Togakure Ryu History for the Rest of Us,"by: Roger Conant (posted to e-budo.com Sept. 2006)Togakure ryu originated with an extraordinary fellow named Takamatsu To*****ugu (1887-1972), who was born in Hyogo Prefecture. His family ancestors were probably samurai of some sort. [Understand that at the end of the feudal period in Japan, many samurai families were impoverished. Their properties were often seized by the government or massive taxes were levied on their land. Many struggled and went into various trades to make a living. The glory of their ancestor’s feudal days were some source of pride, embellished sometimes to make the reality of the present a little more bearable. That’s not at all to say family stories were contrived or false. But it helps to remember that Takamatsu was born at a time when the fortunes of the former samurai caste were at an ebb tide, one in which it must have been comforting, dealing with an unpleasant present, to recall the glory days of old.]
Takamatsu’s story is typical of martial artists of his era. Weak kid, susceptible to illness and bullying; turns to the martial arts to strengthen himself. He probably dabbled in a variety of arts; we know he trained formally in a school of jujutsu, the Takagi Yoshin ryu, which he began learning as a teenager while going to an English language school in Kobe. Much later, Takamatsu became acquainted with the Kuki family and began training in their methods of armed and unarmed combat. Takamatsu also spent some time in China where he would have seen and may have trained in some of that country’s fighting arts.
[Takamatsu’s licenses in Takagi Yoshin ryu and Kukishin ryu are the only independently verifiable certifications existing for the man. And not to take anything away from these accomplishments at all, but please understand that at that time in Japanese history, there wasn’t a big, big interest in maintaining these arts. Sometimes people inherited the scrolls and the headmaster’s role simply because they were the only ones around who showed any interest in them.At any rate, it is significant to note Takamatsu’s credentials in these two ryu. It is a common argument made by the masked minions that “Everyone says Togakure ryu is a modern invention but look, we can prove Takagi Yoshin ryu and Kukishin ryu are authentic in their lineages.” True. That’s like saying, however, that because I have proof of my birth in Virginia that I am a direct descendant of George Washington. These ryu account for only two of nine taught by Hatsumi and have never been claimed by anyone to be associated with ninjutsu. They also have no connection to Togakure ryu.]
We know that Takamatsu also assembled an extensive collection of disparate techniques, strategies, and even some formal kata from all kinds of sources. (Some of these sources could have been Chinese.) He was active in the budo scene in Japan at that time and must have come across all kinds of people who showed him this and that. Additionally, he had access to a number of scrolls from various ryu, most of them either fading into obscurity or already extinct. He was like a collector of antique auto parts, a fender from a LaSalle, a Model T radiator, etc. All of the pieces were in good working order, without rust. But significantly, they were not a single model, nor could they be assembled into a working automobile without creating something of a weird hybrid. This potluck assemblage of skills had a major influence on the birth of Togakure ryu.
Takamatsu later claimed one of his teachers was a bonesetter (something like a chiropractor) in Kobe, named Toda Shinryuken. When I say “later,” that is because there doesn’t seem to be any record, in letters or other literature Takamatsu wrote, of Toda before about 1950. That is significant because Toda Shinryuken is where all the fun starts, Togakure ryu-ily speaking. By some accounts, Toda was Takamatsu’s grandfather. By others, he was an uncle.
Various dates for Toda float around. In some, he would have died before Takamatsu was even born. In others, Takamatsu would have been in his twenties when his mysterious teacher died.
[This is a good example of a huge problem for the Togakure crowd. So many people put out so many different stories, on the internet, in books and articles, that it appears the “official story” is constantly changing or being revived. In some cases, it is. In others, it’s simply because too many people are pontificating. Ironically, this is some of the best evidence available that Togakure ryu is not a traditional Japanese martial art dating to the pre-modern era. In a real koryu, the headmaster and senior exponents keep a tight rein on who is and isn’t allowed to speak on behalf of the ryu. If a member starts mouthing off on the internet, for instance, he is quickly silenced by those above him and told he doesn’t have the qualifications to speak for the ryu, even if the information he’s presenting is correct.
Toda is described as a samurai and the inheritor of all kinds of fighting art ryu. It isn’t worth naming them—although modern ninja can and do, in exhaustive detail—because chances are fairly good that Toda never existed. This drives the ninj-oids absolutely crazy. They stay up nights fussing about it. Finding evidence Toda ever walked and breathed would be, for them, like finding the Holy Grail. If they did, the internet would probably crash worldwide the next day, since they’d all be busy posting triumphantly the news.
Toda is essential to the whole story of their version of Togakure ryu’s ancient history. He’s the lynchpin in the tale. Without him, there isn’t a shred of evidence Togakure ryu goes back any further than Takamatsu. That’s why they will swarm around any questions of Toda’s existence like paparazzi buzzing around Paris Hilton. They will change the subject, if you bring it up. They will call your sexual orientation into question. They will note that, in your question about Toda you used “lay” instead of “lie” and will launch into several paragraphs about proper grammar. Anything to avoid having to admit that Toda is about as real as Yoda.
The evidence that Toda didn’t exist is convincing, simply from a practical point of view. The man was allegedly a professional type of physician. He allegedly owned land or at least had a dojo, the name of which is part of the lore surrounding him. He lived, not hundreds of years ago, but into the last century, well into Japan’s modern age. And he didn’t live in the woods somewhere; he was in Kobe, one of Japan’s largest cities at that time. Some accounts have him as a martial arts instructor to members of the Tokugawa family. Despite all this, several researchers have never found any proof at all that he was a real person. It hasn’t been from lack of trying. Or lack of records. There have been plenty of both. But nothing, no relatives, no tax records, no contemporary accounts other than those written or spoken about by Takamatsu. (“Oh, oh, oh, but wait! There’s a guy out there—my teacher knows the brother of a guy who knows him—who’s found a book that mentions there was once a guy in Kobe who was named Todo and that sounds a lot like Toda and maybe…” You get a lot of this stuff when the subject of Toda or Togakure ryu in general come up. But tell you what: if you have a choice between making the case of Elvis still being alive or Toda having ever been alive, go with the Elvis story. It’d be easier to document.)
In addition to the lack of proof, there are several sources that dispute Toda’s existence. You may have heard of the Bugei Ryu-ha Daijiten. It’s a large volume that has very brief histories and lineages of thousands of martial ryu. The Togakure guys hate it. They write long essays on websites to preach to each other of its shortcomings. In truth, the Daijiten is a lot like the phone book. It’s safe to say that in most communities, most of us are listed in the phone book. The fact that we are not listed doesn’t mean we don’t exist. And we could quickly give examples of people who aren’t listed. But that ignores the fact that the vast majority are listed. In the case of the Togakure ryu, the listing in the book is pretty sparse and in at least one edition, the author gently ridicules the whole concept, saying many of the names provided by Takamatsu are fictional and the whole story of the ryu sounds like a fairy tale. Some context: the Daijiten is pretty dry and “just the facts.” So the fact that the writer would say this is interesting. Also interesting is that the writer was a personal friend of Takamatsu’s. He was a buddy and even he didn’t believe Takamatsu. In the Daijiten and elsewhere in serious literature about the history of Japanese budo, there is almost always a notation of “oral tradition” when Toda’s name is mentioned. In other words, the principal evidence—the only evidence—for him is that Takamatsu said so.
[Why would Takamatsu, a competent martial artists in his own right, with legitimate links to actual martial ryu, concoct a fictional character like Toda? This question often serves as a kind of “proof” for the ninj-nuts. The obvious answer is that people do odd things all the time. Why does anyone watch “American Idol?” The short answer is: who knows? The more reasonable answer has to do with what we know of Takamatsu’s personality. Consider his situation: he has legitimate licenses in a couple of authentic ryu. He also has that disparate collection of techniques and methods he’s amassed from his own studies. Lots of cool stuff. But there isn’t any unifying curriculum. There isn’t anything that ties it all together. There are just lots of interesting little threads, all going here and there. This becomes a problem for Takamatsu, especially once he begins to teach, which he did. He could get in front of his students and say “Look, some of this stuff I learned in a haphazard way and some principles I picked up in China and basically I’ve just cobbled it all together.” Or he could come up with a tale that would tie all the threads into a single weave. Additionally, he could give it a little glow, adding nifty stuff about mysterious ninja figures. To do that, he needed a lineage. So in all likelihood he created Toda, who became the portal to an ancient history. Supposedly, Takamatsu, while he was in China, earned the nickname “The Tiger of Mongolia.” “That may be,” I was once told by a Japanese scholar of martial history who had a good enough command of English to be able to pun in it, “but Takamatsu was sure a ‘lion’ in Japan.”]
Takamatsu’s story didn’t have to be all that great, frankly. Japanese students, as you probably know, trust their teachers and don’t ask a lot of questions. And the tales he wove were attractive. Nobody was going to sit down and make Takamatsu give exact dates or provide precise details. Even if they did, he could claim a lot of it was lost in the mists of the past.
[Remember too, that what Takamatsu was teaching was interesting and viable. It was probably pretty tough, with hard training. It wasn’t that Takamatsu was making up crap. It was just that he was making up a crap story to explain how all the stuff fit together. He was taking a Model T body and welding a LaSalle bumper on it and adding a door from a Chrysler—and telling students it was a vintage car. This is an important point. The ninja-roos howl and moan whenever the historical context of their doings is called into question. They recite anecdotal evidence of their fellow practitioners being able to defend themselves against evildoers, of professional military men who have used their Togakure ryu training in combative situations, etc. This is a good example of a straw dog being set up. Remember when you read all these testimonies that there isn’t a single scholar, researcher, or historian who has seriously questioned the physical training promulgated by Takamatsu. It is their provenance that is in question.]
At this point, enter Masaaki Hatsumi, another absolutely fascinating character. If you ever get a chance to meet the guy, especially when he isn’t surrounded by his fawning ninjettes, take it. He has a vast wealth of knowledge. He’s also a study in adolescent behavior. But that’s off our point right now.Hatsumi had done a lot of martial arts before he met Takamatsu, but he became enamored of what Takamatsu was teaching. He traveled miles on a weekly basis to train with Takamatsu and Takamatsu took a shine to him. Hatsumi had to be a good student from a technical point of view. And probably somewhat to Takamatsu’s relief, Hatsumi didn’t show a lot of interest in the history of what Takamatsu was teaching. He probably didn’t ask a lot of questions about lineages or such.
[How do we know this? Well, we don’t for sure. But if you’ve read any of Hatsumi’s books, in English or Japanese, you’ll see his information on history is sketchy and full of errors. This was noted quite recently, in fact, in a review of one of Hatsumi’s latest books.]
Hatsumi appears to have inherited the headmastery of the legitimate schools taught by Takamatsu, the Takagi Yoshin ryu and the Kukishin ryu. That’s no small accomplishment. He also inherited Takamatsu’s collection of various techniques, kata, and strategies, which Takamatsu had compiled roughly into something he was calling “Togakure ryu.”
Okay, so Hatsumi’s got all this knowledge, he’s got some legitimate licenses in legitimate ryu, and he’s got a lot of charisma and a lot of enthusiasm for teaching. He has a small group of guys training with him in Noda, a little city in Chiba Prefecture, where Hatsumi was born. Ever been there? Probably not. There isn’t much reason to go there unless you’re a ninj-nut—or unless you want to make a pilgrimage to the home of Kikkoman soy sauce. That’s the place where the company began. Hatsumi and his boys are off in the sticks back in the early Sixties, doing their thing. They were training in white gi, fooling around a little with weapons, but it was mostly jujutsu-like training.
That period—the Sixties—saw a faddish interest in ninja and ninjutsu all over Japan. It may have had something to do with the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice” that featured a few cheesy scenes of ninja-like activity. Suddenly ninja were everywhere in comic books in Japan and on TV shows. There was one big clown, who appeared on TV programs to do amateurish hypnosis and sleight-of-hand, who was a “ninja.” Sooner or later, with all this interest in ninjutsu, the name of Takamatsu came up and while by that time Takamatsu was fairly old and rusty, that led people in the entertainment business to his student, Hatsumi. Hatsumi served as an advisor to TV shows and movies and before long, he was the “ninja expert.”
Journalists and documentary-makers, most of them only semi-serious and interested more in the spectacular romantic legends of ninja than in any actual history (a trait later shared by the Westerners who found their way there) descended on Noda-shi and on Hatsumi. At first, as he did with Donn Draeger, Hatsumi explained he was “reconstructing” ninjutsu. Before long, however, he began asserting that he was the inheritor of Togakure ryu and was a ninja himself. That’s when the black uniforms started appearing and all the other accoutrements of ninj-o-rama.
Did Hatsumi suddenly become a ninja because he saw a profit in it? Maybe, although that’s unfair if it’s used as the whole or even a significant explanation for what he did.Did he do it because he was dazzled by all the attention he was getting? Probably, to some extent. He was a professional man, a chiropractor-like doctor, and he’d had a university education. But Hatsumi is essentially a country boy, not terribly sophisticated and unprepared for all the attention. So it’s conceivable he “went with the flow.” People wanted a real-life ninja. He had the techniques, and so…
What Hatsumi didn’t have, of course, was a lineage. Doubtless he was familiar with Takamatsu’s “Togakure ryu” stories. But as we noted earlier, Hatsumi was not—is not—a careful scholar. The vague stories Takamatsu told him were good enough for Hatsumi’s students. They didn’t ask a lot of questions. But a pivotal point in Hatsumi’s life came when Westerners started showing up at his door.
In the late Sixties, Western writers in Japan started publishing stories in mens’ magazines about ninjutsu in mysterious Japan. In the early Seventies, the sumo writer Andy Adams wrote a book on ninja that became hugely popular with Western martial arts enthusiasts. He contacted Hatsumi, who appeared in illustrations and supplied much of the information to Adams. It’s a worthwhile read today because it demonstrates how much the story of Togakure ryu has changed. In the book, the ryu is only mentioned a few times. It’s described as a “700 year old” tradition of ninjutsu.” There is no mention at all of the “nine traditions” or a lot of the other material that is used to explain the role of Togakure ryu in Hatsumi’s organization. Because of that book, however, Hatsumi is fixed in the minds of many Western martial artists as a ninja. And it isn’t long before some of them are knocking at his door.
Again, put yourself in Hatsumi’s tabi. You’re out in the sticks, doing your thing. Your stuff is an oddball, eccentric take on budo, way out of the mainstream. Then, without much warning, you’re being interviewed for books, asked to consult on movies. And lo and behold, here are foreigners coming to you and asking you to teach them the ancient ways of the mystic ninja. It must have been overwhelming.
[Even very sober, very serious martial arts teachers in Japan can be reduced to near-ecstasy at the thought that foreigners are willing to come to Japan to learn from them. Even more exciting is the notion that they might have clubs or dojo in foreign countries. Japan is still insular as a country and a culture in many ways, especially outside the larger cities. The idea that Hatsumi would be able to tell people he had students in America would have been fabulous for him.]
Hatsumi had no background in dealing with this kind of attention, nothing to prepare himself for this. And he had nothing to prepare him for the requests from his non-Japanese students for permission to teach or for ranks. He had to wing it, entirely. More troublesome for him, those non-Japanese students were asking questions about the history of what he was teaching.
Again, we can’t know. But it’s easy to guess that’s when Hatsumi hit the notes he’d gotten from Takamatsu. He had to try to connect the dots his teacher left. That must have been a big surprise for him. A Homer Simpson moment. “Aww, crap! I can’t even find any evidence my teacher’s so-called teacher even existed!”
Hatsumi has spent the intervening years, probably trying to verify any legitimate historical information he had and, to be honest, probably cooking up some stories to fill in the gaps.[Some of the admittedly few lucid Togakure ryu supporters will acknowledge, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that Takamatsu’s stories are often fiction. But, they insist, Hatsumi is being a good student by accepting what his teacher said. This is intended to let Hatsumi off the hook for any of the fraudulent history of the ryu. To some extent, it might. But most of us would say that as the leader of an organization, he is charged with being scrupulous, especially given the money and effort being expended by his students all over the world.]
Hatsumi’s task became a lot more complicated in the last decade of the last century. The internet was blossoming; all kinds of information about Japanese martial arts was available. Additionally, more authoritative books were being written on the subject and several Westerners who’d lived and trained in Japan for a long time began to make a presence in internet discussions. They had no reason to lie or cast false allegations. Their comments on Togakure ryu were excruciating for the faithful Togakure crowd.
[Good example: Hatsumi’s ill-fated attempt to have Togakure ryu recognized by the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai, an organization that very loosely affiliates a lot of classical martial arts in Japan. Hatsumi presented scrolls, the Shinkokai politely dismissed him. This incident—or at least the retelling of it—burns the ninjers, as you can imagine. They have denied it, insisted it was the Shinkokai who approached Hatsumi, suggested it was a concocted slander. Anything but admit the truth. Too many people were there and aware of it, both Westerners and Japanese. Many more heard about it first hand from them. It happened.]
What happened was that the faithful became even shriller and even less logical.Hatsumi, bless him, is a good teacher, from a certain technical point of view. [He is hopeless in terms of cataloguing his stuff. That’s one reason he’s coming up constantly with the “real” ninjutsu and why he riffs on “the technique I do today is not what I did yesterday.” He is so creative and talented he probably doesn’t remember what he did yesterday.] But he was in a bind. If he could have presented evidence of Togakure ryu’s ancient past, he would have. If he came out and told the truth, that the Togakure ryu was a modern amalgamation he learned from Takamatsu, his acolytes would have been angry and disillusioned. And he would have looked like he was defaming his teacher. His reaction to all this was to start talking in riddles, playing the eccentric mysterious master from the East, playing the “I refuse to wallow in the dirt with my less noble detractors” routine. It was a clever gambit. If you presented serious questions about the history of his ryu, he could play the part of the magnanimous teacher who, even when he was being vilified, refused to hit back. In an ironic sense, Hatsumi plays with illusions and psychological head games and that’s probably as close to real ninjutsu as anything he does.
[I’m reminded of the only time I saw Hatsumi do what I think of as real ninjutsu. It was on a video. Hatsumi was quick drawing a sword. His grip slipped; the sword went flying off to his right. Without blinking an eye, Hatsumi said, “See, that’s how you handle an opponent trying to sneak up on your side.” It was utter bull, of course. But it demonstrated a nimbleness of mind that characterized the kind of personality who would have made a good spy or counter-intelligence operative.] Hatsumi has a definite flair for the theatrical. In his latest books he models all kinds of medieval costumes and finery. When one of his ex-students presented a demonstration of ninjutsu for the old Japan Martial Arts Society years ago, he explained that ninjutsu didn’t have kata and instead was taught through “skits.” That’s an excellent description and it describes the theatrical sensibilities of Togakure ryu’s leader. At one famous taikai where his students had come from all over the world to train with him, Hatsumi jumped up before the assembled followers and shouted “I am the only ninja!” It was typical of his actions, trying to be elusive, trying to suggest there was even more out there for him to teach, trying to keep the faithful fish on the line. Part deception, part con—but also probably part true. It was, in a way, a defining moment in the history of the Togakure ryu.