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We enjoy sharing knowledge and subjects around Kobudo and the martial way.

By Jikishin Kobudo, Jun 22 2016 11:35AM

War crimes are often deliberately forgotten so that post conflict peace can be encouraged. The Japanese committed many atrocities during WW2 which are well documented, but less popular in the west are reports of the cruelties and indignities perpetuated by the American soldiers to the Japanese during the years of their invasion and occupation. However, the history and testimony is there for anyone seeking it out.

It was during the post war period that the Yakuza became very strong. Established and understood by the world to be organised criminals who pose threat and danger, alternatively many Japanese consider the Yakuza to be honourable and worthy of respect and gratitude. Why you may ask?

In the 1950s and 1960s the Yakuza offered protection to the ordinary Japanese against the American soldiers who threatened pillage, insult, assault, damage, imprisonment, theft, rape and death to the indigenous population. The Yakuza would facilitate the black market that kept many Japanese supplied during occupation. They provided security against the Americans for shops, bars and local businesses. They befriended and bribed American officers to infiltrate them. They patrolled the streets to protect the women from drunken GIs. For this reason, the Yakuza are admired by many.

Today Yakuza organisations rarely hide and are considered to have a functional role in Japanese society. They are the criminals, but they commit crime whilst being mindful of their obligations and position in society and they demonstrate the possession of a respected and honourable criminal moral code (if such a concept of criminality can make sense to a western mind).

The martial arts have a long historical connection to organised crime all around the world and this is also true in Japan and Okinawa. There are strong ties between some martial arts schools and organised criminality that for obvious reasons go unreported however, they are/were nevertheless there.

This was particularly true in the post-war years when many martial artists took on the responsibility of protecting their fellow countrymen against the invading force through whatever means was necessary. Rather than enter into direct conflict some Yakuza (like some Samurai) took the role of educating the Americans Soldiers in the ways of the arts, thus providing them personal discipline and respect for the culture. This approach in turn led to a great rise in popularity of Japanese martial arts amongst US servicemen, since the disciplines of budo were similar but much more meaningful than those found within the army of the time.

Jurisprudence in Japan during and after WW2 is deeply complex and this article can make no further comment than that. Were some martial arts masters in Japan and Okinawa connected with organised crime? Yes, they most definitely were. Some were/are Yakuza. This fact has been kept secret for many years for obvious reasons. Does that have any relevance to the future of the arts? Probably not, but it provides a fascinating insight into the past.

EDITOR COMMENT [This article is in no way suggesting that all American soldiers committed crimes during occupation nor that all martial arts teachers in Japan are connected with organised crime. Evidence indicates these are minority phenomenon. This article is based on the first hand testimony of Japanese people, Japanese and Okinawan martial artists, Western martial artists and American soldiers collated through primary and secondary sources].

By Jikishin Kobudo, Jun 22 2016 11:25AM

This outstanding piece of footage claimed to be from 1897 shows young men wearing bougu and fighting with shinai. If one looks closely you can see several insights into the martial experience of the time.

The men are clearly having "fun" and at first we thought this was theatrical, but on closer inspection we can see advanced martial arts techniques being used.

Watch carefully at the start and you will see the Kusarigama being wielded. For those of us who use the Kusarigama this film is a priceless treasure. Just who is the Sensei sat down? We may never know. but we will search to identify him. Can you help?

See the film here (link to YouTube)

By Jikishin Kobudo, Sep 27 2015 11:00AM

The origins to our style of Kobudo claims lineage from the elite fighters of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. This image (identified by Jikishin Kobudo) is of a scroll circa 1830 which shows the Ryukyuan 'Royal Guard' protecting the regal entourage as they visit Edo. The guards carry weapons and wear black outer jackets with white trousers, just as we still wear in our Kobudo practice today. Of note for those who practice Okinawan martial arts, is the colour of the Obi in this scroll - red - the colour signifying a completion of training or full mastery.

It is reassuring to see such pictorial links with the past and know that some traditions are being continued with authenticity. The challenge is for us to ensure that the transmission methods, practical techniques and emotional approaches to Ryukyu martial arts remain true, when so many 'masters and non-masters' seek to try and legislate the nature of the arts for personal financial benefit.

By Jikishin Kobudo, May 26 2015 11:39AM

Edo period fire fighters were tough, since fire fighting was a violent business. 'Machi-Bikeshi' (Firemen of the lower status) often competed to be the first to put out a fire so that they could claim the reward. Sometimes this would result in a fight between rival groups. At other times, fire fighters may be required to fight the arsonists themselves, who could be preventing them from putting out the fire, particularly if the fire was caused as an act of revenge. Other times, more unscrupulous Machi-Bikeshi would deliberately start fires as a way of extorting money from locals.

Machi-Bikeshi became infamous as both heroes and villains and their impact into the world of martial arts is significant as a result. The tools of the fire fighters became their weapons during famous conflicts; these tools are found as weapons in Kobudo.

This image shows two objects from our collection. The first is a Tomiguchi or fireman's axe and was used to break through doors and generally to assist in managing burning timber. Its relation to the kama is obvious, indeed some refer to it as a kama. When fastened to a chain or rope it was useful for casting high into the rafters of a building to allow greater leverage or access to higher floors, in this way it becomes identical to a Kusarigama.

The second object (smaller inset picture) is a Hyōshigi which was was used to alert all local people who may be sleeping about the presence of the fire. This tool was the equivalent of the modern siren but also has deeper connotations within the Japanese culture. The wooden blocks are hit together repeatedly to create a recognisable sound. It is considered the origin of the nunchaku by some. Machi-Bikeshi also carried polearms very similar to the bo and the Nunti which would allow them to manage burning debris from a distance. Shields (Tinbe) were not uncommon.

By Jikishin Kobudo, May 18 2015 11:46AM

Daruma encouraged physical fitness as a way of purifying the body and mind for the purposes of contemplation. The physical disciplines he introduced to the Shaolin later evolved into the widespread martial arts practices of the Orient world.

It is now established that there are two purposes of martial arts training, either for the preparation of conflict or for the enlightenment of the soul. Some say the two can develop hand in hand, others say they contradict. For example, those that obsess with violence, doing injury, gaining victory over others and increasing personal dominion are more likely to be on the path of conflict, whereas those who seek nothing but improvement, show compassion and promote peace are on the path of enlightenment. Childhood experience predicates the outlook of the adult individual; some may choose a path of conflict because as a child they saw only conflict. Some may choose a path of compassion because as a child they knew only peace. The opposites are also true.

A human reaches an age where they are no longer physically threatening and it is common to see an aged fighter who was once filled with the fire of Hachiman (God of War) begin to pursue an outlook of humility, compassion and forgiveness. Some however as they become weak with the body choose to become aggressive in the mind. In the martial arts world these individuals can be identified as those who seek to create large organisations with dogmatic rules, institutional hierachies and financial gains. These indiviudals may try to convince others that they are continuing traditions of their teacher or preserving the techniques of the past. In truth all they seek is a way to placate their aggressive nature in their mind now that their body renders them weak in the dojo.

Martial arts are still as they have been for centuries, a mixed bag of the solitary monks who train for enlightenment and instituional warriors who serve their master for reward. How do you choose to train? Who do you wish to train from? It is through our choices that we are defined.

By Jikishin Kobudo, Jan 8 2015 01:29PM

This mysterious weapon is potentially one of the most important martial arts artefacts in the world. Currently in private ownership in England this weapon was formerly the property of the family of William Gladstone (1809 – 1898), four times British Prime Minister and President of the Board of Trade during the wars between Britain and China. On it is inscribed the symbol (正) which represents correctness. It has been suggested that this was presented to William Gladstone by the Chinese, though this claim as yet remains uncorroborated.

It is steel, weighs 603grams and measures 52cm in length, the shaft is circular and the cambered double-edged blade measures 8cm long and 2.5cm wide. It is ideal for strong parries and puncturing and slicing blows. The weapon is dated to 1850 (approx) and though not showing any signs of recent sharpening it still maintains a cutting edge. A single notch in the blade may suggest a use at some time.

This weapon is contemporary to the Sai and is associated with a plethora of short range steel weapons that were at one time a key feature of southern Chinese martial arts and its similarity to the Kama cannot be ignored. The exact name of this weapon is unknown and we would welcome suggestions from other martial artists and historians. This weapon has contributed to the ongoing practical research into historical fighting practice at Jikishin Kobudo and will feature as part of a martial arts demonstration at the Royal Armouries Museum in February 2015.

William Gladstone was a popular, caring and poignant man whose insight into world affairs is as relevant today as it was a century and a half ago.

“Remember the rights of the savage, as we call him. Remember that the happiness of his humble home, remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan among the winter snows, are as sacred in the eye of Almighty God as are your own. Remember that He who has united you together as human beings in the same flesh and blood, has bound you by the law of mutual love, that that mutual love is not limited by the shores of this island, is not limited by the boundaries of Christian civilisation, that it passes over the whole surface of the earth, and embraces the meanest along with the greatest in its wide scope” W.E. Gladstone 1879.

By Jikishin Kobudo, Sep 5 2014 11:00AM

Jikishin Kobudo practices at the Royal Armouries in the UK, which holds one of the largest collections of arms and armour in the world. It also has within its possession some of the oldest martial arts literature in existence (such as the famous 13th century I-33 - The oldest such manuscript in Europe) Through its unique access to real historical artefacts, Jikishin Kobudo is fortunate to be able to research wider traditions of the martial arts and place its knowledge of Okinawan Kobudo within a global context.

Of particular interest for several years at the club, is the fact that the feudal peasant martial arts of Europe were not dissimilar to those found in the East. This image, created by Jörg Breu the Younger comes from a European fight-book commissioned by Paulus Hector Mair. In it we see 16th century sickle fighting not unlinke the kama techniques from Okinawa. There are many similarities and difference that we have observed, but this article will focus on one in particular: One or two sickles?

Whereas in the West, the sickle was used singularly, the Eastern kama is practised in pairs, but why?

The answer lies possibly in relation to the field uses of the tool. The European sickle was used primarily for collecting cereal crops, which was a one-handed job. It was important to get close to the ground and reap close to the earth. As such, single-handed techniques are most convenient. An alternate use was for maintaining hedge-ways or collecting fruit, again primarily one-handed jobs due to the reaching element. For this reason the average European farmer would only have had one sickle.

In Okinawa the kama are widely used for collecting rice and harvesting pineapple (one-handed jobs), but not for chopping sugar cane as some have suggested; the seiryuto (machete) is used for this. However, there is an additional use for the kama and also the seiryuto that gives us some insight into the dual-use phenomenon.

Due to the climate in Okinawa, vegetation grows very quickly and farmland can easily become overgrown. When clearing large areas of shrub in preparation for planting, old farmers would use two hands with either a kama in each or wielding a pair of seiryutos. The devastating pincer cuts and double-slashing techniques that could rapidly cut down vegetation taught the Okinawans the benefits of fighting with two of these weapons at one time.

The added advantage of using one weapon to block whilst counter-attacking with the other is standard technique of dual weapons seen throughout Asian martial arts. Interestingly, the Europeans rarely use dual weapons fashioned of the same form. An intrigue worthy of further research and study?

By Jikishin Kobudo, May 6 2014 11:00AM

'Shushi No Kun' Kata is one of the most practised staff forms in Okinawa. The origins of the kata are from China, bu it is uncertain about the exact date or manner of how the kata first arrived on the island.

'Shu Shi' in Japanese is pronounced Zhou Sher in Chinese and is the name of the person who developed this kata. The most usual translation of this name into English would be 'Mr.Chow'.

The 'Staff of Mr.Chow' is practised primarily utilising go-no-sen techniques, in which the opponent is first parried or blocked before counter-striking. Shushi No Kun for this reason is considered a beginner's kata, despite being a relatively complex sequence to learn.

Amongst many other weapons inside his Kodokan dojo, Matayoshi Shimpo Sensei had an example of 'The Guan Dao', so named because it was the preferred weapon of the most famous Chinese General Guan Yu, and suggested to be the most significant and influential weapon of Chinese martial arts. Despite living almost 2000 years ago, Guan Yu is worshipped by martial artists and law enforcers to this day in China as the embodiment of martial spirit.

When Sushi No Kun, it becomes clear that the movements of the kata are well suited to this weapon, with the majority of techniques being executed with the bladed end. It is well established that practise with the staff allows the development of skill with all other pole weapons. Though we will never know the full story of Mr.Chow, we can conject with caution, about the possible applications of his kata.

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