What is ‘Koryu’

Koryu is composed of two kanji characters. The first character, ko , means classical, old, or ancient. The second, ryu (or nagare) represents a flow, flowing, school, lineage, or tradition. When these two characters are joined they represent a classical school, old flow, or an old flowing tradition. Add this to bujutsu or bugei and you have a classical military art.

Just what constitutes a koryu is debatable, however most researchers take the stance that the koryu are traditions that originated prior to 1876 and the haitorei act. This act prohibited the aristocratic warrior caste from wearing the symbol of their station – the long and short sword.

Generally speaking the koryu were not pedestrian in nature; they were devised by warriors for warriors for actual usage in battle. They are uniquely Japanese in terms of culture, thought, and organization. There are many frauds out there claiming to teach these old school lineages, however they cannot show a concrete link to Japan. Many of these people claim their teachers failed to give them proper credentials before they died, or state that their lineage histories are ‘guarded secrets’ and cannot be discussed with outsiders – yet they advertise extensively on the internet. If inquiring about the school’s validity, always keep in mind that they should contain strong ties to Japan. Caveat Emptor.

What is the Bujinkan Dojo?

The Bujinkan Dojo (divine warrior training hall) is an international organization, based in Chiba-ken, Japan, devoted to dissemination of several koryu that are under the headmastership of Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi. Specifically, there are nine koryu schools that are taught within the organization, along with various other teachings pertaining to the classical Japanese military arts and ways.

What do I need for training (weapons, uniform, etc)?

Typically all the student needs to possess in the beginning is an open mind, good character, and a sincere desire to train. Comfortable workout clothing and socks are the only requirements for training in the early stages. After becoming familiar with the dojo’s training practices, students usually inquire about purchasing a dogi (training outfit). The normal training outfit consists of a black gi, indoor tabi (footwear), and appropriate rank obi (belt). For formal events and specific subjects, hakama (split, pleated pants), kaku obi, and/or rank belt are worn. Weapons can be purchased from a variety of sources, some of which are located on the web. A resource list is provided to the student once they are ready to purchase training supplies.

What is your rank structure?

The rank structure in our organization blends the two Japanese grading systems, the classical menkyo system and the newer dan-i ( kyu/dan ) system. Essentially there are nine kyu ranks and ten dan ranks (with five levels contained within tenth dan). Mukyu refers to unranked practitioners. Mukyu wear white belts, kyu grades wear green, and dan ranked practitioners black. The dan ranks are divided as follows:

Mudansha: Kyukyu to Ikkyu (ninth class to first class)

– Ten 天 – Heaven: Shodan to Godan (first degree to fifth degree)
– Chi 地 – Earth: Rokudan to Judan (sixth degree to tenth degree)
– Jin 人 – Man: Judan level menkyo divided into levels:
Judan Menkyo = 10th dan
Chii Happo Biken Menkyo Shihan (Earth) = “11th dan”
Suii Happo Biken Menkyo Shihan (Water) = “12th dan”
Kai Happo Biken Menkyo Shihan (Fire) = “13th dan”
Fuui Happo Biken Menkyo Shihan (Wind) = “14th dan”
Kuui Happo Biken Menkyo Shihan (Void) = “15th dan”

The instructor certification is divided into two levels. Shidoshi are fully licensed instructors. Shidoshi-ho are assistant instructors. A practitioner can apply for their shidoshi instructor certification at fifth dan. Shidoshi-ho are junior grade instructors possessing at least a first degree black belt that are under the supervision, and have received permission to teach, of a shidoshi. Shihan is generaly reserved for those instructors ranked at Judan and above, and implies that the instructor is a ‘teacher of teachers,’ although the instructor is not called as such during training.

How do I advance in rank? 

Dr. Hatsumi designed his organization to be very broad in scope, giving his instructors incredible freedom to devise and teach as they see fit for their area. Consequently, there are no standard criteria for rank, which is quite different from most martial arts. This can be very frustrating to practitioners; however, this procedure eliminates the emphasis on rank, freeing the student to pursue broad, in-depth study of the training curriculum. This is one reason why there can be such a discrepancy in ability, philosophy, and instruction depending on the dojo. Each dojo contains its own ‘flavor.’ The flavor can be good or repugnant depending on the individual practitioner’s taste.

In general, each martial art organization designs its own rank structure, and is used as a measure of progress within that organization. If a black belt in karate were to join an aikido dojo, they should not expect to remain a black belt at that dojo. They are two different arts with their own distinct cultures and methodologies. Rank is only valid within the organization and/or dojo it was given.

As a whole, martial rank in the West is thought of as degrees of achievement, much like academics. A student spends a certain amount of time studying a certain subject, and based on the time and effort involved earns a degree. As the student gains more knowledge and insight in their respective programs, they receive higher degrees – bachelor, master’s, PhD, and so on. Rank in Japan , as a general rule, conforms to a different set of criteria. It is given as a way to encourage the student to further their studies. For instance, you begin training at a dojo and after two years your instructor gives you a black belt, telling you that you have worked hard over the years and to keep studying. As a student, instead of thinking you’ve earned something, you see it as a burden and commit to training harder in order to live up to the expectations of that rank. A few years later your instructor comes over and informs you that you’ve been an extremely dedicated student and gives you a higher rank. Now you feel just as you thought you were growing into your first rank, you have to live up to this higher standard – so you study twice as hard in order to live up to your instructor’s expectations. Essentially a student is awarded rank not for achievement, rather as encouragement to keep going and not give up his training. This concept is important in that it de-emphasizes rank, freeing the practitioner to explore, without limits, the vast, sophisticated teachings contained in the Bujinkan Dojo; in addition to ensuring the practitioner, even if they hold judan level menkyo, continues to study and further their knowledge under Dr. Hatsumi.

Do you issue any classical licenses?

There have been many questions concerning the classical menkyo system of ranking, and if the Bujinkan Dojo has, and still currently issues, these types of licenses. In certain instances Hatsumi sensei has issued old style rank licenses, such as menkyo kaiden. Issuance of such licensing is only done by Hatsumi sensei, and no instructor in the Bujinkan Dojo has the authority to issue these types of licenses at this time. It is also customary in the Bujinkan Dojo that individuals possessing these licenses refrain from discussing them openly.

Training for warfare cannot be taken lightly! Training and studying daily to enhance your knowledge and abilities is of paramount importance, not just studying for the sake of rank. Rank will not help you in resolving conflicts! The awareness, knowledge, and skills you acquire through hard, diligent training will. Someone who has ‘graduated’ from a martial arts program, or feels they have mastered the teachings, is effectively saying they have learned all they want or need to know and has given up training in order to pursue other endeavors. However, in training for combat, one never ‘graduates.’ One must continually pursue training and studying, ever increasing one’s physical, mental, and spiritual threshold. To not do so is tantamount to death. Someone who claim’s to have ‘mastered’ or ‘graduated’ does themselves, and more importantly, their students a grave disservice by not furthering their own knowledge and experience, and as a consequence wither away, taking their students with them.

At the Jigoku Dojo, ranking is conducted in the same fashion as the dojo in Japan. A student is evaluated daily for their progress and receives rank according to their daily performance and as encouragement to keep persevering through the training. All too often, students who train according to a rigid curriculum structure often focus on only what is necessary for passing the next rank instead of focusing when placed under physical or emotional duress.

Are the schools that emphasize ninjutsu koryu bujutsu?

This is a hotly contested debate with members on both sides presenting convincing arguments for their position. Much of this debate stems from an article featured on Koryu.com which highlights their opinion regarding ninjutsu. The purveyors of Koryu.com take the position that the three remaining ninjutsu ryuha under the headmastership of Masaaki Hatsumi do not fall into their definition of koryu and therefore not considered a true koryu. They are well within their rights to have that opinion. Considering some of the tactless, tasteless, and ill-informed letters they have received from members of organizations encompassing ninjutsu teachings, the rampant proliferation of ninjutsu frauds whose claim to lineage stems from un-named dubious sources, and the dissemination of misinformed, and in most cases, flagrantly inaccurate publications, it’s any wonder why they would invest the time and resources to research the validity of anything labeled ‘ninjutsu.’

Dr. Hatsumi has, and continues to allow, serious researchers with the proper credentials to view and study his extensive collection of koryu densho and makimono – including those containing ninjutsu. Thus far, very few have taken advantage of this opportunity, even when invited to do so. The reason why this is the case is simply very few historical researchers, including scholars well-versed in feudal Japanese history, possess the interest or qualifications to do so.

The general thought that Dr. Hatsumi only teaches ninjutsu is in itself a misnomer. While he is well known for his ninjutsu teachings, the majority of training that is conducted in his organization revolves around orthodox koryu study in both formal and modern application. Dr. Hatsumi states that he teaches the koryu as they were originally taught during the sengoku jidai (warring states period) – as dynamic, creative, adaptable, and alive military arts. Ninjutsu and ninpo (the philosophical component of ninjutsu) teachings are generally reserved for his advanced, closest students, much like other koryu that contain ninjutsu in their curriculum.

Do you have any videos or dvds available for purchase?

We currently do not have any videos for sale, and there are no plans to have any produced at this time.