Koryu Bujutsu - Classical Warrior Traditions Of Japan

Click Here to Enlarge
Author: Diane Skoss
Pub: 1997 by Koryu Books
Pages: 192
Ranking:Five Star Rating
In Print: Check Price Now!


This is an amazing book, my only complaint would be that it's too short! You will find no techniques in here, this is a book of history and information. With many photos scattered throughout, and an interesting glossary that includes the kanji, this book is a must have for the scholarly type. If you enjoy Donn Draeger's writings, then this book will sit next to Draeger's in your bookshelf. Of particular interest for Judoka will be Meik Skoss's excellent article on Tenjin Shinyo-ryu, one of the main influences on Judo. Of interest also, was Ellis Amdur's discussion of Draeger's Budo/Bujutsu distinctions. This was a book I could not put down once I purchased it, until I'd read it several times. Highly recommended!!



 Foreword ................................................. vi
      Major George H. Bristol

 Preface ................................................ viii
      Diane Skoss

 Introduction: Keiko Shokon ............................... ll
      Diane Skoss

 The Koryu Bujutsu Experience ............................. 19
      Hunter B. Armstrong

 The Meaning of Martial Arts Training:
      A Conversation with Sawada Hanae .................... 39
      Meik Skoss

 Field Guide to the Classical Japanese Martial Arts ....... 59
      Diane Skoss

 Marishiten: Buddhist Influences on Combative Behavior .... 87
      David A. Hall

 Tenjin Shinyo-ryu Jujutsu ............................... 121
      Meik Skoss

 Kato Takashi: Reflections of the Tatsumi-ryu Headmaster . 143
      Liam Keeley

 Koryu Meets the West .................................... 155
      Ellis Amdur

 Glossary ................................................ 177
 Index ................................................... 183



I have been a United States Marine for my entire adult life. Both as an enlisted man and now as an officer of Marines, my primary goal has been to be ready to go into harm's way. The physical and mental mind- set that galvanizes this calling can be found within the teachings of the koryu bujutsu. As a young Marine, I read the legendary Donn F. Draeger's books about the classical bujutsu and dreamt of flashing nagi-nata and deep secrets obtained from mystic masters. At the same time, I was reading the fabulous history of the Marine Corps and envisioned myself on technicolor battlefields leading Marines to victory. I sought to draw some kind of parallel between the weapons of the koryu that I longed to learn and the M16 rifle and Ka-Bar fighting knife that constitute the tools of my daily trade.

Now-some twenty years later-I have been in harm's way using those tools and have trained in the koryu, and the parallel is clear. There is no magic secret or dramatic fields of glory. There is hard work, commitment, focused application, and a fusion of the mental and physical that creates an ethos-the ethos of the warrior.

Within these pages, Diane Skoss - herself a dedicated exponent of the koryu bujutsu-has brought together the thoughts, musings, and expertise of a group of today's foremost practitioners of this time-honored but heretofore little-chronicled calling. I am asked by many why - after many years of judo, jujutsu, and other military systems of close combat - I chose to "start over," turn in my "black belts" and begin this journey. My answer is simple: of all the forms of training I have encountered, the koryu bujutsu provide mind and body applications that are the closest to actual combat.

I am confident that any reader will find much within this volume to challenge his or her pre-conceived notions. And while Diane has clearly taken a quantum leap with this effort, I hope that she will allow me to close by saying that a book is only the first step. For those intrigued by these pages, find a koryu teacher, grasp a weapon, and train. You will feel something altogether different when the tip of a jo lies two inches from the bridge of your nose or a yari thrust that you initiate is parried and your opponent's thrust hits home. And when you do, you will find that concerns about weapon type, uniform patches, and your gradings in other martial arts fade away.

Instead, you will be left to deal with the feeling that each warrior who has gone into combat has faced: am I good enough today, this minute, right now? And if you find yourself lacking - and many times this will be the case - you will train harder, looking for answers not in a better weapon or a mystic adage, but within the inner reaches of yourself. For in the core of combatives, it is not the weapon, it is the warrior who wields it; it is not the magic, it is the mindset.

You will walk away changed, of this I have no doubt. And change is the paradigm that makes the koryu what it is. The weapons and training methods do not change - the exponent does. In a fast-paced world of crisis and short-lived fads or flavors of the month, this point of reference is definitely needed. For conflicts will occur, and warriors will engage. In the final analysis, mindset - and the training that fosters it - will prevail.

And mindset - the combat mindset - is the heart of the koryu.

Semper Fidelis.

Major George H. Bristol
United States Marine Corps



The idea for this book descended upon me in a way somewhat akin to the martial revelations you'll read about in these pages. 1 was sitting at my mother's kitchen table, one very early morning just thirty minutes before I had to leave to catch my flight back to Japan. I was at one of those frustrating points in life-not entirely happy with my work, weary of the daily struggle of life in Japan, and in desperate need of some change. I sat there drinking my coffee and dreading my flight.

Suddenly, almost as if someone or something had whispered the words to me, I thought, "Why not publish something on the classical martial arts?" The idea was exquisite, combining book-making - my favorite part of work - with my favorite subject, the koryu. As soon as I got back to Tokyo I set to work. It took nearly a year and a half to set up a company, line up authors, create a marketing strategy, arrange for printing, warehousing, and mailing, but the inspiration has, at last, become reality - Koryu Bujutsu: The Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan.

I did not make the journey on my own. This book would not exist without my five contributors, to whom I owe the most profound thanks. Inoue Kazuhiro generously provided me with a number of splendid photographs, featured on the cover and in the "Field Guide." Marci Bird did a brilliant job translating Meik's interview with Sawada Sensei, and Derek Steel not only provided the translation of Liam's interview with Kato Sensei, but also acted as "the editor's editor," forcing me back to the drawing board mercilessly as I wrestled with the introduction.

My life partner and husband, Meik, wrote for me, did proofreading, made coffee, washed the dishes, did laundry, and in general took good care of me while this book was in gestation. Lisa Fenster kept me sane and balanced. Karen Schmucker, Eric Montes, Richard Florence, and my parents also contributed hugely to this project.

One of the great challenges when working in a subject area that requires the use of Japanese terminology is deciding how to render those terms effectively in an English text. I drew on the advice of a number of experts1 in preparing guidelines for the publications of Koryu Books. The results of our efforts, "The Koryu Books Japanese Style Sheet," is available to anyone interested in the details of discussions and decisions.2 The basics: Japanese personal names are given in natural Japanese order, with the family name first. All Japanese terms are italicized on their first appearance and are for the most part defined in the text, and appear in the glossary, together with their kanji. I have decided, for the present, not to indicate Japanese long vowels in the text, but hope in future to incorporate them into at least the glossary.

Thanks are also due to the latest technologies, from my trusty no-longer-quite-new Micron Pentium tower, to my nifty Zip drive; for once (knock on wood), all the parts worked together, without major breakdowns. The Internet has also opened up new possibilities, including a monthly on-line magazine. Koryu Online has been designed to supplement the information in Koryu Bujutsu, and it can be found at http://www.koryubooks.com/kbl.html. Visit soon to read more articles by the contributors, and to view more photographs; be sure to register for our electronic mailing list. As hard as we all have worked on this book, it is inevitable that errors have crept in, and have evaded my blurry eyes. If you find one, don't blame it on my contributors or translators, for the responsibility lies entirely with me.

Diane Skoss

1Ellis Amdur, Hunter Armstrong, Ron Beaubien, Alex Bennett, Larry Bieri, Randy Channel, Richard Florence, Dave Hall, David Lynch, Dave Lowry, Wayne Muromoto, David Pitard, Guy Power, Stanley Pranin, Meik Skoss, Derek Steel, and Mark Wiley.

2The current version is at the Koryu Books ftp site: ftp.koryubooks.com; the file is called stylesheet.txt.


Diane Skoss


"By exploring the old, one becomes able to understand the new." Kato Takashi, headmaster of the Tatsumi-ryu, draws on Confucius to describe the value of the classical martial arts in today's society. In a similar vein, my own teacher's teacher, Nishioka Tsuneo, has as his motto, 'Keiko shokon: Reflect deeply on the past, decide what to do now, then do it," urging us to connect our studies of ancient arts with decisive action in our daily lives. The stream of the koryu bujutsu, or classical martial traditions, flows down to us across more than four centuries, and provides a unique vehicle for both reflecting on the past and actualizing the present.

Training in the classical martial arts takes place within the context of a time-honored and very Japanese social structure that has at its center the transmission of tradition. These arts can be thought of as living history, preserving principles of combat and details of etiquette of an era long past. Yet they also serve a multitude of purposes in our modern world, ranging from "spiritual forging" to the cultivation of skills that are practical despite the archaic weapons employed. It comes as no surprise, then, that growing numbers of Westerners are becoming interested in these ancient Japanese arts.

The problem is that the secrets of these traditions are not revealed casually or quickly, and nearly all of those who are able to truly transmit koryu (classical) techniques and teachings are located in Japan. Isshin denshin, a direct communication that occurs almost "telepathically" from the spirit of the teacher to that of the student is the only way to partake of the continuing transmission of a classical tradition. A decade, or three, is required; for many people in the West this just isn't practical. Still, while it may be difficult to actually wet your feet, let alone become immersed, in the stream of the koryu, there are other ways to benefit from some of the insights to be found in these classical arts.

Watching demonstrations of the koryu, talking with and listening to experienced practitioners and instructors, and reading and reflecting on the histories and lessons handed down from the past are a few of the more readily accessible approaches. One of the best places to begin is with the work of the late Donn F. Draeger, who was the first to write in any detail about the history of Japanese martial arts. He provided definitions and descriptions that after twenty-five years are still the most reliable starting point for any inquiry into the koryu bujutsu. I hope this volume will be a natural second step.

My goal has been to assemble a collection of essays by writers with impeccable credentials, not only as researchers, but as thinkers and educators, and, most importantly, as practitioners of the Japanese classical martial traditions. The five contributors to this volume have spent long years in Japan, training and getting to know the people who know the most about the classical arts. They are all licensed in one or more authentic classical traditions. They have direct and personal contact with headmasters and head instructors of many ryu in addition to their own-with them they have trained, wandered among castle ruins, researched lineages, explored musty bookshops, pored over fragile scrolls, visited ancient battlefields, gone shopping for blades, deciphered old-style writings, paid their respects at shrines, discussed relative merits of weapons and techniques, attended funerals, argued historical details, and drank in celebration. These experiences and connections, together with the fact that they are all native speakers of English, put them in a rather unique position to discuss the subtleties of the koryu bujutsu.



I met the first of these exceptional men in 1988, about a year and a half after my arrival in Japan, while researching an article on naginata. I had discovered that a small group was doing some sort of "old-style" naginata in the Waseda University aikido dojo just before my regular Saturday aikido practice. Someone mentioned to me that one of the members of this naginata school was a "a foreign guy, who seemed to know a lot about martial arts," so I arrived for practice early one day to watch.

Meik Skoss, a.k.a. the "knowledgeable foreigner," proved to be just that. He sat at the edge of the dojo looking the epitome of the immutable Japanese martial arts instructor, despite his American face. He answered my questions politely, explaining that the lower postures and bent knees of Toda-ha Buko-ryu were due to both the greater weight of the weapon and the fact that the techniques were designed to be done while wearing armor. He then proceeded to regale me with what turned into two pages of densely written notes on the history and techniques of the school.

Nearly ten years later, I am no longer in awe of this formidable researcher, instructor, and student of the classical martial arts. In fact, through some odd twist of fate, we are now married! (Those of you who are interested can read more of that story in Wayne Muromoto's profile in Furyu: The Budo Journal I, no. 4:33-34). I first encountered Liam Keeley at a Japan Martial Arts Society meeting in March, 1989. JMAS was established in 1983 for non-Japanese interested in the study of modern and traditional martial arts. This organization was founded by some of the most senior foreign practitioners in Japan, including Chairman Phil Relnick, who first came to Japan in the mid-1950s. Through quarterly demonstrations and an accompanying newsletter, JMAS provided a valuable network for non-Japanese martial artists in Japan, until 1991, when it quietly fell dormant.

The March meeting focused on "Judo in Japan and Abroad" and featured Osawa Yoshimi and members of the Waseda University Judo Club. Afterwards, we gathered at the local Victoria Station (a more-or-less Western-style restaurant), where I got the chance to become acquainted with Liam.

An ex-South African, now an Irish citizen, he is the only person I know who has practiced an African fighting art, one of the very few outsiders to ever learn Zulu stick-fighting. He was also one of Draeger's team, along with Meik Skoss and Hunter Armstrong, on his hoplological field studies in Indonesia. Liam impresses with his solid imperturbability, both on the dojo floor and in his "real" life, as husband and father of three. It was quite a surprise to discover just recently that he had not always had such a reputation-during his Goju-ryu karate days at Higaonna Sensei's Yoyogi dojo, he had, in fact, been considered quite a hot-head! In short, he is a formidable example of the effects of diligent and correct training.

It was at another JMAS meeting that I met Dave Hall, who was then hard at work on his Ph.D. dissertation, Marishiten: Buddhism and the Warrior Goddess, from which his contribution to this book is derived. We used to run into each other quite often at the Wendy's in Shinjuku. This is not as odd as it sounds, as that particular Wendy's was just across the street from the largest English language bookstore in town. More importantly, at that time decent salad bars were a rarity anywhere in Tokyo, and Wendy's was the only fast-food restaurant (i.e. one that you could possibly afford) that offered such fare. Best of all, at least according to Dave, was the fact that during the summer months the salad bar included watermelon, another expensive rarity in Japan. He developed a technique for stacking a large quantity of watermelon chunks on a single salad bar plate. He'd then retire to a table in back to feast and work on his dissertation. And that is where I would often find him when I stopped in after my book-buying expeditions.

We had many a lively discussion about martial arts and editing, since he had been involved with the JMES Newsletter and I had just taken a position as editor for what was then Aiki News. Dave was the first to point out to me the fact that Zen was not necessarily the only, or even the most important, religious influence on the Japanese martial arts. Esoteric Buddhism, or mikkyo, played a profound role in the world of the Japanese bushi (warrior). In order to better understand this connection, Dave was undergoing the full course of training for ordination as a Tendai priest. In the process, he learned a number of esoteric rituals, including some related to Marishiten, the warrior goddess of his dissertation.

Dave's departure from Japan in October of 1990 curtailed our chats until several years later, when Meik and I visited him and his family in California. This time, instead of sitting comfortably across a table discussing warrior goddesses, I had the opportunity to face Dave with only a stick between me and his wooden sword. I had not been training in jo long, and he kindly introduced me to some of the subtle nuances of Draeger's approach to Shindo Muso-ryu,3 which included finishing strikes in a closer proximity to one's face than I had previously encountered!

[Reviewer's Note: I once watched Donn Draeger, with Bo against Bokken, block (to the right) an overhead strike with the forward front tip of the bokken, then turning his body to the right, bringing the back tip of the Bo around to a jab ending (as near as I could tell) about 3 inches from uke's right eye. - I would NEVER want to be on the receiving end of that!]

Hunter "Chip" Armstrong and I first became acquainted in 1990, at the Second International Seminar of Budo Culture. This annual event, organized by the Nippon Budokan Foundation, was created, according to its sponsors, to deepen the understanding of historical, philosophic, and scientific aspects of budo, to increase mutual friendship, and to internationalize Japanese traditional culture.

One of the more interesting features of this seminar is the "New Budo Experience" session, when participants can spend a few hours "trying out" an unfamiliar martial art. Expert instructors provide brief introductory classes in judo, kendo, kyudo, karatedo, aikido, Shorinji kempo, naginata, jukendo, and sumo. Jukendo, or bayonet fencing, was offered for the first time that year, and a group of us, including Meik, Liam, Chip, and myself, jumped at the opportunity to try this most unusual art.

Chip left soon after for the States, first to the Big Island of Hawaii, later to settle in Arizona. As Draeger's successor to the directorship of the International Hoplology Society and co-editor of their newsletter, Hoplos, he maintains the extensive IHS library and is a ceaseless fount of information. He's also fond of barefoot treks, accompanied by his son Hunter, and their half-coyote dog, Tengu, up the magnificent rock buttes that fill the view from his living room window.

Ellis Amdur left Japan about the time I arrived, so for many years he was to me just a figure in photos, an author of articles in back issues of the JMAS Newsletter, and a voice on a videotape. I finally met him in the flesh during a brief visit to Seattle in 1992. We spent our two days visiting dojos, training, and chatting, in the course of which he mentioned that he'd been doing some writing about aiki. As an editor, I was always on the lookout for intelligently written, thoughtful material, and my interest was piqued.

Sure enough, his first submission challenged many of the aikido world's treasured notions, and as a contributing editor to Aikido Journal, he has gone on to write profound, sometimes disturbing, reflections on aikido training today. Working with his series of insightful and provocative "Improvisations" was one of the highlights of producing each issue.

Ellis now trains and teaches in Seattle, where he is raising two bright, athletic sons. Wisely, he has encouraged them to take up the Brazilian martial art of capoeira (in addition to their number one passion, soccer), which he himself has never practiced. Special dojo occasions now include a performance by capoeristas, the chants, music, and exuberance a striking contrast to the formality of the classical Japanese traditions.

3The characters for this school's name, (Reviewer's Note: Kanji - Not given here: Interestingly, the second kanji is the same "do" as in Judo), may be transcribed or pronounced either "Shindo," or "Shinto." My own teacher prefers "Shinto," and this is the form I generally use. However, a number of my seniors, not to mention Draeger himself, consistently use/d "Shindo," so I use this form when writing of them and their training. The two terms are identical.


The expertise of these contributors is everywhere apparent in the chapters that follow and the effect is cumulative. Themes echo, reverberate, and connect in illuminating configurations, and the threads running throughout the book are well worth puzzling out. I won't explicate further here, except to point out what I believe to be one of the most important lessons revealed in these pages: variation and differences are the only certainty when speaking of the koryu bujutsu. You'll find vastly different, yet equally valid definitions, explanations of purpose, and even terminology. As one of my teachers, Phil Relnick, is fond of saying, there is no black or white. In koryu, as in Japan in general, black and white can often both be true simultaneously, giving rise to a rich variety of grays. Recognizing that there is no need for "either/or" and that more than one seemingly contradictory thing can be true at the same time is one of the most difficult, yet essential, concepts for the Westerner interested in these arts to internalize. Perhaps these writers and their essays can make that understanding just one shade easier.



Your rating: None Average: 4.8 (5 votes)