Hakko Ryu : the traditional Jujutsu of Master Ryuho Okuyama

This new post is my first on Japanese Martial Arts. I write these lines on the sad event occasion ; my very first martial arts teacher, Georges Zapata, Shihan (Master) of Hakko Ryu Jujutsu 八光流柔術, recently passed away. This post will allow me to pay tribute to him and it will also be an opportunity for me to come back to my first martial art, Hakko Ryu Jujutsu, which I practiced diligently for 7 years and for which I am ranked black belt 1st dan or Shodan 初段.


Ryuho Okuyama, the founder Hakko Ryu Jujutsu

Ryuho Okuyama. The portrait of the founder of Hakko-Ryu traditionally used on the honor walls of dojos.

Hakko Ryu Jujutsu was founded by Ryuho Okuyama in 1941. Before presenting this style, we should first of all review the exceptional career of its founder. [1]
Ryuho Okuyama (1901-1987) was born in 1901 in Yamagata. In 1927, he moved to Asahikawa, on the island of Hokkaido, to establish a medical center there with his partner Namikoshi Tokujiro. From that time on, he made many trips to train in martial arts and experiment in medicinal practices. He notably studied Daito Ryu Akijutsu with Toshimi Matsuda, but also with the very famous Sokaku Takeda. Master Okuyama also had the opportunity to practice many Japanese combat systems and to train different weapon like sword, stick, spear, throwing weapons and bow. In parallel with his martial studies, Master Okuyama also studied traditional Japanese medicine, which is based on the same concepts as traditional Chinese medicine (a topic already discussed in this post). He had the opportunity to learn acupuncture, digitopuncture, massage, the use of medicinal herbs and dietetics.

In 1941, Ryuho Okuyama decided to synthesize his knowledge and created the Hakko Ryu in Tokyo. He teached the public, as well as the police and military. Then, during WWII, he fled Tokyo and finally settled in Omiya, now Saitama, in 1947.

Ha 八 means Eight. Ko 光 means Light. Ryu 流 means Style/Method/School.

Hakko Ryu can be translated as the style of the eighth light. According to the symbolic view of this art, the eighth light of the color spectrum, the ultraviolet, is invisible to the naked eye but extremely powerful, just like the techniques of Hakko Ryu.

The Okuyama family is descended from the famous Genji clan, also called Minamoto. The type of mon 紋 (coat of arms) used by Hakko Ryu is called Meyui, it was used by a servant of the Genji clan. The particular style of Hakko Ryu’s mon is called Yotsume 四つ目, 4 eyes. The geometric design of the 8 squares is directly linked to the symbolism of the 8th light. The 4 eyes also represent the perception of the practitioner of Hakko Ryu in combat, able to perceive all attacks, in all directions.

Along with teaching Jujutsu techniques, Hakko Ryu is also a traditional Japanese medicine school called Hakko Ryu Koho Shiatsu 八光流皇法指圧. She offers Shiatsu 指圧 treatments. Literally Shiatsu means finger pressure, this traditional Japanese therapy is based on the same foundations as traditional Chinese medicine, such as the notion of meridians and energy points. Shiatsu consists of exerting pressure using the thumbs or hands on specific parts of the body.

Source : Goshin Do Hakko Ryu issue n°1, 1957.

In Japan, Hakko Ryu is referred to simply as such, but in Europe, and in general everywhere else in the world, the term Jujutsu 柔術 is very often associated with it.

Ju 柔 means Gentle/Soft/Flexibility and Jutsu 術 means Art/Technique. We literally translate Jujutsu by the Gentle art.

Jujutsu brings together combat techniques developed by samurai to defend themselves on the battlefield when they were disarmed. There are many currents that gave birth to modern Japanese martial arts such as Aikido or Judo. Indeed, Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, was a practitioner of Daito Ryu 大東流, the same school of Jujutsu as Ryuho Okuyama, and Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, was a practitioner of Kito Ryu 起倒流. Daito Ryu 大東流 and Kito Ryu 起 倒流 are currents of Jujutsu among many others.


Curriculum and techniques of Hakko Ryu

Hakko Ryu is based first of all on fundamental techniques classified in kata, which are practiced kneeling (suwari-waza), then standing (tachi-waza). These techniques illustrate the primary fighting principles (gensoku) of the Hakko Ryu. The course includes 5 kata which determine the grade of the practitioner shodan, nidan, sandan, yondan and godan, respectively 1st dan, 2nd dan, 3rd dan, 4th dan and 5th dan. The godan (5th dan) being the level of excellence where the practitioner reaches the title of Shihan 師範, which means Master of Hakko Ryu Jujutsu.

Hakko Ryu techniques are based on a sophisticated knowledge of anatomy. The attacker grabs the defender’s left shoulder and prepares to punch (1), but is distracted (2) by a metsubushi stricking technique to the meridians of his face. The defender then grasps his wrist (3), applying considerable pain but no lasting injury, and applies pressure to force the attacker face-downward for the arrest (4 and 5). Source : Black Belt magazine, february1982.

The techniques of Hakko Ryu are based on different techniques :

  • Atemi-waza : striking techniques.
  • Osae-waza : immobilization techniques.

These techniques are most often practiced on specific points of the human body called tsubo 壺, sensitive points, along the energetic meridians (keiraku). The objective is to create a sharp pain without ever seriously injuring the opponent. We can guess here the importance and the links between this martial art and the concepts of traditional Japanese medicine.

For example, in Hakko Ryu we use techniques of grasping the opponent called Gakun 雅勲 which consists of exerting pressure on the opponent’s wrists along the meridians, with the head of the second metacarpal (the one which is upstream of the phalanges of the index finger) on an acupoint of the wrist after performing an input. It is not a wristlock, however, even if there may be a double technique : wristlock plus Gakun, for example during a matsuba dori 松葉捕. For having suffered them, I remember that the Gakun exercising on the meridian of the heart or the lung were particularly painful. Concretely, the Gakun are techniques of pressure on the points of energy, or acupoints, of the human body.

“The three major characteristics of Hakko Ryu are : no challenge, no resistance, no injury” Ryuho Okuyama

However, when the context is more serious in a self-defense situation, the Hakko Ryu recommends the use of his techniques towards much more vulnerable points of the human body that we call kyusho 急所 (see my post here for more details).


My practice of Hakko Ryu

I started martial arts at the age of 16, in 2001. At that time, I was not looking for a particular style, however I was interested in a global approach to combat and I wanted to practice a style combining percussion, joint locks, throwing techniques and ground combat. I also appreciated the values ​​and moral principles conveyed by traditional martial arts and had the opportunity to learn about Hakko Ryu Jujutsu through a member of my family. I practiced this discipline for 7 years with diligence and commitment up to the rank of Shodan 初段 (black belt).

My teacher, Georges Zapata, demonstrating on myself a defense against a short stick attack. Source: personal pic, 2004.

Thanks to this discipline, I was able to work in particular on many seizures, releases of hugs and to practice joint locks. I sometimes find similar techniques in my current practices ; Wing Tsun and Eskrima. However, those are more the principles which remain identical and which are transposable from one discipline to another. I am thinking in particular of the notion of anchoring and stability, flexibility and relaxation, distance and timing, as well as intent. The principles, the concepts are preponderant in a martial arts and the techniques used are their manifestation, their interpretation.

When giving a punch for example, whether in Karate, Jujutsu, Wing Chun, Silat or Boxing, certain concepts are essential such as distance, sense of timing, precision, speed, stability, body structure … and that, even if the hitting technique is different.

On the other hand, Hakko Ryu also allowed me to learn to work with rigor and diligence. The teaching was not only technical but also ethical, and sometimes even spiritual. I particularly remember the virtues dear to martial arts such as respect, honor and loyalty. For this, I was fortunate to have a benevolent teacher who transmitted his art to me with love, generosity and passion. His humanist values ​​have deeply permeated me and still influence me today in my everyday life and perhaps even more as a martial arts teacher. Thank you Georges …

Georges Zapata (1948-2021), Shihan of Hakko Ryu Jujutsu.

As all martial arts schools should be, the Hakko Ryu club I frequented was family too. George was its patriarch, but others had, and still have, an important place. I am also grateful to my second teacher, Armand, as well as my elders, Pascal, Ahmed, Marc, Christian and Didier, who also helped put me on the path.

« Jam Seoi Si Jyun 饮水思源 ».

« When you drink the water, think to the source ».


[1] site officiel du Hombu dojo au Japon : hakkoryu.com


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