Chasing a Rat down a Hole

After some discussion on the Historic Ninjutsu Research Facebook group regarding an image of the “shinobi” from the Wakan Sansai Zue (和漢三才図会) written in 1712, there had been some disagreement around it.

Several people got caught up on the fact that the individual who is leaping over the wall in the illustration is wearing some sort of animal costume. This had been speculated to be inferring a connection to the Katō Danzō (加藤 段蔵, c. 1503 – 1569), a shinobi who was said in folk myth to be able to transform into a rat. One source (currently unavailable for reference) states that he was a rat breeder as his main daily occupation.

Most concluded that it was some form of canine costume, however, when looking at the ears, shape of the head, and tail, it as quite evident that it is a rat, particularly a spotted rat, which was considered special or lucky in the 17th century.

Existence of Spotted Rats

There was some dispute about spotted rats in Japan at that time, as one individual claimed that the spotted pattern came form a popular breeding practice in Europe in the 19th century. However, this was easily disputed with a quick google search, where I found two manuscripts regarding rat breeding. the first, Yosotama no kakehashi (養鼠玉のかけはし), was from 1775, and the second, Chingan Sōdate Gusa (珍玩鼠育草), was from 1787. Both documents provided illustrations of spotted rats. At this point all three documents in regard to this investigation was from the 18th century.

The Wakan Sansai Zue also has a section focused on rats, in which we can see a spotted rat in the first volume as well. it has been speculated that the previous two texts drew some inspiration from this text.

Nomenclature of “Shinobi”

An interesting note regarding the term used to refer to the shinobi here has the kanji 游偵 (Yūtei), while there’s hiragana next to it saying しのびのもの (shinobi no mono). This name appears in the Bansenshūkai as one of the names the Chinese had referred to spies by. In the Bansenshūkai, however, it is written as 遊偵 (found in the Q/A section of the preface, still read as “yūtei”), but then written as 游貞 in the first volume of Seishin.

In other sources (citation unavailable at the moment), yūtei has been shown to have several variants of the first kanji, such as 斿, 游, 浮, 遊. All of which expresses a sense of floating, drifting, or roaming. And Tei (偵) means to investigate, spy or acquire protected information. Thus, yūtei means to travel or roam around gathering information.

Note: ukitei (浮偵) also suggests a principle of movement called ukimi (浮身) found in the classical martial arts, that can also be seen in the judo movements of the late Kyuzo Mifune.

Under the heading for shinobi in the Wakan Sansai Zue, there is listed a few other terms:


Wakan Sansai Zue 和漢三才図会 (1712)

Kasha (課者)

The first of these terms is kasha (課者), which was an interesting one to dig into. Dictionaries generally define this first character as “chapter; lesson; section; department; division; counter for chapters (of a book).” But when we break it down, we have “[to get] results (果) with words (言) [in order to obtain results]”; investigation. and with the second character (者), it becomes “those who investigate“.

Saisaku (細作)

The first ideogram can be read as hosoi (細) which means, “work meticulous, fine, delicate, precise,” The second ideogram, (作), means: “to manufacture, make, build, work, or harvest.” One can translate saisaku as, “One who manufactures [creates] with meticulousness [a plan]” or “One who collects what is fine, delicate [quietly perceives essential information].”

Rakō (邏候)

Some very old characters here, and digging did not get me to far; apparently this is connected to Edo period police investigations but I don’t have a reliable source for this at this moment. the first character can be broken down quite far, but for this well only divide it into 辵 “to walk or move” and 羅 “to surround like a net. This I understand to grow to refer “patrolling”, though one dictionary also suggests a borrowed definition of “concealment”. The second character, (候), means: “expectancy, make an attempt, sign, season, or time.” Breaking it apart however starts to suggest something conspicuous or clue-like. in medicine it has been used to refer to “symptoms”. Thus I understand this to mean something like “one who waits and watches clues to grasp the truth like a net.

Tanshi (探伺)

The first ideogram (探) means: “grasp, grope; deep, intense, to deepen.” the second character is made up of a “person (人) who peers through a hole (司).” Though nowadays 司 is defined as as sort of government administrator, but we can understand that to be someone who oversees things. Thus tanshi means “one who perceives deeply.

Kanchō (間諜)

One of the earliest names for a spy, the first character means a space between things, and the second character means something “flat” (葉) like a leaf, and words (言); spy ended up being a borrowed definition that has endured to today. Thus, kanchō can be understood to mean “one who acquires words by going between people.” though it also gives the image of being able to slip through small or impenetrable spaces.

Togakure-ryū Connection

It should also be noted that the “San”(of Togakure-ryū’s Santō Tonkō Gata (鼠逃遁甲型) can be read as “nezumi” and means rat. This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard of ninja being referred to as rats, in 2008, I was looking into how these kata could be expressed in a “squirmy” way like a fleeing rat. And then Takamatsu Toshitsugu’s favorite story was said (by Masaaki Hatsumi) to be “Neko no Myōjutsu” (猫之妙術), a story about a rat that fought off all cats except an old cat that had nothing left to live for.

The Santō Tonkō gata consists of twelve techniques in response to being grabbed by the arms, back of the neck, and when your cornered or surrounded by enemy (picture a rat being cornered by a cat, and just the same this is depicted in Neko no Myōjutsu). Each of these techniques finish with the statements of using one of the goton (五遁) of escaping using fire, earth, water, wood, or metal, as well as that of blinding powder, throwing blades and so on. True to the teachings of the tradition, they strive to avoid killing, aiming to only distract, escape and hide. As such none of these techniques describe lethal techniques – though they can certainly be made to be.

Yet another interesting connection is the depiction of a falconer just before (to the right) of the entry for shinobi. It has been established rather thoroughly by Sean Askew that the Toda family that had been the head of the Togakure-ryū tradition of ninjutsu for generations, were also well known for their falconry. So within this text we can see three correlations to the same tradition of ninjutsu:
1) Falconry – the trade of the Toda family
2) Connecting rats and ninjutsu
3) Reference to the Goton used by this tradition (see next section).

Chinese Link

The above entry about Yūtei, describes another text called Wǔ zá zǔ (五雜組), written sometime between 1567‐1624 by Xie Zhaozhe, with an additional preface added in 1616, that talks about Tonkeijutsu (遁形术), methods of hiding the form, just like we see in books such as Ito Gingetsu’s Ninjutsu no Gokui. Both these writings describe Tonkei/Tonko (遁形/遁甲) as using the five phases of wood, water, metal, earth, and fire (Ch: Wu Xing, Ja: Gogyo; 五行).


What has been presented here is my own collective knowledge on this subject based on historic primary sources. We can see that the depiction in the Wakan Sansai Zue is quite evidently that of a man in a rat costume (for what reason, I’m not at all sure), the existence of spotted rats and specialized breeding methods go back at least as far as the 16th century (and the same document hints at “ancient times”). w can also see that the author of the same document had a comprehensive grasp of obscure names for spies. We can also see clear correlation to the Togakure-ryū tradition of ninjutsu, and even its hints at a relationship with falconry. And the connection to Goton no jutsu was traced at least as far back as the early 16th century, and surely traces further back.

Sources referenced (chronological)

  • Wǔ zá zǔ 五雜組 (1616~), by Xie Zhaozhe
  • Bansenshūkai 萬川集海 (1676), by Fujibayashi Sabuji
  • Wakan Sansai Zue 和漢三才図会 (1712), by Terajima Ryōan
  • Neko no Myōjutsu 猫之妙術 (1727), by Niwa Jurozaemon Tadaaki
  • Yosotama no kakehasi 養鼠玉のかけはし (1775 ), unknown author
  • Chingan Sōdate Gusa 珍玩鼠育草 (1787), susposedly by “Tei-en-shi”
  • Ninjutsu no Gokui 忍術の極意 (early 1900~), by Ito Gingetsu
  • Togakure-ryū Shinjin Ichinyo no Maki 戸隠流神人一如の巻 (mid 1900~), by Masaaki Hatsumi

Tsuki no Sho 月之抄


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Author: Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi 柳生 十兵衛三 厳
Title: Tsuki no Shô
Year: 1642

Author Yagyû Mitsuyoshi (柳生 三 厳) in the original language Title: “月 之 抄” (Other spellings mentioned in the original language: 月 之 抄 / 月 の 抄 / 月 ノ 抄 / 月 之 書 / 月 の 書 / 月 ノ書 / 月 之 諸 / 月 の 諸 / 月 ノ 諸 / 月 見 之 抄 / 月 見 の 抄 / 月 見 ノ 抄 / 月 見 之 書 / 月 見 の 書 / 月 見 ノ 書 / 月 見 之 諸 / 月Titre の 諸 / 月 見 ノ 諸).

Japanese title: “Tsuki no Shô” (or sometimes “Tsukimi no Shô”) Title in French: “Written in the moonlight” Title in English: “Annotation (s) ) in the moonlight

The “tsuki no sho” is a strategic and philosophical treatise mainly about kenjutsu (saber warfare technique), written by one of the most famous fencers in Japanese history:

Yagyû Jûbei Mitsuyoshi (1607 – 1650). You will find here the complete transcript in modern Japanese. This transcription in modern Japanese comes from the book of Yoshio Imamura, published in April 1995: “Shiryô Yagyû Shinkage-Ryû (Vol.2)” (史料 柳生 新 陰 流 (下 巻)), of which she occupies about the first 70 pages (Pages 9 to 80).

Link download: Mitsuyoshi-Yagyū-Jūbei-Tsuki-no-Shô


Ikai 異匀

Ikai is a person who is present in the background to many of our schools.

In prehistory, Iga ryu, Gyokko Ryu and Togakure Ryu mentions a person by the name “Ikai” as an original source of these schools. Identifying Ikai [異 匀], with the alternative pronunciation “Ibou” ‘may be interpreted as “a charismatic person” (I; 異) from “foreign” (kai; 匀). The name can also be interpreted as “different person”, that is perhaps a “transgender”? A man dressed as a woman, or vice versa?

The sign [異] symbolizes “a person with demon head”. The Chinese pronunciation of these characters is “Yi Hui” or “Yi Gai”, but with the same meaning. A hypothetical conclusion to be drawn is that Ikai was a stranger  and unusual even in China, perhaps initially of a people from eastern China.

In Hatsumi Sensei book Sengoku Ninpo Zukan (p.81) printed on 1978, Ikai was described as follows:

“During Huang You’s first year (possibly 1049), Ikai from Sijiang went into exile to the distant Japan, after losing the war against Ren Zong’s army, on the Qidan and Xia’s side. He came to Ise and settled in a cave in Iga.”


Sijiang is probably the same region as Shandong [山东] in today’s China. Because of its location on the North China Plain, Shandong area came into contact early on with the Chinese civilization whose cradle is just West of the present province. Both the first historical coated dynasties Shang Dynasty and Zhou Dynasty, controlled the western and central Shandong. The Shandong Peninsula was, for a long time outside the Chinese of influence. There lived the ethnic groups as the Chinese gave the name Dong Yi to, and who was regarded as barbaric, that is to say, nomadic.

The above-mentioned Ren Zong was Emperor Song Renzong of the Song Dynasty, ruled between 1023-1063. His real name was Zhan Zhen and was an emperor in the Northern Song Dynasty.

Xia is also known as Hsia and the Qidan are also known as Khitan. They were both a people who were related to Tungus, which in turn was a people who lived in northeastern Siberia. They were a significant nomadic people who dominated parts of what is today Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. The Russian word for China, Kitaj, is believed to originate from Khitan, as well as the older China name in English – Cathay.

If now Ikai had been a Chinese who fought on the Khitan and Hsia/Xia side against the Song Dynasty, then one can understand that he had to flee the Chinese continent in defeat, but it was more likely that he was a Khitan.

Oral tradition says that Ikai had been a general, and was very skilled in hicho ongyo no jutsu (飛鳥隠形之術). It was said that strangers, such as Ikai, Yi Gyokko (Yao Yu Hu) and Cho Busho (Zhang Wu Sheng) spread the knowledge of hichojutsu (飛鳥術), tode Koppojutsu (唐手骨法術), senban nage jutsu (旋盤投術) and the like to Japan. From this was born later Gyokko ryu kosshijutsu, Koto ryu koppojutsu, Gyokushin ryu kosshijutsu and Gikan ryu koppojutsu and others.

Considering that all the Koga ryu ninjutsu’s 53 traditions, and Iga ryu ninjutsu’s 30 traditions developed happo bikenjutsu based on Gyokko ryu’s teachings, the latter can be considered the oldest source of Japanese martial art.

Sakagami Clan’s Mon

In a text by Takamatsu, it says that Ikai had two students during the Johou period (1074-1077), namely Gamon Doshi and Hogenbo Tesshin. Ninjutsu was thus founded during the period between 1049 and 1077.

An alternative background for Ikai is that he was actually the same person as Hogenbo Tesshin. The reason is found in the book Essence of Ninjutsu, on pages 121-122. There, Takamatsu tells a story about an old man who talks to two students. The old man tells of the war when he fought on Kittan Ka’s (i.e., Khitan and Xia) side against King Jinso. Jinso is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character for Renzong.

The story of the old man is consistent with the story of Ikai in Hatsumi sensei’s book Sengoku Ninpo Zukan (available in Japanese only). In Essence of ninjutsu, on page 122, it is mentioned that the old man is Hogenbo and the students are referred to as Ryutaro and Dosan.

According to the book, Ryutaro later became the great ninjutsu champion “Garyu Doshi” and Dosan survived further under the name Tendo Sakagami. This Tendo Sakagami can be the same person as Sakabe Tendo (mentioned in the prehistory of Togakure ryu and Shinden Fudo ryu Dakentaijutsu).

Otomo Clan’s Mon

According to oral tradition, when he came to Japan, Ikai was presented to the Otomo clan who offered him a sanctuary in the distant Iga region.

Otomo, which means “great escort”, was a military clan who was considered to be descendants of Amaterasus grandson who pacified Japan. The power of the Otomo clan extended from the early Yamato period (250–710) to the Sengoku period, thus stretching over 1100 years.

Between the Yamato and the Heian period, Otomo had high military records in the Imperial Court, such as the life guards captain of the Empress Suiko.

The most famous ninja family – Hattori – were members of this clan. According to a legend, the life guards consisted of warriors of the Hayato people and it is therefore possible that the Hattori family came from this indigenous people.

According to the same legend, Ikai (sometimes also referred to as Chan Basho in Koto ryu documentation) trained parts of the Otomo clan in a unique form of combat technique – i.e. It is known today as ninjutsu, kosshijutsu and koppjutsu.

Translated by Luke Crocker from HERE.

Kata, Kuden, and Hiden

There are two kanji characters for the concept of kata in the battle art, one is interpreted as form [型] and the other structure [形], i.e. what is in the form. Both of these contain a sign for “imitating reality” [幵], i.e. kata has always had the purpose of “reality based” training. 
There is another third character, [方], which is pronounced as kata and means direction or direction, and which can sometimes be used as a related word.

The very earliest martial arts, known as the kaden (family traditions; 家伝), those that were created before the Edo period (1603 – 1868) originally had no kata. These first appeared later in the 17th century.

In the oldest makimono (scrolls; 巻物) known, for kenjutsu, jujutsu, yari etc, the word kata was not used at all. The words used were “uchi tachi” and “shi dachi“. In one of our original documents, Kyussho ratsugi, which is part of the Amatsu Tatara collection of chronicles and described only the very principles and concepts, i.e. what to do. The answer to the question how the principles were put into practice was transferred as the kuden (oral transmission; 九伝) , verbally from teacher to student. It’s a bit like reading Sun Tzu or Sanryaku, the ideas are presented, but not how they can be used in individual situations. We have several hundred kata in our schools, but they are completely useless if you have not learned the kuden that belong to them.

The form of kata used in karate, for example, and similar modern martial arts came much later, only during the end of the 19th century. Then the purpose was to teach large numbers of students new techniques. The schools that changed their pedagogy from transferring quality to managing quantity were already named “shin ryu” (new schools; 真流), a term that is a bit funny because many of these schools are today called “ko ryu” (old schools; 古流).

When kata was created for describing principles and concepts, then the need to name them and the principle it contained also arose. Many names, concepts and ideas come from Buddhism, theater, archery, Noh, ikebana, sado, poetry, etc. In Gyokko-ryu, for example, it is said that the innermost secrets are embedded in the kata name.

Kata can be interpreted as a sequence or modulation of previous masters’ movements. If the student knows how to read the description and has the tools in the form of the kuden to decode the information, there is much to deepen in. The problem with kata is that they can easily become rigid and “die” unless the kuden is properly decoded by the student. Some parts can be lost over the years, such as distance, kukan, juppo sessho, rhythm, breathing or to change the weapon technique or tactics.

By definition, it is not possible to describe a master’s movements, either in writing, image or verbally. There are many aspects that the learner must learn “heart to heart” – this is called hiden (secret transmission; 秘伝). 
It’s like a teenager trying to understand their parents. You probably won’t do this until you have become a parent yourself.
A master’s movements can be likened to a stream running down a mountain side. A kata trying to describe this becomes inevitably rigid and clumsy. A kata can never describe anything spontaneous and natural, but it can describe its various aspects of it, which then the student must juggle in his own body and mind. Many old kata have names that are very poetic, which include concepts such as clouds, fog, running water etc, in order to describe another dimension.

Another problem we have today with kata comes from modern martial arts. When moving from educating a handful of students to mass training of hundreds of students, one had to create standardized techniques that were taught in a ritualized form. And from here, the wrong belief also stems that even in koryu kata is about learning techniques on a ritualized set.

One simple example is our “tsuki kata” (thrust form; 突型). If you consider this as a technology to be used in emergency situations, you are wrong. But if you understand the kuden that is attached to it, namely that it is important to repel the opponent so that he does not, despite being hit and seriously injured, continue his movement path and even manage to meet me with his weapon.
Compare with sword; if the enemy cuts with a sword against the us and hit with “hiki kiri” – pulling cut, then we, after the hit may still complete our chop and thereby seriously hurt us. On the other hand, if you have understood the danger in this and use “oshi kiri” – pushing cut, then the opponent is discarded. In martial arts contexts, it does not matter if you meet with “hiki or oshi“, because it is the one who meets first who gets the score.

One can divide all kata a little loose into two categories; Tanren gata and Shinken gata. 
The tanren gata (鍛錬型) is exercises for “forging and polishing” motor skills and physics in order to use the bio-mechanics of the tradition. Ukemi kata is a typical Tanren. 
Shinken gata (真剣型) is for real combat and represents tactics that of course also include abilities that have been practiced with Tanren gata. 
Kihon Happo is a genric piece made by one of the old masters. For beginners it is a Tanren gata and for the advanced students it is a Shinken gata thanks to the kuden, but for those who have gained insight via hiden, the content is raised another level to also include “kaname” (the deepest principles; 要).

During the Edo period, there was also the Hyoen gata (表厭), techniques shown at public and public demonstrations, to attract students to school and to make money. Many koryu schools of today consist of many Hyoen forms, but it is not always the practitioners of these schools are aware of it because the kuden has been lost over the years. 
An image can be seductive. Below is Hatsumi sensei and kamae. Is it out of the Shinken gata or the Hyoen gata? Just Kuden can reveal the purpose of this and if you have faced Soke when he assumed this position, maybe you even have managed to capture the hiden.

this article originally appears on Pertti Ruha’s blog HERE.

Nata 鉈

My Introduction to the Nata

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.

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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 seal script of the kanji 會

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 , is a variant form of . 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

The “Testsu” (鉄), found in the second volume of 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.

The single edged Silky Nata


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

Kiichi Hogen

Translated from Pertti Ruha’s Blog HERE.

In the mythology of the schools of the Bujinkan, there exist a person called Kiichi Hogen [鬼一法眼] (also sometimes romanized as Kiitsu Hogan) as mentioned in Takagi Yoshin Ryu’s Ryuko no maki. He is a legendary figure, who we do not know much about. Hogan lived in the 1100s in the areas around Kyoto.

He is said to have been skilled in onmyojutsu  (陰陽道)  a form of Japanese Taoism — and was a famous strategist.

Kiichi Hogen

Among the documents that are left behind after the “Kyoto’s eight schools,” Kyo Hachi Ryu, mentioned him as a prominent figure, whose teachings have been embraced among many of the martial arts schools that came from western Japan. Among other things, he must have left behind the piece of text included in Ryuko no maki;

“If the opponent comes, welcome it; if he goes so send him away. Add five to five and to receive ten; add two to eight, and to receive ten. How to create harmony.
Assess the situation, see through the intention; the large larger one ten square feet; the little penetrates the smallest things.

It can get hectic, but when you face whatever is in front of you, keep a cool head. “

According to a book from the early Edo period this was most like Chujo ryu. The tachi used was short and a characteristic technique was to squeeze close to the opponent.

The brief description of the sword he used is similar to our Togakure ryu sword and the  techniques of Kasumi, Fuma and Aranami with movements that oshi kiri and Raikou ken etc., are extremely similar.

A temporal link with the Togakure Ryu is also a legend that Hogan was Minamoto Yoshitsune’s sword teachers, the same Minamoto Daisuke Nishima fought before he was forced to flee into Iga mountains.

If this connection is true, then one can also speculate that Chujo ryu, a famous but now extinct school, could have links to Togakure ryu and Gyokko ryu.

Kiraku-ryu and the Toda Family

Kiraku-ryu (氣樂流) is a composite tradition including the use of the sword, grappling, chained-sickle, and more. Some of its secret teachings involve the Kuji, various mantra, accupressure, kanashibari spells, and so on.

According to the Menjo (diploma; 免状) of the school (my source is written sometime between 1862 – 1870), the founder was Toda Echigo no Kami, though there has been research that suggests that this is not accurate: possibly Watanabe Mokuemon (according to Serge Mol (2001: 209)) or Izuka Garyusai Okiyoshi (according to Watatani and Yamada (1978: 233). The Menjo simply lists these individuals in it’s list of past soke, or reputable practitioners, along with short biographies of each.

It is interesting to note that under the heading for Izuka Garyusai Okiyoshi it is stated that Kiryaku-ryu and Toda-ryu are one and the same and both founded by Toda Echigo.

Similarly, there are a number of other members of the Toda family found in this listing including Toda Naiki Yoshinori (戸田内記義則) and Toda Hayato Yoshitoshi (戸田隼人義敏). Though not likely to be expressly related, for those following Sean Askew‘s work on the Toda family, I have added the passages regarding these two Toda’s (Some of the other headings discuss parts of the Toda family, but they are seemingly further off topic).

The biography of Toda Echigo no kami Shigenori as found in the Kiraku-ryu Menjo (1862 – 1870)

Toda Echigo Morinobu no Kami (戸田越後守信)

“As for the the Toda family line, its ancestors also possibly called themselves the Tomida family (富田派) line originally; being the clan of the family of Gōshū Sasaki, many living in the generation of the family of the ranked official Asakura. They themselves, afterwards, were acting as public master instructors of swordsmanship under Toyotomi Hidetsugu (1568-1595), with the resignation of 70 years teaching in various provinces on the forefront of the field. With 400 households, they presided over swordsmanship with three blossoms: the tradition of the unrivaled Muteki-ryū spearmanship, the Tomida-ryū family tradition of jūjutsu and Toda-ryū family tradition. Mastering three traditions of inner technique, they went about serving in battle out of the province in Echizen /  tsuzen with the family of Lord Maeda Toshiie, during which they faced 138 famous unequaled rivals. Later to defeat other first class parties and obtain the title of a Chief  family with seven classes, due to having a myriad of battlefield deeds, the Toda family was honored with Sanzengoku, becoming known as the ‘Protectors of Echigo’. Being the aforementioned founder of Toda-ryū jūjutsu at the time, he was 70 years old when he passed away.”

Toda Naiki Yoshinori (戸田内記義則)

“Regarding the Toda family line, its original name was Yamada / Kumada family line at  Shiro / Jo province, natives of Fushimi, with Lord Yodo appointed as an official after his wanderings with Shindo Uunsai. Therein refining his character by diligence, the product of the merits of his actions, he, in the end, evolved into a topnotch master of the secrets and founder, venturing deep to the source of Toda-ryū. In both modern and ancient  times, the advantage of such personas, wandering alone unequaled in good name throughout the country, is the notable trace they leave. This master died at age 72 years.”

Toda Hayato Yoshitoshi (戸田隼人義敏)

Biography of Toda Naiki Yoshinori and Toda Hayato Yoshitoshi found in the Kiraku-ryu Menjo (1862 – 1870).

“Regarding Yoshitoshi, he was a legitimate son of Toda Naiki / Uchiki, wearing his father’s badge upon his leather garments, engaging in intense active practice himself, unceasingly in the house of (?) Koemoto (?). He was a person of recreational diversions, his name carried near and far, but he was repeatedly emotionally volatile. Yet in service to Lord Yodo, he was chief instructor, who, before long, increased that family’s  prosperity. This master died at age 82 years in Yodo’s feudal domain.”

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)

Hitoe 一重


Mi o Hitoe ni kanari koto

The body must be maintained in profile.

Differences between the times of armor and the battlefield and today’s combative sports are numerous and diverse, from placement of the feet and hands, to the usage of kamae and tachi, types of weapons, qualities of movement, so on and so fourth. One of the first details that we are going to look at here is the notion of placing the body in proportion to the enemy on the battlefield.

More specifically, this is the idea of standing profile to the person in front of you; but why would we want to do this? does it not limit our options and maneuverability in combat? Well, this may seem unusual, unorthodox, or counter-intuitive, I can assure you that it is both a classical form of movement, and an incredibly effective method for managing one’s own body, though that will take a few steps to get there.

The History

The quote at the beginning of this writing is from Yagyu Munenori’s Heiho Kadensho (柳生 宗矩, 兵法家伝書, 1632), where it is written five bodily principles regarding the nature of one’s sword posture[1], and it’s relevance to the enemy. This quote regarding standing profile (hitoe; 一重) is the first of the five details, and as we like to say in ninjutsu, “the first transmission is the deepest transmission“,[2] and as such, this should be deeply considered.

This teaching however, stretches back to at least the Nen-ryu (念流) founded in 1368, where even in the current iterations of the Maniwa Nen-ryu we can see this a little, (as well as that of Hicho no kamae), as Nen-ryu was the origin of the principle of Tōtoku Hyōshi (刀匿礮姿), a principle derived from defending against projectiles, but had been adapted to the sword, spear, and much later, unarmed kamae.

Similarly, paintings and illustrations all through Japan’s history exemplify body positions like this, and it wasn’t that it was some artistic leniency that inflicted the art style; as we see variances between different social classes within the same artist or writers examples. Within one artists career we might find illustrations representing the forms of Nanba Aruki [3], Hitoe, and leg and foot positioning (ichimonji; 一文字) to allow for freedom of movement (jiyū jizai; 自由自在) in response to the needs of the battlefield. Indeed, it is even uncommon to see warriors depicted as not working within this form of movement.

However, as the warrior class moved away from armored battlefield combat, some of the perks of this positioning (which will be elaborated on in the next section) dissolved, and the combatants began to square their shoulders towards the opponent. This further suffered when foreign influence came into the picture and exposed the warrior class to what we today refer to as gendai taisō (現代体操), or modern exercise.


Though in order to not incessantly ramble on indefinitely on the subject, this will not be an exhaustive list, but at least three points will be explained here: Kamae, Sōgō, and Kage.

Kamae 構え

Kamae in this case refers to the position you take proportionate to the enemy, that is to say, they can only see the side of the body that you show them, at least half of your body is out of view. While in armor, this means that half of your openings are protected, all that remains is the face, the armpit, and the foot. Hicho helps to protect the foot, by pointing the foot at the enemy the armor’s shin guards protect the rest of the leg, the hand in front protects both the face and the armpit with what ever weapon you have through postures like seigan[4] and the principle of Tōtoku Hyōshi.

Sōgō 総合

Daijodan with a staff
A large staff being wielded just like a sword in the Daijodan position.

Most classical schools of Japanese traditions in the martial arts are comprised of numerous weapons and techniques, connected by common denominators. This structure is called Sōgō Bujutsu (composite martial science; 総合武術). This is how to connect one’s basic fighting posture between the sword, spear and unarmed; seigan no kamae is shared between each of the weapons with little modification, whether in armor or otherwise.

As such the techniques involved were developed to be adaptable to any weapon, the principles of each becoming the common denominators between each. This all comes from the postures itself, beginning from the feet, and their position, to that of the hips, and then the shoulders. The transition between each weapon is natural without much thought for extra thought and no need to adapt the movements. As such the idea of Sōgō Bujutsu illustrates the principle that from only one technique, only one form, multiple applications can be produced. The technique is an expression of the kamae, and both are in turn a reflection of the practitioners depth of practice, understanding, and spirit; a measure of how open and accepting to life’s adversities he can be.

Kage 陰

Kage, or “In” (as in Inyo; 陰陽, the Japanese reading of Yin-yang), refers to what is visible, and invisible, or out of sight. The term kage no kamae comes from the technical writings of Shinkage-ryu, but is referred to several times in the mokuroku of Jiki Shinkage-ryu.

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Most of the kamae found in ninja-related ryuha are positions where the body is also seen in profile and the feet are on one line (called Ichimonji; 一文字). To have such a profiled posture carries with it the “spirit of being profile”, in that it is an attitude or intention in which only half is allowed to show, what the practitioner decide to offer. The intention of this profiled posture is one of a state of hiding. To reiterate, the practitioner of ninjutsu doesn’t appear directly, doesn’t show everything to his adversary, but instead creates doubt about his real capacity.


Though this seems exceptionally difficult as well as counter-intuitive, I hope some of the logic and examples provided above give the reader some grasp as to how the classical warrior’s science differed from today’s practice of things like kendo. From bio-mechanical principles established in the late 13th century and survived all the way through the feudal era, only to dissolve due to complacency… It is a shame indeed that even though publications such as the Life-Giving Sword are out there and thoroughly reviewed, principles, right at the beginning of the book, and written in very plain legible English are all but completely ignored or overlooked when they form some of the basis for such famous schools as the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu.


  • Yagyu, Jubei Mitsuyoshi. Tsuki no sho (1642). Annotated by Imamura Yoshio. Sanjo-shi: Nojima Shuppan, 1971.
  • Yagyu, Munenori. The Life-Giving Sword: Secret Teachings from the House of the Shogun (p. 109). Shambhala.


[1] “Whether striking or parrying, these must not be forgotten. When one is a beginner, they are intended to correct strain from incorrect body posture. It is the same as correcting unevenness in a bow. . . . If you know your body well, knowing strain is knowing yourself. If you think only of what’s in front of you, you will forget about straining your body . . . correcting strain is the first stage of understanding in knowing yourself.” —Himonshu

[2] 初伝わ奥伝なり。 There is a few reasons for this: 1) In order to preserve some of the most important teachings of the tradition, it is structured in such a way that if the pupil learns only the first few teachings or lessons and the master dies, some of the most important lessons are not lost. 2) There would have been more individuals that have practiced the first technique, then any other technique, thus it has been exposed to more minds, refined more intensively, and had more knowledge compacted into it than any other technique in the tradition.

[3] Nanba Aruki (ナンバ歩), a system of bio-mechanics seemingly unique to Japan for various reasons, that includes keeping the feet, hips, and shoulders inline while moving. Due to the very low strain nature of this movement, some have hypothesized that this is the human being’s natural way of walking and moving in daily life. I myself have spent the past 9 years working this into my daily behavior, and have noticed a reduction of strain-injury as well as more overall energy throughout the day. Studies have also shown that the nanba method of walking can reduce knee impact and strain, improve fluidity of movement, and reduced slip potential. Interestingly, within the Bujinkan, there is a series of exercises that educate the pupil on how to do exactly this called the Sanshin Gata (三心型).

[4] Seigan no kamae (正眼之構), a position where the sword, spear, or other weapon is pointing directly at the enemy’s eyes, serving as an obstacle that they have to circumvent in order to deliver and effective attack.

And the TL:DR version:

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