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.
Translated by Luke Crocker