The Yamabushi Ryû is based on the traditions and fighting techniques of the Japanese warrior monks. The Japanese divide this term into two areas of meaning.
On the one hand, Yamabushi is understood as a mountain ascetic who pursues his mythical, religious exercises as a pilgrim in the loneliness of the mountains. In addition to religious exercises, these Yamabushi dealt with medicine and herbalism, with magic, with astrology and other mythical arts. Their primary goal was to create unity between man and universe. One of their most important tasks was to travel around the country and use their knowledge for the good of the people. When a Yamabushi went on his pilgrimage, he was free to roam the land; which was not possible for almost everybody in ancient Japan.
In addition to the “Oi”, the carrying basket that contained ritual objects and medicine, the sword and the walking stick were his constant companions. His mental abilities, his knowledge of medicine and physics, coupled with the hardened robustness of his body, allowed him to impress broad masses of the people with his skill and knowledge. Because he was “one” with the “Tao” universe, death no longer had any meaning for him. There were few people who tried to mess with him.
The second term “Yamabushi” developed around the 15th century. The nobility and the samurai caste emulated the Yamabushi. It became fashionable to go to the mountains and meditate there, to become tougher, to become one with nature. Masterless samurai, ronin, retreated to the mountains to escape the world. They joined monasteries, became “monk warriors” or formed their own communities. Since they spent their lives in the mountains, they were also called Yamabushi. Ronin, (samurai) who grew weary of mountain life, roamed the country in the spirit of the Yamabushi. They offered their services to clan leaders as fencing masters, healers or meditation teachers. You were free as the wind.
The Yamabushi Ryû was built on the basis of the second meaning. In addition to the technical knowledge and skills, the Ryû includes a large part of spiritual, mental exercises that have always been present in the old martial arts – Bujutsu. If we are to make a classifying judgment, we can say that the ryu consists of one-third technique and two-thirds mind and knowledge. A few years ago, masters of the martial arts got together, who in the long years of their training had always come to know only fixed teaching opinions. Whatever system, whatever style they practiced, nothing changed, nothing conformed to the ancient teachings of the arts. Much was subject to either sport or commerce. They made it their mission to rediscover the ancient roots of martial arts. Like the old Yamabushi, they travelled around Europe to seek out masters, dôjô and ryû who still taught the old teachings or led their dôjô. Many of these teachers only had partial knowledge. Knowledge and information gaps had to be laboriously filled with appropriate literature. After a few years, the pieces of the mosaic found could be put together to form a whole. The Yamabushi Ryû Kenjutsu was created in 1995.
All masters of the Yamabushi Ryû continue to have the obligation to continue to search for the old roots of the martial arts, to continue to learn and to expand their existing knowledge. If we now transfer these old insights and dogmas into our time, we must recognize that the teachings of the old martial arts are not suitable for sporting purposes. From today’s point of view, we have to assign the old martial arts to the area of “self-defence” and “life experience”. The one who goes the way of the sword will get a different view of life and a different view of things. The Yamabushi Ryû Kenjutsu is based on five pillars. Each pillar contains different systems. The first pillar, kenjutsu, involves knowledge pertaining to the sword. It teaches knowledge of Iaijutsu, Battojutsu, Kenjutsu, Tachijutsu, Daishôjutsu, Nitôjutsu and Wakizashijutsu. Here we deal with both combat and traditional, classic kata.
The second pillar, Sôjutsu, involves the use of polearms. Starting with the bo, through the yari – including different types – and the naginata to the nagimaki. The third pillar, Kotôjutsu, teaches how to use the “small” bladed weapons. Here we find the tantô, in various forms and forms of application, the kogatana, the shaken, etc. The fourth pillar, Kobujutsu, deals with the small arms of the peasant warriors. Sai, Tonfa, Kama, Kusarigama, Kobutan, Tessen, etc. The fifth pillar, Ryokujutsu, is dedicated to unarmed martial arts. Here, of course, special attention is paid to converting the battlefield techniques of that time into techniques that can be used today. Of course, this type of self-defence does not pursue any sporting purposes, but is dedicated to the sole goal of overcoming every opponent with the uncompromising hardness of the Japanese martial arts.
In 1999, the sixth pillar of Yamabushi Ryû was created by Ingo Brosch and Marcus Bartsch, the Yamabushi Ryû Kyûjutsu. Originally a fully included sixth pillar of the system, the Japanese longbow is equally important in battlefield as sword and other weapons.
The origins of the Japanese longbow go way back in Japan’s history. Deeply connected to the Japanese myths and gods of the ancient world, the bow is one of the most important weapons of the ancient samurai. Not only a battle was decided by a hit with an arrow from a longbow. Before a samurai learned how to use a sword, he first learned how to use a bow.
Yamabushi Ryû Kyûjutsu is also a martial art. A martial art that has its origins on the battlefield does not seek to change its nature. This means that our techniques and forms of training are essentially different from Kyudo, which is very well known in Europe.
In Kyûdo, the spiritual, mental path is in the foreground. The perfect execution and implementation of the given etiquette has a much higher priority in Kyûdo than hitting the target. Kyûjutsu, on the other hand, is applied, everyday archery in its original form. Hitting a target, under all conceivable circumstances, is the requirement of kyûjutsu. We shoot from all possible positions, formations, movement and at various traditional targets, both static and dynamic (moving).
The circumstances quickly enforced the Kyûjutsu pillar to evolve into an independent martial art – under the Yamabushi Ryû. The basics, tenets and theses as well as the inner attitude towards Budo and Bushido are just as elementary for mastering the longbow as the art of wielding the sword.
We also traditionally wear the wakizashi with the Japanese longbow. This is an additional sword with a blade length of about 60 cm. Translated, Wakizashi means “faithful companion”. The Wakizashi is used for close range combat.
Technically speaking, the art of shooting with the Japanese longbow (kyûjutsu) is completely different from dealing with bows from other cultures. Because the difference is in the way we place the arrow. We are used to resting the arrow laid on the string on the left side of the bow. This gives the shooter a clear view of the target. With the Japanese longbow, we place the arrow on the right side of the bow wood. If we aim at the target in the usual way, it is completely covered by the bow.
Common to the Yamabushi Ryû is the spirit of the ancient teachings that pervades them. The knowledge and teachings contained in the pillars and systems form the “red” thread that runs through the entire Yamabushi Ryû. On this basis, further arts are added as the level of knowledge progresses. We are fully aware that we ask a lot of our students. At the same time, however, we also believe that we give them a lot for their lives. Honesty, sincerity, discipline, respect for one’s fellow human beings, community with nature and its creatures, all these are values that are hidden behind the maxims of the old martial arts. We have made it our life’s work to find them again and to transfer them to the present day.