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Sengoku period battle.jpg
Centuries of feudal warfare in Japan, and the desire to perfect the skills for war, led to the creation of the traditional schools of Japanese martial arts.
Japanese name
Kanji: 古流
Hiragana: こりゅう

Koryū (古流 ?) is a Japanese word that is used in association with the ancient Japanese martial arts. This word literally translates as "old school" (ko--old, ryū--school) or "traditional school." Koryū is a general term for Japanese schools of martial arts that predate the Meiji Restoration (the period from 1866 to 1869 which sparked major socio-political changes and led to the modernization of Japan). While there is no "official" cutoff date, the dates most commonly used are either 1868, the first year of the Meiji period, or 1876, when the Haitōrei edict banning the wearing of swords was pronounced.[1]

The systems of Japanese martial arts that post-date the Meiji Restoration are known as gendai budō. The most well known of these arts include judo, kendo, some schools of iaidō, and aikido. The koryū systems of the Japanese martial arts often contain both unarmed and armed fighting techniques. Within these ancient systems several different weapons are commonly taught to the students of the these arts.



Kobudo (古武道) is a Japanese term that can be translated as "old martial way." It was formerly known as Kobujutsu ("old martial art"), however, with the advent of martial arts generally becoming practiced for reasons other than that of practicality, it is now more commonly known as Kobudo. Within Japan, it can refer to any traditional martial art and is synonymous with Koryu. Alternatively, Kobudo is sometimes used to refer to Okinawan kobudō.


During the feudal period of Japanese history, many koryū schools were the otome ryū, (literally, "that which flows but remains at home") of the han (domain). Being an otome ryū entailed that the heads of these ryū (schools) would get a rice stipends from the han's total koku (a unit of measurement used to calculate rice revenues and used to measure the relative wealth of a han) in exchange for training the samurai of the han. However, there were exceptions to being funded by a specific han, and many ryū were never or only partially supported by a han. For example, Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū was solely supported by donations from local landed bushi and was never attached to a specific domain. Likewise, Maniwa Nen-ryū was founded and supported by the peasant farmers of Maniwa village in Gunma Prefecture, as a means of village protection. A third example is Kashima Shin-ryū which took its name from a famous Shinto shrine which would acquire funds to support itself from taxing the activities associated with lands owned or regulated by the temple, as well as serving as hereditary guardians of the Kashima shrine. These kinds of arrangements therefore allowed the heads of schools to devote themselves full-time to teaching in the schools, while providing assorted services to the school's benefactors.

It was not until the Meiji Restoration when this almost 500 year arrangement started to fall apart and various heads of schools had to seek other means of employment. Teaching their ryū to the general public was only one of many options. Today, few, if any, headmasters of a koryū or kenjutsu school make a living teaching their art, yet through their devotion, ensure their arts continue to thrive for generations.


  1. ^ Skoss, Diane (9 May 2006). "A Koryu Primer". Koryu Books. Retrieved 2007-01-01.  

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