In The City Of Brotherly Love,
A School Of Brotherly Love

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

With a hug the two masters of Kempo bid each other good-bye. During the course of the week they had shared their arts, their faiths, and their brotherly love, one teaching the system of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei and the other Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo and the related arts.

          Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo, an ancient system of martial arts that goes back twenty two generations into the antiquity of Japan, is still extant today. Some believe that a famous monk by the name of Kosho Bosatsu, who lived during the Kamakura era, founded the system and taught it at one of the many temples he founded throughout Japan. Whether this is true or legend, it is known that the system was the one taught by James Masayoshi Mitose when he began teaching in the United States.

James Masayoshi Mitose

          Mitose is an enigmatic personage about whom little is actually known.  He was the first person to teach a traditional form of Kempo in the United States, starting in 1942 in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  He has been trained in the martial arts in Japan for fifteen years and was against Japanese aggression.  He felt the need to teach Kempo in the land of his birth to prepare them for invasion, as everyone believe the Japanese would invade shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack.

          From research it appears that Mitose had studied under Choki Motobu, learning Motobu’s special form of Okinawan Kempo Karate, as well as, under Seiko Fujita, part of Motobu’s entourage, learning Namban Satto Ryu Kempo (a Atemi specific, but Jujutsu grounded Japanese style) and Wada Ha Koga Ryu Ninjutsu.  When Mitose first taught in Hawaii, he taught much of what he learned from Motobu, because it was the quickest and deadliest techniques that could be learned by beginners.  Later when he began teaching Nimr Hassan in the 1970s, he began revealing more of his overall Kosho Ryu knowledge, much of which was based on Ninjutsu.

          Ninjutsu is one of the most misunderstood of all martial arts that have survived until modern times. Actually there were three distinct types of Ninjutsu, each practiced by different classes of Japanese. First of all, Ninjutsu was actually developed by Buddhist monks who were trying to protect Japanese Buddhists during a time of persecution under the Shintoist rulers of Japan. The art, which was also referred to as Nimpo, was created to provide techniques by which, monks traveling around the realm, could gather information about plans against prominent Buddhists and use that information to warn them and help them avoid assassination or other nefarious plots

          During this time, which historians cannot truly pinpoint, the Ninjutsu was taught to Buddhist Samurai to enable them to protect their lords and spy for them as well. The Ninjutsu of the monks and the warriors was very ethically based and was never applied in a manner, which would break their Buddhist beliefs or the code of Bushido.

          Unfortunately, the art found it's way into less savory hands, through dishonored Samurai and peasants trained by monks for self defense, but who decided to follow a less honorable path of life. These outcasts and renegades became the Ninja. Mercenaries who would do any job, no matter how dishonorable, for a price.  It appears that the term Ninja was actually coined for these sneak thieves and that Shinobi was the term applied to the Samurai who actually used the art in an honorable way.

          Iga and Koga warrior families were honorable Samurai, who used their Ninjutsu skills in the service of a single lord and his allies. Koga Ryu Ninjutsu is an important part of the Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo taught in the city of brotherly love by probably the only master of the system to know those skills, Nimr Hassan.

Nimr Hassan

          Nimr Hassan has been training in the system of Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo for twenty plus years. Initially he was taught the specialized footwork based on the Ninjutsu, James Masayoshi Mitose had learned during his education in Japan. This footwork was the foundation upon which all the other skills were to be based. Unique concepts of blocking were combined with specialized skills designed to destroy the defensive capability of an assailant, as well as, striking skills designed to destroy the defensive capability of an attacker while leaving the vital points of the torso alone so that an assailant would not be injured. But then as is true of any true combat art, the practitioner is taught how to drive past the arms and legs into the weaknesses of the human body with lethal effect. Yet, as is worthy of all true self defense arts, this skill is taught only for emergencies, and to be avoided at all costs, except the loss of one's own life or the life of an innocent.

          Special exercises were taught to develop the strength and dexterity necessary for this form of Ninjutsu training. Some of these exercises seem to be based on the original temple exercises upon which the original Kempo was formed. Different types of sticks were used to develop the strength of the forearms for striking. Rock slabs were used to strengthen the shoulders and arms of the practitioner.

          A very creative form of training continues to be taught as part of Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo by Hassan, which is believed to be part of the priestly tradition of training monks in the temple by games of skill and reflex, as well as, what is commonly called the temple dance.  While certain aspects of illusion clearly indicate the Ninjutsu origin of the games, these games center on the idea of one student simply trying to touch another student on the shoulder, while that student uses the special blocking concepts of Kempo to deflect the touching hand. While playing the games students apply the unique principle of the Ninjutsu footwork, along with Kempo body angling and parrying. Many of these games can get very exciting, and to the uninitiated look like actual fighting or sparring.

          Also evident are the Jujutsu skills of Japanese temple Kempo, with an emphasis upon palm and fist, which is indicative of the Chugoku Shorinji Kempo, Chinese Shaolin Chuanfa, of the twelfth century. Many of the techniques would quickly be recognized by practitioners of the modern arts of Judo and Aikido, and yet with a very special twist that is peculiar to the Kempo practitioner who uses the special Ninjutsu footwork. Mitose's skills of grappling were so advanced and with such perfect Aiki, spiritual harmony, that Morihei Ueshiba directed that Mitose be awarded a Judan and made a remonstrant of Aikido.


          It is believed that at some point Shorei Ryu Kempo of Okinawa found it's way into the art. Some feel that during the time that the great Kempo master Choki Motobu lived on Japan, he taught the members of his entourage the skills of Shorei Ryu Kempo. James Masayoshi Mitose, who according to Robert Trias, was a maternal nephew of Motobu, was believed to have been a member of that entourage, along with the great Seiko Fujita, a master of both Namban Satto Ryu Kempo and Koga Ryu Ninjutsu. This would have given James Masayoshi Mitose the opportunity to study both arts.

          From Motobu certain aspects of body conditioning were adopted into Mitose's Kempo. Buckets of earth and rocks, which the Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo practitioners use to strengthen their hands by striking into them, especially show an Okinawan influence, which itself shows the original Shorinji Kempo influence of China. When the Kempoka practice their actual self defense moves many Hsing I and Shaolin Chuanfa techniques, as definitely modified by Okinawan masters, begin to become evident. It should be noted that this is where the animal techniques entered Mitose's Kempo, in that the five animal techniques were not introduced to Japan directly from China, but from Okinawa, which had a post sixteenth century Goken Shorinji Kempo influence.

          Fujita’s Ninjutsu also used special methods of conditioning which can also be seen in Mitose’s Kempo.  The use of the Hakkakkei, octagon, is considered one of the secrets of Koga Ryu and the use of the eight angles and more can be seen in Mitose’s methods of teaching which are many times not understood by the uninitiated.

          At this point it would be conducive to mention the special method of teaching strikes that is prevalent in Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo. The modern practitioner is taught an eight angle system of striking, which when applied to blocks, clears the area maintained by correct distancing, and when applied to hitting, allows the student to strike with painful force anywhere on the opponent's body. The practitioner is taught that there are three downward angles, which the hand travels, straight down and forty five degree angle down both left and right. Then there are three upward angles, straight up and forty five degree angles up, both left and right. Then there are the horizontal angles from the left and right. There is also the straight forward strike as well. These angles can be applied to kicks, as well as, hand techniques. This allows for a very complete striking system that provides optimum protection for the Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempoka.

Ranking Structure

          The ranking structure of this very traditional Kempo Dojo is based on the Menkyo system, as used in Japan prior to the development of the belt system. A student first receives a Kirikami, cut of paper to signify that they have actually been accepted into the Ryu, this happens after many hours of training. Next follows the Mokuroku, literally catalogue, which means the person has learned the skills of Kempo and is dedicated to mastering the skills.

          Finally the student can start earning Menkyo, or licenses. These Menkyo are teaching licenses, which denotes the level of teaching skill a person possesses in the complete art of Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo. They range from Sensei to Renshi, Kyoshi to Shihan, and finally, after many years of training, Hanshi. These titles carry with them the meanings as follows: Sensei, teacher; Renshi, polished instructor; Kyoshi, senior instructor; Shihan, master teacher; and Hanshi, senior master teacher.

          One last aspect of the teachings of Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo, is the concept of uniforms. Nimr Hassan was taught the art must be able to be applied in the normal wear of the person, and since the rank structure does not use belts in it's ranking system, then the usual Judogi or Karategi of Japan is not the most appropriate form of dress. Rather, a typical Uwagi, upper jacket of the Keikogi is worn, with the traditional Hakama, pleated baggy pants of the Samurai. Students sometimes wear typical Western clothing such as warm up suits or sweatpants and shirts. Visitors from other systems, which are always welcomed by Hassan, are allowed to wear their traditional uniforms.

          The Kosho Ryu Kempo of James Masayoshi Mitose has survived in many forms and in many places, yet it is in the Dojo of the Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo Association of Philadelphia, that Nimr Hassan maintains the specialized training that truly sets it apart from all other systems. It is only when the very distinctive footwork of Ninjutsu is added to Kosho Ryu Kempo Jujutsu of the Mitose family, and Shorei Ryu Kempo Karate of Choki Motobu, that one sees the effectiveness that is inherent in the original Koga Ha Kosho Ryu Kempo, as taught to Nimr Hassan by James Masayoshi Mitose.

          In the heart of the city of brotherly love, Nimr Hassan stands ready to welcome those interested in learning the truly unique art of Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo. It is an art steeped in ancient tradition, encompassing the traditional Kempo of the Japanese temple, the Jujutsu developed by the Samurai instructed by the monks, Ninjutsu as practiced by both monks and warriors, with an influence from the Shorei Ryu Kempo of Okinawa. It is an art, which has at its heart, the brotherhood of the founding men of peace.

William Durbin

          The other master mentioned at the beginning of the article is me, William Durbin.  Nimr and I met in 1994 and became fast friends.  I enjoyed working out with him and seeing other aspects of the Kosho Ryu system, which was one of the roots of Kiyojute Ryu.  Nimr visited and worked out with my students later that year and awarded me Shihan in Koppo and Ninjutsu.

          We had worked together to categorize and formally apply the Japanese terminology to the material that Mitose had taught him.  Mitose choosing to teach in English his American students.  During that period of work Nimr felt that I showed a complete mastery of the arts and so chose to issue me formal recognition of such mastery.

          The last project we worked on was a book on the life of James Masayoshi Mitose.  The latest research and information concerning Mitose and his training in Japan, as well as, his instruction in the United States is contained in that book.

Editor's Note: This article was originally written for, and published on, the Koga Ha Kosho Shorei Ryu website, and has been updated for this website in 2009.

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