Himitsu Kempo Jujutsu: Okuden - A Secret Tradition

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

In the history of Japan there are many traditions. Prior to the development of Jujutsu as a separate art there were originally many variations of the empty hand arts in the country. It is said that the oldest primary fighting art was called Kumi Uchi, meaning grappling and striking. Once the Samurai took to wearing armor for protection against arms, the art developed into Yoroi Kumi Uchi, meaning armored grappling and striking. 

Like most fighting arts, there was no ethical basis to speak of, merely an emphasis on fighting and winning. In the meantime, the temples of Japan were developing a strong combat tradition, in order to maintain the survival of their faith. In regard to the Buddhist temples, a strong Chinese influence was felt, giving the underlying structure of defense based on the ancient fist/palm martial art called in China, Chuanfa, known in Japanese as Kempo.

Kempo

Originally the monks would use only the staff weapons of China to defend themselves, but later out of necessity adopted the weapons of the warriors; spears, halberds, and swords. But central to temple martial arts training was always the empty hand art of Kempo. Now modified by the Japanese monks themselves, adding innovations that were specifically designed for combat in their own country. In some temples this training was referred to as Himitsu Kempo, meaning hidden martial arts.

The farmers who lived around the temples, and the villages that were close by, relied on the temples for religious guidance and wisdom. When the people needed instruction on how to defend themselves from bandits and how to protect themselves from unfair taxation, they turned to the temples that helped lead revolts against the unfair government practices and taught them aspect of martial arts.

Eventually some of these farmers became the Jisamurai, rural warriors, who fought for their Daimyo, lords, and ultimately turned into the standing army of the Samurai. As these Samurai began developing their own forms of hand to hand martial skills they coined names for these arts, some being; Torite, Kogusoku, Wajutsu, Yawara, Shubaku, Hakushi, Koshimawari, Oshikiuchi, Muto, Yoroi Kumiuchi, Taijutsu, and some continued to use the term Kempo. However, the Kempo of the monks were kept secret, only shown to a chosen few, usually those of the temples or to those families who strongly supported them. Some of the top masters of rural families were allowed to learn the secrets referred to as Himitsu Kempo and sometimes as Ji Kempo, temple martial arts.

Jujutsu

Eventually in the sixteenth century, some say later, the termed Jujutsu was coined as a generic name for empty hand fighting. In this way, when two people of different Ryu talked to each other, they could talk about the skill of Jujutsu, each knowing and understanding that they were referencing hand to hand combat, then go back to their own schools, using their specific phrase of Yawara, Torite, or whatever.

Regardless of what these arts were called, or their particular specialty, the empty hand skills were comprehensive in nature, containing all the skills of striking, kicking, throwing, choking, and locking. Generally, they were taught in a manner that allowed them to blend with weapons use, so that the weapon skill was based on empty hand training and so that empty hand skill improved with weapons training.

All too often people think of training in strikes, throws, and joint locks, in the sense of training in the three different arts of Karate, Judo, and Aikido. But it must be remember that these three are modern arts and built around particular forms of competition, which inhibit the use of any but specific techniques for their form of competition. (This is not strictly true of Aikido, in that combat oriented styles, derived from Ueshiba, do teach all skills, but the Tomiki Aikido sport does follow the above restrictions.)

One of the Okuden, secret traditions, of Himitsu Kempo Jujutsu, which is the proper term used in reference to many of the Kempo styles of Japan, is the knowledge and ability to blend strikes and throws together. Under armored conditions, strikes were not as important as under normal circumstances, but particularly after the Tokugawa era and into the Meiji Restoration, striking skills became much more important in personal defense, which was the way empty hand skills were developing.

Jujutsu has always been thought of as an art focused on throwing skills, though today many people think of Jujutsu as rolling around on the ground and doing very little else, while most people think of Kempo as majoring on strikes, but the truth is that Japanese Kempo, of the ancient variety, is one of the predecessor arts to Jujutsu, with a full range of skills that can at a moments notice switch from throwing to striking and back to throwing. This was the way the art was designed.

Ju – flexibility in response

The idea was that if a throwing attempt failed, a strike might succeed. It is possible that the strike itself might end the confrontation. But true combat oriented martial arts acknowledged the fact that just maybe one throw, one strike, or one technique of any type, might not take out a determined attacker. Thus they trained to be able to blend, adapt, and adjust to changing circumstances.

In example, if someone has grabbed you in an attack, if the pressure is to you left rear, you might blend with the attack and start a Sasaetsurikomiashi, lifting pulling foot prop. But if the attacker is knowledgeable, he might be able to block the throw. From the position of the hands it is very easy to slam a circular elbow to the head of the attacker, and then, if they are not taken out by the elbow strike, slip a leg in between the assailant’s and perform an Ouchigari, major inner reaping throw.

It is also possible, if an attacker blocks an arm movement, such as when you reach around the waist for an Ogoshi, major hip throw, if the attacker does an inner circular block to stop your throw, then you can slip an inner circle of your own to come inside the block and then strike the groin on your way under his other arm and into an Ipponseoinage, one point carry on your back throw.

Now a days, many people are familiar with Jujutsu techniques, so it is possible that you could attempt a throw that an attacker would block with the skill referred to as Koshidome, hip stop, so that you could not enter in to perform a throw such as a Koshiguruma, hip whirl. It would be possible to slide the head from around the neck, raking the eyes, then circling around catching the attacker’s other arm, continuing in with your now free hip, into a Sodetsurikomigoshi, sleeve lift pull hip throw.

Hiden – secret traditions

In modern times the so-called ‘secrets’ of the martial arts, known as the Hiden (secret traditions), are finally being revealed into the western world, as students from around the world have proven themselves dedicated martial artists and as older masters are now wanting to make sure that their arts and traditions are preserved for the future. For the last forty years the emphasis has been on the sport forms of the martial arts, but now, with those who are interested in self defense above and beyond competition, the Okuden, hidden traditions, are being revealed to the public. While most of these skills have little to offer competitors, for those interested in preserving ancient tradition or being effective in combat, they have a great deal to contribute to modern times.

The throwing art is not just one of grabbing a person and hurling them to the ground. Throwing is a precise art that requires a lot of skill and effort. But in regard to self defense, a good thrower is one who knows how to flow from strikes into throws, or from throws to strikes. A Jujutsuka in the classical tradition is one who knows how to create the opening for a throw through the use of judicious strikes. This is the Okuden of the Himitsu Kempo Jujutsu, classical martial arts designed and geared towards the reality of combat.



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