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Eastern Martial Arts

The Roots of the Willow: A Concise History of Shinto Yoshin Kai Combat Jujutsu (新 道 楊 心 会 実 戦 柔 術) Part 1: Classical Roots of Shinto Yoshin Kai Combat Jujutsu

The Roots of the Willow:

A Concise History of Shinto Yoshin Kai Combat Jujutsu (新 道 楊 心 会 実  戦 柔 術)

James E. Smith – Sandan Shinto Yoshin Kai Combat Jujutsu

Part 1: Classical Roots of Shinto Yoshin Kai Combat Jujutsu

 

Jujutsu

Jujutsu (柔  術), a term first used in the 17th century,[i] is the weaponless martial art of the Samurai. It has been described as the, “soft”, “gentle”, “pliable”, or “flexible”( 柔 ) art (術).[ii] Mol gives us a more accurate definition as a “method of close combat, either unarmed or employing minor weapons, that can be used in defensive or offensive ways, to subdue one or more unarmed or armed opponents.”[iii]

Starting as a battlefield art where combatants were armored with weapons at ready, jujutsu evolved with Japan’s cultural climate into a martial art focused on self-defense against an unarmed aggressor wearing everyday clothing. As a battlefield art, senjo kumiuchi (戦 場 組 討) or grappling in armor, the techniques of the martial schools or ryu (流) emphasized grappling with an opponent to throw him down and finish with a weapon.  Due to the relative peace of the Edo period (1603-1867), seijo kumiuchi evolved into heifuku kumiuchi (平服 組 討), or grappling in ordinary clothes.  This art was built around techniques for grappling in street clothes, for striking, and for disarming opponents. The roots of Shinto Yoshin Kai Combat Jujutsu begin in the Edo period and were therefore considered heifuku kumiuchi.[iv]

Yoshin Ryu (楊  心  流)

The deepest classical root of Shinto Yoshin Kai Combat Jujutsu is the Yoshin Ryu. There were two distinct Yoshin Ryuha: Muira Yoshin or Yoshin Koryu and Akiyama Yoshin Ryu, both founded in the Edo period.[v]

Muira Yoshin Ryu was founded by Nakamura Sakyodayu Yoshikuni. Yoshikuni studied Daiin or Taiin Ryu Jujutsu under his father.  He also worked in a clinic in Bizen as an assistant to a Chinese doctor. Later, he combined his knowledge of Chinese medicine and his father’s jujutsu to create the Muira Yoshin Ryu. Muira Yoshin Ryu was absorbed into other jujutsu Ryuha and no longer exists as its own style.

Akiyama Yoshin Ryu became known as the “willow heart” or “willow spirit” school.  Yoshin Ryu is considered one of the original source schools of modern jujutsu. It was founded by Akiyama Shirobei Yoshitoki, a physician from Nagasaki, sometime between 1651 – 1660. Akiyama was said to have either traveled to China or learned various martial techniques from Chinese immigrants living in Japan.[vi] Not satisfied with these martial skills Akiyama secluded himself in Tenmangu Shrine in Tsukushi’s Dazaifu to meditate. Legend has it that on a snowy day he noticed how the willow trees at the shrine gave way to heavy snow. Inspired by the willow’s flexibility, Akiyama named his school Yoshin Ryu, using the character “yo” (楊) as opposed to “yanagi” (柳), which indicates the physical willow tree. “Yo” (楊) has the correct philosophical connotation, as it infers “flexibility.”

Shin no Shindo Ryu (真 之 神  道  流)

Shin no Shindo Ryu is the next classical root of Shinto Yoshin Kai Combat jujutsu. It was founded by Yamamoto Tamizaemon, a “Doshin,” a policeman, at Osaka Castle during the later half of the eighteenth century.[vii] He selected 68 techniques from Yoshin Ryu’s 303 for the core of his system.  This system now only survives in one of it’s branches, the Tenjin Shinyo Ryu.

Tenjin Shinyo Ryu (天  神 真  楊  流)

The last classical root of Shinto Yoshin Kai Combat Jujutsu is the Tenjin Shinyo Ryu. Tenjin Shinyo Ryu was founded by Iso Mataemon sometime between 1810 -1832.[viii]  Iso Mataemon studied Yoshin ryu and Shin no Shindo Ryu from the ages of 15 to 28. After receiving the “okugi” or secrets of the school, he embarked on a “musha shugyo,” a type of austerity training that could include dueling, mountain seclusion or extended stays at monastic temples. While traveling, Mataemon was accosted by a number of bandits (sometimes said to be 100 or more in accounts of the legend.) He incapacitated his adversaries, rather than killing them, using mostly “atemi,” or striking,  This incident caused him to redefine his fighting methods. He stated that kumiuchi was best for the battlefield, but atemi was best for day to day life.[ix]

Iso Mataemon combined the Yoshin Ryu and Shin no Shindo Ryu into Tenjin Shinyo Ryu and opened a dojo in Edo. The Tenjin Shinyo Ryu became extremely popular, evolving into various branches. It’s best known being Kano Ryu which would later become Kodokan Judo.[x] Tenjin Shinyo Ryu is noteworthy for having branch schools headed by women at a time when this was uncommon.[xi]

 

Classical Roots Summary

The classical roots of Shinto Yoshin Kai Combat Jujutsu are found in the Yoshin Ryu, Shin no Shindo Ryu, and Tenjin Shinyo Ryu. From early on these arts were known for both atemi and for an above average knowledge of anatomy, a consequence of its physician founders. In Part 2, we will explore the growth of Shinto Yoshin Koryu Jujutsu.

[i]. Serge Mol, Classical Fighting Arts Of Japan A Complete Guide To Koryu Jujutsu (Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd., 1970), 17.

[ii]. Mark Barlow, Jujutsu: Legacy Of The Samurai (Blountsville, AL: Fifth Estate, 2005), 4.

[iii]. Serge Mol, Classical Fighting Arts Of Japan A Complete Guide To Koryu Jujutsu (Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd., 1970), 10.

[iv]. Serge Mol, Classical Fighting Arts Of Japan A Complete Guide To Koryu Jujutsu (Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd., 1970), 136.

[v]. Serge Mol, Classical Fighting Arts Of Japan A Complete Guide To Koryu Jujutsu (Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd., 1970), 95.

[vi]. Serge Mol, Classical Fighting Arts Of Japan A Complete Guide To Koryu Jujutsu (Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd., 1970), p.134.

[vii]. Oscar and Westbrook Ratti, Adele, Secrets Of The Samurai: The Martial Arts Of Feudal Japan (Boston, MA: Tuttle Publishing, 1973), p.349.

[viii]. Serge Mol, Classical Fighting Arts Of Japan A Complete Guide To Koryu Jujutsu (Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd., 1970), p.140.

[ix]. Serge Mol, Classical Fighting Arts Of Japan A Complete Guide To Koryu Jujutsu (Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd., 1970), p.140.

[x]. Serge Mol, Classical Fighting Arts Of Japan A Complete Guide To Koryu Jujutsu Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd., 1970), p.142.

[xi]. Serge Mol, Classical Fighting Arts Of Japan A Complete Guide To Koryu Jujutsu (Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd., 1970), p.143.

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Monday - Shintoyoshin Jujutsu
Tuesday - Western Combat (grappling)
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