Japanese Bujutsu
The World's Most Effective
Martial Art

There is no doubt that the Samurai developed the world's most effective martial art. Our fascination with the legendary Japanese Samurai Warrior has not waned since the first contact of Westerners with Japan, centuries ago. One need only consider the present worldwide popularity of jujutsu, judo, karate, aikido, kendo, kyudo, and so forth, to appreciate the continuing influence of ancient Japanese methods of combat.

The ancient Japanese martial arts were developed and refined during a thousand years of direct experimentation on the battlefields of feudal Japan. Later, during the centuries of absolute isolation from the outside world, they were thoroughly revised and ultimately ritualized into the most effective systems of application and technique. The power of this martial art is attested to by the fact that it has deeply influenced and, in many instances, almost completely replaced other methods of individual combat practiced as part of the utilitarian and practical training programs of military and police forces, as well as for sporting purposes, the world over.

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Definition of Bujutsu and Its Specializations


Bu (martial, or combat)

Jutsu (art, method, or technique)

Bujutsu is the Japanese word for "martial art". The long history and complex tradition of the Japanese art of combat is embodied in a variety of forms, methods, and weapons, each of which constitutes a particular specialization of that martial art. Each specialization, in turn, is known as a jutsu, and is indicative of the particular way or ways in which certain actions are performed. In the context of the Japanese art of combat, therefore, a specialization (jutsu) consists of a particular, systematic method of using a specific weapon that has been proven to be the most effective means of utilizing that weapon.

Most often, a specialization of a martial art was identified by the name of the weapon, as in kenjutsu, that is, the art (jutsu) of the sword (ken). However, a combat method could also be identified by the particular, functional way of using a weapon. For example, jujutsu identifies the art (jutsu) of suppleness (ju), otherwise known as the "gentle art". Previously referred to as taijutsu, meaning the art (jutsu) of using the body (tai) as a weapon, it evolved into the concept of using the body in a certain way, that is, the art of using suppleness in a certain technical way in order to defeat an opponent. We will of course, have more to say on this concept of "suppleness", or ju, later.

Frequently, in the effort to develop the most effective means of using a weapon, a main specialization of combat would produce sub-specializations. In such a case, the sub-specialization would generally be identified by the name of its main feature. Kenjutsu, the art of the sword, for example, was further refined into a deadly specialization known as iaijutsu, the art of drawing (iai) and simultaneously cutting with the sword. Another sub-specialization of kenjutsu was nitto-kenjutsu, the art of fencing with two (nitto) swords (ken). Finally, a specialization could be identified by the name of the master who had devised his own particular style of martial art or by the name of the school where this particular style was taught.

Eventually, some methods of training became so heavily stylized for sport and entertainment purposes, they were no longer practical for combat, due to their rigidity and emphasis on aesthetics and safety. These methods became simply representational forms of real combat, and thus became known as budo, or way (do), rather than jutsu, i.e. Kendo, Judo, Aikido, Karatedo, etc.

The Japanese Invent the War College

The Japanese art of combat is embodied in a variety of forms, methods, and weapons, each of which constitutes a particular specialization of that martial art, and is studied separately. In the doctrine of the Japanese martial arts we find long lists of combat specializations. Below is only a short list that doesn't even include all of the chained weapons, improvised weapons, or any of the sub-specializations such as suibajutsu - crossing bodies of water on horseback.

Kyujutsu Archery
Sojutsu Spear (yari)
Naginatajutsu Glaive
Kenjutsu Sword (fencing)
Iaijutsu Sword (drawing)
Tantojutsu Knife, dagger
Jobajutsu Horsemanship
Senjojutsu Field deployment
Chikujojutsu Fortification
Hojutsu Musket
Yoroijutsu Armor
Suieijutsu Swimming in armor
Tessenjutsu War (iron) fan
Bojutsu Staff
Hojojutsu Binding prisoners

Unarmed Bujutsu

The chronicles of Old Japan indicate that many methods of "unarmed" martial arts were developed and applied by the Japanese during their centuries of feudal conflict, and a number of these methods are reported to have become important facets of the warrior's training.

By definition, a method of unarmed combat represents the most effective and ingenious way of employing the human body in combat in order to achieve the same strategic goals as those attainable through the use of weapons; that is capture, disable, or kill the opponent. Unarmed bujutsu is a system of attack that involves throwing, hitting, kicking, stabbing, slashing, choking, twisting and breaking limbs, pinning an opponent to the ground, and defenses against these attacks.

In Japan, the methods of unarmed martial art appear in the records under many names at different times, and at different places. A list of those encountered most frequently in the literature of feudal bujutsu is presented in alphabetical order, below.

All of these methods shared certain instrumental and functional characteristics which are intrinsic to the concept of all combat. All, for example, were based upon the use of the human body, properly trained, conditioned, and strengthened, as the primary instrument of combat. That concept is no different than that of kenjutsu, whereby the use of the sword, in the hands of one who is properly trained, conditioned, and strengthened, as the primary instrument of combat.

Ancient Methods of Unarmed Martial Art
chikara-kurabe kumiuchi
gusoku shinhaku (shubaku)
hakushi shinobi
jujutsu sumo
kenpo taijutsu (taido)
kiaijutsu torite
koshi-mawari wajutsu
koshi-no-wakari yawara

Some of these are early terms that eventually changed along with evolving concepts. Others are terms used within specific schools to describe their particular philosophy or application. Still others are minor variations, or the meanings have been lost over time. Our main concern here is only with Military (Samurai) unarmed bujutsu, therefore, we will limit our discussion to the most effective and well-known surviving method of military unarmed martial art, jujutsu.

[Side Note: For a discussion on the most effective “Civilian” unarmed martial art, click on this link to read about Kenpo.]

Techniques of Unarmed Bujutsu

The masters of bujutsu, from the sixteenth century onward, had inherited a vast number of unarmed martial art techniques (waza) from the past to which they added to it their own variations and innovations. All of these techniques were intended to neutralize the opponent's offensive attempts, as well as to achieve the opponent's subjugation, by any means necessary.

The Japanese unarmed martial art of jujitsu is distinguished from those of other regions by its proficiency in techniques of projection (throwing) known as nage-waza. These techniques are comprised of a variety of ways in which particular movements of the human body can be used to off-balance an opponent before projecting him down to the ground. The purpose of nage-waza is to injure or stun the opponent upon impact with the ground, rendering him incapable of continuing the fight, or making him vulnerable to the fatal blow. The heavy armor the samurai used in battle made him top-heavy, therefore easy to off-balance, and easy to throw to the ground. Samurai Armor

A soldier in full battle armor, once on the ground, became extremely vulnerable. Although samurai armor was easier to maneuver in than European armor, it was still difficult to get up quickly from the ground. The main reason this was a vulnerable position is that weak spots in the armor became more accessible (neck, sides, under arm, and the crotch). The armor was constructed in a way that makes it most effective in withstanding direct thrusts and downward blows. This left weaknesses that could be exploited by upward thrusts. For example, the main purpose of the spear in combat was not to throw or thrust directly at the opponent. The spearman's duty was to thrust upward at soldiers on horseback, taking advantage of the weak points in the horseman's armor.

The category of nage-waza contained hip projections (koshi-waza), so called because the hip was the main fulcrum of off-balancing (kuzushi) and projection used against an opponent. Also included were the hand projections (te-waza) used to control the upper body, and the leg projections or reaps (ashi-waza) were used against the lower body.

Also included under the heading of nage-waza were such techniques known as self-sacrifices (sutemi) in which a fighter, grasping an opponent firmly, would fall to the ground voluntarily--hurling his opponent into the air over his own falling body in a spectacular projection. Nage-waza, though the distinguishing factor of Japanese arts, is only a part of a vast system of unarmed bujutsu.

The dangerous techniques of strangulation (shime-waza), which provided innumerable ways of interrupting the flow of blood to an opponent's brain, or of air to his lungs, thus attacking the very roots of his capacity to perceive and react, were also a part of most systems. Techniques of dislocation (kansetsu-waza) were actions directed against an opponent's joints, thus rendering him incapable of pursuing an attack or defending himself effectively. And, of course, these martial art systems contained techniques of percussion (atemi-waza) based on the delivery of powerful blows and kicks directed against vital centers of the opponent's body; although in actual combat, such striking against a fully armored person would be pointless, so blows were used to off-balance (kuzushi) the opponent in preparation for a throw.

In addition, almost all the major systems contained groups of techniques of immobilization, known as osae-waza and joint-locking (kansetsujo), which could be used effectively to subdue an opponent, whether standing or on the ground, without causing him serious injury, often using pressure-point or nerve centers (shioku-waza). These techniques were particularly useful in combat when an opponent had to he taken alive and were, therefore, favored by police forces in the towns and castle precincts of feudal Japan.

Finally, each unarmed martial art system included a variety of defensive techniques particularly devised to neutralize an attempted strike, projection, immobilization, or strangulation.

These techniques of "unarmed" combat could be used individually (as, for example, when a single, well-delivered blow directed at a vital spot in the opponent's anatomy put an end to the encounter right then and there). But more than likely, to be most effective, one would need to use them in combination; that is, a kick, followed immediately by a projection (throw), and finishing the opponent off with a strangulation, or possibly with the thrust of a knife into a weak spot in the armor.

Application of Unarmed Techniques

It is obvious that all these martial art techniques could be deadly, and they usually were when applied in actual combat. A projection (throw), directed in such a way as to force an opponent to fall awkwardly, twisting his spine for example, could result in a serious fracture. The same observation could be made concerning techniques of dislocation, while those of strangulation, if prolonged unduly beyond the stage of initial loss of consciousness, could cause death.

Equally lethal were the techniques of percussion, when directed at the most vulnerable points of the body. However, for purposes of training or practice with a partner, ways were found to reduce the harmful effects of utilitarian combat. These techniques could also be applied within the framework of safe, representational combat in demonstrations or in open competition. An example would be the famous method of unarmed wrestling known as Sumo.

The reason these techniques could be utilized just as well off the battlefield as on it, is that one must first learn to do the techniques without armor, then practice them with armor. However, the main focus of the samurai’s training was always preparation for war, and war was conducted in full armor with weapons. Unarmed combat always had a secondary role.

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The Evolution of Military Specializations of Unarmed Bujutsu

With the ancient names of gusoku, kumiuchi, yawara, taijutsu, jujutsu, aikijutsu, and so forth, we begin to find methods of the martial art generally qualified as "unarmed". I say generally because they usually appear with, although differentiated from, the other traditional methods of armed combat practiced by the feudal warriors of Japan. We have no way of knowing with any degree of certainty whether they were all truly unarmed methods in a total sense, or whether they involved the subsidiary use of weapons in their strategies. Careful observation of jujutsu systems, even as they are practiced today, as well as simple logic, will tell us the latter is most likely.

In feudal Japan, weapons of any sort, whether legally carried and used by the warrior, or camouflaged for use by members of other classes of Japanese society, were the norm rather than the exception. In those methods of unarmed combat which have survived, such as jujutsu, and kenpo, as well as their modern derivatives, judo, aikido, karate, it is still possible to detect techniques clearly inspired by the use of swords, spears, sticks, parriers, and whirling blades of various kinds. Although an important part of warrior training, techniques of projection, percussion, strangulation and dislocation were always considered part of weapons techniques, or an action of "last resort", if caught without weapons!

The samurai’s weapons, especially his sword, defined him as a group, and as an individual.

  1. With a warrior class so armed, both on and off the battlefield, it is foolish to think they wouldn't use them.
  2. On the battlefield, unarmed martial art techniques were most effective when used in conjunction with weapons, and unarmed techniques became of primary use only if weapons were broken, exhausted or lost.
  3. Off the battlefield, if suddenly caught off guard, unarmed combat techniques could be used to fend off an attack just long enough for a chance to draw one’s weapon.

Battlefield Techniques Find Off-Battlefield Uses

The records of most martial arts schools link the origin of their techniques to those troubled times of social struggle from centuries of uninterrupted warfare which extended from the eleventh through the sixteenth centuries. By comparison, the Tokugawa period which followed, with its tight controls and rigidly maintained order, would appear to have been a discouraging period for those interested in the development of unarmed bujutsu. Combat between armies was now rare, therefore battlefield innovation suffered. However, indications are that individual combat actually increased! Law enforcement now became the focus of unarmed martial arts.

This new era of relative peace was particularly suited to the quiet, painstaking collection and organization of all the unarmed practices of combat inherited from the past. Techniques were then further refined, improved, or modified in the light of new circumstances and in accordance with the pressure of the times, customs, laws, and so forth. With this changing society, the focus of unarmed combat began to shift from an attitude of "weapons first", to the slightly more civilized approach of "fists first". One might picture it like the Wild West. When everyone had a gun, arguments were settled, of course, with guns. But once the sheriff came to town, other methods had to be found by which to resolve differences.

From the seventeenth to the eighteenth centuries, therefore, a growing number of martial art schools began to specialize in the methods of unarmed bujutsu for non-battlefield use. Most of these, in fact, appear to have been offshoots or branches of certain central "mother schools" that only differed among themselves in regard to the type and degree of emphasis placed upon the various functionalities of the human body in combat.

At this point, a growing trend began to emerge from the central schools. The most effective means of unarmed combat was found to be techniques based on the concept of ju, or suppleness. Therefore, the art increasingly became known as jujutsu. This does not mean that ju was a new concept in combat styles. It was already an important concept in virtually all Japanese bujutsu. Only now, it was being studied in depth as to its application to unarmed combat.

Jujutsu Emerges as Dominant Method of Unarmed Combat


The term jujutsu means, literally, technique or art (jutsu) of suppleness, flexibility, pliancy, gentleness (all varying renditions of the ideogram JU). All these terms represent a single principle, a specific way of using the human body as a weapon in unarmed combat. According to certain authorities, the name jujutsu, and possibly the art itself, appeared during the early seventeenth century and is referred to in books dealing with the martial arts, such as the Bugei Shogen and Kenpo Hisho.

The principle of ju, as applied to unarmed combat strategies, consists in adapting quickly to the tactical maneuvers of an opponent, in a specific way designed to utilize his maneuvers and the force (momentum) behind them to subjugate him or, at the very least, neutralize his attack. Jujutsu techniques are most effective when they avoid meeting force with force. Instead, they employ circular rather than linear movements, with the defender moving out of the initial line of attack. This causes the opponent to overextend himself, thus taking him off balance. You may then use his own momentum against him.

Certain central martial art schools began to build their entire program of unarmed combat around the concept of ju, or the art of ju; jujutsu. Many schools such as the Kito ryu (ryu means school, method or style), were famous for their techniques of projection based on the principles of ju; others, such as the Takenouchi ryu, were noted for the perfection of their techniques of immobilization; still others, such as the Tenjin-Shinyo ryu, were famed for the power of their techniques of percussion. These central schools differed only in relation to the predominance of certain strategic ideas concerning the value of attack, counterattack, or defense in unarmed combat. But all were firmly rooted in the principles of jujutsu.


[Side Note: To learn more about these "Old Schools of Jujutsu", click on this link.]

The most effective techniques of a school were often absorbed by and merged with those of other schools, thereby creating a strictly correlated whole. Eventually, these schools were blended to a point where all were teaching pretty much the same techniques.

It should not surprise us then, to learn that particular martial art schools which call for the use of the body mainly as a weapon of projection, were sufficiently comprehensive to include an impressive repertoire of blows and kicks. Finally, all these arts, as we have indicated, show the pervasive influence of armed techniques, such as those used in spear-fighting and swordsmanship, upon their own techniques of blocking, evasion, and counterattack.

In these changing times, military schools needed to adapt, or become extinct. Techniques that wouldn’t work with armor now became primary, rather than secondary techniques. For instance, various methods of effectively striking an opponent in combat in order to achieve his subjugation without resorting to the use of mechanical weapons or any other techniques, now took on a new roll in unarmed combat, now that armor was less of an issue.

But the fact remains, Samurai still trained for battle, and battle was conducted in armor where striking was not as effective (except for kuzushi). So jujutsu continued to place a lower emphasis on the striking techniques of unarmed combat.

Jujutsu in the Modern World

Up until the 20th century, jujutsu was always studied and practiced strictly for the purpose of combat: win or lose, defeat or be defeated, subjugate or be subjugated, kill or be killed! As Japan’s long feudal era "officially" ended, new ideas emerged regarding the practice of bujutsu. Martial arts were now frowned upon by a government desperately seeking to erase the past and force Japan into the modern world.

The Ritual

Many sought to preserve the past in a way acceptable to the new attitudes, and that was to turn martial arts into nothing more than a "ritualistic representation" of combat that had been practiced in feudal Japan. It was intended, that is, as a form of social communication, with gestures performed and weapons used symbolically to express an idea, evoke a mood, establish and confirm a tradition, or to even romanticize or put one at ease with the violence of the past. Bujutsu became a ceremony or a spectacle, a part of the pageantry and national lore of a country.

Of course, representational combat had existed for centuries, whether used to demonstrate one's prowess in a particular martial art, or to teach the most effective technique for a specific situation. However, now the ritual became the art, with no intention of ever actually using it in combat.

Kabuki Samurai
This ritualization is evident in such things as the performance of the kembu, or sword dance, once stemming from the ancient kagura, but now only performed by theatrical companies. In most cases, these plastically impressive sequences of formalized exercises (kata) no longer bear any resemblance to actual combat techniques, often purposely distancing them from any possibility of the ritualization of otherwise lethal actions.

The Esoteric

In the development of Japanese bujutsu, the samurai characterized states of mind that a warrior should be able to attain in combat to facilitate victory. First, there is the concept known as fudoshin (literally "immovable mind"). It is a state of equanimity or imperturbability, a single-mindedness that will let nothing stand in the way of accomplishing a goal, in this case, to vanquish an opponent. This state goes far beyond simple determination. Many samurai were said to continue fighting, even after sustaining multiple seemingly fatal wounds.

Also, there is the spontaneity of mushin (literally "no mind"), which allows immediate action without conscious thought. Athletes refer to this state as being in the "zone"; when there is no thought process, the body simply acts in the correct and most effective manner. Finally, there is the all-encompassing awareness called zanshin (literally "remaining spirit"). This is a state where all of the senses are functioning at peak levels; a state in which the practitioner is ready for anything, at any time, even after the opponent has been defeated!

Together, these states of mind prepare the warrior's psyche for combat, allowing him the utmost potential for reaction. It strengthened the personality and developed the character of a man, thus enabling him to face, without flinching, the hostile and dangerous reality of combat, that is, to kill, and to die.

There were some who believed these heightened mental states could be used as devices for social and universal development. By employing these concepts on expanded levels and for superior purposes, they believed the principles of the warrior could help a man to mute the turbulence of his inner and outer reality. They believed this would allow him to achieve a preliminary understanding of himself, of his limits and possibilities, as well as a realistic assessment of the control he could exercise over his own emotional and intellectual responses to reality. Only then could he engage in that reality fruitfully, with another man, so that both could live and prosper in the balanced and centralized harmony of life.

At this level, however, the art ceases to be a martial art. It enters the realms of those disciplines of introspection wherein the warrior and combat become only distant memories of a primitive dimension, ritualized and ultimately transmuted into a philosophy, a particular "way" (do) of looking at reality and of living. It is foolish to think that any form of stylized gesturing and formal exercises (kata), no matter what type of idealistic philosophy is applied to them, can ever be any more than an attempt to sterilize and socialize something that was designed to (and often did) terminate a human life.

The Sport

Jujutsu, as with any art, evolves, grows and changes over time. Traditionally, "new ways" are supposedly discovered (or more accurately, re-discovered), and given new names. However, another trend is emerging, like the ritualistic and esoteric trends already mentioned, that may ultimately destroy the entire concept of ju. That is, the idea that jujutsu can be a sport.

Self Defense Secrets

Now don't get me wrong. I believe very strongly that there should be a sporting aspect to jujutsu training and any martial art. There must be a method available to "test" one’s acquired skills, and learn from mistakes, when the stakes are not life and death. Competition should be an important part of the learning process. The problem is that too many are focusing only on the competition.

Few truly traditional jujutsu schools remain, even in Japan. Most that call themselves jujutsu are really Judo. The focus on judo style competition is so heavily stressed that there is little time left to study the true concepts of ju.

Jujutsu refers to the combat systems practiced in their original forms. Judo is an altered form of jujutsu that removes components considered to be dangerous (and therefore, the most effective), and because it has strict rules, it is a sport and not a combat system. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is another divergence of jujutsu from martial art to sport. It has rules which confine the available strategies to win. Therefore, it is Judo.

Another problem is in the exposure and "blending" with non-ju styles. Probably due to the impatience of modern society, and the availability of so many different styles, people go from one martial art to another, never mastering any. They are all trying to pick up techniques from each different system in an effort to "create" some wonderful "new" fighting system, and what they mistakenly believe will be the most effective martial art.

We have seen the recent proliferation of "new" so-called eclectic martial arts that are someone's unique blending of jujutsu with other arts such as wing chun and escrima. We now have, "Karate, mixed with jujutsu, mixed with kenpo and with boxing"; otherwise known as Kajukenbo. What nonsense! By attempting to integrate multiple styles, often with conflicting strategies, you inevitably end up with an incongruent mish-mash of techniques that have no focus, no underlying principle, and a whole that is much less than the sum of its parts.

[Side Note: If you want to learn how Jujutsu compares to other martial arts, click on this link.]

This blending has led to the rise of a style of competition known as "mixed martial arts", evident in the popular new formats of PRIDE Fighting Championships, and Ultimate Fighting Championship. Most of the (successful) competitors in these formats claim to have a background in jujutsu. But, anyone who watches these types of competition quickly realizes that there is certainly no ju in this jujutsu!

Accordingly, genuine jujutsu practitioners (jujutsuka) use every conceivable technique to win in combat. There are no rules in jujutsu, and hence it may not be considered a sport. A "sport" must have rules to protect the safety of competitors. Jujutsu was utilized by the Japanese Samurai whose only goal in combat was to fight well, kill many enemies and survive; or die honorably. In the modern world, jujutsuka learn defenses against realistic attacks. Jujutsuka also study the application of strategies against multiple attackers.

There are factors within the martial arts, jujutsu especially, that cannot be developed with a concentration on competition; those factors such as fudoshin, mushin, and zanshin, as previously discussed. Such effectiveness and the technical competence and mental mastery on which it stands, is possible only after a considerable period of serious and devoted training. This training must spend considerable time working on the fundamental concept of ju. By focusing only on competition, where rules ensure the risk of injury is greatly reduced, one loses sight of the powerful potential for serious injury, or even death, within every technique. This risk is what cultivates the heightened awareness needed in these evolved mental states.

Not only does jujutsu maintain the instruction of dangerous techniques which can result in serious injuries, jujutsu also maintains the emphasis on cooperative training. This prevents serious injury, and allows the pupil to learn the full breadth of a technique's dynamic (from static learning to dynamic combat) in a progressive fashion. Since students train in a non-competitive environment, training in jujutsu is perhaps no more risky than training to ice skate or to do gymnastics.

Students are taught to control their actions so that a potentially deadly maneuver can be practiced safely. They learn to understand the potential of the technique and know how to step up the level of force if needed. This is the most effective method of developing the warrior's mind. Competition alone simply cannot do this. Competition is fine, just don't lose sight of the goal. Real Combat!

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Martial Arts -- Black Belt -- Jujitsu Program
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So, what Now?

When looking for a school that teaches real jujutsu, you must ensure that even if competition is involved, more time is spent on instruction where the concepts of ju, fudoshin, mushin and zanshin are stressed. This is the type of instruction you will find in Budoshin Jujutsu schools. The traditional ideals of the world's most effective martial art are not neglected for the sake of ceremony, spirituality or sport.

If you want to learn jujutsu, then you will want to learn more about the different forms of unarmed martial art that have actually continued to improve over time. "Complete" martial arts have all of the tools necessary to be able to evolve and adapt with the times. Follow these links to learn more:

  • Budoshin Jujitsu - Budoshin Jujitsu Schools (Dojo) are the very best martial arts schools you can find. These martial arts schools offer more than most jujitsu schools; they provide complete martial art instruction.
  • Combat Jujitsu - Combat Jujitsu is used by US Military Special Operations Forces! It is the deadliest and most effective martial art known to man, and would certainly be classified in the category of Extreme Martial Arts.
  • Jujutsu, Jujitsu, or Jiu Jitsu? - Are you confused about the different spellings? Are these different martial arts? Get the facts here!

Mark A. Jordan
Rokudan (6th Degree Black Belt)
Budoshin Ju-Jitsu


Ratti/Westbrook - Secrets of the Samurai; Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1973

Skoss, Diane - Koryu Bujutsu: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan; Koryu Books; 1997

Mol, Serge - Classical Fighting Arts of Japan; Kodansha International Ltd.; 1970

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

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