The History of Shindō Yōshin Ryū


Takamura ha Shindo Yoshin Ryū is a koryu or classical school of Japanese budō. The mainline Shindō Yōshin Ryū was founded by a samurai in 1864 named Katsunosuke Matsuoka (1836–1898) in Ibaraki prefecture. The school is an integrated martial system combing the teachings of Tenjin Shinyō Ryū, Totsuka Yōshin Ryū, Jikishinkage Ryū, Hokushin Ittō Ryū, and Hozion Ryū. Shindō Yōshin Ryū split into two lines in 1895, one led by Motokichi Inose and the other led by Shigeta Obata. The Obata line passed to Yukiyoshi Takamura in 1944. Following World War Two, Yukiyoshi Takamura left Japan first settling in Stockholm, Sweden in 1954, and then Hayward, California in 1964.  

There was explosion of western interest in Asian martial arts in the 1960s. During this period Yukiyoshi Takamura cultivated a dedicated group of students in Europe and the USA. In 1968, Yukiyoshi Takamura founded an organization to oversee the international promotion of the art, the Takamura ha Shindō Yōshin Kai. This organization grew in membership over the next twenty years and by the mid-1980s supported ten dojos and fifteen licensed instructors teaching in the USA, Philippines, Japan and Europe. 

Yukiyoshi Takamura died in March, 2000 at the age of 72. In the decade prior to his death he awarded three students menkyo kaiden in Takamura ha Shindō Yōshin Ryū. In 2003, Iso Takagi (Japan) and David Maynard (United Kingdom) retired from active teaching and Tobin E. Threadgill was asked to accept the title of kaichō and oversee the organization worldwide. The Takamura-ha Shindō Yōshin Kai continues today under the direction of Tobin E. Threadgill with its headquarters dojo located in Evergreen, Colorado. The organization currently has dojos operating in the United States, The United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Canada, France, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand. 

The curriculum of Shindō Yōshin Ryū is organized in a manner consistent with most classical schools of budō. The teachings are divided into three levels represented by the issuing of teaching licenses. These are shoden, chūden and jōden gokui. As with most classical schools of budō, there is no technical ranking system similar to the kyū/dan system commonly associated with modern forms of budō. 

Technically, Shindō Yōshin Ryū emphasizes the study and application of sophisticated body mechanics and natural movement. The goal of this kind of fluidity is to manifest unique levels of speed, accuracy and power generation.

Shindō Yōshin Ryū was fundamental in the founding of one of Japan’s most prominent styles of karate, Wadō-ryū. The founder of Wadō-ryū, Hironori Ōtsuka, studied Shindō Yōshin Ryū under a highly licensed instructor named Tatsusaburō Nakayama. Nakayama was the chief instructor of the Genbukan dōjō in Shimotsuma city, and the physical education teacher at Shimotsuma Middle School.

Studying Koryu Outside Japan

From: Takamura ha Shindo Yoshin ryu, History and Technique: by Tobin Threadgill and Shingo Ohgami.
(Edited and included with the permission of the authors.)

What is Koryū?

Koryū literally translates as “old tradition”, and it refers to the Japanese martial traditions associated with the samurai class before 1868. Koryū are very diverse traditions reflecting martial disciplines which endured throughout many centuries. The oldest surviving schools of Japanese martial study were founded in the 1400s and include legendary schools such as Maniwa Nen Ryū and Tenshinsho-den Katori Shintō Ryū. Shindō Yōshin Ryū was one of the last koryū schools formulated and established by a samurai, Matsuoka Katsunosuke Hisachika, who lived during the twilight years of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Koryū is an undertaking that can be in conflict with contemporary ideals of western thought, individuality, and self-determination. It is unique and not for everyone – even those interested in martial arts. Headmaster Takamura Yukiyoshi of Shindō Yōshin Ryū jūjutsu believed koryū could be successfully taught and transmitted outside Japan, but acknowledged its transmission faced serious challenges. Koryū is unquestionably antiquated by nature, with many schools requiring exposure to obscure Japanese social customs and participation in rituals far outside the experience of the average non-Japanese, and even most contemporary Japanese. A teacher of modern budō is unbridled by strict adherence to classical Japanese ideals, and is thus free to indulge the desires and individuality of themselves and their students. In contrast, maintaining the traditions and technical legacy of a classical school of budō is the driving force behind participation. Individual desires are of little concern. Consequently, koryū is a pursuit that presents a significant challenge to non-Japanese attempting its study. Koryū does not allow the freedom to choose which aspects of the art to study. Curricula are strictly defined and the learning process is based on a long-standing traditional process. Training in koryū is best facilitated by embracing a mindset called “nyūnanshin”, that is, to release personal desire and open the mind to alternatives. Preconceived notions and expectations about what will be learned must be discarded, and practitioners must become immersed in the experience of being shaped by an entity charged with maintaining centuries of unique cultural and martial tradition.

Organizational Structure

Koryū are relics of a feudal past with sole authority vested in the headmaster, unlike modern budō, which frequently functions through a democratic organizational structure. The authority within koryū is absolute and intolerant of dissension, debate, or negotiation. The headmaster approves everything a teacher or student undertakes in relation to the study of the art. The teachings and individual authority granted instructors in authentic koryū are passed from teacher to student via the issuance of menjō or menkyo (formal documents or scrolls). Although knowledge, once given to a student remains with the student, the authority to formally teach under the auspices of the ryūha does not. A headmaster in koryū enjoys absolute control over virtually every aspect of the school and can provide and withdraw teaching authority as deemed necessary. The survival and health of a koryū is facilitated by a unique relationship forged among three entities: the students, the teacher, and the ryūha. Members of koryū, including the instructors and headmaster, are very much aware they are temporary custodians of the entity to which they have become obligated. The ryūha always takes precedence over any individual member, regardless of position. Some koryū schools require all members to ultimately undergo keppan (a ritual blood oath), to emphasize that the members are formally committed to maintaining a tradition that is larger, more important, and more enduring than any personal desires. A koryū instructor, who accepts the responsibility of teaching, vows never to abuse their authority over others for selfish gain or behave in a manner which could be deemed harmful to the reputation of the ryūha.

Training and Commitment

Access to the knowledge contained within the mokuroku (curriculum) of a koryū is viewed as a privilege. It is not a commodity or right. This is important to understand when contemplating the study of koryū. Many students of modern budō view martial training as a sport, hobby, or financial agreement, and believe they are consumers whose needs should be satisfied. Such an attitude is out of step with the mindset required of a koryū member. A koryū student must realize a financial contribution to the school does not automatically guarantee anything will be received in exchange. Knowledge is provided to students based on criteria that transcend financial compensation. The acquisition of important knowledge and understanding requires dedication, character, and an appropriate mental attitude. The information within the koryū curriculum is provided in measured doses and is often individualized. A koryū instructor will frequently choose to teach two students with similar experience in a different manner or sequence. This is unlike a modern budō school, where all members study in unison towards a definable goal, with progress being measured in terms of colored belts. Consequently, technical ranking systems similar to those in modern budō are rare in koryū, and when recognized, are interpreted as a modern convention.

The priorities of koryū do not focus on the modern stage; they heed the tactics and principles of a bygone world and mindset. Therefore, topics such as modern self-defense must be balanced against maintaining traditions that do not necessarily lend themselves to the realities confronted in current society. Although modern self-defense is certainly a training component of many koryū schools, such considerations are always secondary to the prime objective, which is to maintain the history, traditions, and legacy of the school.

Another aspect of koryū training, which exists beyond that of most modern budō, concerns exposure to obscure Japanese cultural and spiritual practices. These aspects of study seem irrelevant to most non-Japanese, who envision training in martial arts as a pursuit simply connected to fighting or fitness. Immersion in the study of esoteric Shintō or Mikkyō Buddhism is unlikely to seem relevant to such individuals. Such spiritual pursuits and their accompanying mental disciplines are at the very core of understanding koryū. Without first-hand experience of these esoteric practices, many koryū believe a student cannot grasp the mindset required to internalize the foundations of the ryūha. After all, sitting under an ice-cold waterfall while reciting a Shintō norito (prayer) or chanting a Buddhist sutra connected to the deity Marishiten is unusual, even for a Japanese. However, the importance of the arcane as an element of koryū practice becomes more obvious to students as they experience such practice. To accurately explain this to people outside koryū can be challenging, as it is easily misinterpreted as new-age metaphysical pretentiousness. These ancient mental/spiritual exercises serve a very important purpose, as they have a concrete and definable objective in koryū. The intense stress and mental discipline demanded in such training seeks to create a mental state that affects a member in distinct ways. After regularly engaging in such practices, students can begin to appreciate how samurai, steeled by years of cultivating powerful mental and physical discipline, could wade into the gore and horror of an ancient battlefield without losing their emotional bearings or mental focus. Mental training seeks to instill the capacity for hyper-awareness and emotional detachment. Consider the modern psychological phenomenon of post-traumatic stress disorder. Many modern soldiers, due to a lack of mental and emotional preparedness, have survived intense combat only to suffer debilitating emotional trauma later. The samurai of feudal Japan were well acquainted with this phenomenon and developed methods of mental forging to prepare themselves for this eventuality. The founders of many koryū understood that ignoring the effects of intense emotional trauma could fracture a person’s mental and spiritual equilibrium. Therefore, many classical schools still include mental exercises in their advanced teachings as a vehicle for instilling the appropriate mindset required for full initiation into the curriculum.


The level of dedication required to be a student of a koryū dōjō is extreme, yet many people who profess interest in koryū are unprepared for such a demanding undertaking. Joining a koryū school requires a commitment to the long-term pursuit of structured and uncompromising study. Koryū study is a discipline, not a hobby. Every student must intellectually accept that they may train for at least a decade before they grasp the realities of what koryū really is. All students must recognize and commit to a rigid manifestation of authority, and the maintenance of traditions that are completely outside their previous experience. Many modern budō schools provide access to an excellent and flexible training experience, however, training koryū in a can be an experience that transcends initial expectations for those who appreciate the importance of tradition and history, and perceive training as a long-term quest into the physical, metaphysical, and psychological depths of an ancient but enduring martial culture.