The present study investigated the historical transition in the shape of the character “武”, which appears in both Japanese budo （武道） and Chinese martial arts （武術）. A review of related studies conducted in Japan and China revealed that previous studies had focused mainly on the original shape and original meaning of “武”and transitions in its usage. Therefore this study can be considered to complement previous research on the character “武”.
The study mainly analyzed the shape of“武”in Jia Gu Wen (inscriptions on animal bones and tortoise carapaces, 甲骨文）, Jin Wen (inscriptions on ancient bronze objects, 金文）, seal script （篆書）, the Chu character （楚 文字）, clerical script （隷書） , and regular script （楷書） through carved stones, tombstones, bamboo slips and other related material. The main results were as follows.
・ The earliest representation of “武”in Jia Gu Wen appeared in the Wu Ding （武丁） period （1250 BC）, while the earliest “武” in Jin Wen appeared in the Di Xin （帝辛） period （1075―1046 BC）. In both Jia Gu Wen and Jin Wen, the character “武” consists of 2 parts: “戈” and “止”. In Jia Gu Wen, the “戈” part is located above “止”, whereas in Jin Wen “戈” is located on the right upper side of “止”.
・ From seal script to clerical script, the character “武” changed to a great extent. Such a change is referred to as clericalization （隷変）. Therefore, the Chu character, which was written on a bamboo slip by hand around the Zhan Guo period （475―221 BC）, was used to identify the consistent shape of the character of “武”. Specifically, most of the curve stroke of “止” and “戈” became a straight line and the third stroke of “戈” dwindled, while the positions of “止” and “戈” were slightly changed.
・ From clerical script to regular script, the character “武” changed further, especially in the “戈” component. Specifically, the second stroke of “武” changed from curved to straight. Another change was that the 1st and 7th strokes in “武” became separated from each other. Chinese martial arts began to exhibit an atheistic aspect from the Tang dynasty （618―907）. The changes that appear in regular script for “武” shows fading of the recognition that “武” is made up of “止” and “戈”, as well as that “戈” represents “weapon” or “combat”. These are considered the reasons why the shape of “武” changed after the Tang dynasty.