Bugei Jūhappan: The Multifaceted Listings of 18 Weapons

A rather popular list of martial disciplines in Japan is called “Bugei Jūhappan” (武芸十八般). Many martial schools, books, and the like talk about its significance, which has also made its presence to the West. What is the story behind this list? How old is this concept, and how consistent is it? This post will help answer questions like these, as well as provide an overall explanation about certain details that are not readily available in English.

For this post, there’s information both from Japanese sources as well as Chinese sources. A lot of cross-referencing and research was especially done to understand the Chinese information below, and I’m hoping there’s no glaring mistakes, although any corrections are welcomed. Here’s a list of some of the sources used:

ORIGIN AND ROOTS

Bugei Jūhappan loosely translates to “standard 18 martial skills”. Pretty self-explanatory, it is a list of 18 disciplines, primarily weapons, related to martial combat. This is a widely used method for noting what the average martial artists should aim for. However, understand that before this became popular in Japan, this concept was used first in China several centuries prior. 

A portrait of Hua Yue, author of “Cui Wei Bei Zhenglu” (翠微北征録, Northern Expedition of Cui Wei). From zwbk.org.

Within China’s martial and literature culture was the development of a conceptual grouping of 18 skills based on weapons generally called “Shi ba Ban bing qi” (十八般兵器)¹. The 1st source for this was through dramatic performances done from the Song Dynasty to the Yuan dynasty. Here, 18 weapons were mentioned in the lines done by two separate actors, Wang Huan and Jingde. This later would inspire it being used in a 12-volume documentation entitled “Cui Wei Bei Zhenglu” (翠微北征録, Northern Expedition of Cui Wei) by Hua Yue (華岳), which was completed in 1208. Next, several documentations were made during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) which featured their own versions of 18 weapons, which includes:

  • Fictional storybook “Shui hu Zhuan” (水滸傅, The Water Margin), by Shi Naian (施耐庵), sometime in 1300s
  • Illustrated encyclopedia “Sancai Tuhui” (三才圖會, Collected Illustrations of the Three Realms), by Wang Qi (王圻) and his son Wang Siyi (王思義), published in 1609
  • 16-volume “Wu za zu” (五雜俎, Five Miscellaneous Offerings) compiled by Xie Zhao-zhe (謝 肇淛), in 1619
  • 32-volume “Yong-chuang Xiao-pin”  (涌幢小品, Miscellaneous Notes from the Yong-chuang Pavilion) compiled by Zhu Guozhen (朱國禎), in 1621

There are also other sources with their own version of 18 weapons, including the famous Shaolin Temple². Below are examples of the different lists.

Shui hu Zhuan

  • 矛 = mao (spear with snake-like blade)
  • 錘 = chui (hammer)
  • 弓 = gōng (bow & arrow)
  • 弩 = nu (crossbow)
  • 銃 = chong (rifle)
  • 鞭 = bian (iron baton)
  • 鐧 = jian (metal truncheon)
  • 剣 = jian (double-edge sword)
  • 鏈 = lian (three-sectional staff)
  • 撾 = zhua (claw-mounted polearm)
  • 斧 = fu (Battleaxe)
  • 鉞 = yue (crescent moon knives)
  • 戈 = ge (dagger-axe)
  • 戟= ji (spear with 2 crescent blades on the side)
  • 牌 = pai (shield)
  • 棒 = bang (club)
  • 槍 = qiang (Spear)
  • 叉 = cha (Trident)

Wu za zu

  • 弓 = gong (bow & arrow)
  • 弩 = nu (crossbow)
  • 槍 = qiang (spear)
  • 刀 = dao (single-edge broadsword)
  • 剣 = jian (double-edge sword)
  • 矛 = mao (spear with snake-like blade)
  • 盾 = dun (shield)
  • 斧 = fu (battleaxe)
  • 鉞 = yue (crescent moon knives)
  • 戟 = ji (spear with 2 crescent blades on the side)
  • 鞭 = bian (Iron baton)
  • 鐧 = jian (metal truncheon)
  • 撾 = zhua (claw-mounted polearm)
  • 殳 = shu (three-edge spear)
  • 叉 = cha (trident)
  • 耙 = ba (rake)
  • 綿縄套索 = miansheng taosuo (brocade lasso)
  • 白打 = da bai (empty hands)

Here’s another, called “Nine Long & Short weapons of the 18 Weapons” (九長九短十八般兵器), starting with the 9 long weapons

  • 槍 = qiang (spear)
  • 戟 = ji (spear with 2 crescent blades on the side)
  • 棍 = gun (staff)
  • 鉞 = yue (crescent moon knives)
  • 叉 = cha (trident)
  • 钂 = tang (spear with two crescent prongs)
  • 鈎 = guo (hooked weapons, such as hook swords)
  • 槊 = shuo (long lance)
  • 鏟 = chan (spade)

Next, the short weapons

  • 刀 = dao (single-edge broadsword)
  • 剣 = jian (double-edge sword)
  • 拐 = guai (tonfa)
  • 斧 = fu (battleaxe)
  • 鞭 = bian (Iron baton)
  • 鐧 = bian (Iron baton)
  • 錘 = chui (hammer)
  • 杵³ = huan (iron rings)
  • 棒 = bang (club)
Snapshot of the 18 weapons normally used in theatrical performances. From Arachina.com .

Differences in the lists are due to various factors, such as which were important depending on the time period, land area, groups that had any affiliations, etc⁴. Due to this, there is no one definitive listing, although there tends to be a consistency on which weapons appear on most of these lists.

18 SKILLS OF JAPAN

The concept of 18 weapons as essential disciplines didn’t arrive to Japan until the late mid-1600s, when Wu za zu was 1st published in Japanese. Later to follow were the other Chinese literature mentioned above, such as Sancai Tuhui and Shui hu Zhuan. Chinese literature still had value during this time, so they continued to have influence in Japanese culture.

Picture of Hirayama Kōzō. From the book “Edo no Kengō: Hirayama Kōzō” (江戸の剣豪 平山行蔵)

In 1806, a renown martial artist by the name of Hirayama Kōzō (平山行蔵) from Edo published a book called “Bugei Jūhappan Ryakusetsu” (武芸十八般略説), which served as an adaption of the 18 weapons from the Shui hu Zhuan, but in a way where it fitted with the Japanese methodology towards combat. More than just focusing on a “weapon” (兵器), Hirayama Kōzō used disciplines or skills (武芸) as a means to identify those areas necessary during warring times while on the battlefield, and during peaceful times while in towns and indoors. The development of such a list comes after Japan’s warring history, and during a more peaceful society where martial skills could be structured and represented in a more systematic format.

Just like in China, the listing of 18 skills in Japan is not an exclusive one. There are also variations, each a reflection on what was deemed important in what time period it was made, who was involved in developing such list, and so on. For example, Maki Bokusen (牧墨僊)⁵, an artist who was once a student of the famous Katsushika Hokusai, made a version represented through his ukiyo-e series entitled “Shashin Gakuhitsu” (写真学筆) in 1815. Below are several examples of the 18 weapons listings in Japan.

Bugei Jūhappan Ryakusetsu

  • 弓 = yumi (bow). One type that is iconic is kiyumi (木弓, wooden bow that was common even in early Japanese history).
  • 李満弓 = rimankyū. This represents short bows, such as kujirahankyū (鯨半弓) and kagoyumi (駕籠弓).
  • 弩 = ishiyumi (crossbow). There were 2 types, shudo (手弩, handheld crossbows) and ōyumi (大弓, siege crossbows).
  • 馬 = uma (horsemanship). Refers to bajutsu (馬術, equestrian).
  • 刀 = katana (sword). Refers to kenjutsu (剣術, sword techniques).
  • 大刀 = ōdachi (long sword). This includes nodachi (野太刀, long battlefield sword), and nagamaki (長巻, long sword with an extended handle).
  • 抽刀 = chūtō (drawing sword for cutting). More fitting label would be battōjutsu (抜刀術) or iaijutsu (居合術) .
  • 眉尖刀 = bisentō. Considered a polearm with a smaller blade, liken to a konaginata (小薙刀, small glaive)
  • 青竜刀 = seiryūtō. Considered a polearm with a larger blade, liken to an ōnaginata (大長刀, large glaive)
  • 槍 = yari. This is the spear, with variations including jumonji yari (十文字槍, crossbar spear) and saburi yari⁶(佐分利槍, a spear with prongs for hooking).
  • 鏢鎗 = hyōsō. This is known as nageyari (投槍, throwing spear) and hiya (火箭, fire arrows)
  • 棍 = kon. Generally called (棒, staff)
  • 鉄鞭 = tetsuben. Japanese equivalent would be tessen (鉄扇, iron fan) or jitte⁷ (十手, straight metal tool with a small prong used for arresting)
  • 飛鑓 = hiken (ひけん). Said to be related to fundō kusari⁸ (分銅鎖, chain with 2 weighted ends), kusarigama (鎖鎌, chain & sickle), and koranjō (虎乱杖, staff with a concealed chain)
  • 拳 = Yawara. Also known as jūjutsu (柔術, hand-to-hand)
  • 銃 = ju. Equivalents are teppō (鉄砲, gunnery) and taihō (大砲, artillery)
Select artwork of different weapons in use from the “Shashin Gakuhitsu”. From “Zuzetsu-Kobudōshi”.

Shashin Gakuhitsu

  • 弓術 = kyūjutsu (archery)
  • 馬術 = bajutsu (equestrian)
  • 水泳術 = suieijutsu (swimming techniques)
  • 槍術 = sōjutsu (spear techniques)
  • 鎖鎌術 = kusarigamajutsu (chain & sickle)
  • 薙刀術 = naginatajutsu (glaive techniques)
  • 剣術 = kenjutsu (sword techniques)
  • 居合 = (sword-drawing)
  • 補縄術 = hōjōjutsu (rope-tying a captured opponent)
  • 鼻ねじ = hananeji (baton with a rope used for arresting)
  • 手裏剣術 = shurikenjutsu (small bladed throwing weapons)
  • 鉄砲 = teppō (gunnery)
  • 石火矢 = ishibiya (cannons)
  • 柔術 = jūjutsu (hand-to-hand)
  • 騎射術 = kibajutsu (fighting while on horseback)
  • 甲冑伝 = kacchūden (understanding how to wear armor)
  • 打毬術 = dakyūjustu (cavalry game using a netted pole and a ball, similar to polo)
  • 水馬術 = suibajutsu (crossing rivers, lakes, etc. while on horseback)
An image of dakyū, as illustrated in the book “The Mikado’s Empire (ミカドの帝国)”. From Wikipedia.

Version from the Japanese Dictionary

  • 弓術 = kyūjutsu (archery)
  • 馬術 = bajutsu (horseback riding)
  • 槍術 = sōjutsu (spear techniques)
  • 剣術 = kenjutsu (sword techniques)
  • 水泳術 = suieijutsu (swimming techniques)
  • 抜刀術 = battōjutsu (sword drawing techniques)
  • 短刀術 = tantōjutsu (knife techniques)
  • 十手術 = jittejutsu (straight metal tool with a small prong used for arresting)
  • 手裏剣術 = shurikenjutsu (small throwing blades)
  • 含針術 = fukumibarijutsu (mouth-activated device that sends forth needles, blinding powder, and other concealed items)
  • 薙刀術 = naginatajutsu (glaive techniques)
  • 砲術 = hōjutsu (artillery)
  • 捕手術 = toritejutsu (restraining techniques through grappling)
  • 柔術 = jūjutsu (hand-to-hand techniques)
  • 棒術 = bōjutsu (staff techniques)
  • 鎖鎌術 = kusarigamajutsu (chain & sickle techniques)
  • 錑 (もじり) 術⁹ = mojirijutsu (techniques for subduing criminals by snagging their clothing with a polearm featuring many barbs on one end)
  • 隠形術 = ongyōjutsu (concealment and protection techniques)

This next one is considered a popular version at some point

  • 弓術 = kyūjutsu (archery)
  • 馬術 = bajutsu (equestrian)
  • 剣術 = kenjutsu (swordsmanship)
  • 短刀術 = tantōjutsu (knife techniques)
  • 居合術 = iaijutsu (sword-drawing)
  • 槍術 = sōjutsu (spear techniques)
  • 薙刀術 = naginatatjutsu (glaive techniques)
  • 棒術 = bōjutsu (staff techniques)
  • 杖術 = jōjutsu (short staff techniques)
  • 柔術 = jūjutsu (hand-to-hand)
  • 捕縄術 = hōjōjutsu (rope-tying a captured opponent)
  • 三つ道具 = mittsu dōgu (three arresting tools, which consists of sasumata [刺股], tsukubō [突棒], and sodegarami [袖絡み])
  • 手裏剣術 = shurikenjutsu (small throwing blades)
  • 十手術 = jittejutsu (straight metal tool with a small prong used for arresting)
  • 鎖鎌術 = kusarigamajutsu (chain and sickle)
  • 忍術 = ninjutsu (espionage and sabotage)
  • 水泳術 = suieijutsu (swimming)
  • 砲術 = hōjutsu (artillery)

SIGNIFICANCE IN THE NUMBER “18”

When reviewing these lists, or on a larger scale, how skills are categorized in Japanese martial systems, you’ll notice that there tends to be extra skillsets that are grouped in with others, either as a sub-skillset or a paired one. In reality, there was a much greater number of skills that were essential for warring times, as well as peaceful times. Looking at Hirayama’s list, there are extra weapons based on design, which affect their usage. Also, some categories are broad, and can incorporate more weapons. For starters, teppō is a general term for gunnery, which includes various types of firearms such as rifles, pistols, and the like.

What is the significance of the number ’18’? As far as it can be told, nothing has been discovered. Just how old is this concept when it was first becoming publicly known in China is uncertain; if it goes much further back before 18 weapons was mentioned in those performances, then it’s possible the the meaning has been lost. As it became a standard term among martial artists both in China and Japan, its usage was certainly to outline what a person should strive to be verse in if they wanted to become a complete warrior. Mastery of all 18 skills, along with others not mentioned on those lists, was not expected, since each culture held certain weapons with higher regard than others.

ENDING

This concludes our discussion on the origin of the Bugei Jūhappan, along with its numerous interpretations both in China and Japan. As a concept, it works as a reference to which weapons and skills were deemed important based on the time period. Even today, many martial schools not only reference the Bugei Jūhappan, but also build off of it to express to their students what martial skills are connected to what they are studying.


1) Also written as “Shi ba ban wu yi” (十八般武芸, the 18 skills or martial arts). There is another labeling in the form of “武芸十八事”, but this may be a generic, modernized label.

2) From what I can tell, the “18 weapons” of the Shaolin Temple is more figurative. In reality, the weapons focused on exceed 18.

3) Traditionally written as “環”

4) These weapons, while having historical ties with Chinese culture as a whole, have unique backgrounds for being dotted upon. For example, many of the longer weapons came from dealings with the Mongols, while the shorter weapons were designed for use in local areas like towns. Most of weapons that appear in the Chinese version of 18 weapons are pretty old, and may have been associated to specific families for many generations.

5) Also goes by the name “Gekkōtei Bokusen” (月光亭墨僊)

6) Actually, the proper name for this is kagiyari (鍵槍, hook spear). On the other hand, “saburi” is from the name of a style that specializes in the use of kagiyari, Saburi ryū sōjutsu (佐分利流槍術).

7) also can be pronounced as “jutte”

8) also called kusari fundō (鎖分銅) and manriki kusari (萬力鎖)

9) To speak a little further on this, the word mojiri means to “twist” or “wrench” something using some force. As a hobakugu (捕縛具, arresting tool), one can imagine using this in such manner to control someone if it snags firmly onto their clothing. Another name for sode garami (袖絡み), which has a similar meaning.

Phases of Martial Structuring: Buke shohatto

We’ve arrived to the last part regarding the martial structuring that took place during the generations when Japan still was under feudal rule. Today’s post will be on the “Buke shohatto” (武家諸法度), which was generally seen as a uniformed martial system recognized by all throughout Japan. Unlike the others discussed before, where different factions were influenced to adopt the latest weapons and strategies in order to defeat any opposition that may come their way, Buke shohatto was enforced by the ruling power upon those of the warrior class in a way where the whole populous was affected. In reality, it was but one of many different types of regulations imposed on the people during the Tokugawa shogunate. For this article, we’ll look at the roots of Buke shohatto, its components, and the pros & cons that came with it.

PURPOSE OF A LAW-DRIVEN GOVERNMENT
Buke shohatto is different from what one would expect of a so-called “martial system”. Instead of more of a systematic approach by groups with military strength to defend and fight against others for the sake of land or power, this defines the type of control one ruling power in a military state of a country would possess, and how that ruling power remains dominant, even without the dependency on all-out wars.

Artwork of Tokugawa Hidetada (1579-1632), 2nd Shogun during the Tokugawa shogunate. From Wikipedia.

Generally translated as “Laws of the Military Houses”, Buke shohatto is a set of 13 articles of rules. The groundwork for this was put into place by Tokugawa Hidetada in 1615, based on the command of his father Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tokugawa Ieyasu who, at the time had retired from being Shogun, had introduced these rules to the feudal lords who gathered at a meeting at Fushimi castle in the same year. This period with the 13 rules set place was labeled as Genna rei (元和令, order of Genna period).

Originally in 1611, after Ieyasu had seized power of Japan, he created as an edict with 3 articles of oaths that daimyō (大名, feudal lords) who claimed loyalty to him and the new bakufu (幕府, military government) that was put into place, had to agree to. Later, high-ranking scholars working for the shogunate had presented 10 more rules that daimyō should agree on. Buke shohatto did receive some revisions, amendments, and additions over time, primarily by shogun successors. In the end, these 13 articles of rules were very strict, and had to be followed lest one wished to pay the consequences.

Major objective of creating the Buke shohatto was the following:

  • A means to control both daimyō families and warriors alike
  • Give a framework of a lifestyle individuals were to operate by in an era that was being created
  • Prevent any one group from rising & opposing the shogunate


13 REGULATIONS
Below are the original 13 regulations of the Buke shohatto¹. These are several pics of the rules in Japanese, followed by a modern translation in English. The translation comes from the Buke shohatto English page on Wikipedia.


  1. The samurai class should devote itself to pursuits appropriate to the warrior aristocracy, such as archery, swordsmanship, horsemanship, and classical literature.
  2. Amusements and entertainments are to be kept within reasonable bounds and expenses for such activities are not to be excessive.
  3. The han (feudal domains) are not to harbor fugitives and outlaws.
  4. Domains must expel rebels and murderers from their service and from their lands.
  5. Daimyō are not to engage in social interactions with the people (neither samurai nor commoners) of other domains.
  6. Castles may be repaired, but such activity must be reported to the shogunate. Structural innovations and expansions are forbidden.
  7. The formation of cliques for scheming or conspiracy in neighboring domains must be reported to the shogunate without delay, as must the expansion of defenses, fortifications, or military forces.
  8. Marriages among daimyō and related persons of power or importance must not be arranged privately.
  9. Daimyō must present themselves at Edo for service to the shogunate.
  10. Conventions regarding formal uniform must be followed.
  11. Miscellaneous persons are not to ride in palanquins.
  12. Samurai throughout the realm are to practice frugality.
  13. Daimyō must select men of ability to serve as administrators and bureaucrats.

On a martial arts-related note, daimyō families were able to train in martial skills while getting adequate education. Despite this privilege, the reality was many were busy with actual work or recreational activities, with very little chance to hone their skills in true confrontations. While they could still be formidable with a sword in their hands, their actual skills paled in comparison to the warriors of the warring age.

HARDSHIPS OF THE DAIMYO
As stated earlier, many influential families were allowed to became daimyō and own land. Due to their background, these families were privileged with the title “buke”, or warrior families, thus placing them in the “samurai” class. Take note that the term buke (military families) was not directed towards vassals to the shogun, nor warriors of the many domains. The former were called hatamoto (旗本), whereas the latter were labeled as hanshi (藩士). There were specific rules for them to follow, which will be discussed later.

Back on topic, the Buke shohatto kept daimyō families in check. For example, daimyō families received pay from the government in the form of koku (石), or bushels of rice. This was also payment by the daimyō families to those who worked for them. However, these families had to pay the bakufu in taxes, which was rice harvested in each families’ domains. Depending on certain factors, if output of rice was too low, then more taxes was placed on those specific families. This was a huge burden on many daimyō families, which prevented them from becoming too financially strong.

Another example is their travels to Edo (present day Tokyo) and visits to the Shogun while doing work there. On a yearly basis, at least one trip had to be made per the head of the household’s responsibility. Costs for this trip was expensive, and they were not given funds or compensation for making the journey. Furthermore, they had to follow certain protocols while making the trip to Edo. For instance, they could only be accompanied by a certain number of followers and horses according to their rank. This could pose a problem if their luggage, items, cargo, and so on was large while the traveling group had fewer members. The limitations on the numbers allowed to travel was to prevent attempts on taking over Edo, starting a war, etc.

WORKING AS A WARRIOR
As mentioned earlier, there were specific rules and regulations set aside for warriors that were not considered a “buke”. Some factors distinguished this, including receiving an income of jūman koku, or 100,000 bushels of rice. These rules are called Shoshi hatto (諸士法度), or otherwise known as Hatamoto hatto (旗本法度). This set of regulations surpasses the Buke shohatto in numbers, as there was 23 rules in total.

These regulations were first drafted in 1632, initially featuring 9 regulations. Later, this would be increased to 23 regulation in 1635 by Tokugawa Iemitsu, which is often the reason why most of the credit of its development goes to him. The intentions of the Shoshi hatto was to give warriors who worked for the shogunate and the daimyō families rules on how to conduct themselves in the new era being created by the Tokugawa shogunate, as well as give a framework of behavior and development they should aim for. In return, they receive an honest amount of compensation in the form of koku (rice). Of course, this gives warriors of all types an indication of the need to be employed in one way or another to benefit from this.

Two pages illustrating the regulations of the Shoshi hatto, from the book “Shiho Shiryo – Dai 170-go Tokugawa Kinreiko” (司法資料. 第170号 徳川禁令考)

Warriors that were employed as vassals (or otherwise known as retainers) directly under the Shogun were called hatamoto (旗本), while hanshi (藩士) that served directly under a daimyō were given the more proper title of gokenin (御家人). As one would expect, hatamoto are viewed as high-ranking warriors, since they answer directly to the shogun and can have an audience with him directly. gokenin are lower ranking warriors, as they don’t work directly with the Shogun. Also, hatamoto receive a higher stipend of koku than gokenin.

Having 23 regulations that needed to be observed and follow, there was a lot of pressure for these vassal warriors. The general premise that these regulations impose are the following:

  • Upholding loyalty
  • Maintaining a level for military service
  • Being ready for use of weapons and tools for war
  • Starting a family through marriage
  • Being mindful of one’s actions and conduct
  • Keeping good communication
  • Avoiding unnecessary quarrels
  • Understanding who takes responsibility during fires
  • Dealing with wrong doers and law breakers
  • Responsibilities on one’s fief
  • Handling boundary disputes
  • Correct protocol in handling territorial matters relating to political issues and regular civilians
  • Family management as head of his family

As mentioned before, the Shoshi hatto was separate from the Buke shohatto up until around 1683, which afterwards it became obsolete. Most of the regulations placed on vassals were consolidated and merged with the Buke shohatto at a later date.


PROS & CONS OF BUKE SHOHATTO
Now, let’s take a broader view of the Buke shohatto and how well it worked in allowing the Tokugawa shogunate to maintain rule and suppress any possible threats. There was obviously good points that came of this.

PROS

  • Unnecessary wars and conflicts were almost quelled completely.
  • A push for social and economical development could be seen over a course of time as many found new ways to survive through the form of business and constructive work, especially through contact with and the adaptation of technologies from Western countries.
  • Certain main roads necessary for travel by daimyō, tax collectors, inspectors, and so on were ordered to be developed by the shogunate. These roads being made accessible contributed to smooth relay of communications, delivery of supplies, and so on. In turn, these same roads were safer (at least during the day) and more frequently used by others such as merchants, monks, and regular civilians.
  • Piracy, as well as monopoly of the waterways was prohibited. This also included the construction of very large ships. In the end, seaports were developed for fair use and labor/transportation purposes
Artwork entitled, “Suehiro gojūsan tsugi Totsuka” (末廣五十三次 戸塚), this is a visual interpretation of a procession to Kyōto along a main road called Tōkaidō by the 14th shogun Tokugawa Ieshige, on his way to see the Emperor. He is accompanied by around 3000 armed attendants. By Utagawa Sadahide, produced in 1865. From ukiyo-e.org.

CONS

  • Certain measures were put into place to ensure obedience from daimyō. While effective in the grand scheme of things, ethically they are questionable. For example, daimyō had to comply with a system called “Sankin Kotai” (参勤交代), which basically was an agreement where as they did work for the Shogunate, one or several of their close relatives, such as wife and kids, had to live in Edo. Since these relatives were under surveillance, they were essentially prisoners. Any rash actions from the daimyō would put their lives at risk, so they had no choice but to be obedient.
  • A restriction was placed on the number of castles daimyō could own. Under the regulation called “Ikkoku Ichijo rei” (一国一城令), they were permitted to own only one castle in each land area. The reasoning behind this was to prevent the building of military strength by accumulating a large force, weapons, and supplies in a remote castle, or house them in a fort close by on their land. This was also to dissuade cooperation between different daimyō to join forces. In the process, many historical castles, forts, and the such had to be demolished.
  • On a larger scale, the Tokugawa Shogunate could not ensure complete peace and safety throughout Japan; while the Buke shohatto was to take care of this by leaving such management in the hands of the daimyō, in the long run there were still areas that were left unchecked or could not get full support just because the Shogunate wasn’t designed to do so.
  • As a balance measure for paying daimyō and others on a yearly basis, taxes were placed on everyone. These taxes came from the rice harvested in each area. Depending on their status, each daimyō had to deliver a certain amount. However, this did not take into consideration on certain factors, such as actual man-labor to produce the set amount, as well as if harvesting conditions were bad due to droughts and so on. This placed a lot of pressure on both the daimyō and the people on his land, which in turn influenced some to bribe tax collectors that would come visit their lands.
  • Lack of true financial support overall. For the most part, if areas needed any form of development, such as the construction of bridges, this was placed in the hands of the daimyō of that specific area.
  • Masterless warriors, such as rōnin (浪人) did not get the same support as retainers to the Shogun and daimyō did. In fact, they had to fend for themselves for the most part, with their focus being more on finding actual work. One route that could be taken was trying to set up their own legitimate martial arts system and open up a school in a particular area. For others, acquiring work that could use their talents, such as bodyguard, guardsman of a manor, police, investigator, an instructor, and so on. Labor work was aplenty throughout Japan as many towns were growing, so if these warriors could make the journey to areas where large projects were being conducted, then there was a chance to gain employment, if only for a short period of time.

There are other cases, both positive and negative, but those will continue to carry us further off topic. At the same time, this shows the impact that the rule-heavy society created by the Tokugawa shogunate had as a whole, as its influences reached much further off of the battlefield and into the reality that was becoming of Japan from the Edo period onward.

CONCLUSION
Buke shohatto is the last form of martial system of Japan when it was still a military country. It ended once the Tokugawa shogunate was overthrown by those wanting to return power to the Emperor in the late mid-1800’s, ushering a new, modernized governing system. This here closes the series on the martial structuring in Japan’s history. Much time was spent researching each part of this series, so it took longer to bring to completion than expected. I thank everyone for their patience.


1) To view the different iterations of the Buke shohatto, Shoshi hatto, and other regulations devised within the Tokugawa Legislation in English, there is a web archive that is currently accessible here.

Revisiting Measurements for Training Weapons

In a previous post from a few years back, I spoke about the importance of measurements for one’s weapons according to the martial system being studied. There, it was mentioned how necessary it is to wield weapons that have proper dimensions according to our body type when we are beginners. For this post, we will take this same subject and look at it from another perspective, where I discuss about the strong points of training with weapons of irregular dimensions in kobudō (古武道, Classical Japanese martial arts) as an advanced student.

PROCESS OF HANDLING WEAPONS OF UNCONVENTIONAL LENGTHS

When first starting out, a student is required to acquire training weapons that fit their body type in order to study the lessons correctly. After some time has passed where the student has become familiar with a particular weapon of a standard length, they should next come out of their comfort zone and handle one of a different length. Sometimes this can be impromptu during class, or other times the focus of the lesson can be placed on this point. There are many reasons behind this. For starters, to further understand the principles for said weapon, whether it be a sword or staff, one has to be exposed to conditions that teach us lessons that go beyond just the physical. Distance, timing, and positioning are just some of the principles that require being explored under not-so-usual conditions.

An example of bokutō (wooden swords) of different lengths

For starters, against an adversary with a sanjaku dachi (三尺太刀, a Japanese sword that measures about three feet), a rokushaku bō (六尺棒, six-foot stick) provides a great reach that allows the wielder to perform ashibarai (足払, leg sweep) from a safe distance. Yet, when given a sanjaku bō (三尺棒, three-foot stick), you won’t have the same advantage as before. Still, with further training and having a deep understanding of the principles of one’s art, you can still perform an ashibarai to defeat an opponent without getting cut down.

USING DIFFERENT WEAPONS TO LEARN SAME SKILLS

Sometimes the same set of kata for one particular weapon is used to teach how to use another weapon even if it’s a different size. This is another challenging point that can further support an martial system’s ideology across a different span of weapons. For example, some traditional schools in Japan have used the kata for the naginata as a means to learn how to wield the yari. Others have used the kata for the katana to understand how to utilize the kusarigama. each of these weapons have unique traits that provide interesting results, especially in the case of the kusarigama; a sickle with a flexible chain & weight takes a great amount of understanding and control if pitted in the same scenario where a katana would be used.

Next, there are those kata where one performs with a katana, but then later does it with a much longer sword like an ōdachi, or with a much smaller one like a kodachi. All three are categorized as swords, but with varying lengths. For an advanced student, one of the greatest challenges here is understanding the strengths & weaknesses of the weapon in hand, and how it affects not only the control (or lack of) they may gain, but also how their opponent will react based on how each weapon is manipulated.

IDEA OF ANYTHING AS A WEAPON

When an adequate amount of training has been put in, an advanced student should begin to develop the ability  to use anything that comes into hand. Looking the development of different martial systems in Japan’s history from the 1500s onward, many incorporated the study of multiple weapons in the form of sōgō bujutsu (総合武術, martial system featuring numerous disciplines). This not only encouraged bushi (武士, warriors) to be familiar in many different skills, but to be resourceful enough to use anything that they could get their hands on, including their opponent’s own weapon. The same mentality remains in various martial arts schools even today.

Many countries have very strict laws against carrying weapons, even those for self defense purposes. While it may seem impractical to study classical systems that specialize in the use of the yari, kusarigama, and so forth, this isn’t truth. Much of what is learned can be applied to common tools and items we find around ourselves everyday. An umbrella substituted for a sanjaku bō, a shovel used in place of a yari, or even a belt wielded like a kusarifundō are but examples of adapting one’s training for self-defense in today’s contemporary world. With a thorough understanding of the principles necessary for this through consistent training, it is possible to naturally use any common item in your environment as a weapon without getting caught up in small details such as being the “correct” length with the iaitō used in training, and so on.

ENDING

In conclusion, working with weapons of different dimensions during training has its merits for advanced students. This can range from handling same-type weapons of varying lengths to using a specific to learn another different weapon type. In the end, a student should be able to go past form & structure of a particular weapon and grasp a deep understanding of the principles behind what make it work. Achieving this, that student will be able to reach the outcome they so desire despite the length of said weapon being slightly off of what would normally fit their body type.

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 sword in order to assist in thrusting the sword forward like a yari (spear), or to block & push away an oncoming sword cut as if handling it like a bō. In fact, in some kenjutsu schools this method is called “kenbō” (剣棒).

NAGAMAKI SPECIFICS

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

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

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

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

NAGINATA OR NAGAMAKI?

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

Pic of my nagamaki and naginata, for comparison.

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

NAGINATA

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

NAGAMAKI

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

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

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

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

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

———-

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

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

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

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

———-

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

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

PERSONAL ANALYSIS

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

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

ENDING

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

Densho: The Importance of Note-Taking

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

THE TRADITION OF DENSHO

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

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

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

 

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

MAINTAINING A MODERN-DAY DENSHO

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

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

DENSHO’S LIMITATIONS

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

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

 

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

ENDING

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

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

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

OBTAINING SHITSUDEN SYSTEMS

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

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

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

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

STATE OF REVIVING DISCONTINUED KNOWLEDGE

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

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

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

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.

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

 

HANDLING LOST TECHNIQUES

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

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

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

ENDING

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT SHITSUDEN MEANS

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

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

CAUSES OF SHITSUDEN

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

① Local style

② Loss in value of use

③ Lack of inheritance

④ Sudden death of head teachers

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

POINT #1

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

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

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

POINT #2

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

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

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

 

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

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

POINT #3

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

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

 

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

POINT #4

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

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

CONCLUSION

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


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

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

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

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

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

Nisshin Geppo in Martial Arts

There are many benefits in studying martial arts. While each individual has their own reasons for pursuing martial arts, everyone can gain in different ways if done long enough. In kobudō (Classical Japanese martial arts), which my group studies, we take part in many sessions of repeated drills, going through kata geiko, and engaging conditioning. The reason for this is to develop a mentality of “nisshin geppo”, an idiom of old in Japan that is still used with the advancement of society¹, which hints to how we can utilize what we are learning to benefit in the long run.

The phrase nisshin geppo is written with the characters as “日進月歩”, which translates as “steady progress, rapid advance”. In simpler terms, this phrase also stands for “self-improvement”, and how it’s written describes how we can do so. Self-improvement doesn’t happen overnight, but is something that we have to work towards on a daily basis. Each day we can get better at the tasks at hand or the activities we are involved in as long as we put time & effort in it. Consistency is the key here, for if we develop a regular routine, in time we can see growth in ourselves. Even if it’s not every day, a few times a week is also fine, just so long as there aren’t too many breaks in between.

 

nisshin_geppo

Writing of the word “nisshin geppo”

As an example, having long practice sessions in a curriculum is standard for kobudō. This, along with reviewing & challenging what we are learning, keeps us from becoming complacent and thinking that we are already “good”. We have to consider that there will always be plenty of areas for growth, and prepare to adapt to the unexpected. Such as when we are sick or tired, when walking on wet surfaces due to rain or snow, after eating, growing older, and so on. A martial artist being in a constant state of 100% is not possible, which is why one should be ready to accept that training can be a lifetime activity of continuous work. This is an interpretation of nisshin geppo. On a positive side, possessing such an outlook will keep an individual in top shape and help develop a high level of skill.

Outside of combat, martial arts can be used for self-improvement as a human being. From a least noticeable perspective, some skill sets are multi-purpose, which make them beneficial even in our normal daily lives. For example, in our Chikushin group we have a special exercise called “Ukimi no Ho”, which entails training in different methods of stepping. While it’s prime purpose is to develop better footwork when performing techniques both empty-handed and while utilizing a weapon, its overall benefits extend to improving our natural habits for walking as it can be applied at any time during our daily routines. Another example is “ukemigata”, the method of performing breakfalls. Greatly seen by does who practice grappling systems such as jūdō and aikidō, ukemigata is necessary for avoiding damage from otherwise dangerous throws. Outside of the dojo, ukemigata can help to develop a natural ability to avoid serious injuries in unexpected scenarios, such as slipping while walking on an icy sidewalk, or catching oneself if tripping over computer wires while at work.

By understanding the meaning behind the idiom nisshin geppo, it is easy to understand that the notion of self-improvement exists in many fields of activities. Those dedicated in kobudō also have the means to strive for constant betterment in themselves through training. For the martial artist who has patience and desire for this, then walking this path is not at all difficult.


1) While my wife (who is a native of Japan) and I discussed the word nisshin geppo and its roots being that of personal growth for people and the activities they engage in, she also pointed out that nowadays this word can be seen used widely in relations to the advancement of technology in Japan.