Nedoshi: The Rat Comes in 1st Place in 2020

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Illustration by Vecteezy

With the arrival of the New year, there is also a new Lunar year, which plays a significant part on the prospects people can look forward to…at least for those who follow it. For the last several years I’ve covered each new year, from the representative animal sign, to any historical details that may be important. This year, I will try something new. Along with the cultural background, there will be a short story regarding the 1st zodiac animal sign for this year.

YEAR OF THE RAT

For 2020, the Lunar Zodiac cycle has restarted completely back to the beginning of the Chinese Calendar, making it the year of the rat. Pronunciation for rat is “nezumi” in Japanese, while the kanji used to represent the lunar year is “子年”, which is pronounced “nedoshi” or “nezumidoshi”. While many have started acknowledging the new lunar year, keep in mind that, in accordance to the Chinese Calendar, this doesn’t start until January 25th.

The lunar zodiac sign “子” is attached to the rat both image-wise and in pronunciation only for the Lunar year; as with the other zodiac signs, this sign did not originally mean rat, nor was it supposed to be represented by an animal. Interestingly, when the Lunar year falls on the rat, one of the symbolism used is growth or fertility. The character “子” has a meaning of small child, so prospects for the year range from increase child birth, seeds growing into plants, to having an abundance in harvest. A word related to this is “nezumizan” (ねずみ算), which means multiplying in numbers. This year being the start of the 12-year lunar cycle could play a role in this.

Along with the 12 Animal Zodiac signs, there is the incorporation of the 10 Heavenly Stem, which is written with the kanji “十干” and pronounced “Jikkan” in Japanese. Some things to note:

  • Jikkan has also gone full circle within its 60-year cycle, and starts off with “甲”
  • 甲 is pronounced “kinoe” in Japanese
  • In ancient times, 甲 meant 1st in the 10-year cycle, while other (more modern) meanings include “shell”, “armor”, and “insects”
  • Kinoe represents “light-metal”, being a combination of ying-yang theory and the 5 elements
  • Going hand-in-hand with the 12 animals, we get a pairing of “kinoe-ne” (甲子, metal-rat)
  • Accordingly, 2020 is marked as the 37th year of the Sexagenary (60) year cycle

2020 also receives the title “庚子”, which is pronounced “kanoe-ne” in Japanese. In English this stands for “Year of the White Metal Rat”.

TRAITS OF THE RAT

In terms of human qualities, the rat sign represents being shrewd with spending of money, which leads to good saving habits. For this year, it is advised to avoid being too stingy with money, and squandering it on useless things. On top of this, the rat attributes to being cunning & clever, have a good discerning eye for when situations are good or bad, and being able to live laid back and calm especially in solitude.

Outside of the Lunar calendar, here’s how the rat sign was used for conventional means:

  • Time = from 11 pm to 1 am (-1 hr due to daylight savings in the states)
  • Direction = north (360°)
  • Month = November (according to Japan’s old calendar)
  • Energy = light (yang)
  • Element = water

RAT TAKES THE LEAD ROLE

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Today’s story features the rat as the star, with the cat being the critical co-star! Illustration from frame-illust.com

 

In order for the Chinese Lunar Zodiac to be appealing to the common people, the tale about animals coming together to represent the 12 years was used. Over the ages, the tale had different settings, although the outcomes were always the same.

For this post, I added one version of this tale, which centers the attention on the rat. It is a short tale, one that I translated from Japanese to English. The original source is from “Eto Jōhō Site” (干支情報サイト), which can be accessed here.

__________

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A long, long time ago at the dawn of time, the Heavenly God made an announcement to all the animals throughout the lands.

“As the world is greeted by the New Year, come all to my kingdom on the morning of New Year’s day. Whichever 12 of you who are the fastest here will be appointed as an animal commander, where each of you will represent one year according to the order of your arrival. ”

Upon hearing the announcement, each animal was very serious about this, with thoughts about being number one. They waited for New Year’s Day to come. It just so happened that the cat forgot which day they were to go to the Heavenly God’s place. The rat intentionally told the cat one day later than the appointed date, which the cat took at face value for the time, and happily went home.

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When New Year’s day finally arrived, the ox thought to himself, “I should set out slightly early, since I do walk slow”. Making preparations while it was still late night, the ox headed out while it was still dark. The rat, who spotted the ox from the top of the ox’s shed, sprang up into the air and landed on the ox’s back.

With thoughts about wanting to be 1st as well, the rat pleasantly waited there, as the gates to the Heavenly Palace opened. Immediately it jumped down from the ox’s back, and scurried through the gates, making the rat the 1st to arrive. Following this, the order in which the animals arrived is the ox as 2nd, next the tiger, then the rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and boar (pig). As a side note, the cat arrived one day late to the Heavenly Palace, thus there are no good relations between the rat and the cat.

To this day, it’s believed that cats chase rats due to the grudge they bear from being deceived by that one rat.

__________

With the prospects of this year being a prosperous one in terms of growth, let’s all do our best and end the year as winner, just like the rat did!

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illustration by dak

Greeting 2020 with Kadomatsu

明けましておめでとうございます!

Happy New Year!

Now that 2020 is upon up, there is much to look forward to in the new year. To get off at a good start, I’ll start off with a post about a tradition connect to new years in Japan.

The 2 center pieces in the picture above are called “kadomatsu” (門松), which translates as “pine decoration by the gates”. More than just decoration, it is part of an old tradition where people would put these in front of their gates or by their doors to attract prosperity and fortune throughout the year from the deity called “Toshigami” (年神). Depending on the area in Japan, people would place the kadomatsu as early as the end of Christmas, to around the start of the oshōgatsu (お正月), or new year in Japanese. This will stay out until seven days after the new year. This goes in accordance to the week-long break everyone has in order to celebrate oshōgatsu in Japan.

The history of kadomatsu is old, with its roots going as far back as ancient China. Originally it starts off with simply matsu, or pine. Pine is resilient during the winter and retains its deep green color. For that, it is seen as a symbol of longevity, and is used at shrines for the sake of worshiping different deities. It would later be combined with take, or bamboo, around the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333). Nowadays, it is widely used in front of people’s gates, around the doorway of homes, and the entrances of business establishments. Historically there are different designs and sizes of the kadomatsu, making it that there is no one predominant look that must be followed.

Matsu (pine) and take (bamboo) have a high value in Japan, as there are many beliefs of blessings people can receive from them. This is because as plants they display strong characteristics, and possess long-lasting lifespan. It’s reasons like these that the kadomatsu, a combination of the two, represents “longevity”.

There is a saying related to the kadomatsu, which goes as so:

「松は千歳を契り、竹は万代を契る」
“Matsu wa senzai wo chigiri, take ha manyo wo chigiru”

Literal translation is “Pine grants one thousand years, while bamboo grants thousands of years”, but the actual meaning is wishing for an eternal life filled with good fortune. It’s believed that a person can receive this if their kadomatsu is successful as a yorishiro (deity medium) in attracting the Toshigami to reside inside it.

For my family, we brought ours out at the start of new years, and keep them inside our house near the door.

Personal Goals & Perspective for 2020

With 2019 coming to a close, I’ve been preparing my schedule for the new year. Prioritizing is important as my hobbies & interests have increased, and I’m hoping to execute much better in terms of content for next year. Below is a quick outline of my goals for 2020.

BLOG

2019 was abit tough for putting out posts, for I was juggling between this and the book translations I am working on (more on that later). I do have a list of topics planned throughout the year, with room for new topics that may be time-sensitive, interesting, or need immediate intention as they may be hot in my mind. That being said, certain topics were missed or incomplete. For 2020, I plan to catch up on a few, such as finishing the discussion on the martial development in Japan.

TRANSLATION PAGE

An added section to my blog, updates have been regrettably slow due to working on the book translations. Much of what I have for this section are either done but need to be prepared for public presentation, or are partially done. Fortunately, I took some time out during the holidays to work on this area, and should be able to roll out new content here early January.

KOBUDŌ TRAINING

Running a martial arts group is now part of my normal routine, so much attention is placed here as well. Plans for Chikushin Martial & Cultural Training Group are geared towards improving our public presentation in the form of updating the website, which will include revised descriptions on our training, a picture gallery, and demo vids. I will also work on advertising abit more to bring in more people who are interested in Japanese martial arts, as well as announce more small events for locals to participate in, most likely through Facebook. Outside of this, small changes and adjustments are being implemented for next year’s curriculum, which will be announced shortly.

BOOKS

Sometime last year I announced that I’m working on 2 books that are translations of old Japanese works. Been working on these as much as possible on a daily basis, and am happy with how things are progressing. There was some changes in which one was prioritized, which are explained as followed:

  • KINETSUSHU: I was able to locate a 3rd version of this document. Thus,  this has been upgrade to 3-scroll translations. While the time frame for completing this is not long, I am putting this book to the side momentarily to work on another.
  • TSUKI NO SHO: Initially was supposed to be book #2, this has been moved to being my designated 1st book to publish. This changed due to requests for putting out an English version out in a timely fashion. An important document for schools that specialize in Shinkage ryū Heihō, much research has been going into deciphering the contents, which has proven to be very educational. A must read for all kenjutsu practitioners imho. Here’s a sample of a preliminary layout for the book. Note that this is still a work in progress, so editing, revisions, and formatting may change the overall final product.

 

With plenty of projects on my plate, I’m still dedicated in keeping my blog alive and strong with interesting contents. Here’s looking forward to a progressive new year!

Analyitcal Review of the Nakamaki & Nagamaki

A few years ago I wrote an article for the previous dojo I was in about a Japanese weapon called the nagamaki. This article was to help support the training theme for that year. Since then I continued to do research on it, which also went in the direction of learning more about the nodachi (the roots of the nagamaki), as well as the nakamaki (predecessor to the nagamaki). For my blog, I would like to share the progression of my research and focus this post on both the nakamaki and nagamaki.

BEGINS WITH NODACHI

Taking a brief look into Japanese history, the birth of the nagamaki was around the late Kamakura period (1185-1333) to early Muromachi period (1338–1573). With the Ashikaga clan in power, new methods of warfare were being implemented. Soldiers and warriors alike began to take pride in very long-bladed swords called nodachi (野太刀), or also known as ōdachi (大太刀). These swords had an appeal over the regular tachi due to their superior length and reach.While those with strong arms were able to wield these long swords, in the long run they proved difficult to utilize properly due the imbalance in weight distribution between the blade and handle. To rectify this, the swords went under different modifications. One route had their regular-sized handles replaced by longer handles, and from the sword guards up to the midpoint of the swordblade was leather or silk wrapped, which had these swords labeled as nakamaki (中巻).

Despite the improvements, such as added support of bearing the weight with one’s hand on the wrapping, the nakamaki did not fully meet the expectations desired. With considerations on a way that did not sacrifice efficient use, yet another design was put into motion. Taking these same long swords, their handles were replaced with even longer length handles, while leather or silk was wrapped around the middle of these long handles as added support. This change gave these particular swords the label nagamaki (長巻).

Illustrations of nodachi (top), nakamaki (middle), and nagamaki (bottom). From the book “Ketteihan Zusetsu – Nihonbuki Shūsei “(決定版図説・日本武器集成).

 

NAKAMAKI SPECIFICS

A long sword with a longer than normal tsuka (handle) with fabric wrapping from the middle of the blade down. Note that “nakamaki” is a shorthand name. The full name is said to be “nakamaki nodachi”, as these are still nodachi (or otherwise called ōdachi).

The wrappings around the blade for the nakamaki allowed a warrior to hold there for better balance. A means to make the nodachi/ōdachi more manageable, one would think that techniques for long swords would apply here. Fortunately, koryu bujutsu schools such as Koden Enshin ryu (古伝圓心流) and Jigen ryu (示現流) have demonstrated publicly their use of such long swords, which can easily be viewed online. Whereas in Enshin ryu the drawing of, as well as the manner for cutting with, the ōdachi is displayed, in Jigen ryu it is shown in simpler usages, such as enhancing the training of kenjutsu. There may be more to the nodachi/ōdachi for each of these schools, so we do have to keep an open-mind for more that is not shown.

As for the nakamaki, one example that is very informative comes from the Shunpukan dojo, which is a Shinkage ryu branch (新陰流) of the Kanbe line. This particular branch has kata for ōdachi. Surprisingly, the ōdachi also incorporates wrapping on the blade. This appears to be similar, if not the same, to a nakamaki.

Screen captures of the ōdachi (nakamaki style) in use. To see the actual videos, click on the links here or here.

 

With the wrapping around the blade, a warrior can safely manipulate a nakamaki as the weight is better distributed. Note that while this is a necessity here, it is not unusual to do the same even for a shorter length sword. In numerous kenjutsu and battō/iai styles, there are techniques such as where a practitioner places one hand (usually the left hand) on the back of their in order to assist in thrusting the sword forward like a yari (spear), or to block & push away an oncoming sword cut as if handling it like a bō. In fact, in some kenjutsu schools this method is called “kenbō” (剣棒).

NAGAMAKI SPECIFICS

A nagamaki is a long sword fitted with an extremely long tsuka, which has leather or silk wrapped around the center of the tsuka. Note that nagamaki is a shorthand name, for the full name of this is recorded as “nagamaki koshirae no nodachi”, and “nagamaki nodachi”. Much like the nakamaki, the nagamaki is categorized as a sword.

The handle of the nagamaki is the same as that for a normal katana, as it is designed in a similar fashion, only longer. There are cases of the handle being slightly curved (reminiscent of past battlefield swords’ curved handle) or straight. The te no uchi (or method of handling in English) for the nagamaki is said to be the same as that for the katana, where the right hand is on top and there is no switching from right to left like a bō. That being said, this doesn’t mean that the nagamaki doesn’t have any unique traits of its own; with the added handle length the nagamaki gains additional usages similar to polearms, such as larger sweeping motion similar to a naginata. This is key to remember.

A screen capture of tameshigiri demonstration with the nagamaki of Enryū (圓流). To see the full vid, click on the link here.

Koryu bujutsu schools that have techniques for the nagamaki are few. While it would make sense for nagamaki training to match that of kenjutsu, from my research and personal experience, it tends to parallel that of naginatajutsu. Why is this? There is an interesting relationship between the nagamaki and the naginata, which will be touched upon in the next paragraph.

NAGINATA OR NAGAMAKI?

The naginata (薙刀), Japan’s version of a glaive, was in use around the Heian period. This was distinguished as a polearm, or naga-e (長柄) in Japanese. There are quite some comparisons to the nagamaki. In reality they are not the same, yet it appears the line blurs due to how some koryu bujutsu schools retain their unique knowledge.

Pic of my nagamaki and naginata, for comparison.

By design, the difference between the 2 weapons are as follow:

NAGINATA

  • has a longer shaft, as a polearm
  • features a shorter blade
  • more defined curve in the blade, and is more wider
  • has a tachiuchi (metal wires wrapped under tsuba)
  • bottom end is an ishizuki (metal piece at the end of the shaft)

NAGAMAKI

  • has a long handle, as a sword
  • features a longer blade
  • blade has a slight curve and is slimmer
  • Definitions of the blade match that of a normal sword
  • handle is wrapped tsuka ito (sword handle wrap), along with wrappings around the center for support

Despite these obvious differences, koryu bujutsu schools seem to have not only adopt, but maintain the concept of training the nagamaki like a polearm.

For example, in an older document called “Heihōyōmu Budōzukai Hiketsu” (兵法要務武道図解秘訣), there is a section that has techniques for the nagamaki from Jiki Shinkage ryū (直心影流). However, from reading the descriptions the words “naginata” and “nagamaki” are interchanged a good number of times. Also the diagrams shown a weapon more closer to the naginata in design. Based on my opinion, it sounds as if nagamaki is another name for naginata…or they share the same techniques. In another example, Kukishinden ryū (九鬼神伝流) has techniques for the nagamaki, which I have studied. Design is similar to what one would expect, although the blade is also very wide and heavy, which dictates the use of its weight and gravity. Te no uchi is the same as with the katana, although the techniques are abit different from that found in kenjutsu and naginatajutsu.

The beginning of the section on nagamaki/naginata of Jiki Shinkage ryū.

Yet another example can be found on the website of “Tenshinden Jigen ryu Heiho” (天真伝自原流兵法). Along with this school’s descriptions on the weapons taught, there is a description regarding the nagamaki. Here’s the original Japanese text, followed by my translation in English.

———-

「長巻術は、一般的には知られていないようですが、戦国時代には、槍と同様に良く使用された武器術です。

柄の長さが三尺、刀身が三尺の構成で仕組みが作られており、非常に有効な武器であり、これも、薙刀と同一の技術で組み立てられています。」

“Although not commonly known, the nagamaki is a style of weapon well utilized similarly to how the yari was during the Sengoku period.”

The nagamaki is a very effective weapon, as it is designed with the dimensions of the tsuka (handle) being sanshaku (around 3 feet), and the blade length being sanshaku (around 3 feet). It is also systematized with techniques that are identical to those of the naginata.”

———-

Could this be the case of adopting the name nagamaki for naginata in later years? Or could it be that the nagamaki, or at least the concept of it, was further refined where it became a long blade on a shorter shaft, and developed from the techniques of the naginata? As the martial arts evolved in Japan especially from Edo period onward, this could very well be the case. From a perspective of practicality, the nagamaki of old (i.e. featuring a long handle) is similar to the naginata in terms of length and concept of design. With the added reach, one can logically utilize naginatajutsu with it.

Understanding this point, it is not difficult to see the similarities in these 2 weapons.

PERSONAL ANALYSIS

Studying the development of martial systems in Japanese history, along with how technical skills & formal structuring of martial schools came about, one can understand that there was a methodical approach to using the nakamaki and nagamaki, but not as systematically developed as other weapon systems. One reason being is there was not much time to do so with the civil unrest that lead to constant warring when they saw usage on the battlefield. On top of this, these two variants of long swords were both short lived as their worth on the battlefield could not match other weapons that outperformed them in the long run, such as the yari (spear), uchigatana (close-range battlefield sword), and teppo (guns & rifles).

As far as koryu bujutsu schools that have nodachi as part of their tradition, it appears that some possess specific techniques, while others may use it as a supplement to their normal kenjutsu training. Techniques for the nakamaki seem to be far & few, while the nagamaki has been retained yet modified in some schools, if not just conceptually.

ENDING

We’ve come to a close on this analytical discussion on the nakamaki and nagamaki. What is written is all based on my own research, training experience, and what I was told by certain instructors over the years. While it helps to give a somewhat clearer picture, I’ve learned that there are still varying opinions and viewpoints regarding this topic even in Japan, so nothing is quite written in stone.

Densho: The Importance of Note-Taking

The word “densho” is a common one which many who are involved in older Japanese martial systems are familiar with. It has a special place in many people’s minds to be a treasure of secret knowledge of how to do amazing techniques and invoke mystic powers. Did you know that you too can have your own special densho? It’s possible, as long as you bring a pen and notebook to class.

THE TRADITION OF DENSHO

The word densho (伝書) means “a document of transmission” in Japanese. As the name implies, these are documentations that contain information pertaining to a martial system. These were written on different mediums, like orihon (折り本, folding book), makimono (巻物, scroll), tojihon (綴じ本, binding book), etc., depending on the time period. Densho is not only limited to martial arts, other fields used this form of transmission as well.

There are different grades of densho. They can come in the form of listing (目録, mokuroku), varying levels of grading such as shoden (初伝) and chūden (中伝), licensing (免状, menjō), mastery (皆伝, kaiden), and inheritance (継承, keishō). Those that represent inheritance are generally designated to one or few people, as it contains more important yet private information, which generally wasn’t shown to anyone else. Those that inherit a martial system as a new successor have to maintain their particular tradition, and not only have the right to add content to it that they see fit, but can also edit and change original content. This is expected by successors to take the time and update the knowledge every generation if they want the system to stay relevant in each generation.

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Online presentation of sections from a densho of Muhen Mukyoku ryū (無邊無極流). From Bujutsushi Ryōshūi.

 

Contents of a densho can range from philosophy of said system, to technique names (plus descriptions, if required), lineage list, poems, deeper instructions, invocations, and so on. Reviewing public densho shows that this is a tradition many martial schools practiced for many generations. The same can be said for this generation as well. The difference is that while in the past generations secrecy was of utmost importance for many martial schools, much of the contents are shared between just about anyone nowadays, especially with the openness and ease of access the internet provides.

MAINTAINING A MODERN-DAY DENSHO

A student should take notes of what they are learning each day they go to train in their respective martial arts style. There are several points that are important for this. For starters, taking notes help promote active learning, since it will engage you to analyze what you have physically learned. Note-taking also helps to prevent forgetting the lessons you are learning. Along with this, one should review and ensure their notes are correct, especially through clarification with their teacher.

If you stick with a particular school or style for several years and train diligently, you’ll eventually learn much of the necessary contents. Through note-taking, you’ll be able to maintain your own “densho” of that particular style, as you jot down the basics necessary for structural development, forms, techniques, philosophy, and so on. If a person puts confidence into their training, and are serious about the martial system they are learning, this will be illustrated in the notes they take. Thus, their “densho” can compare to that which is a few hundred years old…at least in terms of practical use.

DENSHO’S LIMITATIONS

While it’s possible to make your personal notes just as valuable as many have done generations ago, it still will not outweigh the ones that are in the possession of a headmaster who oversees a martial system. The reason is because theirs represent the tradition that is in their hands to maintain. Along with that, there are contents of said martial system that are not, and should not be, made knowledgeable to just anyone, even to their own students. The exception to this are those who will be selected as the next successor, or possibly to those who will inherit the system themselves. This is nothing new, and has been common practice for hundreds of years. Not knowing these contents are fine, as there is a lot of weight to bear for those individuals given such responsibility.

Two piles of notepads and other random pieces of papers I used for note-taking for most of my martial arts career (2 left pics). They’ve accumulated over the years. To reduce paper waste I’ve resorted to using a digital notepad on my smartphone, which helps in keeping neater and organized notes (right pic). Someday I’ll find time to sit down and compile them into actual books personal to me that I can treasure.

 

Another thing worth mentioning is it is not necessary to write every single aspect of the art we study down. Other than information that represents the identity of the martial style one is studying, such as poems and stories of the originator of said style, it is seen as near impossible. One reason is that if one is active in their training, then notes are supposed to literally be just notes; your notes are to be an outline and a reminder of key elements of the art we study, but the full art should be ingrained in our bodies. For example, a quick look at our notes should be to remember the specific sequence of a form, or the name of a technique, which after briefly looked upon, we should be able to perform or explain near flawlessly. Notes cannot capture the entire feeling of a movement, or the intention for making slight adjustments in our techniques. If anything, it is important to understand the philosophy and principles behind the techniques of what we are learning, and retain those in our notes. This is how a densho can be made and retained. That way, a student won’t be taught to move in a mechanical fashion, or demonstrate techniques only in limited context.

ENDING

Densho is a means to pass down a martial system, which has been used for hundreds of years. It is an ageless method, and is used by martial arts schools in Japan today. By understanding its meaning, this is something that many students all over the world also do when they take down notes. Treasure your notes as something valuable, and in turn it’ll be a true densho with contents that can be passed down to future generations.

Shitsuden: Present-day look at past martial systems ~ Part 2

We continue our discussion on the term shitsuden and how it affects Japanese martial systems. In part 1, we learned that shitsuden indicates knowledge of technical skills or actual martial systems that have been discontinued based on one of multiple reasons, which labels them as “lost”. For part 2, we’ll explore the significance of shitsuden and how people not only study from shitsuden systems, but may try to revive them.

OBTAINING SHITSUDEN SYSTEMS

Individuals who study classical martial systems, or even modern ones with connects to older styles, may hear about specific martial schools or techniques that no longer exist. The word “exist” is a pretty vague one, but in simple terms it means they are no longer taught officially and/or being represented by a source that has licensing in them. For many this doesn’t affect their training at all, but for some, getting info regarding these, especially in the form of authentic documentation, is very enticing.

In Japan, documented martial systems that are shitsuden are treated in different ways depending on the value of the contexts. Some that are considered treasured works of cultural literature may be printed and sold in bookstores. Military-centric ones fall into this, such as Kōyō Gunkan (甲陽軍艦) and Kinetshu (訓閲集). Those that fit the above description, but possible from private collections and are in older condition may be donated to libraries and museums, where they can be kept and viewed by the public. Depending on instructions by donators, some of these documents are copied and, if permission granted, digitized and made available on particular libraries’ websites. If one is lucky, documents like this can actually be found at novelty 2nd hand bookstores that specialize in old & rare books.

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A snapshot of auction listings from <yahoo.co.jp>. Interestingly, a densho of Muhen Mukyoku ryu Sojutsu (無辺無極流槍術), which is a branch of Muhen ryu (無辺流), was sold for 7,751 yen (around 74 USD).

Not all documented discontinued martial systems are made easily accessible. There are those that are put up for sale at auctions. Thanks to the internet, there are many Japanese online auction sites that almost anyone can take part in¹. Of course, as one would expect, this can be very pricey as those interested in the same documents may bid highly for them. Other than high prices, authenticity and state of condition of these documents are always a risk.

STATE OF REVIVING DISCONTINUED KNOWLEDGE

Once knowledge of particular schools or techniques are deemed lost, does that mean they are inaccessible for good? This is a topic that can cause heated debates, as recovering lost knowledge stirs up concerns regarding proper understanding for an individual to do such a thing, as well as credibility for doing such a thing. In Japan, there are different classifications regarding martial systems and how much change (or no change) has affected them from when they originally started. This can also affect support from into specific culture-preservation organizations, such as “Nihon Kobudo Kyokai” (日本古武道協会).

Here’s a perspective to consider. Martial skills of antiquity tend to have the appearance of value, legitimacy, and a level of unique character. Those that have no break in terms of successorship and years of operation tend to be praised greatly. Katori Shintō ryū (香取神道流) and Kashima Shintō ryū (鹿島真當流) are 2 martial schools that fit such description. However, if there so happens to be a break in successorship, a certain period of inactivity, or lost contents that had to be reconstructed, this gives an indication that said martial system was revived, which tends to “lower” its image of value. Sometimes the break can be as short as one generation, other times it could be longer. Common words used for such a case in Japanese are “fukkō” (復興) and “fukugen” (復元).

Let’s use Hongaku Kokki ryū (本覚克己流派)², a martial system of known for its yawara (柔, techniques for grapples and throws), as an example. This system is going through the process of being restored, as it was discontinued after the last active successor, Ōzu Ikusuke, passed in the late 1900s without designating the next heir. Years later, through the efforts of a researcher by the name of Ota Takemitsu and those members of the bujutsu research group “Bujutsu Kenkyū Keikokai” (武術研究稽古会), the techniques of Hongaku Kokki ryu are being brought to the public once again. From cases like this, we see that words like “fukkō” and “fukugen” isn’t a bad thing or a negative label. Headmasters who are honest with their martial system’s history and their intentions for trying to revitalize a discontinued martial system will state the fact.

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A screen capture of one of the few vids of Hongaku Kokki ryu. For this particular one, you can access it through the link here.

Another example, I wrote an article a few years ago about a martial system called “Koden Koppo Taijutsu Genryu Tenshin ryu” (古伝骨法体術源流)³. Once considered a family style under a slightly different title, it was discontinued a few generations sometime during Edo period. It was later revived by a direct descendant, restructured to fit following headmasters’ needs, and is in full operation today. With such openness, it can be viewed that continual functionality is the main focus for martial schools as this. While continual transmission of a martial system is respectable, this doesn’t guarantee effectiveness or overall usefulness. It is really based on the student’s interest as a consumer.

Reviving an entire martial school from ground up is a tough feat, and one without scrutiny. Nakashima Atsumi and Kōno Yoshinori, 2 well-known scholars as well as specialists concerning Japanese martial arts, are headmasters of their own martial systems and techniques that were revived⁴. While the legitimacy of their systems is up for debate to some (i.e. how much of the original principles have be maintain, proper execution of techniques, etc.), this point has not hurt their careers, as they are quite famous even through their knowledge as researchers, and even sought after. On the other hand, in the case of Kurama ryu (鞍馬流)⁵, while it is recognized as a traditional martial system, it is viewed as a revived school that may not resemble its former glory. This is due in part of the main dojo along with official documents of legitimacy, training tools, and weapons of antiquity being lost to a severe fire in the mid 1900s. How much of the “lost” contents of the Kurama ryu was properly retained after being reconstructed cannot be verified due to no official documents to compare.

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A screenshot of Kōno Yoshinori demonstrating a jōjutsu waza (cane technique) called “Kagebumi” (影踏み). Due to his popularity, there are many vids of him online conducting interviews, performing technical demonstrations, and so on.

 

HANDLING LOST TECHNIQUES

There are instances where just certain parts of a martial system is considered shitsuden. Techniques for knowledge that are seen inapplicable for the times such as sōjutsu (槍術, spear techniques), eihō (泳法, situational swimming techniques), and kajutsu (火術, using fire-based weapons and strategies) tend to fall into this category for many older martial systems. Sometimes, it is not so cut & dry in terms of immediate usage, but could be based on internal politics between teachers and students, or said knowledge not being properly transmitted for several generations.

It is not uncommon for a headmaster to seek out a way to incorporate lost techniques. For starters, if said scrolls have adequate information, those individuals can spend time training & testing the contents, and at a later time begin teaching their students. If such method cannot be done in house, then there is another method which involves the knowledge being relearned from another branch of similar lineage. If relations are good between the different branches, that is, then this is possible; if there are any internal disagreements of any sorts, or no unity whatsoever, then they most likely won’t work with each other. An example of this is found amongst the different Shinkage ryū branches (新陰流の様々な分派), where certain older techniques and skillsets can be found in one branch, but not in another.

In other cases, certain skillsets that used to exist in a martial system may be relearned from the ground up. As an example, Hontai Yoshin ryū, once a sōgō bujutsu teaching various areas of weapons, primarily specializes in jūjutsu today, as well as bōjutsu and kodachijutsu. In the late 1900s, Inoue Munetoshi, the 18th headmaster at that time, established an iaijutsu curriculum using Toyama ryū Battōdō. This was for the sake of students having a better understanding of how to use the Japanese sword properly. While not considered part of the original transmission, usage of the sword through iaijutsu (and to a greater extent, kenjutsu) was something that most warriors a few centuries ago learned, even on a basic level, from other schools. Thus, there was no need to have a specialized sword system unique to Hontai Yōshin ryū. Since training in the sword is not common knowledge anymore due to how The Japanese society has modernized, newer generations need more in dept instructions without necessarily cross-training at a different school. This is one of the reasons why iaijutsu based on Toyama ryū is available in Hontai Yōshin ryū, even if it is not considered part of the formal curriculum.

ENDING

We come to a close on this discussion regarding martial systems that are considered as shitsuden. Curiosity naturally attracts us to things that appear unique & exclusive. For others, studying from the past may have value worth sharing to others. While there’s many martial systems of Japan that have ceased, they may not stay buried in the past as long as people can uncover them and decipher their instructions.


1) For many, if not all, you would need to have an account that vouches you have a physical address in Japan. Along with this, a Japanese bank account or similar financial funding method that is established in Japan.

2) This is a martial system of former Hirosaki District (present day Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture), known to have been widely trained in by various warriors in the past. Creator was Soeda Gizaemon Sadatoshi (添田儀左衛門貞俊).

3) More on Koden Koppo Taijutsu Genryu Tenshin ryu can be read in an older post here

4) To be more specific, Nakashima Atsumi and Kōno Yoshinori are both martial artists and researchers on Japanese historical texts. Mr. Nakashima is the owner of several systems, including Katayama Hōki ryū Jūjutsu (片山伯耆流柔術). This particularly is regarded as a shitsuden system that was revived, at least in more lighter conversations.

On the other hand, Mr. Kōno runs his own group where he teaches his unique martial system which has a great focus on using efficient body mechanics according to older methods from Japan’s past. While his experience began with aikidō (合気道) and Kashima Shin ryū (鹿島神流), a great deal of his system consists of techniques and teachings revived from older texts he spends a great deal of his time researching.

5) More on Kurama ryū can be read in an older post here

Shitsuden: Present-day look at past martial systems ~ Part 1

There are many styles of Japanese martial systems that one can study today. From hand-to-hand systems, competition-driven systems like kendō and Atarashii Naginata (sports-centric “New-Style” Naginata), to classical systems, many study both in and outside Japan. Yet, with the variety that’s available, there is an even greater number of martial systems that are no longer available. While they are not physically present, traces of them exist in the form of handwritten scrolls, manuals, and licensing documents. A term for this in Japanese is “shitsuden” (失伝).

Today’s post will be the 1st of a 2-part discussion on shitsuden. This post will give an overview of what shitsuden means, as well as go over the prime causes of shitsuden in martial arts.

WHAT SHITSUDEN MEANS

The term shitsuden refers to traditions or systems that possess specific types of skills, talents, or knowledge of applicable use that have been discontinued and no longer in practice (whether partially or completely). While commonly used in regards to martial arts, it is not a term solely for this field. Japan has a history of people specializing is certain areas of occupations which feature technical skills that are deemed significant to pass down to the next generation. Examples of this, but not limited to, are chadō (茶道, tea ceremony), nō, (能, theatrical performance), gakki (楽器, music instruments), and chiryōhō (治療法, medical treatment).

Passing traditions down supports the value in them, as well as ensures their survival into the next generation. Certain families would keep these traditions within their family line to elevate their worth, while some traditions are shared and supported by large numbers of people or groups. Martial systems is an area that is especially vast with an unfathomable number of individuals and families taking part in it one way or the other. Due to this, there is a great number of martial systems that have ceased and are considered lost, some more longer than others. Present day Japanese martial arts schools tend to talk about lost styles or skills that are related them, which peaks many practitioners’ interest to the point they do research on shitsuden styles…including myself.

CAUSES OF SHITSUDEN

What classifies certain martial systems, whether specific parts of it or its entirety, to be classified as shitsuden? Below are the following cases, which will be analyzed in numerical order.

① Local style

② Loss in value of use

③ Lack of inheritance

④ Sudden death of head teachers

Note that these are not the only causes of shitsuden, but possibly the most common cases.

POINT #1

Local styles were quite common in ancient Japan. Before this country was unified, most of Japan was made up of territories, countries, and the like. These areas were usually governed by a land owner of some sorts. Considering the openness of bearing arms by warriors, having a form of martial training locally was a necessity. Unlike how martial arts is treated today, some areas may have had their own special system that fitted the needs for the locales to be able to defend themselves; even if the knowledge came from a large, reputable style like Chūjō ryū¹ or Yagyū Shinkage ryū², the knowledge may have been reorganized for personal purposes and renamed. In other cases, these local systems may have been restricted from being shown or taught to those from different territories. Systems like these are known as “otomeryū” (御留流).

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A portion of a printed scroll of “Shinshin ryu Iai” (真々流居合之巻き), a sword-drawing style once used by the warriors of Owari-han, Koka Prefecture. From “Watanabe Toshi-ke Monjo – Owari-han Kokamon Kankei Shiryō (渡辺俊経家文書-尾張藩甲賀者関係史料)

Due to being small, and possibly of no more use once the constant civil wars were ceased by the governance of the Tokugawa shogunate, local styles like these tend to come to an end. This is especially true for styles that were restricted from being taught to outsiders.

POINT #2

Maintaining value in combative arts differ depending of the time period. When Japan was divided, there was a need to be prepared to fight against invaders, or if needed to go to war. This urgency began to fade once Japan was unified and the people’s way of living changed. With the urgency to go into battle with neighboring territories turned to a thing of the past, training people for combat outside of the military became a minor occupation.

Several turning points played significant parts in affecting the waning need for martial systems. One of these was the unification of Japan in the early 1600s. Accomplishing this feat, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the 1st of the Tokugawa shogunate, wanted to ensure no more large-scale battles ever took place by prohibiting the use of battlefield weapons, as well as restricted the length of bladed. These restrictions affected those martial systems that possessed a curriculum for such purposes, causing them to abandon such weapons like naginata (薙刀, glaive)³ and yari (槍, spear), as well as putting away documented strategies for war like shirodori (城取 establishing a fort), jindori  (陣取, troop formations and positioning), and the likes.

Sections of kamajutsu (sickle techniques) from an old Takagi ryū Chūgokui Mokuroku. Only the names of the techniques are listed, but not how the actual techniques are performed. Thus, this skillset is lost. From “Takagi-ryu Chugokui Mokuroku” by Dr. Stephen Greenfield.

 

Another turning point took place after the end of the Tokugawa Bakufu in 1868. The lead up to this involved bloody conflicts in public spaces, and assassinations on political figures as different groups struggled either maintain the currently established rule of the Tokugawa family, or reign in a new governing system in the name of the Emperor. With the Tokugawa forces losing in the final conflict called Boshin war, the military-centric government ended along with the abolishment of the Samurai class. This opened the doors for a new way of life for everyone.

After the political turmoil, Japan continues to surge forward in becoming more modernized. Along with focusing on different trades & businesses, citizens took part in more productive hobbies, activities, and recreations. What they steered away from was martial arts, especially the traditional ones. During the final years of the Tokugawa Bakufu, many martial styles still trained with a focus of killing or maiming. The violence that erupted during the power struggle that eventually lead to the end of the Tokugawa rule left a bad taste for many, which caused them to steer away from martial arts even more. Traditional schools either had to adapt their systems to the change of times and make it less “violent”, or to take down their sign boards and move on to another profession. While some schools were able to keep value in their systems through the use of competition such as Hokushin Ittō ryū, for the many that couldn’t adapt let their martial system discontinue.

POINT #3

Inheritance and how it was conducted is an interesting topic. Throughout history, inheritance is important in order to keep one’s family line going. The same goes for martial arts styles. In the past, inheritance is usually given to the older child, usually a boy. If no child by blood was present, then possibly a relative. Adopting someone into one’s family for the sake of inheritance was also a practiced option, as well as allowing certain individuals who are not blood relatives to “inherit⁴” the family name.

While he spoke about ninjutsu as a topic in many books, Fujita Seiko claims that he did not pass down the specifics of his own style of ninjutsu to anyone. Left pic is a page from chapter “Ninjutsu no Hōhō” (忍術の方法, The Methods of Ninjutsu) from his book “Ninjutsu Hiroku” (忍術秘録).

 

Regarding martial systems, there are cases where there was no heir present, which caused those headmasters to take the secrets of their respected styles to their grave. Then there are those unique cases where a worthy heir could not be found; some headmasters could not find the required traits in those around them to inherit their martial system, even in their own children. A popular case is in Fujita Seiko, who was a person who made a name for himself for his wealth of knowledge in different areas of martial arts in the early-mid 1900s. Although he passed down to his students systems such as jōjutsu, shurikenjutsu, and kenpō, he publicly claimed that the secrets of his family-style ninjutsu would not be taught nor passed down to anyone.

POINT #4

The sudden death of those with knowledge of a martial system is always a big concern. When headmasters, or even senior teachers for that matter, die at a premature time before teaching every aspect of a martial system, this leads to lost information. This is especially true when certain areas of skills are held back because they are “reserved” for those students that have reached a certain level or considered worthy. While there is merit in reservation, this can backfire if those areas are kept to one individual for too long.

An example that comes to mind is Kanemaki ryū⁵ and its current curriculum. During WWII, many teachers are said to have been recruited to fight, and is also stated that many lost their lives in the war. Kanemaki ryū, a school that teaches battōjutsu, is said to have specialized in more areas regarding kenjutsu, such as kumitachi (組太刀, sword techniques done in paired forms). However, this is no longer the case because the successor during the time of WWII went to war and perished before passing down this knowledge. While this is stated in numerous Japanese sites, there is no official word from the current school of Kanemaki ryū. If this case is true, then it is a standing example of how invaluable information can be lost.

CONCLUSION

This ends our look at the term shitsuden means and how certain martial systems can be classified under this. In part 2, we will look at how lost or discontinued martial systems are are collected, analyzed, and in certain cases, recreated.


1) Chūjō ryū Heihō (中将流兵法), which is well known for its kenjutsu, is an example of a shitsuden (lost) style. For more on this, please visit an older post here.

2) Yagyū Shinkage ryū (柳生新陰流) is a martial system that specializes in kenjutsu. A branch of Shinkage ryū, this particular line is maintained by the Yagyū family today.

3) This is in reference to battlefield-style naginata, which were longer and much heavier than the ones used for protecting one’s home or castle.

4) In some instances, a family name was given for political reasons, or to boost certain families’ power and influences. Sometimes granting the use of a family name had a price on it, whether it be with money or a different form of payment.

5) Kanemaki ryū (鐘捲流) is once said to have kenjutsu based on the teachings of Chūjō ryū. This included proficient use of a short sword like a kodachi (小太刀). To understand how it may have been, please refer to an older post on Chūjō ryū here.