Japan has a long history of the bow and arrow. A prestigious weapon when feudal lords were at conflict for the unification of Japan, many bushi were required to learn the art of shooting an arrow, called kyujutsu in Japanese. Several martial schools became famous for their instruction on kyujutsu, such as Yamato ryu and Ogasawara ryu. One school in particular, called Heki ryu, has strong roots in warfare and was systematically devised to be used in the hands of both the elite warriors and infantry. It is unique in that the traditional methods of battlefield tactics is still preserved today, which is visible in the Satsuma style of Heki ryu.
A Japanese bow with arrows, dating back to Edo period. From Wikipedia.
Let’s take a brief look into the history of Heki ryu to understand its roots, and it’s further development as a battlefield-focused archery system under the…
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.
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…
Many years ago (about 15~) in my days of obsessively playing the Tenchu series of video games, I was exploring every nick-and-cranny of all the levels, and in one of the levels that took place in the mountain-top Buddhist monastery, I noticed a small detail where there was this sort of chopping blade sticking out of a block of wood just like a hatchet might.
A few years later I became quite interested in this short battle royal type of anime and manga called Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Cho (and later the novel that it came from). In it I was drawn to a character named Yashamaru from the Iga clan, and besides his distinct long-distance fighting style, he also carried as similar short cleaver, though between the three forms of media he never uses it, in the anime adaptation he does draw it so that you can see the angle and length (screen shots provided in the slideshow below.
Finally, in around 2008, when I started to take studying Japanese and the ninja more seriously, I acquired a copy of the Shinobi Hiden (or Ninpiden), and before even having a translated copy, I knew what the illustration I was looking at was.
I have seen two different ways to write Nata: the first seems to be the most common way 鉈, and seemingly less common way, 屶.
The first, the dictionary tends to translate as “hatchet”, but that is an evident transliteration to English based on it’s general use. However, when we break the radicals apart we find “stretch” (它) and “metal” (金). In my mind, this gives the image of a simple elongated piece of metal; which could stretch back in history as a tool quite some ways.
The second way, I cannot recall where I got the kanji from initially, but a quick google search shows the very same tool. One doesn’t need a dictionary to see that this kanji easily breaks down to “mountain” (山) and “blade” or “sword” (刀), so some form of mountain blade (see the Tenchu reference above). However, the Japanese dictionaries that I have don’t have this character. Instead, Wiktionary shows that 屶, is a variant form of 會. So in looking at that…
The relevant seal inscription form (see image to the right) is a variant form (through phonosemantics) of 介 “reduce” and 曾 “pile” or “mass” (That’s a bit of an adventure on how it gets there, but current dictionary’s go in a different direction as usual). Thus this character can refer to reducing a pile of something.
Interestingly, 會, which has come to refer to “reducing the space between things”, and as such nowadays means something like “gathering”, “to meet”, etc., and is usually simplified to “awasu” or “awaseru” (会).
Nata in the Shinobi Hiden
In the Shinobi Hiden, it is listed as a “Tetsu” or “Kurogane” (鉄), which basically means “Iron”. I’m not yet sure if the name changed at some point, but the common term for it is currently a “Nata” (鉈), referring to something like a hatchet.
In the Shinobi Hiden, it primarily details the proportions and materials used for it and it’s scabbard. It is even detailed at the end that a hole should be in the end of the scabbard and a “thieves gimbal lantern” can be attached.
What can be inferred
A point of interest is that it details to “Be sure the iron blade is well forged. Do this in case it is used in place of a sword, and thus the blade is of the most importance.” (Cummins, 2011). Though there is a growing opinion that the ninja would not have their own martial art, one can note that a machete or hatchet handles very differently from a sword or spear. As a result, in order to treat this tool as a sword, the biomechanics of ones martial tradition would have to allow for more than a familiarity with swords, spear, halberds, etc. but also a unity of combative methodology between any weapon.
This is precisely what we see in traditions such as Gyokko-ryu, Koto-ryu, Togakure-ryu, and similar traditions that have some part of their history in the Iga region of Japan.
It is important to remember that though such a tool can be weaponized, it is not in itself a weapon and is to this day used by foresters and gardeners alike. Used like both that of a hatchet and a machete. I have herd several accounts now of North American outdoors-men (and women) now preferring the Nata over that of their choppers or hatchets for their every day use.
How the Nata ended up being associated with the ninja in a few video games and anime is honestly beyond me, but for those guys dressed up in black masks and running through the bush with their Filipino machetes, this would be the direction that they would want to go.
The Ninpiden – True Ninja Traditions: And the Unknown Ninja Scroll
Etymological Dictionary of Han/Chinese Characters. By Lawrence J. Howell, Research Collaborator Hikaru Morimoto
llis Amdur has pursued the study of East Asian martial traditions since the late 1960s. He is a licensed instructor in two koryū (classical Japanese martial traditions), the Araki-ryu Torite-Kogusokuand the Toda-ha Buko-ryu. The Araki-ryu is a rugged system that specializes in close combat. It could be termed, “grappling with weapons.” The Toda-ha Buko-ryu specializes in the use of the naginata, a long pole-arm with a curved blade against a variety of weapons. Details about this school, including dojo locations and entry requirements can be found at the Toda-ha Buko-ryu website. Over the years, he has trained in a number of other martial systems, most notably Aikido, Judo, Brazilian jiujitsu.and xingyi chu’an (studying varying lengths of time with Su Dong Chen, Chris Bates and Zhang Yun). Aside from his ongoing koryū training, Amdur has most recently been training in two new areas: the basics of Arrestling, under the instruction…
It has been shown that the content of Koto ryu consists of three densho (booklets) and four Makimono (scrolls). The content that has been published to the public, shows that it contains knowledge about the great sword carried on ones back (nodachi; 野太刀), the spear (Yari; 槍), halberds (naginata; 薙刀), weighted chain (kusarifundo; 鎖分銅), drawing the swords (Iai; 居合), the use of metal plates for missile and melee application (Teppan; 鉄盤) and eda Koppo (枝骨法) among many other things.
The name of the Koto Ryu was not used until the mid-1500s, although the tradition’s roots hundreds of years further back in time. A common way to name the school at that time was taking its innermost essence (gokui; 極意) or the most advanced principles for the name. For example, Takenouchi Ryu, a well-known martial arts tradition in Japan and whose name translates to “the inside of bamboo”, takes its name from the fact that bamboo is easy just because it is hollow. Nen Ryu – the idea / Intention tradition – received its name because it is to check and see through the enemy’s intentions and avoid his attacks. Koto Ryu is usually translated as “tiger knockdown tradition” where the tiger was a code word for the insidious enemies, but because this school was part of ninja warriors’ tradition had also a hidden interpretation only explained to the initiates. By replacing the characters in the name of “Ko to Ryu (虎と竜)” you can translate it into “Tiger and Dragon” which has the same symbolic value as “yin and yang”, ie the softness related to the hard and vice versa.
Koto Ryu is mainly known today for its koppojutsu (techniques based on the “bone / bone methods) but in its densho also mentioned kosshijutsu (science of he tips of the fingers) and dakentaijutsu (blows to the body’s weak points). Other old names used before koppojutsu was “goho” (強法) – hard methods, but also “Tode” (唐手) has occurred (signs for Tode could also be pronounced as karate and means “Tang Chinese hand” (Tang is a dynasty in China which lasted from 618-907)). The basic concept of this tradition was to use the skeleton to provide power for punches and kicks, and the knowledge of which parts of the enemy skeletons they would attack. Because some of the goals were hard to reach, this included a method of how to dynamically reshape the fist depending where you hit (referred to as “Shiten Hakkō no Issen” 四天八光の一閃).
The techniques and methods were not invented immediately. The first generation likely used a concept that had helped them to survive in battle, and the second generation took over this knowledge, developed it and handed it to the third generation and so on. The methods that did not work died out with its inventor. Hatsumi Sensei is currently the 18th generation of the head (Soke) Koto Ryu. The development of these old schools can not compare with modern methods that are often paper products of a single person, with simple techniques recorded in a graduation compendium. The old ways are not rigid and it is Hatsumi sensei’s responsibility to develop Koto Ryu for handing on to future generations.
The naming of the techniques and methods, that is what we call “kata” follows the same principles as the naming of a tradition. The entire Japanese society and its culture is steeped in kata, which translates to shape, model, or pattern. Shi-kata is an important concept in the Japanese language, it means “how to do things”, focusing on form and execution. They talk about yomi kata (reading), Tabe-kata (to eat), kaki-kata (to write), iki kata (thinking) and dozens of other kata that influence behavior in Japan. So kata is very common in Japan, and are therefore included as partner exercises in all the ancient Japanese martial arts (kobujutsu), unlike many modern species which perform a kata alone. Kata was used because it lacked any other way to describe the knowledge you wanted to transfer to the next generation. For it is not about rigid and mechanical movements. It’s about an inner understanding of the key movements arise, applied and connected with the next key motion. So Keri kata (kicking) Tsuki kata (thrusting/punching) and uke kata (to receive) is not simple techniques of kicking, punching or blocking. There is a depth in this that can not be explained in the text.
I humbly consider that this article is currently the most detailed and accurate account of his life in the English language, condensed into one article, with the majority of anomalies and inaccuracies removed.
His sword became one with the god’s; the most supreme Battōjutsu, which would shine throughout history was born.
During the Muromachi period lived a man who would go on to change the art of swordsmanship forever. The legacy he left survived nearly half a millennium, a legacy larger than that of any martial artist in his wake.
On the 12th of January 1542, a boy known as Asano Tamijimaru was born into a warrior family in Hayashizaki village, Tateyama, Dewa no Kuni (Modern day Yamagata Prefecture, Murayama City). His father was Asano Kazuma no Minamoto Shigenari. A retainer to the Mogami family branch who were in charge of the South Eastern part of Dewa, he served Mogami Inaba no Kami Mitsuhide, the sixth Mogami Lord and overall fifteenth Lord of Tateoka Castle, in the Kitamurayama District of Tateoka City. (Modern Yamagata Pref. Murayama City, Tateoka). Asano was known as a…
It has been my observation that I can’t live in an overly comfortable environment; soft carpets, fluffy couches, and generally lulling spaces make me uneasy.
Though I understand that this comes from a complex upbringing that makes me feel that I don’t belong in such an environment, this article by Arnaud presents to me a somewhat different perspective of the dangers of comfort!
I wrote many times about Japan being the country where one makes mistakes.
I arrived Thursday in Japan and made the first one on arrival. That made me think about Ishiki, awareness. (1)
Before I go further on the philosophical lesson learned, let me tell you the story.
Landing in Narita in the afternoon, I was happy to be there. After buying the yen, getting a wifi router, and a bus ticket to Kashiwa, I went for a smoke (yes, I know it’s terrible, but that is not the point here).
With my suitcase in tow and my small backpack, I went to the designated smoking area located outside the building. I let my luggage outside and went into the booth. A few emails needed my attention, and I answered them. Having finished, I went for a coffee.
Fifteen minutes later I felt that something was missing. My suitcase was…
Often ‘Shugyôsha’ (修行者), or those engaged in an intensive physical or mental practice, often refer to the phrase ‘munen musô’ (無念無想). The idea of ‘munen musô’ is to make oneself free of worldly thoughts and desires. However, the term ‘munen musô’ is not what describes a correct state of mental unity. The reason is that within ‘munen musô’ is a concept known as ‘Boga no Kyo’, or a state of forgetting the self.
In other words, ‘munen musô’ is exactly the meaning of the four ‘kanji’ that make up the phrase. They are: 無 No – 念 Desire – 無- No – 想 Thought. Further, unification of the mind by eliminating the myriad and unending onslaught of ideas and thoughts as taught in various doctrines of religion and cultural programming is nothing like the unity of mind and spirit found in a true ‘Heihôsha’ (兵法者), or one engaged in the intensive practice of the subtle methods of combat and military strategy. True unity of mind and spirit is the state of utter selflessness and intensive singular focus.
Is it possible to become a knight in the modern times (Jidai), or was it only possible in the past (Jidai)? (1)
Here is an occidental Knight’s oath that reminded me of the Mutō Dori theme:
Be without fear in the face of your enemies.
Stand brave and upright.
Speak the truth always, even if it means your death.
Protect the helpless and do no wrong.
When you read this oath from the past, you see similarities with what Hatsumi sensei is teaching at the Honbu dōjō. The Mutō Dori of 2017 is to move towards the opponent with no fear even if you might die. And this whether you have a weapon or not. Ethics and values will keep us brave and upright. But this requires physical courage and high values.
How many Bujinkan Shihan and practitioners understand that today?