Introduction to shuriken and a short History of the

There are two basic types of shuriken, bo shuriken, or long thin blades, and hira shuriken (also called shaken), or flat, star-shaped or lozenge-shaped blades.

The basic method of throwing of the shuriken varies little between schools, the main differences being the shape of the blades and their use.


The earliest mention of throwing blades comes from Ganritsu Ryu, founded by Matsubayashi Henyasai, a professional swordsman in service of the 18th lord of Matsuhiro in Kanei, around 1624. This school gave rise to Katono, or Izu Ryu, founded by a samurai of Sendai, called Fujita Hirohide of Katono, also known as Katono Izu, who was a student of Mastubayashi. He pioneered the use of a throwing needle, about 10cm in length and weighing about 20gm, several of which he wore in his hair. The needle was held between the middle and forefinger, and thrown like a modern dart into the eyes of an attacker. It was said that he could throw two needles at a time at a picture of a horse, hitting each hoof in turn.

Enmei Ryu

The famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi was reportedly the founder of this school, which involves throwing a 40cm blade, probably a tanto, or knife. There is a story of a duel between Musashi and Shishido, an expert of the kusari-gama, a sickle and chain developed specifically to defeat the samurai's sword. As Shishido pulled out his chain, Musashi threw a dagger and struck him in the chest, killing him.

Shirai Ryu

Shirai Ryu was founded by Shirai Toru Yoshikane, born 1783 in Okayama. At the age of 8 he began to learn swordsmanship under Ida Shimpachiro of Kiji-ryu, and at 14 moved to Tokyo and trained daily under the Nakanishi school of Itto Ryu sword, and began teaching in Okayama at 23. Over 9 years his fame spread and he had over 300 students, but he continued to doubt his ability. In the subsequent years he returned to Edo a number of times to train with his seniors, until eventually he achieved some sort of major revelation and found peace with his technique. After this revelation, he added the word Tenshin to the name of his art, thus known as Tenshin Itto Ryu. The style of blade and throwing method he taught became known as Shirai Ryu.

The blade of Shirai Ryu is a metal rod 15cm to 25 cm in length and about 5-6mm in diameter. It is sharpened at one end and rounded at the other.(see fig. 2 )

Figure 2. Shuriken of the Shirai Ryu

It is held in the hand by forming a guide with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers. The little finger gives extra support and the thumb holds the blade in place. The feeling of the hand when holding and throwing is said to be gentle, like holding a swallows egg so as not to break it. (see fig. 3). Depending upon the distance to be thrown, the blade is held with the point outwards towards the target, or inwards to the palm.

Shirai Ryu Posture
Figure S. Holding the shuriken of the Shirai Ryu
Shuriken TasselShirai Ryu

Fig 4. A variation in the hold of Shirai Ryu, for long blades.

Negishi Ryu

Negishi Ryu was founded by Negishi Nobunori Shorei, a retainer of Joshu Annaka during the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate. Negishi became a student of Kaiho Hanpei, the second master of Hokushin Itto Ryu sword, after showing promise with the use of a shinai as a child. He studied other schools such as Araki Ryu and spear of Oshima Ryu, eventually becoming the head of the Kaiho Ryu, and later taught for several years. When the Meiji Restoration ordered the abolition of swords, he became a farmer, and passed away in 1904.

The basic blade shape of the Negishi Ryu is a projectile shaped pen that has an enlarged head and tail, like a slender bomb. (see fig.5 ) They weigh around 50gm, and sometimes have a tassel of hair or cotton attached to the tail to assist straight flight.

Negishi Ryu Shuriken
Figure 5. Shuriken of the Negishi Ryu

Much like the method of Shirai Ryu, it is held in the hand with the fingers acting as a guide, and the thumb locks it in place.(see fig. 6)

Negishin Shuriken
Figure 6. Holding the shuriken of the Negishi Ryu

Jikishin Ryu

Not much is known about Jikishin Ryu, and it is suspected that this is a variation in style of a precursor to Shirai or Negishi Ryu, though I suspect it may be from Kashima Shinto Ryu, as this method of holding is best thrown as one steps forward with the right foot. The major difference is in the way the blade is held (see fig 7). The 3 smaller fingers are curled, while the index finger points out straight, as though making a gun shape with the hand. The blade sits with its butt in the palm and the thumb applies slight pressure from above, downwards, holding it in place on the side of the curled middle finger, and holding the tail down as it leaves the hand. The index finger then rests on the side of the blade, providing support. The throw is a simple raising and lowering of the arm from the side as a step is taken forward, the arm cuts down as if it were a sword.

Figure 7. Holding the shuriken of the Jikishin Ryu Other styles and types of shuriken

There are other less well known styles of shuriken, and a huge variety of blade shapes. Here are some more examples.

Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-Ryu

This style is one of the most famous martial arts of Japan, with a long and distinguished history. It is a composite art consisting of many weapons, sword and shuriken included. As with many other schools, the shuriken was taught as part of the techniques for sword. There are descriptions of two different blades. One is hashi, or chopstick shaped, where it is a square stick, sharp at one end and thick at the other (see Fig. 9).

Figure 8 shows another version, with a hexagonal cross-section shown at the base, to give an idea of the thickness and shape.

Figure 8 shows another version, with a hexagonal cross-section shown at the base, to give an idea of the thickness and shape.

Cross Shuriken

Figure 9. Shuriken of the Katori Shinto Ryu (Left, Middle), and Ikku Ryu (Right). Tatsumi Ryu

This school is a comprehensive martial art founded by Tatsumi Sankyo around the mid 1500's, and still operates today. It teaches a complete range of weaponry, including shuriken, as well as battlefield and martial strategies. Details about the shuriken in this Ryu are scarce at present, though I suspect shuriken training was introduced into the art at a later date.

Otsuki Ryu

Yasuda Zenjiro, a master of Otsuki Ryu Kenjutsu from Hiroshima recounts that his teacher, Okamoto Munishige, an Edo period samurai of the Aizu domain used shuriken on a number of occasions during his employment in the Shogunate's security force. He reportedly carried around 12 blades in various places, including the koshita, or back flap of the hakama.

Ikku Ryu

Ikku Ryu is the name given to a relatively modern style of shuriken, created by modern day shuriken master, and author Shirakami Ikku-ken. He was a student of Master Naruse Kanji (d. 1948), who had trained in Yamamoto Ryu sword, and had written a book on Japanese Sabre Fighting, after his experiences at war with China at the turn of the century. Master Naruse was a student of Yonegawa Magoroku who in turn was a student of the above mentioned founder of Shirai Ryu, Shirai Toru. From his teacher, Shirakami learned both Shirai Ryu and Negishi Ryu, and combined the blade from the Shirai Ryu with the throwing style of the Negishi Ryu, and formed a new method, which involves a double pointed blade (see fig. 9, R), This method overcomes the problem of positioning the blade the right way round in the hand before throwing, giving greater flexibility in distance..

Figure 10. Kogai, Japanese ornamental hairpin

There is a famous story which relates a duel between Shosetsu and Sekiguchi Hayato, who faced each other off with swords. As Hayato rushed at Sekiguchi, the latter pulled a kogai from his hair and threw it, pinning Sekiguchi's hakama, or pleated skirt, to the wooden floor. It is thought that Sekiguchi used a specially fashioned kogai that was balanced, and made to look like a hair-pin.

Shuriken of the Ninja schools

Tanto Gata Shuriken
Figure 11. Tanto-gata, Japanese knives adapted to become shuriken
Enmei Ryu Tantogata Shuriken
Figure 12. Some straight blades from various schools and sources.
Shuriken Dimens

Figure 13. A variety of straight throwing blades from the collection of Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi, current Head Master of Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu.

This interesting collection of blades (fig. 13) shows a wide variety from a range of schools. The large blade with long tassle, and the second from left, top row, are called uchine, which are actually throwing spears. They are held and thrown much like a modern-day javelin (see fig. 14). The long chord was used to retrieve the uchine, and also the tanto-gata (top row, 7th from left) immediately after the throw, so it could be thrown again, in rapid succession. The smaller uchine has tassels which are used to create drag in flight, ensuring a straight hit. Centre row, 4th from the right is a kozuka, a small utility knife that fits into the scabbard of a katana, or long sword. There are several blades peculiar to Ninjutsu, such as the flat spatulate blades, and the arrow-head shaped blade, as well as several from Negishi Ryu and Shirai Ryu. At some point in history, Negishi Ryu became utilised by various schools or clans of Ninjutsu.

Negishi Ryu Shuriken
Figure 14. Posture for throwing the uchine.

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  • Efrem
    How to hold a bo shuriken?
    4 years ago

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