The Japanese have recognised the problem because they are officially encouraging schoolchildren, including girls, who they don't underestimate, in the art of bayonet fighting, or disembowelling. Looking at a recent photograph of girls practising jukendo took me back to when I learned fencing, a form of sword fighting. It required far too much physical fitness to keep it up, but there was something rather glamorous in putting on a fencing mask and white kit to wave a foil around. If one had been graceful this would have been the chance to display it, but sadly one was not.

I see the allure in jukendo, then, though linking it with nationalism, as supporters of the right-wing government of Shinzo Abe want to do, is a worry. Nationalism is the source of all wars, and what makes North Korea's cultish dictatorship scary just now. It's not far from Japan, which is surely relevant.

Japan's Education Ministry, which controversially minimised its role in the last war's atrocities in its school textbooks, has added "the way of the bayonet" to the curriculum, to be taken up by children as young as 12, who will learn to use a blunt wooden stick to jab into opponents' soft bits as rehearsal for the real thing. Jukendo was banned under American occupation after World War II, but the art has been kept alive since by Japan's self-defence forces.

Some politicians are more ambitious, urging a return to 19th century Confucian modes of obedience to parents, and patriotic self-sacrifice, though this is surely wishful thinking by now. Steamed puddings and standing for the national anthem, while watching a flickering image of the Queen on horseback before movies went out here long ago, and self-absorption has replaced patriotism.

But I think jukendo could be ideal for the schoolgirls who've taken to violence, especially insidious nastiness on Facebook, and to filming vicious prearranged punch-ups on their mobile phones. If they are serious about wanting to be frontline soldiers, as some feminist-inspired young women claim the right to be, they will need to develop the finesse and discipline involved in any martial art. Without it aggression is just thuggery, and we have more than enough thugs already.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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