Kukishinden Ryū, originally “Nine Gods Spirit School” is a Japanese martial art classified as a sōgō bujutsu, meaning that it teaches several different weapons/arts such as unarmed combatives, staff, halberd, sword, stick, spear and specific areas of strategy.
According to the research of Manaka Unsui and the reference book, ‘Encyclopedia of Martial Arts Ryu-Ha in Japan Today’, published by Tokyo Copy publishing division, there are presently four lines of Kukishin Ryu, each with a separate founder in existence today. Two of these four lineages show that Takamatsu Toshitsugu was Soke of two of these lines with different founders and have since been ‘jumbled’ together.
As one researches the deep history of these two Ryū-ha, it becomes clear why this happens, so it’s encouraged to the reader to do this research on their own. Here I will simply present the basic history of this school with main references being from my teacher’s own study and the recordings of his teacher Hatsumi Sensei, 28th Soke of the Kukishin Ryu Happo Biken. I will also reference the letters written by Hatsumi Sensei Kukishin Ryu Happo Biken to Ago Kiyohiko in Showa (1977), January 11 and June 9, published in the Kukishinden Zensho. As well, I have drawn other details from personal discussion and articles by Manaka Unsui. It is my personal goal to not manipulate the history and will make amendments to this section from viable resources.
The history of the Kukishin Ryu studied at the Jinenkan Dojo have two distinct origins. Kukishin Ryu Happo Biken has origin coming from founder Izumo no Kanja Yoshiteru (Kukishin Ryu Happo Hijutsu, c.1159) and founder Nawa Shinzaburo Motonaga (Kishin Tosui ryu, c.1000).
Regarding the history of the Tosui Ryu: Otomo no Furumaro (c.754) created the foundations of Tosui Ryu through his studies under a Chinese Buddhist monk named Ganjin. He mastered staff, spear, halberd and empty handed techniques. At some time around 1000, Nawa Shinzaburo Motonaga revived the teachings of Furumaro and the Tosui Ryu to become it’s first Soke. The 3rd Soke of Tosui Ryu, Okuni Kihei Kiyosumi changed the name to Kishin Tosui Ryu. And the 11th Soke of Kishin Tosui Ryu added Kenpō (Chinese boxing) to the lineage and called it Daken-jutsu.
In his writing on the history of Kukishinden Ryu, Manaka Unsui Sensei makes mention to the student of Kishin Tosui Ryu, Yakushimaru Kurando Takamoto as having saved the life of Emporor Godaigo and was given the surname Kuki, meaning ‘Nine Demons” as a reflection of his skill in combat. Takamoto went his own way to form the Tosui Kukishin Ryu and this is where the first reference of ‘Kuki’
Regarding the history of the Kukishin Ryu Happo no Hijutsu: During 1156, Izumo no Kaja Yoshiteru who was a samurai of Minamoto who rebelled against Kanpaku Tadamichi during the Hōgen Rebellion. He was captured and escaped to hide in Izumo no Kuni within a cave named Shishime Dokutsu for three years. During this time he met a Chinese ascetic who would teach him techniques of Naginata and Bisento. He endured exceptionally rigorous spiritual training under this monk and it is said that though this training he was able to fight demons. From this ability he named his techniques Kukishinden Happo no Hijutsu. In 1159 Yoshiteru left the Shishime Dokutsu to join Minamoto Genji in the battle of Heiji. When Genji lost, Yoshiteru escaped to China. While there, he continued his study of martial and spiritual training. Some years later, he returned to Japan and began teaching the Kukishinden Happo no Hijutsu.
The name “Hijutsu” was changed to “Bikenjutsu” by the 14th Soke of Kukishin Ryu, Kazama Shinkuro Hidechika. A highly skilled swordsman, he renamed the Ryuha to “Kukishinden Happo Biken-jutsu”. The prefix ‘Bi’ (also read as ‘Hi’) means secret.
The 15th Soke of Kukishin ryu Happo Bikenjutsu and 18th Soke of Kishin Tosui Ryu was the same person named Okuni Kihei Shigenobu. It was in a famous match of skill that Shigenobu dueled Takagi Gennoshin of the Takagi Yoshin Ryu with Jujutsu. With Gennoshin the winner, the Ryu-ha of Shigenobu was adopted by the Takagi Yoshin Ryu. It was at this point that all three schools were maintained by the same Soke.
Kukishin Ryū Today
Today there are older and modern branches of the Ryū still active. The Kuki family maintains the family line, which is called “Kukishinden Tenshin Hyoho”, led by Eichoku Takatsuka under the supervision of the current 28th Soke, Ietaka Kuki. Kukishinden Ryū Happō Biken was given by Takamatsu Chosui to his student, Masaaki Hatsumi.
Description of Technique
There are nine areas of training in the Kukishinden Ryu Happo Biken, eight of them relating to the martial arts. They are:
Literally meaning “Fist striking technique.” This art consists of locks, entanglements, strangling, striking and kicking, as well as the use of small weapons. As mentioned, taijutsu techniques were modified to fit in with the early Edo jidai because the techniques of striking originated at times when armor was worn and became outdated. This method of fighting in street attire, called suhada bujutsu, was codified in both the Kukishin Ryū and Shindenfudo Ryū. While some techniques still preserve the qualities of movement needed by soldiers wearing load bearing equipment, other systems of Dakentaijutsu do not.
Bōjutsu literally meaning “Stick technique” is best described as a method used to defeat/trick wielders of other weapons. It has special striking techniques that allow the Bō to feign quickly and re-direct its aim; a special method of “twirling” (Bofurigata) designed to confuse opponents and keep them at bay, alongside a large assortment of strikes and thrusts. Aspects of the Bōjutsu are gleaned from two other weapons, naginata and the spear.
The Hanbō of Kukishin Ryū is used to parry, strike, crush, choke and stab. It integrates with taijutsu as well. The hanbō is most directly related to the spear and staff, however these influences are superficial. It is safe to say that although the spear was in fact the origin of the hanbō itself, it truly plied its techniques from the sword. Ukon Kuriyama is thought to have created and introduced the hanbō techniques to Kukishin Ryū during the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Legend has it that he was well known for his skill with the short spear. Kuriyama participated in the Battle of Nagashino on May 4, 1575, on the side of Nobunaga Oda. While fighting against general Katsuhisa Tangonokami Suzuki, Kuriyama’s spear was cut in half. Kuriyama kept on fighting with the cleft spear and eventually defeated Suzuki. Then it is said that he continued into battle, overwhelming the enemies’ swords and thoroughly beating them down. From this legend, it is believed that the Hanbō was officially included in Kukishin Ryū during the early Edō era.
The staff art is similar to bōjutsu, and is strongly focused upon defense against the Japanese sword. The jō is a short staff with a smaller diameter than than the Rōkushakubō (6 shaku bō), measuring usually about 5 feet long. The martial art of jōjutsu was the province of professional warriors, so it was usually not used by travelers to ward off aggressive bandits or swordsmen, as one might expect. As well, jōjutsu can find much of it’s curricula origins drawn from the necessities of security and law enforcement.
Literally meaning “Secret sword techniques”, the Kukishin Ryū Happo Biken has both Kenjutsu, 剣術 and Kodachijutsu, 脇差術. The Bikenjutsu consists of evasion, slashing, stabbing, blocking and countering and is fundamentally practiced with considerations of load bearing equipment worn by the practitioner . The Kodachijutsu, or more appropriately called ‘Kodachidori’ is considered by Unusi Sensei to be the highest level of training within the Kukishin Ryū Happo Biken.
The Kukishin Ryū spear has a total length of 270 cm. The 36 cm to 45 cm spearhead is connected to the shaft by long tang and supported externally along the staff with wire. The yari has three shard edges that create a triangular bar. These edge join together at the tip of the weapon. It is used to parry, slash, stab, strike and to unbalance opponents.
The spear techniques in Kukishin Ryū integrate a myriad of complex variations and nuances and this is perhaps the most difficult weapon in the curricula to learn. It has a number of targets which can be reached from both long and short distances and at each distance, a slight divergence in the way the weapon is used is needed in order to make it effective. This makes it one of the most complicated and complex weapons, depending entirely on distance and timing for the wielder to use it correctly.
The Kukishin Ryū Naginata is 225 cm in overall length. It has a double edged blade that is 21 cm long and is attached to the shaft by wires. It is used to slash, parry, strike, stab and deflect; the blade is also used to hook and arrest. Naginata is a weapon of primary importance in Kukishin Ryū as the Bōjutsu owes its origin to the Naginata. It stands as another signature weapon of Kukishin Ryū and it is perhaps the base of the ryu’s creation.
Literally meaning ‘halberd’ the Bisento is a kind of Japanese pole weapon that was adopted from the Chinese kwan-do or guan dao which greatly resembles a naginata. It consists of a thick curved blade mounted atop a long wooden pole. Much heavier than the naginata in construction, there are some accounts of it being used as a training weapon to improve one’s naginatajutsu. The history of the weapon is a little obscure; the claim of the Kukishin-ryū is that the weapon was introduced from China during the 5th century. This would make the weapon the most likely precursor to the naginata. It would have been used in warfare as an anti-cavalry weapon.
Literally meaning “ten-hand” (i.e., the weapon with the power of ten hands),the jutte is a specialized weapon primarily used by Japanese law enforcement during the Edo era. The jutte was a substitute for a badge and represented someone on official business and was carried by all levels of police officers including high ranking samurai police officials and low-rank samurai law enforcement officers. Other high ranking samurai officials carried a jutte as a badge of office,including hotel, rice and grain inspectors.
Regarding the Name Kukishin Ryū
- 九 “Ku” stands for “nine” in Japanese.
- 鬼 “Ki” as seen on the far left is actually an incorrect kanji for the name. It is supposed to be an older Chinese based kanji meaning “Kami” or god but it is now long obsolete (compare above). This is because over the years the older character became lost due to the need to simplify/unify the Chinese characters used in Japanese writing. So, the similar, original character of 鬼 (oni or demon) is used in its stead. This inadvertently changes the meaning of the name to modern readers, who rightly believe that it reads “Nine Demons;” yet in fact the character was originally pronounced as “Oni-gami”(holy spirit) as opposed to “Oni” (evil spirits). The name “Ku-ki” is therefore actually “Ku-kami” yet, it has been customarily pronounced as “Kuki” since the Edo period.
- 神 “Shin” or “kami” means god or spirit- the English interpretation of “spirit” works better as “Nine Gods God School” sounds redundant and creates problems in comprehension.
- 流 “Ryū” translates originally as “flow,” however when related with the transmission of traditions as martial arts and appended to the name of a style or system, it means “school.”
Lineage of Kukishin Ryū Happō Bikenjutsu
Izumo Kaja Yoshiteru
Izumo Koshiro Terunobu
Ohkuni Kisanta Kiyozumi
Arima Kawachi-no-kami Masayoshi
Kazama Shinkuro Hidechika
Ohkuni Onihei Shigenobu
Ohtone Sakon Yasumasa
Hisahara Kotaro Nobuyoshi
Ishitani Takema Masatsugu
Ishitani Matsutaro Takakage
Masaaki Hatsumi (Present Sōke)