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 To explain simply, it is a short stick, originally made out of a small branch, that was devised to give the user the upper hand in a fight.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.


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.


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 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.


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.

Metezashi: A Warrior’s Right-Hand Blade

During the medieval period in Japan, the equipment that bushi1 (warriors) possessed while heading to the battlefield were both specific and strategic. Along with bearing the weight of armor, they carried many items on their person, for they were trained to be resourceful. Along with the more larger, primarily used weapons, such as the yari (spear) and yumiya (bow & arrow), smaller weapons and tools were kept close for quick deployment in the right situation. A particular weapon that is a good representation of this methodology I’d like to touch upon today is one called metezashi2.

A metezashi is a short bladed weapon liken to a tantō, which nowadays is translated meaning “knife”. It is believed to have been derived from an older weapon called the sasuga3 (dagger). The metezashi came about sometime around the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573), after the Ashikaga clan claimed the shogunate. During this period, the warrior class claimed more power than other social classes, placing more emphasis on controlling territory and their neighbors through military strength. Changes in how large battles were approached were taking place as well, where tactics relying heavily on long range assault were being adjusted to incorporate more upclose melee assaults. Bushi engaged more in skirmishes with medium to close range polearms and swords, with a thirst to test their combative skills. This is where the metezashi comes into play.

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An illustration of a bushi on horseback (calvary), both in full gear. In red, the name “koshigatana (metezashi)” is circled, along with a red arrow showing it carried on the bushi’s right side. From the book “Yoroi wo Matou Hitobito”, published by Yoshikawa Kobunkan in 1857.

By design, the metezashi is a one-handed, single edged weapon, with it’s blade length said to measure under 1 foot. The blade has little to no curve to it, due to its use as a stabbing implement. It is categorized as a koshigatana4, meaning a small bladed weapon carried around the waist. Unlike the tachi5 (battlefield sword) and the wakizashi6 (short sword), the metezashi was worn on the right side of the waist usually inserted into the obi, as it was meant to be used in the right hand. Like its bigger counterparts such as the tachi, it is generally designed with the same koshirae7 (fittings), from an itomaki8 (handle wrap) to a tsuba9 (handguard), although in most cases the tsuka was a smaller, rounder design. The saya10 (sheath) may even have a kurikata11 (small mount with a hole for the sageo12, or cord in English, to pass through), although placed on the right side due to being carried on the right side of the body.

Having such a short reach, the metezashi was primarily used in close quarter combat, as a tool for stabbing. The common scenario to illustrate its use is in the case where 2 armor-cladded warriors have no weapon in hand and are locked in a clinch with each other, struggling to topple one another13. When one of these 2 warriors can get the upper hand and either flank the other off balance, or perform a takedown, he can pull out his metezashi and thrust it into one of the gaps in the opponent’s armor14 for the kill. In other cases, the metezashi could also be used for assisting fellow warriors subduing enemy troops down to the ground to finish them off, such as for claiming an enemy’s head as trophy of battle15.

2 examples of koshigatana from museums in Japan. Click on each of the pictures above for descriptions.

In the case where getting into a clinch with the enemy takes place as mentioned above, one has to be careful not to have their weapon in range for the opponent to seize and used against you when carrying it on the waist. For the metezashi, since it was a right-handed weapon, it had to be easy to draw one-handed by the owner, yet not in reach for the opposition to do the same. While it can be worn at one’s back with the tsuka16 (sword hilt) to the right, or on the right hip with the hilt pointing downwards, many sources state that the metezashi was worn handle up directed towards the back of the wielder. This meant that a warrior carrying the metezashi could reach behind his back and easily grab the handle to draw, whereas if the opponent attempted to do the same from that warrior’s front he could be easily stopped.

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Pic of how the metezashi would be worn, for the sake of fighting hand-to-hand while in armor. From the book “Heiho: Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto ryu”, written by Otake Risuke.

There are a lot of comparisons between the metezashi and another type of koshigatana called yoroi dōshi17. Some sources even state that they are the same, or their names are interchangeable. It may very well be the case, for descriptions in historical sources state that they were both worn on the right side of the body, share similar dimensions, and were primarily for stabbing. It is possible that, based on the time period and/or warrior groups and the region they came from, either name was used for what could be the same type of weapon based on how this type of weapon was used. Case in point, some other names noted to be used for koshigatana of like design includes (but not limited to) the following: kubi kaki18, kubi tori19, and ebirasashi20.

In ending, the metezashi was a vital tool to the bushi. It is a piece of history that gives insight to the creativity and resourcefulness of the Japanese warrior. I hope this post was informative to all as the research was for me.

1) 武士. Bushi is the common word for warrior in Japan. It is a more universal term, more so than the word samurai.

2) 馬手差し. Loosely translates as “(a sword) worn on the side of the horse hand”. This “horse hand” (馬手) is coded as referring to the reins used to control a horse while riding, which is held in the right hand. So the “horse hand” (馬手) is another way of saying the “right hand” (右手). Thus, metezashi can also be translated as “(a sword) worn on the side of the right hand”. The use of “horse hand” is also used in kyudo (archery), referring to the right hand drawing the bowstring.

Note that some English sources, such as Wikipedia, that state that metezashi stands for use with the left hand are incorrect.

3) 刺刀

4) 腰刀

5) 太刀

6) 脇差

7) 拵え

8) 糸巻

9) 鍔

10) 鞘

11) 栗形

12) 下緒

13) This close combat while wearing armor is generally called “kumiuchi” (組打). Some older traditional martial schools still teach this.

14) There are gaps in and around Japanese armor that are vulnerable. This means that bushi were more in danger to weapons that are strong at stabbing and piercing, as opposed to slashes.

15) This practice of taking the head of an enemy warrior is proof of their bravery in battle. The more heads collected the better the rewards.

16) 柄

17) 鎧通し. These are especially renown for having a thicker blade (or in some cases, a thicker spine), which allows it to handle more wear & tear when thrust into the vulnerable areas in armor.

18) 首掻き. This name means “a blade for beheading”.

19) 首取り. Has a similar meaning as kubi kaki (首掻き).

20) 妻手指し. Another coded name having the same meaning for “(a sword) worn on the side of the right hand”, just like metezashi. The characters “妻手” refer to an old measuring tool called “kanejaku”, which is shaped like an “L”. The shorter end of this measuring tool is called “tsumade”, which is identified with the characters “妻手”, and is designed to be used on the right side of the measuring tool pointing downwards.

Bo Shuriken At a Glance

Within Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, there are many different weapons and tools to study. One of them is the bo shuriken1. Part of the kakushi buki2 category, bo shuriken is often used as a secondary or supplementary weapon, when there is a chance to be deployed. While I’ve invested several years in this, recently I’ve been training more with this as to learn how to adapt this into my taijutsu better. In this post I will talk abit about what the shuriken3 is, what is unique about the bo shuriken, as well as some basic tips when learning how to throw this.


Bo shuriken is a type of shuriken, small to average sized blade that can be deployed from close to medium range. These are especially renowned as a projectile weapon, although their usage is not limited to this. The shuriken is a Japanese weapon that, through the course of history, can be crafted in many different designs. Shuriken generally fall under 2 categories, one being “hiragata shuriken4“, and the other being “bo shuriken”. Looking first at hiragata shuriken, these are wide, flat, and have multiple points. These are iconic with being the prized tool of the ninja. There are many different types of this, of a multitude of unique designs. The hiragata shuriken tends to be the more popular out of the 2 categories, with such versions like the “shaken5” (otherwise known as “chinese stars” or “ninja stars” in pop culture”) usually come to most people’s mind when they hear the term shuriken.

A set of antique bo shuriken. The label on the upper right reads “根岸流” (Negishi ryu). From Wikipedia.

Next, the bo shuriken is a single or double pointed, relatively straight bar of metal. These are generally associated with bujutsu schools, and tend to have more formalized training methods. The bo shuriken is considered a much more difficult projectile to accurately throw due it’s design; whereas the hiragata shuriken has to be thrown with a spin and is almost guarantee to connect with at least one of its many points, the bo shuriken has to instead be thrown with as little rotation as possible and calculated from which distance its point will connect. This is especially critical when wielding one that only has one point.

It is not certain when the shuriken was first developed. However, there are documentations that mention it’s use around the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573) a time when warriors were active for combat due to warlords struggling for power. On a general basis, the image of the shuriken is associated with the ninja and ninjutsu. This is due to exaggeration through the various ninja boom that took place over the years, first in Japan from the Edo period (1603 – 1868) onward, then followed by many other countries in the late 20th century. The truth is, the shuriken was never solely a ninja weapon, but a tool as a means to hurl a projectile from a distance out of reach of an opponent by warriors and martial artists. While some types of shuriken may have been more frequently used by ninja, the skills to wield this was learned even by samurai.


The bo shuriken can be designed in a multitude of ways, although its base still resembles that of a long, spiked bar. It’s body can be rounded, flat, or squared. Bo shuriken are often thin, easy to stack in a bunch, and portable. Throughout Japan’s history, a good number of martial schools and systems trained in the shuriken, especially from Edo period onward. Nowadays, there are a good number of traditional schools that retain their knowledge and history with this projectile weapon and provide training with them, such as Negishi ryu, Meifu Shinkage ryu, and Kukishin ryu. Depending on the ryuha6, or martial school of a specific style, there are special labels for the type of bo shuriken used. For example, in Kukishin ryu these are called uchibari7.

A set of homemade bo shuriken. On the left is live (sharpened) version, while on the right is safe training version.

In the system I study, the bo shuriken techniques are primarily associated with Togakure ryu8 and Kukishinden ryu9. Using it is based on taijutsu, with our kamae a starting point for learning when to throw. One of the basic kamae we learn to launch a bo shuriken from is called Doko no Kamae10, where we stand with our left foot forward and right hand up next to our right ear, holding the point upwards. When training with “live” shuriken (that is, sharpened metal ones), a large target, such as a wooden board or a tatami mat, is used, while safe, non-metallic versions can be used during drills & kata keiko with your training partners.


When training with the bo shuriken, a key aspect to focus on is one’s form. This is considered basic, and is crucial for beginners to take to heart. Instead of trying to make the bo shuriken stick into the target when throwing it, one should instead focus on how to take proper posture (In this case we’ll use Doko no kamae) before, during, and after the throw. This process has to be repeated many times in this fashion, where your form dictates the bo shuriken striking the target correctly. The key point here is that the technique is within one’s form, and once a person ingrains this into their body, will it be possible to get consistent results.
Once your body has “learned” the form, can one then gradually focus on aiming for the target. One can attempt to control where you want the bo shuriken to strike, as well as progress to throwing multiply projectiles in relative quick successions. The throwing form is not abandoned, as you still need to be aware of how to prep yourself to launch the bo shuriken; instead you put faith in your body being trained enough where you don’t have to think about your throwing form from start to finish.


In the beginning, when learning the bo shuriken (or any projectile for that matter), we do it stationary. Usually this is from a frontal, standing position. As time progresses and our ability to consistently hit a target increases, we work on being able to throw under different conditions. Some of these conditions include facing different directions, crouching down, and having another weapon in hand. In one example, this can be integrated with kenjutsu as, while holding a katana in Seigan no kamae11, you take out a single bo shuriken with your right hand and skillfully hurl it at the target.

Throwing a bo shuriken can also be accomplished while moving, which includes walking, turning, and leaping. This is is especially difficult while performing Ukemigata Taihenjutsu12, for timing varies if thrown at the start of, during, or after tumbling to the ground. Conditions like these further challenge the practitioner to develop the ability to use the bo shuriken in any scenario.


Studying the bo shuriken is demanding, for developing a skill for precision is a must. In the end, it is very rewarding. That about wraps up this post. Hope this was informative, especially to those who have interest in shuriken training.

1) 棒手裏剣

2) 隠し武器. This means “concealed weapon”.

3) 手裏剣. While this is generally read as “a hidden blade in the hand”, I’ve learned that the actual meaning is “a blade held in the hand is thrown outward”. To better represent this meaning, shuriken can be written as 手離剣, with the second character meaning “to gain distance” or “move away from”.

4) 平型手裏剣

5) 車剣, which means a bladed projectile that is round like a wheel.

6) 流派

7) 打針

8) 戸隠流

9) 九鬼神伝流

10) 怒虎の構

11) 正眼の構. A posture in kenjutsu where the tip of the katana is held towards your opponent’s eyes.

12) 受身型体変術. This is an area of training that focuses on breakfalls, rolling, and moving through the air with agility.

Mune or Mine, Which One Is Right?

How familiar are you with the anatomy of the katana? A popular single-edge sword, the katana is one type of the different bladed weapons used in Japan’s history, collectively known as nihonto1. Gracefully made, each part of a katana is essential and is required to be understood thoroughly if studying one of the traditional kenjutsu and iaido schools from Japan. While the naming convention for each part tends to be universal, at times certain schools will use a different name. One part in particular caught my attention recently, which is the back of the blade. Growing up, I learnt this as “mune2“. However, I’ve come accross different sources, primarily in Japanese, that call this “mine3” instead. What is the difference between the two terms, and what are their origin?

A pic of a katana and its parts illustrated. Mune is circled. From the book “The Art of Japanese Swordsmanship: Manual of Eishin-ryu Iaido” by Nicklaus Suino.

The word mune is used to describe the ridge on the roof of a building. Usually roofs on more older buildings such as shrines and long wooden homes have this. They stretch across the top of these roofs, acting like a joint for the sloping parts that make up the roof. The thickness and defined shape of the back of a nihonto was probably likened to this.

A picture of a roof of Hiroshima Castle. The mune is the highest part of the roof, featuring a fish sculpture. From Wikipedia.

The use of the word mine is generally associated with an object reaching to a great height. Usually referencing tall mountains, it also has been used when referring to eboshi4 (traditional headwear). For nihonto of relatively long length, when held upright, is similar in comparison to a mountain.

High points on tall mountains, such as Mt. Fuji, are often described with the word mine. Picture from Wikipedia.


Referencing different traditional kenjutsu/iaido schools, it’s interesting to see which ones use one or the other. Here’s a few names of the schools that use the term mune:

  • Eishin ryu (includes Mugai Jikiden Eishin ryu, Musou Jikiden Eishin ryu, etc.)
  • Musoshinden ryu
  • Yagyu Shinkage ryu

Now, a few names of schools that use the term mine:

  • Jigen ryu
  • Shinto Munen ryu
  • Niten Ichi ryu


In ending, both mune and mine are interchangable when referring to the back of a single-edge nihonto, albeit style-specific in some cases. Just remember that either one is ok to use.

1) 日本刀. The term is actually for bladed weapons with a handle, and not soley reserved to actual swords, such as the katana. Here’s a few of the various weapons that fall under this category:

  • Tsurugi (剣)
  • Chokuto (直刀)
  • Tachi (太刀)
  • Wakizashi (脇差)
  • Nagamaki (長巻)
  • Yoroidooshi (鎧通し)
  • Uchigatana (打刀)

2) 棟

3) 峰

4) A light, black headwear made out of good quality washi (Japanese-originated paper). It’s use began during the Heian period (late 700’s to late 1100’s) up until the Middle Ages, around Sengoku period (1500’s to early 1600’s).

Fun with Fukuro Shinai ~Part 2~

In an unexpected continuation from a previous post here, I decided to take a 2nd shot at making fukuro shinai. My previous attempt was very informative, and was more of a practice run using materials I had stashed for future projects. This time around, 2 bamboo poles are used in an attempt to make real sturdy fukuro shinai.

First task was to cut the bamboo poles to the appropriate lengths. I used one of my longer bokken as a guide for this. Following this was a bit of sanding. Next was to split the bamboo poles several times from the top down to where the tsuka (sword handle) would be. I used a few methods, including one my wife showed me she grew up with when she was living in Japan. This involves using a knife with a strong & durable handle, place the knife edge at the top of the bamboo, and striking the knife’s handle with a hammer. If done right, on can cut down along the bamboo very quickly with just a few solid strikes. This can be done with a razor/box cutter as well. Just as a word of caution, I don’t advice using a knife or razor with a metallic handle, or one that is not designed for work entailing heavy labor.

I found it easier to use one of the bamboo’s joints as a marker to where to stop, as long as it was close to the tsuka. I did so because since the joints tend to be thicker, they won’t further break and split due to impact. Of course, since each bamboo are slightly different from each other, this varies how far down each one would be split. The variation isn’t too vast, fortunately.

The slivers of bamboo were then taped at 3 points. Then a padded wrap to serve as a “fukuro” was devised and wrapped around the slivers. A strap was also attached to the fukuro to serve as a tsuka wrap, if needed.

And voilá! 2 fukuro shinai are made and ready for use. While I followed the Shinkage ryu method of making a fukuro shinai (otherwise called a “hikihada shinai”), I did not add the red lacquer, so these look more like Yagyu Shinkage ryu versions (being the color white, that is). I didn’t pre-tie the strap to work as tsuka ito (cotton threads used to wrap a sword handle) like the way most fukuro shinai are designed, for I prefer a wrapless tsuka. However, that may change in future.

Fun with Fukuro Shinai

Recently I became interested in adding fukuro shinai1 to my training. Gathering some materials together, I managed to make my own working versions. This is a great substitute for a bokken in one’s kenjutsu training, permitting you to actively strike at your training partner trying to outbest him/her with technique without the need to stop inches away to avoid seriously damaging one another. This is pretty much the roots to the conception of this safe training tool, which I will explain in detail below.

Two fukuro shinai I recently made, as an experiment. A little bigger (fatter?) than intended, but works as intended.

The fukuro shinai was developed by a strategist and warrior named Kamiizumi Ise-no-Kami Nobustuna (1508? – 1577). Born in Joshu2 during Japan’s tumultuous era of constant warring called Sengoku Jidai, Nobutsuna studied bujutsu from various martial schools such as Kage ryu, Nen ryu, and Shinto ryu. He would also take part in battles and other means to hone his skills before starting his own system, Shinkage ryu Heiho.

A demonstration of kata using fukuro shinai (hikihada shinai) at Itsukushima Jinja in Japan. Taken by Nyuyen Thahn Thien on 11/2005. From Wikipedia.

There is a theory of how Nobutsuna came up with the idea of the fukuro shinai within the school of Shinkage ryu. It is said that Nobutsuna would go on “shokoku rurou no tabi”3, or training expeditions, with a few of his top students. They would carry with them specific weapons, primarily a sword. Since these are real swords, they are subjected to all sorts of harsh conditions, such as dirt, rain, moisture, and collisions with nature. To protect their swords, they would put them in a soft, padded case called a saya fukuro4. While training, normally blunted swords or bokuto would be used, but practioners would have to hold back so not to hurt (or kill) each other. To remedy this, Nobutsuna decided to get bamboo from a bamboo forest, insert it in the saya fukuro, and use it in place of a real sword. Thus the birth of the fukuro shinai. Now, warriors can go all out and strike each other with these fukuro shinai and utilize the kenjutsu techniques they’ve studied for years, and not worry about serious injuries.

Historically, the fukuro shinai was called “Hikihada shinai”5 under Shinkage ryu, where the shinai is covered with a bag-like leather sleeve from the tip down to where the handle starts. Many other koryu schools adopted this type of fukuro shinai. There are other types of fukuro shinai out there. For example, Jiki Shinkage ryu’s fukuro shinai is covered from tip to about halfway point of the shinai. Others may use a tsuba (sword guard), although Shinkage ryu does not utilize this.

A screen capture of practitioners of Kashima Shinden Jiki Shinkage ryu using a variation of fukuro shinai during the 33rd All Japan Kobudo Demonstration.

Here’s a short rundown on the process for making the fukuro shinai that is used in Shinkage ryu, according to a related blog6:

① Bamboo is collected as it is grown outdoors during the winter time. It is cut from its joint at the desired length.

② For a year, it is dried in a shaded area until all water and moisture is gone.

③ Once it dried and cleaned, it is then split several times, from 6 to 8 times7. The splits happen from the tip of the bamboo down to the midway point. This allows the fukuro shinai to bend with impact.

④ The slivers of the bamboo are then taped at 3 points. These points are not taped tightly; the tape is applied just enough where the slivers have space inbetween each other, and can compact upon collision.

⑤ The handle part is then made fine with sand paper.

⑥ The fukuro, or cover for the bamboo is cow hide that is painted with a red lacquer. It also comes with a kawa himo8, which acts like handle wrap if needed.

⑦ The fukuro is then sewn to fit like a sleeve. The stitching acts as an indicator for the blade.

Speaking of safety, the fukuro shinai actually predates the shinai, a similar safe training tool utilized in kendo. While they both share similarities (most obviously both being made out of bamboo), the differences stand out more. For example, fukuro shinai is wrapped with a slip on cover, where as the shinai doesn’t, but instead is padded heavily at the tip. Construction of the shinai differs abit as well (i.e. split 4 times, much more sturdier, a wire attached from tip to tsuba to indicate back of blade, etc.), while a tsuba and a wrapped tsuka is considered the standard. Possibly the main difference between the two lies in how they are used; while the fukuro shinai is swung in a slashing motion, the shinai is primarily used in a stabbing motion.

The shinai, used in kendo. From Wikipedia.

In kendo, bougu9, or protective gear, is used to keep practitioners safe. The reason being that since kendo is sport-oriented and practitioners score points striking specific areas such as the hands, face, and chest, protective gear is a must to avoid internal injuries as practitioners competitively strike and (more fatally) thrust at these areas with force. For koryu bujutsu, on the other hand, protective equipment is usually not necessary, possibly because training one’s sword cuts is still systematic and controlled.

In ending, the fukuro shinai is an essential training tool for those who study classical Japanese martial arts, for it is supple and designed to not do harm (at least, not too much) upon impact. It is something I will be using more when engaging in randori-like sessions with training partners.

1) 袋竹刀. Commonly read as “Encased Bamboo Sword”, this was not always the case. While “fukuro” (袋)remains the same, at one point “shinai” was represented by the Chinese character “撓”. This character, used as a verb pronounced as “shinau”, means to bend and be flexible, with a nuance towards the bamboo. So fukuro shinai can be written as (and is at times so in Japan) “袋撓”.

Possibly the original writing for fukuro shinai in Shinkage ryu was “韜”. A rather complex character that is rarely used in Japan, it possesses a multitude of rather deep & intricate meanings depending on how it is used , such as “strategy”, “hidden talent”, and a “weapons-carrying bag”. It seems that in the case of the fukuro shinai, the 3rd meaning may have been the intended use.

The Chinese characters “竹刀” are actually read as “chikuto”, with the proper meaning of “bamboo sword”. There are records of this word being used as so with said pronunciation. So why is it that “竹刀” represents the “shinai” phonetic? Not sure, but in Japan’s history it was not unusual to use the phonetics of one character and attach it to a completely different character for the sake of written comprehension. Sorta like having 2 meanings both verbally and written form.

On a similar note, “shinai” is the same pronunciation of another Japanese word written as 死ない, meaning “not to die”. Since the purpose of the fukuro shinai is to avoid death while training in kenjutsu, I wonder if this word also had an influence on how this training tool was named…?

2) Also called Kozuke no Kuni (Kozuke Province) in the past, now known as Gunma Prefecture.

3) 諸国流浪の旅. A journey where warriors would be away from home for months’ (or years) end in the wild for the sake of training their skills. Same as kaikoku shugyo.

4) 鞘袋

5) 蟇肌竹刀, or correctly written as 蟇肌撓 in Shinkage ryu.  The name means “Toad-skinned Bamboo Sword”. Although originally cow’s hide or deer skin was used for the the leather sleeve, once the red lacquer was applied it would resemble the skin of a hikigaeru (Japanese common toad).

6) From the blog “Shinkage ryu Heiho”, run by Mouri Keisuke. This can be accessed here.

7) Some schools are known to split the bamboo as few as 4 times, and as much as 8 times.

8) 革紐

9) 防具

A Glance at Satsuma’s Heki ryu Kyujutsu: Part 2

Here we continue with part 2 of the talk on kyujutsu, with the focus on the Satsuma style of Heki ryu. While part 1 focused on Heki ryu’s history and development, this time around we will look at the technical aspect of this archery system. If you have yet to read part 1, you can access it here.


Archers wait patiently during a public exhibition. Photo from “Izumi Terebi Digest

Heki ryu is categorized as a busha style of archery, or battlefield-centric. This involves heavily structured group formations and moving in patterned sequences while shooting at targets in a wide field clad in armor. This is different from the more commonly practiced “reisha”, or ceremonial-centric, style of archery found in schools such as the Ogasawara ryu, where the attire is much lighter, and archery performed either standing up or on horseback. Kyudo, the non-violent form of kyujutsu, is heavily structured through both reisha-style and busha-style of archery and is practiced in not only Japan, but in many countries all over the world that offer classes. In kyudo, one trains in the process of shooting where archers shoot stationary at a target through form and breath in a training hall. Kyudo is studied under Heki ryu as well, and can be considered the first step necessary to learn Koshiya Kumiyumi.

Groups that train in the Koshiya Kumiyumi system perform annual public demonstrations and events. It’s here that we can get a glance at what Koshiya Kumiyumi is all about. Usually the number of participants are small (from 8 to 10 people), and they proceed to present this system’s shooting skills donning light armor all the while shooting at a row of large white board targets.

What consists of Satsuma style Heki ryu? The major component is Kumiyumi, and comprises of basic tactics such as “Koshiya”, “Sashiya”, and “Shintai Oshitsume”. There are other strategies common to archery that is designed for militaristic engagement, which is studied in manual associated with Heki ryu called “Mokuroku”1.

Starting off with Kumiyumi, this is the cooperative formation between archers and spearmen. Archers coordinate to assist in advancement towards the enemy line so that spearmen can get close enough for close quarter combat. The training in Kumiyumi is said to be very regimented; under the lead of a commander, there are signaling, movements, and formation patterns an archer must be familiar with through many hours of training. On the battlefield, from 10 to 20 archers can utilized for Kumiyumi.

Next, we turn our sights to Sashiya, which is considered the 1st stage of Kumiyumi. Sashiya is a tactic not unfamiliar to other archery schools, although its adaption here can be considered unique. A quick definition taken from the book “Heki ryu Isai Ha Hosha Kyudo Kyo Hon” written by Inagaki Genshiro states:

“さしや (差矢・指矢) 矢の種類のうち、堂前に使用するためにとくにつくった矢のこと。または差矢前、すなわち矢数多く連続して射る射法の略称。”

With my translation:

“Sashiya – It’s a particular type of arrow made for use in the training hall. Or, it’s the abbreviation of “Sashiya Mae”, a title given for a shooting method where many arrows are repeatedly launched.”

The highlighted portion of the definition more suitably fits here. Under Koshiya Kumiyumi, Sashiya involves archers forming a line that runs parallel with the opposing side. They release a fast, steady stream of arrows one after the other, to pin the enemies down and keep them on the defensive. This tactic is especially focused on keeping the enemy archers at bay, behind their barricades or shields2. Warriors on their own side can mobilize under the cover of the arrows and assault the neuralized enemies.


Archers demonstrating Koshiya. Photo from “Heki ryu Koshiya Sashiya

Now we move on to Koshiya, considered the 2nd stage of Kumiyumi. The archers are now advancing, moving in 2 groups. Both groups are intertwined with each other, but can be distinquished as so through this example: In a line of 10 archers, the 1st archer on the farthest right represents group 1, while the 2nd archer after the 1st from the right side is part of group 2. Using the sequence of odds and evens, every other archer on the line going towards the left that is an odd number belongs to group 1, while the even number archers part of group 2.

There are two roles the groups assume, which are Mae Yumi (Front Archers) and Ato Yumi (Back Archers). For example, if group 1 is the Mae Yumi, they will advance several paces, kneel down and shoot. While this is taking place, group 2 will take up the role of Ato Yumi, and prep their arrows. As group 1 finishes and prepares for the next shot, group 2 advances past, kneels down and prepares to shoot. The roles switch, with group 2 taking the role as Mae Yumi, and group 1 hanging back as Ato Yumi. The sequence continues as so, with this duality in the roles guiding the archers forward. This advancement pattern helps to assist in closing in on the enemy soldiers steadily so the spearmen can engage.

What makes Koshiya stand out is the intricate use of low postures. As a whole, Koshiya represents a methodology of being in a low posture involving kneeling down with the left knee down & right knee up, and with the arrows bunched together and angled tip-down towards the back of the right hip in the ebira, or a box-shaped quiver. The bow is held in the left hand, while it is drawn with the right hand. In this posture, one is stable while shooting an arrow, which is keen in different types of terrains and weather conditions. After taking a shot, archers compact themselves for protection with their bow and the armor shoulder flap on the left arm, while moving the right leg to get clearance to retrieve another arrow from behind the right hip. Standing up to advance, and kneeling down once again can be done seamlessly and without falter while maintaining one’s shooting structure. An archer can also lay down to make themelves an even smaller target, all the while in perfect position to pull out another arrow with their right hand. Koshiya is systematically and strategically designed with the idea of offense and defense through both one’s weapon and armor, staying low to be a difficult target to hit, and covering angles necessary for an archer to do his job.

Other tactics involve the use of “Shintai Oshitsume”. Looking at the 1st component, “Shintai” means to move, either advancing forward or retreating. A perfect example of this is during Koshiya, where the archers meticulously advance forward while shooting arrows. This helps the other soldiers to get in for upclose skirmishes. In return, the archers can cover retreats by keeping the enemies back with their arrows and slowly drawing back while the other soldiers can pull away quickly without worrying of pursuit. The 2nd component, “Oshitsume”, stands for packing in the targets together into one spot. In order for the spearmen to successfully fight the enemy soldiers, the archers not only pin down the opponents, but make sure they don’t fan out and surround their side by picking off flankers. This is done by the archers at the ends of the line, called Hidari Hashi no Musha (Left-End Warrior) and Migi Hashi no Musha (Right-End Warrior) respectively. While the other archers’ stick to their primary goal and shoot forward, the Hidari and Migi Hashi no Musha archers can turn at different degrees to shoot at targets coming from the sides.

The tactics used in Koshiya Kumiyumi are well devised for a team of archers, but are not 100% original. Togo Chozaemon Sanetaka, the one credited for the creation of Koshiya Kumiyumi, was inspired by researching military tactics in the 19th century. At this time, matchlock guns such as the Tanegashima were viewed as having a more larger role for the battlefield, thus had an inclusion in troop formations. A statement on the webpage “Heki ryu Koshiya Sashiya”3 mentions a theory behind the source of Koshiya Kumiyumi’s inspiration, quote:


With my translation:

“It’s believed that this archery style borrows concepts from the Ni Dan Kamae4 specialized by the gun troops utilized by Oda Nobunaga5.”

Despite the resistance against being overshadowed by firearms, it is a bit ironic that gun troop formations actually helped in keeping Heki ryu Kyujutsu viable. This is present through Koshiya Kumiyumi.

This concludes the in depth look into Satsuma Heki ryu Koshiya Kumiyumi, one of the branches of Heki ryu Kyujutsu. Below is a video that provides a demonstration, along with explanations of each sequences, although in Japanese. The video is pretty old and grainy, but it’s easy to understand what’s going on. It also captures the essense of discipline and skills to perform Koshiya Kumiyumi. I am also including my explanations of the narration that are marked with time stamps below the video. I had originally gave an explanation of this video on my dojo’s FB page knowing that there are a few fellow archery lovers who would get a kickout of it. Hope there are more who will find not only the vid explanation, but the entire post useful.


(0:18) The archers are demonstrating Sashiya, which involves shooting a volley of arrows together in a line.

(1:22) When approaching the enemies in the tactics of Koshiya, archers used a 2-line formation where there are Mae Yumi (Front Archers) and Ato Yumi (Back Archers). In a specific pattern, the Mae Yumi move forward and shoot, then the Ato Yumi move forward to become the Mae Yumi and shoot, while the previous Mae Yumi take the role of the Ato Yumi and prep their next arrow, and repeat.

(2:57) Ei and ya signals allow the archers to communicate with each other. For example, yelling “Ei!” after shooting, then laying low to prepare your next arrow by yelling “Ya!” not only tells the others of your actions, but allows another archer close by to take their shot, knowing that you are out of the way.

(3:34) In line shooting, the archers on the far ends are called the Hidari Hashi no Musha (Left-End Warrior) and Migi Hashi no Musha (Right-End Warrior) respectively. They can turn 90 degrees to 180 degrees to shoot arrows at approaching enemies so to cover the other archers.

1) “Mokuroku” (目録), also called “Heki ryu Yumi Mokuroku” (日置流弓目録), is an ancient documentation/scroll of 60 entries essential for archers of Heki ryu that range from principles regarding one’s posture with a bow, wearing armor and carrying other weapons, to how to deal with wet weather conditions.

2) Shields were used differently than those in Europe. Instead of handheld shields, the Japanese primarily used large rectangular wooden boards that were planted on the ground with use of a prop called a “kaidate”.

3) This webpage is part of the website “Furusato Izumi”, and is managed by Uchinoura Akira. Webpage can accessed here, while the website can be viewed here.

4) Loosely translated as “2-Tier Stance”. Gun troops equipped with matchlock rifles (aka Tanegashima) were utilized greatly in Oda Nobunaga’s army. To cover the reload time of rifles, Oda used a strategy of 2 teams where one is shooting while the other team is reloading their rifle, giving the sense of continuous fire.

5) Oda Nobunaga (6/23/1534 ~ 6/21/1582) was a powerful warlord during the Sengoku Jidai, or Warring States Period, who strove to unify all territories in Japan under his control.

Yari: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Spear

Bushi, the label given to warriors of Japan. The bushi were skilled with many weapons, especially with the Japanese sword1. While the sword is claimed to be the soul of the samurai2, there was another weapon that held this spot and received more higher acclaims at a much earlier date in Japan’s history: the yari.

Different types of Yari from left to right: Kagi Yari (Hook Spear), Oomi Yari (Large Spear), and Su Yari (Normal Straight Spear). From Wikipedia

The yari, or spear in English, is a long-range polearm many bushi depended on. It dominated during skirmishes in big battles in both its reach and overwhelming offense in group formations. From the Kamakura period3 onward it was reserved to high-ranking soldiers as a symbol of pride and rank4. Pitted against a swordsman, the yari was considered to have the advantage at keeping distance and maintaining range.

Despite the prestige held for the yari, bushi were not one dimensional and a loyalist to just the yari alone; most warriors were trained to be well versed with other weapons. For example, It was common place for a high ranking soldier to go into a battle wielding a yari, and having a daisho5 at their side. This ensured that in the event where the yari is lost or rendered useless, they could always draw their uchigatana6 or yoroi-doushi7 and continue to fight.

Let’s take a look at an individual who was considered to be a master of the yari, yet capable of casting it away when his life depended on it. Going by the name Katsuhisa Umataemon Saito8, Umataemon was a skilled bushi with many weapons, and exceptionally proficient with the yari. He went as far as creating his own system called “Oouchi Muhen ryu Sojutsu”, with yari being the main component.

In written records it is told that Umataemon went on a kaikoku shugyo (training journey) with one of his students. During the way they ran across a swordsman, who too was out to hone and test his skills with the sword. Both in agreement, Umataemon and the swordsman decided upon a duel to the death. Below is a text in Japanese describing the incident from when they clashed9.


Here’s my translation of the text:

“…the blade of his yari was cut off at the sendan maki10 when he thrust at his opponent. Umataemon then reacted in an instant by sweeping the katana back with his broken yari’s ishizuki11, followed by a strike to his opponent’s hand, and then finishing him off by drawing his own sword and swiftly cutting him down, which secured his victory. However, later on Umataemon turned to training in bojutsu (staff techniques) and created a new style called “Muhen Yogan ryu Bojutsu” after giving up on sojutsu (spear teachniques).”

Anatomy of Umataemon’s yari in regards to specific areas according to the story, using my training yari as an example: 1) sendan maki, and 2) ishizuki

In this incident one can understand that despite how good he was with the yari, if Umataemon didn’t study other weapons prior to this duel, the outcome could’ve been different. Umataemon surely had the advantage in reach alone, yet his opponent was able to turn the tide in his favor by neutralizing the yari, making it near impossible for it to kill in this duel. In the end, Umataemon was resourceful enough to carry multiple weapons, so to keep on fighting in the event his trusted yari failed on him.

From the Edo period onward, with the ban on long battlefield weapons by the Tokugawa Bakufu, the yari saw little usage as an actual fighting weapon. While many martial systems preserved the techniques and strategies of the yari, those of the warrior class began to depend greatly on the katana. Many sword specialists emerged, which in turn increased the knowledge and techniques with the sword, as well as gave birth to new martial systems that focused on the sword to train both the body and the spirit.

In closing, the bushi were trained to be skilled in many areas of combat. At certain points in Japan’s history some weapons were seen as a necessity to be proficient at due to their advantageous usage in warfare. The yari saw many years through actual battles as being a superior weapon. Even then, the Japanese sword remained close on the side of bushi, to cover the yari when it was out of use. Martial artists today should learn from this, and strive to be versed in all forms of weaponry, but not be solely depended on just one no matter how advantageous it may be.

1) Depending on time period, the Japanese sword went under different names due to shape, length, style, and purpose

2) Another word for bushi, refers to a warrior who lays his life on the line for his lord or master

3) (1185-1333) The period which the Kamakura Shogunate ruled Japan. Beginning of the importance of the warrior caste (samurai) due to the rise in feudalism.

4) Low ranking soldiers, such as ashigaru (aka foot soldiers), also used the yari, but possibly of lower quality and not designed to match the bearer’s reach and size

5) ”Long sword and short sword”, 2 swords of different lengths that a warrior carried at their side

6) ”Skirmish Sword”, was used on foot in the battlefield at close range. Predecessor of the katana.

7) ”Armor Piercer”, a short dagger designed primarily to fit through openings of Japanese armor

8) Katsuhisa is his given name, while Saito is his family name. Umataemon could possibly be a name given to him based on where he was stationed for work. In Japanese it would follow the word order of “Saito Umataemon Katsuhisa” (斎藤亦右衛門勝久)

9) Taken from a discussion here

10)Tight reinforced cord wrapping under the blade along the upper part of the yari’s shaft. This helped with gripping just under the blade for control.

11) A metal piece or fitting at the base of the shaft of a polearm weapon, used for striking or planning the polearm upright in the dirt