Gassankan Curriculum

Below we provide a high-level description of the curriculum of our school. At the Gassankan, we focus our Japanese martial arts practice on the Kashima-shinden Jiki Shinkage-ryu and related traditions, taught in a unified manner with compatible strategy, tactics, and body mechanics. We are informed by our knowledge of and skill at internal martial arts, and introduce concepts from Taijiquan and other internal martial arts when appropriate.

Jiki Shinkage-ryu: Habiki

Traditional Jiki Shinkage-ryu practices and kata are taught in the classical linear order, but we include a variety of associated practices that we use to further develop our skill. We practice the core of Jiki Shinkage-ryu and do so being mindful of external and internal body mechanics that allow for a dynamic and balanced expression of power. Fundamental practices include:

  • Unpo (walking meditation practice)
  • Ichi Enso (suburi with bokuto or furibo)

In Jiki Shinkage-ryu, the foundational practices of suburi and unpo us to begin to develop the posture, alignment, and breath required of the art. A substantial amount of time is spend on these seemingly simple movements before proceeding to the formal kata of the tradition.

Concepts introduced include A-Un kokyu, reverse breathing, proper posture, cutting actions, and kiai. These form the core of Jiki Shinkage-ryu. The focus of our training is then placed on the following sets of kata:

  • Hojo (Four Seasons)
  • To No Kata (Strategy)
  • Kodachi (Small Sword)
  • Habiki (Rebated Edge)

Hōjō no Kata: Hojo no Kata (法定之形) or "Four Seasons" kata provides a crucible that develops posture, distance, timing, spirit, and power in a swordsman, and provides the proper foundation for learning the strategy and tactics of the system. The kata is practiced in four parts, executed continuously, without break. Each part is reflective of a particular season, associated to a traditional Taoist element (i.e., Wood, Fire, Metal, Water) and connected via specific transitional movelements using unpo (representing the fifth element, Earth).

To no Kata: Once the body and spirit are developed sufficiently, the strategy and tactics of the art are taught as part of To No Kata. This set consists of 14 kata, typically performed with fukuro shinai to allow for full power practice within combative range. We explore applications of to no kata called kuzushi, and then conduct supervised free practice called tameshi ai with fukuro shinai (covered bamboo training swords) in order to improve our skill.

Kodachi: At higher levels of practice, a very aggressive set of kata with the small sword called a kodachi are taught, using very fierce kiai. Timing, distance, power, and balance are stressed. We learn how to off-balance and control an opponent at close range. This set of 6 kata can serve as an integration point within the style to older methods of armed grappling, although Jiki Shinkage-ryu no longer maintains a separate practice of yawara (jujutsu).

Habiki: Eventually, students are introduced to formalized paired practice with metal swords (called habikito). This set of four kata is an older, or hidden, version of Hojo. Habiki focuses on more advanced methods of kiai and kokyu, subtle methods to improve balance and connection, and the use of helical movements for offense and defense.

[*] Marobashi: The last set of kata in Jiki Shinkage-ryu are called marobashi, which is the name of an important principle of Shinkage-ryu. This set is not practiced at the Hobyokan, which instead maintains its own practice of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu.

Enso: Completing Our Practice

At the Gassankan, our primary focus lies in developing skill in the kata of Kashima-shinden Jiki Shinkage-ryu. That art defines the bulk of our practice and serves as a foundation and frame of reference from which we can begin to understand the core principles of swordsmanship and continue to develop our skill. It is a rich and deep tradition that can provide challenge and meaning over many years.

It is also the case that Jiki Shinkage-ryu has had its curriculum pared down over time, especially in lines (such as our own) that descend from the famous Sakakibara Kenkichi, bodyguard to the last Tokugawa Shogun in the late 19th century. As such, we find it helpful to explore specific approaches from related traditions as an adjunct to our core practice, in order to refine our understanding of a broad range of tactics. We do this primarily through the exploration of related lines of Shinkage-ryu, and also at times draw on our experience having trained in portions of the Katori Shinto-ryu. We examine these adjunct tactics in relation to the foundational practice of Jiki Shinkage-ryu and hope to, as a result, have a broad set of possibilities in our free practice. Free practice is an important part of our school, and in maintaining a tradition of tameshi ai, we try to practice Jiki Shinkage-ryu in a manner it was known for and respected by other arts.

We organize the curriculum we practice into three parts:

  1. The first section is the core of our practice. Here we begin learning swordsmanship and spend our time on the bulk of the formal curriculum of Jiki Shinkage-ryu (i.e., Hojo, To no kata, Kodachi), but include some additional tactics drawn from other lines of Shinkage-ryu in preparation for free sparring (tameshi ai).
  2. Once we have a strong foundation, and a set of tactics to draw upon in free practice, we explore variations, explanations, and applications of the Jiki Shinkage-ryu kata, both formally and in supervised sparring. This includes a small curriculum of armed grappling (kogusoku) using kodachi.
  3. Finally, we explore more advanced kata that refine our skill. This includes the fourth formal kata set of Jiki Shinkage-ryu (called Habiki), which is an older and more direct version of Hojo. We then expand on our study of older versions of the core kata of Shinkage-ryu, and can explore the use of other weapons beyond the sword and short sword.

This mapping and order is somewhat unique to the Gassankan, as we explore Jiki Shinkage-ryu and related arts in a syncretic or integrated manner.