“A true pacifist is able to kill or maim in the blink of an eye, but at the moment of impending destruction of the enemy he chooses non-violence.”
Having undergone special training in Shindo Yoshin-ryu jujutsu as a boy, Yukiyoshi Takamura left Japan while a teenager and eventually settled in San Jose, California, USA. He operated a dojo in California in the 1960s and 70s choosing to provide rigorous training to a small group of dedicated students. His art, now called Takamura-ha Shindo Yoshin-ryu, embodies the philosophy and spirit of an earlier era of Japan adapted to a Western setting. Takamura’s deep insights into the essence of martial arts will surprise and stimulate modern budo practitioners.
For our readers who are unfamiliar with the Shindo Yoshin-ryu system, would you talk about its origin and characteristics?
Shindo Yoshin-ryu was founded by a Tokugawa clan retainer, Katsunosuke Matsuoka in 1868. Matsuoka Sensei studied Yoshin-ryu, Hokushin Itto-ryu, Jikishinkage-ryu, Tenjin Shinyo-ryu jujutsu, and Hozoin-ryu. He based Shindo Yoshin-ryu on Yoshin-ryu, but added concepts from other schools as well. He believed that the Yoshin-ryu concept of passive defense was incomplete and needed the balance of positive heiho or tactics. The original Japanese characters of Shindo Yoshin-ryu were “new willow spirit,” but they soon were changed to “sacred willow spirit.”
The original Shindo Yoshin-ryu curriculum could be more correctly considered a bujutsu than jujutsu as many weapon techniques are included in the curriculum (mokuroku). However, the popularity of judo and the waning interest in weapons training resulted in much of their influence being lost by the early 20th century in the mainline martial arts traditions.
Several of the roots of our school begin in the early years. My grandfather Shigeta Ohbata was originally a Yoshin-ryu student of Hikosuke Totsuka like Matusoka. Totsuka was evidently quite fantastic. My grandfather trained at his dojo before he met Matsuoka Sensei. In his day, Totsuka was thought to be the match of anyone. An absolutely wonderful technician. In his prime, it is said he was unbeaten by anyone including opponents much larger than him.
Despite my grandfather’s great respect for Totsuka, he left the Yoshin-ryu after meeting a student of Matsuoka named Ishijima. Shigeta eventually received a menkyo kaiden (teaching license) in Shindo Yoshin-ryu around 1895. Matsuoka and Shigeta both trained in Jikishinkage-ryu under Kenkichi Sakakibara so they developed a close friendship. My grandfather did not intend to start his own school but had effectively done so by the early 20th century. This became known as the Ohbata school. He built his own dojo with the help of a friend named Hasegawa in the Asakusa district of Tokyo.
Shindo Yoshin-ryu is well-known in the Japanese karate world because Wado-ryu jujutsu kempo (karate) founder Hidenori Otsuka received a menkyo kaiden in Shindo Yoshin-ryu. A common misconception of most Wado-ryu practitioners is that Hidenori Ohtsuka became the headmaster of Shindo Yoshin-ryu. While he did receive a menkyo kaiden in Shindo Yoshin-ryu, several others did as well resulting in several schools. The original (Matsuoka) line succeeded through Motoyoshi Saruse to Tatsuo Matsuoka and still exists today in Japan.