Gyokko Ryuu Kosshijutsu (玉虎流骨指術) [Jade Tiger School]

According to Kuden, the verbal tradition in Gyokko ryu, the system was developed in China during Tang-dynasty. There are two possible origins. Either there was a guard at the palace who developed the system after his small body, or it was developed by a princess. This is in accordance to the system of movement, which implies that it was developed by a physically smaller person.

According to another source, a famous musician and authority on the history of music by the name of Mr. An of Xian in China, there was a woman by the court in Xian (which was the main residence of Tang-dynasty), who was very famous for her skills in dancing and martial arts. By the fall of Tang-dynasty, year 907, many people of high stations in society escaped from China to Japan. The name that is connected to the origin of Gyokko ryu in Japan is Yo (or Cho) Gyokko. It could have been introduced by a single person, but it also might have been a whole group.

The first formal grandmaster in Japan was Hakuunsai Tozawa, who appeared some time during the period of Hogen (1156-1159). How he got the title, and how he got knowledge of the system is unknown. But Gyokko ryu, which means "Jewel Tiger", is according to Dai Nippon Bugei Ryu Ha one of the oldest documented martial arts in Japan.

The system was brought on and kept alive during Kamakura, Nambuko and Muromachi period, by the Suzuki family. In the 16th century it came to the Sakagami family, and between 1532 and 1555, the methods were organized by Sakagami Taro Kuniushige, who called the system Gyokko ryu Shitojutsu. The next supposed grandmaster, Sakagami Kotaro Masahide, was killed in battle 1542. Because of this, the title was passed on to Sougyoku Kan Ritsushi (also known as Gyokkan Ritsushi). Sakagami Kotaro Masahide was also known as Bando Kotaro Minamoto Masahide, and he was supposed to be the grandmaster of Koto ryu koppojutsu as well. He was never registered in Koto ryu, and his name is only mentioned in some of the lists of Gyokko ryu grandmasters.

Sougyoku Kan Ritsushi, who either came from the Kishu area or belonged to Kishu ryu, renamed Gyokko ryu Shitojutsu to Gyokko ryu Koshijutsu. He had some students who, in the 18th century, founded different schools based on Gyokko ryu and knowledge from Sougyoku.

In spite of the fact that two of the schools founded by Sougyoku Kan Ritsushis students went on to Takamatsu Toshitsugu and Hatsumi Masaaki, Gyokko ryu went it's own way along with Koto ryu. The schools went to Toda Sakyo Ishinsai and Momochi Sandayu I. After that, the schools remained in the Toda and Momochi families until Takamatsu, who was the last of the Todas to learn the arts, passed the schools to Hatsumi Masaaki.

It is thanks to the Toda and Momochi families' activities in the Iga province that the schools has come to belong to the local ninjutsu tradition, despite that the schools themselves were not really ninjutsu. Another connection in history is that Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu, Takamatsu's teacher and uncle, is said to be a descendant of Hakuunsai Tozawa's.

Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu taught Takamatsu that the most important thing is to study the techniques of Kihon Kata, also known as Kihon Happo, since they are the basis of all martial arts. This means that Kihon Happo covers all methods that are effective in real combat such as blocks, punches, kicks, breaking of wrists and elbows, and throws. The methods of Gyokko ryu are based on Koshijutsu (attacks against soft parts of the body). The strategy differs therefore very much from for example Koppojutsu, which concentrates on the bone structure.

While Koppojutsu motions goes in and out to come at right angles to the joints, Koshijutsu moves sideways, or around the attack, to get close to Kyoshi (the weak parts of the body). These targets can be nerve points, but also inner organs, or muscles and where the muscles are attached. One of the reasons for this system is probably because it was developed by a small person. The power in the counterattacks is therefore not generated by muscles, but by the hips and the spine. This is shown for example by the way of blocking, which concentrates on a powerful block to break the opponents balance, and thereby reaching the weak points of the body. An important detail in order to move close to the opponent, is that the back hand is always held in front of the face as a guard against counterattacks.

A frequently used body weapon in Gyokko ryu are the fingers and the fingertips. This is the reason for the earlier name Shitojutsu, which means techniques with the fingertips. Shitoken, also known as Boshiken, is the most common finger strike. This is a strike with the tip of the thumb, most often against where the muscles are attached or nerve points. The bone by the wrist is also a weapon, which is used for blocking, hits against Kasumi (the temple), etc. Another way of hitting is to push the knuckle of the middle finger in front of the other knuckles in a modified Shikanken. It is not only Boshiken that has another name in Gyokko ryu. Shutoken is called Kitenken, for example.

The thumbs are important in Gyokko ryu. It is mostly shown in the three official stances: Ichimonji no kamae, Hicho no kamae, and Jumonji no kamae, where the thumbs always are directed upwards. The reason is that the energy always should flow freely, and there should be no lockups in the movement. In Gyokko ryu it is important to protect the heart. Therefore a starting position with the right leg forward is preferred, so that the left side is turned away from the opponent. Shoshin no kamae, Doko no kamae — "Angry tiger", and Hanin no kamae are also said to belong to Gyokko ryu.

Gyokko ryu consists of several parts. First there is Kamae no kata (stances) and Taihen Kihon (falls). The next step is Ki kata, also known as Sanshin no kata. Ki kata teaches basic movements based on the five elements. These movements reoccur in all techniques in Gyokko ryu. After that comes Kihon kata and Toride Kihon kata, which are basic exercises for punches, kicks, blocks, grabs and throws. There are different statements on how many the exercises are, and which exercises that belongs. Usually there are three exercises for punches, kicks and blocks, and five or six for grabs and throws. The last are trained from both sides.

After all these basic exercises, you come to Koshijutsu. Koshijutsu is split in three main parts:

Joryaku no maki - Unarmed vs Unarmed
Churyaku no maki - Unarmed vs Tanto or Kodachi
Geryaku no maki - Unarmed vs Ken or Yari

Mutodori from Geryaku no maki are techniques against sword or spear and is considered to be the highest, and most difficult level of Gyokko ryu.

Gyokko ryu was, beside the Koshijutsu, also known for it's methods with Katana, Tanto and Bo. Except for some techniques with Bo, very much of this is unknown. More of this will probably be known, however, since Hatsumi Masaaki is releasing more information on the subject.

Even though Gyokko ryu can not claim to be a ninjutsu school, due to the lack of philosophy among other things, there is one saying that has followed the school: "Bushigokoro wo motte totoshi no nasu", which means "The heart of a warrior is precious and essential".

October 1995:
by Peter Carlsson; Contributed by Mats Hjelm

Gyokko ryū uses distance to avoid attacks and break down the opponent. Many sources claim that Gyokko (玉虎) means 玉 (gyoku) [jewel] and 虎 (tora) [tiger], but my research suggests that 玉 actually refers to 'Jade' rather then jewels. The kanji 玉 in Chinese means jade and if the history of Gyokko ryū is accurate, then the founder's title or nickname was 玉虎 (gio̍khó͘) or Jade Tiger. Jade was often associated with royalty or the court and was often used in names and titles concerning royal persons. 

Gyokko ryū and Kotō ryū are closely related and feel like two sides of the same coin. The idea of Inyō (陰陽) [yin and yang] is often applied when thinking about Gyokko and Kotō ryū. In practice Gyokko ryū feels wide and extended, keeping the opponent at range and striking from angles the opponent can't protect themselves from. Gyokko techniques will often move to the left or right of the opponent and break down the muscles of limbs before moving in to strike the head or neck. Gyokko ryū is kosshijutsu or a muscle breaking style of martial arts. Gyokko uses strikes to muscles and nerve clusters to weaken an opponents posture and balance, whereas Koto ryū attacks the skeletal structure directly. Trained together, Gyokko and Koto ryū are an overwhelming force of strikes to both the muscles and bones, breaking the opponent down and crushing them.

Gyokko ryū is akin to a tiger fighting another tiger, whereas Koto ryū is closer to a tiger hunting prey. This analogy alludes to facing opponents with different skill levels, although Gyokko ryū will work on low skilled opponents, its purpose is more suited to facing equally or higher skilled opponents. 

Gyokko ryū is organised into three levels, Jyōryaku (上略), Chūryaku (中略) and Geryaku (下略). Each level contains a series of techniques, working around a certain theme. Jyōryaku techniques are close combat techniques against unarmed opponents; Chūryaku techniques deal with close combat and the shōtō (小刀); while Geryaku deals with mutodori (unnarmed against weapons) and the daishō (大小 - short and long sword).

The Kihon Happō is also derived from Gyokko ryū and builds the foundation for many other techniques and movements found in other schools of the Bujinkan.

Jyōryaku no Maki - 上略之巻 

Kokū (Empty void) - 虚空

As the attacker, launch into the strike without overextending. Follow up with a thrusting kick to the upper legs to break the balance. 

The opponent attacks with a right strike. Block the attack with the left arm and strike down with a shuto to the hoshi (anterior interosseous nerve under the flexor pollicis longus muscle) of the opponent's arm. The opponent then attacks with a right kick. Kick up to the opponent's leg with the left leg, then thrust into the opponent's butsumetsu (axillary nerve) with a left boshiken. Assume zanshin.


Renyō (Aristocrat's palanquin) - 輦輿

As the attacker, strike to the face of the defender and follow up with a kick. As the kick is swept to the left, reach out and grab the defender by the lapel. 

The opponents attacks with a right strike. Block the strike with the right arm on the outside. When the opponent kicks, sweep the kick aside with the right leg. As the opponent grabs the left lapel, cover with the left hand and ura shuto to the neck. Apply an ura gyaku to the opponents hand with the right hand, while applying pressure to the elbow with the left hand. As the opponent tries to stand up, apply an omote gyaku to the wrist and kick to the chest. Assume zanshin.

Danshu (Snapping the Hand) - 彈手

As the attacker, grab the wrist or sleeve and pull the opponent into you while punching to their throat, neck or face. 

The opponent grabs the wrist and punches. At the same time, turn the wrist to the right to apply an ura gyaku and block the strike with the left arm. Strike to the left side of the neck (amedo) with a shuto and grab the opponents left wrist with the left hand. Apply takeyori to the wrist while you kick down on the opponents rear knee. Bring the opponent to the ground and kick to the chest. Assume zanshin.

Danshi (Snapping the Finger) - 彈指

As the attacker, grab the lapel and strike with the opposite hand in fudouken. Pulling or driving the tori into the attack is acceptable.

The opponent grabs the lapel and strikes with opposite hand to the face. Shift back and deflect the strike applying omote gyaku to the grabbing wrist. Follow up with a strike to the chest with shitouken then kick to the opponents lead leg with the rear leg, applying gyaku shime to the wrist and throwing them to the ground, kick to the chest. Assume zanshin.

Gyakuryū (Counter-current) - 逆流

As the attacker, strike with a migi joudan tsuki followed by a migi gedan keri. Anticipate the keri kaeshi and pull the leg back to hichou, then strike with a hidari gedan tsuki to the opponent's suigetsu. 

The opponent strikes with a hidari joudan tsuki. Deflect with migi ichimonji and open the legs to encourage a keri. When the uke kicks with a hidari geri, use keri kaeshi to deflect. The uke draws the keri back to avoid the keri kaeshi and immediately strikes in with a migi gedan tsuki, deflect with a migi gedan uke and apply gyakudori to the wrist, while striking to the uke's hidari amedo with a migi shutou.

Keo (Exposed Seagull) - 梟鷗

As the attacker, grab both the opponent's lapels with the left leg forward. As the opponent goes to strike, shift back and avoid the attack then immediately strike in with migi joudan tsuki. 

When the opponent grabs both lapels, strike down with both hands in fudou ken and kick up to the gedan with the right leg. When the opponent evades and returns with a left migi joudan tsuki, deflect with a left joudan uke and come in with a right ura shutou to the kasumi followed immedietly with a joudan keri to the chest or leg. 

Hanebi (Leaping Fire) - 跳火

As the the attacker, grab the back of the opponent's collar or neck. Kick to the rear of the pelvis and pull backward. 

The uke grabs the back of the collar or neck. Drop the hips and twist the body, while reaching back and grabbing the hand. When the uke kicks in, gedan uke to the outside of the uke's kick and execute a gyaku on the wrist. Kick into the opponent's kimon and cause them to fall down. Assume zanshin.

Ketō (Toppling the Palace Gate) 闕倒

As the attacker, assume ichimonji no kamae, shift in slightly and kick to the opponent's pelvis. As the opponent counters, pull the lead leg back in joudan hichou and follow with a strike to the face.

Assume ichimonji no kamae, when the uke shifts in, shift the lead leg back and kick up to the opponents lead leg/rear leg/groin. Deflect the uke's strike with joudan uke, strike to the uke's face with shako ken and kick the uke's chest to knock them down. Assume Zanshin.

Yubi Kudaki (Breaking the fingers) - 指砕

As the attacker, grab the opponent's collar or neck and pull them back kicking to the back of the leg.

Shift forward as soon as the uke's hand touches the neck or the collar. At the same time strike back to the uke's face. Let the strike flow into oni kudaki and pull the uke down. Kick to the butsumetsu and break the fingers. Assume Zanshin.

Ketsumyaku (Tightening Hope) - 締脈

As the attacker, kick into the back of the opponent's knee. As the opponent falls backward, wrap the lead arm around the opponent's neck, then bring the rear arm across the back of the opponent's neck to create a sankaku jime.

When the uke's arm comes around your neck, bring both hands up to hold the uke's arm. Shift the hand closest to the elbow joint and apply pressure with the thumb. Drop into the crook of the uke's arm, regain posture and throw with seoi nage. Kick into the kimon. Assume zanshin.

Sakketsu (Killing Lock) - 殺締

As the attacker, wrap your arms around the tori and grip your wrist to create a strong hold.

The uke wraps their arms around you and tightens. Drop the hips the shift them forward while bringing the hands up to grab the uke's hands, strike back into the uke's pelvis to loosen the grip. Shift the body forward and strike back with the elbow or arm into the uke's face. Use the uke's hands to throw them with ganseki otoshi. Kick to the kimon. Assume zanshin.

Taiken (Hoof Fist) - 蹄拳

As the attacker, bring the arms through the tori's armpits and apply pressure to the top of the head with both hands. This is hagai jime. 

As soon as the uke's arms are felt, drop the elbows to capture the uke's arms. Grab the uke's hands with both hands and apply pressure with the thumbs to the back of the uke's hands. Drop the hips and slip out to the side, apply kata te nage and kick to the kimon with the foot. Assume zanshin.