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Cho Gyokko

Cho Gyokko, also known as Yo Gyokko, Yao Yu Hu and Koto Oh
(c. 885 – c. 945)

The life of Cho Gyokko is nearly lost to history. She is famous for being the first kunoichi (female ninja) and a Chinese princess. Yao Yu Hu was in the imperial court of Chang’an (the capitol of the Tang Dynasty, sometimes written as Xian), and was noted for her skills in dancing and the martial arts. In fact, her martial arts skills were so great that according to legend she fought a tiger and killed it with one fist strike, earning her the nickname Koto Oh, or “tiger battling princess.” When the Tang Dynasty collapsed in China in 907 AD, she, along with much of the deposed nobility, fled from the new regime by traveling to Japan. The Japanese version of her name was Yo Gyokko, more commonly referred to as Cho Gyokko.

In Japan, Cho developed her martial arts skills further and developed the core of a ninjutsu style, Gyokku Ryu. She is not given credit for formalizing the style, but she is credited with having begun it. The style is based upon Chinese kenpo and was modified to take her smaller stature into account. The movements were circular and small and relied upon striking opponents soft and vital areas using fingers and toes. There were many strikes and joint locks, but few throws because of her size. The style also made frequent use of flanking maneuvers. Much of what Cho Gyokku developed would form part of the core of Japan’s martial arts.

Cho Gyokko taught her methods to Cho Buren, who in turn taught General Ikai (sometimes called Ibou or Chan Busho). General Ikai was a brilliant Chinese general with a wide knowledge of strategy and martial arts. In 986 AD he was humiliated by losing a war and chose to exile himself in Japan. There, he took to the mountains of Iga Province and learned proto-ninjutsu. General Ikai taught the ways to Gamon Doshi, who taught Garyu Doshi, who taught Hachiryu Nyudo, who taught Tozawa Hakuunsai. Hakuunsai formalized the art in 1156 and is credited with being the first Soke of the school, however it wasn’t until 1532 when Sakagami Tari Kunishuge organized it into Gyokku Ryu, meaning “jeweled tiger.”


Gyokko Ryu's principal Dojo Rules:
  • The character “Nin” means to guard the nation, even with one’s life
  • Forget self, be patient, fear not dying
  • In danger say or show nothing
  • As strong enemy comes, keep indomitable spirit
  • Serve and protect the Master, as you must your parents
  • Vices dissipate your proficiency
  • Being drunk affects your judgment
  • Destroy the enemy's power but leave his life
  • To other teachers, teach not without the Master’s permission


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