Japan Update: History & Training


Sensei at home Apr19th

Tuesday has been another fantastic day in Tokyo as sensei asked me on Sunday to meet him with Pedro and Kogure san (Quest videos) at his place at 5pm before training. The light rain and the cold weather that accompanied me from Kashiwa to Noda didn’t lower my pleasure of meeting sensei and my buyu brother Pedro.

When Pedro and I met in a Spanish Taikai more than 20 years ago we never suspected the particular tie that would bind us together during all these years. Even though I met Sôke at the London Taikai in 1987 (the first European Taikai in Europe organized by my other brother Peter King) and again in 1988 (Sweden Taikai organized by my other brother Sven), I want to thank Pedro again here to have introduced me to Sôke on my first trip to Japan. I think that without this special connection he has with our Sôke I wouldn’t have gone so far in the Bujinkan. Muchissimas gracias hermano!

And thank you also to the true friendship of my older Yûro Shi Tennô brothers Sven and Peter.

Sensei, Pedro and Arnaud

Anyway, at 5 pm Pedro, Miguel, Kogure san and myself met in Sôke’s house where he showed us some very rare documents including the original letter of surrender written and signed by Hiro Hito tennô and the 12 members of his government, the day before they officially surrendered. This document is so important that no financial value can be given to it. We also were honored to flip the pages of an history of the rulers of Japan realized for the tennô only with original ukiyoe print on a very special type of paper that resists all natural disasters so common to Japan: tsunami and earthquakes. A paper so special that a single blank page is worth 800 Euros… and they were more than 50 pages all printed with original ukiyoe… As a joke sensei said that this paper might be able to resist an atomic disaster… but was it a joke? He then showed us a 600 year old tachi (with a tsuka of 3 fists and a half).

Our budô is definitely not a sport and these few items he displayed especially for us is the proof that without this kind of knowledge your martial arts abilities are only a “puff of smoke” as they say in the Shinden fudô ryû. Sensei added that no Japanese were able to grasp that anymore, that this knowledge has disappeared today here in Japan and this is the reason why he is always referring to him as a “ufo” (since his first visit to the USA in the 80s). Japan has lost his history the forgotten the lessons it carried. To illustrate his point he told us that the technique to make the special paper that I spoke earlier of has been lost and that no one today in Japan knows how to do it anymore.

This introduction of our meeting was an excuse for him to tell us that if someone with the proper knowledge, connections, and structured organization was existing, he would give away everything he had to save this knowledge from disappearing. As you know sensei’s house is like a real museum and those documents he showed are far from being the most important things he has. Sensei said he also had in writings the fours parts of the Amatsu Tatara being like the four parts of the hearts or the stomach and that even that was not the best piece of his collection of historical data. But the most amazing to me was that he insisted that he would never sell it but was ready to give it for free if someone worth it was presented to him. Even Kogure san was surprised by all this. This was indeed a very special moment and thanks to Kogure san translations into English and Miguel’s ability to speak and understand Japanese, the connection between all of us was very good.

Happy!

Then it was time for the class and we went to the Hombu where nearly 70 people were waiting for the class to begin. Senseis introduced the class by showing a special yari that he bought earlier on Tuesday on which a tube with hooks facing the tip is sliding on the pole allowing it to move faster when stabbing the opponent. It was another piece of historical teaching as sensei explained that when facing a weapon you have to understand the various (and sometimes illogical) ways of using it. In this particular case, he said that fisherman hooks known as hari (針) in Japanese could be attached to the sliding device in order to trap the skin or the yoroi of the attacker.

The main point in his class was the following: “be aware of what you cannot see, what you can see is easy to deal with, what you don’t see is what is really dangerous”. He uses the term “mienai” (見えない)which something that one cannot possibly see (in opposition to the “kakushi” term – 隠し). His point was to make us aware of the risk of invisible radiations these days.

We did many taijutsu and weapon techniques started by Pedro and Thomas and sensei insisted a lot on the importance for this year’s theme of the use of the fingers (Takagi Yôshin Ryû) to inflict pain in many different places. At one point we did a kind of ryô happa ken to the head changing rapidly the pain location by switching the intention from one finger to the other (below the jaw, above the ear, under the nose, inside the eyes etc). Another point is not to use strength so that uke is not able to use this strength of the hold to free himself from it.

On a choke attempt he showed how to move our shoulders in different ways (up/up, up/down) in order to change the size of the neck a technique we did 20 years ago during a daikomyô sai in Japan and where we all looked like little neck less dwarfs rocking sideways. This neck hiding technique is very useful when applying a kikaku ken (headbutt strike) as the shoulders protect the vertebra.

We also did a technique against a fist and kick (same side) attack in a kokû manner. The interesting point here was to apply the shutô to the attacking arm from inside at a 45° angle, then to receive the kick softly in the inside of the right elbow and sliding the body to the right to operate a kind of natural reversal of uke’s body by his trapped leg. Uke’s leg is captured inside your arm with your back to you and your hand can naturally grab uke’s belt. Sôke insisted on the importance of locking uke by the belt grab. Then sensei explained that we had to grab uke in the manner of an ice pick. The ice pick is hooking the ice but doesn’t go through it. From there uke is put down straight to the ground and locked there in pain by crushing his fingers with your fingers. This was the feeling we had to understand yesterday night.

On the sword henka of the techniques initiated by Pedro and Thomas, he showed us again how to draw the blade (nuku, 剣を抜く) from the scabbard without pulling it the hand but by using the tsuba to hook the attacking hand (grabbing or not) of uke. Sensei said that this was a very old way of drawing that has been lost like many other things in Japan warfare knowledge. At one point speaking of the yoroi, he said that a samurai would have at least 3 sets of yoroi depending on the seasons and that the winter yoroi would be covered with bear fur in the inside of it. And that also is not known by many gendai budô experts. Actually he was so critical on the sword abilities of modern practitioners in Japan that the camera had to be turned off!

We also did a very nice footwork technique where under a jodan kiri attack you do some kind of jûji aruki (not yoko aruki) turning your body nearly back to uke right side and rotating the blade (wrists are crossed) hitting uke directly in his attack. A very nice flow body flow quite hard to get in a crowded environment but saving a lot of space.

After going back to Kashiwa I had a meeting with Kogure san and while we were having dinner a very long (more than a minute) and soft earthquake shook the whole building. It was like having the metro passing under the floor… but we were on the 6th floor. Strange feeling.

As I said, another fantastic day in Japan indeed!

Bufû Ikkan


(version Française)

Sensei said that “the secret of budô is 武風一貫 bufû ikkan (translated in “unarmed fighting techniques of the samurai” p.51, by the way of war is survival*). This is the yang secret. In a fight the opponent is often aggressive (i.e. yin) therefore by opposing softness to hardness you can defeat the enemy. When facing a strong and violent opponent you have two options: be more aggressive and violent than him or be so soft that his own intentions and actions will defeat him. This is the secret of fighting.

It reminds me of the encounter between the yamabushi monk Benkei and the young Minamoto no Yoshitsune during the Hôgen disturbance (保元の乱, Hōgen-no-ran1156). Benkei was a fierce warrior monk who defeated 99 samurai crossing a bridge he was standing on. Benkei had made the wish to take a 100 swords from samurai and to give them to the Buddha. When the young Yoshitsune arrived at the bridge, Benkei had already won 99 swords. Yoshitsune, defending himself with a simple flute overcame the big giant who then became his disciple.
This is the typical example of how yin can defeat yang. In the bujinkan this technique is called goja dori and sensei details it in his book: “Togakure ryu ninpô taijutsu” (p.237).

Sensei insists also on developing 五心術 goshin jutsu instead of 護身術 goshin jutsu. We should develop the heart/spirit if we want to ensure a true self-protection for ourselves.

Brutal force is nothing compared to mental strength. In order to survive learn to use the yin within you.

* 武風一貫 means “the martial winds blow every day” but when written 武風一管 it means “martial wind (tone) of one flute” thus the connection with Yoshitsune. 😉

Gyokko Ryû No Kamae


After my previous article I have been asked to show the various kamae for the three levels of the Gyokko ryû kosshi jutsu.

All kamae start from hira no kamae (the wider shizen no kamae of the Gyokko ryû) which is using a “mudra like” hand posture. No magic here only waza. Sorry.

From these 3 hira no kamae, you move into tenchi inyo no kamae and take one of the 3 end kamae: ichimonji, hichô, jûmonji.

Goykko Ryû 1st Level

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The first level uses ten ryaku uchu gassho no kamae.

This is the ten ryaku no maki or jo ryaku no maki.

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Gyoko ryû 2nd level

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The second level uses fûten goshin gassho no kamae.

This is the chi ryaku no maki or chû ryaku no maki.

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Gyokko Ryû 3rd level

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The third level uses hanno banitsu no kamae.

This is the jin ryaku no maki or ge ryaku no maki.

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Receiving posture

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Tenchi inyo no kamae can be seen as an evolution of the previous ones and give easy access to the 3 “normal” kamae.

Remember that the Gyokko ryû kosshi jutsu is the source of Japanese budô and that these kamae are visible with minor modifications into the other ryûha.

Be happy!

Gyokko Ryû: The Origin of Budô


Hanno banitsu no kamae

I recently finished the recording of the Gyokko ryû Kosshi jutsu and to prepare myself correctly I went through all the notes I took over the past years, the dvds by sensei, my own seminars and the articles I committed for the internet. The Kosshijutsu of Gyokko ryû (and other ryûha) have been studied in the Bujinkan since my first visit to Noda in 1990.

Over the past twenty years we have been studying the Gyokko ryû densho quite a lot but never did we have the chance to go through a full system in one time. In 2001 during the « school cycle » (1998-2002) we discovered the richness of this fighting system considered by Takamatsu sensei as the root of budô. Hatsumi Sensei in his « unarmed fighting techniques of the samurai » states that: « it is taught that Gyokko ryû Kosshi jutsu is the foundation of Japanese budô » (kodansha, chapter 3, page 46).

Having studied the taijutsu we applied our knowledge of Kosshi jutsu on the in 2005 when we entered the year of kasumi no hô (the fog principle) and studied the kasumi no bô (the moves like the fog). Even though those techniques were coming from the Kukishin ryû, we applied the feeling and principles of the Gyokko ryû Kosshi jutsu.

As always, all previous learning is added to the already known and the understanding of 2010 is far from what we learnt back in 2001. But the key is to see how sensei changed our general understanding of those techniques back in 2001. And I have decided to publish again the following article written in 2001 right after I came back from a trip to Japan in April.

I have added comments to the original text, they are preceded by « 2010 ». The original text always begins with « 2001 ».

Here it is:

2001: With the new century Hatsumi Sensei entered in a new era in the Bujinkan System. The theme for this year is Kosshi jutsu, mainly studied through the techniques of the Gyokko Ryû. From the notes I received from friends in Noda and from my personal experience last April, I will try to expose here what is, for me, the new approach taught by Sensei. As usual this text will give my point of view but not any official explanation by Sensei. If you do not agree, maybe it is because I am wrong.

First, we have to understand that the techniques in the Gyokko ryû are only excuses to demonstrate the spirit and reality of the Kosshi jutsu. In this respect, it is not different from our study of Koppô jutsu of 2000, where the techniques of the Koto ryû where only an excuse to express the knack of Koppô jutsu.

2010: Even though we have studied the techniques of the Gyokko ryû, the principles explained are also available for the other ryûha. In 2003 sensei explained that the study of the « school cycle » was not to learn the techniques of the schools but only to understand the five pilars of Budô taijutsu: taihen jutsu, daken taijutsu, koppô jutsu, kosshi jutsu, & jû taijutsu.

2001: Second, we have to understand fully the reasons that motivated sensei to develop this new approach. Obviously all teachers had already the techniques written on paper as we have been studying the techniques of the Gyokko ryû extensively over the years (sic.). But what are the main differences? Kamae are different, physical attitudes are different, inner feelings are different, kamae are different in both their physical and mental expressions. Sensei referred to some of these new kamae in his writings (cf. « wisdom of life » by Joe Maurantonio) but he did not give any explanation to them.

The four kamae are the following:

  • Ten Ryaku Uchu Gassho no kamae,
  • Chi Ryaku Fûten Goshin Gassho no kamae,
  • Jin Ryaku Chi Sui Ka Henka* no kamae,
  • and the most important one Tenchi Inyo no kamae.

2010: In fact, one must no forget that a kamae is a still picture of a moment. Those “3 +1” kamae listed above are in fact hira no kamae (ten ryaku uchu gassho, fûten goshin gassho, hanno banitsu) moving through tenchi inyo in one of the 3 basic kamae (ichimonji, hichô, jûmonji).

2001: In my understanding (of Japanese) ten ryaku uchu gassho can be translated as “prayer for divine transmission coming from space”.

Chi ryaku fûten goshin gassho means “defense prayer from the either the vault of Heaven or the whole world”.

Jin ryaku chi sui ka henka ryaku no kamae* means “attitude transmitted to mankind from the endless variations of Earth, Water and Fire”;

Tenchi inyo no kamae means “attitude of the link between Heaven and Earth and Yin and Yang“.

2010: To make it simple (kiss) we can now say that:

  • Ten ryaku uchu gassho is the ten going down on the opponent
  • Fûten goshin gassho is the chi lifting the opponent
  • Hanno banitsu is the jin moving forward to stop the opponent.

Please note that until 2001, all our movements were always going backwards. We started to move forward with the Gyokko ryû!

2001: Physical movements are different in respect to these kamae. The Gyokko ryû is now divided into Ten, Chi, Jin (instead of Jo Ryaku, Chû Ryaku and Ge Ryaku no Maki previously). Ten Ryaku is expressed through Uchu Gassho; Chi Ryaku is expressed through Fûten Goshin Gassho no kamae and Jin Ryaku is expressed through Chi, Sui Ka Henka Ryaku no kamae*. Each one of these kamae with their physical expressions lead to a new inner feeling. These kamae are “waiting stances” i.e. when you wait for the opponent to attack.

2010: Today we know that each one of the 3 hira (ten uchu gassho, fûten goshin gassho and hanno banitsu) are to be executed in relation to the 3 levels of ten, chi, jin. In his book « unarmed fighting techniques of the samurai », sensei uses both terminologies and call the 3 levels jo, chû, ge or ten, chi, jin. It seems that both are correct.

2001: The last kamae, tenchi Inyo no kamae is manifested when moving from the waiting stances, you assume tenchi inyo no kamae when moving in the attack, there you link the first stances (uchu gassho, fûten goshin, chi sui ka henka ryaku*) to the movement. Even if you do not show it (kokoro gamae instead of tai gamae).
Inner feelings also change, each attitude develop a feeling perceived by Uke that will lead him into his own destruction, uchu gassho gives unity (body and mind) to Tori. Fûten goshin gives power in the movements. Chi sui ka henka ryaku* frightens Uke. Let us now go beyond our regular senses. If you were able to see the energies from the body, you would notice that each of these kamae acts as a physical “mudra”. Uchu gassho builds a beam of white energy coming from Heaven and surrounding your whole body (like the teletransportation stuff in Star Trek). With fûten goshin gassho, Tori disappears from Uke‘s perceptions, Uke can only senses a very thin beam of light coming from the ground, Earth (it is like water coming from a tap). Tori when assuming this kamae moves like the wind. Chi sui ka henka ryaku no kamae* sends a feeling of fear to Uke. Uke‘s mind (and actions) is trapped by the stance. It is like a funnel of energy coming from Tori‘s body. You can think that I am exaggerating but this is the truth. Now these movements would be meaningless if there was nothing more. And there is a lot more. Everything you do from now on should imply a new understanding: “Banpen fûgyo“. Literally it means “10000 changes, no surprise”. This is the key to the understanding of Kosshi jutsu. Keeping this principle in mind will allow you to finally get to the “Shizen gyô un ryû sui” or “ever adapted movement” (this is what we often call the “natural movement”).

The Japanese are more concerned about the physical Nature where the Chinese are more concerned about divine Nature. For example, “Sui” is the water coming from the sky (Heaven, Ten) where “Mizu” is the water you find on the ground (Earth, Chi). “Hi” is the fire from the sun (Heaven, Ten) where “Ka” is the bonfire on the ground (Earth, Chi); “” is the wind from the sky (Heaven, Ten) where “Kaze” is the wind on the ground level (Earth, Chi). This “physical” understanding of life gives the Japanese a definitely different system of concepts.

2010: In the « unarmed fighting techniques of the samurai » the logic of chi, sui ka, fû, kû is different on the first edition (chi mizu, hi, kaze, kû) compared to the second edition. This is the way it was written in the original ten chi jin of 1987 (in the new edition of the book I changed it and put the names in use today). Strangely if you superpose the « ten approach of the Chinese » and the « chi approach of the Japanese » you get an interesting diagram…

Gyokko is Life?

2001: If we go even deeper in the understanding of the new Gyokko ryû, we gradually make ours these concepts of gravity (uchu gassho) and wind (fûten goshin gassho). These feelings do not replace each other; they are added one to the other. To make myself clear, I would say that the three “transmissions” Ten, Chi, Jin are like the three skins of an onion. Ten is Ten, Chi is Ten plus Chi, Jin is Ten plus Chi plus Jin. This is a new sanshin no kata. At the Jin level you can expect the movements to be even more natural. As we do not know yet the inner feeling of the jin ryaku this is only a guess.[note: the third level was taught after April 2001]

2010: In my July 2001 trip sensei explained more about the gravity concept. In fact the Gyokko ryû deals with three concepts that are three different understanding of the same object.

  • Inryoku: magnetism 引力
  • Jûryoku: gravity 重力
  • Jiryoku: attraction/repulsion 磁力

Those 3 concepts explain three different aspects of reality. When teaching the Gyokko ryû sensei stressed the importance of fûsui (風水, feng shui); i.e. wind and water. All movements must express the flow of the wind (ten) and the water (chi) in order to counter jin.

*this kamae was then called Hanno banitsu no kamae (cf. « Unarmed fighting techniques of the samurai » page 46. I have a written note from 2001 by sensei where he wrote it differently « hanno bon itsu ».

Obon: No Class


Obon paper lanterns carrying the spirits

Next week-end sensei will not teach because of the Obon, a Buddhist ceremony of filial piety in honor of the ancestors of one’s family.

This ceremony is held around mid August (it depends on the region of Japan and/or of the calendar in use solar or lunar) and is based on the Ullambana Sutra, one of the Sutra of the Mahayana Buddhism.

What I find interesting here comes from a discussion I had the other day with Senô sensei before the class took place.

The Obon (or Bon) is a very important time for the Japanese people as this is a time where the spirits are there. It ends with the famous paper lanterns floating downstream and symbolizing the souls of the deads going back to their own world.

Even though the Obon is not a holiday, it is a custom to let the people honor their ancestors and not work on these days.

Obon matsuri

Honoring your ancestors, and filial piety are linked to the bujinkan in many aspects.

When I was speaking with Senô sensei he used many times the word yûgen when speaking of the souls of the deceased; and also of the sanjigen (the third dimension).

And these two concepts were the ones we studied respectively in 2004 and 2003 whe nwe entered the world (sekai) of juppô sesshô. When those concepts were taught by Hatsumi sensei we had no clue about their meaning and they looked like some esoteric concepts far from our concern.

After all we come to Japan to train fighting techniques, no?

In fact  all through these last years Hatsumi sensei has been teaching us more than techniques, he has shown us the Japanese culture and shared with us his vision of the world as a Japanese.

Without his very special way of teaching we would still be excluded from this world of understanding and our improvement in the bujinkan arts would be limited. This way of teaching made us go from childhood to adulthood without knowing it.

Another interesting link to the bujinkan is the term sôke because its chinese origin (Mandarin Zongjia) conveys “strong familial and religious connotations. Etymologically it represents a family performing ancestor rites”.

As always there are various meanings but one interests us more as the “sôke is the one responsible for maintaining the ancestral temple on behalf of the entire clan organization. In Japanese texts,  sôke always implied a familial relationship replete with filial duty (but) the Japanese use of this word is not limited to consanguineous contexts” (from William Bodiford, UCLA).

“Bujin” in Chinese is “Wusen” which is, as you know one of the nicknames given by the Chinese to Takamatsu sensei. Therefore the bujinkan is the “house of Takamatsu sensei.

Sensei in front of the memorial

And this explains why Hatsumi sensei is using this specific term od sôke which is rarely used in the martial arts world. In fact, in my understanding Hatsumi sensei sees himself as the “son/heir” of Takamatsu sensei and he has developed the bujinkan in order to revere his memory.

The other day when we went to sensei’s second house in Tsukuba we performed a ceremony in memory of Takamatsu sensei and we were asked by sensei to put incense sticks on his memorial. The love and respect of Hatsumi sensei towards Takamatsu sensei is obvious when you watch the dvd “Takamatsu Toshitsugu, the last ninja”.

So if you are now in Japan do not be too sad if you have no training on Friday and Sunday because the spirit of Takamatsu sensei will be there with you for the whole week-end.

Obon fireworks

Share with the Japanese the joy of these two days where obori (obon dancing), fireworks and matsuri are held,  and on Sunday night go to river outside of Noda and watch those beautiful paper lanterns going down the river to reach the sea.

Be happy!

Update on death & Toda


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Takamatsu sensei doing Take Ori

In one of my previous posts I quoted Hatsumi sensei saying that a true master should be able to “laugh while facing the ennemy”.

This is quite similar to  what Toda Shinryûken Masamitsu, Takamatsu sensei grandfather (or uncle*) once told him:

“Never talk about knowledge as you could lose it,

Confront a defeat with a smile even if you are closely facing it,

And even when you are faced with certain

death, die laughing!”

This year’s theme is Rokkon Shôjô so keep smiling whatever hardship you are confronted with.

* All Bujinkan books keep repeating that Toda sensei was Takamatsu sensei‘s grandfather but recently one Japanese shihan during class said that actually Toda sensei was Takamatsu‘s uncle not grandfather…

To a Westerner the sounds for ojiisan (grandfather) are very much similar to ojisan (uncle). Sorrymasen. 🙂

Japanese historical periods etc…


Izanami and Izanagi from the Kojiki

In this blog I have been speaking a lot about muromachi, azuchi-momoyama, edo, meiji periods. A short listing of the previous periods of Japanese history seem to be a good idea now.

Japanese history is very rich and goes back to the beginning of mankind. As you know, every ryû tries to be linked in time as far as possible in order to give credential to their fighting system. They often try to be originating from the  first emperors. Even though one can doubt about the  veracity of those facts, it is good to have an overview of Japanese history.  As you will see, religions, China, and wars are closely interconnected. Learning the Bujinkan is also trying to understand how this culture is coming from.

Disclaimer: 1) the big periods can be divided into smaller ones named after the emperors, 2) depending on the point of reference there can be discrepancies in the exact duration of any period*. History is not always accurate. But we can see 12 large periods from the beginning to today. I have added links to wikipedia for those interested in having more information on the periods preceding muromachi.

Yayoi period (300 BC – 370 AD): the prehistorical period, tumulus culture. More on Yayoi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yayoi_period

Yamato period (370 – 538): unification of the country by the Yamato court. ends with the introduction of Buddhism. More on Yamato http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamato_period

Asuka period (538-710): flourishing of Buddhist art (temple). New organisation of society: Taiki reformation, establishment of Taihô codes. More on Asuka http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asuka_period

Nara Period (710-794): Capital Heijô (Nara prefecture). Shintô based on the Kojiki (712) is the religion of the Kami. The Kojiki depicts the mythology of Japan. More on Nara http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nara_period

Heian period (794-1192): Heian capital (Kyoto). Creation of hiragana. Writing of the Genji Monogatari. Many embassies are sent to China to learn the crafts and Buddhism. Shingon Shu and Tendai Shu are imported to Japan by Kobo Daishi (810) and Dengyo Daishi (805) respectively. This is also at this time that the Gyokko ryû and Kotô ryû are supposedly introduced to Japan from China. During the Genpei war (1182) Minamoto no Yoshinaka captures Kyoto. He is defeated by Minamoto no Yoshitsune. After the defeat, Daisuke Nishina retreats to Togakure mountain (today Togakushi) and changes his name into Daisuke Togakure. He supposedly founded the Togakure ryû.  Myôan Eisai comes back from China and establishes the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism (Linji in Chinese). More on Heian http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heian_period

Kamakura period (1192-1336): Samurai culture is spreading. The Daibutsu is erected in Kamakura city (Kanagawa prefecture). Minamoto no Yoritomo establishes the Kamakura government (1192). Go Daigo Emperor (1318-1332) saved by Kurando the founder of the Kukishinden ryû. It ends with the overthrowing of the Kamakura government 1333). Foundation of Sôtô Zen by Dôgen coming back from China where he studied Ch’an Buddism. More on Kamakura http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamakura_period

Muromachi period (1336-1573): Muromachi government in Kyoto established by Ashikaga Takauji. at its peak, Ikebana starts. Ônin wars (1467) opens the sengoku jidai period. Introduction of firearms (1543) by the Portuguese.

Azuchi-momoyama period (1573-1603): Nobunaga overthrows the muromachi government (based in Azuchi castle). Unification of the country finalized by Hideyoshi (momoyama castle). Sen no rikyû perfects sadô (tea ceremony) and becomes the sadô master of Hideyoshi. Many castles are built. Sekigahara wars.

Edo period (1603-1868): Tokugawa Ieyasu creates the Edo government and moves it to Edo (Tokyo). In 1853-1854, Commodore Perry (USA) forces the opening of the country.

Meiji period (1868-1912): Meiji restoration. The samurai lose their power. Japan adopts modern standards. Clans are abolished and swords are banned (1871). The Empire is given a constitution (1889).

Taishô period (1912-1926): The Taishô Emperor is enthroned. Japan gets into WWI in 1914.

Showa period (1926-1989): Enthronement of  the Showa emperor Hiro Hito. Japan attacks Pearl harbor (Dec. 1941) and forces the USA to get into WWII. After Japan’s defeat, a democratic constitution is established (1946).

Heisei period (1989- today): Enthronement of Aki Hito. Modern times.

Those 12 periods are the main ones creating the backbone of Japanese culture. It will not change your taijutsu but will help you understanding the “invisible” aspects of our art.

*Alternative list of periods http://www.meijigakuin.ac.jp/~watson/ref/nengo.html