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Thread: Kashima Shin Ryu and Maniwa Nen Ryu

  1. #1

    Kashima Shin Ryu and Maniwa Nen Ryu

    In the glossary of the article linked in a recent thread on Nakayama Hakudo it is written:

    'Kunii Zenya: former Maniwa Nen Ryu Shihan and revisor (disputed creator) of Kashima Shin Ryu. He was recruited by Sasamori Junzo to participate in a bout against an American soldier armed with a rifle and live bayonet. He won the match without killing the soldier. Junzo used this as evidence that weapon based martial arts were as much about preserving life as they were about taking it. The ban on martial arts in Japan was soon after lifted.'

    What does this mean? To speak bluntly: was Kashima Shin ryu dead apart from dying untill Kunii Zenya came around? Did he revive (revise, recreate) Kashima Shin Ryu through his knowledge of the Maniwa Nen Ryu and whatever he learned elsewhere and the scrolls that were probably in his possession?

    I'm not questioning the value of the present day Kashima Shin ryu or whatever. As a Tomiki Aikido practioner I usually get bored by people who think that you need an unbroken line of teachers or an unchanged way of doing things since the beginning of time. I'm just curious and I know curiosity killed the cat.

  2. #2

    Under the Tokugawa regime, which came to power in 1600, the Kunii family maintained a quiet existence as country samurai in northern Japan, and were viewed with some degree of suspicion and hostility by the shogunate. For the next three hundred years, the Kashima-Shinryű remained largely outside the limelight of history, carried on in relative obscurity as a family tradition within the Kunii house. In the twentieth century, however, the art reached a new peak of development and fame under the eighteenth-generation s˘ke/shihanke, KUNII Zen'ya. Headmaster from 1914 until his death in 1966, Kunii devoted his entire being to the sword, combining the insights gleaned from a lifetime of severe physical and spiritual training to reexamine, revise, and refine almost every aspect of Kashima-Shinryű technique and philosophy in harmony with the spirit of h˘y˘-d˘ka, or "acceptance and resorption."
    I recall reading something in the forums about Kunii Zenya's Nen Ryu background recently, but IIRC it was a Nen Ryu from another town in Yamanashi prefecture, not Maniwa.

    It seems as though Kashima Shinryu is ultimately the work of Kunii Zenya, who was an extremely talented swordsman. How much is his own genius, stuff he borrowed from other schools, and the original material of the Kunii family art is an interesting question.

  3. #3
    The rumour seems to be that Kashima Shinryu is Kunii Zenya's reworking of (Maniwa) nen-ryu. Not sure why he would have wanted to change the name or rework the background of it (if thats what actually occurred), but there you go. I know nothing other than hearsay on the matter.
    George. Osaka, Japan. | |
    Subscribe to kenshi247 on facebook.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by George M. View Post
    The rumour seems to be that Kashima Shinryu is Kunii Zenya's reworking of (Maniwa) nen-ryu. Not sure why he would have wanted to change the name or rework the background of it (if thats what actually occurred), but there you go. I know nothing other than hearsay on the matter.
    I guess its an important question as to whether or not he was actually the heir to a family system called Kashima Shinryu or not. If so, then it doesn't matter if he stripped everything out and replaced it with stuff he learned in Jikishinkage Ryu and Maniwa Nen Ryu.

    If he simply wanted to break away from his teachers in Maniwa Nen Ryu and go his own way, and made up the whole thing, then obviously the art loses legitimacy as a koryu for those who care about those things. But I imagine it seemed like a good idea at the time.

  5. #5
    I guess this was a stupid question. I've read 'Legacies' and know the site of the Kashima Shin Ryu. I was a bit surprised when I read 'disputed creator'. I'm more interested in how such a (re)creation or (re)construction goes its way. And I guess I won't get an answer. Let's say I'm looking for the equivalent of HIPS by Ellis Amdur on the KSR.

  6. #6
    I no longer can locate the letter exchange I had with members of KaSr on just this subject, but the jist of it was that Kunii enrolled in Maniwa Nen-ryu when already seasoned as a practitioner of KaSR. Furthermore, he had no relationship with Jikishin Kage-ryu. Rather, founder of both JKr and KaSr (Matsumoto Bizen no Kami) were one and the same, and the two ryu developed in parallel tracks, and the 11th gen headmaster of KaSr received certification in JKr as well.
    At any rate, I do not see much similarity between Maniwa Nen-ryu and Kashima Shin-ryu. Their respective ways of cutting with a sword are very different.
    This meme regarding Kunii has certainly been extant in Japan for quite some time. I have wondered if it was a somewhat subtle way of "downgrading" a man whom most koryu practitioners were intimidated by.
    Ellis Amdur
    Author: Books and DVD regarding martial arts, as well as on the verbal control and de-escalation of emotionally disturbed individuals

  7. #7
    As stated above, I know nothing more than hearsay (and am, in fact, not bothered about Kashima Shinryu nor Kunii except as a peripheral academic interest) but - just to play devils advocate - is it not possible that information from his students or his students students could be bias?

    In my own research I've found the odd experienced and highly influential person to actually be mistaken about (or have very bias ideas about) historical 'facts.' Their sensei just told them that A was true, and they passed that on as is (without any addition I assume...). Nowadays we have a little bit more access to information, so can go ahead and research/check/research the claims. Of course, we can't confront our sensei with detailed research and say "hang on, you said X, but actually...."

    Anyway, just a thought. Good night!
    George. Osaka, Japan. | |
    Subscribe to kenshi247 on facebook.

  8. #8
    QUOTE from Patrick De Block: "What does this mean? To speak bluntly: was Kashima Shin ryu dead apart from dying untill Kunii Zenya came around?"

    QUOTE from George M.: "The rumour seems to be that Kashima Shinryu is Kunii Zenya's reworking of (Maniwa) nen-ryu. Not sure why he would have wanted to change the name or rework the background of it (if thats what actually occurred), but there you go."


    The suggestion that Kashima-Shinryu might be somehow related to Nenryu has never made sense to me. The problem is that the curriculum does not show it.

    The Kunii family describes Kashima-Shinryu as being a combination of their own family traditions as well as Jiki-Shinkageryu traditions. The curriculum conforms to this account. Students learn a tightly integrated system of kata, techniques, theory, and lore. Each set of kata contain many layers of meaning, the significance of which only become apparent when one advances to other kata. In other words, each single set of kata reinforce lessons taught in the other sets of kata. Moreover, oral initiations (kuden) inform all the kata. These kuden primarily focus on Kunii family lore, regarding this or that ancestor of the Kunii family and how this or that episode reveals something important about the kata. In addition many kuden also focus on how similar techniques or principles would be performed in Shinkageryu (such as Yagyu) or Jiki-Shinkageryu lineages. Variations in the ways that identical teachings have been transmitted in these sister lineages reveal important aspects of our own lore. It is important for students to have some knowledge of why other groups would prefer their approach and why we teach our approach. In short, one learns a great deal about Kunii family traditions as well as significant lore about related Shinkageryu and Jiki-Shinkageryu traditions.

    Some kuden concern what might be called extracurricular lore. Students learn about the stances (kamae), favorite techniques, and crucial weaknesses of other styles. Instructors sometimes use techniques of other traditions to challenge students. It is one way that students learn how to respond to those techniques. These extracurricular kuden concern many different traditions, some of which probably no longer exist (or at least I have never seen them) as well as many (but not all) of the usual suspects. Among these, their exist kuden on how to defeat Nenryu swordsmen. (That would be a strange place to find Nenryu origins.) In contrast to the lore associated with the Shinkageryu and Jiki-Shinkageryu traditions which reinforces the lore from the Kunii tradition, here the emphasis is simply on defeating this or that kind of foreign effort.

    Nonetheless there is something to the initial question, which I will rephrase as: "What does it mean to say that Kunii Zen'ya revived Kashima-Shinryu?" I have heard this assertion many times from Seki Humitake (the current shihanke of the style) without really understanding what it meant. Recently Seki published a book (titled: Kashima Shinden Bujutsu; or "Martial Arts of the Kashima Spiritual Tradition) that, among other topics, addresses this question. I will try to summarize Seki's explanation as briefly as possible. Here it is:

    Basically, the name "Kashima-Shinryu" literally means the "the teachings received via divine inspiration from Kashima." Over time the initial inspiration was lost and the kata became simple repetitions of inherited patterns divorced from reality. Kunii Zen'ya regained the original divine inspiration. In his early 20s (and subsequently) he performed advanced asceticism in the mountains, risking his life and health. It was a time in Japanese history when many people other than professional priests undertook shamanistic training regimes. They sought spiritual contact with what they saw as the ancient roots of Japanese culture --- which they then used to face the cultural transformations wrought by Japan's rapid industrialization. Kunii apparently fit into this pattern. In any case, through his ascetic training he attained an unshakable knowledge or confidence that gave him the strength to know and do the right thing --- ethically and morally right as well as physically and technically right. He believed himself to be practicing not just exercises that he had learned as a child, but quite literally "the teachings that he himself received via divine inspiration from Kashima." Thus, proper martial art training does not aim at strengthening one's selfish self (focused only on being able to defeat others), but aims a forging a strong vessel to receive right inspiration.

    That's the story. Is it biased? Of course it is. (How could it be otherwise?) But it is an insider's story that does not have to be reconstructed from hidden clues. And I have never been discouraged from asking hard questions or raising doubts or pointing to this or that contrary account from somewhere else. Moreover, the outside evidence that I have seen most recently actually collaborates the Kunii family account. In the time since Karl Friday's Legacy of the Sword was published, one colleague came across an old book in the library that reprints a 13th century document concerning Kunii family stewardship over the Kashima Grand Shrine. And a recently published Jiki-Shinkageryu document dated 1828 mentions a couple of swordsmen whose names appear in no other sources except for Kunii family documents. --- It is difficult to imagine how previously unknown early sources could collaborate the Kunii family account if was invented in the 20th century.

    Then there is the issue of chronology mentioned by Ellis Amdur. Although the Kunii family was locally prominent in Fukushima (where the tsunami and nuclear disasters hit), Kunii Zen'ya and his family's swordsmanship were totally unknown in Tokyo when he first arrived there. At that time he became friends with a Nenryu swordsman who also taught in Tokyo. He subsequently became friends with many other teachers of martial arts. But the Nenryu relationship was first and it is the one that some people seized upon. That friendship, though, began when Kunii Zen'ya was in his 30s --- well after he had become a fully formed martial artist.

    If anyone is interested in reading Seki's account as he tells it, then know that several excerpts from the initial draft of his recent book have been rendered into English. They are available on the Kashima-Shinryu website:

    Click on link titled: "Correctly Transmitted Kashima-Shinryu". This link should open a window with frames: the left frame holds a table of contents, and the selected essay appears in the right frame. The story I summarized above appears in the first essay titled "Correctly Transmitted Kashima-Shinryu" --- especially the subsection titled "The True Significance of Kashima Spiritual Transmission". Lower down a chronology of Kunii's early years appears in the series of essays titled "The Correct Transmission of My Teacher, Kunii Zen'ya".

    These essays represent an attempt to preserve unfiltered the stylistic features and points of emphasis as found in the original Japanese. They are not written for outsiders, but attempt to provide a context for information otherwise conveyed in kuden.

    I hope this information is helpful.

    . . . . William Bodiford


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