Kukishin Ryū (九鬼神流) or Kukishinden Ryû is a Japanese martial arts system translated as the nine demons school. It is one of the nine ryū (schools) taught to current grandmaster of Togakure Ryū, Masaaki Hatsumi by Takamatsu Toshitsugu.
Upon closer inspection of the name ku (nine), ki (oni or demon, older translations meaning Oni-gami (holy spirit)), shin (god or spirit), and ryū (school). Remember, Japanese kanji can change meaning based on it’s usage and the surrounding characters. So the name would translate as the nine god god school and you can se how that would cause a bit of confusion so the name nine demons school because widely accepted. Kuki has been the more accepted pronunciation since the Edo period, but it’s actually Ku-Kami.
The Founder of Kukishinden Ryū
Born January 1, 1318 in Wakayama prefecture, Ryushin Yakushimaru (Yakushimaru Kurando Takazane) was a descendant of the Fujiwara clan who were very influential in Japanese politics and the navy from 794-1185. Ryushin’s mother Chigusa-hime had a brother who was a member of the Southern Imperial Court. She had problems conceiving a child and made pilgrimage to Enryaku-ji temple at Mt. Hiei and prayed to Yakushi Budda that she may conceive a child. Legend has it that she conceived this child with a tengu (mountain ascetic), and gave birth to Yakushimaru named after the deity Yakushi Buddha.
Name and Variations: 薬師丸, 蔵人, 隆真 Yakushimaru, Kurando, Takanao
薬師丸 Yakushimaru – medicine man, chemical expert
蔵人 Kurando – keeper of imperial archives or a sake brewer
隆真 Takanao – noble truth – the same kanji can also be read as Takamasa, Takanori, Ryūma, Ryūshin and various others.
Young Ryushin learned Shinden Fujiwara Muso-ryū (military sciences and martial arts), which was handed down thru family generations within the Fujiwara clan and taught to him by his grandfather. His father taught him Shugendo (The Way of Attaining power), an ascetic religious practice in which practitioners attained a spiritual awakening by realizing harmony with nature. Ryushin also learned esoteric Buddhism, from a monk at Sanmaku-in temple and studied martial arts on Mt. Kurama and mastered Kuji-hiho (the strategies of balancing electric/magnetic power fields) and Onmyo-do (the way of understanding the esoteric).
Ryushin Comes of Age
Ryushin celebrated his coming of age in 1335 at age 16 by joining the Northern Court under Takauji Ashikaga who was at war with the Southern Court where the young Ryushin was born and had family. One year later, Ryushin led an attack against the Southern Court on Mt. Hiei where Ryushin was successful in toppling the Southern Court here and capturing the court’s Emperor Go-Daigo where he was imprisoned in Hanayama palace. Go-Daigo’s treatment was so heinous that Ryushin must have felt sympathy not only for him but also for his mother who was still heartbroken that her son led the attack against her family.
Disguised as a maid, Ryushin entered the palace with a small group of warriors, one of which being Japanese war hero Kusunoki Masashige. (INSERT PIC OF MASASHIGE) The Northern Court was alerted about the escape and sent ten thousand soldiers to cut them off and crush them. The small army caught them at Kuragari-Toge near Osaka and Nara, where they made their stand against ten thousand Northern Court soldiers. Ryushin armed with a naginata, charged at the soldiers shouting, “Who’s the sergent?” cutting the soldiers down like grass. That sergent was strong enough to cut off Ryushin’s blade, so Ryushin used the remains of the staff to keep soldiers away. It is said that Ryushin used the kuji-kiri, which he’d learned early in his training, to maintain a super-human level of performance.
Kukishinden Ryū Is Born
With Go-Daigo on Ryushin’s back they escaped to Yoshino. Emperor Go-Daigo took notice of Rhyshin’s fighting techniques and later praised him and inquired about their origin. He told the Emperor that it was a secret technique passed to him from his family; the secret art of Kuji. The Emperor replied, “God knows your loyalty. You shall change your surname Fujiwara to Kuki”, and Fujiwara Ryushin Yakushimaru became Kuki Ryushin Yakushimaru.
Ryushin created Kukishin Bojutsu in honor of his now deceased mother who died heartbroken over her son’s choice to join the Northern court. The techniques of Kukishinden Ryū Bojutsu came from the techniques used by Ryushin in the battle that ensued after their escape with the Emperor.
Ryushin became a palace guard by the 1330’s and later a governor (shugo) under Emperor G0-Daigo. The Kukishinden school consisted on techniques using taijutsu, bojutsu, yari, shuriken, and kenjutsu. The movements are usually performed from a very low stance this is partly due to the service of the Kuki family who were heavily involved in the suigun (navy), and most likely permitted proper balance on turbulent waters.
The lineage chart shows Kukishinden ryū, originating with Yakushimaru Kurando, passing through Ōoka Kihei Shigenobu to Ishitani Matsutarō Takakage who then passes it on to Takamatsu Toshitsugu to arrive at Hatsumi Masaaki. Note here that in the Japanese article 大岡鬼平重信 Ōoka Kihei Shigenobu is written – usually this person is 大国 Ōkuni Kihei Shigenobu – this may be typo from when the chart was edited for the magazine…
There are 6 disciplines of Kukishinden Ryū
Taijutsu means ‘body art’. It consists of striking, kicking, joint locks, entrapments, and small weapons us like the shuriken.
Kukishinden Ryū Bojutsu is a method of using a bo staff in order to trick opponents with weapons. The techniques uses redirection and makes the opponent believe one thing is happening when they are actually being baited into something else. Some of the same techniques of naginata and yari mirror those of Bojutsu.
It consists of evasion, slashing, stabbing, blocking and countering. It also includes the use of bōshuriken. One of the signature movements of Kukishinden Ryū Kempō is the upward slashing.
The hanbō of Kukishin-ryū is used to parry, strike, crush and stab. It integrates with taijutsu as well. The hanbō is most directly related to the spear and staff, however these influences are superficial.
The Kukishinden Ryū spear has a total length of 270 cm. The 36 cm to 45 cm spearhead is connected to the shaft with wire, and it has three edges or “blades.” It is used to parry, slash, stab, strike and to unbalance opponents.
The Kukishinden 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 Kukishinden Ryū as the Bōjutsu owes its origin to the Naginata. It stands as another signature weapon of Kukishinden Ryū and it is perhaps the base of the ryu’s creation.
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. The Bujinkan teaches a branch called Kuki Shinden-Ryū Happō Biken under Masaaki Hatsumi and Unsui Manaka of the Jinenkan and Shoto Tanemura of the Genbukan have their own branches. A line also exists within Hontai Yōshin-ryū under Munenori Kyoichi Inoue, while the Minaki-den Kukishin-ryu is under Fumon Tanaka.