Kempo: Roots and Legends

(please note that some individuals are listed in the eras they were most active, though they may have been born in a previous era or lived into the next era)


Kempo (Chuan Fa) began in China when Bodhidharma combined virtue with fighting skills and it spread among the temples and was passed throughout the nation where it changed the indigenous fighting arts into true martial arts, methods of establishing and keeping peace. The emphasis changed from one of being powerful and capable of great fighting spirit, to one of using an opponent’s strength against him and maintaining inner peace. This was revolutionary and allowed the monks to develop superior skill, capable of overcoming raw strength and violence through flowing with the divine inner spirit.


Prior to its transplant to Japan and Okinawan, Kempo in China was regarded as a form of Shen Chuan, divine martial art. When it was passed to Japan it was many times referred to as Shinken, also meaning divine fist, with the techniques derived from the divine flow of life known as Kami Waza, divine techniques.


In Okinawa, the art was referred to as Kami Te, the divine skill, and was practiced by the royal family as a way of protecting the peace of the island nation. Prior to it spreading to the common man of Okinawa, there was an influx of Chinese influence, which brought with it at different times in history the developments that were occurring on the mainland within many of the Chinese martial arts systems.


Beginning during the Heian period, the Minamoto branch of the royal family gave birth to many families, which are important in the history of the martial arts in general and in regard to Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei in particular.  It should be noted that members of the Minamoto family had strong ties to the Buddhist temples in their areas and engaged in a study of the temple art of Kempo, merging it with their existing fighting arts and creating the foundation of the Minamoto Ke Bujutsu, their family martial arts.



Heian Era 794-1185

Shigeyori Minamoto of the Tengyo Era, 938-947, had a third son by the name of Kaneie Mochizuki who became a leader of the Koka area and changed his last name to Koga, an alternate pronunciation of the region. Iechika Koga, son of Kaneie, trained with Tatsumaki Hoshi, a Buddhist monk, and from the study of the temple martial arts and principles, founded the Ninjutsu art, as we know it today.  The Ryu concept was hundreds of years from development, but the martial arts were developing within family groups.


Yoshimitsu Minamoto, 1056-1127, is said to be the creator of the Aiki principle of the martial arts as applied to Minamoto Bujutsu.  It appears that Yoshimitsu was a genius, who enjoyed playing his Sho, a type of wind instrument, and watching female dancers create their own moves to the music.  He would then stand up and take the moves they created while dancing and interpret them as martial arts moves using the concept and principle of Aiki. He then passed these innovations to the rest of his family and relatives. What he devised became the foundation for many families of Samurai.


Yoshikiyo Minamoto, 1075-1149, son of Yoshimitsu Minamoto, moved to Kai and changed his name to Takeda starting the Takeda family. He carried the Minamoto Bujutsu to a new generation of Samurai and continued the concepts and ideas of Aiki in the family martial art. The Takeda also developed their own innovations and assisted in the development of many of the martial arts.


Tametomo Minamoto, 1139-1170, is a very important figure in the martial arts of both Japan and Okinawa. As a Samurai he battled the Taira in Japan in the early days of the struggle for power between the two families. After being defeated in the Hogan War, Tametomo was exiled to Oshima Island.  Later he escaped and journeyed to Okinawa.  He carried Minamoto Bujutsu to Okinawa and while working with other Minamoto Samurai, training and preparing for a comeback against the Taira, married an Okinawan woman who sired him a son by the name of Shunten.


Shunten, 1166-1238, was raised by his mother and educated by a Samurai guardian who completed his education in the Minamoto martial arts. Shunten used his martial arts skill to take over Okinawa from the animistic priestesses and founded the royal lineage, which became the source from which all Bushi Te, the martial art of the Okinawan royalty, is reputed to derive. While there were a few times that the government followed other families, most of the rulers were descendants of Shunten including the two famous Sho dynasties.



Minamoto Era 1185-1333

The Minamoto family and their allies, families descended from their lineage, including the Mochizuki, Koga, Takeda, and others, followed the development of the martial arts, each creating their own unique styles, built upon the temple Kempo of the temples to which they were connected and in some cases the concept and principle of Aiki.


Yoritomo Minamoto, 1147-1199, after a fierce war with the Taira became the first total Shogun of Japan.  Prior to that time a Shogun was in the service and under the orders of the emperor to battle and maintain peace in the rural areas of the country. But with Yoritomo the title of Shogun took on the context of military ruler of Japan in the service of the emperor. Now it was Yoritomo giving the orders and keeping the emperor only as a figurehead of the country.


Yoshitsune Minamoto, 1159-1189, brother of Yoritomo the Shogun, is a tragic figure in Japanese history. He helped his brother defeat the Taira and become leader, only to have his brother fear that Yoshitsune’s popularity and superior martial arts skill, might inspire the younger brother to try and take control from him. Because of this Yoshitsune had to run from his brother’s Samurai who were told to capture or kill him. For three years Yoshitsune hid from his brother due to his superior Ninjutsu skill. Years later when the Ryu concept was developed in Japan, a descendant of the Samurai who were loyal to Yoshitsune created the Yoshitsune Ryu of Ninjutsu.



Ashikaga (Muromachi) Era 1333-1573

Izasa Choisai Ienao, 1386-1488, is credited with creating the first Ryu and founding the concept, which governed the establishing of martial arts systems. After a Tenshin Sho, divine illumination, Izasa founded the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu Heiho. This established the idea that the only reason for founding a martial arts system was to pass on the divine inspiration of a Ryu. The physical techniques grew out of the inspiration, which the founder then passed on to his successors with the idea of them continuing the tradition.


Many systems grew directly out of the students of Izasa, while others learned the concept and followed its ideas in the founding of their own martial systems. Martial arts systems always had at their heart a divinely inspired philosophy, which affected their specific physical manifestation.


Another major system of the martial arts, which was influenced by Izasa and his idea of the Tenshin Sho, and has greatly influenced the martial arts since it’s founding is the Shinkage Ryu.


Kamiizumi Hidetsuna, 1508-1578, founded the Shinkage Ryu after studying the Kage Ryu and Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. His form has been called a divinely inspired Kage Ryu or a new Kage Ryu, according to the Kanji which is used to write the system, but the idea was that Kamiizumi was blessed with a divine inspiration that manifested in an understanding of the nature of the principle of the Kage in a new and unique way which was manifested in his Shinkage Ryu style.


In the meantime, the Takeda Ryu was established to pass on the martial arts, which had originated with Yoshimitsu Minamoto and passed to the Takeda family. Sometimes referred to as the Takeda Bugi, the system was passed on through the Takeda family.


Shingen Takeda, 1520-1573, continued the martial tradition of the Takeda family and became one of the greatest Daimyo of Japan. These arts were taught in many ways, one list of the Takeda Ryu Bugei lists the arts as follows: Aikijutsu, Ju Kempo, Kyujutsu, Kenjutsu, and others.


Momoyama (Azuchi-Momoyama) 1573-1603

Munenori Yagyu, 1571-1646, was one of the most fabulous masters of his time frame, known to have been able to defeat multiple opponents. His family mastered the art of Shinkage Ryu and was given the right, through their own genius and divine inspiration, to call their branch of the art Yagyu Shinkage Ryu. Munenori taught the Shogun and acted as his bodyguard, saving his life on numerous occasions and even facing more than one opponent to do so. This branch of Shinkage Ryu still exists today and has been a great influence on many systems.


Kunitsugu Takeda, 1551-1592, younger brother of Shingen Takeda, established the Takeda family in Aizu at the end of the sixteenth century. He carried on and preserved the martial tradition of the Takeda Ryu. A retainer of this branch of the Takeda family, who will be mentioned later, learned an art called O Shiki Uchi, and passed it on to a person who is important in the martial arts of modern times.



Tokugawa Era 1603-1868

The Tokugawa era of peace was good for Japan, in that the country knew a certain level of peace and prosperity, but for the martial arts there was a degeneration that occurred since wars were no longer being fought. However certain groups didn’t know deterioration due to the fact that they were extremely active and lived away from the urban centers where a lot of the degradation occurred. It seemed the more rural and secluded a Ryu, the more it thrived during this time period.


Supporting and protecting the Tokugawa family were members of the famed Ninjutsu groups, Iga Ryu and Koga Ryu. A Shinobi organization referred to as the Hakuryugumi, white dragon group, organized and structured their group in such a way that they could spy out information beneficial to the Shogun, as well as, provide protection for him and his family.


Iganokami Wada, was the founding headmaster, Shodai Soke, of Wada Ha Koga Ryu Ninjutsu. Wada was a member of the Hakuryugumi and served the Shogun directly. His skill was superb and being active during this period of time allowed his family and their descendents to maintain a high level of skill and avoid the deterioration that was occurring to other warriors and Ryu.


Meanwhile in Aizu, Soemon Takeda, 1758-1853, taught Aiki Inyo Ho to Takeda retainers. Out of this concept grew a training method referred to as either Aiki Inyo Odori or simply Aiki Odori. This method was almost lost in the modern era, but a few practitioners of the Takeda family preserved the method and passed it on to various students, sometimes as certain techniques, but recognizable through research as the special Odori method of the Aizu Takeda family martial art.



Meiji Era 1868-1912

Tanomo Saigo, 1830-1905, chief Aizu Takeda retainer, was a master of a special art known as O Shiki Uchi, said to have been indicative of the Takeda Ryu method of Aiki. Tanomo taught Shiro Saigo and Sokaku Takeda this art, which, under Sokaku became the foundation of the Daito Ryu, and through Shiro affected the development, in the early days, of Kodokan Judo.


Jigoro Kano, 1860-1938, founded the school known as Kodokan Judo, from his study of Tenshin Shinyo Ryu and Kito Ryu. He researched many other styles of Jujutsu during that time and even organized a branch of his school for the preservation of the ancient martial arts. This branch was known as the Kodokan Kobudo Kenkyu Kai. There are those who say that sport Judo was suppose to be a minor part of Kano’s Kodokan, with the idea that as members grew older they would transfer to the study of classical Jujutsu and learn Sogo Bujutsu, the complete comprehensive martial arts.


Upon the death of Kano and the attending wealth to be made from the control of sport Judo as it developed into an Olympic sport, the other side of the Kodokan faded away.


Prior to this, Shiro Saigo, 1868-1922, contributed knowledge of O Shiki Uchi to the Kodokan’s overall knowledge. Many of the early masters of the Kodokan, influenced by Shiro Saigo, had a very Aiki aspect to their Judo. Kyuzo Mifune was known to have described the principle of Judo with the Aiki principle of ‘turn when pushed, enter when pulled’. Some Judo practitioners still search for the Kami Waza displayed by the ‘great spirit of the Kodokan’, Kyuzo Mifune.



Taisho 1912-1926

Sokaku Takeda, 1859-1943, has been regarded by some as the actual founder of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, though others think of him as the inheritor of an ancient system. Both might be true if we think of him bringing together two lines of the Minamoto martial arts through two Takeda branches. Sokaku learned Gotenjutsu from father, Sokichi Takeda, and O Shiki Uchi from Tanomo Saigo. He combined these two lines into one system and used an ancient term, the name of Yoshimitsu’s palace (that being Daito) associated with Minamoto martial arts to name his teachings.


Meanwhile on Okinawa, the Minamoto lineage of the martial arts continued to be taught amongst the royal families. In general the art has been called Bushi Te, or warrior hand, but it is known that some families had their own special name for their family martial art. One particular family to preserve the Ryukyu Oke Hiden Bujutsu, royal families secret martial arts, is the Motobu family. When modern times came and the last living master of the art saw that changes were being made to the martial arts he did two things to help preserve the traditional arts of Okinawa.


First of all, Choyu Motobu, organized an Okinawan Karate Kenkyu Kai, research society, to share with the leading masters the special arts of the Okinawan royalty. Most of these masters absorbed some of these skills into their systems while continuing to modernize them under Japanese influence. However Choyu did a second thing to preserve the secret Bujutsu, he took under his tutelage a youngster to whom he taught the complete royal martial art and secret skills.


Seikichi Uehara, 1904-2004, was taught the Motobu family martial art under the name Gotente and renamed it Motobu Ryu Bujutsu to honor the family from which he had learned the art. The skills as taught by Uehara were the preservation of ancient and traditional skills whose techniques could be seen to preserve the original concepts derived from the Minamoto influence and with Chinese influences as well. Uehara noted that Tai Chi Chuan, Hsing I Chuan, and Pa Kua Chang, all affected the skills taught by the royal families, but for those who know and understand Aiki, it is evident that Gotente shares a common root with the Minamoto Bujutsu.


James Masayoshi Mitose, 1916-1981, has been described as the founder of Kosho Ryu Kempo or the inheritor of an ancient family tradition. It is known that he learned the martial arts on Japan, training from 1921 to 1936, before returning to Hawaii, where he had been born. Mitose seems to be an enigma, but from his own notes, seals, and books, it appears that he knew the martial arts of; Kempo, Karate, Jujutsu, Ninjutsu, Sogo Bujutsu, and had a basic knowledge of Judo and Kendo.


Mitose listed as the systems of study contained in his style Kosho Ryu, Shorei Ryu, and Koga Ryu. Mitose told Robert Trias that he’d trained with Choki Motobu, he gave Nimr Hassan a seal that noted that he taught Koga style Ninjutsu, and publicly said that his own family martial art was known as Kosho Ryu Kempo.


Regardless of the arts and systems, which Mitose knew and studied, he was the first person to teach traditional Kempo in the United States and through his students has affected much of the martial arts in the United States.



Showa Era 1926-1989

Morihei Ueshiba, 1899-1969, is the founder of Aikikai Aikido, the first form of Aikido. He learned Daito Ryu from Sokaku Takeda; but had studied many other forms of martial arts as well. While he taught under various names over the years he founded Aikido in 1942. There have been many styles that have adopted the name Aikido, but Ueshiba was the first to use the name. Ueshiba’s style has influenced many styles of modern martial arts.


Seiko Fujita, 1899-1966, was the Soke of Wada Ha Koga Ryu Ninjutsu and Namban Satto Ryu Kempo. He was the successor of the Ninjutsu system from his grandfather, Shintazaemon Fujita; and the successor of the Kempo system from Ippusai Hashimoto. He also organized a research group known as the Dai Nippon Kobudo Kenkyu Sho, which preserved many of the martial arts still extant. Fujita also studied under many of the top Okinawan masters, adding the Karate and Kobujutsu of Okinawa to those taught at the Kenkyu Sho.


Among those with whom he trained were Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni, and Shinken Taira. Fujita also required some of his students to study under the Okinawan martial artists as well.


Tokimune Takeda, 1916-1993, son of Sokaku Takeda, changed the name of the art he taught to Aikibudo and taught three aspects; Jujutsu, Aikijujutsu, and Aikinojutsu under the title of Soke of Daito Ryu Aikibudo. This school and several branches headed by students of Sokaku Takeda pass on the three aspects of the Aiki arts of Minamoto Bujutsu as preserved through the Takeda family and more specifically Sokaku Takeda.


Ramon Lono Ancho, 1928-2003, has been called the Shihanke of Kodenkan Jujutsu and Kosho Ryu Kempo. He trained under Henry Seishiro Okazaki in Kodenkan Jujutsu and James Masayoshi Mitose in Kosho Ryu Kempo. He also trained with William Chow, whom he noted taught the same as Mitose in the early days. While stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky, Ancho taught Richard Stone who ended up settling in Bardstown, Kentucky where he opened a class of martial arts.


Richard Stone, after his introduction under Ancho, went on to continue his martial arts training while in college. He trained with Hiroshi Wada at Georgetown College, a practitioner of Kodokan Judo and Aikikai Aikido. Later, at Campbellsville College he trained with Takeyuki Ebisuya, a top Kodokan Judo practitioner. At different times he was exposed to other martial arts, chiefly other forms of Kempo along with Tai Chi, and eventually joined Juko Ryu with his student William Durbin.


Rod Sacharnoski began his training in 1950 and over the years has studied most of the Asian martial arts. He founded Juko Ryu in 1962 and is the internationally recognized Dai Soke of Juko Ryu Aiki Inyo Bujutsu. Sacharnoski is the master of numerous martial arts, including those of China, Okinawa, and Japan. Juko Ryu is a Sogo Bujutsu, comprehensive martial arts systems preserving the arts of Aikijujutsu, Karate, Kempojutsu, Toide, Hakutsuru Kempo, and Okuden. Many arts are only available to the inner students of Juko Ryu.


William Durbin is the Soke of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei. He began his training with Richard Stone, a student of Ramon Lono Ancho and others already mentioned. He trained under Rod Sacharnoski and earned master ranks in many of the Juko Ryu Aiki Inyo Bujutsu. Kiyojute Ryu was founded in 1982 bringing together in one system Japanese and Okinawan martial arts derived from the pure source of Kempo, as well as the Chinese roots, which includes; Karate, Karatejutsu, Jujutsu, Aikijujutsu, Kobujutsu, and Nimpo, as well as, Tai Chi Chuan. Students study these ancient arts with the idea of increasing their overall knowledge and skill of self defense in the main art of Kempo. Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei are the arts of spiritual development, mental concentration, physical fitness, and self defense.



Heisei Era 1989-

In the current era of Japanese history there are certain names that should be noted in regard to the martial arts. First of all there is Jinichi Kawakami who is known as the Banto of Koga Ryu Ninjutsu, which means he is the guardian of Koga Ryu Ninjutsu.


Fumio Tanaka has listed among the ranks he holds the title of Hanshi of Koga Ryu Ninjutsu. This is but one style of which he has senior master rank, but it is an important one of note for those who claim that this system of Ninjutsu no longer exists.


Shoto Tanemura the headmaster of the Gembukan school of Nimpo Bugei has also noted that he has trained in Koga Ryu Ninjutsu. He studied many other arts and systems which he pooled into the curriculum of the Gembukan.


Katsuyuki Kondo was the Soke Dairi under Tokimune Takeda in Daito Ryu Aikibudo. Upon the death of Tokimune, the Soke Dairi, being the official assistant to the Soke until his death, was recognized as head of the system by a consensus of a majority of current practitioners.


Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei seeks to preserve the ancient methods of the martial arts before they were tainted by modern competition and non spiritual considerations. All arts are taught from their original concept avoiding certain modern methods of practice and retaining the original methods of practice, including Kata and Embu, which have fallen to the wayside due to competitive practices of competitive Kumite, which cannot really be traced back farther than 1936.


The central philosophy of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei is expressed in Japanese as Zen Kito, meaning the meditative way of Christ. The founder is an ordained minister who’s Tenshin Sho was a direct inspiration from God through his faith in Jesus Christ. Many central principles are founded upon Christian ideas, though they are universal in nature.


William Durbin, Shodai Soke of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei, studied under Richard Stone from whom he learned Kodokan Judo, Kosho Ryu Kempo, Kodenkan Jujutsu, and Aikikai Aikido. Under Rod Sacharnoski he learned the Juko Ryu Aiki Inyo Bujutsu and was privy to the ancient Ryu, which formed the foundation of the system. Durbin also had the pleasure of training with Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace, who for years considered himself mainly a Shorin Ryu Karate practitioner, though he has been influenced by many sources.


While the techniques are ancient, they are practiced from the inspired perspective of the Soke. Classes are always taught with the idea of allowing God to inspire the sessions while preserving and adapting the ancient techniques to modern life and self defense situations.