Shurikenjutsu is a general term describing the traditional Japanese martial arts of throwing shuriken, which are small, hand-held weapons such as metal spikes (bo shuriken), circular plates of metal known as hira shuriken, and knives (tanto).

Shuriken-jutsu was usually taught among the sogo-bugei, or comprehensive martial arts systems of Japan, as a supplemental art to those more commonly practiced such as kenjutsu, sojutsu, bōjutsu and kumi-uchi (battlefield grappling) or jujutsu, and is much less prevalent today than it was in the feudal era.

History: The origins of shuriken-jutsu are somewhat unclear, as there is a lack of reliable documentation regarding the art’s history when compared to other arts, however there are various oral traditions peculiar to each school (Ryu), that describe how their art developed and came to be used within their system.

The art possesses many originators and innovators who discovered and developed their own various methods of adapting everyday objects into throwing weapons, hence the wide variety of both schools and blades.

Furthermore, the art itself is typically quite secretive, as shuriken-jutsu gains its tactical advantage by using stealth and surprise.

Shuriken are small and easily concealed, yet they have the versatility of being used as a stabbing weapon at close range (called Shoken if used in this manner), as well as a longer range thrown weapon.

Types of shuriken: Shuriken consist of two basic designs:

  • Bo-shuriken – straight metal spikes, usually 4-sided but sometimes round or octagonal. They were normally single-pointed but variations exist that are double pointed. The average length was 16 cm and the average weight was around 50 grams. The Bo shuriken is thrown by holding it in the palm with the shaft resting between the first and second fingers. They are thrown from either hand, overhand, underhand, or sidearm from standing, seated, and lying positions. This is the most common form of shuriken used in traditional shurikenjutsu.
  • Hira-shuriken, Shaken (or “throwing stars”) – flat, wheel-shaped plates of metal, with sharpened points and/or edges. Usually 3 mm thick or less, about 11 cm wide, with a variety of tips ranging between 3-8. The hira-shuriken can be thrown either from overhead, or horizontally with a quick wrist-snap.

Modern practice: With the abolition of swords during the Meiji period, shuriken-jutsu saw a major decline, along with many classical martial arts, and almost died out after the turn of the 20th century as Japan sought to become modernized. In fact, many styles of shuriken-jutsu became extinct.

If it were not for the efforts of several individuals such as Kanji Naruse (188? – 1948) and Fujita Seiko (1900 – 1966) shuriken-jutsu practitioners who preserved the art by transmitting it and writing books on the subject, as well as a handful of surviving classical martial arts schools such as Yagyu Shingan Ryu, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, Katori Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shinto-Ryu, Kukishin Ryu and Togakure Ryu, the art of shuriken-jutsu would indeed have been lost to history. Two schools specifically devoted to shurikenjutsu exist, Negishi Ryu and Meifu Shinkage Ryu.