Gyokko Ryu History
by Peter Carlsson; Contributed by Mats Hjelm
According to Kuden, the verbal tradition in Gyokko ryu, the system was developed in China during Tang-dynasty. There are two possible origins. Either there was a guard at the palace who developed the system after his small body, or it was developed by a princess. This is in accordance to the system of movement, which implies that it was developed by a physically smaller person.
According to another source, a famous musician and authority on the history of music by the name of Mr. An of Xian in China, there was a woman by the court in Xian (which was the main residence of Tang-dynasty), who was very famous for her skills in dancing and martial arts. By the fall of Tang-dynasty, year 907, many people of high stations in society escaped from China to Japan. The name that is connected to the origin of Gyokko ryu in Japan is Yo (or Cho) Gyokko. It could have been introduced by a single person, but it also might have been a whole group.
The first formal grandmaster in Japan was Hakuunsai Tozawa, who appeared some time during the period of Hogen (1156-1159). How he got the title, and how he got knowledge of the system is unknown. But Gyokko ryu, which means "Jewel Tiger", is according to Dai Nippon Bugei Ryu Ha one of the oldest documented martial arts in Japan.
The system was brought on and kept alive during Kamakura, Nambuko and Muromachi period, by the Suzuki family. In the 16th century it came to the Sakagami family, and between 1532 and 1555, the methods were organized by Sakagami Taro Kuniushige, who called the system Gyokko ryu Shitojutsu. The next supposed grandmaster, Sakagami Kotaro Masahide, was killed in battle 1542. Because of this, the title was passed on to Sougyoku Kan Ritsushi (also known as Gyokkan Ritsushi). Sakagami Kotaro Masahide was also known as Bando Kotaro Minamoto Masahide, and he was supposed to be the grandmaster of Koto ryu koppojutsu as well. He was never registered in Koto ryu, and his name is only mentioned in some of the lists of Gyokko ryu grandmasters.
Sougyoku Kan Ritsushi, who either came from the Kishu area or belonged to Kishu ryu, renamed Gyokko ryu Shitojutsu to Gyokko ryu Koshijutsu. He had some students who, in the 18th century, founded different schools based on Gyokko ryu and knowledge from Sougyoku.
In spite of the fact that two of the schools founded by Sougyoku Kan Ritsushis students went on to Takamatsu Toshitsugu and Hatsumi Masaaki, Gyokko ryu went it's own way along with Koto ryu. The schools went to Toda Sakyo Ishinsai and Momochi Sandayu I. After that, the schools remained in the Toda and Momochi families until Takamatsu, who was the last of the Todas to learn the arts, passed the schools to Hatsumi Masaaki.
It is thanks to the Toda and Momochi families' activities in the Iga province that the schools has come to belong to the local ninjutsu tradition, despite that the schools themselves were not really ninjutsu. Another connection in history is that Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu, Takamatsu's teacher and uncle, is said to be a descendant of Hakuunsai Tozawa's.
Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu taught Takamatsu that the most important thing is to study the techniques of Kihon Kata, also known as Kihon Happo, since they are the basis of all martial arts. This means that Kihon Happo covers all methods that are effective in real combat such as blocks, punches, kicks, breaking of wrists and elbows, and throws. The methods of Gyokko ryu are based on Koshijutsu (attacks against soft parts of the body). The strategy differs therefore very much from for example Koppojutsu, which concentrates on the bone structure.
While Koppojutsu motions goes in and out to come at right angles to the joints, Koshijutsu moves sideways, or around the attack, to get close to Kyoshi (the weak parts of the body). These targets can be nerve points, but also inner organs, or muscles and where the muscles are attached. One of the reasons for this system is probably because it was developed by a small person. The power in the counterattacks is therefore not generated by muscles, but by the hips and the spine. This is shown for example by the way of blocking, which concentrates on a powerful block to break the opponents balance, and thereby reaching the weak points of the body. An important detail in order to move close to the opponent, is that the back hand is always held in front of the face as a guard against counterattacks.
A frequently used body weapon in Gyokko ryu are the fingers and the fingertips. This is the reason for the earlier name Shitojutsu, which means techniques with the fingertips. Shitoken, also known as Boshiken, is the most common finger strike. This is a strike with the tip of the thumb, most often against where the muscles are attached or nerve points. The bone by the wrist is also a weapon, which is used for blocking, hits against Kasumi (the temple), etc. Another way of hitting is to push the knuckle of the middle finger in front of the other knuckles in a modified Shikanken. It is not only Boshiken that has another name in Gyokko ryu. Shutoken is called Kitenken, for example.
The thumbs are important in Gyokko ryu. It is mostly shown in the three official stances: Ichimonji no kamae, Hicho no kamae, and Jumonji no kamae, where the thumbs always are directed upwards. The reason is that the energy always should flow freely, and there should be no lockups in the movement. In Gyokko ryu it is important to protect the heart. Therefore a starting position with the right leg forward is preferred, so that the left side is turned away from the opponent. Shoshin no kamae, Doko no kamae "Angry tiger", and Hanin no kamae are also said to belong to Gyokko ryu.
Gyokko ryu consists of several parts. First there is Kamae no kata (stances) and Taihen Kihon (falls). The next step is Ki kata, also known as Sanshin no kata. Ki kata teaches basic movements based on the five elements. These movements reoccur in all techniques in Gyokko ryu. After that comes Kihon kata and Toride Kihon kata, which are basic exercises for punches, kicks, blocks, grabs and throws. There are different statements on how many the exercises are, and which exercises that belongs. Usually there are three exercises for punches, kicks and blocks, and five or six for grabs and throws. The last are trained from both sides.
After all these basic exercises, you come to Koshijutsu. Koshijutsu is split in three main parts:
Joryaku no maki - Unarmed vs Unarmed
Mutodori from Geryaku no maki are techniques against sword or spear and is considered to be the highest, and most difficult level of Gyokko ryu.
Gyokko ryu was, beside the Koshijutsu, also known for it's methods with Katana, Tanto and Bo. Except for some techniques with Bo, very much of this is unknown. More of this will probably be known, however, since Hatsumi Masaaki is releasing more information on the subject.
Even though Gyokko ryu can not claim to be a ninjutsu school, due to the lack of philosophy among other things, there is one saying that has followed the school: "Bushigokoro wo motte totoshi no nasu", which means "The heart of a warrior is precious and essential".
You may contact Peter Carlsson at: email@example.com This article was contributed by Shidoshi Mats Hjelm, Sweden and appeared previously in Ninzine number 4. Mats has been practicing ninpo taijutsu for the past ten years, has founded several Martial Arts BBSes, and has his own ninpo newsletter. He may be contacted via E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his web page: http://aristotle.se/~helmet/bujinkan.html.