Rōdanshū: Evaluating the ninjutsu scroll from Sengoku period

Over the years I’ve reviewed several old works that are accredited to one of Japan’s famous historical strategists, Yamamoto Kansuke. Employed under one of Japanese history’s most decorated warlords, Takeda Shingen, Kansuke is recorded as contributing much to the advancement of the Takeda army’s military career, both on and off the battlefield. There are many documents that given recognition to him, some of which have already been covered on this blog site. For today’s article, we will look over yet another one of these documents, which is known as “Rōdanshū”.


The title Rōdanshū (老談集)¹ can be loosely translated as “A Collection of Conversations from the Experienced”. It is arguably labeled as a ninjutsu scroll, one that is related to a division of the Takeda army that specialized in scouting & shinobi-like activities that is dubbed “Kōyō ryū” (甲陽流), which Kansuke is lauded as contributing to. This is also usually regarded as a “picture scroll”, for it contains many illustrations of different, somewhat exotic, tools that ninja are said to have used as early as the Sengoku period. However, it actually has a 2nd section with no pictures, but instead contains instructions on important skills for those who are active on the field, possibly while doing scouting work.

As a whole, the illustrations found in the Rōdanshū aren’t what one would expect from a ninjutsu scroll; instead of the more stereotypical weapons and items that are iconic to those who would be called a ninja, we see many items that appear to be gear and tools one would use during non-combative scenarios. For example, there is a garment worn around the torso called koshi-ate (腰当て), a type of lantern carried while on horseback, a flotation device using a spear called ukibashi (浮き橋), and a collapsible boat, to name a few. Of course, they don’t appear to be standard items just anyone would use both in design and in the instructions given (which is not included for many), giving the idea that these tools present in the scroll are unique for ninja use. On top of this, the Rōdanshū gives us an idea of what a ninja would actually use during a warring period if their job was to spy on the enemy or evaluate an area.

The written section of the Rōdanshū further supports the idea stated above as it goes over instructions on what a ninja should in relations to certain activities while out in the field. No information about stealth techniques, but instead how-to descriptions regarding certain items that would help for survival, operating in the dark, choosing essential gear for a horse, and so on. With careful evaluation, one can understand that the contents of the Rōdanshū are indeed a representation of the ideology for engaging in scouting and shinobi activities used by the Takeda military, and that they appear to have been put into practice for quite some time.


I’ve taken the time to read and research the contents located in the written section of the scroll. Below I will provide some transliteration of each of the topics presented, as well as a concise summary of what is being discussed.

Hyōrōgan (兵狼丸)
Energy pills that were carried during field work. Only one type is mentioned here, along with its ingredients, such as urukome (ウル米, type of sticky rice), yokunin (よくにん, coix seeds), and kōri zatō (氷砂糖, rock candy). Interesting, there’s a not about it being okay to feed your horse this alongside with water.

Imagawa-dono no Akagusuri (今川殿赤藥)
A red-colored medicine that is accredited to Imagawa Ujizane (今川氏真), a warlord who occupied Suruga Province (駿河の国, present day central Shizuoka Prefecture). Used to relieve stomach ache. Note that in different, yet relatable sources, there are varying thoughts about whether this was designed only for human consumption, or if this can also be fed to one’s horse.

Taimatsu (明松)
A torch that uses a bamboo as a tube and kindling. Ingredients include matsubikiko (松引粉, grounded pine), hai (灰, ash), and azukiko (小豆粉, red bean powder). This is also called arimatsu (有松).

Mizu tsuimatsu (水續松)
A type of torch-like instrument used on the water. This is possible due to oil being one of its ingredients, to keep the flame going in case it gets wet.

Kusa musubi no hi (草結ノ火)
This is similar to the taimatsu mentioned above, but is a lighting instrument used while in a boat. By design, it is supposed to be resilient to bad weather conditions, and stay lit even against strong winds.

Dōmei (同銘)
A type of metallic device that can be used with either water or fire for various purposes.

Ōhikaribi (大光火)
A type of fire device used by armies at night. One of the main ingredients is the konara no ki (コナラの木), a type of East Asian oak tree identified as “Quercus serrata” in English. There are metal fixtures fastened to it.

Dō no hi (胴ノ火)
A body warming device that, once lit, will retain heat up to 12 hours. Used especially during operations in cold conditions.

Ukigutsu tōyu no koshiraeyō (浮沓 唐油ノ樣)
A type of footwear used for crossing water. Apparently it helps with not sinking if used with a specialized oil.

Fune no tōyu (舩の唐油)
Using specific ingredients included with a unique oil, you can easily drag a boat onto land.

Yoruuchi no Tsuimatsu nagebi no koto (夜討ノ續松投火の事)
A type of device that is thrown at an enemy’s camp or such to cause a fire during night raids.

Bagu no koto (馬具之事)
This covers certain points regarding gear used by horses. Some of these points include:

  • How to tether a horse while it’s drinking water
  • Thickness of the pad underneath the saddle
  • Type of saddle accessories that’ll keep a horse warm during cold periods

Uma no koto (馬之事)
Instructions concerning horses, it goes into details regarding which types of horses are essential in specific situations. This includes:

  • Crossing rivers
  • Dismounting
  • Keeping the horse’s mane in check

Umanori yō no kuden (馬乗り樣之口傳)
Advice and lessons regarding horseback riding. This is pretty extensive, as it references scenarios that include:

  • While wearing armor
  • When needing to lay low in a river while on horseback
  • How to stay quiet while approaching a town


Now, to talk about some odd points regarding the Rōdanshū. The knowledge found in this scroll is credited to Yamamoto Kansuke, but the one to actually write the scroll is a Baba Nobuharu (馬場信春), one of Takeda Shingen’s loyal retainers. Nobuharu is recorded as a specialized field agent performing shinobi-like duties, so it would make sense that he would have a deep connection to the contents of this scroll. Interestingly, his signature, where he uses his official title of “Baba Mino-no-mori” (馬場美濃守), is in the back of the Rōdanshū, and not Yamamoto Kansuke’s. Did Kansuke actually give important input for this scroll?

Image of part of the signature page. Here we see ① the signature of Baba Mino-no-mori ② a date of 1827 (嘉永7年) ③ and a recipient name being Matsubara Yukie (松原靭負).

Speaking of signatures, there is usually a date and the name of a recipient along with the signature of the one issuing such scroll. This is where things become very inconsistent. For starters, the date in the Rōdanshū referenced in this article is 1827, or the 7th year of the Kaei era (嘉永七年) in older Japanese time keeping. In yet another version that I have, the date is different in that one, where it reads as 1845, or 2nd year of the Kōka era (弘化二年). On top of this, the signatures vary greatly, with the one reviewed here having several, including 2 names of individuals who have received this very scroll at 2 different time periods. Yet, in the other version, there is only one recipient signature. Why is this? What about an original copy?

One thing that needs to be understood is that, from what I am able to gather, there are many copies of the original Rōdanshū. It seems like during the 1800s this was passed down to different people in varying years. While the details of this is unknown, we can play with the idea that the Rōdanshū isn’t an antique relic, but was still in use way after the Sengoku period. This isn’t an unusual practice, to be honest, as some older documents were circulated as “living lessons” during the Edo period. This doesn’t invalidate it as being “authentic”, as long as its core lessons weren’t changed. Nowadays, it is not unusual to see some versions of the Rōdanshū kept in museums, while copies of others being sold in auctions in Japan. As for the original, there are no details regarding this.


This concludes our review of the ninjutsu scroll called Rōdanshū. Out of the many documentations I’ve reviewed, I must admit that this gives a more realistic perspective of the tasks a ninja would have while on the field during medieval Japan’s warring times, and the tools they would’ve needed to utilize. It is very utilitarian, creative, and not heavy on the combative side. Yamamoto Kansuke is said to have learned many aspects of military practices, including ninjutsu. If this is truly the case and his knowledge was incorporated into the Rōdanshū, then the fame he gets is well-earned.

1) Based on the version, the title could be much longer. The one being reviewed here has the full title of “Kōshū ryū Ninpō Hiden Rōdanshū” (甲州流忍法秘伝老談集).

Evaluating Manuscripts of Takeda Army Strategist Yamamoto Kansuke

There are countless examples of old military manuals and martial arts-related scrolls that have survived to present times. Containing important information regarding combative (and sometimes non-combative) topics, they are usually provided to those privy to the knowledge, or copied by said information with permission to do so. That being said, there can be multiple versions from one source, with each having either slight differences, to not resembling each other at all. There are reasons for this, many which can be deducted to when it was written, who wrote the document in question, who the person was that received it, to whom the audience was. One example of this is the many documents that are stated to come from Yamamoto Kansuke, the famed military strategist during the 16th century.

For today’s article, two types of manuscripts will be presented that fit this topic. Both stated to come from Yamamoto as a singular source, they’ll be examined in terms of content, as well compared to evaluate their similarities and differences.


Yamamoto Kansuke is an individual highly debated amongst researchers and scholars alike. This stems from topics such as validity of his existence to authenticity of various manuscripts that helped structured the Takeda force and associated groups. When looking at these manuscripts, many are signed by him, or reference him for his impeccable knowledge. Let’s look at two that I have in my immediate collection, which are “Heihō Hidensho” (兵法秘伝書) and “Gunpō Hyōhōki” (軍法兵法記), and look into their background info.

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

First up will be the Heihō Hidensho. This was one of select works that are said to come from Yamamoto Kansuke’s knowledge on combat. Going by the date of 1701 as when it was written, it would eventually be compiled together with many other documents into a collection in remembrance of the Takeda clan and their rule over Kai (present-day Yamanashi prefecture) during medieval Japan. This collection is called “Kai Sōsho” (甲斐叢書), and has been reproduced on numerous occasions as a large volume of historical reference books from the 1800s to the 1900s by individuals like Hirose Hirokazu (廣瀬廣一), and the group “Kai Sōsho Kankoukai” (甲斐叢書刊行会). The manuscript Heihō Hidensho is located in the 9th volume of the Kai Sōsho.

For this article, the book “Yamamoto Kansuke “Heihō Hidensho””, published by the company Keibunsha, will be the resource used. It not only shares the same name, contains the entire manuscript have been retained. While one can say its source material is dated, this reproduction can be seen as fairly modern, mainly because the original text has been slightly modified to make it easier to read & understand, while still retaining its old Japanese feel. The modifications primarily relate to updating older kanji not part of the standardized Japanese language. There are more unspecified updates/edits in this book version, which will be spoken upon later in this article.

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

The 2nd resource, “Gunpō Hyōhōki”, is claimed to have been written by Yamamoto upon the order by his lord & ruler of Kai, Takeda Shingen, for the sake of his army. This particular manuscript is dated 1546, and is signed to a Nagasaka Chōkansai¹ by    the strategist himself, which can be determined by the signatures in the manuscript. This resource was drafted into 4 parts.  One of these parts is called “Kenjutsu no Maki”, which is considered invaluable and possibly a glimpse at what the legendary Kyō ryū² may be based on.

In the book “Zusetsu – Kobudōshi”, there is a section dedicated to Yamamoto Kansuke that includes the Gunpō Hyōhōki to its entirety. This is reproduced in this book as-is in the form of photos from the original source. Note that the original source does exist in a book form, which can be accessed at certain libraries in Japan. Visually, it appears to be an authentic document, as it follows the format of similar documents produced in the 16th century. This includes type of speech, and using a cursive writing style, which proves to be a challenge to read. There are lots of text with the context focusing on kenjutsu


To get a clearer picture on the similarities and differences between these two documents, we will look at the contents on military combat, particularly from the Heihō Hidensho’s “Mokuroku” section, and Gunpō Hyōhōki’s “Kenjutsu no maki” section. These are much easier to analyze, even if we don’t look at the particulars in the techniques, as well as being accompanied with pictures. Here’s a partial look at their table of contents:

Heihō Hidensho: Mokuroku

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

Gunpō Hyōhōki Kenjutsu no maki

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

At a glance, there are similarities between each book. For example, both put a great emphasis on sword fighting. Although it is not shown above, Heihō Hidensho’s section called “Kenpō” (Method of sword fighting) has its own table of content that, if listed, would require its own separate article, while everything else can be covered together in another article. In comparison to the Gunpō Hyōhōki, the contents on sword fighting is similar as it has many teachings that focus on using the sword against another fighter with a sword, while there are also lessons on using longer weapons against each other, and a small quip on archery. Interestingly, there is a focus on using a sword against different types of foes. Here are some pics for comparison, starting with those from the Heihō Hidensho on the top row, and Gunpō Hyōhōki on the bottom row:

From another angle, Heihō Hidensho has a dedicated section on hand-to-hand combat called “Kenpō” (拳法), which focuses on using restraining techniques such as grappling and strikes against  an opponent while wearing one’s swords sheathed on the side, and whether the opponent attempts to draw their sword or not. For the Gunpō Hyōhōki, it appears that there is no conversation on this. However, it does have several sections that cover this topic, which are “Torite no koto” (捕手の事),  and “Jūjutsu-ate no koto” (柔術当ての事).  Unfortunately, both are not accompanied with pictures, but instead are coupled with long explanations on the topic. If anything, the Torite no koto section does mention about the possibility of iai techniques during torite, so this could be compared with Heihō Hidensho. For the most part, both manuscripts use this idea of hand-to-hand techniques as more supplemental to kenjutsu.


As mentioned before, great importance is placed on kenjutsu in both documents. The direction both go with discussing the strategies while using the sword is through postures that signify an attitude or state of mind. The terms to indicate these in Japanese vary depending on the source. For instance, the word “kamae” is a common term for this. In the Heihō Hidensho the term “kensei” is another version, while  “kurai” can be found in the Gunpō Hyōhōki. One thing to understand when interpreting these is that these postures, despite which label is used, are not static stances. Instead, they represent strategic points of movement in response to the situation against the enemy.

First, let’s review a list of select techniques in the form of kamae from Heihō Hidensho:

  • Hira jōgo kensei (平上後剣勢)
  • Migi jōgo kensei / Hassō (右上後剣勢)
  • Hira ue musubi mae kensei / Takanami (平上結前剣勢・高波)
  • Hidari ue musubi Mae kensei / Jōdan no Kasumi (左上結前剣勢・上段の霞)
  • Hidari ue mae kensei / Kissaki Oyobi (左上前剣勢・切先及び)
  • Hira ue mae kensei / Tōhō (平上前剣勢・当法)
  • Migi naka musubi Mae kensei / Chūdan no Kasumi (右中結前剣勢・中段の霞)
  • Hidari naka mae kensei / Yoko Seigan (左中前剣勢・横青眼)
  • Migi shita ushiro kensei / Sha (右下後剣勢・車)
  • Migi shita musubi mae kensei (右下結前剣勢)

Each of these kamae are listed on their own page, as there are thorough explanations and examples on how they can be utilized against an opponent. The name for each one is more descriptive in terms of how they are assumed, although some of them do have alternate, unique names that are expresses a concept of imagery, which are used in different martial arts schools. At their core, they are variations of kamae that most practitioners of kenjutsu, kendō, gekiken, and the like should be familiar with. For example, from left to right:

Hidari ue musubi mae kensei = Kasumi (jōdan)

Hidari naka mae kensei = Seigan (chūdan)

Hidari shita musubi ato kensei = Waki (gedan)

For each kamae are explanations on how they can be utilized based on the enemy’s actions. The defender’s response isn’t as strict in terms of the counter attack, which makes things a little open-ended for interpretation. For example:

Hira jōgo kensei

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

TRANS: The opponent takes the initiative and attempts to strike. Carefully watch when the opponent’s sword comes at you, then turn your body sideways with your left leg forward, pull your right leg back, and cut their right hand.

While this paints a rather clear picture in terms of movement using the attacker-defender model, it is also open-ended, for the type of the attack from the opponent is not specified, while the defender’s (us) initial position is not stated. This is pretty much how the techniques play out in this document, making it a supplemental source to any kenjutsu-focused martial arts school that can be studied upon.

Now, we turn our attention to Gunpō Hyōhōki, and look at some of the techniques mentioned:

  • Jōdan (2 types)
  • Chūdan (2 Types)
  • Gedan (2 types)
  • Denkō no kurai (電光の位)
  • Kasumi no kurai (霞の位)
  • Seigan no kurai (清眼の位)
  • Suigetsu no kurai (水月の位)
  • Yōgan (陽眼)
  • Ingan (陰眼)
  • Murakumo (村雲)
  • Yamatsuki (山月)
  • Nyūin no kurai (入引の位)

For this section, it starts off explaining the importance on 3 height levels while wielding the sword. They are the following:

Jō-chū-gedan kamae no Tachi

  • Jōdan (上段) = Upper stance
  • Chūdan (中段) Middle stance
  • Gedan (下段) = Lower stance

In almost all styles of kenjutsu and its modern equivalents, the idea of 3 height levels is a common principle. Illustrations show 2 ways of doing these, generally with one having the sword held in front, and the other with the sword held behind. This is abit different from what is shown in Heihō Hidensho, as there is not a great number of kamae where the sword is held behind. In the pictures provided, lengthy descriptions for these kamae and how to apply them is given based on one’s opponent’s actions. Each of the kamae are labeled according to their height level along with a unique name.

Let’s look at the following example below:

Jōdan – Denkō no kurai

This is the posture on the right. As a small explanation, in response to an enemy’s attack, the defender brings the sword above the head to the right, and strikes from overhead.

Take note that the picture sequences are not necessarily correlating with each other, especially in the later parts of the document. Each kamae, side-by-side, is significant in the Gunpō Hyōhōki; what’s important is the descriptions next to them. In a way, it’s a concise format to present lessons without using a step-by-step method.

The relation between the two documents is that Heihō Hidensho also follows the 3 height levels as specified in Gunpō Hyōhōki. Not only that, it follows the same order starting with high level postures, mid-level postures, then ending with low-level postures.


At first glance, when reading the particulars for these, it’s quite normal to think that both manuscripts are authentic & have been kept intact in terms of their original writing. This is certainly not the case for the Heihō Hidensho for a number of reasons which will be explained. As for the Gunpō Hyōhōki, this has a greater probability due to its appearance and contents, for much of the points on combat are done in a conversational manner that is not directly clear unless the reader has initiative knowledge in said topic, as opposed to very detailed, step-by-step descriptions that almost anyone can grasp. Take note that while this fits as what may be expected out of an older manuscript, just how much of it is 100% authentic as the lessons of Yamamoto, and isn’t a product of forgery, is hard to determine.

For the Heihō Hidensho, there are many points to pick up that indicate it’s not the original work. For starters, the original version, which would’ve been handwritten, is not available for view. Instead, we have a reproduction in print type of it in collection of other documents. It is mentioned to be reproduced several times, which most likely includes edits to suit the times, such as the kenjutsu kamae being compared to other unmentioned martial systems by presenting alternate names. Possibly the biggest clue is how the actual contents read; the way combat was approached was vastly different in Sengoku period in comparison to Edo period, and the way Heihō Hidensho reads coincide with the latter. For example, the hand-to-hand techniques demonstrated in it deals with situations in plain clothing and swords sheathed, which was a growing trend during martial artists during mid-to-late Edo period that were focusing more on jūjutsu and iaijutsu. Furthermore, the illustrations for the kenjutsu are not only similar to the style of specific artists during Edo period, but other pictures such as the ones used to illustrate staff techniques are not Japanese at all.

Finally, we look at the connection between both documents. Considering that they come from the same source, one can deduce that they were drafted around the same time period. Of course, this cannot hold up as an argument, since whereas Gunpō Hyōhōki looks to be a more authentic that was kept intact, we only see the typed version of Heihō Hidensho, which is a reproduction of said original source. This is even true when looking at the version in the Kai Sōsho. Despite presentation, if we compare the contents and acknowledge the similarities, (i.e. focus on kenjutsu, scenarios in which strategies for kenjutsu can be applied, etc.) what can be said about the differences? Let’s look at two points that can be considered.

  1. Information may differ based on the person whom was receiving the manuscript – Depending on a person’s rank, or even affiliation, there are cases where one individual would get more clearer notes, while a person may get less. It can be argued that those were highly-ranked group leaders would’ve received a much more detailed documentation, as it would be necessary when training their team. However, for someone who may have been a specialist may receive a more concise version that skims the surface, which could’ve just been enough for that individual.
  2. Manuscript may have been reproduced several times with edits – It is not uncommon that certain contents change and/or get updated by those who own it. This is true for both private documents, those passed on & used in martial arts schools, and those made for public viewing.

If we take Heihō Hidensho and consider it the same as the Gunpō Hyōhōki, then it’s possible it went through much edits and updates. This isn’t a bad thing, for if you think about it, combative knowledge should apply to the current times in order to stay viable⁵. With this in mind, it’s possible that the original lessons of Yamamoto Kansuke are maintained, but altered abit (or alot) so that it could still be applied in a society that still depended on the sword during Edo period.


It is great that there are documents written centuries ago that have been preserved for today’s generation. There are those that give credit to Yamamoto Kansuke, whether stated to have been penned by him or copied with permission. Unfortunately, researchers are faced with the task of validating the legitimacy of these, which tends to be difficult especially for those from Japan, as there’s a high chance they were produced during the peaceful times of Edo period by writers who try to pass them off as much older works. This brings our look at old manuscripts to a close. Hope everyone found this as an informative, and interesting, topic to read.

1) 長坂長閑斎. Historians believe him to be Nagasaka Torafusa (長坂 虎房), who was a retainer of Takeda clan of Kai.

2) 京流. This is one of 8 legendary sword systems that make up the collective group called Kyōhachi ryū. This was discussed in an article on this blog here.

3) This section may have been an add-on, after the development of firearms improved.

4) In this manuscript, there is no alternative name for this posture. However, I added the label here for this article due to it, from my personal experience, resembling the commonly used Waki no kamae, but done on the left side.

5) This same case was brought up for kyūjutsu (archery techniques) during Edo period, which was covered in an article on this blog here.

Final Chapters of Kyohachi ryu: Kyo ryu

After a short hiatus, we now set our attention to the final chapters on my discussion regarding Kyohachi ryu. Originally, this post was to cover the last 3 martial systems connected to Kyohachi ryu in one shot. However, due to how voluminous the info gathered from researching, I decided to make separate posts showcasing each of the martial systems. What makes these 3 schools connected is their claim to direct transmission to the military strategist Kiichi Hogen’s martial teachings on Mt. Kurama, but have a serious gap or inconsistency that says otherwise.


The martial style called Kyo ryu1 would sound like it has an automatic connection to Kyohachi ryu. The name meaning “(Sword) style of the Capital”, Kyo ryu gives a nod at being a martial system born in the rich culture of Heian Kyo, Japan’s Capital during the Muromachi period (1336~1573). Due to the residence of the Imperial family, as well as rich and infuential families, anything coming out of the Capital was regarded as high quality. This included instruction of martial systems found there…one case being Kyohachi ryu.

Artwork of Yamamoto Kansuke by Matsumoto Fukou. Dated late 19th century. From Wikipedia.

The story of Kyo ryu begins with Yamamoto Kansuke Haruyuki (1493-1561), commonly referred to by his nickname Kansuke2. Born in Hoi District in Mikawa Province (present day Toyokawa City in Aichi Prefecture), he was one of Takeda Shingen’s3 famed 24 generals4. Kansuke is recognized for his contribution to many written works related to both the military and martial field in the Takeda house, such as Rodanshu5 and Heiho Hidensho6. He was also a major contributor in the development of Takeda Shingen’s army and the tactics they utilized, as well as gave lectures to certain high ranking individuals on topics to ensure that the might and influence of the Takeda house throughout Kai Province and neighboring lands stays constant.

Opening the book Heiho Hidensho by Yamamoto Kansuke. The version in my collection was published by Keibunsha.

Written accounts such as “Koyo Gunkan”7 and “Bukou Zakki”8 describe Kansuke as being skilled at martial combat, as well as an accomplished strategist. It’s here where claims of his personal system being called Kyo ryu are mentioned. Tales speak of Kansuke as very skilled and fearsome warrior, some of them making him bigger than life. For example, feats such as outbesting a certain Ishii Tozaburou9, who wielded a live sword, with only a mere stick10. Also, a popular portrayal of him is using a naginata for support in walking like a cane to compensate for his lame leg. Tales like these are the perfect precursor to being tied to Kyohachi ryu, whether real or not. His abilities contrast with his physical state, however, for his appearance is considered quite appalling. Kansuke was blind in the right eye, had damaged fingers, lame in the left leg, and had many scars on his body due to the rough life he endured during his journey.

In sources like “Heihoden Toroku”, it is stated that Kansuke’s first exposure to martial and military studies when he was little11 is through his foster father, Oomori Kanzaemon, and military strategist named Suzuki Hyuuga-no-Kami Shigetatsu, who was a colleague of Kanzaemon. Kansuke learned a lot from the 2 of them, enough where he could pit his might against other warriors to test his skills. After the death of his mother, Yasu, Kansuke journeyed around different parts of Japan in his 20s for about 10 years as a rounin12, in order to further his training as a warrior. He was also able to study many areas concerning warfare and strategies, such as heiho (martial combat), chikujoujutsu (castle construction and defense), and jintori (tactics against armies). What he learned during this period is possibly the makeup of Kyo ryu, although there are no scrolls or manuals that verify this under such a title.

Art work named “武田二十四将図”, the feudal lord Takeda Shingen (top, middle) is shown sitting amongst his trusted 24 generals. Yamamoto Kansuke is present in the bottom row, 2nd to the left. Scanned from “Furin Kazan: Sengoku no Yo o Kakenuketa Meiso ‘Takeda Shingen’ to Gunshi ‘Yamamoto Kansuke'”.

The connection to Kyohachi ryu is speculated to happen before Kansuke’s employment under Takeda Shingen, through his foster father Kanzaemon and the strategist Shigetatsu. The story in Heihoden Toroku states that around mid 1300s Kanzaemon was employed as a Daikan (prefectural governor or magistrate during Edo period) at the Takabashi Manor located in Mikawa country (present day Toyoda City in Aichi prefecture). Chuujou Nagahide13 was also employed in the same area, and taught his system, Chuujou ryu. At the time, Chuujou ryu is said to pertain the touhou (sword methods) of Kiichi Hogen. It is believed that Kanzaemon, as well as Shigetatsu, spent some time training in Chuujou ryu, and in turn taught this to Kansuke. If this is true, then Kansuke’s kenjutsu is based on Chuujou ryu, and Kyo ryu can rightfully be said to represent Kyohachi ryu. However, there are no official records of Kanzaemon and Shigetatsu studying at the Chuujou dojo in historical documents, thus making this more of a theoretical speculation.

If Kyo ryu did exist, is it possible that Kansuke had students to pass down this knowledge? Some sources give a nod to this possibility.  For example, in the book “Honcho Bugei Shoden”14,  a warrior by the name of Maebara Chikuzen-no-Kami 15 is written to have been a skilled swordsman of Kyo ryu, who could cut down numerous sensu (folding fans) tossed at him. Apparently he learned kenjutsu and other skills of combat from Kansuke.

A depiction of Yamamoto Kansuke on the battlefield. From the art series “甲越勇将傳 武田家二十四将”. Artwork by Utagawa Kuniyoshi made between 1848-49.

In honesty, Kyo ryu’s existence is legendary, as it is tied with one of Japan’s respected historical figures, Yamamoto Kansuke. While there are documentations of Kansuke’s knowledge on kenjutsu and other areas of combat and strategy, which contributed immensely to the success of Takeda Shingen’s military campaigns and shinobi network16, there is no concrete documentation about Kyo ryu and its curriculum. Did it truly exist? Until new authentic discoveries are made, this is hard to say.

This sums up the discussion on Kyo ryu, a system just as mysterious as Kyohachi ryu. The next post will cover the history of Kurama ryu, which bears the same name as the location where Kyohachi ryu is said to have been born.

1)  “Kyo” of Kyo ryu is written in 2 ways. One is with the Chinese character “京”, which stands for Capital. The other is “行”, which has several meanings including “to journey”, “to carry out a task”, “line”, and “bank”. Which of these is the intended meaning is not mentioned. It is also possible that the pronunciation using the second character would change to “Gyo ryu” or “Ko ryu”, but this is an assumption on my part.

2)山本勘助晴幸. He acquired many other ways of writing Kansuke (勘助), where the phonetic stays the same, while the Chinese characters are written differently. He also has a religious name upon his entrance into priesthood later in his life, which is Doukisai (道鬼斎).

3) Takeda Shingen (1521-1573) was a daimyo (feudal lord) famous for his numerous successes in military campaigns, and the skilled & resourceful individuals he kept in his company. Well known by the nickname “Kai no Tora” (Tiger of Kai Province) due to his reputation as a powerful lord.

4) Takeda Shingen ran a very strict and organized househould and army. To ensure things go smoothly in his pursuit of power, Takeda kept certain individuals close that he trusted dearly. There was around 24 of them who were appointed as generals to help keep his army in top shape, as well as manage his numerous spies that keep tabs on his enemies around Japan.

5) Rodanshu (老談集) is an illustration scroll that shows hand drawn tools and weapons said to be used by shinobi.

6) Heiho Hidensho (兵法秘伝書) is a 5-volume documentation written around the mid 1500s. It is a collection of notes and pointers by Yamamoto Kansuke regarding weapon usage (ranging from the sword, staff, and bow & arrow), and strategies on and off the battlefield.

7) Koyo Gunkan (甲陽軍艦) is a collection of about 20 scrolls covering the achievements, battles, rules & punishments, and strategies of the Takeda house. It also covers the skills, ideals, preparations, and other important points for those of Koshu ryu, a martial system derived from Takeda Shingen’s military force.

8) Bukou Zakki (武功雑記) is a war journal written by Matsuura Shigenobu (松浦鎮信), a 4th generation lord of Hirado Domain in Hizen Province (divided into present day Saga prefecture and Nagasaki prefecture). Compiled in 1696, it covers the accomplishments of certain warriors and warlords that were active between 1573-1624.

9) A practitioner and swordsman of Shinto ryu (新当流).

10) 心張り棒. A short or long stick used to secure windows and doors. It is propped at an angle and wedged between the door frame and floor for a door, or the side and base of a window frame.

11) Another source of his training is credited to his uncle, whose name is Yamamoto “Tatewaki” Nari (山本帯刀成). However, it cannot be considered completely viable as there is so little info on him. On top of that, there are supposedly other relatives and/or students of Kansuke who bear the nickname “Tatewaki”, so it’s possible that the whole former point is erroneous.

12) 浪人, which means “a wandering masterless samurai”

13) Chuujou Nagahide’s Chuujou ryu is counted as a martial system related to Kyohachi ryu. This was covered in a previous post here.

14) Honcho Bugei Shoden (本朝武芸小伝) is a collection of 10 volumes of books about various fields, topics, and individuals pertaining to martial arts. It was written by Hinatsu Shigetatsu (日夏繁高) in 1714.

15) 前原筑前守. Chikuzen-no-Kami was a samurai who is said to have studied combat and field tactics from Yamamoto Kansuke as a student of Kyo ryu. He was under the employment of the Obata family in Kouzuke Province (present day Gunma prefecture).

16) Takeda Shingen developed his own group of shinobi by using the knowledge of shinobi no jutsu from Iga and Koka regions, and adapting it to his area of rule, Kai Province (present day  Yamanashi Prefecture). It was a well knit system that had both in-house shinobi & civilians used as spies, all serving as the eyes of Takeda.