From a hunt for Azuma-ryu

This morning I had been hunting around for information about the Azuma-ryu (東流) school of hojojutsu, for extra information on my translation of Zukai Hojojutsu, and really there’s next to nothing available online about this tradition.

Hagaimeno no Koto ハガイノ事 of the Azuma-ryu 東流.

According to David Hall, the author of the Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial arts (Nihon Budo Jiten 日本武道事典), this may refer to three different ryuha:

  1. A school of espionage (ninjutsu) that was apparently still preserved during the Taisho era (1912-1925). The only practitioner from that time known today is Azuma Taro Uemon.
  2. A school specializing in swordsmanship (kenjutsu) with the standard sword (katana) and dagger (tanto) in the area of Fukuoka domain in Kyushu. The only known practitioner is Suyama Ichiemon.
  3. A school specializing in arresting-cord arts (torinawa) that was a splinter tradition of the Nanba Ippo-ryu 難波一甫流.

An that’s about all I’ve managed to acquire on this particular ryuha. However, when drudging through the Wasada University archives, I found numerous books on folk stories, plays, and other miscellany (including a modern school of two string guitar under the same spelling as this tradition).

One of the picture books I found had many illustrations with interesting points to ponder called Azuma Sodachi Satsuki no Ochigiwa (東発名皐月落際). This appears to be a story novel following a warrior of which I haven’t deduced the name of, written by Bakin Kyokutei and Toyokuni Utagawa in 1799.

Shukke and the Yurei 出家と幽霊

A monk facing a Yurei 幽霊 (feint spirit ghost) in the azuma sodachi satsuki no ochigiwa

It appears that this first part of the story centers around a traveling exorcist meeting various ghosts and demons, whole later on it focuses on a warrior and his interactions (violently) with various demons. Whether this is one and the same person, I’ really not sure as I find it very difficult to read this type of literature.

In the above illustrations, the ghost (Yurei; 幽霊) is depicted as an old woman, which narrows down what type of ghost she is, though I have also not been able to deduce his particular type. Though this category of ghost is commonly depicted with a sort of willow-wisp ghost orb nearby (Davisson, p. 215), it is omitted here, but plays a notable part later in the story.

Because my own background tends to be in the interest of ninjutsu, any time I see a monk depicted in such situations, I think of one of the main disguises of the ninja, though I know this particular story to not be the case here.


azuma sodachi satsuki no ochigiwa Baphomet
Depictions of various Japanese spirits and demons, interesting to notice the depiction of a goat headed demon here looking very much like the Baphomet demon of Christianity.

The next interesting illustration shows an oni (demon; 鬼) with the head of a goat, something that isn’t too commonly seen in Japanese folklore, to the extant that I couldn’t find much of anything about it.

Having it look straight on in the manner depicted gives it some alarmingly similar features and presentation as the often referenced pagan goat god, Baphomet, feared in Christian sources for it’s comparisons to the modern conception of Satan (some consider them one and the same). I’ve personally never seen another depiction of a goat demon in any sort of Japanese sources, but this is really not my field. A brief search through various sources that I have on hand and available on Amazons Kindle libraries for terms like Yokai (妖怪) and Yurei (幽霊) and buying three different encyclopedias on the subjects revealed nothing including the terms “goat” or ‘sheep”, so this continues to be an elusive subject.

Hitodama 人魂!

Some depictions of oni (鬼) with a tetsubo (iron club; 鉄棒), and a swordsman armed with a tachi and daito, and surrounded by rats and some form of orb ghosts.

I’ve always had a personal curiosity about will-o-whisps, and their various cultural iterations. So when I come across illustrations of Japanese warriors being surrounded by ghostly orbs like this, it catches my attention, and I have to say I didn’t exist this kin og Yokai to have it’s own category; it turns out that depending on where they come from, they have different meanings, demeanor, behaviors, and so on, but they all fall under the category of Hi no Tama (orbs of fire; 火の玉).

I can only speculate what these particular ones with the kanji for heart or mind (心) written on them. So I’ll briefly describe a few different ones here:

Hitodama 人魂

Hitodama from the Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki by Toriyama Sekien

This seems to be one of the more common of the various spirit orbs, characterized by a floating orb, sometimes with a feint flame around it, ad with a tail trailing behind.

They seem to levitate fairly close to the ground, and unlike other orb-like spirits that are created by other supernatural beings (such as foxes and demons), hitodama are said to leave the body of a dead human two or three days after death.

The kanji used in the name 魂 implies yang energy, somewhat like the yang energy leaving the body upon death and only yin being left behind.

It’s also interesting to note that this spirit is mentioned in the Man’yoshu:

“When you are alone and meet the complete blueness of a hitodama, you would naturally think of it as the sorrow on a rainy night” –  Man’yōshū (Amasaki book) Chapter 16

Onibi 鬼火

“Sougenbi” from the “Gazu Hyakki Yagyō” by Sekien Toriyama

These are orbs that appear along side various oni and are said to come from the souls of the dead who are violent or maleficent.

According to the work of Matthew Meyer, “Onibi does not create much heat, but the orbs possess a different danger. Living creatures that draw too close are sometimes swarmed by dozens of orbs, which quickly drain away the life force from their victims. Soon nothing is left of the victim but a dead husk on the ground.”

As such it appears that this is one of the more dangerous iteration of the hi no tama class of spirits and ghosts.


Kitsunebi 狐火

Kitsunebi illustrated in the Ayakashi Monogatari (阿也可之譚), written by Gyokuzan Okada (玉山 岡田), in 1790. A story about the Kitsune’s mischief.

Most depictions of Kitsunebi (fox fire; 狐火) show them as thin wisps of flame, though some show as orbs like the others. The kitsunebi themselves are not dangerous, the fox spirit it came from can be really quite malicious, and in some myths, exceptionally dangerous.

Kitsune have been an ongoing fascination of mine, particularly the nine-tailed versions. Kitsunebi orbs are formed by foxes, which breath the ball of fire out from their mouths and use it to light their way at night. It is most often a sign that a large number of kitsune are nearby – often during yokai events such as the night parade of one hundred demons, yokai wedding ceremonies, and other processions or meetings. (Meyer, “Kitsunebi“)

Killing the Oni

A warrior depicted smashing down an oni with a large trunk of bamboo, notice a sort of restrained spirit orb next to him seemingly on a leash.

So a switch back to the original review here, now were looking at an action shot with the protagonist killing a demon with a rather large trunk of bamboo. I have noticed a tendency that when theses warriors are depicted in killing of fighting demons, it is usually with an exceptionally large weapon. I imagine this would be because of the expectation that demons tend to be much stronger than humans, so something a little bit more impact-full  would have to do the trick.

It’s also interesting to see the hitodama in the picture seemingly tethered or leashed by its tail, almost in a comical way.

The Wisdom Kings

Depictions of the Wisdom kings (myohi ;明妃) of esoteric Buddhism, note the famous Fudomyoo in the middle.

Now we see not just the illustrious Fudomyo, a rather “notable” figure in most esoteric systems of Buddhism. Her, he is also depicted with two boy servants who is usually depicted in attendance to Fudomyo: Kongara dōji (矜羯羅童子) and Seitaka dōji (吒迦童子). I’ve included this page simply because it is a rather clear and decent depiction of Fudomyo, there not much more to say about him that hasn’t been stated in great length elsewhere.


Well, this has been an interesting way to spend the day, exploring Japanese ghost stories, and looking at some pretty interesting illustrations from several different sources. I hope it was an interesting read to go through such randomness. It’s kind of a strange tangent from looking up a hojojutsu tradition, to reading about ghosts all day, with any luck something will pop soon!


  • Davisson, Zack (2014). Yūrei The Japanese Ghost. Chin Music Press. ISBN 978-09887693-4-2.
  • Meyer, Matthew. the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons. (2015), 2nd edition.
  • Kyokutei, Bakin; Utagawa, Toyokuni. Azuma Sodachi Satsuki no Ochigiwa 東発名皐月落際. (1799). Wasada University.

Martial Arts Researchers in Bath

The Martial Arts Studies Research Network

Bowen Collection

Last week we held a Martial Arts Studies Research Network event in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. The event was a great success, with researchers from Japan, Korea, the US, the UK and Europe sharing New Research on Japanese Martial Arts.

Videos of some of the talks can now be found on the Martial Arts Studies YouTube Channel, here:

The day after the mini-conference I took the Japanese members of our research group to visit The Bowen Collection at the University of Bath. The librarian and collection manager, Lizzie Richmond, had set out a small display of a representative cross section of items from the collection, and the visit was extremely rewarding. Anyone interested in the very early days of judo and jujitsu in the UK should consider arranging a time to visit the collection.

Our next martial arts studies research network event is the conference…

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Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu – background

The origin of Kukishin Ryū Bōjutsu 九鬼流棒術, as we practice it, can be found among the martial arts practiced during the Tang Dynasty in China. Some of these skills and techniques came to Japan with Otomo Furumaro. Sometime during Choho period (999-1004) was reformed method of Nawa Shinzaburo Motonaga and he became Ryuso (founder) of Chōsui Ryū 澄水流. This ryu had been renamed, when the 3rd Soke Okuni Kihei Kitosumi inherited sovereignty, to Kishin Chōsui Ryū 馗神澄水流.

On Mount Kurama was a Shingon priest named Yakushimaru Kurando Taka Masa, who had studied both Kishin Chosui ryu and Shinden Fujiwara Muso Ryū 神傳藤原無双流. In the summer of 1336 Yakushimaru participated the emperor Godaigos side at Ikoma mountain and when he was in the battle broke the blade of his Naginata, he had to fight on with just the shaft. It was a life-changing experience and he developed techniques with long pole – staff 棒 – and incorporated them in his Kishin Chosui ryu. Later he founded Chosui Kukishin ryu which was shortly thereafter renamed Kukishinden Tenshin Hyoho and which today is known as Kukamishin ryu.

In 1349 Izumo no Kanja Yoshiteru founded the Kukishin Ryu Happo Bike Jutsu after studying Chosui Kishin ryu. Bojutsu techniques were recorded in a book which was named Kangi no maki .

The 27th Soke of Kukishin ryu Happo Biken – Takamatsu Toshitsugu structured these kata to what we know today as bojutsu, and left the sucession to Hatsumi Masaaki, thus he is the 28th Soke of this tradition. Takamatsu Sensei took what we call Keiko Sabaki gata from Kukishin Ryu and Shoden-, Chuden- and Okuden gata from Kishin ryu. The last three can also be found among the documents that define Amatsu Tatara Kukishin ryu bojutsu, and the first are included in both Takagi Ryu bojutsu and Kukamishin ryu bojutsu.

Kukishin ryu bojutsu has several different types of forms. The two most common are maru-bo (round rod) and Hakkaku-stay (octagonal rod). These two could also have reinforcements of metal around the ends. The other two are Donryu bo 呑竜棒 (dragon staff) and nyoi-bo 如意棒 (wishful staff). The last two rods requires an extremely high taijutsu management.

Nowadays, one standardized length of the rod to 6 shaku (6 feet, i.e. 182 cm), but in the past would be a staff 1 foot (33 cm) longer than what one was, but could also be longer. The thickness of the rod usually 1 sun (3 cm), but it could also vary.

Nyuibo  如意棒

Hatsumi with nyoibo

Manufactured from wood and 2 m long, wrapped in leather and covered with metal studs. Used on battlefields to put down the warrior in armor and keep at a distance. A blow could crush a man. Could also be used as a shield against arrows, sword and other weapons. A long rope could be attached to the narrow end to provide assistance for techniques such as throws.



Bo no Kagi 棒の鉤

Rod with a hook at one end that could be used to hook the clothes or armor at a distance. The hook could also be used as a tip for strikes and swipe from the side.

Kuki Gyoja bo 九鬼行者棒 – nine demons pilgrims staff

Donryu bojutsu.1

This is a weapon that was also called Donryu bo 呑龍棒- dragon staff. Four metal tips are secured at one end and attachment is reinforced with metal strips in itself has studs. The inside is hollow and conceals a four foot long chain of weight and that can are whipped if necessary. The other end of the rod is reinforced with nine studded metal spikes and a metal tip.

Tetsubo 鉄棒 – iron staff


Same as Kanabo 金棒 – metal rod. Could weigh up to 5-6 kg.

Shakubo 錫棒  – walking stick


This rod had a big ring with nine small rings attached to it. The top of the ring had a point, like a nail. The rings and the tip of made of metal. The nail could be used to shock or impact against the enemy, like a short spear.


Ruha, Pertti. Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu – bakgrund.

Togakure-ryu Happo Hiken 戸隠流八法秘剣

My teacher (Takamatsu toshitsugu) once described ninjutsu to me (Masaaki Hatsumi) as follows: “It is said that ninja knew all the martial ways. In each, they would undergo at least the minimum training essential to their life as a ninja. They would study the eight branches of the Ninja Hachimon (忍者八問): Ninja kiai (energy harmonization), Koppotaijutsu, Ninpo swordwork, spearwork, Shuriken, fire, traditional arts, and general knowledge.”

In other words, life of a Shinobi started with the Ninja hachimon. Over time, however, this changed so that greater weight was placed on Happo Hiken. the Shinobi Happo Hiken consists of the following:

  1. Taijutsu, Hichojutsu, nawa-nage (body skills and rope throwing)
  2. Karate Koppojutsu Taijutsu, Jutaijutsu (unarmed fighting)
  3. Sojutsu, naginatajutsu (spar and halberd arts)
  4. Bojutsu, Jojutsu, Hanbojutsu (staff and stick arts)
  5. Senban nage, Ken Nagejutsu, Shuriken (throwing blades)
  6. kajutsu, Suijutsu (use of fire and water)
  7. Chikujou Gunryaku Hyoho (military fortification, strategy and tactics.)
  8. Onshinjutsu (concealment)

The branches listed above were known as Happo (eight methods), and were supplemented by Hikenjutsu (secret sword arts; 秘剣), in other words, the shinobi sword, kodachi, jutte, and tessen, to complete the Ninja Happo Hiken.

In later periods, the term Togakure-ryu Juhakkei was also used. the eighteen forms of the Shinobi were defined as [above… ]. These were obliterated (破) by, or rather concealed within, the Bugei Juhappan (武芸十八般), thereby escaping through transformation into thirty-six forms: discretion became the better part of valor. In a sense, the evolved into the thirty-six Togakure strategies , the Kuji (九字) of the Santo Tonko (鼠逃遁甲) techniques, and even the Juji (十字) principle of bonding with the divine.

In fact, Ninja did not simply learn all forms of martial arts through their training: they continued studying until they reached a level far beyond mere technical prowess. [1]

Togakure ryu Happo Hiken
Buhi Kanjin Kaname no maki (武秘神眼要巻) – Togakure-ryu Happo Hiken 戸隠流八法秘剣


[1] Masaaki Hatsumi. Way of the Ninja. (2004). p. 21-22.

Ninja Juhakkei 忍者十八形

Ninja Jūhakkei (the eighteen disciplines; 忍者十八形) were first identified in the scrolls of Togakure-ryū 戸隠流, or “School of the Hidden Door”, founded during the Oho period (1161–62) by one Daisuke Nishina (Togakure), who learned a life view and techniques (ninjutsu) from Kagakure Doshi[1]. Togakure ryu Ninjutsu Hidensho[2] is a manuscript in Hatsumi’s possession that is said to document Togakure-ryū. It is the purported origin of the “18 skills of Ninjutsu.”

Ninja jūhakkei was often studied along with Bugei jūhappan (the 18 samurai fighting art skills). Though some techniques were used in the same way by both samurai and ninja, others were used differently by the two groups. The 18 disciplines are:

  1. Seishinteki kyōyō (spiritual refinement)
  2. Koppojutsu Tajutsu (unarmed combat)
  3. Kenpo (Swordsmanship)
  4. Bōjutsu (longstaff)
  5. Shuriken (throwing blades)
  6. Kusarigama (chain and sickle
  7. Yari (spear)
  8. Naginata (halbred)
  9. Bajutsu (horsemanship)
  10. Suiren (water training)
  11. Kayakujutsu (pyrotechnics)
  12. Hōryaku (tactics)
  13. Chōhō (espionage)
  14. Shinobi-iri (Infiltration)
  15. Inton (Concealment)
  16. Hensōjutsu (disguise)
  17. Tenmon (meteorology)
  18. Chi-mon (geography)


[1] Hatsumi, Massaki. (1988). Essence of Ninjutsu. McGraw-Hill. pg. 173

[2] Here, “hidensho” simply refers to the secret manuscripts of Togakure-ninjutsu. In this particular case, it is referring to Buhi Kanjin Kanami no Maki (武秘神眼要巻). This particular scroll serves as a sort of mokuroku for the Togakure-ryu, and has been made publicly available in Masaaki Hatsumi’s publication “The Complete Ninja: The Secret World Revealed” (2013, p. 98-99).

Buhi Kanjin Kaname no Maki 武秘神眼要巻


A Guide to Happiness – Kōfuku No Shiori(幸福の栞)

The Magick & The Mundane

Kofuku No Shiori - JapaneseA couple of weeks ago I posted a few of observations about Kōfuku No Shiori on Facebook – posting a longer follow-up here at the suggestion of friends.

fuku No Shiori (幸福の栞), which translates as “A Guide to Happiness“, is a short text by Takamatsu Sōke. In seeing the Japanese original again recently, a number of things came to mind and I thought it might be good to post an English translation that will perhaps breathe some new life into this well-known and meaningful piece. Here’s the Japanese original:

Let’s break it down and see what we can find …

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Totoku Hyoshi 刀匿礮姿

Tōtoku Hyōshi 姿

In the photo the Sōke of Bujinkan dōjō performs 刀匿礮姿 – Tōtoku Hyōshi, that is to use the sword as a shield against attack of outside or inside, this can be understood inside the Kobujutsu (古武術) as Naka-zumi (中墨) , Shinmyō-ken (神妙剣) or Seichū-sen (正中线). Basically it is the concept of maintaining a center-line with your being, with your body and with the tools that life has to offer, inside of sanshin (三心) this sanshin is an attitude of the being in spite of the external or INTERNAL circumstances (omote and ura / 表裏).

For this there is necessary the transmission and the practice of a corporal attitude of the being inside the one, the unity (一), From the unity to the multiplicity

Shūmoku (撞木), Hitoe (偏身), Ichimonjigoshi (一文字腰), Hanmi (半身) and Ichimonji (一文字) are some of the terms used in the kobujutsu for this corporal attitude inside the science of the art of the war (the art of the peace).

There are multiple guards, but only one guard will give us the victory over ourselves and our reflections projected on the outside.
What time is it? Now.
Where are you? Here.
Who are you? This moment.
Everything is in one, in the unity (一).

From the humility of one advancing to zero.


The Interior of the Bamboo is Empty

In the clip the sôke Masaaki Hatsumi shows the Dragon Body exercises (龍体運動)

The masters of any spiritual or artistic current repeat the forms of their practice habitually, not to establish difference between the regular practice and the daily life. They understand that the art and the artist have to establish a relation of unit that leads to the multiplicity in the interior and the exterior of his life.

The practice of an art is like a Japanese bamboo plant during the first seven years. Is very exogenous to the growth of the Japanese bamboo during his first seven years of existence, scarcely it is possible to estimate his growth, perhaps an ignorant farmer, would not have the patience and give up, however, to reach the seventh year, in just six weeks the Japanese bamboo plant grows over thirty meters.

What happened? Why no growth during the first seven years? It’s not that it did not grow, but during the first seven years of apparent inactivity, the bamboo was generating a complex root system that would allow it to hold when growth began.

Come to this point is important to meditate about this concept used by the masters “Take no uchi” (竹の内), this translates as “the interior of the bamboo.”

How to copy the technique of the master? How to copy something that has been created to keep secret and hidden to the look of the five senses (“mienai” – “見え ない” – invisible) and to the comprehension of the intellect (“wakaranai” – “分から ない” – incomprehensible)?


“The way should not be hidden. To make known is the best means of keeping it hidden” – Yagyū Munenori.

Grip on the Tsuka

Translated from Pertti Ruha’s BLOG.

Takamatsu Toshitsugu demonstrating Seigan no Kamae

Although there are many nuances in the way to grip a sword with both hands and as described in the various sword schools, so most practitioners recognize the description below as a general generic version, suitable for most beginners in the Bujinkan.

When training with the Japanese sword, one places his right hand on tsuka near the tsuba and the left hand grips the end of the tsuka, with the little finger placed on kashira. This is the basic way in which it holds a Japanese sword, regardless of whether a person is right- or left-handed.

Although it may seem that a left-handed person should keep the sword in the opposite way, with the left hand in front and the right-hand end of the bracket, but this is inappropriate for several important reasons.
A great advantage is achieved by holding the sword with the right hand forward. When holding the sword in front of you with the point towards the opponent’s eyes in Seigan no kamae, the area around your heart protected by the sword, and are less available to your opponent. If you would keep your sword in the opposite way, the area around your heart more exposed and as an easier target.

In terms of distance to the opponent, this can be determined by both parties by keeping their swords in Seigan and moving to positions where the swords overlap by about 10 cm from the tip. This puts each individual within about one step from being able to reach his opponent’s body.
In this position is the basic position of the tip of the sword on the left side of the opponent’s blade, ie, the heart-side of the opponent’s body. This puts the tip of the sword on the line for the shortest distance to your opponent’s heart.

In addition to being within the shortest reach of delivering a fatal blow to your opponent, you are also in a good position for protection. If your opponent would suddenly lunge with force against your heart, your best defense would be a simple twist of the torso and hips. By bringing your right shoulder forward, left shoulder backward avoid the attack. In this way, your sword deflect the opponent’s incoming fade away to the left side, while your own sword would stay on the line against your opponent’s heart.
You can imagine that it would be very difficult to do this if you held the sword with his left hand forward.

With both sides in this strategic position, it may seem that a stalemate could last forever. But even with an almost imperceptible change in breathing or perception of a faltering gaze, the one side sees an opening and suddenly attacks it, by starting from Seigan — and the battle begins. Or, as in our case, we begin our training.

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