Attire and the Evolution of Martial Arts

Many organizations, groups, and clubs that study Japanese martial arts usually have specific training attires. Some, that are treated as uniforms, help to identify what is being studied, or the style/school everyone belongs to. Other attires may represent following a tradition  of strict rules, or modern schools that are more loose in structure. Training attire is more than just looks, but actually have an effect in the evolution of martial arts. For today’s post, I will focus on this point through the changes that took place in the martial style called jūjutsu (柔術)¹, which is the predecessor to today’s jūdō (柔道)².

FROM PAST TO PRESENT

The history of training attire is not as long as one would think. Before Japan’s peaceful times, there was no standard clothing one needed to wear. However, after the unification of Japan in the 1600s, there were several pushes for standardization. This is especially true once martial arts schools increased and, for the sake of business, having a modest sized student base was a desire.

A pic of Maeda Mitsuyo. Although he is renown as a jūdōka (practitioner of jūdō), his training attire is reminiscent of the shorter sleeves and pants those who trained in jūjutsu would wear. Screenshot from International Suigetsujuku Bujutsu Association.

Jūjutsu became a well-established martial system from the Edo period onward due to the peaceful, yet regulated society everyone was living in. Despite the shift from battlefield confrontations, martial artists at the time still needed to rely on skills to defend against attacks in town, or to use for work. Jūjutsu of old is recognized for throwing and restraining techniques, but also utilized strikes and weapons. As a system that taught bearing a mindset for effectiveness in a fight, the training attire also reflected this.

Around the late 1800s, as a more competitive approach was taken in martial arts, a man by the name of Kanō Jigoro³ took a chance to transform jūjutsu in a way where it could be more accessible to many without the risk of serious injuries from the more combat-focus techniques, such as atemiwaza (当身技). Taking the nagewaza (投げ技), gatamewaza (固め技), and ashiwaza (足技) from various koryū jūjutsu he either studied or researched, Mr. Kanō developed a new approach for engaging in grappling in a more health-conscious & sports-centric fashion, which he called jūdō. Training attire also changed to cater to this new system, where the sleeves of the jacket was made longer, the pant legs reached lower, and the clothing was made baggy overall. As a sport, the larger uniforms encouraged more frequent attempts to grapple and apply techniques. Thus, jūdō is a martial art that is actively trained in by both men & women, and young & old.

LOOKING AT TRAINING ATTIRE

From what can be learned from antique koryū scrolls, jūjutsuka (柔術家, meaning those who train in jūjutsu) wore a short-sleeve jacket. An advantage of this was to avoid having your sleeves used against you, where it can be grabbed for control or get you thrown. Also, their hakama (袴, wide-leg pants) was at times shorter, where it reached slightly above the knees, or just generally slimmer. This allowed for less restriction in footwork. In other scrolls, robe-like attire with no pants may have also been worn during jūjutsu training. This has a look of what would’ve been worn indoors or during hot days.

2 pages from a book called “Jujutsu Kenbo Zukai Hiken” (柔術剣棒図解秘訣), where jūjutsu techniques are demonstrated by those wearing a much older style of training attire.

From these old pictures, you’ll notice that while these martial artists shared the same style of clothing, these were not quite fitting to the word “uniform”. Each jūjutsuka’s training attire was very much the same as common wear, boosting different designs and patterns. This does illustrate a sense of practicality, where one learns how to utilize their skills in the very type of clothing they’d be wearing in case a confrontation does arise.

Later in the years, this style of training attire standardized around the Meiji period. The jacket was similar as before, but was more of what is called a dōgi (道着, training uniform), where it was generally white and used primarily for martial arts training. As before, the jacket is “han-sode” (半袖, short-sleeve) style. Instead of a short hakama, a simple short pants called “han-zubon” (半ズボン), which is similar to what was worn under hakama, became part of this new uniform. Still the same mindset for jūjutsu was retained.

COMPARISON OF THEN & NOW

While it’s safe to say that jūjutsu was the forefather of jūdō, make no mistake that they’re not the same. Jūdō takes a different approach, from how techniques are performed to rules. To say it simply, the difference is generally stated as the following:

  • Jūjutsu = kata geiko (形稽古)
  • Jūdō = randori (乱取り)

Although this is a direct statement, it’s not so cut & dry. First, let’s look into the specifics between the two. when studying older martial systems that specialize in jūjutsu, kata geiko is used to learn the techniques, timing, and under what types of situations can a person perform what through kata (形, forms). Movements are generally specific, while grappling techniques applied (with strikes acceptable to assist) in a way to prevent an opponent from escaping or even taking ukemi (受身, breakfall). On the other hand, jūdō uses a great deal of randori to practice and learn techniques in a more active setting between 2 jūdōka (柔道家, a person who practices jūdō) who are frequently going for a clinch. This type of training is great for the adrenaline-fueled matches found in jūdō competition. In short, the training that takes place in randori is much more free form, while kata geiko puts emphasis on precision under structured scenarios.

A visual comparison between jūjutsu and jūdō. Notice the shorter sleeves and pant legs for the 2 jūjutsuka (left) compared to the longer versions for the 2 jūdōka (right). Left pic is a screenshot from International Suigetsujuku Bujutsu Association, while the left pic is from Wikipedia.

While it is true that jūjutsu does have a great dependency on kata geiko, this doesn’t mean that randori, or some form of free play, isn’t used as a training tool. This can also be said for jūdō, for there are kata used to teach, as well as to publicly demonstrate, how techniques are executed. The approach for both systems are different, but not so one-sided.

Another difference lies in the clothing. When engaging with a training partner in jūjutsu, areas to actually grapple are limit. Students are often limited to grabbing the collar and jacket of their partner, as there are no long sleeves. While the bare arms can be seized, it won’t be firm grip. In jūdō, not only are the long sleeves of their jackets available, but one can get a firm grip and stay latched on. Also, with wearing long pants, a student can attempt many types of throws that go to he ground due to the legs being completely covered. For those who practiced jūjutsu in the past, this is not the case, for greater care in execution had to be considered in order to avoid bruising one’s knees and exposed legs while wearing short pants.

CONCLUSION

Here ends a short look at training attire and how it may help influence the changes that take place in martial arts. While the connection between jūjutsu and judo was used to illustrate this point, many other Japanese martial systems have a similar history where evolving with the times was impacted from the need to conform with the change in clothing.


1) Jūjutsu is generally labeled a a “grappling system”, but it’s a little more than that. In essence, it’s a hand-to-hand martial system that utilizes grapples, strikes, and (small) weapons. Due to Japan’s history of engaging in activities where one displays their strength through a wrestling-like fashion, grapples do play a larger role in jūjutsu.

2) Jūdō is a modern adaption of jūjutsu, which takes a more philosophical approach, and focuses on the development of a healthy body and refining the spirit. Note that the word “jūdō” is not a modern term itself, as its use can be found in a much older document called “Nihon Shinbu no Den” (日本神武の伝).

3) The creation of jūdō is a credited to Kanō Jigoro (嘉納治五郎). After studying the jūjutsu of Tenshin Shinyō ryū (天神真楊流) and Kitō ryū (起倒流) during his youth, Jigoro researched various jūjutsu systems to understand how to devise a new system that could be beneficial to all. In 1882, he opened up his own training hall called “Kōdōkan” (講道館), and introduced his unique style called jūdō.

Phases of Martial Structuring: Bugei Yonmon

Continuing with the articles on Japan’s martial structuring process, we turn our attention to the one called “Bugei Yonmon” (武芸四門). Unlike the previous ones covered, this focuses on a specific number of skills vital for all warriors to cover. For this discussion, we’ll look into the history behind Bugei Yonmon, its significance in literature, and comparison to other similar listings. Sources used in writing this include (but not limited to) the following:

  • Zusetsu – Kobudoshi (図説・古武道)
  • Zukai Sengoku Gassen ga yoku wakaru Hon (図解戦国合戦がよくわかる本)

UNDERSTANDING THE BUGEI YONMON

Bugei Yonmon translates as “Four Specialties of Martial Arts”. As the name implies, there are four areas that are believed to be essential for any warrior to perform his duties. Realistically, there were more than just four areas of specialties that warriors learned, as well as was adept to. One could view this list as just pointing out the most important of those that truly displayed the strength, and measured the worth, of a warrior in order to step onto the battlefield.

The label Bugei Yonmon is said to have been 1st seen in the 23-volume war documentation of Kai Province (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture) called “Kōyō Gunkan” (甲陽軍鑑). In this, Bugei Yonmon refers to four specific skills¹, which are the following:

  • 馬 (uma) = Horse riding
  • 兵法 (hyōhō²) = military tactics & affairs
  • 弓 (yumi) = archery
  • 鉄砲 (Teppō) = gunnery

Pic of a section from Heihō Yukan, with “Yonkaku no Uchinarashi” highlighted

Kōyō Gunkan is a product of the military-centric activities that took place within the warlord Takeda Shingen’s territory during the later part of Sengoku period. Thus, this version of Bugei Yonmon reflects this. Another war documentation called “Kiyomasaki³” (清正記), which talks about a famous war commander by the name of Katō Kiyomasa, has a similar listing.

Is the idea of 4 specialties significant, and one that was a universal idea throughout Japan? It’s possible, but not much evidence revolving around the concept of four skills. The roots of this are also unknown. It is possible that there were other labels used to signify the same “four skills” idea, but that requires additional research to confirm. For example, from the document Heihō Yukan, there is the label “Yonkaku no Uchinarashi” (四格ノ内習), which means “4 Procedures of Preparations”. This document is also from the house of Takeda Shingen, just like the Kōyō Gunkan. Could it be that Yonkaku no Uchinarashi has the same meaning as Bugei Yonmon?

MORE THAN A NUMBER

Looking at the components of Bugei Yonmon, one can’t help but to think that it’s rather small. Truth is, there are sub categories to help flesh out the required skills. In the book “Zukai Sengoku Gassen ga yoku wakaru Hon”, a chart is provided that shows additional categories, which is provided below.

20200128_2336115924587974680936844.jpg

A chart of Bugei Yonmon derived from Kōyō Gunkan, consisting of the following: ① uma, ② hyōhō with katana and yari, ③ teppō, ④ yumi.

Under Hyōhō (#2 in the picture above) within the circle are 2 important components considered critical for conducting warfare during the late Sengoku period, which are the yari and the ken (written as katana in the pic)⁴:

  • YARI (槍, Spear): Considered the most dominating weapon on the battlefield due to its superior range, and impactful performance in group tactics
  • KEN (剣, Sword): Consisting of daisho (one long sword and short sword combinations, such as ōdachi and kodachi), yoroi dōshi, and other blades, swords were most effective close range for melee

There is another category in the picture to the far left that is occasionally associated to hyōhō , which is yawara, or labeled as jūjutsu (柔術) in the pic above.

  • Yawara (柔, Grappling): Despite considered a minor, was necessary for engaging with an opponent during yoroi kumiuchi (grappling while wearing armor).

There are several koryū bujutsu schools in Japan that express the use of yoroi kumiuchi, such as Kitō ryū (起倒流) and Takenouchi ryū (竹内流).

If the Bugei Yonmon is used as a basis while reviewing other military documentations, scrolls, and artworks that cover the activities during Sengoku period, one can see some connections to how it represents the military approach in Japan at that time. There are recorded tales and accounts (some more exaggerated than others) of individuals who demonstrated great use of each of these skills, like the yari by famous individuals such as Honda Tadakatsu and Hattori Hanzō, or the ken (aka swords) on the battlefield by war-harden survivors such as Ittō Ittōsai, Tsukahara Bokuden, and Yagyū Muneyoshi. Yumi and uma have always had a place in Japan’s history as they were utilized together a great deal, so there are no shortage of tales about exemplary works with these. Despite its use late during the warring times of Japan, teppō made a lasting impression, as it represents continuing modernization of warfare in Japan as demonstrated by the likes of Oda Nobunaga and his teppotai (鉄砲隊). Lastly, strategic approaches in conducting war by famous historical figures have always filled the pages of numerous literature, thus hyōhō has been a skill respected by many to the point that a good number of military manuals on strategies of war were compiled throughout the generations.

BASED ON THE TIMES

A section on Bugei Yonmon from “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi”

The idea of four specialty skills for warriors may not be as old as expected. There are different listings based on the era in question, but making these lists did come about after Sengoku period, and as early as Edo period.

One example of this is a version of Bugei Yonmon based off of the primary skills dotted on during 1100s, which was deciphered from entries in the war story called “Heike Monogatari” (平家物語). In “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi”, it is described as the following⁵:

  • Uma nori (馬乗り) = horseback riding
  • Kisha (騎射) = cavalry w/bow & arrow
  • Haya ashi (早足) = running
  • Chikara mochi (力持ち) = sumō

Another is early Sengoku period, once the Ashikaga shogunate was established and a more military-focused rule was set in motion to recruit more soldiers for armies around the late 1300s to early 1400s. This version of Bugei Yonmon slightly varies:

  • UMA (馬, horse) = Horseback riding was still prided on, and was utilized for flanking & disrupting groups, thus uma (horses) was a necessity. Along with this, new tactics such as wielding a yari while on horseback, was growing in popularity.
  • YUMI (弓, bow & arrow) = Although older methods of archery were losing value, newer methods were being implements, thus the long-range capabilities of the yumi was kept relevant⁶.
  • YARI (槍, spear) = As group tactics and mass number of soldiers became the focus of utilizing an army, the yari showed appealing results when used under such conditions, making this a weapon warlords dotted on.
  • KEN (剣, ken) = Ken was also important not only to assist spear bearers, but for skirmishes once enemies got past the long lengths of yari and visa versa.

There were also subcategories in relation to this period, which are the following:

  • Yawara (柔) = Grappling with an opponent. A necessary component when upclose upon the enemy, allowing a warrior to perform kumiuchi
  • Hō (砲) = Artillery, such as guns (i.e. pistols and rifles) and cannons fall under this label. Artillery was still in its infancy and its usage on the battlefield can be viewed as trial & error. Still, potential was seen in these, especially once the technology improved.
  • Hyōhō (兵法) = Military strategy also developed as the means of conducting war, as well as the weapons & equipment for war, changed and/or improved.

Although considered minor, if these three were placed in the same importance as the aforementioned four skills, then the required skills for warriors during the early Sengoku period would be seven, and can be rightfully called “Nana Gei” (七芸, Seven Skills).

CONCLUSION

Bugei Yonmon works as a list that highlights skills a Japanese warrior must learn. While it appears short and concise, this is to point out the most important of skills needed during the later part of Sengoku period. This concludes this discussion on how Bugei Yonmon shapes Japan’s military combat at one time. Stay tune for the next discussion on this series, which will be out soon.


1) The line in Kōyō Gunkan that states this said to be the following:

「武芸四門とは弓鉄砲兵法馬是れ四なり」とある。」

2) Can also be pronounced heihō as well

3) Title can also be read as “Seishōki”

4) Some analysis on this version of Bugei Yonmon view yari and ken as one respected category of their own, with yawara (jūjutsu) also treated as a valid category as well. In this case, this falls into a new list called “Roku Gei” (六芸, Six Skills).  This can also be pronounced as “Riku Gei” if based off of the original concept of 6 skills found in Chinese literature.

5) In Zusetsu – Kobudōshi, it is stated as the following:

「馬に乗り、はせ引き(ー馳せ弾き。騎射)、早足(ーランニング)、力持(ーすもう)など、ひとえに武芸をぞ稽古せられける」

Translated, it reads as follow:

“Martial skills that should be trained in extensively are horseback riding, equestrian archery, running, (sumō) wrestling, and the like.”

Note that while four areas of skills are mentioned, this statement hints that there are others that are worth mentioning as well.

6) The changes in Japanese archery was discussed in a previous 2-part post regarding Kyūsen no Michi here and here

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.

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.

The Parallel use of Kōhaku (紅白)

In the Japanese language, there is a word called “kōhaku” (紅白)¹, which stands for the colors red and white. Historically², these two colors play a unique role. They can be used in pairs, or at opposite extremes in distinguishing groups. For example, the colors on Japan’s flag are represented by the colors red and white. Other familiar items include “kōhaku maku” (紅白幕, red & white curtain), kōhaku chōchin (紅白提灯, red & white paper lanterns), and other types of decorations used for celebrations. The two colors are also used for food and treats, such as “kōhaku mochi” (紅白餅, red & white rice cakes) and “kōhaku manjū” (紅白まんじゅう, red & white steamed buns with various filings), which are commonly used for ritualistic occasions. In activities and sports, two teams are created for the sake of competition; one team is called “akagumi” (紅組, red team) and the other “shirogumi” (白組), and each may carry a corresponding flag or handkerchief as to indicate which side each member is one.

 

Examples of how red & white are used in the following: Japanese flag (top-left), kōhaku manjū (top-right), kōhaku chōchin (bottom-left), kōhaku maku (bottom right)

 

Recently, I came across two words in an old Japanese document I am translating, each based on one of the two colors mentioned above. The document in question is related to warfare and swordsmanship in the past, and features a section that deals with what a warrior can do even when no weapon is in hand. Although used separately, in the context the two words appear in really signifies the parallel existence that kōhaku represents.

Sections from the document Tsuki no Sho (月の抄), which feature the 2 words discussed below.

 

The first word is “sekishu” (赤手)³. Literal translation would be “red hand”, which is actually correct if we are talking about the color of someone’s hands. However, depending on the subject matter, the use of the color red has a different meaning. Here’s the dictionary definition from one of the resources I use for translations called “Kotobank“:

__________

せき‐しゅ【赤手】

〘名〙 (「赤」はむき出しの意) 手に何も持たないこと。なんの武器もないこと。素手(すで)。空手(からて)。徒手(としゅ)

__________

The above definition expresses that the manner in which red is used in this word is to mean “exposed” or “naked”. Together, sekishu stands for “bare hands”, or having no weapons in hand. It has the same meaning as other words of similar use, such as “sude” (素手), “karate” (空手), and “toshu” (徒手).

On a separate note, the word “hakushu” (white hand) doesn’t exist historically. Actually, there is the word “shirode” (白手) . It has no reference to fighting, but instead refers to a type of glaze used on porcelain.

 

Examples of fighting empty handed.

 

The 2nd word from the document is “hakusen” (白戦). If translated literally it reads “white battle”, but this is not the correct meaning. Taking a look at the definition once more found on Kotobank:

__________

はく‐せん【白戦】

〘名〙 手に何も持たないで戦うこと。

__________

Hakusen means “unarmed battle”, where no weapons are used to fight. The use of “haku” (white) is to express a plain, natural form, without the addition of anything else (in the form of weapons, those will add another flavor, or “color” so to speak). A similar word to this is “hakuheisen” (白兵戦), which also can refer to hand-to-hand combat⁴. As for an equivalent “akasen” or “sekisen” using the color red, none exists as far as I can tell from my research.

In conclusion, kōhaku has a strong cultural influence on words, actions, and events. Based on the context mentioned above, we see how red and white are used to mean literally the same thing through the two words sekishu and hakusen. These are great examples of the parallel use of the two colors that represent the word kōhaku. To this day, these colors are popularly used in special occasions in Japan year round, which can be experienced visually even in public events and festivals.


1) There are several ways of writing the word red. For kōhaku, the character “紅” is used. However, one of the more common ways of writing the word red is with the character “赤”. On top of this, there are different pronunciations for both red & white. Here’s what’s used in the article:

Red = aka, seki, ko

White = shiro, haku

2) There are several theories behind the origin of the word kōhaku. One theory is that the colors red and white were used to distinguish the warring armies as early as during the Genpei Gassen (源平合戦, 1180 – 1185). Another is that the word has even older roots, where the colors represent life (red, such as a new born baby) and death (white, such as the white garments worn by those who have passed away).

3) Can also be pronounced as “akade”

4) Actually, this is partially correct. The full meaning of “hakuheisen” is close-quarter combat, which primarily refers to the distance where warriors were close enough to use their pikes, swords, knives, and (if nothing else was available) fists or grappling techniques during Japan’s warring period in the mid century. The root of this is in the word “hakuhei” (白兵), which is a special terminology that refers to “unsheathed, bladed weapons” used for fighting, which became especially prevalent during 1500s. From Edo period onward, due to less dependency on large battlefield weapons and more development in martial techniques in civilian clothing, the use of hakuheisen adapted according to how fights were later conducted. Especially in the later years, hakuheisen was used to refer to numerous methods for close-range fighting, from bayonets to even CQC.

Hayashizaki Shigenobu: Pioneer of Sword-Drawing

For over half a year, we have been working on the basic skills and finer qualities of battōjutsu, as taught in Chikushin Martial & Cultural Training Group. Having a great interest in battōjutsu early in my martial arts career, I’ve personally been training in this based on different instructions received alongside with kenjutsu. For those curious, battōjutsu (抜刀術) is a systematic approach to drawing out a sheathed Japanese sword to cut, often labeled as “sword-drawing” and “draw-cutting”¹. Generally the techniques for sword-drawing are widely recognized by a more modern title, “iaidō²” (iai for short), although there are certain martial schools that still use the term battōjutsu (battō for short)³.

For today’s article, we’ll take a look into the origins of battō (iai), which is tied to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu, the founder of this unique sword system. Sources used in writing this include (but not limited to) the following:

 

THE BEGINNING

The origins of battō/iai as we know it today takes place around the mid 1500s by a young man named Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu (林崎甚助源重信). While many martial schools give credit to his extraordinary development of techniques for fast “draw-cutting”, the reasoning for him even creating such a sword style was under grim conditions. To understand this, we’ll look further into the family he was born into.

Pic of a statue of Hayashizaki Shigenobu, which is housed in Hayashizaki Iaijinja. From the book “Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden”.

While Shigenobu is widely known under the surname “Hayashizaki”, he was originally from the Asano family. He’s the son of Asano Kazuma Minamoto Shigeharu (浅野数馬源重治) and Sugano (菅野). Shigeharu, Shigenobu’s father, was once a guard acting as lead inspector of the northern section of the Imperial palace. From 1538 he was employed as an officer to serve Mogami Inaba-no-Kami Mitsuhide (最上因幡守満英), who was the 6th lord of Tateoka castle in Dewa Country (present day Murayama City, Yamagata Prefecture). Sugano⁴, Shigenobu’s mother, was from the Takagi family of Tateoka, Dewa Country. Shigeharu and Sugano would get married in 1540, and later have Shigenobu in Tateoka in 1542. Upon his birth, Shigenobu was given the name “Tamijimaru” (民治丸).

In the Asano family, their ancestral deity⁵ was “Kumano Myōjin” (熊野明神), whom they prayed to. Kumano Myōjin (also referred to as “Hayashizaki Myōjin” in some sources) was housed in a 3-room shrine within “Arayato no Ji” (荒宿の地), an area located in the northeast section of Hayashizaki grounds of Ōkura forest (present day Hayashizaki, Murayama City, Yamagata Prefecture). Shigeharu continued with these customs and paid his respects with his family when they had the chance to visit Kumano Myōjin shrine.

 

REASON FOR VENGEANCE

Sometime in 1547, Asano Shigeharu went to go play a game of Go⁶ with a priest at the Kumano Myōjin shrine. After spending his day doing so, he was returning home late in the night. On his way home, Shigeharu was targeted by a warrior named Sakaichi Unsai (坂一雲斎)⁷, who apparently harbored ill intentions against him. Using the night as a cover, Unsai ambushed Shigeharu and murders him. Later Shigeharu’s death is notified to his family members, as well as the identity of the murderer. Fueled with anguish, Sugano and her son plotted to get revenge against Sakaichi Unsai.

Shigenobu and his mother would remain in Tateoka, where he began receiving training in kenjutsu at the age of 8 from Higashine Keibu Tayu (東根刑部太夫)⁸, who was a warrior of Tateoka castle. In 1554, Shigenobu, at the age of 13, would periodically stay at Kumano Myōjin shrine to pray not only for protection and success in extracting vengeance to his family’s ancestral deity, but to receive further instructions to perfect his use with the sword. Armed with his late father’s family sword called Nobukuni (信國), he trained in the methods of kenjutsu, and worked hard in developing a style that would prove effective against his target. Instead of just merely practicing how to swing a sword in a duel-like fashion, Shigenobu focused on techniques that evolved around drawing the sword out of its sheath to deliver unpredictable cuts. The family sword he trained with was a rather long one, measuring to 3 shaku 2 sun⁹. Possibly made for use on the battlefield, this sword gave him exceptional reach. To effectively use it for fast-draw cutting purposes, especially against someone who used a shorter sword, Shigenobu would need to develop methods for drawing this long sword out with speed.

 

BIRTH OF BATTŌJUTSU AND HAYASHIZAKI SHIGENOBU

It is said that in 1556, Shigenobu underwent a special ritual called “Hyakunichi no Sanrō¹⁰”, where he spent 100 days at the shrine devoting himself to prayer for guidance in perfecting his ability in battō. Sometime during the evening of the 100th day, Shigenobu witnessed a divine vision. While sleeping, he was visited by Kumano Myōjin in his dreams, who demonstrated to him a secret technique called “Manji Nuki¹¹”. In learning this, Shigenobu became enlightened to the inner secrets of sword-drawing. With this revelation, he decided to call his sword system “Shinmyō Hijutsu no Junsui Battō¹²”, and set off to train further to a master-like level with the sword.

An insert from ”Jinrin Kinmō Zui, vol. #7″ (人倫訓蒙図彙7巻) from year 1690. Entitled “Iai Torite” (いあいとりて), it depicts a swordsman using methods of iai (sword-drawing method) to defeat 2 opponents. From Wikipedia.

Reaching the age of 18 in 1559, Shigenobu changed his name from “Asano Tamijimaru” to “Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu”¹³. This was to identify his growth, as well as paying homage to the grounds where he was nurtured into a swordsman, Hayashizaki. In recognition of this growth, his sword system today is respectively called “Hayashizaki Musō ryū¹⁴”,  as this title reflects how he was divinely enlightened in the secret methods of battō.

Assuming his new name and role as a swordsman, Shigenobu set out to fulfill his family’s desire for revenge on his father’s murderer, Sakaichi Unsai. This doesn’t happen overnight, however, as time was needed to possibly track down his target. This finally becomes a reality, for in 1561 Shigenobu was able to locate Sakaichi Unsai at his home in the capitol city Kyō (present day Kyōto, Japan). Details of the confrontation varies depending on the source which tells it, so no concrete info on how it transpired. What all sources agree on is that Shigenobu was able to cut down Sakaichi and successfully extract revenge. With his mission completed, he then returned back to his hometown, and paid his respects at Kumano Myōjin shrine. He also offered the Nobukuni sword to the shrine.

 

SPREADING THE KNOWLEDGE OF SWORD-DRAWING

Upon returning home, Shigenobu was caring for his sick mother. However, a year after successfully carrying out revenge, Shiguno passed away in 1562. With no other responsibilities at hand, Shigenobu left Hayashizaki to travel around Japan and further refine his martial skills. He crossed into a few areas well known for their martial combat. For example, it is said that in 1563 he went to Kashima and received tutelage from Tsukahara Bokuden¹⁵ (塚原卜傳), founder of Kashima Shintō ryū¹⁶. Shigenobu was able to learn the secret method of Kashima Shintō ryū’s highest technique, called “Ichi no Tachi¹⁷”. It is also mentioned that he studied Tenshin Shoden Katori Shintō ryū¹⁸. Outside of kenjutsu training, Shigenobu studied “Onmyō Kaigō¹⁹ during his stay at Ichi-no-Miya (present day Omiya)²⁰ in Owari Country (present day Aichi Prefecture). The philosophy from Onmyō Kaigō was also incorporated into his sword-drawing style.

Outside of his own personal kenjutsu training, Shigenobu took the role of instructor for his own sword system. For example, in 1563 he resided in Yonezawa, Aizu (Fukushima Prefecture) for some time. During this, he was actively instructing his style of battōjutsu to those in Akai Village, Wakamatsu (Fukushima Prefecture). During the course of his journey Shigenobu gained other students. Notable names that developed their own sword drawing style based on Shigenobu’s teaching include the following:

  • Tōshimo Tsuke-no-Kami Motoharu²¹ (founder of Shinmei Musō Tō ryū²²)
  • Tamiya Heibē Shigemasa²³ (founder of Tamiya ryū²⁴)
  • Katayama Hōki-no-Kami Hisayasu²⁵ (founder of Hōki ryū²⁶)
  • Takamatsu Kanbē Nobukatsu²⁷ (founder of Ichi-no-Miya ryū²⁸)

 

A pic of Hayashizaki Iaijinja. From Wikipedia.

In his later years, Shigenobu stayed for about a year in the residence of his student, Takamatsu Kanbē Nobukatsu in Kawagoe, Bushū (present day Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture). In 1617, he received permission to leave on a short trip to Ōu (north-eastern section of Japan). However, during the same year he later became very ill in the middle of his travel, and passed away. Although he passed in an untimely manner, his name and his system of sword-drawing lives on. In recognition to his life, the Kumano Myōjin shrine was renamed to “Iaijinja” (居合神社).

 

ENDING

This concludes the history of Hayashizaki Shigenobu, and how he developed the martial system of sword-drawing. I hope this was a good and informative read for everyone.


1) Other older names used for the system of draw-cutting includes “saya no uchi” (鞘の内), “iai” (different from the modern naming convention, these are written as either 居相 or 坐合), “bakken” (抜剣), and “nukiawase” (抜合).

2) 居合道. Iaidō is the modern, non-violent approach to sword-drawing, which stems from the older version “iaijutsu” (居合術).

3) There have been many debates regarding the differences between the names “battō” and “iai”. Some points made range from one specializing only in seated forms to one incorporating practices such as test cutting. The truth is, there are no real differences, for they both mean the same thing.

The use of either battō or iai throughout history lies on certain factors. One example falls on which naming convention was popular at given time. Another, depended on current headmaster of specific school and what principles & philosophies that were intended to be expressed. We also have to keep in mind that as Japan moved more to periods of less wars and conflicts, some surviving schools changed their curriculum from being combat-oriented to self-development. Iaidō is a prime example of this.

All in all, while the various sword-drawing styles of today may focus on specializing in certain traits, the underlining meaning between the words battō and iai are the same.

4) Sugano is unusual as a given name. On top of this, she is also associated with another name that is written as “志我井”. This could possibly be her given name, but pronunciation is obscure.

5) Known as “soshin” (祖神)

6) 碁. Go is a Japanese board game where players try to dominate the territory of their opponent.

7) Some sources also indicate that he was known by the name “Sakagami Shūzen” (坂上主膳).

8) “Tayu” is not his given name, as it indicates his position or rank. Why is his given name not revealed is unknown.

9) 3 shaku 2 sun = 96.96 cm or 38.2 in.

10) 百日参籠

11) 卍抜. Another way it is written is “Manjiken” (万字剣).

12) 神妙秘術の純粋抜刀

13) This is done in a ceremony when a boy reaches his coming of age, which is called Genpuku (元服).

14) 林崎夢想流. Also known as “Shin Musō Hayashizaki ryū” (神夢想林崎流). Take note that Hayashizaki Shigenobu himself did not name his sword system this, but later generations did in remembrance of his contribution.

15) There is an article about Tsukahara Bokuden, which can be read here.

16) In Japanese sources, this is mentioned in a vague manner, as it is stated alongside with Shigenobu’s travel to Kashima to study under Tsukahara Bokuden. Under who and exactly where he studied Katori Shintō ryū is not made clear. While historically Bokuden learned Katori Shintō ryū at a young age, as an adult he started his own martial system.

17) The full title of what Shigenobu is said to have been taught is “Kashima Shintō ryū Saikō Hiden Tenka Dai Ichi no Ken” (鹿島新当流最高秘伝天下第一之剣).

18) 鹿島新当流

19) 陰陽開合. While the exact details are not described, this is related to rhythmic exercises, which is found in specific martial systems such as Taikyokuken (太極拳).

20) Old name is 一宮, new name is 大宮

21) 東下野守元治

22) 神明夢想東流

23) 田宮平兵衛重正

24) 田宮流

25) 片山伯耆守久安

26) 伯耆流

27) 高松勘兵衛信勝

28) 一宮流

Phases of Martial Structuring: Kyūsen no Michi ~ Part 2

This is part 2 of the discussion on Kyūsen no Michi. Here, we narrow our focus more on the components that defined how this militaristic system worked to craft those into warriors according to how battles were engaged and played out. Whereas the usage of the word “kyūsen”, along with militaristic history of Japanese archery was covered in part 1, for part 2 we will go over the known different groups & styles of archery, as well as a few recognized innovators concerning the bow & arrow. This discussion will also include some categorizing within the world of kyūsen, along with some comparing and contrasting, will be in order.

A good number of handy sources were used for this discussion, including the following:

Take note that part 2 became much bigger than intended in order to give a proper insight of Japan’s archery. Despite it’s size, it does not give a 100% definitive overview, as there are some information not added, lest it grows into something on the level of a research paper. Still, part 2 should provide enough insight on how significant and respected Kyūsen no Michi was to the point that many warriors invested their lives into it.

KORYŪ VS SHINRYŪ

In order to properly cover the specifics that make up Kyūsen no Michi, it is important to know that, on a technical and cultural level in relations to combat purposes, there are two types of archery (kyūjutsu in Japanese). The first is called Koryū kyūjutsu (古流弓術, Old-style archery), while the second is called Shinryū kyūjutsu (新流弓術, New-style archery). The categorization of these are both based on time period, equipment, and technique:

  • Koryū – Ancient times, with notable structuring from Heian period until early 1400s period
  • Shinryū – Around late 1400s onward until the abolishment of the warrior class in late 1800s

MANY SCHOOLS OF ARCHERY

Due to how integral kyūjutsu was in a warrior’s career, many groups specialized in it. Some groups preserved the lessons on archery as their own family styles, while others would learn that particular style and represent it usually indicating that they are a branch of it. Below are lists of some of the well known archery styles throughout Japan’s history, along with the founder and the time they were alive.

The first one is for those that fall under the Koryū kyūjutsu category:

Kyusen List01

The next list shows the styles that fall under the Shinryū category:

Kyusen List02

Along with this, are the different branches related to Heki ryū:

Kyusen List03

While the records pertaining to archery found in manuals & documents list these mentioned above and many more, take note that a lot of them are no longer in existance. The styles that are still active include Ogasawara ryū, Honda ryū, Takeda ryū, and Heki ryū Insai ha.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OLD & NEW

Here are some general descriptions between Koryū kyūjutsu and Shinryū kyūjutsu. Note that this is more in reference to how they were conducted before the warrior class was abolished as a whole.

A listing of archers of Taishi ryū, by rank. From Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden.

Koryū Kyūjutsu

  • Generally categorized as reisha (礼射), or “ceremonial-centric archery”, due to the emphasis on etiquette, customary practices, and focus on displaying shooting prowess.
  • During battles, archery was primarily use, both from long range to close range
  • Off the battlefield, archers demonstrated great focus and control while shooting targets at various distances.
  • Engaged in outing activities requiring feats of shooting while on horseback, such as hunting, and special target courses classified under Kisha Mitsumono (騎射三物)
  • Unison between rider and horse, called “jinba ittai” (人馬一体) in Japanese, was important
  • Considered a developing practice since ancient times, ceremonial practices within archery slowed abit due to power struggles from Heian period to early Muromachi period, as archers in battle was of necessary use
  • Once the ways of Koryū kyūjutsu was seen non-viable in combat during Muromachi period (around start of 1400s), it was revitalized and preserved in Ogasawara ryu through restructuring.

NOTES

  • Despite being considered reisha due to its high focus in shooting ability and ritualistic customs, Koryū kyūjutsu had fighting elements and was indeed acceptable training for combat
  • While much of the skillset emphasized on shooting from horseback, archers did also practice shooting while on foot
  • On foot, the bow was held at an angle when shooting arrows.
  • Although some existing styles such as Ogasawara ryū Reihō (小笠原流礼法) practice solely reisha, few groups such as Bushido Shinkōkai and Dai Nihon Kyūbakai preserve the fighting element of Koryū kyūjutsu not only with the bow & arrow, but with the tachi and naginata.

Shinryū kyūjutsu

  • Generally labeled as busha (武射), or “military-centric archery”, as this was designed specifically for use on the battlefield according to the new direction wars were approached.
  • Developed during Muromachi period between mid to late 1400s, when the tactics of war switched to large infantry, formations, and close range skirmishes
  • For the sake of combat efficiency, archers primarily performed on foot, but also had knowledge on how to shoot while on horseback
  • Archers were trained to coordinate together using group tactics
  • Trained to work under all types of conditions, including wet/bad weather, at night, on a boat, in a tower, and when the need to switch to close range fighting arised
  • Used barricades, such as tate (楯), as defense against long range attacks, as well as fenced areas as protection against flankers/disrupters
  • Contested with firearms (i.e. rifles, cannons) from mid-ending 1500s.
  • From Edo period (1603~1868) onward, once firearms took precedence in how wars were conducted, groups such as the Shimazu clan retained the effectiveness of archery by studying & incorporating rifle formations.

NOTES

  • Shinryū kyūjutsu isn’t completely unique and different. It was built off of koryū kyūjutsu, inherited certain aspects, then redefined specifically for combat purposes, thus why it’s called “the new style of archery”
  • Yoshida Shigeharu (吉田重春) is credited for implementing customary practices to Heki ryū starting in the mid 1600s. However, as it is not the same as reisha of Ogasawara ryū, Heki ryū’s is called taihai (体拝).
  • Today, existing Shinryū kyūjutsu styles such as Heki ryū retain busha, as well as practice taihai.

DIFFERENCES IN TECHNIQUES/EQUIPMENT

Here’s a short comparison between Koryū kyūjutsu and Shinryū kyūjutsu.

A mokuroku (list of techniques) of Ban Dōsetsu ryū kyūjutsu. Fron Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden.

Koryū kyūjutsu

  • Archers used larger bows, such as fusedakeyumi (伏竹弓, made out of wood and bamboo) and marukiyumi (丸木弓, curved wooden bow)
  • During the Heian period, wore large box-like armor called ōyoroi for added protection
  • Smaller draw due to technical issues such as mobility limitations while on horseback, large kabuto (helmet), etc.
  • Archery done by cavalry was called kisha (騎射)
  • Closing the range while on horseback increase accuracy to vulnerable areas
  • Wore tomo (lefthand glove) to prevent string from injuring hand on return
  • Carried tachi on left side

Shinryū kyūjutsu

  • Used smaller bows
  • Archery done while walking was called hosha (歩射)
  • From the Muromachi period onward, archers wore revised, slim fitting armor, which allowed less restrictions in drawing skills and mobility while on foot
  • Used larger draw and other techniques to increase an arrow’s power and penetration capabilities (i.e. allowing the bow to turn ccw in the hand)
  • Carried uchigatana (slightly shorter battlefield sword for upclose fighting) and unique equipment to adapt to certain situations, such as uchine (打根), spear point on top of bow, etc.

DISTINGUISHED INDIVIDUALS

Below are a few renown archers that are pioneers in Japan’s history of archery.

Ogasawara Sadamune / 小笠原貞宗

Picture of Ogasawara Sadamune. From Shūko Jisshu (集古十種). From Wikipedia.

 

  • Born in 1292, Sadamune was a warrior from Matsuo, Shinano Province (present day Ida City, Nagano Prefecture)
  • As a member of the established Ogasawara clan, he worked for the Kamakura Bakufu through Hōjō Sadatoki
  • Made a name for himself in Heian Kyō (Imperial capital, present day Kyōto) during the early-mid 1300s, as he participated in many battles such as the campaigns against the Mongol invasions, assault on Emperor Go-Daigo, the attack on Kusunoki Masanari’s Akasaka castle, and the battle of Kamakura
  • Sadamune earned merits for his efforts, was named “Shinano Shuei” (信濃守衛, Protector of Shinano), and established his residence in Shinshū prefecture.
  • Known for his involvement in zen, and was a worshiper of Marishiten, the “God of War” (武の神, Bu no Kami)
  • Sadamune created “Ogasawara ryu Reihō”, which features the rituals, etiquette, and customs practiced by high-ranking warrior families
  • Ogasawara ryū Reihō contains reisha, the preservation of Koryū kyūjutsu, which includes ceremonial practices, expert level with the bow & arrow, and feats of archery while on horseback
  • Sadamune established the principles of “sha – go – rei” (射・御・礼), which are the standard for reisha
  • His contributions inspired others to learn and add this to further their worth as warriors

Heki Danjo Masatsugu / 日置弾正正次

A picture of Heki Danjo Masatsugu. from the collection of the Toda household of the Bishu-Chikurin branch. From Wikipedia.

 

  • Birthdate is uncertain, although some sources say around 1444
  • Believed to have been born in either Yamato Province (present day Nara Prefecture) or Iga (present day Mie Prefecture)
  • Originally studied Henmi ryū, Masatsugu participated in many battles in the northern parts of Japan, such as Ōnin War (1467~1477)
  • While serving as a warrior, Masatsugu had opportunities on the field to utilize the bow & arrow according to how it would prove useful
  • Main focus on the redivision of archery was on militaristic usage, both in and outside of the battlefield.
  • Established the principles of “kan – chū – kyū” (貫・中・久¹) as the highest level of Heki ryū kyūjutsu
  • After a life of battles, Masatsugu traveled around Japan to test his methods. It is from this time he meets Yoshida Shigekata.
  • After choosing his successor (Yoshida Shigekata), Masatsugu retired by living in one of the temples within the mountainous region called Kōyasan located in Kishu (present day Wakayama Prefecture)
  • Some of the titles he used includes “Rurikōbō” (瑠璃光坊) “Dōi” (道以) , and “Itoku” (威徳)
  • Masatsugu is known as the “pioneer who revitalized the archery of Japan”, as he brought attention to the new ways the bow & arrow could be used in battle during a time where many viewed them as obsolete.
  • Despite his fame through the effectiveness of Heki ryū, much mysteries surround his existence, to the point where some researchers speculate that Masatsugu could be a fabrication

Yoshida Shigekata / 吉田重賢

  • Born 1463, Shigekata came from Gamō County, Ōmi Province (present day Ryūō Town, Gamō County, Shiga Prefecture)
  • Was a retainer of Rokkaku Sazaki in Ōmi Province (present day Shiga prefecture)
  • Shigekata was a skilled archer, studied different archery styles such as Ogasawara ryū, Takeda ryū, and Henmi ryū
  • When Heki Danjō Masatsugu came to visit the Rokkaku clan, he encountered Shigekata and tested him on his archery abilities. Yoshida was able to pass the test, which from there Masatsugu instructed him on the highest levels of Heki ryu before passing successorship to him.
  • Discerned the effectiveness of Heki ryū according to the times by organizing the lessons
  • Shigekata is recognized for passing down the teachings of Heki ryū to others through his family style “Heki Yoshida ryū”, which held the highest teachings of this style of archery.
  • Not much info on him, despite his legitimate family line
  • Due to the lack of info, some researchers speculate if he and Heki Danjō Masatsugu were the same person

CONCLUSION

We’ve come to the conclusion of Kyūsen no Michi. This is just a small sample of the large amount of information found in Japan’s archery history, especially when dealing with the technical side of things. Stay tuned, as we will move on to a different phase pertaining to how Japan’s methodology to combat changed and developed.


1) There is another version, which is “hi – chū – kan” (飛・貫・中). They are not 100% the same. Here’s a quick explanation.

  • kan – chū – kyū = Penetrate the target, always hit the target, and last long enough to keep doing the first two points
  • hi – chū – kan = Shoot from long range to hit the target, always hit the target, and penetrate the target

They are both associated with Heki ryū. The difference may be between the different branches and the methodology that was passed down in each one.

On another note, there are other modernized 3-point principles, but they pertain to kyūdo and are geared more towards one’s shooting form.