Kukishinden-ryu Bisento

Bisento from the Wǔ jīng zǒng yào (1040), vol. 13.

An illustration of the Bisentō (眉尖刀) is found in the Chinese treatise, the Wǔjīng Zǒngyào (武經總要) compiled around 1040 to 1044 by scholars such as Zeng Gongliang (曾公亮), Ding Du (丁度) and Yang Weide (楊惟德), whose writing influenced many later Chinese military writers.

It contains the earliest known written chemical formulas for gunpowder, made from saltpeter, sulphur and charcoal along with many added ingredients. In addition to formulas for gunpowder, the compendium contains details on various other gunpowder weapons such as fire arrows, incendiary bombs and projectiles, grenades and smoke bombs – all tools found both in common manuals of strategy and battlefield martial arts. It also describes an early form of the compass (using thermoremanence).


Bisento from the Wubeizhi (16th century), vol. 37

Much later, this siege weapon appears in the famous Wǔbèi Zhì (武備志) is the most comprehensive military book in Chinese history. It was edited by Máo Yuányí (茅元儀 1594–1640~), an officer of waterborne troops in the Ming Dynasty. Wǔbèi Zhì contains 240 volumes, 10405 pages, and more than 200,000 Chinese characters, which makes it the longest book in Chinese history regarding military affairs. Being known as “a military encyclopedia in ancient China”, Wǔbèi Zhì is one of the most influential works in Chinese history on warfare. It is a rare source of some compass maps and designs and some weapons has contributed enormously to corresponding areas, and it also gives an account of ancient Chinese military theories and Chinese militarists’ thoughts.

According to the Nihon Budō Jiten (日本武道事典), an encyclopedia and dictionary of Japanese martial arts related terms, the Bisentō can also be found in Okinawan Kobudō, in a tradition called Ryūe-ryū, where it is sometimes referred to a Chugoku Naginata (Chinese halberd; 中国薙刀). The founder, Nakaima Kenkō (1911-1988) learned Chinese martial arts from Xie Chongxiang, who was also known as Rū-rū Kō (1852-1930), who was the founder of Whooping Crane Fist. This system still has some exotic Chinese weapons, including the staff, trident, dual sickles, the rowing oar, the spear, and of course the glaive, which they call the Bisentō.

In the Kukishinden-ryū, one of the nine traditions that the Bujinkan derive from, it is said that the founder, Izumo Kanja Yoshiteru revolted against the Imperial Regent Tadamichi Fujiwara during the Hōgen period (1156-1158) and escaped to a cave called Izumo-no-kuni Inome-dōkutsu (according to the Kukishinden Zensho). It is here that he is said to have been instructed in the bisentō by a Chinese Tang-dynasty martial arts master Tǐe zhàng Sēng (Jp. Tetsujō-ō 鉄杖僧).
Currently, there are nine kata publicly taught in the Bujinkan regarding this weapon, each of which are demonstrated in Masaaki Hatsumi‘s video detailing Kukishinden-ryū naginata, nagamaki, and bisentō, as well as in his book, “The Essence of Budo“.
  • Ōshin 汪振 (Deep Wave)
  • Kakugyaku 鬲逆 (Tripod Reversal)
  • Chikusha 竹斜 (Leaning Bamboo)
  • Namiba 波刃 (Wave Edge)
  • Battō 抜刀 (Drawing Blade)
  • Gisen 㬢先 (Before the Light of Day)
  • Shintō 伸刀 (Lengthening Sword)
  • Seitō 惺刀 (Tranquil Sword)
  • Miken 魅剣 (Demon Sword)
A modified Pudao with reinforced and extended tsuka to recreate the Bisento (private collection)

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