Taira Shinken & Yamani-ryu

When I was learning Kobudo from Minowa sensei I could get away with asking him questions directly; something that my senpai would never be able to do. In hindsight I cringe at what I did, but when I trained with sensei it was during my first three years in Japan and I was so culturally inept and my Japanese was still developing.

Yet Minowa sensei never seemed annoyed, was always polite and answered my questions. He was like a grandfather talking to a young precocious child in some respects. At any rate, I don’t remember how we got on the topic but he mentioned that all of Taira Shinken‘s certificates relating to Bo-jutsu from Yabiku Moden referred to Yamani-ryu.

This was in the mid-1990s and what little Yamani-ryu I had seen looked nothing like the Bo-jutsu I was learning from Minowa sensei who in turn had learned it from Taira. The Yamani-ryu I had witnessed was like the demonstration done by Oshiro Toshihiro below; constantly moving and shifting.

Oshiro Toshiro – Sakugawa no kon

Fast-forward to the mid-2000s and now I was able to see many examples of Yamani-ryu; what I will label as ‘modern’ and ‘classical’. I’ve listed a few examples below including: Higa Kiohiko and Chinen Masami.

Higa Kiohiko – Sakugawa no kon

Kiohiko learned Yamane-ryu from his father Higa Seitoku who learned it from Chinen Masami (the most famous, modern Yamani-ryu teacher). His method has much less of the ‘modern’ Yamani-ryu flourishes of flow, etc and has more of an emphasis on power. What strikes me (no pun intended) is the similarity of many aspects of Taira Shinken’s kata mechanics to ‘classical’ Yamani-ryu (as seen in both Chinen’s and Higa’s kata performances), and how different and how different they are to ‘modern’ Yamani-ryu (Oshiro’s).

Chinen Masami – Sakugawa no kon

This begs the question, can Taira’s Bo-jutsu be considered Yamani-ryu? Or has it diverged so much that it has become its own entity? Most Kobudoka would argue the latter, especially when considering how modern Taira lineage Kobudo is presented today. Yet, I personally find it interesting to see that some of the DNA from ‘classical’ Yamani-ryu can still be seen in Taira’s Bo-jutsu.

Taira Shinken – Sakugawa no kon