Budo World

Formation of Ryūha (martial traditions or schools)

With the appearance of extraordinarily skilled men in the martial arts, other warriors inevitably wanted to learn from them. One important particularity in bujutsu was its secretiveness. When a warrior mastered an essential point, he rarely taught it to others. In turbulent times, fame and fortune could be decided by a secret technique that nobody else knew. If the technique was taught and spread, then the potency of the warrior who possessed it vanished, or even worse, he could even be slain by his own technique. The world of the warrior was harsh!

However, when the chaos of the Warring States period subsided, a few renowned warriors started to welcome disciples. Groups known as ryūha were formed by master swordsmen where they taught their skills and knowledge to select disciples. There were three conditions for the establishment of a ryūha:

  • The appearance of a prodigious individual
  • Who possesses incredibly advanced techniques
  • And who has systemised his techniques and teachings into a distinct curriculum

Whether or not the techniques and teachings were systemised into a succinct curriculum had a big impact on the future prosperity or even survival of the ryūha. Regardless of the sublime degree of technical excellence the master swordsman possessed, if there was no comprehensive curriculum the school was doomed to vanish.

Among the many ryūha that evolved, the earliest to appear at the beginning of the fourteenth century focused on archery. Kenjutsu (swordsmanship), jūjutsu (grappling) or sōjutsu (spearmanship) curricula appeared around the second half of the fifteenth century, but it was not until the middle of the sixteenth century that specific ryūha related to individual disciplines were established.