SANKEN (三見), which translates literally as ‘the three glances’, is a term that was used by various highly-skilled swordsmen of the Yagyû clan in Japanese history. It indicates the three-fold action of vigilant and highly focused observation of the enemy’s mental state, physical posture, and method of initial engagement, the moment when weapons are crossed in battle. The way in which the enemy holds his weapon is one facet of this intense observation and gives immediate insight as to whether the opponent is nervous, composed, weakened, strong, highly skilled, or inexperienced. Thus, one gains an edge on the engagement and can therefore take the proper initiative and course of action in combat.
✧ KACEM ZOUGHARI
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Aisû Ikôsai, founder of the Kage-ryû (陰流) tradition of sword fighting, was born into the prominent bushi (“warrior”) Aisû family in 1452, and lived from the middle to the late Muromachi Period (1392-1573). This was one of Japan’s most turbulent periods. Ikôsai’s original name was Aisû Tarozaemon Hisatada, but he later took the name, ‘Ikôsai’. The Aisû family was a branch of the Kii clan of Kumano in the province of Kii, a powerful family, based in the Ise peninsula, in the center of the Kumano Bay area. They had been put in command of five castle areas by Shogun Morinaga Shinno (1308-1335) in the Nanbokuchô (Southern Dynasty) Period and were related to the Kitabatake clan with close relations to guerrilla fighters in the Iga area.
It is not clear where or from whom Ikôsai originially learned heihô (martial ways), but he was living during a period of great activity in fighting arts. Iizasa Ienao’s Tenshin Shôden Katori Shintô-ryû was active in the Kanto area, and Chûjô Hyôgono Nagahide had been spreading his Chûjô-ryû in Mikawa-guni (present day Aichi-ken) more than a hundred years earlier. As well, it is thought that in the Kyoto-Nara area, a core group of Nen-ryû of disciples known as the ‘Six Men of the Capital’ were spreading their art at the beginning of the 15th century.
Aisû Ikôsai had gained attention among Chinese military authorities when he and his fleet had raided both the Chinese and Korean coasts during that period. Using very long swords (tachi) and unorthodox methods of movement and weapon usage, they decimated Chinese and Korean troops that attempted to board their vessels or halt their raids. Obviously, though, the military authorities were impressed with the swordsmanship of these Japanese fighters and for years were at a loss as to how to defeat these rogue warriors whenever they appeared.
The story of Ikosai’s ‘ken-no-satori’ (sword enlightenment) is that in 1488, at the age of 36, after surviving a shipwreck while returning home from a pirating raid, Ikôsai, who already had been refining his sword skills for many years, decided to visit the temple of Uto Gong. There he prayed for purification and enlightenment, while making a vow to give up piracy, since his life had been spared from the shipwreck. After 7 days of incessant practicing and praying, a monkey-shaped god appeared to him in a dream and revealed the secrets of swordsmanship.
Deciding to reveal this knowledge to selected students, Aisû Ikôsai named his style ‘Kage-ryû’ (‘Current of the Shade’). Later, Ikôsai’s student, the renowned warrior and swordsman, Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami Hidetsuna developed his Shinkage-ryû (“New Current of the Shade) based on the instruction he received from Ikôsai. Shinkage-ryû (新影流) thus includes the core techniques, such as Enpi, Enkai, Yamakage, etc., from Kage-ryû.
Aisû Ikôsai passed away in 1538 at the advanced age of 87 years old.
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The term ‘battô-jutsu’ (抜刀術), or ‘nukutô no jutsu’, literally translated as ‘the art to extract the blade’, indicates the practice which consists of drawing the sword and to cross, avoid, or strike, all within in a single movement, without the enemy being able to see or feel one’s initial intention. Relations between the various traditions of battô-jutsu and the first three sword traditions of Japan (Nen-ryû, Kage-ryû, & Kashima-ryû), postulate that this art existed already within these three founding sword schools. Many chronicles describe such sword luminaries as Bizen No kami, Bokuden, Hidetsuna, & Muneyoshi, as well as their disciples, as excelling in the art of iaijutsu. However, the techniques were a collection of various and often vague principles for using the body that led to a freedom of interpretation. The first tradition which did specialize and codify this art into a precise methodology was founded by Hayashizaki Jinsuke (1542 -?) at the beginning of the Edo period. Hayashizaki transmitted his method to only three disciples. One would go on to become his successor and the other two would eventually found their own traditions. During second half of the Edo period, the schools resulting from Hayashizaki-ryû used the term of ‘iai’ (居合), rather than the term of ‘battô-jutsu’. There exists a score of terms which all are read as ‘Iai’, but are translated broadly as the action of ‘engaging and fighting an approaching enemy’. ‘Iai’ means ‘to link’ and ‘to be’, which can therefore be translated as ‘linking the intention and the movement in a moment when the technique must be carried out’. The large majority of the techniques of iai-jutsu, found in traditions born during the second half of the Edo period, were practiced starting from sitting positions, where the movements were extremely restricted.
✧ DR. KACEM ZOUGHARI
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Through the years many have questioned the validity of certain martial traditions, especially those related to the ninpō arts. When researched in depth, ‘walls’ are constantly hit when attempting to gather any viable information concerning events and solid historical facts on these ryū-ha and the men of their genealogy. Such abrupt ‘dead-ends’ of research efforts usually occur around the late Edo period of Japanese history (the mid to late 1800’s). This holds true also for any viable information on the past masters of these traditions. But why? When attempting such research, one must take into account the nature of the ryū-ha in question. Many traditions, especially those related to ninjutsu, survived due to an intense cloak of secrecy that was never compromised. This meant that the true name of the tradition was only known to the soke, or headmaster, and his eventual successor. Any name given to the public was a false name, used as a deceptive front and sometimes changed often. This still holds true today. Names such as Gikan-ryū, Togakure-ryū, & Shinden Fudo-ryū, for instance, are cover names used to hide the true title of the tradition. This explains why any research into the history of these given names ends up in utter futility on the part of the historian or researcher. This is also the case for past masters that are difficult to investigate. Names such as ‘Shinryuken Toda’ and even ‘Toshitsugu Takamatsu’ were ‘nom de plum’, or pen names, used to hide their true identity, past, and relations. Often, these men had several identities to help them maneuver quietly and undetected through dangerous times, such as the late Edo and early Meiji eras, for example. This protected not only the individual and the knowledge they held, but their families as well. Remember, these men were utter and true masters of illusion, disinformation, and psychological warfare. The proof of this is in the convincing of researchers or those of the ‘by the book’ mentality that the traditions and masters in question were either made-up or never truly existed, because no concrete evidence can be found to prove otherwise. Yet, as history has proven, just because evidence cannot be found does not mean that it does not exist. It simply is in the secretive hands of the headmaster of the tradition, kept safe from the hands of people of ill-intent, opportunists, deceptive con artists, and the public at large, and shown only in part to those who truly practice and sacrifice to help keep the tradition alive.
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