Field Guide to the Classical Martial Arts

An Introduction

[This article is included in Koryu Bujutsu: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, volume one.]

Sitting through an entire day of koryu bujutsu demonstrations can be a very tiring and bewildering experience. The programs (at least in Japan, where you are most likely to have such an opportunity) are written in Japanese, and often, unless you know one of the participants, it’s difficult to distinguish one tradition from the next. I realized early on that if I were ever to get anything substantial out of these demonstrations, I’d have to come up with some sort of system for identifying each ryu. At first, the scrawls in my programs referred mostly to people I knew (“Muto Sensei does Yagyu Shingan-ryu”), or unusual weapons (“The school with the ultra-long naginata is Chokugen-ryu”), or distinctive clothing (“The girls in furisode kimono are doing Yoshin-ryu”), or weird techniques (“Jigen-ryu is the one with the crazy granny technique”). While the nature of these notes has evolved over the years, their usefulness has continued.

Several years ago I had the good fortune to meet a very talented professional photographer, Inoue Kazuhiro. He came to the annual kobudo demonstration at Meiji Shrine and shot rolls and rolls of the most stunning slides–among them the photo on the cover of this book. The minute I saw Inoue-san’s photographs, I knew I had found the right partners for my little “cheat-sheets,” and the “Field Guide to the Classical Japanese Martial Arts” was born. I’ve supplemented each entry with information gleaned from the major Japanese written sources on the classical ryuha (listed below), and added some additional photographs accumulated by Meik and me.

I’ve selected the first twelve ryu for this series (to be continued in further publications, should this book prove sufficiently popular) based entirely on the quality of the photographs I had available. There are many classical martial traditions still practiced in Japan–all are worthy to be chronicled, and I hope to gradually collect material to showcase as many of them as possible. It’s also important to realize that there are often several lines of a particular school; I’ve included information on the line that I know best. This does not mean that other lines are not equally legitimate or active.


International Hoplology Society. 1992. The IHS Guide to Classical Martial Ryu of Japan, No. 1. Kamuela, Hawaii: International Hoplology Society.

Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. 1994. Tokyo: Kodansha.

Miyazaki, M., ed. 1994. Nihon Densho Bugei Ryuha: Dokuhon (Japanese Traditional Martial Arts Schools: A Handbook). Tokyo: Shin Jimbutsu Oraisha.

Nihon Kobudo Kyokai. 1997. Dai Nijukai Zen Nihon Kobudo Embu Taikai (Twentieth Annual All-Japan Classical Martial Arts Demonstration). Tokyo: Nippon Budokan.

Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai. 1990. Nihon Kobudo Taikai: Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai Soritsu Gojugoshunen Kinenshi (A Gathering of Japanese Classical Martial Arts: 55th Anniversary of the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai). Tokyo: Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai.

Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai. 1995. Nihon Kobudo Taikai: Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai Soritsu Rokujushunen Kinenshi (A Gathering of Japanese Classical Martial Arts: 60th Anniversary of the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai). Tokyo: Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai.

Warner, G. and D.F. Draeger. 1982. Japanese Swordsmanship: Technique and Practice. New York and Tokyo: Weatherhill.

Watatani, K. and T. Yamada. 1978. Bugei Ryuha Daijiten (Dictionary of Japanese Martial Art Traditions). Tokyo: Tokyo Kopii Shuppanbu.

Ryuha featured in volume one: Koryu Bujutsu

  • Asayama Ichiden-ryu
  • Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu
  • Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryu
  • Kurama-ryu
  • Maniwa Nen-ryu
  • Morishige-ryu
  • Owari Kan-ryu
  • Shingyoto-ryu
  • Shinmuso Hayashizaki-ryu
  • Tendo-ryu
  • Yagyu Shingan-ryu
  • Yagyu Shinkage-ryu

Ryuha featured in volume two: Sword & Spirit

  • Yoshin-ryu
  • Toda-ha Buko-ryu
  • Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu
  • Tatsumi-ryu
  • Takenouchi-ryu
  • Shojitsu Kenri Kataichi-ryu
  • Shinto Muso-ryu
  • Sekiguchi Shinshin-ryu
  • Negishi-ryu
  • Hozoin-ryu Takada-ha

Copyright ©1997 Diane Skoss. All rights reserved.

This article first appeared in Koryu Bujutsu: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, volume one.