History of Kosho Shorei Ryu
The story of Kosho Ryu must begin with a short history of the temple where Kosho was developed. In the year 778, Shozen Daishi was born. He was so bright that he was called the Child of God. When he was thirteen years old he decided to become a monk, so he shaved his head and began his studies of Buddhism at Yakushi temple at the foot of Mt. Ikura, in Kyushu, Japan. One day he climbed Mt. Ikura and was very impressed with the mysterious clouds over Mt. Kinkai. Eventually, he built a home there. When he was twenty-one years old he enshrined a statue of Shaka, a Buddhist deity in the house. A few years later he rebuilt the house and called it Shaka-In.
At that time Kanmu, the emperor of Japan, became very sick and called for the monk to heal him. He was successful, and the emperor gave him the official title Shozen Daishi, which is a title of high mastery generally reserved for Samurai, and almost never given to anyone of lower stature. In addition, the emperor contributed huge rice fields and a large territory to Shaka-In. Shozen Daishi died in 835, at the age of 57.
Peace Post at the Temple……
Around this time, the temple may have had close to 100 buildings in all. We know that in the year 850 Shaka-In caught fire and many of the then 75 monks’ houses burned. Later, in the 1100s, fire again ravaged part of the temple area in an attempt by marauders to destroy the temple.
Around the year 1235 a priest whom James Mitose called his first ancestor became enlightened to what we call Kempo. According to Mitose, this man was a martial arts master and a Buddhist priest studying at Shaka-In who found it difficult to be both. His religion taught him pacifism; his martial art taught him destruction. He needed something in between. He decided to meditate on this apparent contradiction under a big old pine tree on the temple grounds. A few years earlier, a fire in the Buddha house had forced the spirit of the Buddha out of the building and into the nearby pine tree. Many monks would go there to meditate so they could be close to their god. After meditating there for a long time he finally, “with the help of god”, came up with something amazing.
The monk came to an understanding of natural law which gave him a perfect method of defense and escape. He believed that true self-defense involved no body-contact. His methods postured him toward opponents in such a way as to make subsequent attacks continue to put the attacker further and further at a disadvantage. Using his illuminated strategies, the monk could make the attacker undo his own attack, and this could be done in a way that allowed for both to remain uninjured. The octagon would be used as a symbol for a method of movement in which jumping to particular angles based on timing and combative-distancing allowed strategies to be employed which confused and off-balanced the opponent. Reforming his opponents to become contributing members of society was his main goal. He and succeeding generations of his family members developed the art of Kosho Shorei Ryu as we know it today with all of this in mind. The monk chose this name for his art to reflect its spirit and its origins. Kosho Shorei Ryu means The Study of the Old Pine Tree School of Encouragement.
The famous Sho Chiku Bai, which is the Pine-Bamboo-Plum family crest, is centered over an octagon and is still in use today as the symbol of Kosho Shorei Ryu. The monk wore a version of this crest. Kosho Ryu bujutsu, the wartime arts as Mitose referred to them, as well as all other aspects of Kosho Ryu, are based on the revelation received by the monk under that old pine tree over 750 years ago.
Map of the Temple…..
Kosho Ryu bujutsu was a separate area of Kosho Ryu which was studied only by the Sohei. The sohei were warrior monks whose job it was to protect the temple and its territory as well as to fight in wars supported by the temple. They typically wore normal monks’ robes during peace time and carried a short staff known as a jo. During war time, they would wear armor under their robes, and ninja-like masks covering their faces. Their primary weapons during battle were a large halberd known as a naginata, as well as a typical Japanese long sword known as a tachi. The sohei of Kosho Ryu were skilled in escaping arts, which were explained earlier; controlling arts, which are similar to, but older than, jujitsu or aikido; as well as destructive arts, which are similar to, but older than, karate.
James Mitose said that at one time there were over 400 monks living and studying at the temple. These warrior-monks were a potential threat to the political control held by Konishi Yukinaga, the Daimyo of Kyushu at the time. It was for this reason that in the year 1588, Konishi sent 5000 samurai to destroy the temple. The 400 sohei at Shaka-In were defeated by the overwhelming mass of samurai, but still somehow managed to protect some of the most precious temple artifacts, documents, and the sacred old pine tree itself. Konishi confiscated all of the temple’s territory and burned down many of the monks’ houses, as well as the 49 branch temples in the area.
His head was later removed by perhaps one of the most famous warlords in Japanese history, Kato Kiyamasa. Kato was the daimyo of nearby Kumamoto Castle and a very convicted buddhist. Konishi was a christian and had earlier gone against the samurai code of bushido by refusing to commit seppuku, ritual suicide, after being disgraced by allowing himself to be captured. He and Kato had been commanders together during the Japanese invasion of Korea years before. Kato held disdain for Konishi ever since his refusal to commit seppuku when captured, which in Kato’s eyes, brought dishonor to Konishi, to himself, and to all samurai.
Steps to the Temple…..
Thirty-two years later, the son of Kato Kiyamasa and a great samurai in his own right named Kato Tadahiro rebuilt the temple. From that time on the martial arts of Kosho Shorei Ryu became what Mitose called secret. They were taught only to family members in order to maintain tradition.
Kosho Shorei Ryu martial arts were passed on for 21 consecutive generations until James Masayoshi Mitose handed the art to the first non-Japanese in its history, an american named Bruce Juchnik.
Feel free to ask us any questions about Kempo and what it can do for you!
All historical info comes from research through the Sei Kosho Shorei Kai International. And other online resources. feel free to follow any links provided.