Tōkenjutsu & Universal Lessons Concerning Element of Surprise

Recently I had a discussion with a good friend of mine regarding techniques for throwing bladed weapons. The premise was based off of a text from a book I am currently translating, “Tsuki no Sho”, which discusses principles around the use of Jūji shuriken (十字手裏剣, a cross-shape throwing blade). My friend, who has spent many years training in Shinkage ryu kenjutsu, also mentioned a similar kata, but which instead uses a shotō (小刀, short sword). While size of both are different, using them in an unperceived fashion is important in both scenarios. For this article, I want to discuss a bit about throwing bladed weapons, and how the element of surprise is an imperative tactic no matter the size of the weapon being used. In my training group, the universal term used is tōkenjutsu (投剣術, techniques for throwing bladed weapons).

When learning how to incorporate throwing weapons, whether they are designed for that purpose or not, much of the instructions tend to lean towards psychological warfare. This is especially true when practicing the timing for surprise attacks through kata geiko. Of course, psychological tactics exist for other usages of throwing weapons, such as offensive purposes. Yet, this tends to get limited to specific weapons, whereas tactics for surprise attacks tend to incorporate a broader range of weapons. Due to the nature of attacking with a thrown bladed weapon in an unexpected manner, a level of mental and physical skill is necessary to pull this off.

One of the 1st steps utilizing psychological tactics is through one’s kamae (構え, posture). In Classical Japanese martial arts, this is one of the basics, so a great amount of time is spent understanding how kamae dictates what we do. This is not just a physical matter but one that pertains to attitude. Some kamae are naturally suited for certain scenarios, making it easier to incorporate movements to launch a throwing weapon without being perceived. For example, in a case were one must flee from an opponent who has a katana, one turns around and begins to run. In that movement, we can use a taijutsu kamae called tonsō no kamae (遁走の構え, Escaping posture) to pull out a hiragata shuriken (平型手裏剣, a flat wheel-like throwing blade) from one’s inner pocket. When the opponent is at a certain distance and preps to strike, we turn and throw the hiragata shuriken. Such a tactic like this can help in aiding one’s escape if done correctly, or to attempt to subdue the injured assailant if necessary.

In another scenario, where both combatants are wielding a katana, you may be perplexed with a very strong and skilled opponent. It’s here where you use an unperceived tactic from tōkenjutsu that can grant victory. As your opponent assumes jōdan no kamae (上段の構え, high posture), you follow in suit. As the opponent comes in with a shōmen giri (正面斬り, downward cut to the face), we crouch down and hurl our katana to impale them. Of course, we have a failsafe in case this doesn’t work, which involves pulling out one’s shotō and quickly closing the distance whether our katana hits the mark or not, for the notion of a person suddenly throwing their main weapon (katana) is enough to create a shinriteki na kuzushi (心理的な崩し, mental break). This can cause one’s opponent to hesitate even just for a brief moment, which may be enough to win.

Or, taking a different approach in the previously mentioned situation, you attempt to go toe-to-toe through kumitachi (組太刀, battling out with swords). At some point, you back away, then assume seigan no kamae (正眼の構え, straight-to-the-eyes posture). As your opponent approaches and attempts to swat away your katana, you pull out a small blade hidden on the side of your sword handle. Hurling it as your opponent is distracted, you then finish with an uncontested downward stroke with your katana. Some katana have one or two holes in the tsuba (鍔, sword guard), where small knife-like blades can be placed through. Such a design allows a warrior to have an additional trick up his sleeve, but it’s one which works only if the adversary doesn’t perceive exists ahead of time.

In conclusion, psychological tactics are very effective when throwing bladed weapons. Learning this through kata geiko is common practice. No matter the situation, using the element of surprise is indeed a universal tool handling a bladed weapon that will be thrown no matter the size.

Hobaku: Visual Presentation of Edo Period’s Capturing Methods

In an article earlier this year I covered the numerous listings of Bugei Juhappan, which consist of essential 18 skills key to being a martial artist. In a few of these different versions were skills related to capturing and subduing, which fall under a category called hobaku (捕縛).

Hobaku is a term describing systematized skills for arresting and subduing criminals used by the policing force established during Edo period. Those who worked for the police and were responsible for apprehending criminals were high-ranking samurai and low-ranking warriors. Some of these skills used include torite (捕手), hojōjutsu (捕縄術), and using the mitsu dōgu (三つ道具). These skills originate from groups specializing in bujutsu training, thus training for the sake of proficiency was a must.

There is a famous illustration book called “Tokugawa Bakufu Keiji Zufu” (徳川幕府刑事図譜) published in 1893, which gives a visual presentation of various crimes that were committed during the Edo period, along with the punishment which criminals would face. There are several images that demonstrate how the methods of hobaku were used by those in the policing force, which give an idea why they were deemed important to those versed in martial arts. The scenarios in which hobaku was performed are specific to those involved, from petty theft by a commoner to treason by a nobleman. In some cases the criminal was apprehended discretely, while in other cases the arresting officers had to use force especially when others try to intervene.

For today’s article, select images that represent hobaku will be used to highlight specific skills and weapons listed on some Bugei Juhappan listings. Japanese text found on the top of these images will be posted in type print, and followed by English translations done by myself. To view the entirety of this illustration book, you can access it at the Meiji University Museum by clicking the link here. Note that while there is English provided to understand the contents of the images, the Japanese text on each image has no English equivalent present.


IMAGE #14

BACKGROUND: A temptress, who’s an accomplice of some criminal, weasels her way into the home of a rich merchant. The merchant is tricked into allowing her to stay in his home, while his wife is forced to cook and serve the temptress. The wife and her child are treated poorly, while the merchant is at odds of how to deal with the temptress’ schemes. (reference image #2)

In the picture above, an officer who was informed of the situation makes a sudden entry and quickly apprehends the temptress.

Not bearing his standard ropes, he uses an improvised method where her hands are brought behind her back, with strings tied to her thumbs and attached to the back of her hair.

One can imagine that being subdued in such a method would make any attempts to escape painful.

TEXT ON IMAGE

“In this image, a magistrate is able to make use of a short string, twine, and the like for capturing when a criminal needs to be immediately subdued, but standard torinawa (捕縄, binding rope) is not available. The capturing technique “Tabo*” is applied, where both hands are twisted behind, and both thumbs are joined together tightly.”

*This name is written only in kana, thus meaning is obscure


IMAGE #15

BACKGROUND: The hideout for a group of thieves. After a careful investigation by a constable from the magistrate’s office, a well calculated raid was set into action. This was successful in putting a halt to any further schemes by the thieves. (reference image #3)

In the picture above, the leader of the thieves is arrested. A woman, who’s affiliated with the thieves, tries to interfere with a knife in hand. One of the arresting officers uses a jutte (十手, truncheon) to knock the knife out of her right hand.

Other than their diligent work in completely subduing the main culprit, this image expresses the effectiveness of the jutte’s non-lethal strength.

On a separate note, certain groups had an influence on the jutte techniques used by different policing forces at the time, such as Ikkaku ryū (一角流), Edo machikata Dōshin (江戸町方同心, Edo town officials) and Kyōto machi Bugyō (京都町奉行, Kyoto public authorities). Meiji University Museum has images of the types of jutte used up on their site, which can be accessed through link 1, link 2, and link 3.

TEXT ON IMAGE

“The striking area of the jutte is shown. The jutte is made out of steel. It measures around 1 shaku 5 sun (57 cm) in size. It also has a hook on the side which can be used to stop incoming attacks from weapons such as a sword.

When there are individuals who are willing to prevent the arrest of a criminal due to prior fondness, the 1st thing to do is to strike them in the right upper arm with the jutte. This method of capturing allows an arresting officer to render a target’s dominate arm useless. “


IMAGE #16

BACKGROUND: Illegal gambling is taking place openly in a field. Gangsters and thieves are putting money and goods up for bets. (reference image #4)

In the picture above, policing officials rush the area to break up the gambling ring, and apprehend those involved. They are using standard arresting tools for this, which include the uchikomi (打ち込み, rod with a loop on the end), yoribō (寄棒, baton), and kaginawa (鉤縄, rope and hook).

TEXT ON IMAGE

“(A) To make a capture, a loop is used to snare (a criminal) by the throat.”

“(B) The method for capturing the criminal is used during pursuit. To overtake the criminal, a stick is thrown inbetween his legs to knock him down. “

“(C) The capture here involves prepping a hook. When the hook is attached onto the criminal’s clothing, a rope is pulled against the throat. Utilizing a rope to pull down a person when their limbs cannot be tied is situational-based.”


IMAGE #20

BACKGROUND: A criminal brandishes a sword in order to resist arrest. He is extremely dangerous, and difficult to take alive.

His pursuers attempt to make an arrest in a non-lethal manner by forming a cage around the criminal with four ladders linked together. Others use barbed implements known as mitsu dōgu (三つ道具, 3 tools for arresting & capturing)* in order to pin him down. These are the following:


Tsukubō (突棒, pinning tool)

Sasumata (刺股, immobilizing tool)

Sodegarami (袖搦, sleeve [clothing]-entangling tool)

*Also called torimono dogu (捕物道具, arresting tools)

TEXT ON IMAGE

“When dealing with criminals using martial techniques that make capturing difficult than normal, ladders are utilized to surround their target. From outside of the encasement are those with arresting implements that will be used to subdue the criminal.

The arrangement of the ladders are as shown in the picture. Four ladders are used in the formation where 2 are held sideways, while one is held above and another held below*. This pattern called i no ji (井の字, well formation) can defend against a criminal’s attempts to jump over and escape by being raised higher.

This capturing method involves gradually falling upon the criminal by closing the space in on him. Then they are able to use their arresting tools by thrusting them upon him to knock him down.”

*Description is based on how the ladder formation appears visually in the image. In reality all 4 ladders are on the same level.


These four images give a glimpse of how hodaku was utilized. Keep in mind that as a whole, the specifics of hobaku were considerably vase and layered; while those who were in the policing force were authorized to use arresting techniques, they still had to follow specific protocols related to an individual’s title and/or societal position. As an example, the manner in capturing a commoner could vastly differ to that of an elite family or of samurai status. This included the type of arresting ropes used and how the knots were made.

This concludes the visual presentation of hobaku used during Edo period. As an elementary approach on such a topic, I hope that the contents were informative for all. For those who want to view the entirety of Tokugawa Bakufu Keiji Zufu remember to visit Meiji University Museum’s website, which can be accessed here.

Kikuchi Senbon Yari: Crafting a Kikuchi-Style Takeyari

Recently I stumbled upon some interesting information. In the book Zustesu – Kobudōshi (図説・古武道史), there is a section that talks about of long battlefield weapons used during the warring times in Japan, such as the spear. While discussing the roots, the many variations used in battle, and the exclusiveness in training among high-ranking practitioners during peaceful times of the spear, one description regarding the origin of the spear caught my eye¹. It mentioned the use of a sharp instrument attached to one end of bamboo, which would essentially make it a takeyari (竹槍). This takeyari, or bamboo spear, is a type of weapon that doesn’t get much talk about. In the past, a takeyari was quite useful due to the fact that it was low cost in production, easy to mass produce, can outfit a large group of soldiers with this, and was simple to use. While a takeyari can be crafted without a blade, placing one on the end of a bamboo would definitely increase its overall effectiveness. This falls in line with a type of takeyari related to my studies in Kukishinden ryu sōjutsu (Kukishinden style of spear techniques) that was made famous by a member of the Kikuchi family, which I will speak on in this article.
 

TALE OF THE ESTEEMED “KIKUCHI  SENBON YARI”

There is a story in many historical books from Japan regarding an individual by the name of Kikuchi Takeshige (菊池武重), who was the 13th head of the Kikuchi family. His family line is related to those of the famed Fujiwara family (藤原家) who had relocated to Kikuchi District in Higo, Kyushu. His family supported the Southern Imperial Court for some time, since when his father, Kikuchi Taketoki (菊池武時), pledged loyalty to the Southern Emperor, Go-Daigo (後醍醐天皇).

A snapshot from the website Kikuchi Ichizoku talking about Kikuchi Takeshige and his feat called “Kikuchi Senbon Yari” (菊池千本槍)

During the early mid 1300s, There was much conflict between the Hōjō clan, who claimed Shogunate rule, and those who sided with the Southern Imperial Court. A war general by the name of Ashikaga Takeuji (足利尊氏) made efforts with others to not only regain control over Kyoto, former capital and home of the imperial family, but also Kamakura, ridding the Hōjō clan’s control. In an attempt to avoid potential usurpers, Takeuji took Kamakura himself and lauded himself with the title “Sei-i Taishōgun²”…all in the name of the Southern Imperial court. However, Emperor Go-daigo did not accept these actions, and opposed Takeuji’s plans.

Late in the year 1335, Takeuji and his brother Tadayoshi lead a large force against the Southern Court. The Southern Emperor had his faithful allies take up arms to deal with this threat from the Ashikaga, which included a reputable military Nitta Yoshisada (新田義貞). It just so happened that Yoshisada had Kikuchi Takeshige and his men employed in his army, and had ordered them to fight in the forefront. Crossing through the mountainous area of Hakone Tōge (箱根峠, Hakone Pass), Yoshisada and his force made their way to Take no Shita (竹の下), where they would clash with the Ashikaga and their army. This encounter would be called “Battle at Hakone-Take no Shita”³.

Takeshige’s force split from Yoshisada to eventually go head on against Tadayoshi’s force. To strengthen his troops, Takeshige would turn his sights to a bamboo grove, have each of them take a bamboo pole that was around 6~7 feet tall, and craft theirs into makeshift spears by inserting into one split end of it the tantō each of them carried in their belts. Doing so proved to be most effective, for despite being outnumbered 3:1 when facing off against Tadayoshi’s army of 3000, Takeshige’s force consisting of 1000 spears was more then enough to surprise and force the opposition to retreat. This greatly helped to earn a victory for their side against the Ashikaga force.

It is through this improvisation by Takeshige and victory against a much superior opponent that lead to the term Kikuchi Senbon Yari (菊池千本槍, 1000 spears of the Kikuchi clan).

CONSTRUCTION OF THE KIKUCHI-STYLE TAKEYARI

Taking a knife and fitting it on the end of a bamboo pole to make a Kikuchi-style takeyari is generally associated with this tale. This episode is believed to have inspired Takeshige to have a unique style of spear created called the “Kikuchi yari”, which utilizes very long single-edge tantō-like blades made in either hira zukuri (平造り) or shōbu zukuri (菖蒲造り)⁴. However, this doesn’t mean that the concept of a takeyari was invented by the Kikuchi clan, for it is believed to have existed way before in advance.

A snapshot of a page featuring blades of Kikuchi yari mounted for swords. From the website Usagiya

Although I’ve made a safe training takeyari (simple design with a padded end for a point) a while back, making a Kikuchi-style takeyari sounds like it would be a fun little project. From the descriptions found in various sources, the construction of this is not complex, so I figured I would give it a try. Let’s take a closer look at the method for constructing this unique takeyari.

  • Take a bamboo pole of considerable length
  • Use a tool suitable for splitting the bamboo
  • Insert knife (in this case, a wooden training knife) into the split up until where the handle completely fits
  • Take some rope and tie it over the split section to hold the knife firmly in place

The one I’ve made is just an experiment, and a great way to understand how warriors in the past may have had to improvise. Using a bamboo pole near 7 feet, I was able to fit my wooden tantō in it, and reinforce the split end with a good length of rope. The type of wrap used for the rope added more weight, giving a better balance to this takeyari, as well as could double for a tachiuchi (太刀打, wrapping used to reinforce the spear blade against impact).

Pics of crafting a Kikuchi-style takeyari, from start to finish.

ENDING

I hope you enjoy the tale of the Kikuchi Senbon Yari, which is a piece of history held in high regards in Japan. For those who have a knack for crafting, a Kikuchi-style takeyari is a fun one to try, and experiment with.


1) The original line from the book Zusetsu – Kobudōshi is on page 278 in the 1st paragraph, which reads as the following:

「…楠正成の家来天野了簡が、竹のさきに大鏑の根をくっつけて使ったのが、槍の起源であるという…」

“…it is said that the origin of the spear (in Japan) is due in part to the shaft of a large kabura (鏑, signaling arrow) being fitted on the front end of bamboo. This was a clever idea of the Amano clan, who were once retainers of Kusunoki Masanari….”

Of course, this claim was debunked in the aforementioned book, for it was actually the precursor for a small single-handed weapon called an inji yari (印地槍), or better known as uchine (打根). What really interested me from that statement was the mentioning of bamboo and a bladed instrument being used to create a spear.

2) 征夷大将軍. This is generally translated as “Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians”. Or, the shorter title of “shōgun” works just as well.

3) 箱根竹の下戦い. This title reflects that the clash between the Ashikaga army and the Imperial Court’s army took place somewhere between the Hakone Pass and the bamboo grove in Take no Shita. The area in which the battle took place is now known today as Take no Shita, Oyama Town, Shizuoka Prefecture

4) Both are types of blade-forging methods.

Bugei Jūhappan: The Multifaceted Listings of 18 Weapons

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

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

ORIGIN AND ROOTS

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

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

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

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

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

Shui hu Zhuan

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

Wu za zu

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

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

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

Next, the short weapons

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

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

18 SKILLS OF JAPAN

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

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

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

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

Bugei Jūhappan Ryakusetsu

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

Shashin Gakuhitsu

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

Version from the Japanese Dictionary

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

This next one is considered a popular version at some point

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

SIGNIFICANCE IN THE NUMBER “18”

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

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

ENDING

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


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

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

3) Traditionally written as “環”

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

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

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

7) also can be pronounced as “jutte”

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

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

Revisiting Measurements for Training Weapons

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

PROCESS OF HANDLING WEAPONS OF UNCONVENTIONAL LENGTHS

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

An example of bokutō (wooden swords) of different lengths

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

USING DIFFERENT WEAPONS TO LEARN SAME SKILLS

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

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

IDEA OF ANYTHING AS A WEAPON

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

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

ENDING

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

Phases of Martial Structuring: Kyūsen no Michi ~ Part 2

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

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

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

KORYŪ VS SHINRYŪ

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

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

MANY SCHOOLS OF ARCHERY

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

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

Kyusen List01

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

Kyusen List02

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

Kyusen List03

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

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OLD & NEW

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

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

Koryū Kyūjutsu

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

NOTES

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

Shinryū kyūjutsu

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

NOTES

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

DIFFERENCES IN TECHNIQUES/EQUIPMENT

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

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

Koryū kyūjutsu

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

Shinryū kyūjutsu

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

DISTINGUISHED INDIVIDUALS

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

Ogasawara Sadamune / 小笠原貞宗

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

 

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

Heki Danjo Masatsugu / 日置弾正正次

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

 

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

Yoshida Shigekata / 吉田重賢

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

CONCLUSION

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


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

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

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

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

Phases of Martial Structuring: Kyūsen no Michi ~ Part 1

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

DOCUMENTATION

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

“行人弓箭各在腰”

This line translates as the following below:

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

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

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

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

EARLY HISTORY

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

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

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

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

MONGOL INVASION

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

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

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

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

NEW TACTICS

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

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

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

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

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

ENDING

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


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

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

3) 杜甫. Pronounced “Dù Fǔ” in Chinese.

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

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

6) 日置弾正正次

Eda Koppo for Training

This weekend I finished making a new training tool, called the eda koppō¹. Although I’ve used improvised versions over the years during my time studying in the Bujinkan, this is the first time of making one that is suitable for training in my Chikushin group.

The finished product of the eda koppō. Two are shown in the pic

The eda koppō has a unique meaning that is often difficult to translate correctly in English. To explain simply, it is a short stick, originally made out of a small branch, that was devised to give the user the upper hand in a fight. Given its shape and size, the wielder can use this to attack vital areas through strikes, or assist in joint locks and throws by applying pressure on bony areas. Small in size, it is considered a good self-defense tool, as well as a kakushi buki² (hidden weapon).

It is believed that the eda koppō was developed during more peaceful times after the tumultuous warring period of Japan, when the country was unified under & ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate. Many martial schools that specialized in jujutsu used small weapons such as this to give them an edge when a more preferable weapon, such as a sword, was not readily accessible.

Example of the eda koppō in the book “Stick Fighting”, by Masaaki Hatsumi and Quitin Chambers.

This version of eda koppō is designed to be a safe training tool. It is made out of the thinner section of bamboo, and hollow through. A thick fabric is attached to both ends for softer impact. Finally, a looped cord is threaded through singularly in order to allow the eda koppō to swivel, as well as allow for different grips. This is a 1st generation design, and I’m planning on different versions, and possibly an upgrade if necessary.

Showing 2 possible positions

This week, if things go as planned, I’ll give it a thorough test run during normal training sessions.


1) 枝骨法

2) 隠し武器

Benefits of Overcoming Difficult Things

In classical Japanese martial arts, just about everyone runs into techniques, routines, or concepts that are difficult to handle. Like a very high wall, these may seem near impossible to overcome, whether it means adapting this particular thing into one’s repertoire or working on it for long periods until it becomes something natural to do. In some cases the difficulty is due to a lack of physical strength or coordination, while in others it’s a mental block. Then there are those cases where our lack of interest causes us not to proceed forward with that particular area of training. However, with a bit of drive, we can overcome such difficult things, as well as gain an overall benefit in our journey of learning the martial arts.

Examples of flexible weapons. Top left is a kusari fundō, bottom left is a kyoketsu shoge, while on the right are a kusarigama and ōgama. All are handmade training weapons which are light, fairly soft materials with no sharp parts.

A case that sticks out particularly in my own experience is the difficulty of using flexible weapons. In my younger days, I made a point to be as proficient as I could with all that was taught to me at my previous dojo. Yet, I was more inclined to not further my studies on such martial tools like the kusari fundō (鎖分銅, chain with weights on opposite ends), hayanawa (早縄, fast-tie ropes for restraining), and kusarigama (鎖鎌, chain with a sickle and weight on either ends). These types of weapons are much more difficult to use than non-flexible ones, and require more personal training time. It wasn’t that I couldn’t learn how to use them, it’s just that I saw no real value in doing so; other than twirling them, I couldn’t grasp any practical applications with them. Exaggerated images of using flexible weapons for lassoing was one of the dominant reasons for my personal mental block. Despite getting training in them, my notes and experience on flexible weapons were often pushed to the side to collect dust.

Many years later, I began doing research on the style of kusari fundō used in the martial system I was studying at the time. I also explored similar weapons studied in different martial arts schools and observed how these flexible tools were being used. Little by little I began to realize that my understanding of flexible weapons were flawed and misinformed. To correct this I continued with my research, sought out advice, and began retraining outside of my normal training regiment for several years. Focus on structured handling, and practical applications of flexible weapons based on classical teachings has given me a new outlook.

Pics from a past training session with a fellow buyu (武友, martial arts buddy). Working with a kyoketsu shoge (距跋渉毛), a unique tool that consists of a knife with a hook on the side connected to a rope with a metal ring on the other end. For training purposes, a handmade “safe version” is used. Also, instead of a rope, a plastic chain is used for strength building purposes.

For example, the use of kamae (構え, one’s posture based on the given moment) is critical in understanding where each part of a flexible weapon is at all times, which is an important fundamental that extends to every weapon one studies in classical Japanese martial arts. The image of mindlessly swinging them has also been eliminated from my mind, for I’ve learned that doing so is actually not the core principle for using flexible weapon, but something that serves several purposes, such as improving one’s control through furigata (振り型, practice of swinging flexible weapons in specific directions and under specific conditions) . While it was a difficult endeavor to make these adjustments, my motivation was reinvigorated, and I was driven to put great amounts of energy into the training of flexible weapons and learning them correctly.

Although my journey is far from over, I have grown as a person and am in a better place with handling flexible weapons I originally could not understand. Everyone encounters difficult things in activities they engage in, especially classical Japanese martial arts. My advice is to hang in there, seek help, and work even harder to overcome them. In time, you will notice results, one step at a time, and be more inclined to tackle any obstacles that may come your way.

Discerning Measurements for Training Weapons

Great care is necessary when studying weapons in martial arts. In the beginning, there are specific forms or drills one must go through in order to understand the characteristics of the weapon that is connected to the ryuha¹, or style of martial system, one is training in. One of the challenging points to ensure correct study is obtaining a training weapon proportional to your body type. For this post, we will look at how the characteristics of weapons (i.e. measurements, material, etc.) are preserved by traditional schools and the hurdles that come with this, the ups & downs of dealing with manufactures that follow the “one size fits all” model, and how one should go about to training with weapons that match us properly.

IMPORTANCE IN DETAILS VS MARTIAL SYSTEMS

A good martial arts school will ensure that new students obtain a training weapon suitable for them, whether they are buying it or not. For Japanese traditional martial systems this is commonplace. For example, there are numerous types of systems for kenjutsu² (sword techniques), each with their own unique philosophies. Some may specialize a slightly shorter blade length that requires ashisabaki³ (evasive movements with the feet), or a much longer blade where maai⁴ (distance) and chōshi⁵ (timing) are key components. Others may utilize a nitōryū⁶ (2-sword style) system, where two swords that are wielded in each hand are a different size from each other. At any rate, when wielding a sword that does not fit your school’s criteria, unforeseen adjustments will be made, which will prevent a new student from grasping the principles of the particular kenjutsu being studied.

Example of training kusari fundo I’ve made over the years. Each can have a variation in length, weight, size of the weighted ends, etc.

During my years as an assistant instructor at my previous dojo, I was adamant regarding using training weapons that were proportional with those who attended my class. In one case, the monthly theme was a weighted chain called kusari fundo⁷. We used rope versions for safe training. Since I was already making these rope versions for my own training, I did so for those who attended my class to ensure they learned correctly. I had to measure each student’s arm length so to have their rope kusari fundo tailor-made to them.

There is an interesting story⁸ that deals with the weighted chain. A man by the name of Charles Gruzanski, a military officer stationed in Japan during the 1950s, was accepted as a student in Masaki ryu Manrikigusari jutsu⁹ under the 10th successor at the time, Nawa Fumio. One of the challenges that his teacher had to deal with was finding an appropriate chain size for Charles, as he was a tall man with large hands. The weighted chains that Fumio had just were too short, which would’ve made studying the techniques difficult to comprehend. Through some searching, he finally tracked down a chain from a different style that was large enough for Charles to use. This story is an important reminder that appropriateness in weapon size is necessary in the beginning of one’s training.

DETAILS IN ANCIENT DOCUMENTATION

There can be a fascination regarding information in ancient documentations, such as scrolls and manuals. Those that have descriptions of weapon dimensions, for example, are important details critical to the identity of a martial system. However, one must take caution in following these details too literally. When a training weapon is being prepared based on specific dimensions, it still needs to be adjusted based on the student’s body proportion.

3 pics that illustrate different lengths in staves used in Japanese martial arts. When first studying bōjutsu that requires the rokushaku bō, choosing the right length is critical. Click on each pic for descriptions.

Let’s look at a very common weapon used in Japanese martial arts, which is the rokushaku bo¹⁰, or 6-shaku staff in English. A shaku¹¹ is an old measurement unit used in Japan. This “6-shaku” is a length that serves as a standard, a rough measurement for a staff that should be around or slightly taller than your height. In the past, this length would be appropriate for most Japanese martial artists that were above 5 feet, but it was not unusual for the staff to be made shorter for accommodation purposes. Likewise, those who are much taller than 6 feet (especially in western countries) would need a staff slightly longer. In cases like these, access to having weapons custom made according to a practitioner’s needs is a must.

SHOPPING TIPS FOR THE RIGHT SIZES

Shopping for one’s training weapons can be at times difficult. Going to a common martial arts store in your neighborhood that sells everything at only one size is limiting unless you are at that perfect height where everything fits your body type (around 5″6 & up). When shopping around, especially online, what you should look for from retailers is those that A) provide multiple sizes, B) provide customization services, or C) custom make their weapons.

Stores that offer multiple sizes of a particular training weapon is very convenient. Not only does it make finding one that fits you quickly, but this is also convenient for practitioners of all ages. For example, some stores may offer a wooden daito¹² (a standard sized sword) in 3 sizes: large, medium, and small. This ensures that no matter which size you select, it is proportionally designed, from the blade down to the handle. Those needing a smaller size daitō will not need to substitute with a wooden kodachi, which is naturally designed as a one-handed short sword¹³.

Some retailers may offer a customization service, whether they do it on-site or can have it done by another party. This is good when small adjustments are needed, but don’t necessary need to be redesigned from the ground up. Looking at the rokushaku bō as an example, it may be possible to have one adjusted in length in the case where a shorter one is needed.

Here is a comparison of 2 bokken, or wooden swords. The bottom one is a custom made version of the sword that is used in one of the ryuha I study, Togakure ryu. I was given the dimensions as it is said to be written in that system’s scroll, but had to make slight adjustments when getting it designed in order to match my body type.

Possibly the best option is to shop from a retailer who has training weapons custom made. Not only is it possible to have the dimensions tailored to your liking from the smallest detail, but can go as far as craft it and make it unique just for you. While this can be a great option, it can also be more pricier, as time, cost of materials, and labor goes into custom making training weapons. Quality control for custom made weapons tends to be very high, so if money and time is not an issue, then this is a great route to go.

CONCLUSION

As a rule, it is important to train with weapons that proportionally match. Finding what matches the practitioner is a task that can be handled by the teacher, as it will ensure little to no errors when purchases are made. However, when this has to be in the hands of a student, the best choice are from retailers that give many options that can fit one’s needs.


1) 流派

2) 剣術. An older name related to fighting techniques with a sword. The modernized system of kendo (剣道) derives from this.

3) 足捌き

4) 間合

5) 調子

6) 二刀流

7) 鎖分銅

8) You can read the full story, and more about Charles Gruzanski’s life story in Japanese martial arts at “Tru-Flyte Martial Arts Memorial Website“, which is maintained by Robert C. Gruzanski.

9) 正木流万力鎖術. Manrikigusari is another name for a weighted chain.

10) 六尺棒. Usually translated as 6-foot staff in English, thus most are sold as so. However, in reality 6 shaku does not equal to 6 feet.

11) 1 shaku = 11.93 inches.

12) 大刀

11) 小太刀. A big difference between a daitō and a kodachi is that the handle of a daitō is long enough for 2 hands to grip, while a kodachi’s handle is long enough for only one hand. Size difference in handle makes it difficult, if not impossible, to practice kenjutsu that requires a normal sword, such as a daitō.