Classical Fighting Arts of Japan:
A Complete Guide to Koryu Jujutsu

by Serge Mol
Published by Kodansha
Review by Ron Beaubien

Serge Mol’s Classical Fighting Arts of Japan: A Complete Guide to Koryu Jujutsu is a hardcover book and it runs for 3,800 yen in Japan or $35.00 in the United States. The book was published by Kodansha, and as with most Kodansha books, Mol’s was well written and designed. As Kodansha is the publisher, the book will probably remain in print for a very long time. There are 242 pages in the book.

To begin, Mol dispels the definition of jujutsu as “a soft art,” and defines it as, “A method of close combat, either unarmed or employing minor weapons, that can be used in defensive or offensive ways, to subdue one or more unarmed or armed opponents (p.10).” He then goes into a discussion on the naming of jujutsu and jujutsu-like systems (yawara, judo, aikijujutsu), minor weapons (kodachi, kobuki, shuriken). He proceeds into talking about the bugei and bugei ryuha densho (licenses and other documents of historical importance). Mol follows that with information on primary jujutsu, ryuha (Takenouchi Ryu, Fukuno Ryu, Yoshin Ryu and many of their derivatives), other lineages and schools (e.g., Bokuden Ryu, Sekiguchi Ryu, Yagyu Shingan Ryu, etc.), and other “combined” lineages (Kiraku Ryu, Shinto Yoshin Ryu, etc.). He finishes with a short conclusion.

Mr. Mol apparently reads Japanese or had many of the texts translated as he cited many different Japanese textual sources. Kanji (Chinese characters) were provided in the book for the names of the jujutsu schools and some of the Japanese terminology as well. As there are many koryu bugei ryuha with similar names that are written with different characters, the inclusion of the kanji improved the clarity of the text and were a welcomed addition.

One problem I have with the book is that I would have liked to see more attention given to the koryu systems that have verifiable lineages and systems rather than schools that have unverified and/or problematic lineages. Here, I believe that Mr. Mol and I differ on what constitutes a “classical” martial art. In the introduction of the book, Mr. Mol states: “...the book’s discussion is limited to those jujutsu styles that were founded before the Meiji period, or to those schools that are legitimate continuations of pre-Meiji schools (p. 2).” Apparently the latter part of this definition gives him the leeway needed to include his school, Katayama Hoki Ryu Jujutsu, which is essentially a very recent recreation. Furthermore, Mr. Mol believes that because Katayama Hoki Ryu Jujutsu was recreated based on old documentation, it has even greater legitimacy than traditions that have continued unbroken. With questionable logic, he argues that,

“[the techniques, which were recreated from written descriptions]...are probably more authentic and closer to the original concept of the school’s founder than those techniques of certain systems which were effectively continued in an unbroken line, but in many cases were modified by later generations of headmasters (p. 113).”

Now I applaud Mr. Mol’s and Mr. Nakashima’s (Mol’s teacher and the main individual behind the re-creation of Katayama Hoki Ryu) honesty about the recreation of their school. They should be commended, particularly because other people have not been so open. However, while I am aware that some classical martial traditions have reconstructed portions of their respective curricula, in most of the cases that I’m familiar with, there were still extant techniques within the schools’ curricula that were directly transmitted from the previous generations. Although Mr. Mol states that Mr. Nakashima was recognized as the soke of Katayama Hoki Ryu by a descendent of the Katayama family (who has never practiced the tradition, by the way), the fact remains that Katayama Hoki Ryu was completely recreated in 1992, approximately 70 years after the tradition had died out (p. 112-113). This certainly precludes it from fitting my definition of a “classical” tradition. This is particularly true as there were neither direct transmission nor any license or rank awarded by a person trained and licensed in the legitimate system. In addition, using Mol’s rather vague definition, there are probably many other jujutsu ryuha recreations based on earlier documentation that also should have been included.

Although he briefly describes many koryu systems, I also would liked to have seen more pictures on the different schools described in the text by their leading exponents. Half of the technical photographs in the book were of Nakashima Atsumi performing everything from Katayama Hoki Ryu jujutsu and Fudo Chishin Ryu to Takenouchi Santo Ryu and “classical jujutsu.” Although nice photographs, a large number of them were showing techniques of Katayama Hoki Ryu, in other words, recreations of what the original techniques of the school may have looked like. However, if I were to buy a book on antique vases, for example, I would expect to see photographs of the original vases, rather than modern replications. The rest of the photos were of Tanaka Fumon (another of Mol’s teachers), various densho (written documents) Mr. Mol has acquired, and a few unfortunately blurry photographs taken at the annual koryu demonstration at Shimogamo shrine in Kyoto. In this regard, I don’t feel that the book lived up to its subtitle as being a “complete guide to koryu jujutsu.”

As there is very little in English about koryu jujutsu, I’m sure the book will get great reviews, especially by people who have never studied koryu in Japan. The book, although vague at times, was well written. I do believe that Mr. Mol did try to accurately explain the terminology and concepts associated with koryu jujutsu to the best of his knowledge. As a general overview of all the koryu jujutsu systems in English, the book is not bad, but limited in its scope. Although possibly of use to people without access to Japanese sources, I would not recommend the book be used as a main source of information about koryu jujutsu.

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