Brian Kagen pick: “Keppan – The Blood Oath: Part 2,” by Dave Lowry

“In some ryu (traditions of martial arts teaching) this oath was a written one and the prospective member was required to sign his name in his own blood. This is the meaning of the word keppan: a blood oath. He pricked his finger or sometimes his inner arm and with the blood drawn, signed the pledge. The pledge itself is referred to as a kisho or a kishomon. The particulars of these oaths varied from ryu to ryu. Often they were secret, their exact contents a part of the vow itself. One, dating from the early 18th century, which has been published many times, though, is probably typical. The kishomon of the Shibukawa ryu of jujutsu reads: ‘Now that I will receive your training, I swear that without your permission. I will not demonstrate nor instruct, not even the most minor detail to anyone, not even to my own family. Should I behave in a way as to break this pledge, I am resolved to face the punishments of all the gods of the country, and to receive the anger of the great martial deity Hachiman.'”

Brian Kagen is an avid web researcher with a particular interest in martial arts. His training background includes both judo and aikido. He has contributed hundreds of article links over the years for AJ readers.

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  1. …was told that a particular ryu of shuriken required the teacher to punish transgressions with death…

  2. Yes…that’s why it is a blood oath.

  3. In those days the Ryu were mostly formally retained by, or somehow connected to, the military of their day. The purpose was practical application in warfare. Strategic secrets, as we hear almost daily in the news, are deemed to be “matters of national security” which could alter the course of outcomes.
    In today’s world, most senseis are independent from any formal military connections and mostly teach to supplement their income, or to rake in pots money for their personal use, but are attached to no formal body.
    It was a different world then. People were not brought up to be as self-centered as the people of today. Whether they liked it or not, they lived to serve and they knew it. Today’s slaves like to imagine they are free because the word “free” keeps getting repeated a lot, but they fail to admit the discomfort of long work hours and mostly inequitable pay that neither gadgets nor chemical substances can allay.
    We now have The Official Secrets Act, or equivalents, for those formally retained, and the prospect of being disappeared as a deterrent. Or a severe reprimand from the head of state for the ranked, with the prospect of demotion with its attendant reduction of remuneration. This now works just the same the fear of non existent “gods” may have back then.
    There are no secrets that can’t be found out or reinvented.
    For an independent dojo to indulge in these mystical rituals in the context of today, whilst cute, is an ego inflated nonsense.
    Then, whether they liked it or not, people practiced to serve their clan and ultimately their perceived national interest. Now people train mostly as a hobby. There is an immense difference.
    When it comes to using Budo as a Way of self improvement and personal refinement, “an incessant and lifelong commitment to practice” is plenty good enough.

  4. One very real freedom, and for the vigilant, an enduring one, many nations now enjoy, is the freedom for people to gather for purposes of self-improvement, recreation, education, or any reason at all. The newer generations take this freedom for granted and mostly forget that it was not always so under the medieval, and even more recent methods of apartheid, because any gathering was supposed to imply a plot against the paranoiac despots of the day.
    It is a human right that had to be fought for over many thousands of years, was often gained and lost, and reclaimed again. Nota bene.
    Under the auspices of this very authentic, but often temporary freedom, the greatest freedom you can give yourself, notwithstanding all other matters being comparatively inequitable, is to take that freedom into your own hands and use it to improve yourself, educate yourself, learn worthwhile arts and skills that fulfill who you are and become enabled to serve for upliftment in the world, so we do not risk ending up going backwards again.
    On this basis, “an incessant and lifelong commitment” to improving yourself and discovering your potentials is no small thing.
    And Budo, by improving the units, ultimately improves society, by serving to nurture, protect and restore the family of humanity and to heal the life supporting systems on earth.

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