With the advent of gradually exposing the techniques needed to throw weapons it is around Sandan that the introduction of Shuriken is explored with students. This is necessary to compliment the need to throw Sai (Kojo no Sai) and Rochin (Kanigawa Tinbe) in kata and in kumite.
The style of Shuriken taught in the syllabus is Shingetsu Ryu Shuriken Jutsu, which was passed down form Fujita Seiko (13th August 1899 – 4th January 1966). Fujita Seiko was the last authentic Koga Ninja and the driving force and main influence to my teacher, Sensei Motokatsu Inoue.
Authentic Shingetsu Ryu is not taught extensively in Japan and was only shown to a hand full of seniors when I was training there. Today you can find some schools of this art but is difficult to attribute a direct lineage and authenticity.
The initial throwing style approach in Shingetsu Ryu is based principally on the straight throwing method, which was taught by my teacher to a select few seniors. This was expanded to the spin approach from blade and shaft for distance along with underarm and side throwing.
The Shuriken used are the classical darts of approximately 7-9 inches long and of good weight. The approach is mainly due to the method of short distance up to about 4 – 5 metres. Longer distances are better tackled with the spin, which uses less energy due to the rotational natural power generated.
The Shuriken are held in the palm of the hand and follow the line of the middle finger sitting in the central channel of the hand. Snapping the arm forward from the elbow, which should remain straight, lifts the arm. Caution is always placed on not dropping the arm and losing focal energy and height.
Accuracy is not important when a student first starts and the main emphasis is to get clean entry in the target. The stance is similar to “zenkutsu dachi” and the front foot is encouraged when first starting to slide slightly forward to encourage momentum. Exercises of distance training are often taught starting very close and sliding back after each throw. This is a good way of naturally getting distance achievement.
As training progresses bunching and splitting are taught along with changing the Shuriken weight and length. The student must work toward being able to throw anything and adapt to anything quickly.
You must throw every day to be competent at throwing and the practice encourages a strong sense of Zen. If you try too hard they do not stick in, if you try without concentration they fall to the floor. The perfect balance in mental and physical harmony is imperative. Never throw with too much emotional content. Never get angry and always focus the Hara and power from stability.
Shuriken were often traditionally used to unbalance an opponent, a kind of distraction with intent. It was well known for example that Miyamoto Musashi the famous Japanese swordsman was an excellent exponent of Shuriken deploying the art of Jikida Ho. He favoured the throw to unbalance and then used his sword for the killer strike.
Fujita Seiko used a wide range of darts and his primary objective was to throw to kill. The tips were often tipped with poison using old recipes passed down through the family.
The following is a simple training approach structured to assist in the early days of throwing and provide a basic platform so critical to Japanese Bujutsu. It is recommended to work with 10 Shuriken in hand. Remember you must practice breathing as part of the throwing to avoid shoulder tension. You must also be careful not to drop the wrist or arm at point of throwing.
Throw short distance to the target (1.5 meters) with a fixed stance (high arm posture above the shoulder)
Throw short distance to the target (1.5 meters) with a shifting forward front leg to get entry movement with the throw. (high arm posture above the shoulder)
Throw short distance to the target (1.5 meters) with a fixed stance (low arm posture into the shoulder)
Throw short distance to the target (1.5 meters) with a shifting forward front leg to get entry movement with the throw. (low arm posture into the shoulder)
Moved backwards after successfully throwing by 0.5 – 1 meter at a time adjusting power and balance (high and low shoulder postures). Feel the distance to the line and target created with your eye line.
Repeat the above moving back into the target adjusting as the distance changes.
In one breath throw a minimum of 3 Shuriken at rapid speed. You will begin to feel the Hara and realise the body becomes and enabler to the action.
Initially work to make the Shuriken enter and stick
Throw to work on grouping the Shuriken at chosen areas on the target
Then work on throwing round the target clockwise to form a circle. Repeat anti clockwise.
Face the target at 45.degree angles left and right and throw working on the diminishing visual target area.
Firstly throw with the body face on to the target
Throw standing side on and rotate the body to face the target and despatch as the front position is just being realised. Work on using the hip. (For Karate students this entry posture is known)
Face away from the target, spin around and throw as the full front position is being realised.
Feeling and understanding
Once the feel and accuracy develops like Karate Kihon you must trust your posture and balance without thought. Face front on and throw 1 Shuriken. Picture the action and target area hit, close your eyes and throw 9 more. If the posture is retained the Shuriken will bunch and indicate where you are on the fine balance between vision, feeling and technique.
O”Sensei was very skilled at throwing Shuriken and taught with some sternness and discipline. My first opportunity to throw was an invite to his private dojo one afternoon when he found me in the main dojo on my own training. I watched him throw 10 Shuriken and he explained what he wanted and what I should do. My first attempt hit the floor much to his disgust and from there on they bounced out of the target and spun off all around his dojo. After 10 minutes of little success he said, enough, perhaps this will take longer than I thought! I was never invited into his private dojo to throw again but he did set up a target in the Main dojo, which I was taught to work on every Monday and Friday after the early morning lesson. My determination to not portray myself again as totally incompetent meant I threw every day and found some degree of small recognition from O’Sensei when he said, Mmm a little progress”!!
When we travelled abroad he would take a small sewing kit, or that is what many thought it was. But it was needles which he would throw into a newspaper hanging from the hotel door every morning! I remember my good friend Eddie Jardin looking at me when we saw O’Sensei throwing whilst on Safari with a look of disbelief