There are countless examples of old military manuals and martial arts-related scrolls that have survived to present times. Containing important information regarding combative (and sometimes non-combative) topics, they are usually provided to those privy to the knowledge, or copied by said information with permission to do so. That being said, there can be multiple versions from one source, with each having either slight differences, to not resembling each other at all. There are reasons for this, many which can be deducted to when it was written, who wrote the document in question, who the person was that received it, to whom the audience was. One example of this is the many documents that are stated to come from Yamamoto Kansuke, the famed military strategist during the 16th century.
For today’s article, two types of manuscripts will be presented that fit this topic. Both stated to come from Yamamoto as a singular source, they’ll be examined in terms of content, as well compared to evaluate their similarities and differences.
SPECIFICS OF ORIGIN
Yamamoto Kansuke is an individual highly debated amongst researchers and scholars alike. This stems from topics such as validity of his existence to authenticity of various manuscripts that helped structured the Takeda force and associated groups. When looking at these manuscripts, many are signed by him, or reference him for his impeccable knowledge. Let’s look at two that I have in my immediate collection, which are “Heihō Hidensho” (兵法秘伝書) and “Gunpō Hyōhōki” (軍法兵法記), and look into their background info.
First up will be the Heihō Hidensho. This was one of select works that are said to come from Yamamoto Kansuke’s knowledge on combat. Going by the date of 1701 as when it was written, it would eventually be compiled together with many other documents into a collection in remembrance of the Takeda clan and their rule over Kai (present-day Yamanashi prefecture) during medieval Japan. This collection is called “Kai Sōsho” (甲斐叢書), and has been reproduced on numerous occasions as a large volume of historical reference books from the 1800s to the 1900s by individuals like Hirose Hirokazu (廣瀬廣一), and the group “Kai Sōsho Kankoukai” (甲斐叢書刊行会). The manuscript Heihō Hidensho is located in the 9th volume of the Kai Sōsho.
For this article, the book “Yamamoto Kansuke “Heihō Hidensho””, published by the company Keibunsha, will be the resource used. It not only shares the same name, contains the entire manuscript have been retained. While one can say its source material is dated, this reproduction can be seen as fairly modern, mainly because the original text has been slightly modified to make it easier to read & understand, while still retaining its old Japanese feel. The modifications primarily relate to updating older kanji not part of the standardized Japanese language. There are more unspecified updates/edits in this book version, which will be spoken upon later in this article.
The 2nd resource, “Gunpō Hyōhōki”, is claimed to have been written by Yamamoto upon the order by his lord & ruler of Kai, Takeda Shingen, for the sake of his army. This particular manuscript is dated 1546, and is signed to a Nagasaka Chōkansai¹ by the strategist himself, which can be determined by the signatures in the manuscript. This resource was drafted into 4 parts. One of these parts is called “Kenjutsu no Maki”, which is considered invaluable and possibly a glimpse at what the legendary Kyō ryū² may be based on.
In the book “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi”, there is a section dedicated to Yamamoto Kansuke that includes the Gunpō Hyōhōki to its entirety. This is reproduced in this book as-is in the form of photos from the original source. Note that the original source does exist in a book form, which can be accessed at certain libraries in Japan. Visually, it appears to be an authentic document, as it follows the format of similar documents produced in the 16th century. This includes type of speech, and using a cursive writing style, which proves to be a challenge to read. There are lots of text with the context focusing on kenjutsu
COMPARING THE LAYOUT
To get a clearer picture on the similarities and differences between these two documents, we will look at the contents on military combat, particularly from the Heihō Hidensho’s “Mokuroku” section, and Gunpō Hyōhōki’s “Kenjutsu no maki” section. These are much easier to analyze, even if we don’t look at the particulars in the techniques, as well as being accompanied with pictures. Here’s a partial look at their table of contents:
Heihō Hidensho: Mokuroku
- Fighting forms (形勢, Keisei)
- Method of hand-to-hand fighting(拳法, Kenpō)
- Method of sword fighting (剣法, Kenpō)
- Method of staff fighting (棍法, Konpō)
- Long-range weapons – naginata, yari (長道具ー鎗、長刀, Nagadōgu – naginata, yari)
- Method of archery (弓法, Kyūhō)
- Firearms (鐵袍, Teppō)³
Gunpō Hyōhōki Kenjutsu no maki
- Three points regarding kenjutsu (劔術三ツの要といふ事)
- Postures with 3 height levels when wielding the sword (上中下段かまいの太刀)
- Postures with the sword against unexpected encounters (りんきおうへんかまいの太刀
- Forms for utilizing dual swords (両刀をつかふの形)
- Forms regarding battles between swords and spears (鎗刀戦いかまいの形)
- Diagrams of positions during battles between spears and archery (弓鎗戦かまいの圖)
At a glance, there are similarities between each book. For example, both put a great emphasis on sword fighting. Although it is not shown above, Heihō Hidensho’s section called “Kenpō” (Method of sword fighting) has its own table of content that, if listed, would require its own separate article, while everything else can be covered together in another article. In comparison to the Gunpō Hyōhōki, the contents on sword fighting is similar as it has many teachings that focus on using the sword against another fighter with a sword, while there are also lessons on using longer weapons against each other, and a small quip on archery. Interestingly, there is a focus on using a sword against different types of foes. Here are some pics for comparison, starting with those from the Heihō Hidensho on the top row, and Gunpō Hyōhōki on the bottom row:
From another angle, Heihō Hidensho has a dedicated section on hand-to-hand combat called “Kenpō” (拳法), which focuses on using restraining techniques such as grappling and strikes against an opponent while wearing one’s swords sheathed on the side, and whether the opponent attempts to draw their sword or not. For the Gunpō Hyōhōki, it appears that there is no conversation on this. However, it does have several sections that cover this topic, which are “Torite no koto” (捕手の事), and “Jūjutsu-ate no koto” (柔術当ての事). Unfortunately, both are not accompanied with pictures, but instead are coupled with long explanations on the topic. If anything, the Torite no koto section does mention about the possibility of iai techniques during torite, so this could be compared with Heihō Hidensho. For the most part, both manuscripts use this idea of hand-to-hand techniques as more supplemental to kenjutsu.
EMPHASIS ON KENJUTSU TECHNIQUES
As mentioned before, great importance is placed on kenjutsu in both documents. The direction both go with discussing the strategies while using the sword is through postures that signify an attitude or state of mind. The terms to indicate these in Japanese vary depending on the source. For instance, the word “kamae” is a common term for this. In the Heihō Hidensho the term “kensei” is another version, while “kurai” can be found in the Gunpō Hyōhōki. One thing to understand when interpreting these is that these postures, despite which label is used, are not static stances. Instead, they represent strategic points of movement in response to the situation against the enemy.
First, let’s review a list of select techniques in the form of kamae from Heihō Hidensho:
- Hira jōgo kensei (平上後剣勢)
- Migi jōgo kensei / Hassō (右上後剣勢)
- Hira ue musubi mae kensei / Takanami (平上結前剣勢・高波)
- Hidari ue musubi Mae kensei / Jōdan no Kasumi (左上結前剣勢・上段の霞)
- Hidari ue mae kensei / Kissaki Oyobi (左上前剣勢・切先及び)
- Hira ue mae kensei / Tōhō (平上前剣勢・当法)
- Migi naka musubi Mae kensei / Chūdan no Kasumi (右中結前剣勢・中段の霞)
- Hidari naka mae kensei / Yoko Seigan (左中前剣勢・横青眼)
- Migi shita ushiro kensei / Sha (右下後剣勢・車)
- Migi shita musubi mae kensei (右下結前剣勢)
Each of these kamae are listed on their own page, as there are thorough explanations and examples on how they can be utilized against an opponent. The name for each one is more descriptive in terms of how they are assumed, although some of them do have alternate, unique names that are expresses a concept of imagery, which are used in different martial arts schools. At their core, they are variations of kamae that most practitioners of kenjutsu, kendō, gekiken, and the like should be familiar with. For example, from left to right:
Hidari ue musubi mae kensei = Kasumi (jōdan)
Hidari naka mae kensei = Seigan (chūdan)
Hidari shita musubi ato kensei = Waki (gedan)⁴
For each kamae are explanations on how they can be utilized based on the enemy’s actions. The defender’s response isn’t as strict in terms of the counter attack, which makes things a little open-ended for interpretation. For example:
Hira jōgo kensei
TRANS: The opponent takes the initiative and attempts to strike. Carefully watch when the opponent’s sword comes at you, then turn your body sideways with your left leg forward, pull your right leg back, and cut their right hand.
While this paints a rather clear picture in terms of movement using the attacker-defender model, it is also open-ended, for the type of the attack from the opponent is not specified, while the defender’s (us) initial position is not stated. This is pretty much how the techniques play out in this document, making it a supplemental source to any kenjutsu-focused martial arts school that can be studied upon.
Now, we turn our attention to Gunpō Hyōhōki, and look at some of the techniques mentioned:
- Jōdan (2 types)
- Chūdan (2 Types)
- Gedan (2 types)
- Denkō no kurai (電光の位)
- Kasumi no kurai (霞の位)
- Seigan no kurai (清眼の位)
- Suigetsu no kurai (水月の位)
- Yōgan (陽眼)
- Ingan (陰眼)
- Murakumo (村雲)
- Yamatsuki (山月)
- Nyūin no kurai (入引の位)
For this section, it starts off explaining the importance on 3 height levels while wielding the sword. They are the following:
Jō-chū-gedan kamae no Tachi
- Jōdan (上段) = Upper stance
- Chūdan (中段) Middle stance
- Gedan (下段) = Lower stance
In almost all styles of kenjutsu and its modern equivalents, the idea of 3 height levels is a common principle. Illustrations show 2 ways of doing these, generally with one having the sword held in front, and the other with the sword held behind. This is abit different from what is shown in Heihō Hidensho, as there is not a great number of kamae where the sword is held behind. In the pictures provided, lengthy descriptions for these kamae and how to apply them is given based on one’s opponent’s actions. Each of the kamae are labeled according to their height level along with a unique name.
Let’s look at the following example below:
Jōdan – Denkō no kurai
This is the posture on the right. As a small explanation, in response to an enemy’s attack, the defender brings the sword above the head to the right, and strikes from overhead.
Take note that the picture sequences are not necessarily correlating with each other, especially in the later parts of the document. Each kamae, side-by-side, is significant in the Gunpō Hyōhōki; what’s important is the descriptions next to them. In a way, it’s a concise format to present lessons without using a step-by-step method.
The relation between the two documents is that Heihō Hidensho also follows the 3 height levels as specified in Gunpō Hyōhōki. Not only that, it follows the same order starting with high level postures, mid-level postures, then ending with low-level postures.
At first glance, when reading the particulars for these, it’s quite normal to think that both manuscripts are authentic & have been kept intact in terms of their original writing. This is certainly not the case for the Heihō Hidensho for a number of reasons which will be explained. As for the Gunpō Hyōhōki, this has a greater probability due to its appearance and contents, for much of the points on combat are done in a conversational manner that is not directly clear unless the reader has initiative knowledge in said topic, as opposed to very detailed, step-by-step descriptions that almost anyone can grasp. Take note that while this fits as what may be expected out of an older manuscript, just how much of it is 100% authentic as the lessons of Yamamoto, and isn’t a product of forgery, is hard to determine.
For the Heihō Hidensho, there are many points to pick up that indicate it’s not the original work. For starters, the original version, which would’ve been handwritten, is not available for view. Instead, we have a reproduction in print type of it in collection of other documents. It is mentioned to be reproduced several times, which most likely includes edits to suit the times, such as the kenjutsu kamae being compared to other unmentioned martial systems by presenting alternate names. Possibly the biggest clue is how the actual contents read; the way combat was approached was vastly different in Sengoku period in comparison to Edo period, and the way Heihō Hidensho reads coincide with the latter. For example, the hand-to-hand techniques demonstrated in it deals with situations in plain clothing and swords sheathed, which was a growing trend during martial artists during mid-to-late Edo period that were focusing more on jūjutsu and iaijutsu. Furthermore, the illustrations for the kenjutsu are not only similar to the style of specific artists during Edo period, but other pictures such as the ones used to illustrate staff techniques are not Japanese at all.
Finally, we look at the connection between both documents. Considering that they come from the same source, one can deduce that they were drafted around the same time period. Of course, this cannot hold up as an argument, since whereas Gunpō Hyōhōki looks to be a more authentic that was kept intact, we only see the typed version of Heihō Hidensho, which is a reproduction of said original source. This is even true when looking at the version in the Kai Sōsho. Despite presentation, if we compare the contents and acknowledge the similarities, (i.e. focus on kenjutsu, scenarios in which strategies for kenjutsu can be applied, etc.) what can be said about the differences? Let’s look at two points that can be considered.
- Information may differ based on the person whom was receiving the manuscript – Depending on a person’s rank, or even affiliation, there are cases where one individual would get more clearer notes, while a person may get less. It can be argued that those were highly-ranked group leaders would’ve received a much more detailed documentation, as it would be necessary when training their team. However, for someone who may have been a specialist may receive a more concise version that skims the surface, which could’ve just been enough for that individual.
- Manuscript may have been reproduced several times with edits – It is not uncommon that certain contents change and/or get updated by those who own it. This is true for both private documents, those passed on & used in martial arts schools, and those made for public viewing.
If we take Heihō Hidensho and consider it the same as the Gunpō Hyōhōki, then it’s possible it went through much edits and updates. This isn’t a bad thing, for if you think about it, combative knowledge should apply to the current times in order to stay viable⁵. With this in mind, it’s possible that the original lessons of Yamamoto Kansuke are maintained, but altered abit (or alot) so that it could still be applied in a society that still depended on the sword during Edo period.
It is great that there are documents written centuries ago that have been preserved for today’s generation. There are those that give credit to Yamamoto Kansuke, whether stated to have been penned by him or copied with permission. Unfortunately, researchers are faced with the task of validating the legitimacy of these, which tends to be difficult especially for those from Japan, as there’s a high chance they were produced during the peaceful times of Edo period by writers who try to pass them off as much older works. This brings our look at old manuscripts to a close. Hope everyone found this as an informative, and interesting, topic to read.
1) 長坂長閑斎. Historians believe him to be Nagasaka Torafusa (長坂 虎房), who was a retainer of Takeda clan of Kai.
2) 京流. This is one of 8 legendary sword systems that make up the collective group called Kyōhachi ryū. This was discussed in an article on this blog here.
3) This section may have been an add-on, after the development of firearms improved.
4) In this manuscript, there is no alternative name for this posture. However, I added the label here for this article due to it, from my personal experience, resembling the commonly used Waki no kamae, but done on the left side.
5) This same case was brought up for kyūjutsu (archery techniques) during Edo period, which was covered in an article on this blog here.