View Full Version : Carrying the kusarigama

Undmark, Ulf
11th August 2000, 07:57
Does anyone know how the kusarigama was carried by warriors skilled in its usage? Since the Isshin ryu kusarigama has a long chain, demanding a high level of tenouchi, this must have been thought of. A sword is always carried so that it can be rapidly drawn and used, but sometimes I wonder about the kusarigama...this must have been a limiting factor.

Could it be that, if it wasn't held in the hand at the moment, it wouldn't be used at all if suddenly attacked? Could it have been an exclusive dueling-weapon? Or were there methods for rapid employment? There may have been different preparations for this in different traditions, but it must have been thought of?

Ulf Undmark

Meik Skoss
11th August 2000, 13:58
U. Undmark raised an interesting question regarding how the kusarigama was carried/employed in the "good ol' days." The odd thing is, it's the kind of topic that isn't discussed a lot and I have never heard any of the senior teachers speak about it.

For what it's worth, my understanding is that kusarigama is not one of the more "normal" weapons, and it was definitely *not* a battlefield weapon, especially Isshin/Shibukawa-ryu types of weapons. The chains are way too long for that kind of melee situation, nor would the morphology of the blades be very effective against armor. The kama used in Araki-ryu and Toda-ha Buko-ryu might be better suited for battlefield use, with shorter chains and blades (similar to warpicks 'n flails used in Europe), but there's no record of 'em having been used in those situations that I know about. P'raps one of my Araki-ryu friends might know about that. If you have a really abiding interest in the topic, I could ask him.

Swords were carried unsheathed, on one's shoulder (like the the "shoulder arms" position in the U.S. Army) when on the battlefield. Spears and glaives were carried that way or in a "trail arms" position, allowing for rapid manuevering. It is true, though, that this latter method of carrying (or is it "dragging"?) the weapons would lead to some damage to the "e" (haft), but that's what I have been told. It's most likely a kusarigama would have just been carried in one hand, or thrust through one's belt, and brought into use as/when needed. Again, though, use of kusarigama wasn't all that widespread and it's sort of difficult to say more than this without further research.

Koryu that still continue to practise kusarigama today are (in alphabetical order): Araki-ryu, Isshin-ryu (as subsumed within the Shinto Muso-ryu fuzoku budo), Kiraku-ryu, Masaki-ryu, Nito Shinkage-ryu, Shibukawa-ryu, Tendo-ryu, and Toda-ha Buko-ryu. There may be others, but I'm not aware of 'em.

Hope that helps.

Eric Montes
11th August 2000, 18:02
Don't forget Jikishinkage-ryu, although the techniques are much different from those of the other ryu.

Undmark, Ulf
11th August 2000, 20:00
I also believe that the Suio ryu teaches the kusarigama.
The Suio ryu kusarigamajutsu *may* derive from the Masaaki ryu, but I'm not sure about this.

BTW, (this is off-topic...) has anyone here seen the Suio ryu? I'm quite curious about this ryuha.

Ulf Undmark

Earl Hartman
11th August 2000, 20:25

I saw Suio Ryu demonstrated at the last kobudo demonstration at the Budokan in Tokyo. There was kusarigama in it. The kusarigama, as I remember, had a short hooked blade. I don't clearly remember how the chain was attached, but I seem to recall that it was attached to the head of the haft, just below the blade (I wouldn't swear to this). They also had paired iai-type sword stuff as I recall (interstingly, the instigator of the attack wins, as I remember).

Anyway, I am sure that Meik will know more about this, as usual.


Richard A Tolson
12th August 2000, 08:33
I have trained with the kusarigama for a few decades and would agree with Meik that the kusarigama is not much of a battlefield weapon. There would be far too many obstacles on the battlefield (your fellow warriors for one) to make the weapon practical. It would be more at home with the ji-samurai or commoners down on the farm. The kusarigama was not just a Samurai weapon, by the way.
I was trained in techniques that would have been appropriate in situations where one is defending their home against a bandit or lone samurai on foot or on horseback.
There is one kata that teaches techniques against multiple opponents, but I believe that would be a very unique situation.
So I think the idea of carrying the kusarigama, as into battle, is a rather mute point. However, the proper method for carrying the weapon in the dojo, at least in our tradition, is to hold the kama in the right hand with the last two fingers and thumb, while the chain is coiled around the index and middle fingers. The tips of which are then wrapped around the handle (it is not a haft) of the kama. Just teasing Meik, it can be a haft if you want!

[Edited by John Lindsey on 08-12-2000 at 02:29 PM]

Cilian McHugh
12th August 2000, 15:37
I'm not sure if this is relevant, but in "Ninjutsu: History & Tradition" by Dr. Maasaki Hatsumi, there is a picture of an exceptionally large Kusarigama which is described as the battlefield version of the Kusarigama.

[Edited by Cilian McHugh on 08-12-2000 at 06:28 PM]

Undmark, Ulf
12th August 2000, 20:28
I would also agree that the kusarigama is not something one would prefer as a battlefield weapon. Also, if it *had* been a battlefield weapon, there wouldn't be no need for worrying about how to carry it. It would definitly be held in the hands in good time before closing in.

I believe the kusarigama is a weapon for individual/single combat. However, warriors specializing in this weapon would probably want to carry it (probably stuck in the belt)so that it can easily be used if danger arises.
This would demand specific attention to how to wear the *chain*, so that it can be properly used when the weapon is needed, as in the case of sudden attack.

-"Ehhr excuse me , I think my chain is stuck somewhere here...ehr, hold on a second...".

Either the weapon wouldn't be used if suddenly attacked, or special attention to this is given (how to wear/prepare the chain for rapid employment) or the kusarigama would be used as a weapon for dueling only.
Perhaps, there is no definite answer to this, warriors may have been more or less comfortable to rely on the kusarigama as their first weapon.

Thanx for all information,
Ulf Undmark

13th August 2000, 04:59

Within the 'Toho' series of MJER (5 techniques selected by the All Japan Iaido Federation representing various styles of swordsmanship) there is a kata called 'Shihogiri' that comes from the Suio-Ryu lineage.

Hope that little bit helps.


Bradford Pomeroy

Undmark, Ulf
13th August 2000, 08:32
I've heard that the Suio ryu Iai may have it's origin in Hayashizaki ryu. Mima Yoichizaemon Kagenobu (the founder) is supposed to have learnt Iai from Sakurai Gorozaemon Naomitsu. After what I've found out, Mima trained for several different teachers, learning Urabe ryu Kenjutsu among others. I'm not sure if the paired Iai Earl mentioned has its orgin in Hayashizaki ryu, Urabe ryu or elswhere.

If there is any further info regarding Suio ryu, maybe this thread should be moved out of the Jo-forum (even though I think Suio ryu has Jojutsu as well.)

Ulf Undmark

14th August 2000, 00:22
This may be a little off topic, but it is related. A few people have talked about the impracticality of a kusarigama on the battlefield, and so talk about its use as a dueling weapon, and how it would be carried if used for that purpose. It seems to me that there could be another purpose for carrying a kusarigama, which could have an impact on carrying it. Here I am specifically talking about Isshin Ryu, and what I have to say may well not be as applicable to other ryu. It seems to me that the Shinto Muso ryu fuzoku budo or related ryu all have something in common (leaving aside Uchida ryu tanjojutsu which was added relatively recently, late last century.) They do not include naginata, spear or other battlefield weapons, but include jutte, kusarigama, and hojojutsu (tying methods). The bugei of the Kuroda clan in Kyushu did include such weapons, but they have not been attached to Shinto Muso ryu. It seems to me that the reason that these arts are included as part of the curriculum with a staff art, without any of the more usual battlefield weapons (except the ubiquitous sword of course) may be that they could all be used in a policing role, to subdue armed opponents without necessarily killing them. The kusarigama can be used in several non-lethal ways. The chain can entangle not just the weapon, but its user also, and the handle/haft can deliver percussive strikes. The blade is always available if circumstances suddenly require its use.

If a kusarigama were carried for this purpose, it is unlikely that it would have to be drawn unexpectedly, or quickly. The user would often have time to prepare himself and his weapon before attempting his 'arrest'. An attempted arrest of an armed, skilled opponent would (I imagine) usually be attempted by a small group, some of whom would be armed with swords etc, which could be used if the group were attacked unexpectedly, or too quickly for the kusarigama to be brought into use.

What do you think Meik?

Any other comments?

Warwick Hooke

Richard A Tolson
14th August 2000, 00:54
You raise some interesting points! Isshin-ryu, Jikishinkage-ryu (koryu) and Arashi-ryu (gendai) all contain techniques for binding the opponent with the chain without causing injury. However, in Isshin-ryu the haft is used primarily to redirect the path of the sword cut, rather than as a striking weapon.
Looking forward to Meik's responce!
Mr. Skoss,
Can you tell us a little bit about the kusarigama methods of Toda-ha Buko-ryu?

Undmark, Ulf
14th August 2000, 09:24
Very good point. I've thought about this as well.
And Pascal Krieger also mentions this in his book.

Shindo Muso ryu, including the fuzoku budo, appears very much to be suitable training for individuals with peace-keeping duties, such as police-officers (Yoriki, doshin) and guards.
And here the kusarigama would have an important role!

This also explains how it would be used, in such a case.
If the kusarigama was carried trough the belt, would you also keep the chain in the belt or would prefer any other solution for this?

Ulf Undmark

Diane Skoss
14th August 2000, 12:42
Hi all,

I'm sure Meik will have something to say when he gets back in town (late Tuesday?).


14th August 2000, 22:37
Hi All,

I'm looking forward to Meik's contribution when he gets back. I'll hold off on further comment until then, except to say that there are several kata in Isshin ryu which contain strikes with the haft of the kusarigama (in a couple of different ways), and a number of others where there is a 'control' on the wrist which is sometimes done as a strike. There are a few where you have to be very careful not to 'accidentally' hit the swordsman with the haft, when the strike is 'supposed' to be done with the blade.

As to how exactly it would be carried when it was not in use, I have no idea. Anything I could say about it would be pure speculation, and there are other people out there much better qualified to do that than I am.


Warwick Hooke

Neil Hawkins
14th August 2000, 23:56

Interesting points, I had not really thought of this before. Tsutsumi Hozan Ryu also has a strong association with police methods and contains bo, jutte, kusarigama, manrikigusari and hojo-jutsu. I had not considered the possibility the the kusarigama could be a restraining weapon.

Is manrikigusari taught in the schools you mentioned? To me this is a designed for restraint weapon, and we have a number of techniques where it is used in conjunction with a tanbo that are very similar to kusarigama techniques although on a smaller scale obviously.

I will be very interested in Meiks responses, I think you may be onto something here.



Meik Skoss
16th August 2000, 15:21
I completely spaced the fact that both Jikishinkage-ryu and Suio-ryu contain chain-and-sickle techniques. Actually, the kama techniques in Suio-ryu are really considered those of the Masaki-ryu, a system that's been partially subsumed by the Suio-ryu. I don't know, off-hand, whether it's the same system as the Masaki-ryu best known for the manrikigusari, but I *think* it is.

W. Hooke wrote: "If a kusarigama were carried for this purpose, it is unlikely that it would have to be drawn unexpectedly, or quickly. The user would often have time to prepare himself and his weapon before attempting his 'arrest.' An attempted arrest of an armed, skilled opponent would (I imagine) usually be attempted by a small group, some of whom would be armed with swords, etc., which could be used if the group were attacked unexpectedly, or too quickly for the kusarigama to be brought into use."

Usually, police of the Edo period worked in small groups. I believe that the normal weapon of the doshin, lower-ranked police, was a jutte. Yoriki, higher status personnel, would carry daisho. In the event of a group needing to arrest an individual who was considered likely to resist, they'd use what were known as the "mitsu dogu." These changed over the course of time, but in the Edo period, they included the sodegarami (sleeve entangler, all spiky and nasty looking), sasumata (a large, double-forked entrapping weapon, used to pin a suspect's neck/arms), and tsukibo (this is a T-shaped pole weapon, used to crowd the suspect). They'd also use a rokushaku bo for striking at a swordsman and kagi nawa and, if necessary, hashigo, or ladders, to hem in/trap bad guys.

I have heard, from several people, that cops would also use a kusarigama, but seen no other evidence to that effect and I don't really think it was very likely they'd do that on a wide scale. Kusarigama (think flail and war pick) are dandy weapons for maiming or killing somebody, not too effective as implements of non-lethal force.

R. Tolson wrote: "However, in Isshin-ryu the haft is used primarily to redirect the path of the sword cut, rather than as a striking weapon."

No, this is not entirely correct. If, by "primarily," Mr. Tolson means that the haft is used to redirect the sword in more kata than it is used to strike the opponent (actually, it is a combination of blade and haft that is used), then I suppose he is correct. However, that is *not* the way it is viewed by Isshin-ryu practitioners. Many of the techniques tacitly imply striking the opponent; it just isn't done in an overt manner. That's true of most koryu, by the way;it isnot very useful to assume that "what you see is what you get" or what is "really" happening. Every koryu I have done or whose exponents I've talked to has said as much.

I have not yet found any material that documents the extent to which a particular weapon was/was not used (it's one of the topics I'm investigating) by people at different times, or in different places (assuming a significant relationship between the place a bushi lived and the kind of weapon he'd use). It seems possible that local conditions would have an influence of some sort, but how much so remains to be seen.

In any event, I think it's most likely that relatively few people used kusarigama as a "primary" weapon, given that it is not particularly useful in many circumstances and does not work very well in conjunction with other weapons -- it wouldn't get very high marks for "playing well with others."

Toda-ha Buko-ryu kusarigama techniques operate against both naginata and tachi. In the former instance, the kama is not strictly meant to be aggressive and is used more as a sort of "training aid" for the su naginata, to help develop the hassuji of the person with the glaive and to develope good timing and perception of trajectory on the part of the guy with the sickle. In the latter case, though, the weapon is a *very* aggressive opponent and uses the weighted chain, blade, and haft to very good effect. Since the chain is not as long as the one used in Isshin-ryu, it's able to "cycle" a lot more rapidly and the use of the fundo (weight) is one hell of a lot more effective in a fluid engagement.

This is also true of kama technique in Jikishinkage-ryu, as well as Tendo-ryu, Kiraku-ryu and Araki-ryu. Suio-ryu kama uses a longer chain, so there's a corresponding decrease in utility in my opinion. Mind you, I'm not saying that Isshin-ryu or Suio-ryu are "bad" or "ineffective" -- just that the weapons' differences in usage are derived from a difference in their dimensions -- I think that makes them less useful in both single and group combat. That's just my personal opinion, though, so take it for what it's worth.

Richard A Tolson
16th August 2000, 17:09
Thanks for the Toda-ha Buko-ryu information I requested. Very interesting.
Yes, I was speaking specifically of kata in my statement concerning the use of the haft in Isshin-ryu. I also know that for every time the kata depicts a downward sweep of the sword's mune, it can just as easily be a strike to the back to the hand to shatter the metacarpals or a strike to a couple of points on the wrist. I didn't really want to "give away the farm", so to speak.
True, sometimes what you see isn't all you get. Though sometimes what you see may have been what was originally intended before others tried to bring complexity or mystery into the technique. Koryu, in general, are quite known for both approaches :), IMHO. That is not a slam on koryu or any koryu practitioners, just a comment on human nature.

Undmark, Ulf
17th August 2000, 09:59
Interesting information here, thanx everybody!

With the risk of ending a bit off-topic here, but speaking about ryu that teaches the use of kusarigama; what is Nito Shinkage ryu? I've heard of Nito Shinkage-, and (I guess) Meifu (?) Shinkage ryu (which do not, as far as I know, teach kusarigama). I take it none of these are in any way related to Kamiizumi's Shinkage ryu? What are those other "Shinkage" ryu and what do they teach?

Ulf Undmark

Richard A Tolson
18th August 2000, 06:33
It is important to note that the kanji used in one ryu and transliterated as "Shinkage" may not be the same kanji used by another ryu that transliterates its kanji as "Shinkage".
For example, depending on the kanji, Shinkage can mean:
1. New Shadow
2. Divine Shadow
3. True Heart
4. Inspired by the Gods
See how confusing this can be?

Undmark, Ulf
18th August 2000, 09:46

Yes this is true. In fact, I believe that Kamiizumi actually used different kanji at different times and on different densho for his own "Shinkage ryu".

Have you heard of these Meifu-, and Nito-, Shinkage ryu?

Ulf Undmark

Richard A Tolson
18th August 2000, 17:28
I believe you are correct about his changing of the kanji.
No, I have never heard of these other Ryu. However, that means little as I am not much of an expert on other Ryu.

18th August 2000, 17:54
Hello all,

Just to add to the list of Ryuha with Kusarigama: Takenouchi Ryu. They also use a fairly long chain (one and a half body length).

I met a Suio-Ryu guy once in Tokyo and had the chance to train kusarigama with him. The Suio chain is something like 2 body lengths, and the guy happened to be about 6'5", so I was in a pickle being only 5'9" and used to Kiraku-ryu's HALF bodylength chain! :eek:

To contribute to somebody else's previous post, K-Ryu uses ryo-fundo.



Earl Hartman
18th August 2000, 18:32

Could you please specify the kanji used for the various readings of "Shinkage" that you give? Some of them are a little confusing, especially "True Heart". Shin can, variously, mean god(s), new, heart/mind, and true/real among other things, depending on the kanji used. Thus, either the "true" or the "heart" of "True Heart" could be written with characters that could be read as "shin". However, off the top of my head, I can't think of any kanji pronounced "kage" ("shadow", usually) that would be written with a kanji meaning "true" or "heart".


18th August 2000, 20:01

Since were on the topic of the kusarigama. I would like to know who is the most experienced person at kusarigama-jutsu who is still alive today?

Thank You

Eric Montes
19th August 2000, 09:43

I think your question is much, much too broad. As you can see from the discussion there are many ryu which maintain kusarigama techniques as part of their respective curriculums.

Which Ryu are you interested in? I don't have necessarily have the answer to your question, but a broad statement of this sort will lead to arguments and assorted disagreements.

In Isshin Ryu, I would say that Hiroi Tsunesugu may be the most knowledgable regarding the ryu. I am not a student of his nor have I met him. But it is my understanding that he has devoted a great deal of time to this Aspect of the SMR Curriculum and is certainly eminently qualified.

Any sort of statement regarding "Who is the most Qualified?" will always generate a subjective response. Please place limits on this sort of inquiry.

Richard A Tolson
21st August 2000, 05:12
According to Dr. Friday, sixteenth and seventeenth-century texts commonly interpreted one of the kanji for kage as "heart" or "mind". See LEGACIES OF THE SWORD, page 27, the first footnote. :)

Ulf Lehmann
21st August 2000, 08:31
Maybe, you can found some infos about one part (shuriken jutsu) of Meifu shinkage ryu on


Ulf Lehmann

Undmark, Ulf
21st August 2000, 14:15
Thanx Ulf (btw, is Ulf a common name in Germany? In Swedish, it an older word for 'wolf', sometimes spelled as 'ulv').

This Meifu shinkage ryu seem to be a pure shurikenjutsu tradition. However, my Japanese ain't good enough for reading, but the site confirms the name of the tradition and what they do. Thanx again.

Ulf Undmark

Ulf Lehmann
22nd August 2000, 14:12
Hi Ulf,

what I know is that the Mifu shinkake ryu is not only a Shuriken jutsu system. They included some other small weapons of the Kakushi buki index. I think this ryu is a separate school and there are no connections to the Yagyu ryu or so (there was some interesting infos about the different kanjis in the name "Shinkage" in this thread)
I have some other infos about this ryu - but I need some times for the translations. Wait a minute...

BTW - Ulf is also a common name in Germany. We have a lot of names with the part Ulf/Wulf in german history and legends - like Ulfert, Beowulf, Wendulf...
I hope the americans in this forum speak our name not as ALF (ha, ha)!

Ulf Lehmann

Ulf Lehmann
23rd August 2000, 14:22
ok. here is part II:
Meifu shinkage ryu included Shuriken jutsu, Kusari jutsu, Kakute jutsu (kind of iron ring with spikes) and Jouken jutsu (???? - never hear before - translated as rope and knife?).
But there are no infos about Kusarigama in this ryu - sorry...
Hope my infos are correct!

Ulf Lehmann

Lil Dave
28th August 2000, 09:43
This is way the heck off anything budo-ish, but here I go. Ulfs (indicating both of you), what does 'wend' of Wendulf mean? I just watched a movie with the bad guys being called 'wendel'. I was thinking maybe they meant Grendel, but that wasn't what they said (over and over again). Also, what does Grendel mean?

Meik has some very good comments and a lot of knowledge, but as I read this, it almost seemed like he was the Ancient One of the village who recieves dreams and signs directly from the Gods. It was amusing, hopefully no offense to anyone here.

David Buck