Araki ryu Torite Kogusoku

The Birth of Araki-ryu: Araki Mujinsai

Fujiwara Katsuzane & the Takenouchi-ryu

The origins of Araki-ryu Torite Kogusoku are somewhat mysterious. Among other things, it seems that it started before its own founder.  Unlike some ryu, we do not have independent records to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt how the ryu came into being.

However, there is a remarkable text, entitled Araki-ryu Saitan no Jo - essentially, "Admonitions for the Renaissance of Araki-ryu."  This text is allegedly written by or transcribed from Araki Muninsai Minamoto no Hidetsuna.  Cross-referencing various lines of the ryu, tracking when they diverged, establishes that at minimum, it was written in the first generations of the ryu's history.  It states:

Our ryu was founded by Fujiwara Katsuzane (Katsumi, in some texts) during the reign of Taiko Toyotomi Hideyoshi, in the Tensho era (appr. 1573). Even though he trained incessantly, he could not penetrate the inner mysteries of this art.  Realizing that there was no other way but to ask the gods for divine favor, he retreated to Mt. Atago for 100 days, believing that if he did not slack in his efforts, his earnest desire would move the gods.  One night Katsuzane was bestowed a mysterious dream, and was able to perfect and penetrate the inner mysteries of the art.  From that time on, in Kyoto, he faced several strong opponents, but he was able to win very easily.

Hearing of his reputation, the Lord Hidetsugu Toyotomi, (Hideyoshi's nephew, known for a time as the 2nd shogun) summoned him and declared him the best in Japan, resulting in Katsuzane becoming very famous.  In spite of this, he started to associate with the foolish, and lost the right path.  Rather than putting his efforts into shugyo, he focused only on winning.  Contrary to his intentions, he was defeated many times.  Ahh!  How foolish!  This situation was like looking down into a deep gorge, or like walking on thin ice, inviting misfortune unto oneself.  How deplorable, not only bringing disgrace onto one’s self, but rotting away the path of teaching and leading people.

This account is rather unusual.  Araki Muninsai (sometimes Mujinsai) is designated as the founder, according to the lineage charts of just about every line of Araki-ryu.  Yet, he names someone else, his own teacher, as the founder of the ryu.  This seems to have become a tradition within the ryu.  Off-shoot ryu such as Araki Shin-ryu or Sanshin Araki-ryu name Araki Muninsai or in some cases, one of his successors, a teacher of the actual founder, as the originator of the ryu.  Therefore, when considering the records of any of the off-shoot schools, one usually has to advance one's gaze one or more generations to determine when and by whom the ryu was actually founded.

There is a widely accepted oral tradition that Araki-ryu developed as an off-shoot of the famous Takenouchi-ryu.   This is supported when one considers that Atagoyama shrine, overlooking Kyoto, is intimately tied to the history of both ryu.   Atagoyama Dai Gongen Gonshu is linked with Marishisonten, a Buddhist deity associated with war, as well as with a famous tengu (nature elemental), Tarobo, a chthonic folk deity associated with fire.

Within the Araki-ryu's curriculum is a very powerful set of kata called Ryogu no Dan, a study of heavy-armor grappling techniques utilizing dual iai (which starts with the unsheathing of weapons in simultaneous attacks at very close range, short sword against long sword).  Names of kata are traditionally written on scrolls from right to left, each kata name brushed vertically. In this set, when only the first character of the name of each of these eight kata is read from right to left, it spells out "Ata-Go-Yama-Dai-Gon-Gen-Gon-Shu.

As there is no mention of Araki Muninsai in Takenouchi records, perhaps the link between the ryu is through Fujiwara Katsuzane, the man Araki names as his teacher.  According to internal documents of the Takenouchi-ryu, the Takenouchi family lost its castle to an alliance of Oda Nobunaga and the Hashiba clan.  They fled to an adjacent valley in Owari in 1571, around the time that the Saitan no Jo designates as the beginning of the ryu.  The Takenouchi clan were welcomed by the Shimizu lord, Shinmen Iga no Kami.  Takenouchi Hisamori, the founder of the ryu, then a seventy-eight year old man, became the guest of a thirty-one year old warrior, Shinmen Munisai Taketo.  The records state, "They did not see each other as competitors or enemies, but instead paid each other respect as teacher and student."  Takenouchi-ryu records state that Hisamori taught Shinmen Munisai Taketo taught kogusoku, who studied it diligently.

Munisai's family name was Fujiwara.  He was the martial arts instructor of the clan, and already a remarkable warrior, renowned for his skill with both sword and jutte, the latter a unique weapon in the shape of a cross (not the similar sounding police truncheon).  The name, "Munisai" means, "A Man Unequaled."  As a mark of esteem, he had been given the lord's family name, Shinmen, after he defeated a famous swordsman of the Yoshioka family in two matches out of three in front of the shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiaki.   The shogun honored him as well, giving him the title, Hi no Shita Heihojutsusha, which figuratively means, "The best fighter/tactician under the sun."  With the addition of close combat skills learned from Hisamori, he must have been truly formidable.

Shui no Kyoku - Isezaki Araki-ryu, circa 1954 - photo courtesy of Hal Sharp

Munisai's life corresponds closely to the description of Fujiwara Katsuzane in the Saitan no Jo. Some time after meeting Hisamori, he did step onto "thin ice."  His lord ordered him to kill the house elder, Honiden Gekinosuke, one of his best friends.  Munisai protested the order, but bound by feudal ties and under duress, he eventually acquiesced. He offered to teach Honiden some essential secrets of combat, and inviting him to a secluded place, murdered him while offering him tea, a technique ensconced within kata in both Takenouchi-ryu and Araki-ryu.

Honiden's family, outraged, sought revenge, but they were held back by the fact that their own daimyo had ordered Honiden's death.  Nonetheless, Munisai secluded himself within his own manor to avoid being killed.  He and his wife divorced, and she raised their son, born in 1584.  Munisai occasionally visited the child, and, in later accounts, he is described as brutally teaching him martial arts. This boy was Miyamoto Musashi. Munisai eventually left his home while his son was still quite small, and migrated to Bungo, in northern Kyushu, where he set up a dojo.

In Japanese Buddhist tradition, a person receives, upon death, a kaimyo, a Buddhist name, the benefits of which will hopefully carry the person onward to a better  incarnation, or even freedom from the wheel of karma.  Munisai's kaimyo was Kasuzane, a name differing only in a single consonant from Katsuzane, the name, if you recall, of the founder of this ryu.

Araki Muninsai Minamoto no Hidetsuna

Little is known of Araki Muninsai.  In the Honcho Bugei Shoden by Hitaka Shigetake (written 1711-1715), it was written, "No one knows where Araki Muninsai is from and little is known of his deeds, yet his excellent techniques in hand-to-hand combat are famous."

He certainly was a a warrior of some renown, allegedly a member of the clan of famous warlords, Araki Settsu no Kami and his son, Araki Murashige (荒木村重).  He seems to have lived in the Settsu area, near Kyoto, not that distant from the Owari area.  It is very possible that he won recognition not only by the strength of his own arms, but also because he was part of a clan of renown.

Araki reportedly was praised for his feats on the battlefield in Korea, in the Chosen no Eki, the invasion of Korea by Hideyoshi in the 1590's.  In fact, Araki-ryu records claim that Hideyoshi awarded him the title Nihon Kaizan.  The phrase literally means, "Opener of the Mountains of Japan," but in essence, means, "The best in Japan," an award similar to that previously won by Munisai.  (Takenouchi Hisamori, too, had been awarded something similar, Hi no Shita Kaizan, "Opener of all the Mountains under the Sun.")

The Saitan no Jo has a quality almost of an interview or oral history. it is easy to imagine an unknown disciple speaking with the old warrior, for this ryu, like many, was probably consolidated by its 2nd or 3rd generation.  We can imagine a young man asking this old warrior who had taught him this ferocious method of close combat, and Araki tells the story of Shinmen Munisai Taketo, now deceased - and for reasons I will explain in a moment, refers to him by his kaimyo, Kasuzane - a man who murdered his friend on his lord's orders, using methods characteristic of Araki-ryu to this day.  I have found that stories of this kind are usually told over sake - lots of sake.  With the slurring of a single syllable, the name could have easily been changed to Katsuzane or even, over time, to Katsumi.

Returning to the Saitan no Jo, it is a text that is perhaps unique among origin stories in its explicit warning that one can lose a moral center after enlightenment. It explicitly describes Fujiwara as becoming intoxicated with power, and "like looking down into a deep gorge, or like walking on thin ice. . ." nearly losing himself in an embrace with power.  The account seems to imply that he recovered a moral center, or perhaps it only suggests that his successor, Araki Muninsai, did not follow in his footsteps. Thus, the ryu that has been passed down is that of Araki, not that of the man on thin ice.

There is a final point that suggests both a connection between the two men and also that Araki Muninsai wished to state, without disrespect, that he had taken a different road from that of his teacher.  Araki took as  a second name, Muninsai, or its nearly interchangeable appellation, Mujinsai.  Both of these names, very similar to Munisai, are also "pen names," not the kind that one is born with.  They have been written with a variety of different characters in various documents that Araki may have used to mark in his own life, or, in the loose manner of record keeping of the period, someone else wrote whatever kanji that they thought fit the man.  In any event, among the readings for Muninsai and Mujinsai are "unequaled in benvolent dreams," without equal in benevolence, " a man of unequaled dreams," "A man of emptiness," "Dreaming of emptiness," or finally, "A man without equal."  With the exception of the last reading, Muninsai seems, through a kind of almost whimsical humility, to clearly differentiate himself from Munisai. Furthermore, by apparently choosing to refer to his teacher by his kaimyo, Araki seems to be stating that it is the man at the end of his life rather than Munisai, the ferocious warrior, who taught him the most, the man who managed to not slip through the thin ice to be lost in a trajectory of unremitting violence.  It is believed in Japan that, after death, one becomes a hotokesama, a Buddhist avatar, because death, at least until one is once again caught in the wheel of karma, enlightens you with the bare-bones of truth.  Araki simultaneously took the name,  Munisai, his original "face" to the world, and "bends" it into Muninsai/Mujinsai, making that ferocity his own - but only on his own terms.  In doing so, he clearly states that he has taken a different road, not one of pacifism, but a balanced path - that even walking on a road of war, one strives to retain one's humanity as best one can.


Another ryu that may have had some connection with Araki-ryu is Muso-ryu, sub-groups of which were known as Muso Jikiden-ryu.  This nearly ubiquitous school, was both widespread and "splintered" - there were many factions throughout Japan.  It has a very tangled history, replete with legends and blind-alleys in its convoluted lineage.  Fujiwara Katsuzane and Araki Muninsai are named as 10th and 11th generation shihan, part of a long list of martial arts legends and mythic heroes that extend far back in history, many hundreds of years before there were any ryu.  It is rather unlikely that Fujiwara and Araki would have been lineage holders in this quite different school - it is my suspicion that they were incorporated to add prestige to the school.

However, one striking detail about both ryu is that they share nearly identical schema in their highest level teachings, known in Araki-ryu as Zekkoku Gokui.  This document contains the five "rings," circles filled in with the five elemental colors in Buddhist cosmology.  Because both the Muso-ryu and Araki-ryu documents also contain some of the same phrases around these rings, it is almost sure one school "gave" the gokui to the other.  Which came first, however, is unknown.

Recent research supports the idea that there may be a connection between Muso-ryu and Araki-ryu, and even with Fujiwara Katsuzane.  In Keicho 12, (1608), there was a Muso-ryu shihan named Araki Nobuie, who is reported to have used the words mujin ("nullity, empty" and "man") as part of his "pen name."  Muso-ryu included koshi no mawari (another word for armored grappling), kosugoku and nito kenjutsu within its curriculum. There is some overlap between the two curricula, both in the zekkoku gokui and the fact that they both had grappling as a central component.  No kata names are shared, however, and the Nito Kenjutsu is exclusively a provenance of the Muso-ryu.

Several theories present themselves.  First of all, it is possible that Nobuie began using the same Mujin to associate himself with Araki Muninsai in people's mind, either for the reflected glory or even impersonating him. Second, Nobuie may have been a relative.  Third, despite the apparent difference in their ages - Kurose Haruji, a headmaster  of the Araki Shin-ryu cited one record that suggests that the Muninsai was born in 1560 - Muninsai and Nobuie may have been one and the same person.  If the latter is true, would suggest that different students passed down two different traditions:  Muso-ryu and Araki-ryu.  However, it's puzzling that the content of the two ryu would bear no similarity.

If we choose to really stretch our imaginations, we can speculate that Mori Kasuminosuke, Araki Muninsai's most prominent disciple,  learned from Araki Muninsai (Nobuie) when the latter was very old.  Let us further speculate that he was not taught the Nito Kenjutsu and thus, was not given a menkyo in Muso-ryu.  Let us finally speculate that Mori later consolidated all that he was taught into the Araki-ryu, named after his teacher, starting the tradition of crediting the founding of one's own creation/consolidation with one's teacher, much as Araki Muninsai did in regards to Fujiwara Katsuzane  in the Saitan no Jo.

There is one final connection:  Nobuie's teacher was Wakaida Bokusai, a student of Miyamoto Munisai Taketo.  Nito kenjutsu did not start with the latter's son - Musashi.  In fact, Munisai was famous for his skill in this area.  He was also noted in some records as having studied Muso-ryu from one Ogasawara.  Not only Miyamoto, but also Wakaida's clan name was Fujiwara.

Given that the term koshi no mawari is most famously associated with Takenouchi-ryu, we very possibly have a shadow lineage of Takenouchi Hisamori to Miyamoto Munisai to Wakaida to Araki Nobuie, either one of the latter two men, possibly being Araki Muninsai.

All speculation, but it does link some of the pieces together.

For more on Araki-ryu history, refer to Old School"  Essays on Japanese Martial Traditions