Final Chapters of Kyohachi ryu: Kurama ryu

Today, we continue on with one of the remaining martial systems tied to Kyohachi ryu. This post focuses on Kurama ryu. Bearing the name of the place mentioned numerous times in my posts as the starting grounds of Kyohachi ryu, one would assume that this system would be the perfect representative. However, as we look into its history, you’ll see that this isn’t quite the case.

THE BEGINNING

Kurama ryu is, not surprisingly, another segment of Kyohachi that bears an unusual past. For starters, Kurama ryu is supposedly the martial system as taught on Mt. Kurama. Actually, claims by the Shuseikan dojo (where Kurama ryu is currently taught) have it that its full original name is Kuramahachi ryu1. Furthermore, it is said that, under this title, it is the alternative name of Kyohachi ryu. As being a collection of martial combat and strategies from Kiichi Hogen as taught at Kurama Temple, this makes sense. The teachings of Kurama (hachi) ryu consists of many areas of combative arts, including kenjutsu, sojutsu, bojutsu, and battojutsu, to name a few. Kenjutsu, however, seems to be the prime focus in talks related to Kyohachi ryu, and “Kurama ryu” as discussed further down in this post is no different.

Sketch of the type of bokken used in Kurama ryu. It’s unique due to its straighter shape, and thick wooden tsuba. Sketch done by Neal H.

When did the knowledge kept sacred on Mt. Kurama become organized into an actual school called Kurama ryu? An individual by the name of Ono Shougen (1573-1592)2 is said to be the originator of a specific version of Kurama ryu. The original titles of this martial system are “Shougen Kurama ryu”, and “Kotengu Kurama ryu”3. Interesting, Musashi Enmei ryu also has a story stating that Kurama ryu (aka Kuramahachi ryu) was originally devised by Minamoto no Yoshitsune4. In the history of Shougen’s Kurama ryu, Yoshitsune is also recognized for his talents in utilizing the knowledge of Kyohachi, mainly as a pioneer.

Shougen’s version of Kurama ryu kept the kenjutsu portion, and survived 14 generations of successors, perservering the war torn Sengoku period up until the more peacefully stable Meiji period. Kaneko Sukesaburou, the 14th successor,  is said to have been a vassel to the shogunate during Meiji Period. There isn’t any information mentioning him running a dojo actively teaching this system. What is known, however, is he would take up a student under his wing and teach him what he knew of Kurama ryu. That one student is known as Shibata Emori.

SHIBATA LINE

Shibata Emori (1849-1925) was born in Nakatomo town, located in Yotsuya, Edo.5 Before becoming a student of Sukesaburou,  Emori was learning Honshin Kanchi ryu Sojutsu (spear techniques) at a young age from his father, Shibata Masao. For how long it is not mentioned. When he began receiving training from Sukesaburou (as well as from his son, Kuma Ichiro), Emori was 8 years old. How this was set up it is not explained, but he would stick with his Kurama ryu teacher and train dedicatedly for 10 years.  He would not only earn menkyo kaiden, but also be appointed as the 15th successor of Kurama ryu, starting a new chapter in the history of Kurama ryu. Later, Emori continued his studies and trained in another system called Onoha Itto ryu6. In his career he would also join the Rikigun7 and participate in the Seinan Senso, or better known as the Satsuma Rebellion8. Despite holding the position of kangocho (chief nurse), Emori had the opportunity to study many skills such as kenjutsu, sojutsu, jujutsu, and torinawajutsu.

After his time of service, Emori returned to Yotsuya, and would then open up the Shuseikan dojo9. He also gained employment as an instructor at the town’s police department10 helping to manage their gekiken11 and martial arts training.  Kurama ryu would continue being taught by the Shibata family successfully at the Shuseikan dojo for 2 more generations until an unforeseen incident occurred.  In 1945, during the time when the 17th successor Shibata Tetsuo was actively in charge, the Shuseikan dojo was burnt down in a great fire by fire bombings during the Pacific War.  It is said that everything related to Kurama ryu, from specialty training weapons, scrolls, and key documentations were lost in the fire. Shuseikan dojo and Kurama ryu would once again be rebuilt and revived by Tetsuo, and continue to be an active martial system even to this day.

While Kurama ryu was recovered, essential information about Ono Shougen were lost. It’s possible that within those burnt documents are details regarding how he organized the kenjutsu teachings kept in Kurama Temple into a complete system, from whom he trained under, and why he only received the kenjutsu of Kurama ryu. These documents are possibly the only legitimate way to verify the the contents of Kurama ryu, as well as the names and stories behind the other successors who are missing in the lineage chart12. While these missing pieces won’t hinder the continuation of Kurama ryu, it is a shame to lose a piece of history.

Screen capture of a recent public demonstration at Kashima Shrine, in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.

MODERN TIMES

Today, Kurama ryu is maintained at Shuseikan dojo by the 18th successor Shibata Akio, in present day Tokyo. As far as it is known, there is but one active line of Kurama ryu, which is the Shibata line. On the dojo’s own personal website13, the story of Kurama ryu is also explained here (in Japanese). Along with Kurama ryu, kendo is taught there as well. Shuseikan dojo is especially well known and respected for it’s participation in the kendo world for many years, for since Emori’s time the students of this dojo participated in many gekiken competitions around Japan. Shibata Akio is also a current member of the Nihon Kobudo Kyokai. Like many koryu schools, Shuseikan dojo participates in public demonstrations, not just in Japan, but in other countries primarily in Europe.

While it’s a respected martial system in and outside of Japan, Kurama ryu’s position as a classical system is shaky due to its lack of documented history, which causes it to be viewed as a revived school. With an incomplete lineage, and lost of important materials to a fire, how accurate are the teachings of Kurama ryu to that of what was taught at Kurama Temple can only be accepted as what is verbally accounted for by the Shibata family.

Photo of the Shuseikan dojo’s sign.

SPECIALTIES OF KURAMA RYU

Compared to the more agile & dynamic swordplay attached to the image of Minamoto Yoshitsune, Kurama ryu as demonstrated by the Shibata family is very simple and straight forward. This does not detract from its strong and solid traits, however. Like a traditional school, the movements and strikes in the kata hide deep and insightful principles essential for understanding Kurama ryu’s methodology of kenjutsu.

Some of the more well known specialties of Kurama ryu include the use of a kidachi14 that has a hamaguriba15, a kata called “Seitouken”16 said to influence the shomen uchi used in kendo, and a technique called “Henka”17 that is a downward twisting strike18 also said to be incorporated in modern kendo.

ENDING WORDS

This concludes the story of Kurama ryu. As one of the few schools related to Kyohachi ryu that is still active today, you can do a search on it to see more visuals of this martial system (i.e. Youtube) and current information. The final page of Kyohachi ryu will be on Yoshioka ryu, a martial system that had gained popularity through many exploits related through stories even in present time.


1) 鞍馬八流

2) 大野将監. On many English websites the given name is written as “Shokan”, but this is incorrect.

3) Kotengu Kurama ryu (小天狗鞍馬流) and Shougen Kurama (将監鞍馬流). It is said that Kotengu was a nickname given to Minamoto Yoshitsune when he was little, possibly in regards to rumors of him being taught extraordinary sword skills by a tengu.

4) Minamoto no Yoshitsune is said to be a creator of many different martial systems, most not in existence. There are many tales tied to him, possibly due to his legendary portrayal in numerous books and stories. You can read more about his relationship with Kyohachi ryu here.

5) Nakatono Town (中殿町) is an old name for an area in Yotsuya, Tokyo. This name is no longer in use. Edo is an old name for the area which is known today as Tokyo.

6) 小野派一刀流. A kenjutsu style started by Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki. Tadaaki was the successor of Ito Ittosai Kagehisa, the originator of Itto ryu (also known as Ittosai ryu). It is said to have roots in Chuujou ryu, a martial system considered one of the 8 styles of Kyohachi ryu.

7) 陸軍. An older name for the Imperial Japanese army.

8) Seinan Senso (西南戦争) is written as “Southwestern War”. A war that lasted a bit under a year (1877), Saigo Takamori was the leader of many samurai and warriors who resisted the new Imperial government. Most of these  samurai took residence in Satsuma Domain, located in the southwestern part of Japan, when their position in society became obsolete.

9) 習成館道場

10) 警視庁, which literally means police department. For a more appropriate naming scheme, this particular branch is called Tokyo Metropolitan Police Station.

11) 撃剣. Also pronounced as gekken. This form of gekiken is part of the martial system used by the Japanese police called Keishi ryu (警視流).

12) Current lineage chart layout:

Ono Shougen (1) → Hayashizaki Kansuke (2) → …. ↠ Kaneko Sukesaburou (14) → Shibata Emori (15) → Shibata Susumu (16) → Shibata Tetsuo (17) → Shibata Akio (18)

13) Shuseikan dojo’s website is here

14) 木太刀. Another name for a wooden sword, such as bokken.

15) 蛤刃. Refers to the edge of the bokken being much rounder than normal, resembling the shape of a clam.

16) 正當剣

17) 変化

18) In Japanese, named makiotoshi (written as 捲き落とし, as well as 巻き落とし).

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