Kukishin-ryû used to be a comprehensive martial system, divided in Dai no Hyôhô (大の兵法) and Shô no Hyôhô (小の兵法). Dai no Hôhô covers methods for large-scale warfare, like battlefield strategy, design of fortifications, intelligence gathering, astronomy etcetera. Nowadays, these things are no longer actively passed on in Kukishin-ryu; they only exist as kuden (oral transmission) or in writing. The Kuki family still owns texts for example on secret scouting methods and on techniques for swimming and horse riding in the water (which are remnants from the times of Kumano Suigun).

Shô no Hyôhô covers martial methods on a personal level; bujutsu. Kukishin-ryû is a traditional kobudo ryûha. Training is conducted in small groups and transmission of knowledge takes place in kata practice. Nowadays, the following disciplines can still be trained in Kukishin-ryû:  Taijutsu, Bôjutsu, Kenpo, Naginatajutsu, Sôjutsu and hanbôjutsu.

Taijutsu (体術): according to the tradition, the Taijutsu (jujutsu) was systematized by the 7th soke Kuki Kiyotaka. There have been contacts with Takagi-ryû on several moments in the history of the ryû and particularly in Taijutsu, this mutual influence is still clearly visible. A characteristic of Kukishin-ryû Taijutsu is the use of striking and kicking to attack vital points of the anatomy. Taijutsu originally consisted of methods designed for fighting in yoroi, but during the Tokugawa period it evolved, like in most other koryu, into forms of practical self-defense. (In the kuden there is still information (the Gôhô no den, 剛法の伝) about the old ways of fighting in armour.) Part of Taijutsu is  teppan-nage (鉄板投げ), or throwing metal plates (7,5cm x 7,5cm square).


Bôjutsu (棒術): Kukishin-ryû uses sticks in three lengths, rokushaku bô (180cm), hanbô (90cm) and tanbô (24cm). Rokushaku bô probably symbolizes Kukishin-ryû best; it was with this weapon that the founder of the ryû Yakushimaru Ryujin, after the blade of his naginata (or spear) was cut off, defended the fleeing emperor Godaigo. Bôjutsu constitutes the largest part of stick techniques. Hanbô is being practiced as a separate discipline. Tanbô techniques are taught at higher (kaiden) level. They are formally called Sensudori (扇子捕, sensu is fan), but in Taijutsu there is also a kata series with the name tessenjutsu (鉄扇, tessen, iron fan) with another dimension and different execution.  For a film impression of the mokuroku kata Tsuru no Issoku, see here.

Kenpô (剣法): Opposite to most other koryu ryuha, Kukishin-ryû uses the word kenpô in stead of kenjutsu to denote sword forms and although the bô is generally considered to be the most representative weapon of the school, the sword also takes up a prominent position. An important text regarding the fundamental philosophy of the ryû, the Tenshin Hyôhô Shinken Kakkiron (天真兵法心剣活機論) for example, covers the ultimate state of mind in kenpô.

Tenshin Hyôhô Shinken Kakkiron

Part of the kenpô techniques is tôkenjutsu (投剣術), throwing the sword, knife or shuriken.


Naginata-jutsu (薙刀術): Supposedly, the naginata took up a central position in the fighting methods of the Kuki clan prior to Yakushimaru Ryujin’s reorganising them into Kukishin-ryû (back then the martial art was called Shinden Fujiwara Musô-ryû 神伝藤原無双流) and it was the origin of Kukishin-ryu bôjutsu. A naginata is used with an overall length of 225cm, the length of the blade being 21cm. The weapon is used in many different ways, among which techniques to hook the opponent’s neck or wrist with the back of the blade in order to take him down. 

Practice weapons: yari, naginata, tachi and hanbo

Sôjutsu (槍術): Kukishin-ryû uses a spear of 270cm long, with a blade of 36 to 45cm. Contrary to many other ryûha that only utilize stabbing techniques with their spear, Kukishin-ryû sôjutsu is very diverse and both ends of the weapon are put into action.

Hanbôjutsu (半棒術): According to the tradition,

hanbôjutsu was taken up in the Kukishin-ryû curriculum at the beginning of the Edo period.

The techniques would have been formulated by Kuriyama Ukon (栗山右近). While participating in the battle at Nagashino (siding with the forces of Oda Nobunaga), his short spear was cut in half by his opponent Takeda general Suzuki Katsuhisa (鈴木勝久). Fighting on, he succeeded in overcoming his adversary with the remaining short stick. Technically speaking, hanbôjutsu contains elements of taijutsu, bôjutsu, short spear and sword.

Within this very extensive system there are also techniques that are only taught to students of higher levels. These are known as the Hiden mokuroku (秘伝目録, list of secret transmission). Examples of these techniques are toritsuki (combat against multiple opponents), shinkatsu bô (escape from being held captive with several bô’s) and hayanawa (hojojutsu techniques for  binding your opponent).

In Kukishin-ryû there is instruction in three catagories of  kata: Keiko honden gata (稽古本伝形), Keiko betsuden gata (稽古別伝形) and Menkyo sôden no kata (免許相伝の形). Keiko honden gata (also called Keikogata or Honden kata) contain the omote and ura forms and they are the kata that are most commonly trained during regular keiko. The Keikobetsuden gata contain henka forms that are taught when the Honden kata have been mastered. The Menkyo sôden no kata embody the true intent behind the techniques. They consist of the Menkyo no kata (also called Shin no kata (真の形, ‘true’ kata)

that are taught before one progresses to the next level of one’s training, and the Sôden no kata, that are instructed at Kaiden level. (For an  overview of the Honden gata, see here: Mokuroku).

Kukishin-ryû is made up of six levels: Omote, Chûgokui, Gokui, Okugi, Kaiden and Shinan Menkyo Hihô. The first level is divided in two parts: Omote Maezuke and Omote Nochizuke.

The first five levels correspond with the philosophy of the five Letters (as was recorded by the 7th soke Kuki Kiyotaka in the text Tenshin Hyôhô Taijutsu Kakkiron):

Gô    () power         (Omote )

Ri     () technique    (Chûgokui 中極意)

Hô    () principle      (Gokui 極意)

Chi   () wisdom       (Okugi 奥義)

Shin () the divine    (Kaiden 皆伝)

These principles all put a different emphasis on each level of training.

Graduation takes place at the end of each level. After the first part of Omote, Omote Maezuke, the practitioner receives a certificate (Kirigami 切紙); from Omote Nochizuke onward, one receives densho (伝書).

Kirigami and densho


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