Old School Jujutsu Ryu

(Originally Published at Alljujitsu)

[Side Note: Ryu is the Japanese word for school, method or style.]

Tenjin-Shinyo Ryu

Systems: jujutsu
Date founded: ca. 1830
Founded by: Iso Mataemo Minamoto no Masatari
Present representative/headmaster: shihanke, Kubota Toshihiro
Primarily located in: Tokyo

Particularly famous for its various techniques of percussion (striking; punching and kicking), of painfully immobilizing joint-locks, and of strangulation, the Tenjin-Shinyo jujitsu school is generally considered to have been the result of a fusion of two ancient schools, the Yoshin ryu and the Shin-no-Shindo.

The origins of the Yoshin ryu are still the object of much debate. Many believe the founder of the art to have been a certain Akiyama Shirobei Yoshitoki, a physician of Nagasaki who went to China in the seventeenth century to deepen his knowledge in the field of medicine. While there, he was exposed to Chinese martial arts and to their main principles of percussion.

In time, he developed about three hundred techniques of combat based upon the principle of ju (suppleness), as indicated by the name he gave his method: yo meaning “willow,” and shin meaning “spirit” or “heart.” The image of the flexible, swaying willow which snaps back even after the fiercest hurricane, served to confirm, even if indirectly, Chinese influence upon that school of thought in Japan which held the principle of non-resistance to be superior to all others.

The founder of the other jujitsu school, the Shin-no-Shindo, is said to have been Yamamoto Tamizaemon, of the Osaka police, who added other techniques (particularly those of immobilization) to the already impressive repertoire of the Yoshin ryu. Both schools were finally unified, becoming a systematic whole under the Tenjin-Shinyo name in the late seventeenth century, through the efforts of Master Yanagi Sekizai Minamoto Masatari (also known in his later years as Master Iso Mataemon), whose astonishing feats of prowess in the art of unarmed combat (particularly in the use of techniques of percussion) fill many vivid pages in the literature of the martial arts. He is said to have been a remarkable jujitsu master, thoroughly versed in the practice and theory of unarmed combat.

Takenouchi Ryu

Systems: jujutsu (torite, koshi no mawari, kogusoku); hade; bojutsu (rokushaku bo, jo); kenjutsu (odachi, kodachi, tanto, aikuchi/kaiken); iaijutsu (odachi, kodachi, tanto, aikuchi/kaiken); hojojutsu (hobaku); naginatajutsu; tessenjutsu; sakkatsuho
Date founded: late Muromachi period (1532)
Founded by: Takenouchi Chunagon Daijo Hisamori
Present representative/headmaster: Takenouchi Toichiro Hisamune, 14th headmaster; Takenouchi Tojuro Hisatake, 13th sodenke
Primarily located in: Okayama Prefecture

The school known as Takenouchi ryu is still active today in Japan, having been guided by one successor after another for twelve generations. It is generally held to have been founded by a samurai of high rank, Hisamori (later and better known as Takeuchi Toichiro), sometime between 1526 and 1546. Takeuchi is said to have developed a substantial number of armed and unarmed martial arts techniques where he emphasized the use of immobilization (osae-waza), which were organized systematically into five “keys” or groups (go-kyu).

Takeuchi taught these and other “keys,” as well as techniques of combat based upon the use of daggers (all particularly effective at close range). The techniques of his school proved to be extremely effective, and countless warriors flocked to his dojo. According to the scrolls and manuscripts (makimono) which form the records of this jujitsu school, Takeuchi’s son was requested to perform techniques from his father’s program of instruction (which included more than six hundred techniques) before Emperor Gomizuno (1611–29). After the performance, the emperor bestowed upon the art the title of “supreme and unsurpassed art of combat” (hi-no-shita toride-kaizan).

[Side Note: Dojo is the Japanese word for school. Do means “way”, and jo means “place”; the “place for learning the way”.]

Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu

Systems: jujutsu
Date founded: mid-Meiji period (ca. 1890)
Founded by: Takeda Sokaku
Present representative/headmaster: Hombu-cho Katsuyuki Kondo (menkyo kaiden)
Primarily located in: Tokyo; Hokkaido

One of the most intriguing of the old jujitsu schools was the Daito ryu. According to some, this school dates back to the Kamakura period. The school itself was reportedly founded by Minamoto Yoshimitsu (d. 1120), better known in various Japanese epics as Yoshitsune, the most famous samurai in all of Japanese history. The art was supposedly practiced by the warriors of the Minamoto clan for several centuries before being inherited by the Takeda family (part of the military clan of Aizu).

Others link the beginning of the Daito ryu even earlier, to the sixth son of Emperor Seiwa, Prince Sadasumi, who lived in the ninth century. However, there is only one problem with this impressive history…

There is no credible documentation dating it before 1895. It is not unusual in the Japanese tradition to proclaim an ancient date and naming a famous person as founder of a school, in an effort to lend greater credibility to its teachings.

Even more interesting than its fanciful heritage, is the Daito ryu effort to further distinguish itself from other jujitsu schools by claiming it taught a superior form of jujitsu called aikijutsu! The Daito ryu described this art as the technique (jutsu) of harmonized (ai) spirit (ki). The term aiki (like ju) also indicates a principle; a way of using the body as a weapon of combat.

The central idea of aiki, was that of using the coordinated power of ki (intrinsic or inner energy) in harmony (ai) with the various requirements and circumstances of combat. By blending one’s own strategy with the opponent’s, it was possible to achieve full control over him and over the encounter, thus achieving the primary purpose of combat: the opponent’s subjugation.

How the concept of aiki was actually embodied in the allegedly ancient techniques of aikijutsu practiced by the Daito jujitsu schools, we have no way of knowing today. No one in recent times has ever been able to rationally explain how the concept of blending (aiki) is fundamentally any different from the concept of suppleness (ju)!

The fluid beauty and impressive efficiency of the method, however, are evident in the modern interpretation of techniques practiced in its schools today. If one watches these techniques being performed in combat against one, or several opponents, with weapons or without, it is not difficult to understand why, in earlier times, some considered aikijutsu to be an art of combat superior to jujitsu. But the fact remains, it is not a conceptual difference of the basic principles of jujitsu, and is just another style of unarmed combat.

Kito Ryu

Systems: Traditional Japanese martial art, Jujutsu
Date founded: Early Edo period, 17th century
Founded by: Fukuno and Terada

The Kito ryu merits a particular place in the doctrine of unarmed combat because of the esoteric elements evident in its method. Its formal, and often complex exercises (kata) have been faithfully preserved by the modern inheritors of the Kito ryu. Some of the available records relate the origin of this jujitsu school to a Chinese method of combat based upon the principle of ju, as explained and illustrated by Chen Yuan-Pin (better known in Japanese records as Gempin) to selected warriors of the seventeenth century.

A former dignitary of the Chinese court, Gempin had visited Japan in 1621, and then settled there permanently in 1638 in order to escape the rising power of the Manchu dynasty. Gempin is said to have instructed three masterless warriors (ronin) in a method of “seizing a man” which he had seen practiced in China. These men continued their studies of Gempin’s method in the Kokusei monastery in Azabu and apparently grasped its central principles quite well, because they were said to have subsequently founded their own jujitsu school, the Kito ryu.

Another interpretation of material available on this subject, however, indicates that the founder of Kito ryu was not Gempin, but a certain Terada, a samurai in the service of Kyogoku, a daimyo (war lord) closely associated with the Tokugawa. His method of combat, usually performed in full armor (or in formal robes reminiscent of armor) were centered mainly upon the projection (throwing) of an opponent down onto the ground.

In observing the sequences of a number of the formal exercises of this school, one is immediately impressed by the smooth fluidity of its application, seen not only as a “supple” (ju) blending of strategies, movements, and actions with those of an opponent, but as an even more comprehensive blending of the self with the whole environment. You may note that this is the same concept that Daito ryu claimed to be their exclusive invention of aikijutsu. The fact is, they were all working to expand and perfect the concept of ju. Actually, all of these jujitsu schools showed only minor differences in technique and strategy.

Many other reputable jujitsu schools have existed for centuries. This includes the powerful Sekiguchi ryu which traced its roots back to the seventeenth century, the Yagyu-Shingan ryu of the Date clan (which is said to have included over two thousand combat techniques in its program), and the Juki ryu of Sawa Dochi, as well as their various branches and affiliations. Their steady progression of teachers and disciples, are listed in the doctrine of Japanese combat as all having been primarily inspired by the principle of ju.

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