Modern History

Martial Arts After World War II

After World War II, all martial arts were banned in Japan by the Americans. But the Ninjutsu survived. The teachings of the Ninja were passed on in secret by a small group of inconspicuous, interested men. Many of the Ryū died out because the last grandmaster had no descendants to pass on his tradition. Therefore, before dying, many destroyed the ancient scrolls and manuscripts.

Due to the peaceful times, many martial arts have undergone a transformation. Many martial arts were spiritualized, and jutsu (art) became (way, path, principle).

Ishitani Takakage Matsutaro

But not all masters accepted this change. Some longed to go back to the days when real martial arts were taught.

One of these masters was Ishitani Takakage Matsutaro, a chūnin Ninja of the Iga-Ryū clan. He was the 26th grandmaster of the Kukishinden-Ryū-happohiken. He opposed this innovation and despised the demotion of the arts to sports or Zen movements.

Resigned and dejected, without a student and without a Dōjō, the master wanted to spend the rest of his life in anachronism. He considered destroying his secret scrolls and weapons before he died, lest the techniques fall into the wrong hands.

Because Ishitani sought secrecy, he took a night watch job at the Takamatsu family’s match factory in Kobe. He met the family’s young son, Takamatsu Toshitsugu. In a roundabout way, he learned that this young man was a student of the Koto-Ryū koppojutsu and the Shinden-fudo-Ryū daken taijutsu. Takamatsu had learned this art from his grandfather, Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu.

Ishitani Trains Takamatsu

Ishitani offered this young man to initiate him into the mysteries of the Shinden-Ryū. Takamatsu enthusiastically accepted this offer and now studied under his new master Shinden-Ryū.

Ishitani first showed him the eight parts of the happo method. Next, he taught his student the hiken method, secret sword techniques. Training is done with the sword, the short sword, and the jutte.

Toshitsugu trained hard and after the death of his teacher became the 27th grandmaster of the Kukishinden-Ryū.

Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu

During this time, Takamatsu was also taught the art by his grandmaster Toda Shindenryuken Masamitsu, 32nd grandmaster of the Togakure-Ryū. Toda was the swordsman of the Tokugawa government at the time, teaching the shogun’s Samurai the art of swordsmanship.

Having been found unfit for military service at the age of 21 due to a ruptured eardrum – an injury sustained in one of the countless fights of his youth – Takamatsu decided to go to China.

Takamatsu Toshitsugu Goes to China

Thoughts of a career in the match factory faded in the face of the adventures that awaited him in China. He believed China offered him better opportunities than Japan, which was in transition. He traversed China and found numerous opportunities to use his martial arts in real life against a variety of opponents, often protecting his life.

The Chinese boxers he trained with gave him the nickname Mongolian Tiger.

After these years of wandering, he returned to his native country of Japan to live in the mountains. He sought the solitude of these mountains in order to complete himself and become a mikkyō priest of the Tendai at the age of 30 on Mount Hiei near Kyōto. With this knowledge, he penetrated deeper into the philosophy of the Ninja and their esoteric secrets. Armed like this, he finally made his way home to finally become the 33rd grandmaster of Togakure-Ryū-Ninjutsu.

Hatsumi Masaaki

Hatsumi Masaaki began his martial arts training at the age of seven. First practicing with his father’s bokutō, he then dabbled in all of the popular Japanese martial arts during World War II, earning master’s degrees in karate, aikido, and judo. Martial arts and theater were his main interests. After the Second World War, however, he was horrified to discover how quickly and eagerly the American occupying forces learned the various judo techniques. Americans used their large size and natural athletic ability to learn in months what it took the Japanese years to learn. He wondered what was the point of training a system whose results others could surpass with the help of their physical strength alone. There had to be a true martial art somewhere that gave you the power to emerge victorious from any situation, Hatsumi thought.

Takamatsu Trains Hatsumi

His kobudō trainer finally told him about a teacher named Takamatsu Toshitsugu from the town of Kashiwabara in the west of the Iga area. Hoping at last to find a master who could teach him a living art of war rather than a physical exercise sport or a rigid system of inanimate kata, young Hatsumi wandered across Honshū Island in search of the teacher he was looking for had looked in vain up to this point.

Takamatsu, the battle-hardened veteran, was well into his sixties when he first met the young man who would become his spiritual successor and next Ninjutsu grandmaster.

For years, Hatsumi Masaaki tormented himself through rigorous training under the guidance of the Ninja grandmaster with the kind heart and hands of a tiger. Eventually, he inherited the title of Grandmaster of the Nine Ninjutsu-Ryū, embodied by his teacher Takamatsu Toshitsugu.


Text: Stefan Imhoff