Analyzing a Treasure from Ninjutsu of Old

On February 22nd, it is officially “Ninja Day” in Japan. This day is to honor the history and culture of the ninja, as well as the growing movement of adapting the lessons found in ninjutsu of old for innovation, to promote pop culture, tourism, and so on. As a form of tribute to this day, I’ve written a post on a treasure of ninjutsu, called Ninjutsu Kishōmon¹ (忍術起請文), which stands for “Ninjutsu Document of Written Vows to the Gods”. This post will include a brief background info, my translation of the document, as well as an analytical discussion to give a better understanding of this document.

THE WRITER BEHIND NINJUTSU KISHŌMON

The Ninjutsu Kishōmon was drafted by Kizu Inosuke in 1716, who became an inheritor of a ninjutsu system taught to him by Nagai Matabei. Inosuke is from Iga Province, which is home to many families who specialized in ninjutsu. As an agreement to his new inheritance, Inosuke wrote the Ninjutsu Kishōmon and gave it to his teacher.

This document was a form of agreement to uphold the strict ways of the ninja. If he had failed to do so, Inosuke promised to not only return everything he received from his teacher related to ninjutsu (this includes texts and ninjutsu-related tools), but to accept punishment from the gods. The Ninjutsu Kishōmon is a great example of how those inducted into the world of the ninja were sworn to secrecy, while taking the lessons & skills associated with ninjutsu very seriously.

After Inosuke’s death, this Ninjutsu Kishōmon made its way back to the Kizu family, and kept for possibly decades. When exactly was it returned, and why, is unknown.

NINJA ACTIVE DURING EDO PERIOD

After the Tokugawa clan took control of Japan in the early 1600s, many families from Iga Province (present-day Mie Prefecture), and at a later date from Kōka Province (present-day Shiga Prefecture), moved to Edo (present day Tokyo) where they used their skills in ninjutsu for various types of work under the employment of the Tokugawa Shogunate. At the time, which is known as Edo period, the country was strictly run by the new Shogunate, and everyone had to abide to the rules. Different from during the warring periods beforehand, where those ninjutsu experts could sell their abilities to serve one of the many warlords vying for power, ninja during the Edo period took advantage of their unique position to directly serve the Tokugawa Shogunate for rank, merits, and means of work. Kizu Inosuke was most likely in the same position, where he may have had to seek employment under an elite individual who held an important position in the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Times have changed, and modern Japan is very different from the past, as the country is no longer a military-centric state. Much of the skills that the ninja took pride in using are deemed illegal today. Also, such unwavering loyalty and strict dedication to the ways of the ninja through written pacts are not much in practice, for there is a great amount of information regarding ninjutsu (from their ancient documentations, tools, and strategies) made public as a means to study and appreciate a past history. Ninja of old (in reference to those families who were actively using ninjutsu for the sake of work several centuries ago) treated their craft as something of great secrecy, thus the need for such agreements and rules. Nowadays, such things are no longer in use.

UNDERSTANDING THE NINJUTSU KISHŌMON

The follow is a translation done by myself of the 6 rules & concluding pledge found in the Ninjutsu Kishōmon. Note that everything in the picture below is read from right to left, with the text lined up from top to bottom.

__________

How the original Ninjutsu Kishōmon looks. Image from “Iga Portal

1) On this occasion, I receive the teachings of ninjutsu. I will not show or disclose the contents of the ninjutsu and ninki (tools of the ninja) I inherit from you to those who bear a relationship to me, such as my parents and siblings. I will act like I have no knowledge on such information. I will also not allow another person to copy the contents.

2) From the Mansenshūkai, the sections on the Preface, Seishin (Correct Heart), and Ninpō (Treasures of the ninja) will be made viewable, unquestionably, to our lord and his personal administrators, such as his chief retainer, if they desire. I ask for your pardon, for when called upon to do so, I will not refuse.

3) Outside of the ninki, the kaki (tools for fire and explosives), and those from the Mansenshūkai, I will inform you of new & unique ninki and kaki that I am able to devise.

4) If, as a young master, I have strayed from the ways of justice, I will return the documents that I have copied from your possession, and will leave no trace of ever possessing those documents.

5) I will not allow the secret techniques of the Mansenshūkai to be written in another document.

6) I will not use ninjutsu and ninki I am inheriting for the acts of mere thievery. However, anything will be done for my lord’s sake no matter what.

PLEDGE: It is forbidden to oppose the rules written on the right, even by just a little. May the great and minor deities within over 60 provinces of Japan, especially the gods of my home town, extract their punishment upon my own children and future generations wholeheartedly, if my incompetent self, ever so young acts like a betrayer even by just a little.

__________

ANALYZING THE CONTENTS

We’ve just finished a brief overview of the document’s writer of the Ninjutsu Kishōmon, ninja during the Edo period, and the rules in this document. Here is an analytical review based on some informative (as well as contradictory) points regarding this document, and why certain practices were done based on the time period it is from.

  • From the Edo period onward, those from Iga Province were hired to work for the Tokugawa Shogunate, whom many are said to have specialized in ninjutsu.
  • Kizu Inosuke is said to be from Iga Province. However, it is not certain if Nagai Matabei was also from Iga Province.
  • For rule #1, Inosuke swears not to let his family know he studied ninjutsu. Yet, apparently this agreement was given back to his family sometime after his death. This document was give to his teacher, so it is strange that it made it back to Inosuke’s descendants.
  • While Inosuke promises not to show anything related to ninjutsu to his family, he wouldn’t hesitate to show some chapters of the Mansenshūkai, a very important text on ninjutsu, to the Shogun and his high-ranking officials. Why is this? For starters, if Inosuke were to gain employment serving the Tokugawa shogunate like many others who came from Iga Province, then he would be obligated to share some information of his knowledge of ninjutsu. For example, the 3 aforementioned sections of the Mansenshūkai give an overview of ninja and their art, such as the mindset & spirit they were to develop. Since these didn’t include their techniques, tools, or strategies, then it was no real risk of losing their secret trade. Disclosing some info as such was possibly necessary, especially to the high-ranking officials, for they probably hired ninja and needed to understand who was working for them.
  • Speaking of which, the Mansenshūkai was offered as an official documentation to the Shogunate on 1789 by several individuals from Kōka Province. Before this, it existed much earlier in secret as a collection of ninja tools, strategies, and philosophy all contributed by many different ninja families. Inosuke received a copy before or around the time he wrote his agreement in 1716. There are supposedly 2-3 variations of the Mansenshūkai, but it is reported that, other than 1-2 sections missing from one that has yet to be shared with the public, these all share more or less the same contents.
  • In relations to rule #3, it is possible that Inosuke’s personally devised ninja tools (that is, if he was successful in doing so) were added to the Masenshūkai by him or his teacher. There is no way to confirm this, but if this is the case, then these same tools may very well have made it into the the public version of the Masenshūkai.
  • For rule #4, for Inosuke to return all his possessions on ninjutsu was a grave and serious matter. It meant that if he is judged as failing in his duties, or committed a crime and is caught as doing so, he would have to forfeit being a ninja. In some ways, this rule is more as a promise to be a “good & righteous” person or else. Such promises were common not just for those who study ninjutsu, but for many other occupations throughout Japan.
  • For rule #5, letting the contents of the Mansenshūkai be copied into another documentation was obviously frowned upon. Other than the lost of secrets that gave ninja of that time an edge, if the version of the Mansenshūkai was unique to Inosuke, and the same exact version was found elsewhere, his teacher would immediately know from whom it came from. This could get Inosuke in big trouble.
  • Rule #6 is one to take note on. For starters, it has been examined that many of the techniques found in ninjutsu are similar to those used by thieves. What sets ninja apart are the morality they possess, and that they only use their abilities for the greater good. Now, there is an exception to this. If their employer, or better yet, an order from the shogunate, required them to use their techniques for acts that were on the level of thievery or worst, a ninja was required to adhere…for this was also part of the “greater good”. This is what the 2nd part of rule #6 hints at.
  • To cement his promise to uphold the 6 rules, Inosuke pledges to accept “heaven’s wrath” upon his family line. This is a bold statement, but nothing unusual. Due to the influence of religions such as Shinto and Buddhism, along with the belief in the power of gods, it was natural to put such a superstitious seal in an important document such as this. It’s no different from other promises made, even for those made in other countries in the past.
  • Written agreements of this nature were not only done by those who study ninjutsu. It has been found that those who belong to military families, as well as many who studied martial arts, also signed similar agreements which express calamity on themselves and their family line if they do not uphold to specific rules. For example, the Mōri family (毛利氏), who once specialized in naval warfare as pioneers, have several documents of written vows done by Mōri Hidenari (毛利秀就). There is also one for those who where accepted as students for a martial system called Asayama Ichiden ryū Bujutsu (浅山一伝流武術).

ENDING

This here concludes the discussion on the Ninjutsu Kishōmon. A document of antiquity, it serves to help researchers understand more of ninjutsu when it was actively used in the past. On an additional note, this document was originally a planned translation project. Because of this, there is an accompanying page under the “Translations” section, which features the same translation, along with other info not found in this post. You can access the “Translations” tab at the top of the page, or click here.


1) Note that this is a shorter label for the document. The full title is actually “Keihaku Tenbatsu Reisha Kishōmon Maegaki” (敬白天罰霊社起請文前書), which stands for “Pre-written Vows of Declaration of Divine Punishment from the Sacred Shrines”.

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

Nedoshi: The Rat Comes in 1st Place in 2020

chinese-new-year-background-with-rats-and-flowers-vector8496952302415499957.jpg

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

62632208312217008353117.png

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.

__________

nezumi_hanashi01

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.

nezumi_hanashi02

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!

93946898981510593681837.png

illustration by dak

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.

20191117_074724558358048619162791.jpg

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.

screenshot_20191116-102814_youtube8408130856078276180.jpg

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.

screenshot_20191117-075331_youtube4901793745444991379.jpg

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).

20191031_091906

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.

Phases of Martial Structuring: Kyūsen no Michi ~ Part 1

The next martial system that influenced how the bushi fought is called “Kyūsen no Michi” (弓箭の道), which translates as “the path of the bow & arrow”. An older term that comes from China, there is very little differences, if any, from Kyūba no Michi (弓馬の道). Much of the practice of archery as a system for military purposes has been covered in a previous post part of this series. Due to the role the bow & arrow played in Japanese history, the topic of Kyūsen no Michi will be divided into 2 parts. For the first part, to avoid restating similar info from before, I will go over the existence of the term in various documents, as well as a brief summary of the use of archery in Japan during warring times based on certain criteria.

DOCUMENTATION

The word kyūsen, which can also be pronounced as “kyūshi” or “yumiya¹”, is but one of the preceding labels that identify the use of the bow and arrows for war purposes. The term may have been 1st adopted sometime after the 9th century, with one of the influences possibly being a song found in “Heishakō²”, which is a collection of war-related songs composed by a renown Tang Dynasty poet named To Ho³. Although short, the stanza goes as the following:

“行人弓箭各在腰”

This line translates as the following below:

“The warrior departing for war carries a bow and arrows at his side”

Artwork called “Ujigawa” (宇治川), which depicts two warriors riding into the Uji River with bow in hand, rushing towards an ongoing battle. Artist is Haishi Kōji. From the book “Jōyō Kokugo Benran” (常用国語便覧).

As much of the culture from China was being brought over to Japan, many aristocrats would share contents such as Chinese poetry and literature, and adopt what was written into their lifestyles. The warrior class would do the same, as they adopted many things related to the bow, from methods on how to make a bow from specific materials, to adding ceremonial customs that would treat archery almost like a religious practice.

The word “kyūsen” would appear later in Japanese works, such as Heiji Monogatari (平治物語), Heike Monogatari (平家物語), Taiheiki (太平記), and Azuma Kagami (吾妻鏡). In the way it’s used, kyūsen depicts someone who’s a warrior, or those who were disciplined for military activities. It is expressed that for one to be accepted as a bushi (武士, warrior) or trained in bugei (武芸, martial skills), learning how to use the bow & arrow was an important part of it.

EARLY HISTORY

We learn that the bow & arrow was placed in the center of the warrior culture from written accounts of warfare from the 12th century onward. With bows in hand while on horseback, warriors were ready to let their arrows fly as depicted in events such as the attacks in Kyōto during Heiji no Ran (1159-1160), disputes between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the Genpei Gassen (1180-1185), and the continual unrest due to the establishment of militaristic governance throughout the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

Pic of part a of picture scroll where warriors using bow & arrow are attacking residence of the burning Sanjō Palace. From “Heiji Monogatari Emaki” (平治物語絵巻).

For combat, common tactics with the bow & arrow included ya-awase (矢合わせ, raining arrows) at the commencing of a battle, and kibamusha (騎馬武者, mounted warriors) using the bow while closing the distance. Despite acting as an army, infantry and elite soldiers engaged with the enemy in 1-on-1 skirmishes predominantly. Outside of combat, warriors spent their time using the bow & arrow in pasttime activities known as “Kisha Mitsumono” (騎射三物). This included equestrian recreations where one displays their skills in shooting. Hunting was also an activity warriors spent their time doing, usually in groups.

Since the Japanese spent centuries battling one another due to internal strife and a struggle for power, their tactics were, for the most part, universal amongst the many warrior families and armies commanded by feudal lords. This would change, however, once their country was in danger to an outside threat.

MONGOL INVASION

In the 13th century, Kublai Khan declared himself not only emperor of Mongolia, but acquired sovereign power in China and made Korea submit as a vassal state. In the mid 1200s, he would then turn his sights on Japan and threatened them to submit under his control and order several times. Despite advise from the Imperial court, the current shogunate at that time (primarily controlled by the Hojo clan) refused. After making preparations, Kublai would set out troops from both Mongolia, China, and Korea, and put forth the 1st Mongol Invasion on Japan in 1274⁴. As the first real foreign threat, almost all feudal lords and warrior families combined their efforts to fight for their country instead of for personal gain against one another. They did their best to prepare their forces and head to the northern border of Kyūshū, which is where the Mongolian forces used to embark on Japan.

While the Japanese expected the same customs for conducting battles based around their tried and true strategies, they were gravely mistaken; their customs and strategies were ineffective against an enemy that did not abide to them. Instead, they were faced with unpredictable tactics from the invaders, which included advancing and retreating tactics by archers, and multiple attackers against single opponents. The Mongol force also utilized weaponry far advanced, such as smaller bows that had a heavier draw, poisoned and fire-rocket arrows, explosives, and swords with more curvature. The leather armor that the Mongol invaders wore also gave them favorable defense against the Japanese weapons such as the tachi; although long, the blade of the tachi was thin, with accounts stating that they broke after becoming snagged in the leather armor. As for the bow & arrow hailed favorably by the Japanese warriors, it did not fair so well either; its initial purpose of shooting down single opponents proved difficult against enemies who would retreat out of its effective range, or close the gap in groups. Such unforeseeable tactics brought much fatalities within the Japanese warriors’ ranks, especially in the earlier battles.

Section of the artwork depicting invaders from the Mongol army fighting against Japanese warriors. Here, a kibamusha (cavalry warrior) is slain. From “Mōko Shūrai Gassen Emaki” (蒙古襲来合戦絵巻)

In the end, the Japanese warriors were able to win through the natural occurrence of high winds that sank many of the invaders ships at night, alongside with night raids on any surviving ships. Defeated, Kublai Khan would wait several years before attempting another invasion in 1281, only to face similar results due to ill-prepared sea vessels against turbulent winds on the sea. Despite their overall victory, the Japanese discovered that there were flaws in their current arms & tactics, especially those that heavily depended on fighting on horseback and using the bow & arrow. In order to compete with the outside world, they had to adopt new weaponry, and improve on their tactics.

NEW TACTICS

Although starting after the 1st phase of the Mongol Invasion, military groups and specialists put great effort in redefining their approach to warfare once the threat of Kublai Khan was over, especially during the later years of the Kamakura period. For starters, greater emphasis was placed on larger numbers of troops. In order to utilize troops better, battle formations were also incorporated, which divided them into groups and serving specific purposes. With a larger army, swarming & rushing upon the enemy became the prime objective, which had troops focus more on using close-range weapons, such as the uchigatana, nagamaki, and the yari.

While the skill level and etiquette associated with the bow & arrow were retained for high-class warriors, it saw less use than normal as they did not fit in well with the new tactics for battle. On top of this, armor was modestly improved with added defense against arrows. Instead, the yari was given precedence in overall use and versatility⁵, as seen in the increase of group tactics of spearsmen. The yari was also used by cavalry, which was specialized on and made popular by certain feudal lords such as Takeda Shingen in the mid 1500s. While raining arrows was still a valuable strategy, archers would stay back, hidden behind cover or surrounded by fences.

Woodblock painting called “Samurai Archer”. Dated 1899. Artist is Mizuno Toshikata (水野年方). From ukiyo-e.org.

At certain points did the bow & arrow see improvements. For example, in the late 15th century, new tactics incorporating groups of archers shooting while walking was being incorporated into the battlefield. Credited to Heki Danjō Masatsugu⁶, this allowed specially trained archers to advance and give addition cover to fellow troops, as well as to better assist with retreating tactics. In the mid 16th century, some armies would have archers work side by side with gunners, and incorporate long range tactics to both deal damage while dealing with flankers. On top of this, the use of fire arrows by archers, which was learnt from the tactics by the Mongol and Korean soldiers during the aforementioned Mongol Invasion, became commonplace, especially by those who commanded navy fleets such as the Murakami clan.

All in all, dwindling use of the bow & arrow would continue throughout the Sengoku period (1467-1600) until the end of civil battles due to the Tokugawa shogunate from Edo period onward. In its demise, the dependency on firearms in battle would grow immensely due to factors such as the influences from Western countries, improvements in the overall technology, potential damage they deliver, and the less demand of skills to use them. Despite the shift in focus, some warrior groups who still saw value in the bow & arrow kept the skills and tradition alive, where it is still practiced even today.

ENDING

We’ve come to the end of this brief overview of what Kyūsen no Michi is and how it depicts the importance of the bow & arrow throughout the history in Japan. In part 2, the discuss will focus on specific groups that represented excellence in the use of bow & arrow, as well as few individuals who are considered pioneers in Kyūsen no Michi.


1) When referring to the kanji “弓箭”, both pronunciations “kyūsen” and “yumiya” share this. “Kyūsen” is a more “foregin” way of stating bow & arrow, whereas “yumiya” is more native dialect. Later, yumiya would use the kanji “弓矢”, possibly to make the term more Japanese-like.

2) 兵車行. Pronounced as “Bīng Chē Xíng” in Chinese. This roughly translates to “Songs of the War Chariot”.

3) 杜甫. Pronounced “Dù Fǔ” in Chinese.

4) This particular matter concerning Kublai Khan is generally known as “Genkō” (元寇). This term was 1st used during the Edo period by the Tokugawa shogunate to refer to this event. Before that, another name was used, which was “Mōko Shūrai” (蒙古襲来). Both literally mean “Mongol Invasion”. Within this event, there was 2 invasion attempts, with the 1st one called “Bunei no eki” (文永の役, Campaign of Bunei period), and the 2nd one called “Kōan no eki” (弘安の役, campaign of Kōan period).

5) Before the Kamakura period, Japanese warriors used another type of polearm called the hoko (鉾), which was a shorter, single or double-edged bladed weapon. Derived from a Chinese variant, it was primarily a stabbing implement. The yari, on the other hand, was a much larger polearm with a longer blade that, depending on design, was versatile for not only thrusting, but for cutting and striking.

6) 日置弾正正次