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Basic explanation of the Yoshin schools

Okay, first things first: no matter what I say here, there's always gonna be somebody or some source that disagrees (sometimes completely) with what gets said. That's chiefly because there are more than one kind of Yoshin school and these schools are not only prolific but very old (been around since the 1600's.) Before any of you ask me for sources: please, I tend only to cite common knowledge and as such sources for it are numerous but not always in English. It's nothing that a basic Internet search wouldn't produced, but you might need to be able to translate CKJ (and I being an amateur linguist do tackle this for personal reasons.) One thing I absolutely hate is to be asked for sources, then have them ignored because the receiver cannot translate CKJ... so if you want sources: type the kanji into a google search engine yourself and viola!!!!!

Types of Yoshin Schools

There are both gendai and koryu schools of [any kind of] yoshin ryu, some schools are koryu (older "orthodox" schools with a 'pedigree' of lineage dating back to at least 1888 c.e. if not earlier) then, of the gendai (or "modern") schools, some of these are ultra-modern (having originated between the 1950's and 1970's) with a very modern content and structure (if any). Some gendai schools are 'koden' schools, although of modern origin, their content and structure is still traditional by Japanese standards. So, technically, it is possible to speak of three (3) kinds of yoshin ryu schools: koryu, koden and shinden ("new type" 新伝) both of the gendai. [BEFORE anybody pipes up and tells me that "shinden" doesn't mean "new style"... fellas... I'm slicker than that:'s standard Japanese language term and very darned well is used to describe any 'new' or 'modern' trend, tradition or style (of anything.) I've already encountered the argument that it's not a budo term -- the hell it's not.]

Shinden → koden → koryu

Koden are sometimes very similar to koryu schools but don't have membership in the Nihon Butokukai national martial arts organization which is the Japanese governmental institution for the endorsement and propagation of traditional fighting arts (as a national and cultural heritage.) Koden are usually associated with Shinto practices and frequently thought to reflect Shinto religious ideologies and beliefs as part of the school itself. However, simply being a koden type school doesn't necessary imply that it's of 'modern' origin, or that it has any particular content or structure. Koden ryuha may be very old (founded prior to the 20th century) or they may have been founded last year. What makes them 'koden' is that, in some way, their content or structure appeals to the older and more traditional forms of martial arts -- whereas the shinden ("new type" 新伝) are based upon very modern approaches.

A very good example of the shinden types of jujutsu are the Japanese schools of BJJ 'Brazilian' jujutsu.

As far as these classifications go... our Shinden yoshin ryu is definitely 'koden' (despite the usage of the term 'shinden' which is here written with different kanji) due to content, orientation and structure (a fact which might not be so obvious given the westernized adaptation(s) of it we practice.)

So... now that we have covered the basics... we'll proceed to discuss the more relevant things that constitute the Yoshin schools. I remind you that no matter what I say here, someone and some source will definitely disagree (sometimes completely) due to the prolific number of these schools and the diversity of their lineages.


The Japanese indicated that these schools and martial arts came originally from China back in the 12-13th century and continued being imported from China well into the 15th century. We know that none of the actual modern schools are anywhere near this old. What we aren't sure of is exactly WHAT came to Japan from China or when it actually came. The Japanese admit some possibility of minor embellishment in regard to dating, so in reality it may be more like it came from China about the 14oo's?? The term "Yoshin", frequently written in kanji as (楊心 "Willow heart" ) came from Chinese language and from the records does not seem to have been the original language term. Records indicate that 陽心 ("Yang heart; sun-shine heart; sun-light heart") was the original language term.

Look very closely at the kanji and you will see clearly that there is a relationship between the two terms as written in kanji: 楊心 and 陽心 please note that the right-hand side of the kanji is identical to the right-hand side of the kanji . This is a reference to yin and yang, the dual forces of the cosmos in Sino-japanese tradition.

The original martial art(s) and school(s) of Chinese origin, brought to Japan which produced the now familiar Yoshin schools were based off the principles of light and dark (universal balance) and bore the name (pronounced in Chinese as 'Yang xin' and in Japanese as 'yo shin') "Yang heart". WE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THIS IS.

We know exactly what "Yang heart" is:... 陽心 "Yang heart" is an ideology that espouses having a light heart and being vibrant, happy and content (as opposed to being dark, depressed or obsessive.) One whom has the "yang heart" has a very vibrant and lively movement through life, they are not sluggish or brooding. It also means to be courageous and brave as opposed to being timid and meek (the 'yin' side of behavior.) This was the core idea then behind the martial art and school brought to Japan from China: the 陽心流 (yoshin ryu) "school of yang heart" i.e.; the school of martial technique that is very lively and active, outgoing and courageous martial technique.

That is exactly what the original ideology was.

The teachings brought to Japan from China basically taught that in life and in combat/self protection one must not be timid or sluggish but instead be courageous and lively. Sometime (apparently) around the 1500's (if not before?) the school kanji characters were changed to the now common 楊心 "willow heart" but it does not mean what most people mistakenly assume (of the doctrine of the willow branch being flexible and so to model one's conduct thereupon.) That is not what it actually means, linguistically speaking.

The kanji change from to is more reflective of descent from the original ideology and martial school, the PHONETIC elements of the kanji actually spell out "yang (tree)" it is to say "the Yang family tree (of tradition and philosophy)". Only later did they devise by way of explanatory exegesis the teaching and ideology of the willow tree branches being flexible and hence it came to mean 'adaptability'. In reality the kanji change from to is meant to have been reflective of descent and marks these 'schools' and martial arts as being descended from the original ideologies and philosophies brought from China sometime between the 12th and 15th century.

So this has explained, more or less accurately, what it meant and where it came from. But to properly understand, this 'philosophical tradition' came to Japan from China over a few hundred years and not at one specific time. This being the case, the philosophy and martial tradition expanded and grew as more of it arrived in Japan. In fact, some sources say that the whole thing occurred much earlier in time (between the dates of 900 - 1100 c.e.) but this dating is most likely not accurate. It could not have formed into actual 'schools' of tradition for at least a couple of hundred years (placing it from about the 1400's to a likely date of the mid 1600's.) And coincidentally, the mid 1600's are exactly when the Japanese say that these schools actually got founded: the Takagi branches of them are dated at about the 1660's. The Takagi sibling schools of Kukishinden likewise, the 1660's. The famous Takenouchi school is dated slightly before this at about the 1610's if I am not mistaken. But it's only maybe 50 years difference?

The thing to remember here is that this tradition and terminology (YOSHIN) was definitely extant and very widely recognized between both the Chinese and Japanese as early as (a dating stated by them as being) about the 12th century. Any usage or application of the term "yoshin" in any form by any kanji would automatically get associated with this long established idea and concept -- of known Chinese origin.

IT'S EVEN MORE IMPORTANT to remember that this whole subject is pretty much a matter of common knowledge among the Japanese, and the Chinese, and that the term "Yang heart" still exists in their languages and still has this exact same meaning. This information is common knowledge in their cultures.

The next few statements may get a very unreasonable reaction from some parties (I've had it vehemently argued) so... I warned ya.

Many yoshin schools are stated as being "completely unrelated" to the other Yoshin schools. For example, specifically, the famous (koryu) lineages descended of Dr. Akiyama. To breifly and kindly explain this matter: what is usually meant, when the Japanese say that such schools are "unrelated", it is that either the keizu lineages of descent are unrelated or that the technical content and structure is unrelated (e.g., the 'school(s)' are unrelated adaptations of the established theme(s) of this tradition.) THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A YOSHIN SCHOOL THAT ISN'T RELATED TO THE ENTIRE YOSHIN LINEAGE. That is physically and culturally impossible being that the entire philosophical tradition is an established "common knowledge" cultural and historical edifice dating back to perhaps the 1200's in both China and Japan. And that the term "yoshin" as "yang heart" is actually a common language term and common language concept in both Chinese and Japanese.

All Yoshin schools and Yoshin martial arts, whether in China, Korea or Japan, are inter-related and descended from very old martial and life philosophies shared between these nationalities since the 1400's at least. Not that the schools come from that time period, but that the martial philosophies and traditions come from that dating. There is no such thing as a yoshin school or yoshin martial art that isn't related (at this late a date and given the commonality of the philosophical tradition -- that would be fully impossible.) So when the Japanese say that [any given school] is not related, they mean that either the keizu descent lines of the school (headmaster to headmaster) are not related to any other ryuha lineages, or if not, they mean that the ryuha's technical content or structure is unrelated to the other. However, in almost all examples of this (with but a few exceptions) even the "unrelated" schools frequently share terminologies and nomenclature amongst themselves.

It's a dead give away because there are specific terms of language and tradition associated with the entire Yoshin tradition of philosophy. That's why the Yoshin schools and martial arts always have some common terms and nomenclature shared among themselves. Whether Chinese, Japanese or Korean, these martial traditions share common terminologies and nomenclature because of the age of the tradition and universal (Asian) nature of the philosophy. There still are, to this day, Chinese martial (and other!!) arts of this tradition, and those Chinese wushu schools have some terminologies and nomenclature shared in common with the Japanese (but the Japanese differ slightly in how they employ and define these terms.) Most modern Korean relatives, however, are actually Koreanized of the Japanese systems. Please notice that I pointed out that the Yoshin schools are not merely schools of martial arts, there are other Yoshin arts that are not martial at all – most Westerners don't seem to know this. Those other schools and arts are actually direct relatives of the Yoshin schools of the martial arts. Their terminology and philosophies are useful and interesting by way of comparison.

The common usage of Ki and Sha in the Yoshin schools

Most martial artists have heard of ki energy, and today some even have heard of it's anti-part “sha”, especially due to the Chinese art of Feng-shui coming available to the West. Yoshin schools have quite a bit of emphasis upon the development and usage of ki energy (and likewise deep interest in it's counterpart 'sha', which usually gets ignored in the West.) Aiki and kiaijutsu both are very well known Yoshin descended arts that manipulate (both ki and sha) however, here in the West, sha is largely ignored.

Ki energy is so well acknowledged that I will restrict this explanation to merely having said that ki energy usually refers to subtle manipulations of body dynamics or other similar tricks of physical mechanics to achieve certain things by, such as the Immovable arm trick which is well known from Aikido. Whereas as ki(jutsu) is the study of and usage of certain forms of body dynamics or other subtleties of physical mechanics, sha is the exact opposite. Sha refers to the improper dynamics or mechanics. For example, to do a technique wrong: that is 'sha', but what the 'sha' rests in depends upon what was done incorrectly within the technique. Sha is the use of improper mechanics or dynamics (hence “doing it wrong”.) However, there is 'sha' even within the most perfect execution of a proper technique, and this sha is targetable. Best way I can think of to explain this is that everyone knows that there are counter-techniques to a hip-throw. One counters the hip-throw by doing a certain thing which prevents the hip throw from being executed against you: it is the 'sha' of the hip throw being exploited in the counter technique. So sha can be exploited and there are (standardized) ways of doing so. One can exploit existing sha or one can cause the generation of sha which did not already exist. Everyone has heard of ki but sha, it's counterpart, is not as well known or understood.

Some techniques exploit sha by their nature (intent of purpose) others seek to generate sha (as a course of action in the technique.) Still others seek to turn ki into sha or one's own sha into ki. This is the essential mechanics of Yoshin kijutsu techniques (including aiki and kiajutsu.)

Proliferation of Yoshin Schools

The Japanese have a very evident proliferation of these schools, marked by their names which are usually by rearrangement of and/or doubling of the phonetic syllables "Yo" and "shin" (written with any kanji and having any meaning) and also qualifying prefixal or suffixal adjectives. Yo-shin reversed becomes Shin-yo and so one finds such as Tenshin shinyo ryu, Shin no shinyo ryu, Shin ryu and etc. Qualifying adjectives may include family or clannal names: Takagi yoshin ryu, Hontai takagi yoshin ryu, Miura shinyo ryu and etc. Less recognizable variations include: Kukishin ryu and others wherein the pronunciation includes (especially) the syllable "shin". All of these are Yoshin schools. But also, schools which name means [a different form of the word "willow"] such as Yanagi ryu, which can also be doubled up with a qualifier family or clannal name such as Miura yanagi ryu, Yanagi miura ryu. ( Yanagi alternate word for "willow tree") This example can get tricky since you might find Yanagi shin ryu (yanagi for "willow" and a kanji prounced 'shin' to hint at "yoshin".)

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