Ready to explore the kyoketsu shoge as a way to help expand your martial arts training?
What follows in this post is a brief outline on how to handle and use this historical tool. As a starting place we are first going to ask “What is the kyoketsu shoge?” and “What places does such an item have in modern martial arts training?”
Kyoketsu shoge means “to run in the fields and mountains” and it is from this simple statement that the movement of the tool is hidden. The kyoketsu shoge is about movement, the movement of the rope, the movement of your body, feet, and posture, layered over the movement of your training partner.
Imagine for a moment that you are at the top of a high mountain surrounded by trees, rocks, and clouds as you start running up and down the mountain. As long as you keep running (moving) you will be “ok”. If you begin to lose your balance just shift over and regain it. Come up against a giant rock, run up it or around it- but the moment you stop moving, that is the moment you can’t regain your balance or the moment you can’t go around that rock. This is the hidden teaching (kuden) of the kyoketsu shoge- never stop moving with it, integrating the tool with your body (kentaiichijo). The moment you stop, that is the moment you get tangled up in your own rope, can’t hit the target, etc.
Kuden (verbal teaching) suggests that the kyoketsu shoge comes from our ninjutsu studies and that it was a tool used by the historical ninja. In keeping with the ever changing philosophy of ninjutsu the kyoketsu shoge was more than just a “weapon”.
The first part of the tool was a double edged hooked blade about the size of small shovel or spade with a handle. Attached to this was eighteen feet or more of rope, or a rope substitute like horse hair, finally ending in a large metal ring, which was sometimes sharpened around the edges. Think of the kyoketsu shoge as a martial arts Swiss army knife…
As a “tool” each part was used as a whole and separately- the blade could be used to cut, the rope bind, climb, or help carry things, while the ring could be used as a weighted grappling hook.
So with this understanding, why practice with such a tool as a modern martial artist?
The kyoketsu shoge is a tool of the times, so practicing with it gives a unique historical perspective of martial arts from that time period. The “how and why” of it offers strategic insight into other lessons providing a unique overview of the skills needed to survive during that time. On the other hand the kyoketsu shoge also teaches a lot about oneself- distance, timing, and rhythm that are needed to make the tool work and not get tangled up in the rope or hit with the weight are all skills that can transfer over to modern application.
In this way one could thing of the kyoketsu shoge as a pair of weights or running shoes that are used to help forge and train the body. Think of the kyoketsu shoge as a martial artist’s home gym.
Before we get started with the basic training exercises of the kyoketsu shoge you are going to have to make a safe training version to practice with. Under NO circumstances ever should you practice with a real metal version. Take the time to craft a safe training version and you will have it for years of practice.
Example of a “safe” training version, no metal dagger, ring, or sharp edges.
The first part of the tool is the blade section which is essentially the size of a large knife with a hook on the bottom. Cut a blank from wood and then sand down the edges so you have a general shape but there are no sharp edges to pull or cut with. Pay special attention to blunt the points of the knife and hook. If wood is not available- improvise! A few cardboard blank templates taped together and then bonded will also work.
At the opposite end punch a small hole to connect the rope and tie the rope to it with a good knot. With the rope you want around eighteen to twenty feet of cord, preferably made out of cotton or mostly cotton so it is nice and flexible and won’t burn your hand with friction as it moves past.
A Petco dog chew toy for the ring…
Finally, on the opposite end of the rope you are going to need to attach a rubber ring. Large washers are one way to do it, while dog chew toys from a pet supply store offer another quick alternative. Once you have assembled your kyoketsu shoge check and recheck the cord and knots, especially before and after training to make sure they are secure. Keep some extra rope on hand to replace the old rope as it becomes worn and frayed.
KYOKETSU SHOGE GRIP AND BASIC POSTURE
Begin by taking the blade in your left hand holding it with your pointer finger and thumb as you lay it across the flat of your palm.
With your left hand loop the rope into three or four coils and hold the top of the coils with the rest of your fingers creating a relaxed fist holding both the knife and the rope. With your right hand take the ring and other end of the rope holding the rope a few feet away from the ring.
So now your left hand is holding the knife and coiled rope while your right hand is holding the other end of the rope and the ring. From here imagine a person standing in front of you as you step back with your right leg while your left foot points at this imaginary person. Think of creating a triangle with your footwork, bending your knees, and sinking your weight. With your left hand extend the blade out pointing it at the imaginary person while your right hand holds the rope and weight just off to your right side about hip/chest height. You are now standing in the basic posture used to manipulate the kyoketsu shoge.
Think of projecting your intention forward with the knife section and always make sure that it is pointing at your target- make it look like a “threat”, while hiding the real “threat” of the rope and ring.
The picture above captures this posture as seen in a moment in time, it will be changing and adapting as you move around with the kyoketsu shoge. The key to standing in the posture is to be relaxed. The kyoketsu shoge is a flexible instrument so your body needs to be flexible in return.
Pay attention to common tension points like the lower back, hips, and shoulders- consider working on a stretching routine to help with moving in a relaxed manner. Even my grip around the rope and knife handle is “relaxed” despite being a “fist”.
CASTING THE ROPE
Now that we have covered the basic grip and posture it is time to introduce casting out the rope and ring to hit a target. This is where the manipulation of distance and timing comes into play, understanding the distance of the rope and where the target relates to it. First let’s talk about casting out the ring, followed by understanding and then manipulating this distance.
While standing in the basic posture begin to swing the ring in a vertical manner next to the right side of your body. Use your wrist, arm, and shoulder to generate the power, paying attention to hold the rope and attached ring just off to the side of your body so you don’t hit yourself with the ring or get tangled in the rope.
As you spin the rope/ring pay attention to its location around the side of your body and as it passes in the front step forward with your right foot and let the rope and ring out as you extend your right hand. As this happens tilt the knife part to the left to create and opening and to allow the coiled rope that you are holding in your left hand to unwind out.
The key here is to use both the upper and lower half of your body to cast out the ring. What this means is that you should move as if your right leg and right hand are connected- both move at the same time and as you stop with your step you stop with moving your hand. Casting out in this way creates a smooth flow and more importantly sets you up to pull the rope and ring back.
When trying to hit a target with the ring, don’t try to aim the ring at it or even throw the ring by spinning the rope. The secret to being able to hit your target is to just point at it with your right hand, allowing your right hand to act as a channel and guide as the ring and rope move forward. Also remember to relax your grip on the rope so it doesn’t give you a friction burn as it coils away.
Now that you have cast out the ring the next step is to get it back and recoil the rope back to your starting position. This has to be done in a quick and smooth fashion as the moment after the rope and ring gets cast out you are vulnerable.
While holding the knife in your left hand, grab as far down on the rope as you can with your right hand. Pull the two together to create slack in the rope and take the first loop in your left hand. With your right hand follow the rope down as far as you can and then pull it back to meet your left hand and collect the loop. In this manner you can recoil the rope in two or three stretches of your arm. The pictures below shows this process:
Once you have become comfortable with casting out the ring and retrieving it, it is time to start running in the fields and the mountains…
Stand in the basic posture and begin to swing the ring around at the side of your body. Imagine across from you stands an imaginary training partner (for safety’s sake never practice throwing out the ring at a real person). As they move into range cast out the ring to strike them. After you have hit them one of two things are going to happen depending on where you hit them and how they react. Either you are going to move in with the rest of the rope and the knife to bind them up, or you are going to have to move away to prepare for another cast of the ring. While you are doing this your imaginary training partner is also going to be either running away or towards you depending on what they are trying to do. Either way you need to either close the distance or create space as quickly as you can, and this is done by leaping (skipping) as leaping is faster than running- for short bursts you can cover twice the distance. This is called shiho tobi- leaping in all directions. As you are leaping to close the distance or move away, your hands are pulling back the rope in the manner we just covered to coil it back up for the next throw.
Practice casting the rope out, leaping back three or four times as you recoil the rope, and then move forward swinging the rope/ring to cast it back out repeating the process. This is the essence of the movement of the kyoketsu shoge, banpen fugyo- changing and adapting as needed and not being surprised by it.
The next question is where to hit your imaginary training partner as you cast out the ring. Prime targets (kyusho) are the hands and arms if they were holding a sword or other historical weapon- disarm the sword, and then move into bind them up with the rope, the knees or legs to effect mobility, or the face/head for the obvious reasons.
In keeping with the essence of ninjutsu the kyoketsu shoge is also used as a tool to escape- often running away is the better alternative in any situation. Think of using the tool to create opportunities. For example, go back to visualizing standing off with your training partner. Begin swinging the ring and rope and move into a position where you can escape, maybe at the edge of a forest or next to a door, etc. At that moment cast the ring out aiming for their eyes- it really doesn’t matter if you hit, or even if the rope could reach them- this will cause a reaction, for them to flinch, close their eyes, look away, etc. In that moment where they react and lose sight of you, that is the moment to escape. Along this way of thinking the kyoketsu shoge is so much more than just a “weapon”.
And there is more than just throwing out the ring to hit a target as if you are playing catch and throwing a ball. When casting the ring out you actually aim above the head to miss and have the ring move past your target. Once it passes, you yank back on the rope with your right hand pulling the ring back hitting them from behind. In missing you still hit them. This is known as kyojitsu- truth and falsehood- making them think they are safe because you missed or that they are safe because they deflected the ring, only to have it yank back and hit them.
The next method to spinning the cord and ring is over your head like a helicopter. Again, casting the ring out in the same manner as before- stepping with your right foot as your right hand lets the weight of the ring carry it out and away from you. The targets and retrieving the rope are the same as mentioned above only also practice letting the rope move out to the side in a sweeping manner to use the weight of the ring to wrap around your training partners leg, followed by pulling back on the rope to topple them over. Using the weight of the ring to snare and bind limbs is also a skill one needs to practice and master.
DISTANCE AND TIMING WITH THE KYOKETSU SHOGE
As you become familiar with the basic concepts of casting out and retrieving the rope/ring, along with striking and wrapping from the two casting positions- the side, and overhead the next building block is to understand the distance and timing of the rope and how to control it.
With the rope fully cast out you are looking at being able to influence sixteen to twenty feet out in front of you and this is the concept we want to play around with. When casting out the rope we can break it down into three ranges (distance). The first is where your imaginary opponent is just out of range of the rope and ring- even with stepping forward you can’t hit them. The second range is anywhere from ten feet out to the twenty foot mark where you can hit the target yet still have room to move forward and away. The final range is where your training partner would be right on top of you- ten feet or less away.
The “sweet spot” for casting out the rope and ring is the second distance- the target is in range to easily be hit, yet you still have range to move after the strike. The third distance is the worst for you, unless you have already bound up the target with the rope, while the first range is the best for your target as they are out of range of the ring.
As you spin the ring overhead imagine if you are standing on the opposite end of this for a moment. What are you looking at and for? Mentally you are judging the length of the rope and the stride of the legs to see if you are indeed out of range from getting hit with the ring. When the ring is cast out, you are then judging if you can close the distance fast enough. All these calculations are made in a fraction of a second and this is what you want to control- from the point of view of using the kyoketsu shoge.
Go back to standing off against that imaginary opponent. Assuming they are willing to take the hit of a heavy metal ring when is the best time to rush forward? As the ring is spinning there is a moment where it is directly behind you, and this is the moment that somebody is going to rush forward or attack. So, as you are spinning it vary the speed back and forth, spin it a little faster, and then slower, alternate, and keep the distance guessing- of course don’t spin it so fast you get tired or it spins out of control and hits you. Spinning it while remaining relaxed as mentioned before is important.
Back to running in the fields and mountains…
As you spin the ring overhead or at your side and the target is just out of distance (the first) think about how you can leap forward adding another three or four feet of distance before the ring and rope are released. This is more kyojitsu- it looks like you are out of the range of the rope, but in a moment’s notice with the bold action of leaping in you are suddenly in range.
ADVANCED CASTING CONCEPTS
In that moment where you cast out the ring and it misses your target- either intentionally or by accident there is another method for quickly getting the ring back out there for another strike. With the ring and rope out, quickly yank it back with a snap pulling it past and behind your body. From here take a step forward so the rope it tight behind you and then snap it back forward towards your target- think of it as a whip like motion using the weight of the ring. Even with the length of the rope this can be done very fast so go extra slow and be careful. When you whip the rope back and then forward make sure your hand is at the side of your body so the ring doesn’t hit you on the way back and then forward. A further advanced method is to actually snap the rope and ring from behind your body and then duck at the last moment as it comes forward so the target doesn’t see it traveling forward until the last moment when it is to late.
I’ve casted the ring and rope completely out past my target. Next I switch the knife part to my right hand as I move and pull back on the rope yanking it and the ring behind me…
Now with the distance between me and the target I step a bit forward making the rope behind me nice and tight. Notice where my hand is- at the side of my body so I don’t get whacked with my own ring, and that the knife part is still facing my target…
I then snap the ring forward sinking my body for additional power and speed in the rope…
Sometimes as you are leaping away while bringing the rope and ring back the target will be closing very fast with you and you won’t have time to fully re-loop the rings and then cast it back out. What you do in that situation is after two loops have been pulled back you swing the ring back around, up, and over to hit the target.
I’ve cast the rope out and as I leap away I’m pulling it back in. However, my target is closing very fast on my as now is the time to leap in as I’m “reloading” the ring.
Sometimes you allow the target to close in, leading them into a trap for when the ring gets whipped back around.
Just before they are on top of me I whip the ring back around using my entire body to spin it like a top…
Another advanced casting concept is to control how many loops you let out when throwing the ring. You can separate each loop that you are holding in your left hand with each finger, so if you only want to let out two loops you let go with two fingers, let out one loop, then let go with only one finger. Controlling how many coiled loops you let out is important for those times you are not out in an open field with unlimited space around you.
FURTHER ROPE AND RING TRICKS
Sometimes the target you are casting the ring out will actually grab the ring as part of a natural reaction, perhaps this is even intentional- making the target think they have the “advantage” by holding the ring and not allowing you to cast it out, which incidentally really isn’t an advantage.
I mentioned at the beginning of this guide that sometimes the real metal ring was sharpened on the outside- this allowed one to hold the ring and use it as a form of “brass knuckles” or if the ring was grabbed, a quick yank on the rope had the desired effect.
When the target holds the ring you want to pull back on the rope creating tension and the desire for them to pull back- this will elevate the rope to about head level connecting both you and the target. Step forward a bit creating some slack in the rope, and then with your right hand take the rope and throw a loop down it catching the targets hand- think of creating a lasso effect which wraps around their wrist, and now they can’t let go of the ring- the trapper becomes the trapped. From here you can then step on the rope to anchor the target restricting their movement as you move in with the knife.
Another optional point is to create a loop down at the knife end to slip your hand through as in the picture above. As needed this allows you to let go of the knife part to freely use your hand- perhaps you need two hands on the rope, and then when you need to get the knife part back in hand you can just flip it around with the loop and take hold of it.
Being able to manipulate the perspective of your training partner is also very important and for this the use of the ROPE is the best way. From their point of view the ring is dangerous because it is heavy and darting out to strike them, while the dagger and hook part is dangerous for obvious reasons- this is in many ways a falsehood- it is the rope that is the most dangerous.
Work on tangling up your training partner by NOT using the rope- place the rope in the path of their movement- make them navigate through it like a spider web- as you move around using sabaki gata they will step in, on, and through the rope, allowing you a change to tangle them up without them even realizing or knowing it- capturing them in the moment.
As we finish with this introduction I need to mention that there is a final piece to effectively using the kyoketsu shoge and that is how to wrap, ensnare, and tangle up the target in the rope after the ring has been cast out and you are moving in. While we touched on it briefly with casting the rope and ring sideways to wrap around a limb there are many more techniques to the process which can really only be shared one on one due to their complexity- pictures and videos just really can’t capture the movement and correction needed.
That said, that part of study can’t be started until one has integrated the kyoketsu shoge movement into their body and is able to cast out the ring and move the rope around their body without getting tangled or hit by it- which is what this guide is attempting to offer some insights into.
See you outside in the park!