When one hears the word “Musha Shugyo”, a landscape where strong samurai traveling exclusively in search of worthy opponents and “dojo-yaburi” or honor matches comes to mind.
But… this image lives only in the minds of people today and bears no resemblance to the reality for those who undertook it. The name literally means “the warrior’s training sabbatical”.
It was the time we like to imagine that every young samurai would put his skills to the test.
Historically, the real objective of most of these journeys was;
• Self-promotion (looking for job opportunities)
• Intelligence (Spying)
It is said that the first Musha Shugyo in Japan was done by a man from the Chugoku region of Japan. His name was Yamauchi Gembei. It is certain that since about the time he started his Musha Shugyo, many warriors soon began this practice throughout Japan too.
After the battles of Onin no Ran (1467 to 1477), many areas were disturbed with skirmishes and violence. Many lords fell from grace and their samurai became “Ronin” or wandering samurai with no lord to serve. They were all looking for work and started to travel in order to find it.
If a battle took place while on the road…all the better. It was considered a good opportunity.
They even often joined in the ranks of “Jingari” 【陣借り】or those who joined armies to fight for food. Usually with the hopes of getting noticed by the lord and being taken into the upper ranks. Today these kinds of men are called mercenaries.
Also, the samurai traveled not just for travelling’s sake. They did so while investigating the topography of each area, the situation of the Daimyo’s castle and family, the state of the vassals, the number of weapons and ammunition, etc.
Unfortunately, it seems that there were many samurai who earned money by merely providing information. The kind of information necessary for studying the strength and weaknesses of neighboring countries. At this point it was only money they usually cared about. In other words, some had become merchants of information.
It is also said that many samurai would take their servants while on their “Musha Shugyo” so it appears if you came from a strong “Daimyo” or feudal lord, they lived life well on this journey.
I once read that Akechi Mitsuhide lived the first half of his life as a “Ronin” then served the Echizen Asakura family. But later to betray his lord at Honnoji????
In relation to our Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu history, it is said that Yamamoto Kannsuke also traveled to various places in the country studying martial arts, never to lose a match. He also studied architecture and art during his personal “Musha Shugyo”. He is considered by historians to be very well educated for his time.
In summary, the “Musha Shugyo” was a samurai warrior's quest. The warrior or shugyōsha, would travel the land practicing and sharpening his skills without the protection of his family or clan. During this time they could expect to train with other schools, have duels, perform bodyguard or mercenary work, and search for a worthy daimyō to serve.
Comments by the author on the essay post script:
Just for clarification, after lots of digging, the Fujibayashi family chronicles from the early to mid 1600’s say that, on the order of Takeda Shinden, Fujibayashi Nagato no Kami taught Yamamoto Kansuke the art of Ninjutsu. It does not mention a Ryu name. Japanese historians and researchers have inferred that it was Togakure Ryu because the Fujibayashi family came from Togakushi village and brought the Kami from Togakushi shrine to Iga. They built the Tejikara Shrine in Yubune, Iga to house the Kami once it was brought there in elaborate ritual. The Fujibayashi clans lineage of Togakure Ryu was famous for fire and smoke skills as well as explosives.
Here it mentions that 戸隠流忍術を山本勘助より秘伝された藤林長門守は、火術、火筒、狼煙などの忍術が得意であったと伝わる。The Togakure Ryu, especially fire, smoke and explosives related skills were taught to the man who wrote the Bansenshukai (Fujiwara) by Yamamoto Kannsuke.
Here is a link to the fireworks festival from the shrine that the Togakure Ryu Fujibayashi family built.
Shane Sensei is a licensed Shidoshi in the Bujinkan and member of the Shidoshi-Kai. He has trained in the Bujinkan since 1998 and regularly travels to Japan for training.