by SEKI Humitake
Nineteenth Generation Kashima-Shinryû Shihanke

( English translation by William M. Bodiford )

The True Significance of Kashima Spiritual Transmission

For members of Kashima-Shinryû the most important historical document concerning the idea of “Kashima Spiritual Transmission” (Kashima Shinden)*[note 1] is the Hyôhô denki. It says:

The warrior arts (hyôhô) of our family initially were personally received as a spiritual gift [from the deity of Kashima]. Thus we call our art Kashima-Shinryû [The Kashima Spiritual Style]. The record of how this was inherited by successive generations, and the changes of names incurred therein, is summarized below:

Generation 1

The founder of Kashima-Shinryû was MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami Ki no Masamoto, a resident of the province of Hitachi. Morning and evening he offered prayers in the august presence of Kashima so that he might conform to the divine will. One evening in a dream he was given a single scroll, the same scroll once dedicated to the Kashima Deity by Genkurô Yoshitsune. Because this was a spiritual transmission (shinden), he called this style Shinkage (“Divine Shade” or “Abetted by the Gods”) Ryû.

KUNII Kagetsugu of the Minamoto clan of Hitachi subsequently helped him perfect this style.

According to this account, MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami Ki no Masamoto founded Kashima-Shinryû based on the principles recorded in the Tengusho (“Scroll of Tengu [long-nosed ascetic]”) of Genkurô MINAMONO Yoshitsune, which Matsumoto had received from the August Deity of Kashima. These spiritually transmitted principles therefore constitute the absolute justification that all lineages using the designation “Kashima Spiritual Transmission” (Kashima Shinden) must maintain and must propagate in society, even in the present-day.

The line in this account that no member of Kashima-Shinryû should forget is the one that says “the warrior arts (hyôhô) of our family initially were personally received as a spiritual gift.” Nor should we ignore the historically reality of this “initial, personally received spiritual gift.” The Kunii-ke sôden Kashima-Shinryû mokuroku explains this point in its historical section:

Kashima-Shinryû originates in Kashima-no-Tachi (“Sword Techniques of Kashima”), passed on from of old at the Kashima Grand Shrine. At the time of the Taika Reforms, Kuninazu no Mahito, a priestly celebrant at the shrine, originated these sword techniques and handed them on to the world.

This is historical fact, recorded in the Kashima shi [History of Kashima] as “that which began with Kuninazu no Mahito as a personal spiritual bestowal,” and played a major role in the famous historical episode of MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami Ki no Masamoto having dedicated himself before the Kashima Deity in his efforts to receive divine guidance. It continued to live in the severe Shinto austerities practiced by my late teacher, KUNII Zen’ya. This sort of personally received spiritual gift from the Great Deity of Kashima provides a clear justification for our idea concerning spiritual transmission (shinden).

In addition, transmission documents from the time of the Fifth Generation Shihanke (KAMIYA Bunzaemon-no-jô Taira no Masamitsu), when our style was called Shinkage Jikishinryû, state:

This art originates as a spiritual transmission; it must not contain even a hint of technique contrary to reality (muri). Accordingly, it must conform to heavenly-bestowed, natural principles. Its essence (hon’i) must consist of the straightforwardness (sugunaru) inherent in human beings. It must be without selfishness (muga) or artifice (munen), like the heart of a baby.

This passage records an important dimension of “spiritual transmission” as it was understood by lineages affiliated to the Kashima Spiritual Transmission during the time of KAMIYA Denshinsai.

Regardless of whether or not gods exist, it is certain that spiritual processes generate life. Whether one affirms or denies the theory of biological evolution, the relationships among living things exist within an ecological system that seems to function with a god-like purposefulness. Within this system humans seem to be the living beings closest to the gods. And among humans the ones least tainted by any biological or artificial adulterations — that is, the ones governed only by natural spiritual processes — would seem to be babies. In this sense, the actions of babies reveal the appearance of god-like activities. Therefore, cultivating the defensive and offensive principles that occur naturally when babies act to protect themselves also can be a kind of spiritual transmission.

The Hyôhô denki handed down in Kashima-Shinryû preserved within the Kunii family contains the line: “KUNII Kagetsugu of the Minamoto clan of Hitachi subsequently helped him perfect this style.” There is a crucial oral initiation regarding significance of this line in terms of spiritual transmission that is taught only to members of the Kunii family and their senior-most disciples. It has the same philosophical basis as the above-mentioned justification of spiritual transmission recorded in the transmission documents from the Shinkage Jikishinryû of KAMIYA Denshinsai’s time. Nonetheless, in regard to the physical application of martial arts, they are not identical.

During training sessions, my teacher, KUNII Zen’ya, would express this idea that “this art originated as a spiritual transmission; it must not contain even a hint of technique contrary to reality (muri); and it must conform to heavenly-bestowed, natural principles” in his own words: “perform the techniques naturally, naturally.” These teachings both say precisely the same thing. But instead of the assertion “as a spiritual transmission, it must be like the heart of a baby without selfishness or artifice, so that you make its essence into the straightforwardness inherent in human beings,” he would teach: “The martial art techniques revealed by babies, being unmediated by any human artifice or intelligence, are spiritual gifts. You should observe and imitate the ways they defend themselves and attack.” Thereupon, he would explain how the principle of spiral motion in the Kurai Tachi of Kashima-Shinryû techniques shares the same mechanical and physical foundations as revealed in the motions used by babies to shield their heads.

Because Zen’ya sensei’s training thoroughly penetrated what precedes form (i.e., the metaphysical) — going beyond even the truths taught in the Shinkage Jikishinryû transmission documents of the concerning the abstract significance of Kashima Spiritual Transmission — he has laid before us a topic for investigation that we must examine during our own training.

25 February 2006

1. Translator’s Note: Kashima Shinden (Kashima Spiritual Transmission) in a narrow sense is a designation used by several martial art lineages that identify their founder as MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami Ki no Masamoto (also known by various other names, such as: SUGIMOTO Bizen-no-kami Ki no Masamoto; MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami Masanobu; MATSUMOTO Morikatsu; MATSUMOTO Naokatsu). At present, these lineages consist almost entirely of the Kashima-Shinryû handed down within the Kunii family and the many branches of the Kashima-Shinden Jikishinkageryû. In a wider sense Kashima Shinden refers to any and all martial art lineages that derive from the teachings and techniques that originated at the Kashima Grand Shrine, including most lineages called “something Shintôryû” as well as many lineages using the designation “Shinkageryû.”

Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami Fujiwara no Hidetsuna:

“Daunted by the glyph shin [divine], he changed the name Shinkageryû [i.e., ‘Divine Shade’ or ‘Abetted by the Gods’ Style] and called it Shinkage [‘New (shin) Shade’]. ”[1]

All styles which bear the designation “Kashima Spiritual Transmission” (Kashima Shinden) are closely related both in name and in reality to Kashima-Shinryû, which constitutes the wellspring of all the traditional styles of martial art originating from the Kashima Grand Shrine. Members of Kashima-Shinryû frequently honor KUNII Zen’ ya as a great presence, especially for his service following the end of the second world war when he risked all to hasten the official rehabilitation of martial art education. Of all the shihanke within the orthodox lineage of the Kashima Spiritual Transmission, however, the one whose star shines the very brightest probably is the second-generation shihanke, KAMIIZUMI Ise-no-kami Fujiwara no Hidetsuna (dates unknown) — the man known in his day as the “foremost master in the realm” (tenka ichi no meijin). Nonetheless, regardless of the prominent historical fame Kamiizumi attained among the general public, the Kashima-Shinryû Hyôhô Denki — the scroll which recounts the biographical accomplishments of each shihanke — presents only a brief mention, which conveys no sense of reverence for his many achievements. It says:

Generation 2

KAMIIZUMI Ise-no-kami Fujiwara no Hidetsuna was an expert in warrior arts who succeeded to the orthodox lineage under MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami. Regarding the common designation of this style, being daunted by the glyph shin [divine], he changed the name Shinkageryû [i.e., ‘Divine Shade’ or ‘Abetted by the Gods’ Style] and called it Shinkage [‘New (shin) Shade’].

The first half of this biographical entry seems to praise him as the legitimate heir of MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami Ki no Masamoto and as an expert (tatsujin) in warrior arts (hyôhô). Matsumoto was the founder of Kashima-Shinryû, and in reference to the Kashima Spiritual Transmission, Matsumoto had designated this style the Shinkageryû or “Style Abetted by the Gods.” The second half the biographical entry thus seems to disparage Kamiizumi, merely noting that in his investigation and testing of many other styles, his awe of the divine caused him to revise this designation so that he wrote Shinkageryû as “New Shade Style.”[2] It makes no mention of his being appointed to the court rank of “Junior Fourth Rank Lower Musashi-no-kami” or of his royal command performance in 1571 before His Highness Ôgimachi Tennô [Heavenly Sovereign].[3] These meritorious achievements are precisely the kinds of accomplishments that one would expect to find recorded in a historical account of the great deeds achieved by the martial arts of the Kashima Spiritual Transmission.

To understand this omission it is necessary to examine the training that Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami completed before he went to the Kashima Grand Shrine to learn the martial arts of the Kashima Spiritual Transmission. Originally Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami had mastered the martial arts of the Aisu Kageryû. These circumstances are recorded in a book, Udo no Miya’i, compiled by NAGATOMO Munekiyo (published by the Shrine Office of the Kanpei Taisha Udo Jingû Grand Shrine [in Miyazaki Ken, Kyushu] in 1942). It says:

During the waning years of the Ashikaga Shoguns there was a person named AISU Hyûga-no-kami Ikô. For many years he had polished his glistening sword techniques. Visiting the Gongen [local divinity] of Udo, he prayed earnestly.[4] In a dream the divinity appeared in the form of a monkey and showed him the innermost secrets [of fencing]. He became famous throughout the realm and called his style the Kageryû. His student, Kamiizumi Musashi-no-kami Fujiwara Nobutsuna, applied himself to mastering its strengths and weaknesses. He called it Shinkageryû.

This book provides a compilation of several historical sources from which we can gleam the contents of the Kageryû. Since the information in these sources will prove crucial to the discussion that follows, the key sections are translated in full below:

Section 15: Miraculous Experiences

Numerous people who visited this shrine experienced miraculous events.

The Ishô Nihonden [Japanese Traditions in Foreign Lands], written by MATSUSHITA Kenrin [1637-1703] in Genroku 1 [1688], fascicle 2, contains the following passages:

The Wubei zhi [Treatises on Military Preparations], compiled by MAO Yuanyi [1549-1641?] of Fangfeng, in the section on Educational Skills 3, “Swordsmanship” (in the sub-section on Drills, in the section on Troop Formations and Drills), fascicle 86, states:

Mao comments: The Wujing zongyao [Essentials of the Military Classics (written in 1044)] describes eight types of swordsmanship, but the minor differences among them are not written therein and none of the methods for practicing them have been transmitted. Nowadays, we practice only the long sword and the waist sword. The waist sword is never used without a shield. Therefore, I discuss it in the section on shields. The long sword is the method of swordsmanship practiced by the Weinu [“bent-backed knaves,” a derogatory term for Japanese]. During the Shizong period [1521-1566] when they invaded the southeast, we first obtained this [form of swordsmanship]. During the mobilization in the junior metal year of the rooster [1561], Lieutenant Commander Qi learned their methods of practicing swordsmanship.[5] Moreover, those following him [his troops] performed it, and he published it later. The types of swords and techniques used before this method had been transmitted were short and heavy. They were to be abandoned.

[Matsushita] explains: “Lieutenant Commander Qi” is QI Jiquang [1528-1588]. This “junior metal year of the rooster” [1561] corresponds to the Ming Dynasty’s Jiajing 40 and to Japan’s Eiroku 4 during the reign of the Heavenly Sovereign Ôgimachi Tennô [reigned 1557-1586].

[In the following lines of the Wubei zhi] The name “Kageryû’ refers to a traditional style of Japanese swordsmanship. The glyph kage [reflection (ying)] should be written as the glyph kage [shaded (yin)]. Although there have been many styles of swordsmanship in Japan since ancient times, that of MNAMOTO no Yoshitsune [1159-1189] cut the greatest swath. Near the Buddhist temple on Mount Kurama [outside of Kyoto] there is a dale called Sôjôdani [Prelate Hollow]. Long ago a Junior Sôjô [Prelate] named Ichien cultivated the austerities of the Buddhist Path in that place. Hence, it became known as Prelate Hollow (as recorded in the Shingon biographies). Secular records report that the young Yoshitsune escaped the Heiji War by fleeing to this hollow. There he met a foreigner. The foreigner taught him the arts of the sword. Yoshitsune practiced well the methods of thrusting and striking, so that the subsequent number of master swordsmen [in his style] flourished until, during the waning years of the Ashikaga Shoguns, there was a person named AISU Hyûga-no-kami Ikô [1452-1538]. For many years he had polished his glistening sword techniques. Visiting the Gongen [divinity] of Udo, he prayed earnestly. In a dream the divinity appeared in the form of a monkey and showed him the innermost secrets [of fencing]. He became famous throughout the realm and called his style the Kageryû [Shaded Style]. His student, KAMIIZUMI Musashi-no-kami Fujiwara Nobutsuna, applied himself to mastering its strengths and weaknesses. He called it Shinkageryû [New Shaded Style]. This style consists of techniques such as: Enpi, Enkai, Yamakage, Tsukikage, Ukifune, Uranami, Rankô, Matsukaze, Kasha, Chôtan, Tettei, and Isonami.[6] The document reproduced by MAO Yuanyi lists the names: Enpi, Enkai, Yamakage, Kohi, Seigan, and Inken. It includes Japanese glyphs, which were copied incorrectly because of the cursive style and missing brush strokes [in the Japanese original]. [The document reproduced in the Wubei zhi (Treatises on Military Preparations) appears as follows:]

Kageryû no mokuroku [Kageryû Curriculum]

Enpi: This move is a sword technique for creating an opening in the opponent.

Kohi, Seigan, Inken: Likewise, when trying to seize the opponent’s sword, initiate with any action but do not correct at first. Discern whether he will attempt a great or minor maneuver, and then no matter what you will have the proper method for taking hold.

Enkai: This move is for when the opponents are numerous. One’s own sword must match the swords of the opponents. Then understand it just as in the first level.

Number Three. Yamakage.

[Matsushita concludes:] The document in the Wubei zhi is incomplete and copied inaccurately. Nonetheless, its contents basically are as transcribed above.[7]


[According to the above evidence] Aisu Ikô miraculously attained the Kageryû while at the sacred grotto of Udo.

The Nihon shoki sansho [Collected Commentaries on the Chronicles of Japan] (no date), by ICHIJÔ; Kaneyoshi [1402-1481], says:

Nisshû [Hyûga Province] lies to the southwest, the direction of the monkey. Therefore it is the land where the gods appear in the form of a monkey and where the Heavenly Grandchild [Ninigi] descended.[8] —— [According to the above evidence] Since ancient times Hyûga has been a place with a karmic connection to monkey gods.

The Hirasawa-ke denki [Biographies of the Hirasawa Family] says:

[AISU Hyûga-no-kami Ikô] Hisatada, during his thirty-sixth year, Chôkyô 2 [1488], senior earth year of the monkey, wrote one scroll while inside the stone grotto of Udo in Nisshû [Hyûga Province]. It says:

Respectfully recorded by AISU Hisatada, during my thirty-sixth year, while in the Miyazaki District of Nisshû. Salutations skipped. Since the days of my youth I, Hisatada, at all times whether outdoors or at home, active or quiet, have desired to cultivate this skill [swordsmanship]. Thus did I silently pray to the heavens. Sometimes I sought for it over a thousand ri [miles], unconcerned with the great distances I traveled. Sometimes I saluted our ruler’s reign of ten thousand generations and requested that the realm be at peace. Studying under many teachers, I fathomed their obtuse lessons. Is this not what is meant by the saying [in the Analects] that a man of virtue “is not ashamed to seek instruction even from his inferiors”? [9] Being some years more than thirty, I arrived at the rock grotto of Udo in Hyûga Province. Inside the shrine [to the local divinity] I lit incense and prayed deeply. On the thirty-seventh day in the flickering light and shadows of the burning lamp, announced by no human voice, a spider descended in front of my face. I wanted to shoo him away, but he fluttered about so that I could not capture him. “As I tried to penetrate [his method], it became ever harder. As I looked up, it became ever higher. When I thought it was in front, suddenly it was behind.”[10] From this [experience] I mastered the art [of swordsmanship]. Wow! How marvelous! How amazing! The spider suddenly turned into an old man. He spoke to me, saying: “Until today you have wished only to fully discern this art [of swordsmanship]. Your aspirations have been devout and never shallow. Therefore, I transmit this art to you.” It was not easy, but I asked him its name. He replied: “It is named Kageryû [Shaded Style]. Nothing in this Land of the Sun [Japan] can compare to it. That it why it is so named.”

[According to the above evidence, Aisu Ikô] received a secret transmission from a spider. The Hirasawa-ke denki was written by an eighth-generation descendant of Aisu Ikô named HIRASARA Mondo Michiari. It records the accomplishments of each generation beginning with AISU Ikô and continuing down to HIRASARA Munemasa, the father of Michiari. The family name changed to Hirawawa when Aisu Ikô’s son, AISU Shôshichirô Munemichi was rewarded for his meritorious service to the governor of Hitachi, SATAKE Yoshishige [1547-1612], with the gift of the land of Hirasawa Village, West Naka District, Hitachi Province.

The Hirasawa-ke denki also states:

Biography of the First Generation:


Known as AISU Tarô Saemon Hyûga-no-kami. Born in the senior water year of the monkey, Kyôtoku 1 [1452]. Died during his eighty seventh year, senior earth year of the dog, Tenbun 7 [1538]. His [Buddhist] dharma name is Ikô-sai.

The first of above sources recounts the legend of AISU Ikô receiving spiritual transmission of martial arts from a supernatural being who assumed the form of a divine monkey. This version of the story circulated widely among hoi polloi. Because the main subject of this legend concerns the transmission of sword techniques, a topic which arouses great interest even among amateurs, obviously its purpose is to convey in metaphorical terms the “brightness (yang) of sword virtue” (kentoku no yô; i.e., that which is embodied in form).

Figure 1.
Wubei zhi, fascicle 86, leaf 17a
Figure 2.
Wubei zhi, fascicle 86, leaf 18a

If we look at the drawings of the monkeys holding swords which accompany the Kageryû no mokuroku in the Wubei zhi (fascicle 86, leaves 15-22), two of them appear to illustrate the sword techniques known as Enpi and Enkai. The monkey on the right side of the Wubei zhi’s first illustration (Fig. 1) seems to depict the initial movement of Enpi. The monkey right side of the third illustration (Fig. 2) seems to depict the initial movement of Enkai.

These same sword techniques already appear together in a scroll, handed down in the Kashima-Shinryû shihanke (headmaster) lineage, known as the Tengusho (“Scroll of Tengu [long-nosed asceti c]”), which supposedly was written by MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami Ki no Masamoto, who lived at the same time as Aisu Ikô.[11] In the final section of this scroll, titled “Hiryû no Koto” (On Flying Dragons) we find entries in traditional Japanese kana orthography which correspond to these names. In other words, the traditional kana glyphs “we-n-hi” in the Tengu Scroll represent the pronunciation enpi or enbi and the glyphs “we-n-ku-wa-i” represent the pronunciation enkai. Thus, the kana glyphs in the Scroll of Tengu record the Japanese pronunciations for the kanji glyphs used in the Kageryû no mokuroku to write the terms enpi and enkai. In Kashima-Shinryû, when one applies the Ultimate of the Watery Moon (suigatsu no gokui) to the performance of the enpi technique, it becomes enkai through what might be called the highest expression of the Marvel of Yin and Yang as One (on’yô ittai no myô). This evidence suggests that at the time when AISU Ikô attained his awakening and formulated the Kageryû, techniques similar to the Kageryû’s enpi and enkai already existed within Kashima-Shinryû. (Note, however, that the technical achievement that enkai expresses as the ultimate of the watery moon differs greatly in Kageryû and Kashima-Shinryû.) These considerations lend authenticity to the historical accounts that after KAMIIZUMI Ise-no-kami had mastered the martial arts of the Aisu Kageryû, he next sought instruction from MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami.

In contrast to the legend of transmission from supernatural monkeys, the initiation documents handed in the family lineage of the direct descendants of AISU Ikô state that the supernatural being who revealed the innermost principle of martial art to Ikô within the stone grotto of Udo appeared in the form of a spider.

One can examine the evidence for the historicity of this event by visiting the spot where AISU Ikô is said to have prayed to the divinity of the Udo Jingû Grand Shrine. In other words, if one goes to the sacred stone grotto behind the shrine building, faces toward the stone wall in the grotto, and performs martial breathing (busoku), one can experience how the breath propelled outward by the martial breathing assumes a dome-like shape over one’s head and readily begins to spiral around within the sacred grotto. Moreover, the spiral movement of that breath resonates with and is amplified by the flow of energy created by the atmospheric circulation bouncing off the walls of the grotto from the pounding surf of the Hyûga Bay. The grotto provides an environment where one can easily experience the harmonious circulation of the air aroound the twin axes of oneself and the sacred seat where the divinity of Udo is enshrined. (Based upon an on-site examination of the sacred grotto of Udo conducted by SEKI Humitake on the evening of 23 September 2004.)

By serving to intensify the breath expelled during martial breathing, the configuration of the grotto provides an ideal environment where an ascetic can experimentally discern the best method for cultivating the abilities that precede form (i.e., the metaphysical). Actually, if AISU Ikô was conscious of the accounts that En no Gyôja had practiced shinbutsu (gods and buddhas) combinatory asceticism (shugen) in this same grotto in 656, then he probably intended to incubate a divine revelation from the Udo Divinity through the medium of a spider.[12] As is well known, at that time En no Gyôja supposedly already had attained the powers of spiritual penetration from when he secluded himself in the grottos of Mount Katsuragi. With just one glance of the majestic layout of the grotto at Udo, one can easily imagine the circumstances of the famous tale of the ground spider (tsuchi gumo) (Fig. 3) of Mount Katsuragi ensnaring MNAMOTO Yorimitsu (a.k.a Raikô).[13]

If the popular hoi polloi version of the legend, in which AISU Ikô received spiritual transmission of techniques via a divine monkey, conveys in metaphorical terms the “brightness (yang) of sword virtue” (kentoku no yô; i.e., embodied in form), then the legend in which he received spiritual transmission of the inner meaning (ôgi) via the divine medium of a spider can be seen as conveying the “shady (yin) aspect of sword virtue” (kentoku no in; i.e., that which precedes form). Therefore the version of the legend handed down by AISU Ikô’s direct descendants, the Hirasawa family, rings true as a family tradition belonging to a higher order. In other words, the kind of spiritual response that an ascetic can obtain in the spiritual grotto of Udo truly constitutes the “utmost shady sword virtue” (in no masaru kentoku).

KAMIIZUMI Ise-no-kami received instruction in the Kageryû from HIRASARA Shôshichirô Munemichi, the son of AISU Ikô. Thereafter, it was probably his uncertainty about this sword virtue that lead him to request instruction from MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami regarding the martial arts of Yin and Yang as One (In’yô ittai) taught in the Kashima Spiritual Tradition. Kamiizumi thus came to be recognized as the legitimate heir of MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami. Nonetheless, one can detect a certain sense of desolation in Kamiizumi. That is, his revising the glyphs for writing Shinkageryû was due not so much to his “being daunted by the glyph shin [divine]” — as publically stated in the Kashima-Shinryû Hyôhô Denki — but caused more by his excessive pursuit of the “utmost bright (yang) sword virtue” (yô no masaru kentoku). The vanity that drove his investigation and testing of many other styles prevented him from fully discarding the “utmost shady sword virtue” (in no masaru kentoku) of the Aisu Kageryû.

NAGATOMO Munekiyo’s compilation of miraculous events at the Udo Jingû Grand Shrine contains one more important entry (p. 68), this time concerning the Nenryû. It says:

Attaining the innermost secrets of a particular school while at the sacred grotto of Undo also had been accomplished by the Buddhist priest Jion even prior to the time AISU Ikô. Jion’s secular name was SÔMA Shirô Yoshimoto. He was born in the 6th year of Shôhei [1351] in Sôma Village of Ôshû [Mutsu Province]. During the early years of the Ashikaga Shoguns he toured through the provinces until at the rock grotto of Udo he attained understanding of sword techniques and founded his own school, which he named Nenryû [Mindful Style]. Later he entered Jifukuji Temple in Kamakura City, Sôshû [Sagami Province], which belongs to the same school [of Buddhism] as does Ninnô Gokokuji Temple [in Udo], and assumed the Buddhist name Jion.[14] In the fifteenth year of Ôei [1408], fifth month, he moved to Namiai Village in Shinshû [Shinano Province] where he built Chôfukuji Temple and enshrined Marishiten as its main icon.[15] He called himself [the Priest] Nen Daioshô. The Honchô Bugei Shôden [Japanese Martial Art Biographies], dated Shôtoku 4 [1714], by HINATSU Shigetaka, says:

A variant account regarding the Shinkageryû says: “Long ago there was a Buddhist priest named Jion. This priest originated the Kageryû based on a divine dream he received in the grotto of Udo in Kyushu. Kamiizumi inherited his tradition.” This account is false. Jion is the [founding] ancestor of the Todaryû and not an ancestor of the Shinkageryû. Nonetheless, similarities [between Jion and Aisu] do exist. AISU Ikô attained self mastery of swordsmanship while he was in the grotto of Udo in Kyushu. Jion likewise awakened to its essence while in the grotto of Udo. Because the place where each of them received divine dreams was the same grotto of Udo, people who did not know about AISU Ikô probably mistakenly assumed that Jion was the ancestor of the Kageryû.

Offshoots from Jion’s style include Chûjôryû, Todaryû, Ittôryû, Hasegawaryû, and others. Offshoots from AISU Ikô’s style include Shinkageryû, Yagyûryû, Jikishinkageryû, and others. The one founded by KAMIIZUMI Ise-on-kami Hidetsuna is the Shinkageryû.

As stated in the account above, SÔMA Shirô Yoshimoto (later known as Jion) created the Nenryû during the early years of the Ashikaga Period (1392-1573) after he had toured the various provinces and attained understanding of swordsmanship while in the rock grotto of Udo. At that time the divine grotto of Udo was regarded as the sacred site of the Great Gongen [local divinity] of Udo, and the priests there conveyed the style of shinbutsu (gods and buddhas) combinatory lore known as the Goryû [Majestic] Shintô of Ninnaji Buddhist Temple.[16] This kind of Ryôbu [Dual] Shintô, which is also called Miwa Shintô, is based on Shingon esoteric Buddhism as well as on Chinese theories of Yin-Yang and the Five Phases.[17] If the information provided by NAGATOMO Munekiyo’s Udo no Miya’i is correct, this same religious milieu held sway at Udo through the period when AISU Ikô received his divine revelations at the sacred grotto. Therefore, we can assume that the content of the sword virtue attained by Jion and by AISU Ikô was fundamentally unaltered. It is precisely for this reason that we can regard these two styles incubated at the sacred grotto of Udo, the Nenryû and Aisu Kageryû, as sharing the same roots, especially in terms of the “utmost shady sword virtue” (in no masaru kentoku).

The Kashima-Shinryû Ryû no Maki (Dragon Scroll) begins with the following words:[18]

The dual breaths of Yin and Yang constitute victory and defeat [i.e., combat]. Yin’s victory is Yang’s retreat, while Yang’s victory is Yin’s retreat. Nonetheless Yin and Yang fundamentally are one and the same breath. Cultivating this one breath enables one to attain heroic courage.

A pilgrimage to Udo Jingû Grand Shrine allows one to understand the kind of self-cultivation that permits one to reach the spiritual realm described by these words and allows one to awaken to their true meaning.


During the last year of his life, I asked my teacher, Master KUNII Zen’ ya, about the differences between Kashima-Shinryû and Nenryû. His reply was enigmatic like one finds in the responses of Zen masters. He said: “They are the same. The crucial difference is that one cultivates Kashima-Shinryû through dedication to Takemikazuchi no Mikoto.[19] Nenryû is dedicated to Marishiten.” When remembering this reply while reflecting on the experience of training at the sacred grotto of Udo, inside my head I felt as if I could hear Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami blurt out: “And even more so in the case of the Kageryû!”

As long as one regards martial arts as a manual skill conducted in three dimensions, then this kind of realization probably has no significance. And yet if one reflects on it in terms of four dimensions as illuminated by the contents of the Ryû no Maki, then one cannot help but appreciate that the previous generations of Kashima-Shinryû teachers achieved greatness in this regard as well.

Figure 3.
The Ground Spider and SAKATA Kintoki as depicted in the woodblock print, Saka Kô no Yume (Master Sakata’s Dreams), 1863, by KAWANABE Kyôsai (1831-1889).

Click for a larger image (550kB)

As recounted in the Noh Play Tsuchi Gumo, while MNAMOTO Yorimitsu (Raikô) was bedridden with fever, a seven-foot tall Buddhist priest appeared standing next to his pillow, saying: “Perhaps you do not recognize me from long ago. I am the spirit of the ground spider who has spent [many] years on Mount Katsuragi. Still seeking to oppose the reign of the King, I draw near to Raikô.[20] Will you attempt to end my life?” As the priest chanted this old song he attempted to ensnare Yorimitsu with his web of spider silk (which can be interpreted as a redirected and intensified form of the foul air from Mount Katsuragi’s caverns). Yorimitsu thereupon unsheathed the “Head-to-Knee Cutting” (Hiza Maru) sword from under his pillow and struck.[21] The priest suffered a severe wound and fled back into the stone caves of Katsuragi. Yorimitsu’s four heavenly generals (WATANABE Tsuna, SAKATA Kintoki, USUI Sadamitsu, and URABE Suetake), roused by the commotion, rushed to Yorimitsu’s side. He handed them the Hiza Maru sword (now known as “Spider Cutter,” Kumogiri Maru), and they set off to subdue the earth spider. They followed the trail of the spider’s blood to an ancient tomb. They dug open the tomb until suddenly a four-foot large spider appeared. Just as the spider was about to cast his web over them, they slew him.


  1. KAWANABE Kyôsai. 1863. Saka Kô no Yume. Woodblock Print. Part of the series: “Kyôsai Hyakuzu.”

  2. MAO Yuanyi. 1561. “Kageryû no Mokuroku.” Reprinted in Wubei zhi, fascicle 86, leaves 16-18.

  3. NAGATOMO Munekiyo. 1942. book, Udo no Miya’i. Miyazaki: Kanpei Taisha Udo Jingû Shamusho. pp. 65-67.

16 May 2008

Translator's Notes

  1. This quotation appears in the scroll titled Kashima-Shinryû Hyôhô denki. For a complete translation of this document, see: Karl F. Friday with SEKI Humitake, Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryû and Samurai Martial Culture (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1997), pp. 165-169.

  2. The name “Shinkageryû” can be written with two different glyphs, which are homophones meaning either “spiritual, divine, godly” or “new,” to produce the designations: Style Abetted by the Gods (in the first case) or New Shade Style (in the second one).

  3. Nowadays it is customary to translate the title tennô as “emperor.” Its literal meaning of “heavenly sovereign” more accurately conveys the actual religious and political connotations of the term during premodern times.

  4. The term gongen (provisional manifestation) refers to the localize form of a universal Buddhist divinity. In later centuries most of these gongen came to be known as the local divinities (kami) of Japan. During the medieval period, however, they were known for their Buddhist roles.

  5. As explained below by MATSUSHITA Kenrin, “Lieutenant Commander Qi” refers to the renown Chinese military commander QI Jiquang (1528-1588), the author of Jixiao xinshu (New Treatise on Military Efficiency), an encyclopedia of Chinese martial learning. “Junior metal rooster (kanoto tori) is the 58th unit in the sexagsimal (i.e., base 60) number system used for counting in East Asia. Other examples of this counting system that appear in this translation are: senior earth monkey (tsuchinoe saru; number 45); senior water monkey (mizunoe saru; number 9); and senior earth dog (tsuchinoe inu; number 35).

  6. MATSUSHITA Kenrin’s list of terms corresponds to the names and sequence of sword exercises taught in the lineage of HIKITA Bungorô (1537-1605), one of the early disciples of KAMIIZUMI Ise-no-kami.

  7. My translation of this version of the Kageryû no mokuroku is extremely tentative. Today scholars generally concede that many of the Japanese glyphs reproduced by MAO Yuanyi in the Wubei zhi are completely illegible. Matsushita transcribes them anyway. As a person of the seventieth century, he lived during an age when Japanese commonly wrote and read similar styles of extremely cursive Japanese handwriting. Thus, he expresses great confidence in his ability to decipher these glyphs. Nonetheless, one cannot accept his transcriptions without reservations. Other readings are possible. Even if his transcription is accurate, the resulting text does not make sense without much additional guesswork.

  8. According to the early chronicles of the Japanese court, such as the Kojiki (712) and Nihon shoki (720), Ninigi was the heavenly grandchild of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. After he received her oracle that her descendants should unify the lands below, he descended from the High Plain of Heaven to the Hyûga region of Kyushu Island in the Japanese archipelago. His great grandson, Jinmu, founded the current ruling dynasty in the year 660 BCE. Today the stories in these chronicles usually are regarded more as myth than as history. The identification of the southwest as the direction of the monkey is based on traditional Chinese geomancy (i.e., feng-sui).

  9. This passage alludes to the Analects of Confucius (Book 5, section 15) where the disciple Zigong asks why KONG Wenzi (a counselor in the state of Wei) received the title Wen (cultured). Confucius replies: “He was bright and loved to learn; he was not ashamed to seek advice from his inferiors.”

  10. This passage is a quotation from the Analects of Confucius (Book 9, section 11) where the disciple Yan Yuan (a.k.a. Yan Hui) speaks these words. Since Yan Hui was the most gifted of the disciples of Confucius, his words usually are interpreted as indicating that the Confucian Way is extremely lofty and that successful self-cultivation demands great skill and dedication. Because his words are enigmatic, they have been the subject of many esoteric interpretations.

  11. For a complete translation of the Tengusho scroll, see: Friday with SEKI, Legacies of the Sword (1997), pp. 141-142.

  12. En no Gyôja (a.k.a. En no Ozuno) was a shamanistic religious ascetic active during the late seventh and early eighth centuries. According to legends he was able to command demons and ghosts to build a bridge connecting the peaks of Katsuragi and Kimpusen, south of Nara. In later centuries he came to be revered as a pioneering ancestor for the mountain asceticism that came to be known as Shugendô. These practices map local landforms to a cosmology inhabited by gods and buddhas (shinbutsu) who correspond to one another according to complex systems of combinatory logic.

  13. MNAMOTO Yorimitsu (948-1021) was an early member of the Minamoto lineage who played a major role in their rise to military power. He became the subject of many tales and legends such as the story of his subduing the ground spider (tsuchi gumo) of Mount Katsuragi. A synopsis of the Noh Play version of this tale appears below. In the Noh Play he is known as Raikô. The term “ground spider” seems to have once been used as a derogatory term for the seemingly uncivilized peoples in the hinterlands who rejected loyalty to (i.e., resisted subjugation by) the Yamato court (i.e., the central government). Later it was taken literally to refer to a type of supernatural monstrous arachnid.

  14. Ninnô Gokokuji (Benevolent King’s Country Protecting Temple) is the name of the Buddhist institution that once stood at Udo. After 1868 when the new Meiji government ordered a separation of gods and buddhas (shinbutsu bunri), the Buddhist elements were dismantled and the Udo Jingû Grand Shrine acquired an entirely non-Buddhist identity. The Jifukuji Temple in Kamakura has not been identified. Other sources give the name as Jufukuji, a well-known Zen monastery.

  15. Chôfukuji Temple no longer exists. In 2006 Namiai Village was absorbed by the town of Achimura, Nagano Ken. Marishiten (Sanskrit, Marici) is a Buddhist god of Indic origin who is identified with the blinding light of the rising sun. In Japan Marishiten is frequently depicted in female form, armed with bow and arrow, riding a wild boar. Worship of Marishiten once was widespread among warriors, who saw her as a protector and as a god of invisibility.

  16. Ninnaji, in Kyoto, was a monseki Buddhist temple affiliated to the royal family. Until 1868 all its abbots were princes, children of the Heavenly Sovereign (tennô). Because of this connection to the ruling family, the esoteric lore taught there was designated by the honorific designation “majestic style” (goryû). In this context the word “Shintô” does not refer to the religion of local gods (kami) found in modern Japan. Rather it refers to various systems of practices and learning centered on local gods and buddhas (shinbutsu) who co-inhabit a Buddhist cosmos.

  17. Yin and yang refer to relative positions or values that alternate according to certain discernable patterns. The contexts in which these occur and their patterns of alternation are analyzed in many traditional systems of Asian knowledge. The Five Phases (or Five Progressions) refer to certain qualities or characteristics associated with wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. In certain configurations these phases generate one another while in other configurations they obstruct one another. Taken together, the patterns of yin-yang alternation and the configurations of the five phases were used as complex systems of symbolic logic.

  18. For a complete translation of the Ryû no Maki, see: Friday with SEKI, Legacies of the Sword (1997), pp. 146-148.

  19. Takemikazuchi no Mikoto is the divinity enshrined at the Kashima Jingû Grand Shrine.

  20. In this passage, “the reign of the King” (kimi ga yo) refers to the rule over the islands of Japan by the descendants of Jinmu, who supposedly founded the current ruling dynasty in the year 660 BCE. (See note 8 above.) The ground spider represents the spirit of one of the ancient inhabitants of the islands who opposed the establishment of Jinmu’s central government.

  21. Hiza Maru (Head-to-Knee) is the name of a sword originally owned by MNAMOTO Mitsunaka (912-997) and handed down by his descendants. It was so named because of the way it once dramatically split the body of a criminal. During the time of MNAMOTO Yorimitsu (948-1021) it became known as Kumogiri Maru (Spider Cutter). During the time of MNAMOTO Tameyoshi (1096-1156) it was used to kill a hissing snake and became known as Hoe Maru (Hisser).

Hassun no Nobegane:

“Ogasawara Kinzaemon Minamoto no Nagaharu,
also styled Genshinsai, cultivated advanced hyôhô,
which enabled him to attain marvelous technique while he was in China”[1]

Ogasawara Kinzaemon Minamoto no Nagaharu (a.k.a. Genshinsai) is the fourth-generation shihanke (headmaster) of the Kashima-Shinryû. He had attained great proficiency in hyôhô (warrior arts), but because of his prior service to the rival lord Takeda Shingen, Ogasawara Genshinsai became a wanted man once the Tokugawa family assumed the reigns of government.[2] It is reported that he fled to Ming-dynasty China, where he furthered his skills by attaining a “marvelous technique” which he eventually brought back to Japan. The records all agree that this marvelous technique is called “hassun no nobegane” (literally: “eight-inch extending measure”).[3] Nonetheless, even within the various lineages which refer to themselves as the legitimate branch of the Jikishinkageryû there is no agreement as to the actual meaning of hassun no nobegane. It is generally regarded as a lost secret.

My teacher, KUNII Zen’ya, the eighteenth-generation shihanke of Kashima-Shinryû, was a walking encyclopedia of all aspects of traditional Japanese martial culture. The Kunii family possesses an illustrated scroll titled Kashima Kenpô (Kashima-style Boxing) [i.e., a type of karate without kicking for samurai who carry swords], which is traditionally said to have been hand-written by Ogasawara Genshinsai. Yet this scroll makes no mention of hassun no nobegane. Therefore, KUNII Zen’ya said that even he could not be absolutely confident as to the meaning of hassun no nobegane. At the same time he indicated that Sekiunryû kenjutsusho (Sekiun-style Swordsmanship) by Odagiri Ichiun conveys information that approaches closest to the crux of the matter.[4] Before he passed away Kunii left the scientific explication of this topic to me as his nineteenth-generation successor.

The relevant passage in Sekiunryû kenjutsusho says:

Ogasawara Genshinsai’s secular name was Kazusa. Circumstances caused him to go to China, where he discovered that the spear techniques of Zhang Liang were being handed down.[5] [By studying these spear techniques] He learned principles that had never been a part of Japanese hyôhô (warrior arts), and [based on these] he also discovered an aspect of hyôhô called hassun no nobegane Ȭα䤬. This [hassun no nobegane] surpassed all previous [hyôhô]. It was not part of the hyôhô taught by Kiichi Hôgen and had never been witnessed by Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami.[6] He now felt confident that he was without equal in Japan.

After Genshinsai returned to Japan, he tested his innovation by facing off against his former classmate Hikita Bungorô.[7] Although Hikita had been fully certified in the teachings of Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami, Hikita could not move even one step from where he stood. He could only sigh deeply in utter astonishment at this marvel.

ż (One-Handed Spear Thrust)
[Mao Yuanyi, 1561a]
(Twisting Hip Slice)
[Mao Yuanyi, 1561b]

According to the information in this account, hassun no nobegane clearly does not refer to a particular type of spear that is used as a weapon. It is more appropriate to interpret it as referring to a basic martial principle which was newly suggested by the technical arts of the spear. Odagiri Ichiun was a second-generation disciple of Ogasawara Genshinsai. It is difficult to imagine that within the span of only two generations there could have been confusion as to whether hassun no nobegane refers to a type of weapon or to a technical principle.

Of the people who insist that hassun no nobegane must refer to a type of weapon, most interpret it as a type of segmented cudgel or staff. Texts that use the term hassun no kanejaku Ȭζʼ (literally: “eight-inch carpenter’s square”), usually interpret it as referring to a weapon with a right-angle bend. Texts that write the term with glyphs meaning “eight-inch extension metal” (hassun no nobegane Ȭα) usually interpret it as referring to something like a chigiriki (i.e., flail). A typical example of the former is the type of kusarigama (sickle with chain) used in the Isshinryû, and a prime example of the latter is the nihôkon (two-section cudgel). The nihôkon is a two-and-a-half foot long cudgel to the end of which an eight-inch long, double-edged blade is attached by a two-inch long chain. As literal interpretations of the term, either of these explanations might seem apropos. Nonetheless, neither of these weapons could have been used by a samurai warrior of high social status during the Tokugawa period.

Definitive evidence that hassun no nobegane refers to a technical principle is found in the collection of notes titled Hanryûken oboegaki written during the Kansei Period (1789-1801) by Akaishi Gunjibei Takasuke.[8] Akaishi Gunjibei, a samurai from Edosaki Tennôchô in Hitachi, was a master of martial arts who studied Jikishinkageryû under Fujikawa Chikayoshi.[9] His notes state:

When Ogasawara Genshinsai attacked from the left or right with hassun no nobigane [sic], he would shift eight inches, four inches upward and four inches downward. Likewise, when the enemy would attack his head, he would slide in as described above and would pull in his feet as described above. Alternatively, he would evade one step to the left or right. In either case, he used an eight-inch measure upward and downward.

According to this interpretation of hassun no nobegane, the eight-inches refers to the location assumed by one’s body while evading. Moreover, that location is precisely the one used when performing Kashima Ichi no Tachi.[10] In other words, the distance of that location from the initial line on which one faces an enemy is expressed with geometrical terminology as if one uses a carpenter’s square to calculate the position. The result perfectly matches the spot that Tsukuhara Bokuden called the “rift” (ishi no me) for Ichi no Tachi.[11] In this passage, we can understand the words “four inches upward” and “four inches downward” as referring to dodging with the upper body while evading with footwork (ashi hakobi). In short, we can understand the entire passage as teaching the fundamental principles of the art, specifically the bodily movement (tai sabaki) that combines the dynamic vector of upper-body evasion and the dynamic vector of redirecting footwork.

If we interpret hassun no nobegane simply as the underlying principle of Kashima no Ichi no Tachi, then we seem to contradict the earlier account of Ogasawara Genshinsai’s accomplishment. It says that he had studied a principle in Zhang Liang’s spear techniques which had never been a part of Japanese-style hyôhô and which, as hassun no nobegane, formed a notable feature of his own style of hyôhô. Thus, there must have been a crucial difference in martial technique between Ichi no Tachi and hassun no nobegane.

As for the possible nature of this crucial difference, first consider differences in combining dynamic vectors. The use of the expression “four inches upward” and “four inches downward” indicates that Ogasawara Genshinsai resurrected the practice of performing techniques as a single action and raises the possibility that he saw this as a principle which had never been a part of Japanese-style hyôhô. The method of performing techniques used by Matsumoto Bizen-no-kami Ki no Masamoto (the first-generation shihanke of Kashima-Shinryû) at the time when he developed Kashima Ichi no Tachi consisted of upper-body evasion and footwork evasion performed not just as a single action, but also performed at the same time as the attack. This method of evasion in a single action consists of the bodily movement expressed by the technical term “serikomi” (literally, “to squeeze in”). From various historical accounts, however, one can surmise that Kashima Ichi no Tachi declined because of a tendency in subsequent generations to perform the technique as a two-stage action in which one first evades with footwork and then attacks. This two-stage action would have been easily detected by martial artists of other lineages. Even today this unskilled manner of using techniques can be seen universally among immature students of Kashima-Shinryû who practice fixed forms (kata ) instead of living patterns (kata ).

Even more noteworthy for the possible nature of this crucial difference is the significance of the word “extending” (nobe) in the term hassun no nobekane. In the Kashima-Shinryû lineage, the diagonal kesagiri swordstroke constitutes the fundamental movement for swinging a sword. In the kesagiri swordstroke, the motion of the arms provide a vertical vector while the twisting around the central tanden provides an important horizontal vector.[12] Because the combination of these two dynamic vectors generate the kesagiri stroke, the kesagiri stroke alone is the operation most capable of providing the sword with the greatest possible force. When one uses this operation in swordsmanship, in exchange for gaining the ability to cut the opponent in two without needing a dynamic vector in his direction, the dynamism of thrusting techniques becomes weakened. To perform thrusting techniques with the greatest possible force, one must extend the arms while twisting the body and thrusting one’s sword (in swordsmanship), fist (in karate and boxing), or spear (in spearmanship) and — at that very moment — one’s own tanden must project a driving vigor that pierces into the opponent’s tanden.

In the case of karate and boxing, which demands the most forceful thrusting power, when a punch is delivered to the solar plexus (suigetsu), unless the fist thrusts clean through to a location behind the opponent’s backbone, the punch will fail to render him unconscious. Moreover, the bodily movement used by the shite (performer) relies not on evasive footwork, but must be redirected in an acute angle toward the direction of the attack as a serikomi. Accordingly, the ability of this punch to render an opponent unconscious results from both the thrust of the arm and footwork driving forward to such a degree that they cause the opponent’s body to buckle over (as in the shape of the Japanese glyph for “ku”: ). Only this kind of fearless death-defying (sutemi) bodily movement can enable a punch to deliver a decisive blow or even cause serious internal injuries — the so-called ninen goroshi or sannen goroshi (a vital punch causing, literally, “two or three-year delayed death”). Only if one thrusts forward in a way that exposes one’s entire body to the opponent’s attack, extending one’s arms and twisting one’s body so as to thrust out one’s fist or sword at the very moment when the opponent counter attacks, only then will it be possible to perform the “four inches upward” evasive action with the upper body. Ogasawara Genshinsai must have realized, even if mistakenly so, that this kind of fearless, death-defying stepping in to the attack, which constitutes the essence of the traditional spear techniques of Zhang Liang, is lacking in Kashima-Shinryû. Moreover, recall that Odagiri Ichiun wrote in Sekiunryû kenjutsusho that:

After Genshinsai returned to Japan, he tested his innovation by facing off against his former classmate Hikita Bungorô. Although Hikita had been fully certified in the teachings of Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami, Hikita could not move even one step from where he stood. He could only sigh deeply in utter astonishment at this marvel.

From this account it is clear that the disciples of Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami did not transmit the essence of the Kashima no Ichi no Tachi that had been devised by Matsumoto Bizen-no-kami. In contrast to them, KUNII Zen’ya decided every major martial confrontation throughout his life by using the first mode (kurai) or another of Ichi no Tachi. This fact testifies to the great care with which the Kunii family maintained and transmitted the true essence of martial arts.

Let’s take one more look at Odagiri Ichiun’s Sekiunryû kenjutsusho. He concludes his discussion of hassun no nobegane as follows:

Upon seeing how Ogasawara Genshinsai asserted that hasshun no nobegane constitutes the heart of art of the spear taught by Zhang Liang, everyone regarded it as a reliable basis for their hyôhô. But it corresponds not to the divine intent (sei’i). Although it is not as foul as beastly hyôhô, even its best corresponds only to that of a great exemplar (taiken).[13]

In many respects Odagiri Ichiun’s powers of insight into the true nature of traditional Japanese martial arts demand our admiration. In this case, though, it is regrettable that he never read the description of the Innermost Principles (Ôgi) of Kashima-Shinryû contained in the Kashima-Shinryû Menkyo Kaiden Maki (scroll) transmitted by the Kunii family.[14] It describes the true essence of Kashima-Shinryû martial arts as:

Manifesting acceptance and resorption (hôyô dôka), certain life is certain control, is certain victory. One who lacks a pure heart and willfully attacks will always be defeated.

It goes on to succinctly explain the innermost principles of Kashima-Shinryû as:

In Kashima-Shinryû one must first condition the body, then cultivate one’s spirit and one’s humanity, and ultimately attain an understanding of the creative phenomena of the universe. This is the innermost principle of Kashima-Shinryû. According with the divine, it is the original Great Way of Japan.

As indicated by these quotations, however great a martial artist Odagiri Ichiun might have been, we cannot help but conclude that he lacked the character to become a legitimate shihanke of Kashima-Shinryû.

26 December 2007

Translator's Notes
1. This quotation appears in the scroll titled Kashima-Shinryû hyôhô denki. For a complete translation of this document, see: Karl F. Friday with SEKI Humitake, Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryû and Samurai Martial Culture (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1997), pp. 165-169.
2. Today the Sino-Japanese glyphs for this term usually are pronounced as “hassun no nobegane.” Some historical documents, such as the writings of Akaishi Gunjibei Takasuke (quoted below), give the alternative pronunciation “hassun no nobigane.”
3. Takeda Shingen (1521-1573) was a powerful warrior ruler in eastern Japan. Beginning with Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), members of the Tokugawa family held the title of military ruler (shôgun) from 1603 until 1868.
4. The text Sekiunryû kenjutsusho also is known by the alternative titles Kenpô Sekiun sensei sôden (Sword Techniques Taught by Master Sekiun) or Mujûshin-ken denpô sho (Methods for Teaching the Sword of the Nonabiding Mind). Its author, Odagiri Ichiun (also known as Kodegiri; 1630-1706), was a disciple of Harigaya Sekiun, who in turn had studied under Ogasawara Genshinsai.
5. Zhang Liang (died 168) is the name of a famous minster and master of martial arts who helped establish the Han Dynasty in ancient China.
6. Kiichi Hôgen is the name of a legendary mater of martial arts. According to many literary sources, he is the person who taught warrior arts (hyôhô) to the young Minamoto Yoshitsune (1159-1189). His martial art teaching were recorded in a scroll entrusted to the Kashima Grand Shrine. This document, the Tengusho (Scroll of the Long-nosed Ascetic) was recovered by Matsumoto Bizen-no-kami Ki no Masamoto, the first-generation shihanke of Kashima-Shinryû. Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami Fujiwara no Hidetsuna (1508-1577) is the name of the second shihanke of Kashima-Shinryû, which he referred to as Shinkageryû.
7. Hikita Bungorô (1537-1605) is the name of one of the early disciples of Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami. Odagiri Ichiun writes as if Ogasawara Genshinsai had been a direct disciple of Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami along with Hikita Bungorô. In fact, Ogasawara Genshinsai had been the student of Okuyama Kyûgasai (1526-1602), the third shihanke of Kashima-Shinryû and disciple of Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami.
8. Akaishi Gunjibei Takasuke (1749-1825) used the pen name Hanryûken. His personal name (Takasuke) also is pronounced as Tamasuke or Michisuke. Many branches of the Jikishinkageryû count him as the eleventh-generation headmaster of their lineage.
9. Fujikawa Chikayoshi (1726-1798) is counted as the tenth-generation headmaster within many lines of the Jikishinkageryû. Through his descendants he also became the founder of the Fujikawa branch of Jikishinkageryû.
10. Ichi no Tachi refers to a sword technique (tachi) that is “number one” (ichi), a term which also implies the best; the foremost; the most advantageous position; and one dimension. For details, see Friday with Seki, Legacies of the Sword, p. 27.
11. Tsukahara Bokuden (1490-1571) is a famous swordsman of the Kashima spiritual tradition. His birth family (the Yoshikawa of Kashima City) teaches a school of swordsmanship called the Kashima-Shintôryû.
12. Tanden (Chinese, dantian; literally “field of cinnabar”) is a field of ki (Chinese, qi; literally “breath”). These two terms (tanden and ki) represent key concepts in a wide range of East Asian philosophical, religious, and medical systems and disciplines. Their nuances and connotations do not necessarily agree from one historical, textual, or social context to another. Within traditional Japanese martial arts it is useful to think of ki simply as a generic term for the energy flows generated through the proper coordination of mind, body, and breath. The tanden can be thought of as a field of ki concentrated in the lower abdomen that can be brought into existence, strengthened, energized, and stimulated by the proper exercise of certain abdominal muscles and the diaphragm.
13. Odagiri Ichiun explains earlier in Sekiunryû kenjutsusho his vocabulary for evaluating hyôhô. He states that the lowest form of hyôhô expresses a beastly (chikushô) mentality concerned only with victory for fame and fortune. The highest form of hyôhô expresses the divine intent (sei’i), which accords naturally with the principles (or truth) of heaven (tenri). Since heaven is always correct, the divine intent cannot be challenged successfully. Even someone who is a great exemplar (taiken) of knowledge, virtue, and skill, would face defeat before a proponent of the divine intent. Thus, ordinary (bonpu) hyôhô, no matter how skillful, does not stand a chance. And, the tricks of beastly (chikushô) hyôhô are worthless.
14. For a complete translation of this document, see: Friday with SEKI, Legacies of the Sword, pp. 174-177.


  1. Wubei zhi (Treatise of Military Preparations; 1621), by Mao Yuanyi (1549-ca. 1641); fasc. 89, leaf 3.

  2. Wubei zhi; fasc. 91, leaf 22.

The Correct Transmission of My Teacher, KUNII Zen'ya

1. Master Zen'ya's Conceptual Framework for the Testing of Other Budô Styles

The fact that KUNII Zen’ya defeated proponents of all the major styles and schools during the Shôwa Period and became known as a “lifetime undefeated budôka” is frequently bandied about in public discussions. But not even those commentators who purport to be martial art researchers know the true significance and reason why my teacher accepted challenges from other styles. And the many martial art dilettantes attracted merely to my teacher’s fame do not even care to find out. As a result, even though it has become common knowledge that “KUNII Zen’ya faced challengers from almost every style and won decisively,” few realize that Kunii always taught — even when he served as the head lecturer at the Toyama Academy of the Imperial Japanese Army — that “a reputable budôka of refined character should never reveal to others the names of the opponents he has defeated.” As a result of this admonition, even the closest of his inner disciples (uchi deshi) never heard him describe the actual circumstances of more than about ten or so especially significant matches.

Fortunately, my teacher’s true intensions were partially recorded in his handwritten essay, “A Theory of Martial Arts” (Bujutsu ni tsuite no ronsetsu). This essay begins as follows:

Sunzi bingfa [Sun Tzu’s Art of War] cautions, “Know the enemy and know oneself to become victorious.” Thus, since complacency and self-satisfaction are forbidden in martial art, when another style possesses a superb technique, first you must ardently concentrate on how to defeat it and, then, while continuing to examine it, devote yourself to spiritual austerities in the presence of a deity until you receive a spiritual revelation. In this way you will be able to obtain [the solution] naturally.

He subsequently states:

Pattern practice (kata) can easily degenerate to rigid forms (igata) incapable of adapting instantly to reality. One must never allow this to happen in one’s own training. Accordingly, if one’s kata are not identical to reality (kata soku jitsu) — if the forms do not make the art real (jutsu = jitsu) — one becomes arrogant and no longer attempts to learn through observation of others, turning [what should be] the free application of techniques in response to opponents into a kind of self-centered amusement . . . One proclaims oneself to be number one in all Japan, and yet cannot accept a single challenge from another style (taryû jiai), instead sending others to refuse on one’s behalf. In my style too, matches with other styles (taryû jiai) have long been forbidden as duels (hatashiai) that lead to senseless killing. Nonetheless, depending on the time and place, they cannot always be declined.

Moreover, in his essay on “The Ultimate in Martial Arts” (Bujutsu no gokui) he wrote:

The ultimate (gokui) in martial arts is nothing like what is commonly described in popular books or tales of famous warriors. There are those who refer to a certain technique that they are particularly good at, or for which they have a special knack, as this or that kind of ultimate, but it is nothing like that either. This being the case, then what exactly is the true ultimate? It is none other than that which is born of true technique, that which points to Truth. It is not the technique itself. . . .

“The Martial Way” (budô) as it has come to be known today, consists only of pointlessly defeating an opponent. As a result, it focuses one’s attention on aggression and on increasing one’s spirit of opposition [fighting spirit]. I find this both alarming and disappointing. It is perfectly obvious that this is not martial art (bujutsu) that conforms to reality.

To offer but one example of this: In order to strike the other person, some people twist their necks so as to take blows aimed at their heads on their shoulders instead. No sooner do they allow their own shoulders to be cut, than they calmly strike the other person. Seen from the perspective of combat with real swords, this and similar techniques not only utterly lack any concrete expression of Acceptance and Resorption (hôyô dôka), but also lack any sense protecting oneself and represent little more than shaking one’s body in the thrill of fighting.

From here, we can enter into true comprehension. To ask others about this sort of comprehension, is like asking about the tranquility one feels upon realizing that “Everywhere is the same autumn sunset” (izuko mo onaji aki no yûgure). The more one sets one’s mind on attaining this realization, the more one bumps up against its being “beyond human knowing; something about which no other can explain, even if asked.” Once one discovers that this is cannot be found on one’s own, one is able to begin true spiritual cultivation. As a first step, one should invoke the aid of the August Deity of Kashima, and put one’s entire strength into spiritual training while concentrating on the August Deity and praying for a clear revelation of the technical arts. Just as when facing an opponent, one must ask how can one can complete oneself and continue doing so until one becomes entirely a vehicle for true martial power (shinbu), personifying Acceptance and Resorption (hôyô dôka).

Thus did KUNII Zen’ya explain the methods that he himself had practiced and verified for seeking true martial arts.

1 April 2006

2. His Involvement in the Shinkageryû

The foundation of the martial arts practiced by my teacher, KUNII Zen’ya (1894–1966), is — of course — Kunii-ke Sôden Kashima-Shinryû: the Kashima-Shinryû traditionally handed down within the Kunii family.

According to the records in his transmission documents (densho), KUNII Zen’ya was trained in this martial art foundation by his father, KUNII Eizô. Since KUNII Eizô was the seventeenth generation shihanke (headmaster) of the Kashima-Shinryû handed down within the Kunii family, and since KUNII Zen’ya was the eighteenth generation shihanke, the teacher-student relationship that existed between them in terms of martial art training is confirmed by their relationship in the Kashima-Shinryû lineage. Nonetheless, in 1901, the time when Zen’ya took up jûjutsu to begin his formal training in Kashima-Shinryû, KUNII Umekichi, the younger brother of Zen’ya’s grandfather, KUNII Shinsaku (the sixteenth generation shihanke), was still extremely vigorous. Umekichi doted on Zen’ya and was the one who was most devoted to instructing him in martial arts. Whenever Zen’ya spoke of his grandfather, it was usually in relationship to something regarding Umekichi and not his actual grandfather, Shinsaku. Of course, Shinsaku also was a martial art expert. During the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, Shinsaku fought on the side of the new national government and cut down ten or more enemy soldiers in the fierce hand-to-hand combat of the historically well-known Battle of Tabaruzaka. Whatever the reason — perhaps because of their connection to the martial training of their own grandfather, KUNII Kyûuemon, the fourteenth generation shihanke, and a renowned bugeisha of the Bakumatsu Period (ca. 1850—1870); or perhaps because of their contact with other famous swordsmen who had sought instruction from their grandfather, such as SHIMADA Toranozuke and TAKAYANAGI Matashirô — no doubt both Shinsaku and Umekichi possessed full and detailed knowledge of the level of technical skill attained by those identified as the master swordsmen of the Bakumatsu Period.

When KUNII Zen’ya graduated from the Agriculture Academy in Haramachi (Sôma, Fukushima Prefecture) in 1913 he received full certification in the Kunii family Kashima-Shinryû tradition from his father, KUNII Eizô. Zen’ya regarded the content of the Kashima-Shinryû he inherited as having been formed by the amalgamation of the Jikishinkageryû shihanke lineage handed down through MOTOOKA Chûhachi Fujiwara no Yorihito into the Kashima-Shinryû for which the Kunii family is the sôke. Thus, to his mind the Kashima-Shinryû handed down within the Kunii family and the Jikishinkageryû were not different styles. One can also readily see the close connection between the two styles in a letter from ODANI Seiichirô, the Jikishinkageryû master who served as chief instructor at the Tokugawa Regime’s Kôbusho (Military Training Facility), in which Odani recommends his promising student SHIMADA Toranozuke to the Kunii family for further instruction.

Moreover, because KUNII Kyûuemon (the fourteenth generation shihanke) had taught kenjutsu and sôjutsu to SEKI Tetsunosuke, SANO Takenosuke and others — the “Men of Spirit” (shishi) of the Mito Domain who sought to “Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians” (sonnô jôi) — the Kunii family had close connections to many members of the Shinkageryû in Mito where it was one of the main styles. Naturally, the history of these connections had been conveyed to KUNII Zen’ya by his teacher KUNII Umekichi. Zen’ya also was well aware of the fact that the second-generation shihanke of the Kashima-Shinryû, KAMIIZUMI Ise-no-kami Fujiwara Hidetsuna, is regarded as the founder of the Shinkageryû. Thus, he acquired a strong interest in the Shinkageryû.

Accordingly, immediately upon graduating from the Agriculture Academy, Zen’ya went to study under SASAKI Seinoshin, who originally had been the Shinkageryû instructor in swordsmanship for the Mito Domain. Sasaki was living a quiet life of seclusion in Sekisawa Mura (Kuji-gun, Ibaraki Prefecture). Zen’ya went to him determined to investigate the true nature of the martial art instruction that KUNII Kyûuemon had taught to the Men of Spirit. At the time Zen’ya became his student, Sasaki’s martial art was already below Zen’ya’s on the physical level. But on the metaphysical level — that which precedes the physical — his martial art is said to have surpassed the realms achieved by KUNII Umekichi. As a result of his consummate cultivation of the metaphysical realms under the direction of Sasaki, KUNII Zen’ya achieved mastery of tatazu-no-kachi (victory without a stand), the ultimate (gokui) achievement of martial dueling. As a result, in 1914 Zen’ya received menkyo kaiden (licensed full initiation) certifications in both Shinkageryû and Kashima-Shinryû. SASAKI Seinoshin himself possessed menkyo kaiden certification not just in Shinkageryû, but in the Kunii family Kashima-Shinryû tradition as well, having received menkyo kaiden certification from KUNII Kyûuemon. From this moment forward, KUNII Zen’ya was the eighteenth-generation head of the Kashima-Shinryû not just in name, but also in reality.

In August 1918, as a result of Japan’s entry into the First World War, KUNII Zen’ya was mobilized and sent to Tsing Tao (Qing Dao). In recognition of his valorous exploits there in which he used his swordsmanship to rescue Japanese high officers of the headquarters and to kill many enemy attackers, the Japanese government awarded him a Zuihôshô (Order of the Sacred Treasure) medal, eighth grade (Number 540899; dated 15 December 1919). His astonishing skill in hand-to-hand combat was recognized within the top echelons of the Imperial Army and, in part because of this, years later Zen’ya became instrumental in the founding of the Toyama Academy of the Imperial Japanese Army. After the end of the second World War, when fate and fortune had turned against him, on one occasion Zen’ya told me, in a low voice and with a far-away look in his eyes, exactly what had happened on Tsing Tao. I remember listening in rapt attention as my stomach quivered at the thought of what he said. It is undeniable that the terrifying aura of the death-dealing sword that Zen’ya would radiate even during practice at his training hall (dôjô) had been instilled and cultivated through that experience of hand-to-hand combat with live blades. Thus, the evolution of the Kashima-Shinryû martial art had, in KUNII Zen’ya’s life and personal history, clearly reached the same level of perfection as had been achieved by MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami Ki no Masamoto.

30 May 2006

3. His Involvement in the Nenryû

After KUNII Zen’ya was discharged from his military service in 1920, he left Tsing Tao (Qing Dao) and returned to Japan. At that time Zen’ya wanted to become a shinshoku (priestly officiant for a Shinto shrine). To attain the theological training necessary to qualify for the Shinto priesthood, he considered applying to the special program at Kokugakuin University. In the event, however, in 1925 he became a disciple of the most revered and influential nativist (kokugaku) scholar and theorist of the day, Professor IMAIZUMI Sadasuke (or Teisuke), building on the relationship that had existed between KUNII Zengorô (the fifteenth generation head of the Kunii family Kashima-Shinryû tradition) and MARUYAMA Sakura, the illustrious nativist scholar and politician of the Bakumatsu and Meiji Periods. Thus, Zen’ya devoted himself to nativist learning. Regarding this course of events, my teacher recalled that his revered father, KUNII Eizô, had once told him: “If you become an officiant at a Shinto Shrine, people will ridicule you as a tanuki (Japanese raccoon-canine) spirit transformed into a shrine priest.” “And so,” my teacher added with a laugh, “I became Professor Imaizumi’s secretary, instead!” Zen’ya was bright and intelligent and, therefore, mastered all the fine points of nativist learning in a short period of time. Thereafter, more and more often he began to focus his attention on cultivating the higher bounds of martial art.

It seems that another reason why Zen’ya came to Tokyo (in addition to his studies under Imaizumi) was that he wanted to join the Dainippon Butokukai (Greater Japan Martial Virtue Association). But after an unexpected, and disturbing, incident at the Number Five Municipal Middle School (Furitsu Go Chû), he began to question the value of Kendo and abandoned his plans to join the Butokukai. It is very interesting to note that according to Zen’ya’s account, this incident also involved Mr. OKA Yasuo, the Daigûji (Chief Officiant) of the Kashima Grand Shrine. With his aid, Zen’ya received a spiritual portent from the August Deity of Kashima, indicating that Zen’ya should devote his activities solely to the traditional martial arts of the Kashima spiritual transmission (Kashima Shinden). In the details of Zen’ya sensei’s account one can also detect how his tutelage under Professor Imaizumi had helped refine his purity of spirit.

Once Kunii abandoned his plans to join the Dainippon Butokukai, he had to find another location where he could conduct his martial art training.

The fact that Zen’ya next turned his attention to the Nenryû is largely a result of the entry in the Kunii-ke keizu (Genealogy of the Kunii House) regarding his ancestor, KUNII Genpachirô Kagetsugu. This record says: “Although he studied the Nenryû, his heart was not fulfilled; thus he endeavored on his own, worshiping the August Deity of Kashima and striving with all his effort in his spiritual training until at length he brought forth an art.” The martial art style that Kagetsugu brought forth was for a time called the Kashima-Shintôryû. Later, due to the involvement of MATSUMOTO Bizen-no-kami, the martial art handed down within the Kunii family came to be called Kashima-Shinryû. We can see that the relationship between Nenryû and the martial art lineages of the Kashima spiritual transmission has an ancient history. Moreover, the genealogical records of the Higuchi family (the sôke of the Maniwa Nenryû) show that the headmasters of the Maniwa Nenryû, beginning with the fifth generation (HIGUCHI Kanetsugu) and continuing down to the seventh generation (HIGUCHI Shigesada), had trained in the branch of the Kashima Shintôryû founded by TSUKAHARA Bokuden. Finally, several of the historical documents preserved by the Takeda Clan in Kai Province (the historic home of the Nenryû), mention events involving the Kunii family. It is absolutely certain that my teacher, Zen’ya, was well aware of these documents and their contents.

Over a period of three years, between 1925 and 1928, Zen’ya used a local Nenryû dôjô in Tokyo for his training. The person in charge of the training hall was ÔHARA Masazô. Mr. Ôhara had established a residence in Yokohama City, and he possessed mokudai (supervisory) certification in the Nenryû. When I was a college student, I met him numerous times when he would visit Zen’ya’s training hall. Zen’ya introduced him to me simply as “a swordsman from the old days.” Ôhara was a kind-hearted man who always maintained a slight smile even during the most serious conversations. He seemed to be very close to Zen’ya, like a harmonious counterpart, and he was very gentlemanly.

There also exist background reasons why Zen’ya had determined that the best place for him to continue cultivating his martial training was at the dôjô of a traditional (koryû) style like the Nenryû. One of these was his great disappointment in the Dainippon Butokukai, mentioned above. One can gain a full sense of Zen’ya’s feelings by reading the following excerpt from one of his essays:

Following the Meiji Restoration, the government issued an order banning the wearing of swords in public. It also abolished the rules restricting the mixing of warriors and ordinary people, so that anyone and everyone could say, “I want to play at swordsmanship, too!” At that time a person named SAKAKIBARA Kenkichi organized “Dueling Swords Shows” (gekkenkai), making the act of people striking at one another into a popular entertainment for which they charged a small admission fee. These kinds of shows toured the whole country and, in no time they became concerned only with whatever looked good.

Ultimately things declined so far that they made it seem as if martial art fundamentally consists of dueling. The essential spirit was forgotten and bujutsu became a source of amusement, highlighted by competitive matches (shiai). This competition came to be seen as essential to martial art. Thereupon, they developed new procedures for competitive matches, with strikes limited to fixed targets: men (face), kote (forearm), and (sides).

As a result of competing in this kind of duel, people would fall into the trap of ignorantly cultivating aggression and a spirit of opposition. They developed all manner of laughable nonsense techniques. Sometimes they would intentionally use the front of their face protectors to catch blows aimed for their heads, calling it a menkane (face deflection), or they would catch blows on their shoulders—in order to “win” by striking the side of the other person’s head (yokomen). Other times they would block strikes at their midsection (dôtachi) with the hilt of their sword or even with their elbows, since blows to the fist or elbow (unlike blows to the ) do not score points. This sort of thing is the height of absurdity. And yet, this is exactly what happens when people are always striking protective gear to determine victory in matches. Ridiculous arguments become common: One person catches a attack with his elbow (on the flesh of his arm) and insists that the other person did not score a point. The other person, however, says, “No, I scored a point!” Then the first person shows the spot on his arm where a bruise is starting to appear and says: “Isn’t this bruise on my arm direct evidence that you missed?”!

In these remarks it is perfectly apparent that KUNII Zen’ya, who had, by this time, already used a real sword to fell opponents on numerous occasions, could not accept this new kind of swordsmanship as recreational competition.

It is also clear from the chronology of KUNII Zen’ya’s aforementioned exploits at Tsing Tao that even before the very first time he went to the Nenryû training hall in Tokyo, there was no one who could match his actual fighting ability with real swords. For this reason, whenever someone would come to the Nenryû dôjô to request a contest (taryû jiai), Zen’ya would be prevailed upon to face the challenger, and would strike him down, usually rendering him unconscious. This state of affairs continued even after 1928, when Zen’ya established his Kashima-Shinryû training hall in the Takinogawa neighborhood of Tokyo’s Kita Ward. Whenever an especially fearsome challenger would appear at the Nenryû training hall, they would place a telephone call to Zen’ya. Then he would immediately go there and thoroughly defeat the challenger. ÔHARA Masazô confirmed the truth of this story in a personal conversation with me. Because I believe it to be historically accurate, I can confidently reveal it to the public.

After Zen’ya passed away, self-proclaimed “friends of KUNII Zen’ya” whom I had never met before, and people who call themselves “instructors (shihan) of Kashima-Shinryû” and their disciples began to slander him. They spread falsehoods, such as: “KUNII Zen’ya invented Kashima-Shinryû during his own lifetime based on the Shinkageryû and the Nenryû.” From the above account of the historical facts of KUNII Zen’ya’s life, it is obvious that what they assert could never have happened. In other words, the assertions of these fellows reveal no more than the simple fact that these people never learned anything from my teacher, KUNII Zen’ya.

17 June 2006

4. Other Styles

The primary reason why Master KUNII Zen’ya was able to defeat proponents of all the major styles and schools during the Shôwa Period and become known as a “lifetime undefeated budôka” is because he devoted himself to “combative arts” dedicated toward shinbu (true martial art). In contrast, the combative arts within most other traditional styles (koryû) that flourished during the Tokugawa period age of peace (after ca. 1615) gradually shifted away from arts based on “life-or-death combat” toward arts of “competitive-contest combat” or “popular-entertainment combat.”

I joined Kashima-Shinryû during my teacher’s later years at a time when television sets began to be found in average households and, sparked by the popularity of professional wrestlers such as Rikidôzan (KIM Sillak, 1924–1963), “popular-entertainment combat” was beginning to become widespread. Shortly after I joined Kashima-Shinryû, a television producer visited the Kunii dôjô (training hall). He came to request that my teacher KUNII Zen’ya participate in a television show that would, in his words, “demonstrate the superiority of traditional (koryû) martial arts.” He explained: “In order to show a competitive match (shiai) with objectivity, we will select a Kendo player with a sixth-degree black belt to be your opponent.” Kunii replied: “I consent. As you wish, I will accept an inter-school match (taryû jiai) according to the proper norms of traditional martial arts.” The producer did not understand what was entailed by “an inter-school match according to proper norms.” As soon as he found out, he rolled his eyes, apologized for having intruded, and promptly fled from the dôjô. In traditional martial arts, an inter-school match according to proper norms consists of a contest conducted without referees, using any weapon other than projectiles, and continuing until one participant gives up or can no longer continue.

“Without referees” means that even when colleagues are present, they do not interfere; the combat proceeds without rules or conditions; and there are no grounds for lingering dissatisfaction due to the match being decided by officials. “Any weapon other than projectiles” means that one is free to select the weapon or weapons of one’s choice, regardless of those used by the opponent. Moreover, “continuing until one participant gives up or can no longer continue” means that it is a decisive match, the results of which are incontestable by the companions and colleagues of each participant.

It is certainly true that on the battlefield, in the performance of lawful duties, KUNII Zen’ya struck down enemies on many occasions. But for inter-school challenges according to the proper norms of traditional martial art all aspects of his preparations fully embodied the following teachings:

For people like Miyamoto Musashi or even the Yagyû, challenges were duels (hatashiai) in which each opponent is killed or cut down. But in our style, previous generations of teacher strictly forbid challenges. And, even when fights cannot be avoided, one must not senselessly kill human beings. TSUKAHARA Bokuden is a good example. He fought many duels without killing. KAMIIZUMI Ise-no-kami is another good example. Kakuzenbô of the Hôzôin Temple arranged a match between KAMIIZUMI Ise-no-kami and YAGYÛ Tajima-no-kami, the founder of the Yagyû family style. At that time KAMIIZUMI Ise-no-kami defeated YAGYÛ Tajima-no-kami with a secret oto nashi no shôbu (silent form) technique that caused no injury.
KUNII Zen’ya strictly upheld these high standards because he had attained the technical abilities of a consummate master (meijin). Details of his matches against well-known martial artists and the precise techniques that were used against each one are recorded in the volume, Kashima-Shinryû Shihanke Honden [Fundamental Accounts of the Kashima-Shinryû Shihanke], by SEKI Humitake. This volume is given along with a diploma to students who complete the course of training in the cultivation of Kashima-Shinryû gokui. Abbreviated accounts of a few of these matches (limited only to those whose existence already had become known to people outside of Kashima-Shinryû and to a few others that reveal the nature of these kinds of matches) have been introduced to the general public via the book, Butôden [Biographies of Famous Combatants] by KAKU Kôzô (Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbunsha, 1996).

10 October 2006

5. Zen’ya’s Spiritual Cultivation and His Final Farewell to Officialdom

As a young man KUNII Zen’ya practiced such drastic spiritual asceticism (shugen) that he attained a remarkably high level of spiritual power. Within the social circles of Japanese kamunaki (Shintô shamans), he was looked up to as one of their most eminent practitioners. Late in life my teacher, Zen’ya, proclaimed: ”The best method of spiritual training consists of repeated practice of Kesagiri in which one attains unification of Sword, Mind, and Body as a Trinity (ken-shin-tai sanmi ittai).“ From his own experiences he realized that repeated practice of Kesagiri is a supremely effective method for nurturing the special abilities of the kamunaki (such as calming unruly spirits, spirit communication, or spirit possession). When one attains skill in ”coordination at any speed, fast or slow, of bodily movement and martial breathing (bu soku) at the moment of Kesagiri“ — which is revealed only in the specialized course on Kashima-Shinryû gokuiden (the highest initiation in Kashima-Shinryû) — and thereby achieves the level of a master (meijin) or expert (tatsujin), then one’s techniques will be propelled by martial breathing. Since this coordination of fluency in that which precedes form (i.e., the metaphysical) and fluency in that which is embodied in form (i.e., its actualization) constitutes the basis for the special abilities of the kamunaki, we can correctly understand the true significance of Zen’ya’s oral instruction.

Shortly after the Second World War concluded in Japan’s defeat, my teacher, Zen’ya, performed a spirit possession (kami oroshi) to receive an oracle by which to divine his fate. The reason why he did so is related to his previous service as an instructor at the Imperial Army’s Toyama Academy and on assignment to the Imperial Army’s Special Operations. He had heard through secret channels that because of his involvement in these affairs, the Allied Occupation Forces would arrest him for trial as a militarist. He heard this secret report from the remnants of the Kodama Agency [i.e., a secret service organization run by Kodama Yoshio (1911-1984)]. Zen’ya, however, was determined to forthrightly resolve his own fate. Thus, he approached the altar (kamidana) in his training hall and entered a trance to divine the intentions of the gods. The oracle he attained consists of the following poem written in classical Chinese:

Bursting out startles the heavens,
Congealing inward moves the earth,
Finally, this is the true —
Why lament the [ideal world] within the wine jug?

Greatly awakened, with opened eyes,
Accepting Heaven’s mercy,
Managing human relations this way and that way —
Freely and easily within the belly.

The holograph of this oracle is one of the important documents transmitted within the shihanke (headmaster) lineage. Since it was written while Zen’ya was in a state of divine trance (kamugakari) not just its content but also its calligraphy command attention. In the 1960s I showed this holograph to a high-ranking government official from the People’s Republic of China. As soon as he glanced at it, the high-ranking official uttered ”ah!“ in surprise. The he dolefully added: ”That must have been written by an exceptional person. Alas, a person at that level cannot now be found in China.“

Shortly after the day when Master Zen’ya had resolved to determine his own fate by following the divine signs, he received another secret message which adds an interesting twist to this episode. Prior to the start of the war Master KUNII Zen’ya, the Eighteenth Generation Shihanke (headmaster) of Kashima-Shinryû, had followed the advice of a fortuneteller and changed the Chinese characters for his personal name from ”Zen’ya“ to ”Michiyuki.“ Thereafter in the government’s family registry, identity papers, publications, and other official documents, he was known as KUNII Michiyuki. Upon Japan’s defeat, though, to express his contrition and indignation he officially changed his name back to Zen’ya. It seems, though, that the occupation military police (MPs) were searching for a certain ”KUNII Michiyuki,“ not anyone named ”Zen’ya.“ The census records for the war years listed a ”KUNII Michiyuki“ as the head of a post office in Tokyo’s Kita-ku (Ward), but had no listing thereafter. The MPs thus assumed that the person they sought must have perished during the wartime fire bombings of Tokyo and called off their search. As a result of this divine intervention by the August Deity of Kashima, the occupation MPs sought other suspected militarists and KUNII Zen’ya was spared.

10 September 2007

The Traditional Japanese Culture of Kata Keiko*[note 1]
Its Importance in Kashima-Shinryû

Kata keiko, which constitutes the basic format for instruction in Kashima-Shinryû martial sciences, is the traditional method for teaching classical styles (koryû) of martial arts. It should not be regarded simply as stylized patterns or prescribed exercises that merely preserve the external forms of the martial techniques of classical styles. Instead, its vital importance can be understood only when the practice of these patterns is seen as a method of traditional Japanese culture which holistically promotes the guided evolution of both sides of classical martial arts: that which precedes form (i.e., the metaphysical) and that which is embodied in form (i.e., its actualization). The holistic structure of Kashima-Shinryû martial art techniques is immediately obvious even to beginners who, while aware of only the side that is embodied in form, realize that any given technique can be executed only when the muscular structure of the entire body moves together in balanced harmony. Thus, strict observance of this highly refined traditional method for teaching classical martial arts allows one to discern how the fundamental training routines (kumiwaza) of the martial art clearly embody the entirety of its innermost principles (ôgi; i.e., paramount teachings). In light of this perspective, even the person who at a given time holds supreme authority and responsibility for a particular style (ryûha) should not and would not casually modify the format of its kata keiko.

This traditional method for teaching classical styles of martial arts is so highly refined that, in the case of swordsmanship (kenjutsu) for example, Kesagiri — the very first Tachi (exercise or technique) that one learns as part of Kihon Tachi — encompasses all the fundamentals that should be embodied by the practitioner. This foundational technique provides the basis for an infinite variety of other techniques with endless variations. The entirety of the Kashima-Shinryû Ôgi (innermost principles) is succinctly and clearly stated in the following lines of the Menkyo Kaiden Maki (scroll): “This art (jutsu) lies in total neutrality and total impartiality, so that of its own accord it maintains the state of certain life, issuing forth in limitless permutations, and reaching, as a result, the epitome of the straight and the spiral.” These lines rest on the major premise that in the practice of Kesagiri, the first Tachi of Kihon Tachi, enables one both to acquire bodily control (tai sabaki) in which the kesa and gyakugesa strokes are propelled by the flow of ki (breath) that issues forth from martial breathing (busoku) and, at the same time, to acquire the art of continuous vigorous movement that, in its “limitless permutations,” does not stop even for a single instant. Accordingly, when practicing (keiko) Kesagiri the more senior student who acts as uchitachi must seek to employ as the most essential element of his teaching method a mode of instruction that helps to further the ability of the shitachi to acquire an art of continuous vigorous movement with limitless permutations which do not stop even for a single instant. In practicing Kesagiri in this way, it is obvious that the uchitachi guides the kesa stroke cut by the shitachi along the proper ellipsis by serving as the target for the shitachi’s attack. It is less obvious, but just as necessary for the uchitachi to guide the kesa stroke cut by the shitachi in such a way that it will be propelled by the flow of ki that issues forth from martial breathing. In light of this perspective, for the shitachi to cut the kesa stroke properly, it is absolutely essential for the uchitachi to use a teaching method in which the shitachi and uchitachi do not strike their swords together. This is because striking swords together can instantly destroy the art of continuous vigorous movement with limitless permutations that is being acquired by the shitachi. The uchitachi should use a teaching method in which the swords strike together only when otherwise unavoidable because the shitachi’s sword alignment (tachi suji) is not correct.

Biogenetic law (also known as recapitulation theory or the phylogenesis principle) postulates that the ontogeny of a life form (i.e., the development of an individual organism from embryo to adult) retraces in condensed and accelerated form its phylogeny (i.e., the evolutionary development of a species). Just as the application of this principle can be recognized in human beings at the level of that which is embodied in form, the evolutionary advancement of human beings at the level of that which precedes form definitely can be recognized in advanced training in classical martial arts (koryû bujutsu). In light of this perspective, one can see in the successive generations of shihanke (headmasters) produced by Kashima-Shinryû how the evolution of martial arts reached its summit in the very recent past. Its present summit lies at the level attained by my teacher KUNII Zen’ya, the most eminent bujutsuka of the Shôwa Period. The standard of martial art excellence attained by KUNII Zen’ya remains for all today who practice in his wake an important benchmark that must be attained and surpassed. A key source that reveals the core content of this benchmark is his essay titled “The Unity of Content and Results: Recalling the Teachings of Professor Imaizumi” (Imaizumi sensei no oshie o sôki shite, naiyô kekka ittai no ben). In it, he wrote:

While in the midst of my austerities to seek the ôgi of Kashima-Shinryû I found that they thoroughly manifest Professor Imaizumi’s teachings. I was delighted to discover that Imaizumi’s explanation of the truth of arising and returning to the source is already splendidly evident within the art. Nothing surpasses this art, since it merely returns to the source by assuming a stance from which it can issue forth again at any time. Merely by employing a spiraling application of skill (te no uchi), it can surpass all others. I had felt blocked, but now I made a great leap forward. The professor had explained that all the phenomena in nature arise and return and, having returned, they arise again. Thus, without beginning and without ending, the activities of all things consist of continuous generation and metamorphosis. When I reflected on this teaching I had received from him, for the first time I understood the basis for what may be called the ultimate (gokui) of true martial power (shinbu). This occurred when I realized that returning to the source enables issuing forth, just as the contractions of an inch worm enable it to extend. In other words, what makes Kashima-Shinryû’s techniques so marvelous is the way they arise from mugamae (empty posture) — i.e., otonashi no kamae (silent posture) or the posture of kihatsu ittai (origination and manifestation as one) — return to the source and go forth. Its marvelous techniques result from its inner content.

Because it constitutes the foundation for all other sword techniques, the very first training routine of the Kihon Tachi encompasses every aspect of what Japan’s traditional martial arts regard as the ultimate of ultimates (gokuichu no gokui). The training methods of the legitimate lineage of Kashima-Shinryû perfectly and tacitly convey these ultimates through actions. Above I wrote: “Even the person who at a given time holds supreme authority and responsibility for a particular style (ryûha) should not and would not casually modify the format of its kata keiko.” How then can people whose training in Kashima-Shinryû has not included initiation into ultimates (gokui den) and who has not mastered those skills rely on their immature notions to tinker with the format of martial art instruction in the basic techniques?! When they thus instruct juniors in martial art techniques, they merely invite this public censure: “How terrible to undermine budo!” This is especially so in the case of Kesagiri, the first Tachi of Kihon Tachi.

1 August 2007

1. Translator’s Note: Kata keiko refers to the pedagogical techniques of using systematic pattern practice (kata) to convey mastery (kei) in previously established (ko) knowledge and skills. As explained in this essay its actual implications, however, are much broader.

Training the Tanden for Use in Kiai and Martial Techniques

The goal of training in the martial arts of the “Kashima Spiritual Transmission” (Kashima Shinden) which originated at the Kashima Grand Shrine is said to lie in: “fostering noble men who reverently serve the grand will of they who rule of the realm.”[1] The word “noble men (shi )” in this sentence refers to “people of high resolve (shi )” who can play an active role in maintaining the foundations for a peaceful society. In other words, it refers to a person of high virtue (bushi ). Accordingly, the activity of the August Deity of Kashima — the Japanese Shintô deity who embodies the actual practice of the crucial notion of musubi[2] — consists of actually creating peace throughout all segments of society and cultivating people of good will (shishi ֻ) who can contribute to this process. Since the method for achieving this skill is described as “first condition the body and next cultivate one’s spirit and one’s humanity,” the core of this training consists not of merely improving one’s external physical techniques, but must lie in the development of the courageous mettle that enables one to dare and accomplish great deeds. In other words, it lies in fostering the proficiency that will raise one’s level of bravery so that even amidst the most unfavorable circumstances one is able to manifest “total neutrality and total impartiality, naturally maintaining the position of certain life.” This pedagogical method is conveyed through oral initiations. Because these initiations can contain high levels of spirituality, their veracity usually is regarded as something which can be attested only within the subjective reality experienced by those noble men who master true martial arts. Recent developments in natural sciences and neurological medicine, however, now allow highly-educated people to understand scientifically and objectively many aspects of martial art oral initiations which heretofore have been regarded as falling within the mystical domains of religion.

For example, people everywhere commonly notice that when a living organism loses its life functions, it seems to our eyes to shrink in size. Especially when one observes a dying person (hominid), at the very at the moment of transition from life to death the person seems to shrink right before one’s eyes, thereby increasing our sadness. This occurs because hominids belong to the order Primates, and it is difficult to contemplate the phenomena resulting from the cessation of the distinctive spiritual activity which animates primates. All the cells constituting the physical body of a living organism are surrounded by a bio-energy or aura (called reiki in Japanese) which causes the physical body to appear larger in size than living organism actually is. Accordingly, we can observe the appearance of shrinkage and rigor mortis not just in primates but even in fish when tossed in a cooler by fishermen.

The exact opposite phenomena can be observed in a hominid who has trained to develop his courage. My teacher KUNII Zen’ya is a classic example of this. Zen’ya was born during the Meiji period (1868-1912) and was of average size for that time. By time he reached the Showa period (1926-1989), though, he was smaller than the average Japanese. Yet, as soon as one squared off against him in the training hall (dôjô), he suddenly appeared two or three times bigger. This phenomenon constitutes the actual experience of seeing how his rhythmical martial breathing (busoku) propelled the emission of reiki from all parts of his body so that his physical form seemed to expand in size. If I attempt to explain this phenomena with deductive reasoning based on currently established knowledge of the biological sciences, then I suppose that one hominization factor effecting the direction of a primate’s biological advancement from ordinary hominid toward a human of exceptional power consists of the beneficial effects of the unique capacity for martial breathing which only primates posses.

Martial breathing constitutes a shift from uncontrolled respiration to controlled deep abdominal breathing in which the movement of the abdominal muscle increases greatly in its intensity. Outward expansion of the abdominal muscle is accompanied by pressing the diaphragm downward, which induces forceful inhalations so that the lung capacity expands as much as 160% greater than normal. As a result of this training, the biological reaction of the TCA Cycle within the somatic cells is activated, and as the cells become more demanding of oxygen they increase the rate at which they produce greater amounts of ATP. As a result, the amount of biochemical energy which is available for use by life functions will suddenly increase. When this energy is used in muscular exertion, one appears to have acquired almost superhuman power.

In this process, as a result of applying proper martial breathing, one becomes aware of the spiral propulsion of ki within the center of the tanden.[3] The spiral propulsion of ki can be likened — if we use the analogy of an automobile — to the propulsive force generated by a rotary engine. This propulsive force travels through the wrists and hands — which correspond to the automobile’s transmission — where it is applied to martial techniques. The more forceful the martial breathing, the more quickly this force is manifest (hakken) in martial techniques and the greater the potential to increase the torque or momentum along the return (kangen) route. Finally, the forceful exhalation produced by pushing the diaphragm upward while tightening the abdominal muscle inward will make it possible to generate the greatest possible destructive power along the succeeding forward (suishin) route. Kashima-Shinryû executes martial art techniques in a manner that completely rejects any reciprocating “push-pull” motion. Instead, the foundation for martial techniques in Kashima-Shinryû consists of a motion that accelerates in a flash, like the motion that launches a stone from the end of a sling. The superiority of this flash-like acceleration can be demonstrated physically (i.e., in that which is embodied in form) by quantum mechanics as the type of motion most appropriate for ultrahigh speed moving bodies. The fact that martial art techniques which have been handed down for some hundred years can be comprehended scientifically by means of very modern forms of science such as quantum mechanics reveals just how profound is the significance of the “Spiritual Transmission” in Kashima-Shinryû.

The superiority of performing martial art techniques through proper martial breathing centered on the tanden also can be demonstrated metaphysically (i.e., in that which precedes form). The standard kiai in Kashima-Shinryû sounds “yi - yeiit.”[4] The initial kiai sound “yi” is produced by inhalation and the following “yeiit” sound is produced by exhalation. Oral initiations have been handed down which say that one produces the continue initial kiai sound “yi” as follows. At the moment when one forcefully inhales by extending the abdominal muscles and pushing the diaphragm downward, the lips should opened slightly in a perfectly horizontal position so that the inward movement of the air across the vocal cords will produce an “yi” sound. This procedure, which can be performed at will only by a martial artist who has developed his courageous mettle, promotes the secretion of serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), one of the substances within the brain that acts as a neural transmitter. Modern medicine has demonstrated that serotonin promotes psychological stability by controlling feelings of fright or surprise. This procedure is particularly effective for promoting the ability to quickly make calm and precise decisions when one’s life is at stake on the battlefield. The fact that this kind of practical knowledge has been handed down some hundreds of years again shows that the “Spiritual Transmission” in Kashima-Shinryû is profoundly meaningful.

The kiai sound “yeyit” is produced by the outgoing air moving across the vocal cords as the abdominal muscle is tightened inward while the diaphragm is pushed upward. The inward tightening of the abdominal muscle vigorously stimulates the tanden, which is very important for martial arts. When a person generates the greatest possible destructive force, it effects not just the object being destroyed, but also injures the part of one’s own body that is being used for the attack. Accordingly the self-protective functions of the nervous system will tend to restrict the amount of destructive force available for use by as much as seventy percent. Modern medical science, however, has demonstrated that the more forceful one uses martial breathing to stimulate the tanden and exhales with the kiai sound “yeyit,” then the effects of this self-protective function will be correspondingly reduced. Thus, this method of cultivating courage enables one to develop the ability to generate greater amounts of destructive force.

Incidentally, the explosive sound of the kiai emitted by my teacher KUNII Zen’ya when performing martial arts was “yi - yit.” Grandmaster Zen’ya had perfected the gokui (ultimate) known as “Seiko no mizu” (literally, “the water of Lake Xi Hu”). This shortened sound (which is still extant on recording tape) provides evidence of fact that he had cultivated extremely high levels of courage and the speed with which his techniques generated their tremendous destructive force was practically instantaneous.

1 November 2007

Translator’s Notes
1. This quotation appears in the scroll titled Kashima-Shinryû Menkyo Kaiden Mokuroku. Unless otherwise identified, the subsequent passages inside quotation marks also consist of quotations from this scroll. For a complete translation of this document, see: Karl F. Friday with SEKI Humitake, Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryû and Samurai Martial Culture (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997), pp. 174 - 177.
2. Etymologically, the word musubi sometimes is glossed as a compound of the root musu (“birth, life, generation, creation, and growth”) plus the suffix hi (referring to “spiritual or divine power”). It denotes the process of creative evolutionary development that animates the universe according to the basic Shintô worldview. Significantly, musubi also implies the process of reconciliation, bonding, and establishing relationships.
3. The words ki (Chinese, qi; literally “breath”) and tanden (Chinese, dantian; literally “field of cinnabar”) represent key concepts in a wide range of East Asian philosophical, religious, and medical systems and disciplines. Their nuances and connotations do not necessarily agree from one historical, textual, or social context to another. Within traditional Japanese martial arts it is useful to think of ki simply as a generic term for the energy flows generated through the proper coordination of mind, body, and breath. The tanden can be thought of as a field of ki concentrated in the lower abdomen that can be brought into existence, strengthened, energized, and stimulated by the proper exercise of certain abdominal muscles and the diaphragm. Since these kinds of exercises can be harmful if performed incorrectly, they always should be learned and practiced while under the supervision of a qualified instructor.
4. Kiai (literally “confluences of ki”) can be described as “the art of controlling one’s own and one’s adversary’s psychospiritual and physical energy by manipulating the breath” (Friday with Seki, ibid., p. 85).

The Scientific Basis for “Metsuke no Koto”[1]

In Kashima-Shinryû there is a gokui (ultimate) known as “Sword, Mind, and Body as a Trinity” (ken-shin-tai sanmi ittai). This trinity assumes its most appropriate form in martial arts when one correctly perceives the opponent’s mental movements so as to discern in advance the commencement of his techniques (Seki, 1976).[2] As the proverbial “windows on the mind,” the eyes are where the movements of the mind first appear. For this reason, the teachings of many schools include a generic type of gokui that says one must observe not just the opponent’s physical actions but also shifts in the direction or glint of his eyes. Nonetheless, following the instructions of this generic gokui can be dangerous. When one must face a master martial artist who has acquired spiritual expertise, it allows one to fall under the sway of his powers. Even if the opponent is only at the expert (tatsujin) level, at the very least it permits him to use his abilities of hypnotic suggestion to manipulate one at will. If the opponent is at the master (meijin) level, then it allows one to become entangled in and manipulated by the way he radiates ki. I have seen this happen right before my eyes to challengers from other schools who sought to fight KUNII Zen’ya. Entangled in the ki emanating from Kunii’s fingertips, they would find themselves toppled over on the tatami mats in precisely the way that he had moved his fingertips, turn tail, and run away like defeated dogs. The instant when the challengers gazed into Zen’ya’s eyes, they fell under his spell. They would start to pant for breath (their chests heaving with the sound zei - zei) and without Zen’ya having to use any words — merely by force of his hypnotic gaze — they would faint in plain public view like some poor hapless creatures and remain unconscious for several minutes. Under these circumstances — when one detects the ki emitted by an expert or master — it is essential to use the Metsuke no Koto taught in the gokuiden (the highest level of initiation) of Kashima-Shinryû.

The gokuiden’s Metsuke no Koto is performed as follows. As one assumes a posture (kamae) for the encounter, first fully open the eyes and focus one’s gaze on the opponent’s forehead at the spot that Buddhists identify as the location of the third eye (or the corresponding location of a reptile’s parietal eye: i.e., photoreceptive organ). Then, as one completely enters into the posture, close the eyes half way. One’s line of sight must remain focused on the “third eye,” but at the same time one’s awareness long that line of sight should rest on the opponent’s feet. When one enters into this kind of metsuke (eye placement) one can observe how movements of the mind, especially changes in combative spirit, generate fluctuations in the bio-energy or aura (reiki in Japanese) emitted by the opponent and, thus, one discerns comprehensively all actions across the opponent’s entire body. The key gist of the oral initiation regarding this comprehensive mode of observation says: “Do not regard the opponent casually, but allow your vision to move cyclically of its own accord (not willfully) so that you can correctly discern the opponent’s motions.” This process of cyclical observation can be liked to they way that we view motion picture films, which consist of a series of perfectly focused images projected sequentially onto a screen.

Recently published leading scientific research analyzes the way that our vision performs involuntary cyclical movements (Martinez-Conde and Macknik, August 2007). According to this article, involuntary cyclical eye movements constitute what in scientific parlance is called “fixational eye movement.” In other words, even when the gaze fixates on the same spot, the eyes engage constantly in fixational eye movements in which the eyeballs flick in rapid succession momentarily from one detail to the next. The fixational eye movements which produce the largest range of eye motion are known as microsaccades. The foremost significance of these microsaccades lies in the fact that they can reveal anticipations and subliminal strategic thoughts. This research demonstrates that even when one concentrates ones vision on a single spot of focus, these fixational eye movements do not stop, but draw in the maximum range of the peripheral vision.

As a result of this scientific evidence we can recognize the role of microsaccades in the cultivation of martial skills. We also can more easily understand how the instructions in the gokuiden initiation on Metsuke no Koto enable one to maintain the position of certain victory (hisshô no kurai) and avoid entrapment by the hypnotic skills of an expert or entanglement in the ki emitted by a master. Once again we must be impressed by the terrific power of the “ Spiritual Transmission”in Kashima-Shinryû.

8 October 2007

Translator's Notes
1. Metsuke (literally, “eye placement”) refers to process of observation in all its aspects (physical, mental, and spiritual), and, in this context, koto indicates key points, methods, or doctrines.
2.Regarding the notion of a “moving mind” and “unmoving mind,” see Mencius 2A2 (Gongsun Chou Chapter, Part A, Section 2). This passage from Mencius is discussed repeatedly in Japanese martial art literature — most famously in the Fudôchi Shinmyôroku by Takuan Sôhô (1573-1643).


  1. SEKI Humitake. 1976. Nihon budô no engen: Kashima-Shinryû. Tokyo: Kyôrin Shoin.

  2. Martinez-Conde, Susana and Stephen L. Macknik. August 2007. Windows on the Mind. Scientific American, 40-47.

Ginmi (Testing) as Taught in the Gokuiden (Initiation into Ultimates)

The important practical applications of martial art principles taught in Kashima-Shinryû include Ginmi no Koto (Testing). Several oral initiations into the ultimates (gokui kuden) have been handed down regarding this topic. These teachings have been transmitted in the format of oral initiations into the ultimates not just to insure that this vital foundational knowledge will be hidden from rival schools (ryûha) but also because these teachings encompass such difficult-to-understand metaphysical content that anyone who lacks advanced scientific training probably would regard them as the “raving of madmen.”

Although Ginmi no Koto is taught via oral initiations into the ultimates, there also exist written notes concerning this topic from the days when the shihanke (headmaster) lineage of Kashima-Shinryû was handed down under the name Jikishinkageryû. Among these notes, the ones that seem most reasonable explain the standard practice of Ginmi no Koto as follows: “Measure [i.e., test] your own pulse; after your pulse has returned to normal, then you can calmly and serenely engage [the opponent(s)].” This is an excellent explanation. Anyone reading it will be able to comprehend the connotations of ginmi as a technical term within Japanese martial arts. A slightly more detailed explanation says: “Take your pulse on your wrist and both sides of your neck simultaneously, and if all three pulses share the same pace, then they attest to your calm state of mind. If, however, they deviate from one another, then your spirit is too agitated [for success in combat].” This is as much detail as traditional transmission documents (densho) could commit to writing, since in those days any further written clarifications could have been stolen by members of rival schools, whom one might possibly face in a contest with real swords.

There is a problem with the above written explanations when they dispassionately state: “After your pulse has returned to normal, then you can calmly and serenely engage [the opponent(s)].” Normally one cannot dictate the precise time when one will face combat. It is essential, therefore, for one to practice a method of spiritual cultivation that will allow one to overcome the initial agitation and excitement of being challenged by an enemy and quickly regain one’s normal pulse and calm composure.

Kashima-Shinryû therefore teaches methods for quickly recovering from an agitated and excited mental state. Specifically we teach a method of martial breathing (busoku no hô) performed in the style of spirit pacification (chinkon) rites. Martial breathing in the form spirit pacification rites refers to the Kashima-Shinryû technique of breathing in sevens (nanatsu no kokyû) which emphasizes exhalations with forceful contractions of the abdominal muscle (SEKI 1997, 127-29). This method of breathing maintains a high concentration of carbon dioxide in the lungs. The practice of continuous respiration of air with a high concentration of carbon dioxide induces a pronounced calming effect, which settles one’s nerves. It induces a state similar to the one used by medical doctors to treat mentally disturbed individuals to whom they cannot administer medications. Doctors, for example, sometimes will calm an agitated patient by placing a bag over the patient’s head so that the patient will breathe the high concentration of carbon dioxide which he himself has produced and thereby will regain a peaceful composure.

People who have attained the same level of skill as martial experts (tatsujin) can induce in themselves this state of peaceful composure even when confronted with imminent combat. People who attain the same level as masters (meijin) must also be able to induce synchronized integration of their (1) concentrated consideration of martial tactics and (2) continuous control over their martial breathing for combat. This synchronized integration will enable them to employ techniques which rely not just on physical strength, but which also can respond freely to tactics by gaining propulsion from the flow of ki that issues forth from the tanden.

The Fifth Generation Shihanke, KAMIYA Bunzaemon-no-jô Taira no Masamitsu, gave important instructions regarding how we should approach “concentrated consideration of martial tactics.” He wrote: “What is traditionally referred to as ‘the divine’ is actually ‘the mind’” (tsutaete iwaku ‘shin’ [kami] wa sunawachi ‘shin’ [kokoro] nari). As indicated by this statement, divine martial power (shinbu) requires that one become able to discern how the divine will should be physically embodied in martial arts. As one practices this form of inner visualization (naikan), one gradually becomes able to construct mentally four dimensional coordinates wherein the point “where one should receive possession of divine insight” and the point “where the divine will becomes lodged in the mind” can be perceived as single point.[1] Then one continues the process until one can unify them with the point “where the divine will is communicated to the body to be revealed through martial techniques.”[2] Each of these points, which are of vital importance for martial arts, exists separately in three dimensional spaces. As soon as they converge as one point within four dimensions, at that very instant one becomes able to perform the most effective martial art techniques as a single unified action.

In our normal daily life we have no need to perceive the points of three dimensional spaces as a single point within four dimensions. Nonetheless in daily life all of us have the experience of depicting three dimensional objects as pictures on the two dimensional plane of a canvas or other flat surface. And when we view flat paintings or pictures we mentally expand them into three dimensional objects. In this same way, inner visualization transcends the limits of three dimensions and allows us to perceive certain things as if projected into other dimensions. If we take this experience of inner visualization to a higher level, and regard it as a phenomenon with an epistemological basis, which can be seen as a philosophical method for viewing the convergence of the points of three dimensional spaces within the unified field of four dimensional spaces, then these notions can be understood more easily. Likewise, this same phenomenon has been analyzed by scholars in the field of pure mathematics. Michael Freeman’s research on topology, for example, is widely recognized for his demonstration of the Poincaré conjecture for four dimensions (n = 4).

5 November 2007

1. The point “where one should receive possession of divine insight” refers to a point in space located in front of the left eyebrow where each individual’s protective or tutelary deity (shugo shin) resides. The point “where the divine will becomes lodged in the mind” refers to the spot between the eyebrows where it is possible to fix one’s gaze on the divine and purify oneself by defeating the ten evils (jû aku). The ten evils are: insolence (gaman), overconfidence (kashin), greed (don’yoku), anger (ikari), fear (osore), distrust (ayabumi), doubt (utagai), indecision (mayoi), contempt (anadori), and conceit (manshin).
2. The point “where the divine will is communicated to the body to be revealed through martial techniques” refers to the area around the tanden.


  1. SEKI Humitake. 1976. Nihon budô no engen: Kashima-Shinryû. Tokyo: Kyôrin Shoin.

  2. Michael H. Freedman. 1982. The topology of four-dimensional manifolds. Journal of Differential Geometry 17, 357-453.