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An Historical Overview


Shinto Muso-ryu jo
is said to be the oldest style in Japan for using a stick (jo) in combat. It was founded in the early 17th century by Muso Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi, an exponent of Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto-ryu. Shinto Muso-ryu oral tradition maintains that Gonnosuke once fought Miyamoto Musashi, one of the most famous swordsmen of the time, with a staff (bo) in a training match and was defeated by Musashi's cross-block (jujidome) technique.

According to legend, Gonnosuke was dissatisfied with this outcome and retired to Mt. Homan, in what is now Fukuoka Prefecture, in Kyushu, where he engaged in a series of religious austerities, all the while contemplating the reasons for his defeat. Finally, he received "divine" inspiration about a new method of using a staff-like weapon, making it shorter (128cm) and thinner (26mm) for more rapid manipulation. He devised a number of techniques for this new weapon, which he called a stick (jo) (as opposed to staff or bo), that included the use of the thrust of a spear, strike of a sword and staff and sweep of a naginata. Factual documents of the ryugi are quite rare. It is said that there is a record at Tsukuba Shrine, in Ibaragi Prefecture, that reports that Gonnosuke was able to defeat Musashi in a rematch.



Traditional Curriculum, Transmission and Training


Training is conducted in formal two person pre-arranged kata. In Shinto Muso-ryu jo there are a total of 64 kata which are divided into a number of sets, each with a different character. Training is systematic and develops the exponent's technical skills and psychological abilities, from body movement and weapons handling to the proper use of targeting, distancing and timing, and intense mental and spiritual training, all originally aimed to enable the exponent to successfully use the weapon in mortal combat.

Exponents begin their study of jo by learning a set of twelve basic techniques (kihon waza), which contain all the essential movements of the style. They then proceed through different sets of techniques of stick versus sword(s): omote, chudan, ran-ai, kage, samidare, gohon-no-midare, and okuden. A final set, the gokui hiden (also called gomuso-no-jo), consists of techniques that are taught only to exponents who have received a menkyo-kaiden, the highest level in the system.

Also included in the curriculum of Shinto Muso-ryu are twelve kata of the swordsmanship system called Shinto-ryu kenjutsu. The first eight kata are long sword vs long sword, followed by four kata that are long sword vs short sword. Authentic schools of Shinto Muso-ryu do not offer Shinto-ryu kenjutsu as a separate art, and consider it as omote for uchidachi's role in Shinto Muso-ryu with ura being the actual uchidachi kata of Shinto Muso-ryu jo. However, Shinto-ryu kenjutsu is not taught at the outset of an exponent's training.

There are five levels of recognition in Shinto Muso-ryu. They are okuiri-sho, shomokuroku, gomokuroku, menkyo and menkyo-kaiden. Holders of menkyo and menkyo-kaiden are the only people with a traditional "license", "qualification" or "certification" to legitimately represent the ryu in any official capacity, with the latter able to issue mokuroku and menkyo in Shinto Muso-ryu.

Okuiri-sho and mokuroku holders are essentially training assistants of kaiden-sha, not independent licensed teachers or transmitters of the ryu nor afforded the title of "Sensei" within the ryu. From the perspective of the ryu and densho each kaiden-sha is, in fact, the embodiment of the ryu as a Shihanke of their own Iemoto.

Therefore, an okuiri-sho or mokuroku absent a contuining active connection to a kaiden-sha holds little meaning, in and of itself, in terms of the densho. Such could be considered as an acknowledged practitioner of the ryu just doing and able to lead Keiko to varying levels rather than engaged in the process of transmission and possible succession of the ryu.[1]

In addition to Shinto Muso-ryu jo and Shinto-ryu kenjutsu, a number of associated arts are taught during an exponent's training. These are considered assimilated arts within Shinto Muso-ryu and include

  • Uchida-ryu Tanjojutsu (short stick)
  • Ikkaku-ryu Juttejutsu (truncheon)
  • Isshin-ryu Kusarigamajutsu (ball, chain and sickle)
  • Ittatsu-ryu Hojojutsu (Rope tying & restraining)

In authentic Shinto Muso-ryu dojo, both inside and outside of Japan, these assimilated arts as well as Shinto-ryu kenjutsu are taught in a particular order and at certain specific points in a exponent's progression within Shinto Muso-ryu as a whole for several very important reasons. As such, they're not taught separately or to beginners.

Enbu video clip of the first Kata in Shinto Muso-ryu Jo - Click here

[1] for more related infromation refer to Jodo-Jikai by Nishioka Tsuneo - Chapter - About the transmission of Jo - sections on Articles page.
Text adapted from Meik & Diane Skoss "Field Guide to the Japanese Classical Martial Arts" in Sword & Spirit: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, volume two. ©1999 Koryu Books.




"(In the world of martial arts) there are no kata as thoroughly developed as Shinto Muso-ryu Jojutsu's.
I believe Shinto Muso-ryu jojutsu is a national treasure." - Nakayama Hakudo


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