What is a Koryu tradition?
The Japanese term "shurikenjutsu" refers to the art of concealed spike throwing, which was developed and employed by samurai warriors and ninja operatives during the feudal era of ancient Japan. Warrior traditions stemming directly from the feudal era are known as Koryu, which literally translates as "the old current". Handed down from generation to generation, whilst adhearing to a strict code of conduct and secrecy, the koryu were the individual schools of military strategy and combat, which differred from region to region and from clan to clan. By the late Edo period, around 9,000 individual koryu had been catalogued in Japan. Today, less than 300 schools have managed to survive the trials of time. The westernization of Japan, which began rapidly in 1868, sought to restructure and modernize Japan's military. Samurai became obsolete and were stripped of status. By 1876, the wearing of samurai swords was criminalized. Commencement of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894, was a demonstration of Japan's new military might against China. 1904 saw the start of the Russo-Japanese War, which saw Japan defeat Russia. This was followed by WW1 (1914-18), the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), and WW2 (1939-45). After Japan's WW2 defeat, occupation forces outlawed the practice of all martial arts in Japan. It comes as no surprise that only about 3% of these koryu warrior traditions still survive today.
Japan's first historically recorded school of shurikenjutsu was the Ganritsu Ryu (c.1625). Like many, this school had a comprehensive curriculum that included kenjutsu, iaijutsu, sojutsu, bojutsu, naginatajutsu, jujutsu and shurikenjutsu. The shuriken were slim, needle-like darts that could be easily concealed in the hair (top-knot). This school employed a direct-flight method of throwing, known as jiki-daho. In contrast to rotational throwing methods (han-ten/kai-ten) found in China, the jiki-daho method was unique to Japan. Shurikenjutsu saw it's heyday during the Edo period. It can be confirmed historically, that at least 18 koryu schools actually taught shurikenjutsu in their curriculum. If we refer to densho (transmission scrolls), we can see that shurikenjutsu was taught at the okuden level (advanced level, inner/secret transmissions), making it one of the final skills obtained within a warrior tradition. These teachings were delivered orally (kuden) from teacher to student, with no instructions commited to paper. Shuriken were concealed on the body and used in conjunction with primary weapons, such as the sword. In order to startle an opponent, close the gap or retreat from a deadly interaction, shuriken gave samurai or their ninja counterparts, a tactical advantage. For many schools, shurikenjutsu was only an add-on (omake), and a minor part of a school's vast curriculum. Toward the end of the Edo period, Negishi Shorei, headmaster of Araki Ryu swordsmanship in the Annaka Domain, created the Negishi Ryu, which focussed exclusively on shurikenjutsu combat. Drawing on his direct knowledge of the original Ganritsu Ryu system, he enlarged the shuriken to make them more lethal. In honor to the Granritsu Ryu tradition, he maintained the overall shape and throwing methodology. Today, Negishi Ryu is recognized as Japan's last surviving specialist school of koryu shurikenjutsu. In the later years of his life, former Negishi Ryu headmaster and chairman of the Japan Kobudo Promotion Society, Saito Satoshi openly shared his skill and knowledge with masters of other koryu traditions, in order to help them reconstruct lost shurikenjutsu teachings from within their own schools. If you do the math and consider the variables, 9000 koryu schools became 300, of which only a handful had a shurikenjutsu component. Facter in the variables of only being taught to the most senior disciples via an oral transmission, along with the turmoils of the twentieth century, it makes perfect sense that koryu shurikenjutsu is one of the rarest forms of kobudo in Japan today.
In modern times, new schools and organizations continue to sprout up, year by year. In an effort to gain credibility, most claim connections to famous people from the past, or unverifiable koryu sources. A concerning trend toward sport-shurikenjutsu has also emerged, especially in Japan. By our definition, shurikenjutsu has no similarity to sports such as knife or dart throwing. There are no trophies to be won or championship titles to be obtained. Shurikenjutsu is a koryu tradition which encompasses formal etiquette, strategy, courage, deception, timing & distancing, simultaneous use with other weapons and in hand-to-hand grappling. It relates directly to the era in which it was used. Understanding the warrior ethos (bushido) is an essential part of shurikenjutsu. In Japan today, two organizations are charged with the authentication of legitimate koryu traditions, tracing lineages and verifying documents. These organizations are the Nihon Kobudo Kyokai & the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai. Negishi Ryu is recognized by both organizations and is the only koryu school to represent shurikenjutsu today.
Japan Kobudo Association
(Nippon Budokan Foundation)
Japan Kobudo Promotion Society
(Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai)
Meet the Sōke
Hayasaka Yoshifumi, 7th Generation Sōke
Born in Miyagi prefecture, Japan. Graduate of Tohoku Fukushi University. Holds senior dan rankings in judo & Okinawan karate. Holds Menkyo Kaiden in Matayoshi - Okinawan Kobujutsu & Kingai Ryu Karate-jutsu. Headmaster of Negishi Ryu and it's appendant schools. Former Assistant Commissioner of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Dept. (retired). Founder of the Ryugasaki Kodokan dojo.