Women’s Naginata Training: No secrets, full transmission?!?

In today’s generation, martial arts schools offer lessons to all, as long as necessary requisites can be fulfilled (i.e. covering fees). Through years of dedication, all can learn pretty much what is offered in a progressive format from basics to advanced techniques, and receive acclaims as proof of such hard work. Furthermore, anyone can continue their training for as long as they want, even to their elderly years. These are great points we can enjoy in modern times. However, this was a different story in Japan of old.

Here’s food for thought, about a different approach that goes against the norm. There was once s a martial system known as Kusaka Ichimune ryū (日下一旨流), which specialized in a number of disciplines, such as sōjutsu (槍術, spear techniques) and jūjutsu (柔術, hand-to-hand grappling techniques). This martial system no longer exists, but there are scrolls of it that still remain. On a website called “Kobujutsu Hōzonkai ‘Getsurindō’“, a researcher presents one of the remaining scrolls from this particular system that is called “Onna Naginata”, which is about women’s naginatajutsu. Dated 1854, it contains a list of technique names, but right before this section is something a foreword about this discipline. Below is the original Japanese text, followed by my own English transliteration.


JAPANESE: “夫女長刀と云は男子と違い多年きびしく稽古之修行不成故最初より奥儀秘事を伝授せしめ事少にして慥成勝利を極める術を教ゆる事伝授の至極也”

ENGLISH: “Our women’s naginata style is different from that of what boys learn. Women will learn all that is to be passed down, for they will be taught gradually the means of attaining winning against an opponent as advanced techniques and secret lessons will be taught early in their training. This is due to not being able to engage in grueling training over many years like boys can.”


Kusaka Ichimune Onna naginata menjo
Screenshot of said scroll, with section about how women trained in naginatajutsu is mentioned. From the website “Kobujutsu Hōzonkai ‘Getsurindō’“.

What is understood from this message is that contrary to the teaching methods most people would imagine, this particular system allows women to learn much of what Kusaka Ichimune ryū’s naginatajutsu has to offer almost from the start. This is a dream for many engaged in martial arts today. However, this is because women could not spend years upon years being engrossed in personal perfection in combative training. Why was that? The answer lies in how Japanese society was structured during the Edo periond.

PROGRESSION OF JAPAN’S MARTIAL ARTS

Let’s go over a quick summary about the development of Japan’s martial systems, as this went through several stages of changes. During Japan’s ancient periods, the methods of warfare was in its infantry years, for families with combat background specialized in combat methods that were either native to them (i.e. archery), or whatever that was brought to this island country from China and Korea. As time went on, certain families rose up and became prosperous as they supported & worked for the Imperial line, and continued to improve on combat methods through campaigns in the northern part of Japan, or against those who were considered a threat. Once Japan became a military state, war became a constant against power-driven elite families that could afford their own military, all the way to the late 1500s of Sengoku period. Within old documentation, martial training is recorded as being designated to elite military families that either had their own tradition, could send their children to learn at a temple, or families that had a background for bearing weapons for survival. This wasn’t only permitted to boys, as there were girls too who, born in military families, were given martial training.

Fast forward to 1600s of the Edo period, martial training transformed into something more formalized and accessible with the opening of martial arts schools, as well as instructions in-house. Documentations about martial training from 1600s to early1800s illustrate this primarily from men’s perspective, where they could spend years perfecting their craft by taking up careers that involved combat, such as an instructor, running a dojo, and doing police/guard work. However, women didn’t have the same chances during these times when Japan was progressing towards modernization, as they were expected to get married, settle down and handle other tasks, such as child care, house work, or working for shops. While wars were not a common thing as pre-Edo period, martial training was still handled with serious attention, which men were given the chances to engage in with full commitment especially as a career; this meant they could invest as much time needed to attain full transmission of a martial system, could teach at their own schools, as well as able to inherit ownership of it. On the other side of the spectrum, women were not generally given these opportunities. While there are few rare cases of martial system being passed into the hand of women, these scenarios come up because there wasn’t a male heir present at the time.

ADVANTAGES OF MARTIAL STUDIES WITH NO LIMITATIONS

Taking the time to research about lifestyle and occupations during much of Edo period, it becomes evident the world of martial arts was a playground for boys. This didn’t mean that women didn’t learn at all; one of the more popular impression is that women born in or hired to work within the household of a military family would be taught a number of different disciplines as a means of survival and to protect the home. In fact, when it comes down to the naginata, it is said that women of a castle in Chikugō Province (筑後国, now present-day southern Fukuoka Prefecture) were taught this to be as a line of defense in case of an invasion¹.

Artwork of women particing with glaive
3-panel artwork from the collection “Chiyoda no Ō-Oku” (千代田之大奥”, Maidens of Chiyoda castle’s Inner Chambers), entitled “Naginata no Keiko” (長刀稽古, Naginata Training). By Yōshuu Chikanobu (楊洲周延). From National Diet Library Digital Collections.

The method for teaching women naginatajutsu in the now defunct Kusaka Ichimune ryū appears to have, theoretically, come with many perks. Let’s take a quick look at what these could be.

BENEFITS

  • Learning the effectiveness of techniques quicker
  • Having access to most, if not all, of the content
  • Taught advanced techniques and secret lessons early

If we take the message from Kusaka Ichimune ryū as one that reflects the trend of how women’s naginata² was taught as a standard during early/mid Edo period, then their training should be considered real throughout. When you think about it, if the available time for practice was shorter than men’s, then it is logical to only teach effective lessons so that they can immediately use what is taught. The learning process could be what most would expect: being taught the “secrets” of application alongside the study of the basics, doing repetitive drills, learning techniques, and engaging in set forms. Instructions were probably much straight forward and to the point, with the end goal taught clearly so that women could handle danger immediately. There are many merits to this.

In terms of actual content, there was probably less holding back in the lessons. This can be a two-fold argument, however, depending on how this is viewed. On one hand, if women were trained to be capable of defending their home, then what better way than to teach them everything they would need? This could also include complex or intricate techniques, along with advice & instructions on subject matters that, from a men’s perspective, would only be learn after decades of studying under a teacher and earning their trust. On the other hand, it could be that the level of the skills learned in this naginata style may not have been so complex, which could be why such a curriculum could be used. For example, if Kusaka Ichimune ryū’s women’s naginata was streamlined off of what was once used on the battlefield, it could be that tactics used in formations, against armored opponents, cutting methods, etc. were omitted, leaving a more bare-boned version. Since the intended goal was not to have women run onto the battlefield, but instead deal with one, or a handful of enemies within an indoor setting, then their version of naginatajutsu had to be taught differently. Of course, this isn’t a strong argument anyone can make wholeheartedly, for many martial systems went through this same change and focus was geared towards what was needed during this time once big battles were not a normal occurrence during Edo period. This is especially evident once hand-to-hand martial systems grew in popularity. Realistically, an assertive evaluation on the contents cannot be made, since Kusaka Ichimune ryū has already died out, meaning we can only speculate and make educational guesses.

Now, one of the more interesting points to be discussed regarding women’s naginata of Kusaka Ichimune ryū is the idea of advanced techniques and secret teachings being instructed in the early stages of training. One of the benefits of this is being inducted into the true methodology of this martial system, along with understanding how to utilize it at its fullest in a shorter time. Of course, this probably has some guidelines, as this could be problematic on its own. Considering the proficiency needed for more advanced-level skills, it would not be so fruitful to teach them to those who are brand new on their 1st day as a whole. Most likely they were coupled in with basic training, and introduced progressively so not to become too confusing or difficult to comprehend. Meaning, as each woman developed their foundation in basic movements, executing proper cuts, understanding the concept of distancing, and so on, they would then be introduced to advanced techniques that would cement their potential utilization of the skills being developed, as well as be instructed on the secret lessons that would make all that is being taught usable almost immediately.

CONCLUSION

While women’s training in martial arts may not have been so extensive during the Edo period, it is much different in modern times, as many women train freely to their heart’s content. There are even renown female headmasters of their own martial systems in Japan today, such as Ogihara Haruko of Jiki Shikage ryū, Kimura Kyōko of Tendo ryū, and Koyama Nobuko of Yoshin ryū, as they run their respective schools teaching young girls, as well as boys, the methods of handling the naginata, along with other weapons. Still, if older martial arts systems like Kusaka Ichimune ryū serves as an example, it’s quite amazing that the training for women’s naginatajutsu was so accelerated in such a short time. While I personally enjoy the traditional way of studying Japanese martial arts, it could be satisfying to engage in learning where all secrets are offered at the start of one’s journey down the path as a martial artist.


1) Part of the history of a different ryūha known as Yoshin ryū Naginatajutsu (楊心流薙刀術).

2) This also should include other disciplines that were available, such as kusarigamajutsu and kodachijutsu

Evaluating Manuscripts of Takeda Army Strategist Yamamoto Kansuke

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.

Pic of the book “Yamamoto Kansuke “Heihō Hidensho””, with box cover (left) and front page (right).

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.

Pic of the book “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi”, with box cover (left) and front page (right).

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

  1. Fighting forms (形勢, Keisei)
  2. Method of hand-to-hand fighting(拳法, Kenpō)
  3. Method of sword fighting (剣法, Kenpō)
  4. Method of staff fighting (棍法, Konpō)
  5. Long-range weapons – naginata, yari (長道具ー鎗、長刀, Nagadōgu – naginata, yari)
  6. Method of archery  (弓法, Kyūhō)
  7. Firearms (鐵袍, Teppō)³ 

Gunpō Hyōhōki Kenjutsu no maki

  1. Three points regarding kenjutsu (劔術三ツの要といふ事)
  2. Postures with 3 height levels when wielding the sword (上中下段かまいの太刀)
  3. Postures with the sword against unexpected encounters (りんきおうへんかまいの太刀
  4. Forms for utilizing dual swords (両刀をつかふの形)
  5. Forms regarding battles between swords and spears (鎗刀戦いかまいの形)
  6. 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)


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


ORIG: 敵より先に践込みて己を撃とせば其太刀の出るをよく見て左の身足を引て敵の撃出す手をうつべし

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.

ANALYSIS

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

CONCLUSION

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.

Competitive Training = Adaptive Training

At least once a week our group engages in dōjō jiai (道場試合), which can be viewed as a form of competitive training. While this has the nuance of being a competition among practitioners in-house, this really isn’t the case for us, as this is more of an umbrella term for a collection of active training methods designed as a means to drive our skills, and see how our martial systems work. As a whole, competitive training assists in flourishing our skill, as well as show which areas need improvements. All these points lead to one critical principle that’s necessary to being a exemplary martial artist: the ability to adapt.

Kumitachi using fukuro shinai.

For those that train in sports-oriented systems such as boxing, mixed martial arts, kendō, and the like, and either fight competitively or just focus on the possibility of self defense, competitive training is a useful tool. In kobudō, there are schools that also utilize competitive training. Generally, it is not the main focus of transmission of a martial system, for instead focus is put on kata geiko (形稽古, practice of preset forms) as the main tool for teaching. In kata geiko, we learn to develop structure, and understand key principles of our specific style, or techniques and how they would work under specified conditions. The more we can execute these forms with the correct energy and movements, the better we can present the core essence of our martial system. This is a fine example of “art”.

On the other hand, at some point students need to be tested in some fashion to not only see their level of proficiency, but for themselves to actually use what they are learning in a “live” environment. Many forms of competitive training assist with this, such as sparring, randori, kumite, kumitachi, and so on. While there are different degrees of control that can be placed on this type of training (ranging from rules restricted areas of attack, limitation of specific techniques that can be used, to being completely free form), they all serve the purpose of conditioning us to adapt, which makes it possible to deal with stress and develop insight on how to stay in control in order to win or survive.

Perfectly executed techniques are a testament to one’s ability, but considering an actively resisting opponent won’t just allow it, we must also understand there are moments where we need to adjust our techniques, or reinforce them with other skills, in order for them to work. Just because a technique is done in a particular way during kata geiko doesn’t mean it is valid in all situations. Preset forms can be viewed as “snapshots”, and give validity to the usefulness of the technique itself. However, forms can also be viewed as “not alive”, since in an actual conflict people do not move or respond in only one preset manner. Conflict of all types represent the notion of “war”, and we generally cannot approached them in a scripted manner.

To teach students the concept of adaptation is not only done in competitive training, but more preferably during regular kata geiko itself. Let’s look at a component normally tied with this, which is technique. Fundamentally, we first learn how to do techniques in a set manner to understand its mechanics under set conditions. When those conditions differ due to an attack being at a different height, range, or even scenario, can these techniques still be applied? Realistically yes, for we have to naturally adjust the techniques where they can be applied, enabling them to adapt and be effective according to the vision of one’s martial system. This is only true if techniques themselves retain their core principles. Before this can be achieved during competitive training, bunkai (分解, breaking down the components for analyzing) needs to be incorporated into kata geiko at some point, especially when students show a level of understanding and have grasped the basic movements.

Another aspect of adaptive training is giving students the chance of failure, which is necessary for them to understand this feeling, and how to proceed forward. The idea of “losing” to another can be tough, especially when we hold onto thoughts about being a great & unstoppable martial artist. Yet this is fine, as this can be a demon of sorts that needs to be overcome. Once this is achieved, a person’s perception regarding conflict will change from being a personal endeavor to one that is in tune with everyone and everything around us. Failure can make or break a student, which becomes their own personal challenge when growing as a martial artist, as they’ll need discover that capacity to adapt, and mover forward in order to look at the big picture. Another good point about failure is that it can help to crush ego, which is a big obstacle just about all of us encounter, and need to deal with at some point.

A Japanese saying I learned many years ago that has a strong connection to the idea of adaptation is “banpen fugyō” (万変不驚). Literally, this reads as “10,000 changes, no surprise”. In martial arts, this can be interpreted as how chaotic things can become during a fight, for one’s opponent(s) may attack freely with whatever knowledge or tools they have at hand. Yet, with proper conditioning and a solid foundation, one can stay calm and handle things accordingly through adaptation, no matter what comes at you.

Kurai Dori: Taking Control through Skilled Footwork

Last Thursday, Chikushin Group held an event called Shochūgeiko (暑中稽古), which is a special training done during the hot days of summer. It took place on the beach in full training attire, which proved to be challenging. Due to the differences in training grounds, we were able to work on certain principles we would’ve normally not get a chance. One of these was on the lesson of kurai dori. For this article, we’ll look into the meaning behind this word, how it applies to martial arts, and how we approached this during this special training on the beach.

Kurai dori (位取り) means taking control over a situation through an advantageous position. This is a form of lesson that is found in many Japanese martial systems. It is easier to analyze this through a 1-on-1 scenario, where one person takes the high ground on uneven terrain, or has the sun behind their back. This directly influences the type of kamae (構え), or posture, one uses, accordingly. When both sides are on even grounds in the conflict, then it’s a matter of skill in one’s footwork and movement when fighting is unavoidable. This was part of the theme for our event on the beach, which made it an invaluable lesson for those who took up this challenge.

For example, one segment in the event involved running on the sand. While it sounds simple, it can feel sluggish as most people will drive their force downward into the sand. This makes us sink down abit while we won’t move as fast as we’d like to. However, to really move nimbly requires ability to carrying one’s weight in a way where each step becomes lighter. We put this to the test through drills where two people then run at each other with sword in hand, and the defender needed to evade an overhead cut from the opponent in order to successfully counterattack. Understanding the principle behind carrying one’s weight, which we call ukimi no ho (浮身の法) in our group, is vital for this.

Another point we explored involved taking the initiative while running towards an opponent with a sword thrust. For one was the idea of initiating this slightly beyond our cutting range while low profiling. If done correctly, we will connect with our opponent before he/she can strike us with their own sword. We looked at a few ways to make this safe for us in case our opponent is skilled enough to dodge. One was to use momentum from our run to keep going, for if we missed, we would be able to avoid any counter attack by running by and making distance that would be safe to stop and turn around to once again face the opponent. The other would be to dig our feet into the sand while initiating the thrust, which will not only ground us so we can stop early, but puts us in a position where we can quickly re-adjust and spring upon our opponent with a follow up attack.

In short, the concept behind kurai dori has many layers based on the type of area, type of ground, and so on. Exploring this while on the beach was very fruitful, as our footwork and movements where greatly influenced by the conditions one faces while on sand. Looking forward to future events that allow practitioners to getting a different perspective to the lessons we normally train, but from a different environment.

Looking at the teachings from Bokuden Tsukahara’s Hyakushu

When studying Japan’s military history, there are some documents that excel above others due to being based on personal experience. Tsukahara Bokuden, an individual known for his contribution to his father’s martial system Kashima Koryū (鹿島古流), and later developing his own system called Kashima Shintō ryū (鹿島新當流), is one of those famous martial artists who had passed down such a document. Along with his connections to popular martial systems including the aforementioned ones, his experience on the battlefield around the late 1400s to early 1500s of during Sengoku period, as well as in mortal combats in the form of duels during his musha shugyo (武者修行, expedition across the land for the sake of training and employment)¹, also contributed to the knowledge he gained regarding the necessities one who walks the warrior path should know.

Bokuden Tsukahara drafted a documentation called “Hyakushu” (百首), which is a collection of 100 entries that can be looked upon as rules for warriors². As a whole, Hyakushu is a set of teachings regarding military and martial-related practices, confrontations, preparations, and the like through the form of short poems. Like many other documents of similar nature, these poems are not straight forward, and require some research and/or understanding on topics regarding military and martial practices during Sengoku period. Fortunately, there are plenty of sources in Japanese that go over Tsukahara’s writings in detail, helping to grasp some of the more vague entries.

Out of the many documents like this, I find the teachings in the Hyakushu a mix of lessons that are of practical use, those that touch on necessary points that could assist fellow warriors, and others that are informative through what Tsukahara was experiencing during his time firsthand; they are not rules that are the standard that all should follow regardless of the times. What’s also interesting is that I feel many of the poems can be compared to certain practices that are done in modern times, both combative and non-combative.

2 pages showing the many entries from Hyakushu. From the book “Gunjin Seishin Shūyōkun” (軍人精神修養訓).

Below are a select few entries from the Hyakushu. You’ll find the original Japanese, followed by my translation and breakdown of the meaning behind the poems. For some, I’ve also added some commentary to how they may apply to scenarios in modern times, as a means to understand how Tsukahara’s teachings actually transcends generations.


JAPANESE:「近き敵遠き敵をはゐる時は矢の根の習いあると知へし(六)」

ENGLISH: “You must know the teachings regarding different arrowheads when dealing with enemies that are close and far away (#6)”

MEANING: This is in relations to what type of arrowheads are designed better for long range versus those for close range. In terms of basic knowledge, the weight of arrows can prevent them from being used in all types of situations. Along with the draw power of a bow, certain arrows are more effective from far away through ya-awase (矢合わせ, raining arrows), while others are better for picking off troops upclose especially for those who are cavalry.

From my still young experience with archery and shooting at an open range, I have conversed with those who are more seasoned with the bow and arrow. It was explained to me³ that lighter arrows are better for hitting a target at greater distances (say, over 20 yards), as they are able to maintain their velocity and still puncture a target. As for heavier arrows, those are better for targets that aren’t too far out (around 20 yards and less), for they tend to lose velocity quicker if shot beyond their preferred range, making them suffer less piercing power. Although this is from the perspective of modern archery, these points are elementary & universal to archery done for centuries.

On a more fundamental level concerning expertise, archery was a practice highly valued by those who walked the path of a martial specialist, and was even the symbol of what it meant to being a warrior. Considering that many from military families were taught formally how to shoot an arrow extensively from a young age, Tsukahara could also be implying that these very people should know the differences of arrowheads and when they should be used. Those who do not cannot say they are truly versed, or complete warriors.


JAPANESE:「癖有れど強き馬こそよけれとて進まぬ癖の馬を乗るぞよ(十四)」

ENGLISH: “While it may be said that a strong horse is fine even if it has its (bad) habits, riding one that has the tendency to not move forward is problematic (#14)”

MEANING: Those with horseback riding experience develop good judgment about different horses. They can point out each one’s habits, some good, some bad. This is so in all generations. When looking at Tsukahara’s era, generally elite figures or those who assume the role as cavalry would ride horses into battle.

To the untrained, a strong or fast horse would be a perfect choice. One can imagine the benefits of these types of horses. However, Tsukahara mentions about habits of a horse, using the word kuse (癖) in Japanese. This tends to have a strong connotation, usually negative. If we look at the habit of a horse not moving forward when commanded, this is a very detrimental habit. Couple of reasons for this include having too strong a will and difficult to tame, to being too timid and frightened easily.

Regardless of a horse being strong or fast, if it does not follow its rider’s commands on the battlefield due to its bad habits, then it is unsuitable. What would then be considered suitable? Possibly one that falls in between, where it is not too strong, and isn’t too timid.


JAPANESE: 「鎬のなき太刀をば深く嫌うべし、切る手の内のまわる故なり(十八)」

ENGLISH: “A sword with no curve (ie shinogi) is one that is loathed immensely, for in order to use it you have to rotate your hand (#18)”

Earlier in Japan’s history, swords with little to no curve were used. However, later in Sengoku period, especially around Tsukahara’s time, swords with a pronounced curve are the preferred choice. This is true all the way to modern times. In sword terminology, a curve in a sword is called sori (反り). How much of a “sori” is there can be understood visually, or it can be measured by the shinogi (鎬), which is a ridge line that goes up along the side of a sword from the habaki (鎺, copper collar right above the swordguard) to slightly under the tip.

When studying how to use a Japanese sword through kenjutsu⁴, you learn how to cut with the upper part of it. In due time, you can perform solid cuts where you don’t have to move your hands so much. However, cutting with straighter swords is the complete opposite. Since they have no curve, you may have to compensate by twisting and turning your hand.

Note that this was the prevalent view in Japan due to certain events. However, there are other countries that have successful histories using straight swords. Of course, there may be other factors that contribute to this, for example, length and weight of the blade.


JAPANESE: 「切れるとて新身の太刀を帯びる人必ず不覚あると知るべし(十九)」

ENGLISH: “Those who equip themselves with a newly made sword believing it will hold up (ie cut with durability) very well are making a big mistake. (#19)”

MEANING: This is an interesting one. Tsukahara is talking about having more trust in battle-worn swords over newly smitten ones. This is because swords have the risk of bending and snapping upon impact while on the battlefield. This is a normal occurrence. However, this can be minimized by using swords that have been tried and true, for if they have survived one or several battles, then that shows they’ve been crafted properly and will most likely hold up. Untested swords, on the other hand, cannot be verified so quickly.

There is more to this teaching. From the mid to later parts of Sengoku period, as territorial battling grew rampant, there were higher demands for equipping troops with weapons, including swords. Many swordsmiths were commissioned to make great numbers of swords in a short amount of time. Due to such urgency, there was little to no time for quality assurance. Thus, there are tales of swords breaking during clashes, which literally renders a warrior helpless and at the mercy of their opponent if they cannot equip themselves with another weapon quickly. It’s possible that Tsukahara witnessed this…or even experienced this himself.


JAPANESE: 「勝ち負けは長き短かき変わらねど、さのみ短かき太刀な好みそ(二十)」

ENGLISH: “A long or short sword can be used in order to determine the outcome in a fight. However, in terms of advantage, a long sword is preferred over a short one. (#20)”

MEANING: There are stories of martial artists winning a fight in all types of methods. Examples of this include having a superior weapon over their opponent, having an inferior weapon, and even having no weapon. It can be said that skills and experience, with a bit of luck at times, have a great influence in being able to do so. While Tsukahara states that a long sword and short sword can be used to obtain victory, he also admits that he prefers using a long sword. If we read into this, he is hinting about not hindering yourself if you are given a choice. This may have to deal more with duels than battlefield experience.

Around his time, there are sword styles that incorporate techniques for using a shorter sword to defeat an opponent with a longer one, such as Chūjō ryū (中条流), Nen ryū (念流), and Ittō ryū (一刀流). While those are great feats with skills that are invaluable, I think Tsukahara is advising don’t take the chance to win with a shorter sword when you can ensure a better outcome with a longer sword. Of course, I believe there is a limit to the type of swords he’s referring to, such as daitō (大刀) & uchigatana (打刀) as long swords, and shōtō (小刀) & kodachi (小太刀) as short swords. From what I know, there are no duels that had excessively long-bladed weapons (ie nodachi [野太刀]) and short-bladed weapons (ie kaiken [懐剣]).


JAPANESE: 「もののふの夜の枕に二重帯、おかぬはあわれ不覚なるべし(四十七)」

ENGLISH: “It would be a terrible blunder for a warrior not to place their futae obi next to their pillow at night (#47)”

A futae obi (二重帯) is a long Japanese-style belt that wraps around the body twice, with the ends being joined together and tucked in. It is very easy to wrap around one’s body, as there is no need for any cords or such to secure it properly around the body. The reason for keeping one’s futae obi next to the pillow is because warriors were trained to do the same with their sword. So, in case of danger, one could quickly put on their futae obi and insert their sword into the 2nd loop at a moment’s thought. Based on the context, this advice is useful for when one is at home or taking lodge at an inn.

For modern times, an equivalent to a futae obi would be an obi used for dankyu (段級) ranking in many modern martial arts organizations. While a kaku obi (各帯, long & wide belt) is the more standardized choice for many classical Japanese martial arts today, a simple long obi can be used in its place by tying it the same way as a futae obi. This can be a good substitute, plus it is much faster to fasten around the body than a kaku obi.


JAPANESE: 「もののふの道行く時に逢う人の、右は通らぬものとしるべし(七十六)」

ENGLISH: “A warrior should not pass on the right side when encountering a stranger while on a road (#76)”

MEANING: In the past, people traveled on the specified main roads. As a warrior, passing by a lone person can be risky, especially if it’s another warrior. That person could be one who practices tsuji kiri (辻斬り), which is intentionally cutting down a passerby on a road or in the field in order to test your skills or the sharpness of your sword. Passing by on their right gives them enough time to draw their sword out. To neutralize this, you would pass by on their left, which not only makes it difficult for them to attack, but you can actually stop their hand, grasp the sword handle, etc. if you can spot the attempt.

This is opposite of what was normally practiced in towns, where you would pass on the right side to avoid bumping into another warrior’s sword sheath, and accidentally causing a confrontation that could lead to kirisute gomen (切り捨て御免, having the right to cut down someone who disrespected you as a warrior).



JAPANESE: 「もののふの道行く時に曲り角、避けて通るぞ心ありけり (七十七)」

ENGLISH: “A warrior should be aware to avoid making a turn (closely) around a corner while walking on a path (#77)”

MEANING: This is in regards to any type of building structure. When walking by or turning around a corner, we do so blindly, not knowing what’s on the other side. Corners are perfect for ambushes, making it easy for an attacker to strike down those who are unaware. This is especially true if you walk very close to the corner.

To remedy this, one should instead turn the corner widely. This not only gives you a chance to see what’s on the other side from a safe distance away, but gives a warrior enough space to react in case of an ambush. This is especially necessary when making a left turn, as with one’s sword being on the left side of the body, you would need space to draw it out of it’s sheath and not hit the wall.

In today’s generation, this rule still holds true. Even outside of a combative situation, it is a good idea to take care around corners especially in heavily populated areas. For example, when walking on a sidewalk, to avoid bumping into someone who may be carrying something. Or when inside a store, to avoid turning straight into a showcase or display.


These are few of the 100 short poems found in Bokuden Tsukahara’s Hyakushu. It would be nice to add all of them, but I have to refrain as that would become a rather large translation project. Hoping to revisit this in the near future, with possibly examples from Tsukahara’s own recorded history that covers his personal experiences.


1) There is an older article about this on Light in the Clouds, which can be accessed here

2) From sources like “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi” (図説・古武道史), it is mentioned that Bokuden Tsukahara actually wrote around 97. After Tsukahara’s death, the original manuscript that he wrote was kept in the possession of Iizasa (飯篠) family. From there, a person named Katō Sagami-no-kami (加藤相模守) is stated to have added 3 more to the original manuscript.

3) Note that there are still many variables to archery that can affect the distance both light and heavy arrows fly, which includes the arrow’s material, whether they have feather fletching or not, length of the arrow, weight & type of arrowhead, size & draw power of the bow, type of bow, and so on. The example given in the article is based on using a recurve bow that is around 30 poundage, while the numerical figures are not set in stone.

4) The experience varies between each sword school, while there may be slightly different mechanics concerning using a sword if learning through iaidō, battodō, etc.

Tetsujin ryū, an Offshoot of Niten Ichi ryū?

Lately, I’ve been browsing through books and other sources regarding martial systems that specialize in the Japanese sword. Unlike Sengoku period, there are many of these during Edo period, most of which were created during this peaceful era. Just as there are more than one can possibly hope to remember, there are equally many that died out, Sifting through different sources tends to introduce new information. It just so happened that one of the sources mentioned a sword style I’ve never heard before, which is Tetsujin ryū (鉄人流). It has a very strong sounding name, plus seems to specialize in dueling with 2 swords.

EVALUATING ORIGINS

Tetsujin ryū’s full title is “Nitō Tetsujin ryū” (二刀鉄人流). If we break down the title,  we get the following:

  • Nitō/二刀: Two swords
  • Tetsujin/鉄人: Iron man, strong man
  • ryū/流: style, manner, school of thought

This was a martial system that used the method of two swords. It was mainly taught in the far western region of Japan in Saga domain, Hizen province (present day an area divided between Saga prefecture and Nagasaki prefecture). The founder of Tetsujin ryū is tricky to discern based on current sources. On one hand, credit is given to Aoki Kyūshin Ienao (青木休心家直). From what I can understand, there is no birth date or year of death presented for him, but it is estimated that he lived during the early part of Edo period. On the other hand is Aoki Jōuemon Kaneie (青木城右衛門金家), who is the grandchild of Ienao¹. While his exact years are also unknown, it is stated that he was born in Kawachi province (present day eastern part of Ōsaka prefecture). Both claim tuteluge under the master swordsman who created Niten Ichi ryū, Miyamoto Musashi², in available documentations. In fact, Kaneie went by the nickname “Tetsujin”³.

Is it possible that they both were students of Musashi? This is uncertain, but could somehow be possible. It can be agreed that, with both Tetsujin ryū and Niten Ichi ryū being dual sword styles, it would make sense there being a connection. However, there are doubts about Ienao and Kaneie ever studying under Musashi, where for the latter it may have been under a completely different person⁴.

A chart that shows the branching connection between Shinmen Muni and those who studied under anyone connected to his martial lineage. Number 1 (red) indicates Aoki Ienao, who’s connected to Miyamoto Musashi (green). Number 2 (red) is Aoki Kaneie, who’s connected directly to Muni (blue), then has an additional branch to Miyamoto Musashi. From the book “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi”.

COMPARISON BETWEEN BOTH STYLES

Here’s what is known about Tetsujin ryū. This martial system utilizes daishō (大小), which means a pair of swords consisting of one daitō (大刀, larger sword such as a katana) and a shōtō (小刀, shorter sword such as a wakizashi). This is the same for Niten Ichi ryū. From what I’ve been able to uncover, there is a list of dual sword postures, that feature both illustrations and short descriptions. In comparison to Niten Ichi ryū, there are a lot. Furthermore, the naming convention is complex and not easy to decipher.

Looking at Niten Ichi ryū first, we see that there are a total of 5 postures where dual swords are used⁵, which are the following:

  • Chūdan no kamae / 中段の構
  • Jōdan no kamae / 上段の構
  • Gedan no kamae / 下段の構
  • Migi waki no kamae / 右脇の構
  • Hidari waki no kamae / 左脇の構

These are standard posture names used in many kenjutsu systems, and are easy to understand their usage. For example, Chūdan no kamae is a “middle posture”, where the swords are positions slightly above waist height, while Jōdan no kamae is “high posture”, where both swords (especially the daitō) are held much higher.

If we look at Tetsujin ryū, sources indicate that there are a total of 16 stances. Here is, based on my understanding, how the names are read:

  • Tōgō Kiri / 當合切
  • Utetsu / 右鐵
  • Satetsu / 左鐵
  • Chūdō Bassatsu / 中道縛殺
  • In Bassatsu / 陰縛殺
  • Yō Bassatsu / 陽縛殺
  • Yōtetsu / 陽鐵
  • Intetsu / 陰鐵
  • Sōken / 總捲
  • Hitōken / 飛刀劔
  • Yō-i / 陽位
  • In-i / 陰位
  • Shin-i / 眞位
  • Jitte Dori / 實手捕
  • Kōmyō Shinken / 光明眞劔

While there are descriptions about how to assume the postures within the scroll that is public, it’s mentioned that there isn’t much else. The first 6 postures are indicated as the main ones, whereas the other 10 are more advanced postures. How each one is used and when is a mystery. On top of this, the posture names aren’t as clear as to that of Niten Ichi ryū in terms of how they are used. While some names do provide hints when tied to an illustration, such as Utetsu (right iron) and Satetsu (left iron)  indicate body orientation, other names leave alot to the imagination.

Since this martial system is shitsuden (失伝, no longer actively maintained by a successor), there are no vids or pics that’ll give us a clear presentation of it in action, unfortunately. If it is true that one of the two Aoki members did learn under Musashi, why are there many differences, both visually and descriptively, between both martial systems? Unlike today’s standards where many koryu bujutsu (traditionally transmitted martial systems) are organized to preserve the teachings across different generations, centuries ago it was not mandatory to retain the style name. Depending on one’s situation, many practitioners either kept partial of the style name but added another title (i.e. their own name) to it, or renamed it completely if they received a master license. On top of that, it was not unusual to reorganize the contents if what they learned, or even add to it. This could be the case here with Ienao/Kaneie and Tetsujin ryū.

REFLECTION OF THE TIMES

As mentioned before, Tetsujin ryū is a sword style that existed during the Edo period. In fact, it lasted for the majority of this time period. It can be said that Tetsujin ryū is a reflection of the times; as society was governed by one ruling power, groups followed standardized rules as opposed to territorial customs & standards during an unified Japan in Sengoku period. Many martial artists began focusing more on the katana, which was shorter than the battlefield-centric tachi. This was in part due to battlefield weapons being banned by the Tokugawa rule, and the fact that katana became standard amongst warriors at the time. The usage of dual swords (katana & wakizashi) was made popular especially through the efforts of Miyamoto Musashi during the mid 1600s. Being a dual sword style, Tetsujin ryū certainly seems to be a product of Niten Ichi ryū, and openly owns up to that claim. However, there are other martial systems that similarly have dual sword techniques in their curriculum, whether they have a connection or not. Examples of this include the following:

  • Ryōken Tokichū ryū (offshoot of Tetsujin ryū)
  • Tendō ryū
  • Katori Shinto ryū
  • Musashi Enmei ryū
  • Shinkage ryū

There’s not much in terms of how Tetsujin ryū was used in actual combat or competition. There are, however, tales that highlight certain individuals. The first is “Aoki Jōuemon: Tetsujin ryū Gensō” (青木城右衛門 鉄人流元祖). This is a novel-style telling of Aoki Kaneie’s history. From this is where we learn a great deal about his life in Kawachi, and his path to becoming a martial artist, including his tutelage under Miyamoto Musashi. While considered historical text, there is no telling how much is actually truth, and what is fictional/exaggerated for the sake of storytelling.

The second is an actual diary of a Tetsujin ryū’s practitioner’s fighting experience. Entitled “Shokuni Kaireki Nichiroku” (諸国廻歴日録), it is an account of Muta Bunnosuke, who received complete licensing in Tetsujin ryu while living in Saga domain. Afterwards, from 1853 he traveled around Japan to further his skills for 2 years. It sounds like he may have been one of the last people involved with this martial system, so Bunnosuke’s diary is held in high regards. This story sounds interesting, and I personally would like to read more on it.

ENDING

That wraps up my small research on Tetsujin ryū. While it is seen to have a connection to Miyamoto Musashi, Tetsujin ryū apparently was valid enough to exist on its own worth for about 2 centuries. It is an example of one of the many gems in martial arts from the past.


1) To be specific, sources say that Kaneie is Ienao’s older brother’s grandson. Guess that would be the same relationship between the 2 as well…?

2) It goes much further for Kaneie, as it is said he studied first under Shinmen Muni, Miyamoto Musashi’s father, and learned the techniques of the jitte (十手, short truncheon with a hook for capturing swords). Afterwards, he would study under Musashi.

3) Kaneie may have later changed and called his systems “Enmei ryu” and “Enmei Jitte ryu”

4) Kaneie also created his own style for utilizing the jitte, called “Tetsujin Jitte ryu”, which is thought to have come from his studies under Musashi’s father.

5) There are more, mainly in the form of variations of the initial five. Plus, there are postures for when wielding one sword.

Looking at Miyamoto Musashi’s First Treatise

Many people are familiar with Miyamoto Musashi’s famous treatise called “Gorin no Sho” (五輪の書), or commonly called “Book of 5 Rings” in English, which was written in 1645. However, in 1641 he compiled another treatise prior to this called “Heihō Sanjūgō Kajō” (兵法三十五箇条), or “35 Rules of Martial Combat”. Being an expert martial artist in the way of the sword, Musashi wrote this upon the request of Hosokawa Tadatoshi, who was a lord over Kumamoto Domain, Higo Province (present-day Kumamoto Prefecture). Believed to be the first recordings of what would later be Musashi’s self-made style “Niten Ichi ryū” (二天一流), the Heihō Sanjūgō Kajō was preserved in the densho of a kenjutsu school called “Enmei ryū¹“, which Musashi himself had a hand in starting.

Recently, as I was reviewing my copy of Gorin no Sho, I decided to also look through the Heihō Sanjūgō Kajō as well. When comparing both documentations, there are similarities as well as differences. There are those that consider the former a “draft” of the Gorin no Sho, and would sign it off for the sake of the more renown version. Some of the reasons behind this include the following:

  • Gorin no Sho is a much longer documentation with more philosophical commentary.
  • Gorin no Sho possesses much more detail on both taking up the part of a martial artist, and the techniques that are related to Niten Ichi ryu.
  • While the Gorin no Sho directly covers Musashi’s self-made style Niten Ichi ryu, the Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō, which is related a great deal, has more of an association with Enmei ryu.

However, I believe that is a premature viewpoint, especially if you are not familiar with the history behind the first documentation and which audience it was written for. Being a treatise on both fundamental and advanced techniques that can benefit a martial artist, Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō would benefit anyone who has interest in this field, even if just as an addition to one’s collection.

Looking at the similarities between both documentations, some of the rules in Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō are also included in Gorin no Sho. However, take note that the wording and/or approach expressing these differ abit between both. Furthermore, although older, Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō contains some interesting perspectives by Musashi. Let’s evaluate this with a snippet from rule #2. I will present below the Japanese, along with my English translation.


② 兵法之道見立処之事   

此道大分之兵法,一身之兵法に至迄,皆以て同意なるべし。

今書付一身の兵法,たとへば心を大将とし,手足を臣下郎等と思ひ,胴体を歩卒土民となし,国を治め身を修る事,大小共に,兵法の道におなじ。

② Analyzing the Path of Martial Combat 

The path of martial combat is the same throughout, from the militaristic system used for large armies, down to the individualistic combative skills.

In this writing I will use individualistic combative skills as an example for the comparison. Such as, one’s head (mind) is equivalent to the commander, the hands & feet are like close subordinates such as retainers. The torso is like the foot soldiers. If, through this idea, one trains the body as if to take over a country, then the path of martial combat is, without a doubt, the same on all levels.


This is an overall comparison of the discipline for the individualist skills honed by a martial artist being the same as that needed for an army to work well and succeed. It’s an interesting one, as it may directly explain how the mindset and approach to martial combat transitioned from the battlefield to individual skirmishes during the Edo period. Take note that rule #2 of Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō is said to be related to the Earth Scroll chapter of Gorin no Sho, yet this doesn’t mean that this is a direct copy of words from one text to another. Anyone who’s familiar with both will notice that while Musashi makes references regarding the discipline of the martial artist is the same as in all professions in that particular chapter, he primarily makes that comparison using carpentry.

The following rules below are a few that offer new and unique perspectives of Musashi’s philosophy. That is, by how they are worded, as they don’t definitely fall into any of the chapters found in Gorin no Sho. Along with the original Japanese and my English translation, I will follow up with my interpretation of the meaning behind the following rules, as best as I understand. Of course, being my interpretation, this doesn’t mean that it is 100% perfect.


⑦ 間積りの事

間を積る様,他には色々在れ共,兵法に居付心在によって,今伝る処,別の心あるべからず。何れの道なりとも,其事になるれば,能知る物なり。大形は我太刀人にあたる程の時は,人の太刀も,我にあたらんと思ふべし。人を討んとすれば,我身を忘るゝ物也。能々工夫あるべし。

⑦ Making Space

There are many points to this, along with needing to be there in the moment and having a presence of mind, in regards to making space around yourself. To explain this clearly hear, you must not have your mind elsewhere or on other matters. Like all paths, in order to achieve this you must have knowledge. The big picture here is to strike the opposition with your sword. To achieve this, one must have the mind of not being struck even by another person’s sword. When you do make the attempt to strike down someone, you must forget about yourself. This takes knowledge and lots of training.


For this, you control enough space around yourself, allowing room to deliver strikes, as well as avoiding any incoming ones from an opponent. When you do go forth with your attack, you must also commit to it and not hesitate, for that will leave the door open for the opposition to react.


⑳ 弦をはづすと云事

弦をはづすとは,敵も我も心ひつぱる事有り。身にても,太刀にても,足にても,心にても,はやくはづす物也。敵おもひよらざる処にて,能々はづるゝ物也。工夫在るべし。

⑳ Releasing the string

To achieve this is to grasp on both the thoughts of you and your opponent. You pull yourself off line of an attack through your body, sword, legs, and mind. You will understand how to evade based on your opponent’s thoughts. This requires lots of training.


This rule is talking about being able to read what your opponent is trying to do. Simply put, one reacts accordingly to each of your opponent’s actions if you can grasp what he/she is planning next.


㉖ 残心放心の事

残心放心は事により時にしたがふ物也。我太刀を取て,常は意のこゝろをはなち,心のこゝろをのこす物也。又敵を慥に打時は,心のこゝろをはなち,意のこゝろを残す。残心放心の見立,色々在物也。能々吟味すべし。

㉖ Freeing one’s Attentive Spirit

This is a method for you to allow things to take their natural course for some time based on the situation at hand. With our sword in hand, our attentive spirit is released as if things are normal, while our mind stays active. Or, as you strike down an enemy in a timely manner, you rest your mind, while staying attentive through intent. There are many points to be aware of when analyzing this. There is much information to gain from this.


In Japanese martial arts a fundamental skill reiterated a lot is zanshin (残心), which can be interpreted as staying attentive when a conflict has been ended. For the rule above, this goes beyond that, where one relaxes mentally yet stay attentive through intent, or vice versa.


㉛ 扉のおしへと云事

とぼその身と云は,敵の身に付く時,我身のはゞを広くすぐにして,敵の太刀も,身もたちかくすやうに成て,敵と我身の間の透のなき様に付べし。又身をそばめる時は,いかにもうすく,すぐに成て,敵の胸へ,我肩をつよくあつべし。敵を突たをす身也。工夫有べし。

㉛ Teachings of the Door

This is about being like a tobaso (戸臍 or 枢, swinging door), where when getting close to the opponent, you quickly make yourself wider in appearance. This creates a distortion regarding enemy’s sword, and the body. It makes it that everything is exposed within the space between you and your opponent. Or, you make yourself a slim form as soon as possible as you propel your shoulder towards your opponent’s chest.


Musashi is describing how to change your body’s orientation, and uses the image of a hinged door as an example. In theory, squaring up with your opponent can be effective in many ways, including psychologically, as it gives the idea that you are a bigger target. Yet, if the enemy strikes, you turn sideways so the attack sails by, which allows you to deliver a counter strike.


Here concludes our discussion on Miyamoto Musashi’s first treatise. While the Gorin no Sho is truly the more popular one worldwide, the Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō is still an active rule set used in certain Japan martial schools that follow in the lessons of Musashi. On top of that, there are publications on this, as well as plenty of websites that cover this in detail in Japan. While a smaller read, I would recommend those serious about martial arts to read the Heihō Sanjūgo Kajō, even just once.


1) Also known as Musashi Enmei ryu (武蔵円明流).

The Ura Behind Kata Geiko

Today’s post is regarding recent kenjutsu training done by Chikushin group. It is more of a reiteration of verbal explanations given to students during those sessions. I also express it here for the public to get an idea of how Chikushin group conducts kobudō training.

In our kenjutsu training we’ve been studying a set of kata that focuses on defeating a stronger opponent. Within this are a few kata that uses the scenario where the both you and the opponent are in tsuba zeri-ai (鍔競り合い), which means locking swords together by the swordguard. While dependant on the martial system and their philosophy, this can be a common occurance between two sword duelists where both sides close the distance and are trying to overpower the other. Similarly, this can be seen in today’s kendō.

Example of tsuba zeri-ai in a kendō match. From Wikipedia.

When looking at these particular kata as presented in our group, they present a scenario where the defender must use specific techniques to defeat their opponent who uses tsuba zeri-ai. However, before learning these, we must spend time understanding how to properly apply tsuba zeri-ai and win with it. 

In kata geiko (形稽古, practicing pre-set forms), the one who’s applying the technique as the defender may be viewed as doing the “true” style of one’s kenjutsu, while the attacker is not. This is actually not correct. In fact, we have to also study what is being done by the attacker, as it is very critical for the defender’s technique to work. In the case of tsuba zeri-ai, we initially study the finer details of this technique, from how it can occur when two fighters’ swords clash together, to how to properly initiate it ourselves. It is necessary to apply proper timing, leverage, and power in order to overwhelm another through this. In the end, tsuba zeri-ai becomes a tool in our arsenal, furthering our skill level. This is the ura (裏), or unspoken rules, in studying classical martial arts.

There are plenty of unspoken rules not only in kata geiko, but in many of the components found in classical martial arts. It is just more apparent when training in set forms during katageiko as-is, for if we only focus on what the defender is doing, we will only get a small piece of the puzzle. On top of this, one cannot properly defend against an attack that is not there. It is up to the instructor to ensure that students learn the ins & outs of every kata properly. This includes performing a real technique by the attacker role.

Again, in the case of tsuba zeri-ai, if the attacker doesn’t understand how to apply his/her technique correctly in order to lock swords together, the defender won’t be able to feel the pressure necessary in learning the proper rhythm to counter the opponent. It is the same as blocking a simple punch; if we don’t engage in repetitive drills ahead of time regarding how to deliver a punch with proper power, speed, and from an adequate distance, kata that involve defense against this won’t work.

To get an idea of how tsuba zeri-ai is applied in motion, check out our Chikushin Arts Instagram account. There, you’ll find the exact video posted recently from which the pics above were taken from, along with the complete outcome of the scenario that was demonstrated. On top of that, you’ll also find other kobudō-related pics and videos posted regularly to keep our Instagram account active.

Kagami Biraki: Open Up to Good Fortune ~ Part 1

There are many martial arts groups that open the new year in Japan with a ceremony called “Kagami Biraki” (鏡開き). Along with how it’s utilized for the sake of auspicious readings and praying for year-long fortune by shrines and temples, this ceremony is conducted for the sake of good luck during year-long martial training sessions. Its purpose is symbolically significant that my Chikushin group has also adopted this to promote a safe & healthy training year. For this article, we’ll first explore how this ceremony is conducted, by looking at a few events that really illustrate the theme for the new year.

PROCESSION OF THE KAGAMI BIRAKI CEREMONY

Today, Kagami Biraki is used as an opening ceremony for many martial arts groups and organizations. It can be either a small gathering among those who are associated with said group, to a large gathering in a form of a collaboration between different organizations. Well established groups such as Maniwa Nen ryū and Kōdōkan Judō Institute hold this ceremony among their own members, as an example. These smaller events may commence with a speech or formal new year blessing, then followed by technique demonstrations. At the end, there may be  traditional sweets and treats associated with the ceremony that are made available to participants, such as mikan (みかん, mandarin orange). Depending on their tradition, visitors may be allowed to view these groups’ ceremony.

One of the largest, most publicized of these events is “Kagami Biraki-shiki & Budō Hajime” (鏡開式・武道始), which is conducted at the Nihon Budōkan in Tokyo City, Japan. This is an event that has two parts, first being the Kagami Biraki ceremony, then followed by the martial arts segment. Dozens of different martial arts schools, both traditional and modern, participate to present their unique systems.

Let’s look at how Kagami Biraki takes place at the Nihon Budōkan. For the ceremony portion there are 3 parts¹. It starts off with “Yoroi Kizome” (鎧着始め), where individuals dressed in Japanese armor give tribute to the roots of combat to those warriors that fought during warring times. Next is “Sankon no Gi” (三献の儀), where the sōdaishō (総大将, commander-in-chief) does a ritualistic consumption of kachiguri (勝ち栗, dried walnuts), uchi awabi (打ち鮑, dried abalone), and konbu (昆布, kelp) alongside with sake (酒, rice wine) for the sake of gaining luck before going into battle. Finally, “Kagami Biraki” portion takes place, where the sōdaishō uses a small mallet to break the top layer of a kagami mochi (鏡餅, 2-tier decorated rice cake), while his second-in-command officers split the lid on a taruzake (樽酒, barrel filled with special rice wine).  All of this is symbolic, and is considered important to promote the true spirit when engaging in Japanese martial arts.

Next is the training portion, which usually is conducted in the form of demonstrations by each participating group. It is a mix of groups that specialize in modern, sports-oriented styles, and traditional styles. So you may see one group that’ll demonstrate kyūdō (弓道, way of archery), and another demonstrate a version of karate.  There are usually groups that are involved in iaidō (居合道, way of drawing the sword), sōjutsu (槍術, spear techniques), or naginatajutsu (薙刀術, glaive techniques). Over the years, this event had demonstrations of hōjutsu (砲術, gunnery techniques), jukendō (銃剣道, way of the bayonet), and even sumō wrestling. Every year, the participating groups may differ, so there may be variations in what types of styles are presented. After all the demonstrations are over, the floor is open for everyone to take part in hatsu geiko (初稽古, first practice session). A good variety of practitioners, both young and old, can be seen training together. Finally, this ends with an oshiruko kai (おしるこ会, sweet red bean soup event), where everyone can sit together and replenish their energy with this tasty treat.

Screen shot of the hatsu geiko segment. From the video here.

Take note that each Kagami Biraki event has its own date in which it takes place. For the one that is held at the Nihon Budōkan, it’s held on the 11th of January. Unfortunately, this event was canceled due to the precaution against the current pandemic inflicting the world. For those interested, there are vids on Youtube that showcase these Kagami Biraki events. To see the one held at the Nihon Budōkan, I recommend the following video found on Budo Japan Channel, as it covers the explanation in this article very closely.

ENDING

The connection that Kagami Biraki has with Japanese martial arts is considered a deep one. Every year many groups and organizations go to great lengths in organizing events where practitioners can feel they can begin their training in the new year on the right foot. Unfortunately, since a great number of participants are pulled in every year for this, many Kagami Biraki events have been canceled due to the current restrictions. As a substitute, it’s possible that these groups may have performed a smaller ceremony just for direct members.

Be on the lookout of the 2nd art on the topic of Kagami Biraki. In the next one, we will look into the actual history behind this ceremony, look deeper into some of the components that were briefly mentioned, and get an understanding of how it’s celebrated by the general public and through religious establishments.


1) This is carried out by “Nihon Kacchū Bugu Kenkyū Hozonkai” (日本甲冑武具研究保存会). This organization’s name in English is “The Association for the Research and Preservation of Japanese Helmets and Armor”

Understanding Te no Uchi

A topic that often comes up no matter how long a person studies martial arts is what he/she should be doing with their hands during x, or how they should manipulate their weapon during y. These examples are generally related to te no uchi (手の内), which is an important area of training that is introduced to many beginners of martial arts, yet is deep enough in principles that even advanced practitioners continue to work on.

Te no uchi refers to how you wield a weapon in your hands. It is not limited to just how one holds a weapon, but goes as far as how to manipulate it, how to do certain strikes, how one’s hands change grips, how it is held based on one’s posture, and so on. You’ll hear this used for many weapon-based martial systems such as kenjutsu (剣術), kyūdō (弓道), sōjutsu (槍術), and so on. However, it is not just used for when you possess an object in your hand, for te no uchi is also used for hand-to-hand martial systems like karate (空手) and taijutsu (体術), for in essence even a martial artist’s hands are a “weapon”.

Let’s refer to the te no uchi of the naginata. One of the basic te no uchi often taught very early is keeping a consistent grip style with the right hand on top and left hand on bottom similar to wielding a katana. This is reminiscent to how it was used on the battlefield in the past especially in troop formation. Another te no uchi taught is how to switch hand positions, which is important depending on the situation and type of naginata being used. The following example below illustrate this when doing repeated horizontal cuts.

① The initial grip (left pic) is important, as it determines the te no uchi for the right horizontal swing.

② Finishing the swing, the right hand turns the naginata vertically (left pic), from which the left hand slides up and switches place with the right hand (middle pic). Through this a transition to a horizontal swing using the intended te no uchi can be established.

③ Finishing the left horizontal swing, same action is performed again, this time left hand bringing the naginata vertical (middle pic), then switching with the right hand (right pic). Repeat.

This is a step-by-step demonstration on how to achieve this switching of hands in order to maintain a specific reach with the naginata. Of course, as one becomes proficient, this manipulation will become smoother & natural. However, the overall execution of this te no uchi will still remain as long as it’s properly ingrained in the body.

Another scenario concerning te no uchi can be seen during kenjutsu, when two practitioners lock their katana together in tsuba zeri ai (鍔競合い). When the skill level between the two are about even, the one with the better te no uchi can get the upper hand. For example, it is advantageous to understand the moment when to push the opponent’s hands up through the use of one’s tsuka (柄, sword handle), or how to twist one’s hands to utilize the tsuba (鍔, sword guard) to push the opponent’s sword to the side in order to break through their defense, which is possible through the use of advanced te no uchi.

In ending, te no uchi is one of the basics found in Japanese martial arts that is learned very early in training. It’s critical that beginners practice this in order to progress in their respectful martial system. Yet, it is something that can not be forgotten and left behind, as it continues to define a practitioner’s proficiency even in advanced techniques. Thus, te no uchi is a fundamental skill that can be worked on even for a lifetime.