Kukishin Ryu in Perspective

Every year in the Bujinkan Dojo sees the introduction of a ryuha or weapon as a focus for the training. Added to which, Hatsumi Soke expresses a theme or concept.

As many of you may know the ryuha chosen for the training during 1999 is the Kukishin Ryu. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to put this school into context with training themes over previous years. The training up until 1997 saw the completion of the first nine year cycle focusing on the happo biken (‘eight ways, secret sword’ or the “8” ways of weapons plus the secret sword, giving a total of nine). In further explaining this, a specific weapon was chosen each year to demonstrate the movements of taijutsu. Starting with the three foot stick (hanbo), weapons such as the chain, truncheon (jutte), staff and other long weapons were utilized to develop and understand one’s weaknesses in body movement. This cycle ended with the three major sword types: the straight double edged sword, the curved tachi and the katana.

Last year the training entered a new nine year cycle focusing in turn on each of the nine ryuha within the Bujinkan system linking the happo biken with each school. Beginning with the Shinden Fudo Ryu Happo Biken; Hatsumi Sensei explained this as “training in nature and using nature as a training partner to enhance one’s budo in understanding the subtle principles of natural movement”. This year we have moved onto the Kukishin Ryu Happo Biken taking a look at “the nature of man and man’s true place in nature”.

Next year a new millennium begins. Sensei commented that this would be a millennium of ninpo, thus the theme will be Togakure Ryu Happo Biken. The theme of this training will be “to disappear naturally into nature using the gotonpoho method of concealing oneself.” The kyojitsu to this may entail the idea of disappearing into nature before it disappears on us! Giving reference to the impact man has had on mother earth.

Since the Kukishin Ryu is a martial arts system largely founded on fighting in armour with weapons, its primary movement is in sabaki (lateral movement; angling to avoid the attack). This has a two-fold effect. The first is to avoid the opponent’s attack and the second is to manoeuvre oneself to find the opponent’s openings. Sensei explained, “one should not apply a technique but rather create an opening in the opponent’s defence, allowing one’s technique to be drawn in”. The point is one’s intentions should be hidden to the opponent. ‘Intention’ leads to the opponent pre-empting the attack and inevitably will utilize his armour protection in defence.

I would like to explain more regarding the methods of Kukishin movement. One should use the sabaki gata way of moving according to the type of protection available. With regards to Japanese armour: angle the body to bring the shoulder plate forward while stepping off line of the attack. This movement will protect the flank and undersides of the arm. Maintain too, the narrowest angle to the opponent to cause blows to glance off. The second method of movement is moguri gata (the movement of dropping down and rising up under the opponent). Any weakness in armour protection will often be around the limbs and body joints. Therefore entering from below with the body or weapon (e.g. a rising cut with the sword) will become more effective. More importantly, one will gain the chance to capture the opponent’s balance. The third method involves a great deal of subtlety. Known as shirabe gata (literally meaning ‘finding out’ or ‘investigating’), one manoeuvres to expose the opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, likewise intentions and capabilities. When used in conjunction with the sabaki or moguri movements one can find hidden weapons or specific weaknesses in armour protection. At another level one may see straight though to the opponent’s heart. In order to achieve this, understanding human nature is of primary importance. With regards to armour: the footwork should be light and flowing, as opposed to the contrary idea of heavy movement. The purpose of armour is protection and not encumbrance. Regardless of the weight, warriors trained to achieve maximum agility in their armour. The following extract taken from ‘The Medieval Knight at War’ by Brooks Robards, demonstrates that both eastern and western warriors knew the importance of this:

The French marshal Jean de Boucicant was known for his regular exercise and attention to breathing. In full armour, he could turn a somersault, leap onto a horse or climb a ladder using only his hands.

The contents of this article are based upon training received under the instruction of Hatsumi Soke in the first two months of 1999. I have tried to give a brief definition to the movements as they appear in the basic techniques. Primarily, in order to understand the fundamentals of sabaki, moguri and shirabe movements emphasis lies in the importance footwork. Since training has moved on to higher and deeper levels the appearance of sabaki, moguri and shirabe ideas are found not only in the postures, kamae, but in one’s mental state; another form of kamae. Further explanations of this feeling will appear in future articles.


This article was supplied by Andrew Young 1999, a long time personal student of Hatsumi Soke. He has been a resident in Japan during the years 1988-2006. Among other activities, he works as a translator on Soke’s training videos.


 Kukishinden Ryu Happo Bikenjutsu