The Bujinkan has a fascinating history and lineage, but due to that heritage it often draws the attention of skeptics and critics. Quite literally it gets nitpicked to no end, mainly because of the identity of the characters of its origin story.
It is basically like an English school of traditional archery, quarterstaff, or even swordsmanship, claiming that their system’s founder was Robin Hood.
The mother lineage of the Bujinkan martial arts is the Gyokko Ryū and its founder, Tozawa Hakuunsai, is just as colorful if not more so than Robin Hood.
To go on about Hakuunsai and his role in the development of ninjutsu and koshijutsu martial arts would easily fill a whole book. What I would like to discuss here is one of the Gyokko Ryū’s claims that is most often under attack by critics of the Bujinkan, that Tozawa Hakuunsai is the founder of the school of Koshijutsu known as Gyokko Ryū. It is doubted by the skeptics in terms of authenticity because they believe that no document mentioning Tozawa Hakuunsai exists in the historical record, before his appearances in fictional literature from 1911 to 1924 CE by the Tachikawa book series publishing company. Therefore, in their opinion, the lineage had to have been created or fabricated after 1911 CE.
There are two key points against this argument.
First is that the Tachikawa books were putting on paper “stories” and legends that had been passed down in a stylized performance known as “Kōdan”, a traditional Japanese story-telling art.
The performer sits at a small desk called a “shakudai” and taps it with a traditional folding fan to set the pace and tone while reciting to the audience mainly historical stories such as military memoirs and political stories.
The legends of Tozawa Hakuunsai being at Togakushi Mountain had been handed on for generations in local folklore before finally being “retold” in a modern form of literature by the Tachikawa book company. Historically though Hakuunsai could not have taught Sarutobi Sasuke as they write in the Tachikawa stories because the two men were from two different periods of time, the former was active in the mid 1100’s while the latter in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s. The Tachikawa book company took artistic and creative liberties there for the sake of the story.
The second major point against the critic’s argument is that there are, indeed, non-fiction texts and documents that mention Tozawa Hakuunsai as a historical figure that predate the Tachikawa book company’s founding in 1911.
One of the examples I will show here is written by a samurai from the Takasaki domain. His name was Sekine Eisaburō Harutsugu (関根栄三郎春継), a sword and spear instructor for the Takasaki domain’s training center, who was researching and documenting the history and founders of the various Ryū of martial arts in Japan. This massive work was done sometime in the 1840’s or 1850’s, long before the creation of the Tachikawa book company in 1911.
Harutsugu died in battle at the end of the Bakumatsu period in the 1860’s. In a future post I may go into more detail on Harutsugu, but for this post it is enough for me to show that Hakuunsai was looked at as, or at least was believed to be, a historical figure by the samurai instructor and researcher of the Takasaki domain.
I will also provide examples of Tozawa Hakuunsai as a historical figure in exhaustive modern texts on the history of Iga. While they are modern resources, the authors are academic authorities on the history of the region and should know what they are talking about.
I will also share some pictures here of densho mentioning Tozawa Hakuun, the man believed to be Hakuunsai’s teacher of ninjutsu and the skills of striking the human body’s weak points with various fists.
Hakuunsai is reputed to have been the founder of the 53 households of the Koga Ryū. (6 of the families became the Iga Ryū). So, in some traditions he is considered the founder of all ninjutsu in Iga and Koga.
I hope you enjoyed this little essay on the history of the founder of our Gyokko Ryū.