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52 Japanese Martial Arts Related to the Historical Ninja

52 Japanese Martial Arts Related to the Real Ninja

Last updated on July 25th, 2017

Do you know which martial art today is related to the historical ninja?

Find out what are the 52 martial arts in this article! We begin by explaining the conditions and deductions to qualify martial arts into this list. Then we sort martial arts into groups: martial arts with verified lineages and modern derivatives.

Use the table of contents below to navigate sections.

The Conditions: How do we know which martial arts were used by ninjas?

To come up with a list of martial arts used by the shinobi, we first need to determine the conditions and deductions based on facts. Here are three conditions, followed by the explanation.

1. Samurai martial arts are logically ninja martial arts

Contrary to popular belief, the ninja were mainly from the bushi-class and not a peasant-class counter movement. They were mostly samurai (including ashigaru and jizamurai) who specialised in espionage and covert operations. Therefore, martial arts used by the ninja were logically the same as samurai martial arts, perhaps with some modifications.

These articles explain in detail why this is the basis, talks about the differences between historical ninjutsu and bujutsu, and opens the inclusion of modern ninjutsu schools:

2. Only martial arts created in Japan are included

Because ninja and ninjutsu were a specifically Japanese phenomenon, any martial art outside of Japan will not be included.

Even though there were pre-modern spies in other asian civilisations, they were not ninja. Ninjutsu as a system was unique to feudal Japan. Here’s more about ninja history based on validated ninja manuals.

3. Martial Arts outside mainland Japan are omitted

Martial arts outside of mainland Japan were not used by the samurai, and by extension, the shinobi. In particular, martial arts from the Ryukyu islands, including Okinawa, were not historically part of Japan. They had their own kingdom, history and warrior elites.

With these three conditions in mind, here’s a list of martial arts that have varying connection to the shinobi of both Sengoku and Edo period.

Classical Martial Arts in Japan before 1868

Japanese koryu martial arts are classical battlelfield combat systems that can be traced to the feudal period, any time before the Meiji period in 1868. These martial arts have their documents scrunitised and some times carbon-dated by a panel of experts to prove a continuity in lineage and more. And many of the koryu here would have been directly used by samurai who were also involved in ninja activities.

The core systems contained in many koryu, such as hand-to-hand combat and swordsmanship, have been mentioned in the Bansenshukai. However, just because a koryu martial art has these systems does not guarantee that an individual shinobi has trained in that specific brand of koryu. None of the historical manuals have specified this.

Hence, the koryu list is from deduction. If you want martial arts training that is similar to that of the feudal period in Japan and has its lineage verified, this is it.

Note: This is an incomplete list of koryu. Some are deliberately omitted due to the obscurity of living practitioners or disputes in leadership and lineage validity. I may have even missed out some unintentionally.

Koryu with comprehensive syllabus

These are classical martial arts that include:

  1. unarmed combat
  2. typical samurai weapons (e.g. sword, spear and glaive)
  3. less-conventional weapons (e.g. spiked truncheon)
  4. non-combat or warfare strategies (e.g. ressucitation, ninjutsu)

1
Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu - 天真正伝香取神道流

Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu is one of the oldest koryu martial art today. It is also the only one known to include ninjutsu in its syllabus.

Note that historical ninjutsu was never a martial art. The term was used to refer to feudal espionage and subterfuge techniques. In Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, ninjutsu is taught in the advance syllabus and is only defensive in nature.

Katori Shinto Ryu
Credits: Empty Mind Films (Swordsmanship)
KoryuTenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu – 天真正伝香取神道流
Systems

  • Kenjutsu – swordsmanship
  • Iaijutsu – sword drawing
  • Bojutsu – staff techniques
  • Naginatajutsu– glaive techniques
  • Sojutsu – spear techniques
  • Jujutsu – hand-to-hand grappling
  • Shurikenjutsu– spike-throwing
  • Ninjutsu – intelligence gathering and analysis
  • Chikujojutsu – field fortification
  • Gunbaiho – strategy and tactics
  • In-yo Kigaku – philosophical and mystical aspects derived from Mikkyo

Founded by (in)Iizasa Choisai Ienao (ca. 1447)
Dojo Info

Websitekatori-shinto-ryu.org/

2
Takenouchi-ryu - 竹内流

Takenouchi-ryu is among the oldest jujutsu classical martial art that still exists in Japan. And it includes a range of weapons in its syllabus.

竹内流 - Takenouchi Ryu
Credits: 竹内流 – Takenouchi Ryu Part 1/2
KoryuTakenouchi-ryu  – 竹内流
Systems

  • Jujutsu – hand-to-hand grappling
  • Hade – attacking vital points unarmed
  • Kenjutsu – swordsmanship
  • Iaijutsu – sword drawing
  • Bojutsu – staff techniques
  • Naginatajutsu– glaive techniques
  • Tessenjutsu – iron fan techniques 
  • Hojojutsu (hobaku) – rope binding/restraint
  • Sakkatsuho – ressucitation

Founded by (in)Takenouchi Chunagon Daijo Hisamori (1532)
Head dojoOkayama Prefecture, Japan
Websitewww.takenouchiryu.com/

Koryu with only weapons training and warfare strategy

The following classical martial art has no hand-to-hand combat system and instead focuses on a wide range of weaponry and warfare strategies.

3
Tatsumi-ryu - 立身流兵法

Tatsumi-ryu includes scouting and reconnaissance as part of its curriculum. This would no doubt be useful for some form of espionage activity during the feudal period.

立身流兵法 居合 薙刀術 - Tatsumi-ryū Heihō Iai and Naginata jutsu
Credit: 立身流兵法 居合 薙刀術 – Tatsumi-ryū Heihō Iai and Naginata jutsu
KoryuTatsumi-ryu – 立身流兵法
Systems

  • Kenjutsu – swordsmanship
  • Iaijutsu – sword drawing
  • Bojutsu – staff techniques
  • Yawara – armored and un-armored grappling
  • Sojutsu – spear techniques 
  • Hojojutsu – rope-binding
  • Shurikenjutsu– spike-throwing
  • Shudan Sentoho – esoteric charms & tactics
  • Monomi – scouting, reconnaissance & observation techniques

Founded by (in)Tatsumi Sankyo (1504-1520)
Head dojoChiba Prefecture, Japan (other dojos: Australia & France
Websitetatsumi-ryu.org/

Koryu with unarmed & multiple weaponry training

These koryu martial arts include both unarmed combat and a range of weaponry training.

4
Araki-ryu - 荒木流

KoryuAraki-ryu – 荒木流
Systems

  • Torite Kogusoku – unarmed and armed grappling at close quarters
  • Tojutsu – swordsmanship
  • Bojutsu – staff techniques
  • Naginatajutsu – glaive techniques
  • Kusarigamajutsu – chain and curved blade techniques
  • Chigirikijutsu –  staff with iron weight on chain technique
  • Ryofundojutsu – similar

Founded by (in)Araki Mujinsai Minamoto no Hidenawa (ca. 1573)
Head dojoGunma & Saitama Prefecture, Japan
Websitearakiryu.org/

5
Asayama Ichiden-ryu - 浅山一伝流

KoryuAsayama Ichiden-ryu – 浅山一伝流
Systems

  • Kenjutsu – swordsmanship
  • Iaijutsu – sword drawing
  • Bojutsu – staff techniques
  • Kamajutsu – farming weapon – sickle technique
  • Taijutsu – hand-to-hand techniques

Founded by (in)Asayama Ichidensai Shigetatsu (Tensho: 1573-1593 or Keicho: 1596-1615)
Head dojoKanagawa Prefecture, Japan

6
Kashima Shin-ryu - 鹿島神流

KoryuKashima Shin-ryu – 鹿島神流
Systems

  • Kenjutsu – swordsmanship
  • Battojutsu – sword unsheathing
  • Bojutsu – staff techniques
  • Naginatajutsu– glaive techniques
  • Sojutsu – spear techniques
  • Jujutsu – hand-to-hand grappling

Founded by (in)Kunii Kagetsugu & Matsumoto Bizen-no-kami (ca. 1450)
Head dojoIbaraki Prefecture, Japan (other dojos)
Websitewww.kashima-shinryu.jp/English/

7
Shindo Yoshin-ryu - 新道楊心流

KoryuShindo Yoshin-ryu – 新道楊心流
Systems

  • Jujutsu – hand-to-hand grappling
  • Kenjutsu – sword art (dai, sho)
  • Kogusoku – knife technique
  • Tantojutsu – short knife techniques
  • Tetsubo – spiked truncheon techniques
  • Kogai – small weapon (hair arranger used as weapon)
  • Torinawa – rope binding technique

Founded by (in)Matsuoka Katsunosuke (1864)
Dojo(s)United States, Japan, Europe
Websitewww.shinyokai.com

8
Yagyu Shingan-ryu - 柳生心眼流

Koryu martial artYagyu Shingan-ryu – 柳生心眼流
Systems

  • Kenjutsu – swordsmanship
  • Iaijutsu – sword drawing
  • Bojutsu – staff techniques
  • Naginatajutsu– glaive techniques
  • Taijutsu (jujutsu) – hand-to-hand grappling

Founded by (in)Araki Mataemon (early 1600s)
Head dojoKanagawa Prefecture, Japan
Websitehttp://www.yagyushinganryu.com/ (Sendai line)

Summary of Other Koryu Martial Arts

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Because there are many classical martial arts in Japan, it is impossible to cover them in depth in this article. These koryu are summarised and categorised as follows:

  • Presence of both unarmed and weaponry training
  • Presence of only weaponry training (but in multiple weapons)
  • Focus on only one system (further broken down into unarmed combat, sword combat and non-sword combat)

Koryu with both unarmed & weapon techniques

KoryuSystems
9. Hontai Yoshin-ryu jujutsu – 本體楊心流

  • jujutsu
  • kenjutsu
  • bojutsu
10. Sekiguchi Shinshin-ryu jujutsu – 関口新心流

  • jujutsu
  • kenjutsu

11. Sosuishitsu-ryu jujutsu – 双水執流

  • kogusoku (jujutsu)
  • koshi no mawari (iaijutsu)

Koryu with techniques in multiple weapons

Koryu martial artSystems
12. Kogen Itto-ryu kenjutsu – 甲源一刀流

  • kenjutsu
  • naginatajutsu

13. Maniwa Nen-ryu kenjutsu – 馬庭念流

  • kenjutsu
  • naginatajutsu
  • sojutsu
  • yadomejutsu

14. Owari Kan-ryu sojutsu – 尾張貫流槍術

  • kenjutsu
  • sojutsu

15. Shingyoto-ryu kenjutsu – 心形刀流

  • kenjutsu
  • iaijutsu
  • naginatajutsu

16. Shinto Muso-ryu jojutsu – 神道夢想流

  • kenjutsu
  • jojutsu

17. Shojitsu Kenri Kataichi-ryu battojutsu – 初實剣理方一流甲冑抜刀術

  • battokenjutsu – includes iaijutsu and kenjutsu
  • jojutsu

18. Suio-ryu kenjutsu – 水鷗流

  • iai
  • kempo (sword art; not fist art)
  • jo
  • naginata
  • kogusoku

19. Tendo-ryu naginatajutsu – 天道流薙刀術

  • kenjutsu
  • jojutsu
  • naginatajutsu
  • kusarigamajutsu

20. Toda-ha Buko-ryu naginatajutsu – 戸田派武甲流

  • kenjutsu
  • bojutsu
  • naginatajutsu
  • sojutsu
  • kusarigamajutsu

21. Yoshin-ryu – 楊心流

  • bojutsu
  • naginatajutsu
  • sojutsu
  • kusarigamajutsu

Focus on only one system

Unarmed Combat Only

Jujutsu
22. Tenjin Shinyo-ryu jujutsu – 天神真楊流
23. Daito-ryu aikijujutsu – 大東流合気柔術 (restored lineage in 1890)

Sword Only

Swordsmanship – Kenjutsu/Iaijutsu/Battojutsu
24. Hokushin Itto-ryu – 北辰一刀流 – kenjutsu
25. Niten Ichi-ryu – 二天一流 – kenjutsu
26. Kage-ryu – 影流 – battojutsu
27. Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryu – 鹿島神傳直心影流 – kenjutsu
28. Kashima Shinto-ryu – 鹿島新当流 – kenjutsu
29. Katayama Hoki-ryu – 片山伯耆流 – iaijutsu
30. Kurama-ryu – 鞍馬流 剣術 – kenjutsu
31. Mizoguchi-ha Itto-ryu – 溝口派一刀流 – kenjutsu
32. Mugai-ryu – 無外流 – iaijutsu & kenjutsu
33. Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu – 無双直伝英信流 – iaijutsu
34. Muso Shinden-ryu – 夢想神伝流 – iaijutsu & kenjutsu
35. Ono-ha Itto-ryu – 小野派一刀流 – kenjutsu
36. Shinmuso Hayashizaki-ryu – 神 夢想 林崎 流 – battojutsu
37. Tamiya-ryu – 民弥流 – iaijutsu
38. Yagyu Seigo-ryu – 柳生制钢流 – battojutsu
39. Yagyu Shinkage-ryu hyoho – 柳生新陰流 – kenjutsu

Non-Sword Only

Non-sword Weapon
40. Higo Ko-ryu – 肥後古流 – naginatajutsu
41. Hozoin-ryu, Takada-ha – 宝蔵院流 – sojutsu
42. Isshin-ryu – 一心流 – kusarigamajutsu

Evolved Modern Ninja Martial Arts

For martial arts from Japan that may have evolved from and was influenced by ninjutsu, you can train in either Banke Shinobinoden or Takamatsu-descended organisations (Bujinkan, Jinenkan and Genbukan). These organisations incorporate a ninjutsu mindset to their combat system – unconventional, unpredictable and distraction-based techniques that might make it easier to end the fight and flee.

These are legitimate organisation that have derived some of their martial arts from samurai koryu systems and ninja clans.

Read this for a detailed analysis on modern ninja martial arts. And check out this analysis on the legitimacy of modern ninjutsu schools.

43
Banke Shinobi-no-den

The below focuses only on Banke Shinobinoden’s martial art systems; it does not include information on its ninjutsu systems. As mentioned, ninjutsu is historically an espionage system and not a martial art.

OrganisationBanke Shinobi-no-den
Bujutsu Systems

  • Ichijyoho-koppojutsu (一乗法 骨法術)
  • Takenouchi-ryu-koroshiatemi-no-den (竹内流 殺格身之傳)
  • Jyosui ryu shinto gunden (如水流神道 軍傳)
  • Izumo shinryu heiho (出雲神流平法)
  • Shinden fudo ryu kiho (神傳不動流 馗法)
  • Sankato ryu yoroi doori kumiuchi den (山家当流 鎧徹組討傳)
  • Shinken muso ryu gunjutsu (真見夢想流 軍術)
  • Awaka chiden ryu kamajutsu (阿波賀智傳流  鎌術)

(retrieved from Banke Shinobi Spain & referenced to Banke Shinobi Japan)

Weapons

  • Various swords (including katana)
  • Throwing weapons
  • Various staffs of different lengths
  • Sickle and chain (and similar)
  • Blowgun
  • Naginata (glaive)
  • Yari (spear)
  • Wooden truncheon with iron spiked ball attached
  • Many others (including arresting implements, rope and archery)

Present Head/RepresentativeJinichi Kawakami
Head dojoMie Prefecture, Japan

44
Bujinkan - 武神館

Other organisations that may have derived their martial arts from Bujinkan and altered them for modern western application include Toshindo (by Stephen Hayes) and AKBAN.

OrganisationBujinkan – 武神館
Systems

  • Togakure-ryu Ninpo Taijutsu (戸隠流忍法体術)
  • Gyokko Ryu Kosshijutsu (玉虎流骨指術)
  • Kuki Shinden Happo Bikenjutsu (九鬼神伝流八法秘剣術)
  • Koto Ryu Koppo jutsu (虎倒流骨法術)
  • Shinden Fudo Ryu Dakentai jutsu (神伝不動流打拳体術)
  • Takagi Yoshin Ryu Jutaijutsu (高木揚心流柔体術)
  • Gikan Ryu Koppojutsu (義鑑流骨法術)
  • Gyokushin-ryu Ninpo (玉心流忍法)
  • Kumogakure Ryu Ninpo (雲隠流忍法)

Weapons

  • Swords (various lengths)
  • Daggger
  • Iron fan
  • Helmet breaker
  • Staffs (various lengths)
  • Spear
  • Glaive
  • Throwing blades
  • Sickle and chain (and similar weapons)
  • Axe
  • Caltrops
  • Hand claws
  • Foot spikes
  • Others (including blinding powder and firearms)

FounderMasaaki Hatsumi
Head dojoMie Prefecture, Japan

45
Jinenkan - 自然舘

OrganisationJinenkan – 自然舘
Bujutsu Systems

  • Takagi Yoshin Ryu Jutaijutsu (高木揚心流)
  • Gyokko Ryu Kosshijutsu (玉虎流骨指術)
  • Koto Ryu Koppojutsu (虎倒流骨法術)
  • Togakure-ryu Ninpo Taijutsu (戸隠流忍法体術)
  • Kukishinden Ryu Happo Biken (九鬼神伝流八法秘剣術)
  • Shinden Fudo Ryu Jutaijutsu/Dakentaijutsu (神伝不動流打拳体術)
  • Jinen Ryu Jissen Kobudo (自然舘)

Systems retrieved from Jinenkan Kosei Gogi Dojo

Weapons

  • Sword
  • Spear
  • Glaive
  • Iron fan
  • Truncheon
  • Weighted chain
  • Staffs (various)
  • Others

FounderFumio Manaka, Unsui
Head dojoChiba, Japan (Other dojo locations)

46
Genbukan - 玄武館

OrganisationGenbukan – 玄武館
Bujutsu Systems

Basics of Genbukan are said to have evolved from these ryuha:

  • Togakure-ryu (戸隠流)
  • Kumogakure-ryu (雲隠流)
  • Kukishin-ryu (九鬼神伝流)
  • Gyokko-Ryu (玉虎流)
  • Koto-ryu (虎倒流)
  • Gikan-ryu (義鑑流)
  • Shinden-Fudo-ryu (神伝不動流)
  • Takagi-Yoshin-ryu (高木揚心流)
  • Asayama-Ichiden-ryu (浅山一伝流)
  • Yoshin-Muso-ryu
  • Tatara-Shinden-ryu
  • Iga-Ryu
  • Tenshin-ryu
  • Daito-ryu (大東流)
  • Yagyu Shingan-ryu (柳生心眼流)
  • Mugen Shinto ryu
  • Kijin Chosui ryu
  • Tenshin Kyohyo Kukishin ryu

Retrieved from Genbukan

FounderTanemura Shoto
Head dojoSaitama, Japan (Other locations)

Regular Modern Martial Arts of the Samurai

Because it is still rare for koryu martial arts to be found outside of Japan, you can consider training in modern derivatives of samurai martial arts.

Since these are gendai budo (modern martial arts that were created after the Edo period ended), neither ninja nor samurai trained in these. However, some essence and principles of koryu martial arts used by samurai and ninja still survives in these systems.

Martial ArtRemarks
47. Judo – 柔道

Created by Kano Jigoro, mainly from these koryu jujutsu schools:

  • Tenjin Shinyo-ryu – 天神真楊流
  • Kito-ryu – 起倒流 (Judo is the successor of this koryu)

Organisation in Japan:

There are other branches of judo, including the famous sporting derivative, Brazilian Jiujitsu.

48. Aikido – 合気道

Created by Morihei Ueshiba, mainly from this koryu jujutsu:

  • Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu – 大東流合気柔術

Founder may have some influences from:

  • Yagyu Shingan-ryu –  柳生心眼流
  • Tenjin Shinyo-ryu – 天神真楊流

Some Organisations:

There are many other branches of Aikido by students of Morihei Ueshiba.

49. Kendo – 剣道Originated from kenjutsu (swordsmanship).

Organisations:

There are more.

50. Iaido – 居合道

Originated from iaijutsu and battojutsu (sword drawing). Emphasis on awareness so as to quickly draw the sword and to respond to a sudden attack.

Organisations include:

51. Jodo – 杖道 (way of the staff)

In modern practice, jodo techniques are taught in a larger curriculum in some classical and modern martial arts like Aikido. Jodo is taught as Seitei Jodo in the All Japan Kendo Federation.

52. Kyudo – 弓道 (way of the bow)Originated from samurai archery.

Organisations include:

There are certainly more classical and modern martial arts related to the ninja through the samurai. Leave a comment on what I’ve missed out!

There will also be a follow up on non-Japanese martial arts and how to regard them in your quest to be a modern-day ninja or warrior.

Additional Note

The koryu martial arts information was retrieved from koryu.com and cross-referenced to Nihon Kobudo Kyoukai (one of the two most reputable koryu organisations in Japan).

I have also added the Japanese kanji for most of the koryu, through cross-referencing efforts. There may, however, be errors made in classifications and identifications made here.

About Logen Lanka 185 Articles
Logen is the founder and editor of WayOfNinja.com. Before his shoulder injury, he was actively involved in street callisthenics, Aikido and obstacle course racing. He is also a freelance content marketing writer and blogger who you can approach for your business.