After his father had taught him Shugendo (mountain ascetisism), the founder of Kukishin-ryû Yakushimaru Ryushin went to Kyoto to study esoteric buddhism. In Kurama-dera temple north of the capital (Footnote 1), he continued his training in martial arts and Onmyodo and learned kuji hihô. According to the tradition he used this secret technique during his fight with followers of the Ashikaga at Kuragari Pass, when he accompanied emperor Godaigo to the safety of Yoshino. These spiritual backgrounds are still a part of present day Kukishin-ryû, which becomes clear from the fact that the Kurama Sojobo Hyoho Kuji (鞍馬僧正坊兵法九字) is still being used at the beginning of keiko as a formal opening ceremony. From the documents still in the possession of the Kuki family (Footnote 2), we can conclude that knowledge transmitted within the clan consisted of three pillars: Kukishin-ryû kobudo, Kumano Shugendo and Koshinto.

Yoshino yamabushi on their way to Omine-san


Kumano-Yoshino is a mountainous area south of  Nara, which from earliest times onward has been important in the religious ideas of the Japanese. The three large shrines Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha en Nachi Taisha became important pilgrimage sites in the 11th century. The Pure Land of the bodhissatva Kannon was supposedly situated in the ocean somewhere east of Nachi and the Shingon temple complex Koya-san and the centre of the Southern Court Yoshino were situated in the north. In the middle ages the whole moutain area was “mandalized”, the peaks of the mountains being associated with buddhist deities and kami. Mountain ascetics called yamabushi (“those who sleep in the mountains”) traversed the area for religious training like fasting, recitation and meditation.

Seigantôji temple (Nr.1 of the Saikoku 33    Kannon pilgrimage), situated next to Nachi Taisha. In the background Nachi no Otaki, the highest waterfall in Japan.

          Entrance to Kumano Hongu Taisha  


Kumano pilgrimage mandala


Already before Yakushimaru’s time his family, being descendants of the Fujiwara, served in Kumano as betto (supervisors) of the shrines in the area. Even now, the soke holds a high position within Hongu Taisha. From the 17th century onward, the martial influence of the Kuki waned, and the clan started specializing in Nakatomi Shinto, of which the large amount of documents in the Kuki archives is ample proof.

In the twenties of the 19th century, the 26th soke Kuki Takaharu taught a koshinto course in Tokyo called Onakatomi Jingi Shinpo Girei Kyoshu  (大中臣神祇神法儀礼教修). In this period he came into contact with Ueshiba Morihei and the friendship that evolved from this encounter was stimulated by their shared interest in koshinto (Note 3).

Kumano Gôô Shimpu

The ties with the Kuki family and their connection tot he Hongu shrine are honoured by the ryû with the performance of a budo demonstration on the grounds of the shrine every year. For an impression of the 24th Kumano Hongu Taisha Hônô Embu (2016), see  here. For the 25th embu (2017), see here.

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