The Japanese word shuriken literally translates as blade hidden in the palm of the hand. More often than not, they were actually steel spikes that pierced the body, as opposed to cutting, as the name might suggest. With the exception of primitive stone throwing, the earliest form of hidden throwing weapons in Japan were the tetsu-tsubute. These were iron balls or discs of various shapes, with a diameter of roughly 3~4cm. They were impact weapons that could easily be concealed in the hand. It is said that the father of shuriken is the uchimono, which refers to the throwing of larger blades, such as the iron tanto or a short-sword, while the mother is the uchine, an arrow-like weapon, which is thrown by hand. Uchine resembled a short hand-spear with fletchings added to the tail. While these were indeed throwing weapons, they could not be concealed in the hand, and therefore fall outside the realm of common shuriken. A renowned master of large blade throwing was the legendary Miyamoto Musashi. At first glance, the idea of throwing arrows or swords by hand on the battlefield might seem a bit far-stretched, but imagine having your bow break or your sword snap. Skills such as these, may have been the difference between life and death.
Shuriken as we know them today, are believed to have appeared toward the end of the Sengoku period. For most people, including the Japanese, shuriken are identified as star shaped weapons, such as those that appeared in comic books and on film during Japan’s ninja boom, which took place in the 1960s. The western world experienced a similar boom in the 80s. But, if we remove ourselves from the world of fantasy and pursue the facts, we discover that shuriken were more commonly carried by samurai warriors of the Tokugawa era. Used in conjunction with primary weapons, such as the sword, shuriken allowed a warrior to startle his opponent, close the gap, or retreat from a dangerous interaction.
Historical records show that the most common type of shuriken was the bou-shuriken, which literally means stick. These shuriken usually derived from various types of nails or needles. A slightly less common variety were the sha-shuriken (aka shaken), which translates as wheel. Often round in shape, they would spin through the air in a rotating fashion (like a wheel). Star or cross shaped shuriken could fall loosely into this category. In some cases, the shape of the shuriken was influenced by religious items, such as the Wheel of Dharma or the bladed Vajra. Buddhist temple guardians in Japan are seen brandishing the mystical Kongousho (Vajra), which are weapons said to destroy the seeds of evil. The esoteric teachings, symbols and talismans of Shingon Buddhism strongly influenced the warriors of the day, with many of them adding inscriptions to their sword blades and armor.
Negishi Ryu Shurikenjutsu
The Negishi school of shurikenjutsu is a classical Japanese martial art founded by Negishi Shorei in the mid 1850s. Its distant roots can be traced back to the Sendai region's Katori Shinkon Ryu (Divine Soul School), an off-shoot of Katori Shinto Ryu (Divine Way School) originating in Chiba prefecture. The lineage stems from Tsukahara Toden, a disciple of Iizasa Choisai Ienao. For the first twelve generations, Katori Shinkon Ryu was passed down without concern for blood-lines. It was the 13th generation heir, Kono Yosaemon Kiyonobu who decided that the school should remain in his family. The Kono clan retained the headmastership until the passing of the 18th heir, Kono Motozaburo Naotada.
A warrior of the Sendai domain and a master of the Katori Shinkon Ryu, Matsubayashi Samanotsuke Nagayoshi, aka "Henyasai" (the bat), founded his own school of martial arts in 1644 and named it Ganritsu Ryu. The curriculum consisted of kumi-uchi (wrestling), kenjutsu, iaijutsu, kodachijutsu (short sword), jojutsu, and most famous of all, shurikenjutsu. Ganritsu-ryu shuriken were thin, needle-like shuriken with bulbous heads. Due to their light weight, they were most effective at close range. The throwing method employed was the jiki-daho, a direct hit projection with the tip facing forward.
Ganritsu Ryu spread throughout the Tohoku & Sendai regions, and was handed down within the Katouno clan for several generations. Katouno Kamon Izu no Kami Tsunehide received the art directly from Henyasai. Tsunehide passed it on to his son, who in turn passed it his son, Katouno Horihide (1721~1795), a retainer of Lord Date in the Sendai domain. Horihide had quite the reputation as a shuriken master. He threw slender, needle-like shuriken, such those used to craft leather saddles and armor. From the hair, they were launched at close range, directly into the eyes of an adversary. It is said that he wore 8 of these shuriken in his hair, 4 on each side of his head. This way of concealing them in the hair was known as zouhatsu-no-jutsu.
Date Yoshikuni, 13th generation lord of the Sendai domain, received the art from the Katouno clan. Due to their light weight and concealability, Lord Date insisted that women within his household be trained in the art, as a method of self-defense. Date's wife, Tokugawa Takako, daughter of Tokugawa Nariaki (aka, Mito Rekko), lord of the Mito territory, developed a high level of skill in the art. At her father's request, Takako passed the art on to Kaiho Hanpei, the official sword instructor for the Mito territory.
Hanpei, of samurai decent, grew up in Joshu province, in the Annaka domain. His father was employed by the daimyo, and Hanpei was to follow in his footsteps. As a child, Hanpei enrolled as a disciple of Negishi Tsunemasa, the 2nd generation headmaster of Araki Ryu kenjutsu in the Annaka domain. Upon Tsunemasa’s death, Kaiho continued his training under Tsunemasa’s son and heir, Negishi Sentoku. At the age of 14, Hanpei began his study of Hokushin Itto Ryu under it’s founder Chiba Shusaku Narimasa, and later went on to succeed him as the headmaster of that school. In 1849, Negishi Sentoku asked Kaiho to instruct his 16 year old son and heir apparent, Shorei in the arts of Hokushin Itto Ryu and Ganritsu Ryu. Shorei was already a gifted swordsman, having been groomed from birth to succeed his father. It is said that Shorei was a well-rounded fighter, excelling in jujutsu, spearmanship and the use of chain and sickle. In the year 1857, at the age of 25, Shorei received his appointment as the 4th generation head of Annaka-han Araki Ryu kenjutsu and became the official sword instructor for the region.
Negishi Shorei became widely known as Joshu Kotengu (little Tengu of Joshu Province), after a string of continuous challenge match victories. He was also known for throwing shuriken with both hands with extreme acuracy. Lord Itakura, the territorial warlord (daimyo) eventually ordered him to refrain from participating in public matches. Having refined and perfected his skill in Ganritsu Ryu shurikenjutsu, Shorei now felt the need to make further modifications and to expand on the technical teachings of strategy and engagement. Maintaining the octagonal bulbous head familiar to Ganritsu Ryu, he enlarged the body of the shuriken to give it more weight and impact. He also stuck with the original jiki-daho (direct flight) method employed by Ganritsu Ryu. In an effort to overcome range limitations, he formulated ways to project the shuriken from varying distances (generally 2~12 meters) without relying on rotation.
Negishi Shorei passed the art on to Tonegawa Magoroku, a samurai of the Tatebayashi domain. Born in Tatebayashi Castle (Gunma Prefecture) on 13 July 1851, he followed in his father’s footsteps, serving as a feudal retainer under Lord Akimoto Hirotomo. In 1868, Tonegawa fought valiantly in the Great Aizu War. During the Meiji Restoration period, he was appointed County Head (Mayor) and held that post for many years.
In turn, the tradition was handed down to Tokyo born, Naruse Kanji. Kanji had studied swordsmanship and acquired the ancient art of Kuwana Han-den Yamamoto Ryu Iai-jutsu from his father-in-law. His fascination with blades led him to the Miyama Club, where he met Master Tonegawa, who was there delivering a lecture on shurikenjutsu. Naruse was eager to aquire the skills demonstrated by the master, but Tonegawa, now in his late seventies, was reluctant to take on new students. At first he declined Naruse’s request and referred him elsewhere. But, after careful consideration, he decided to take Naruse on as his final student. 12 years later, Naruse officially succeeded Tonegawa, becoming the 3rd headmaster of the Negishi Ryu tradition.
During his day, Naruse was regarded as Japan's foremost authority on the art of shurikenjutsu. In 1943, he published his book “Shuriken”, which was the first of its kind in Japan. Between 1940 and 1945, Naruse published numerous books on Japanese swordsmanship, two of which were Tatakau Nihonto (Japanese Swords in Battle, 1940) and Rinsen Tojutsu (Battlefield Swordsmanship, 1944). Naruse also devoted a lot of his time to the reconstruction of Shirai Ryu shurikenjutsu, which was thought to have died out. After arduous research, and with the assistance of Miyawaki Toru, he was able to revive the lost art.
To date, Negishi Ryu has been handed down over seven generations via an unbroken lineage. Today, Negishi Ryu is recognized as Japan’s last surviving specialist school of koryu shurikenjutsu. Internally, Negishi Ryu has various appendant traditions which are handed down in due course. The appendant traditions include Ganritsu Ryu shurikenjutsu, Shirai Ryu shurikenjutsu (Naruse-den), Kuwana Han-den Yamamoto Ryu Iai-jutsu (Naruse-den) and Shingetsu Ryu shurikenjutsu (Fujita-den).
The line of transmission is as follows:
Negishi Shorei, Tonegawa Magoroku, Naruse Kanji, Maeda Isamu, Saito Satoshi, Tomabechi Yoshimi and Hayasaka Yoshifumi.
Shirai Ryu Shurikenjutsu
Created by Shirai Toru Yoshikane in the late 1700s and transmitted predominantly within the Aizu domain, shurikenjutsu was taught alongside the tebo (short staff) and kusarigama (chain & sickle). It’s methodology stems from the Katono Ryu, with its shape resembling a long nail with a uniquely curved three-sided point. In addition to the standard jiki-daho deployment used in Katono Ryu, Shirai added hanten-daho (half spin method) for longer distances. Shirai was a master of numerous weapon arts and he passed on these teachings to his disciples under the broader umbrella of Shirai Ryu. One such art that continues its transmission within the Negishi Ryu is fukibarijutsu (needle blowgun). The Shirai Ryu mantle was passed to Kurokochi Dengoro Kanenori. As a child, he was adopted by Kurokochi Kanehiro Jisuke, master of Shin-Muso Muraku Ryu Iaijutsu.
Upon the death of Kurokochi, and due largely to the turbulent years of the Meiji Restoration, it is believed that Shirai Ryu shurikenjutsu faded into antiquity. But, Naruse Kanji, an avid researcher of the Katono martial tradition, began to piece together historical and technical information. In cooperation with Miyawaki Toru, who was in possession of important historical artifacts related to Shirai Ryu shurikenjutsu, Naruse resurrected the art and passed it on as appendant to Negishi Ryu. His disciple, Saito Satoshi was instrumental in the process, making flights back and forth to Miyawaki Toru’s Hamamatsu-based dojo during the second world war. At the time, Hamamatsu was the center of an air-raid campaign and Saito-sensei recalled being struck by ammunition casings raining from the sky. Prior to his death, Naruse Kanji left instructions with his daughter, stating that Saito Satoshi was to succeed him as head of Negishi Ryu, and that the Shirai Ryu teachings would be perpetuated by Shirakami Eizo. These instructions were also forwarded to the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai, Japan’s oldest kobudo association (1935), representing authentic koryu traditions from all corners of Japan.
The Negishi Ryu sylabus is divided into several tiers.
Stage 1 : Basic Forms
Study of the foundational posture, principles, methods and techniques employed.
Stage 2 : Combat Forms
Study of combative theory, movement, timing, distancing and application. Technical examples would be throwing while kneeling, lying, walking, running, side-stepping, evasive rolling etc.
Stage 3 : Weapon Forms
Study of intergrated primary weapons, such as the sword.
Stage 4 : Secret Teachings
The gokui, inner-most secret teachings.
In addition to the general Negishi Ryu sylabus, senior students can also learn the appendant traditions handed down by our forefathers.
⨀ Ganritsu Ryu shuriken-jutsu
⨀ Shirai Ryu shuriken-jutsu: Naruse-den
⨀ Shingetsu Ryu shuriken-jutsu: Fujita-den
⨀ Yamamoto Ryu Iai-jutsu: Naruse-den
⨀ Fundou-gusari-jutsu: Fujita-den
⨀ Kakushi-buki Kenkyukai: Saito-den