Final Chapters of Kyohachi ryu: Yoshioka ryu

We have finally arrived to the last post regarding Kyohachi ryu. So far, I have covered not only numerous points of mystery for both Kyohachi ryu and the martial schools tied to it, but how they are elevated to supernatural heights due to these points in stories and literature. Yoshioka ryu, the martial system being discussed about today, follows in suit just like the others. What makes this martial school special is that not only the details concerning the techniques of this kenjutsu school are nowhere to be found, the family who developed this system left little traces of their existence other than what others had documented about them.

 

A stone sign with the words “Miyamoto Yoshioka Kettou no Chi” etched in it. It is a marker in Ichijouji Sagarimatsu, a location made famous by tales of the final showdown between the Yoshioka clan and Miyamoto Musashi. From Wikipedia.

 

CLAIM TO EXCELLENCE

During the 1500s to mid 1600s, there lived a family by the name of Yoshioka in the former Capital city (present day Kyoto Prefecture). Through their connection with the Ashikaga shogunate, gained a prestigious reputation. Taking advantage of their current situation, they created their own martial system called Yoshioka ryu, which bears their family name. Interestingly, the strength of Yoshioka ryu on the battlefield doesn’t appear to be documented. However, with claims of its techniques based on the teachings of Kiichi Hogen, not only is attention drawn to this family martial system, but its excellence was sealed on the same level as legendary. However, on what grounds does Yoshioka ryu stake its claim as having roots in Kyohachi ryu? Let’s take a look back at how this art started.

 

MILITARY ROOTS

The Yoshioka clan’s exploits begin with their military career. This history starts, as far as it is recorded, with Yoshioka Naomoto. He was employed as a sword instructor for the Ashikaga shogunate sometime during the early-mid 1500s. Years later, his brother, Yoshioka Naomitsu, would also follow in the same footsteps and take up the same position. To gain such a position in the service of the shogun is a great honor, and possibly a testament to Yoshioka ryu’s strength as a martial system. Between the two, however, it is recorded that Naomoto actually saw combat on the field and earned merits for it. Naomitsu, on the other hand, established the family dojo in Imadegawa (in the western part of Kyoto not too far from the Imperial Palace) while still serving the shogun. This family dojo, called Heihoujo1, is where he and future generations would teach Yoshioka ryu.


BEST SWORDSMAN IN THE LAND

In Yoshioka ryu’s lineage, Naomoto is recorded as the 1st successor, while Naomitsu is the 2nd successor. The 3rd successor, Naokata, continues with maintaining the family dojo in the late mid 1500s. He would continue the family’s tradition and work as a sword instructor for the Ashikaga shogunate, albeit part time. In certain books such as “Nitenki”2, Naokata is described as “the best swordsman in the land”3, implying that he made a quite a reputation for himself. With such a label, one would expect he must have faced many challenges against other swordsmen. There isn’t much info regarding this, save for one. It’s a duel he had with an individual by the name of Shinmen Munisai.

Screenshot of the many graves found in Rendaino.

Shinmen Munisai, a seasoned warrior and master of his own style called “Touri ryu”4, came to Kyoto and had a match arranged between him and Naokata. It was scheduled to happen on the outskirts of Kyoto at Rendaino, a large area of land where parts of it was used for vegetation, and burying the deceased. Many witnesses were there, including the shogun himself. Both men pit each of their style’s techniques against one another using bokken, and through 3 exchanges, Munisai came out as the winner as he won 2 of the exchanges. The shogun not only declared Munisai the winner, but also endowed him with the title “Unrivaled warrior in Japan”5. While considered a significant piece of the puzzle in Yoshioka’s history, it is a shame that there are no detailed descriptions on how the match progressed, or the techniques used that define Yoshioka ryu.

For Naokata, to be bested in competition in front of the shogun was probably a major blow. This doesn’t mean the ending of the world for him or Yoshioka ryu, for in defeat opens the door for growth and improvement. This defeat possibly cost the Yoshioka family their position as sword instructors for the Ashikaga shogunate, unfortunately, for there is no more talk about the future generations doing such work. One thing to point out on behalf of Yoshioka ryu, is that during the duel Naokata won the 1st exchange. To his credit, if this were a fight to the death Naokata would’ve been the sure victor. A nod in favor of a martial system representing Kyohachi ryu, perhaps?

REVIVAL OF YOSHIOKA RYU

Possibly the most talked about member is Yoshioka Genzaemon Naotsuna. Featured in many Japanese programming, books & novels, and games, Naotsuna can be considered the face of the Yoshioka clan. While his birthdate and time of death are listed as unknown in official documents, it is estimated that he lived from the last quarter of 1500s to early-mid 1600s. In “Yoshiokaden”6, it states that Naotsuna assumed the role of 4th successor of Yoshioka ryu and, through reviving this martial system7, takes charge in running the family dojo in Kyoto. Through his efforts, he launched the reputation of his family style by winning several duels, some to the death. It is even stated that he claimed the title “Best Swordsman in the Land”8.

Faith would have it that Naotsuna’s new found fame would be put to test by another who wanted to make a name for himself, who so happened to be Miyamoto Musashi.  Traveling throughout Japan at the age of 21, Musashi arrived in Kyoto in 1604 and, learning about the Yoshiokas’ reputation, sought out their residence and issued a challenge to Naotsuna. What makes this an encounter of faith is that Musashi is the son of Shinmen Munisai9, the same man that defeated Naotsuna’s father, Naokata, in a duel in front of the Shogun.


YOSHIOKA CLAN VS MUSASHI

The highlight of Yoshioka ryu is the the famed duel(s) between the reputable Yoshiokas and the ambitious young swordsman named Miyamoto Musashi. This encounter was recorded years after the incident in numerous written sources by different writers, each with varying views depending on which side of the combatants they were most loyal to. Due to this, none of them are considered 100% factual since certain details10 and outcomes vary based on which source declares which side the winner. In the end, this point in the Yoshioka history is where they are most remembered, as this story is revisited in novels, movies, TV series, and comics for years in Japan despite them all telling it from differentiating viewpoints. Here’s a quick summary of two of the more well known versions, with one supporting Musashi’s side11, and the other supporting Yoshioka’s side.

 

samurai_ii_duel_at_ichijoji_temple_poster.jpg

Poster for the movie “Zoku Miyamoto Musashi Ichijouji no Kettou” that debuted in Japan in 1955 by Toho Studios. Tells a version of Miyamoto Musashi and his duels with the Yoshioka clan. From Wikipedia.

MUSASHI’S SIDE: Musashi and Naotsuna have their duel at Rendaino using bokken. During their exchanges, Musashi deals Naotsuna such a devastating blow that knocks him cold. Waking up later at his residence after being carried home by his students, Naotsuna is filled with grief from his defeat that he gives up walking the path of a warrior. His younger brother, Mataichi Naoshige, issues a challenge to get revenge on Musashi. Meeting at the Sanjuusan Kandou, a famous building due to its long design, Naoshige waited inside brandishing a very long bokken12. Musashi, seizing the right moment, wrestles the long bokken away and in turn beats Naoshige to death with it. A third challenge is issued by the Yoshiokas to take place at Ichijouji Sagarimatsu in Kyoto, this time with Matashichiro, the son of Naotsuna, put up for the fight. Matashichiro is only a kid, however, and would most likely be no match for Musashi due to inexperience. This fact is what the students of Yoshioka ryu were hoping to make Musashi drop his guard, as around 70 of them lie in wait around the area, wielding various weapons with intent to murder Musashi. However, Musashi caught on to this plan and, proceeding to the location unnoticed, not only cut Matashichiro down swiftly, but fought off the many students before making his escape. Thus the extermination of the Yoshioka family and the ending of Yoshioka ryu.

YOSHIOKA’S SIDE: Accepting the challenge, Naotsuna and Musashi arranged their duel to take place in front of the Kyoto Shoshidai, a government administrative building. Both using bokken, they battled intensely. At some point both men struck at each other, with Naotsuna’s bokken cutting into Musashi’s eyebrow and leaving a big bloody gash. Since stopping the blood flow was an issue, the duel had to be concluded as a draw. Naotsuna later requested another match in hopes to finish their duel appropriately, but Musashi insisted that, instead of Naotsuna, he could pit his might against the next senior of the dojo. This happened to be Naoshige. Accepting the new challenge, Naoshige and fellow students of Yoshioka ryu made their way to the designated location for the duel. They waited all day, but Musashi was a no show. In the end, Naoshige was declared the winner.


OTHER TALES CONCERNING YOSHIOKA FAMILY

Whether the Yoshioka family truly battled with Miyamoto Musashi is still up for debate. If such a thing took place, discerning the true winner is another task difficult to approach. One thing that is certain, however, is that the Yoshioka family did survive this event and Yoshioka ryu was still active during the rest of the 1600s. There are written accounts of their later engagements, still being tied to Yoshioka ryu. I will list them in order according to dates.

 

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In this woodblock print entitled “Honcho Kendo Ryakuden Yoshioka Kanefusa”, Yoshioka Matasaburo Kanefusa is shown fighting with the local authorities. Drawn by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, and published around 1846.

① In 1614,  some members of the Yoshioka family were part of a public attendance for a sarugaku performance at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto13. One of the members got into an altercation which later got the palace guards involved and, by drawing out a hidden short sword, escalated the matter into a fight. This rash action ultimately leads to his death. There are several versions of how the commotion was started, but they all end the same way.

Most sources say that this member was Yoshioka Kiyojirou Shigekata, who was the younger brother of Naotsuna and Naoshige. Despite being a criminal act within the Imperial Palace, it didn’t mean the end of the Yoshioka family; it was only one member who fought the guards, while the others weren’t involved. Whether it’s because they didn’t know what was happening or realized the severity of accompanying their fellow brethren in a losing battle, it isn’t made clear.

② During the winter of 1614, some of the Yoshioka clan members participated in the Osaka no Jin (aka Seige of Osaka). Sources say that they were Naotsuna and Naoshige. Joining the Toyotomi forces, they assisted in protecting Osaka Castle against the army of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ultimately Osaka Castle was overtaken, forcing the Yoshiokas to withdraw from the battlefield. Returning back to Kyoto, it is said that the Yoshioka clan left the life of bujutsu behind, and instead turned their full attention to their dye business. What is this dye business and why would they get involved in such a labor all of a sudden? More on this later.

③  In 1632, there was a bujutsu competition called “Kanei Gozenjiai”14 that took place in the Edo castle. Being a friendly competition, many representatives of various martial schools participated to demonstrate their style’s strength against others. Yoshioka Matasaburo Kanefusa, a reputed kodachi expert, participated in this event as a representative of Yoshioka ryu. There are few details about this competition, and whether it really happened is still up for debate. Still, the fact that Kanefusa is even mentioned is a positive nod to Yoshioka ryu still being an active system past the point most believe it to have died out.

⑤ Speaking of Yoshioka Matasaburo Kanefusa, he appears to be a legendary figure within his clan. He been featured in various works, primarily solo from his other well known siblings…that is if he truly bears any relations with the main Yoshioka family line. For example, Kanefusa appears in a woodblock print drawn by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (shown above). There is also a book on his adventures called “Kodachi Meijin Yoshioka Kanefusa Matasaburo” (小刀名人吉岡兼房又三郎), which was published by Hogyusha Toko in 1897. In it, Kanefusa is described as a master of Yoshioka ryu Kodachijutsu (short sword techniques).

④ In a book called “Mukashi Banashi”15, a Yoshioka Kahei16 is featured in one of the stories.  It is here where Kahei explains that he is a descendant of the Yoshioka clan, and discusses abit about Yoshioka ryu Kenjutsu. No other distinguishing details about Kahei or his family.

⑤ Along with martial arts, the Yoshioka family had a separate business, where they produced a unique dye. This dye, which is called “Kenpo Iro” (Kenpo Color), is a special dark-brown color that only the Yoshioka family was able to produce for many years. It is written that one of the students of Yoshioka ryu, who was originally from China17, was very talented in producing this special dye. A dye production shop was started at Shijou Nishidouin18 in Kyoto around the mid 1600s. Today, there are few shops that have the ability to reproduce Kenpo color. There is a particular shop owned by Yoshioka Sachio who, despite bearing the same family name and sharing tales of the Yoshioka clan, claims no blood relation. You can visit Sachio’s website here.


CONCLUSION

This sums up the chapter on Yoshioka ryu. There isn’t much detailed documentation about this system, other than being a representative of Kyohachi ryu, and recollections of the incidents the Yoshioka family were involved in. Are there any scrolls, manuscripts, or training equipments that can be considered as relics of this lost art? If there are, they have not been disclosed. At this point, we can only imagine what type of kenjutsu was developed that made the Yoshioka family famous.

With this post ends my discussion on Kyohachi ryu. It is indeed a legendary methodology of kenjutsu and combat that is hard to concretely pinpoint its form and lessons. In a sense, the tales surrounding Kiichi Hogen and the 8 martial systems have lasted much longer than the techniques believed to be unbeatable.


1) 兵法場

2) 二天記. This was written by Toyota Kagehide (豊田景英) in 1776.

3) The original statement, found in the Kokura Hibun (小倉碑文), is written as “fusou daiichi no heijutsu Yoshioka” (扶桑第一之兵術吉岡). Fusou (pronounced as Fusang) is an ancient name used in China in reference to Japan.

4) 当理流

5) 日下無双兵法術者. Literal translation would be “Unrivaled warrior under the sun”. The sun reference is two-fold: 1) Japan is known as the “land of the rising sun” and 2) anything under the sun is where mortal beings (such as humans) reside, whereas “divine beings” (aka certain gods and spirits in Asian lore) live above (up in the heavens). Depending on interpretation, the phrase paints Munisai’s skills as unbeatable on a human level. However, this is only in Japan.

6) Yoshiokaden (吉岡伝) is a biography of sorts that recollects historical details of the Yoshioka family. It was written in 1684 by Fukuzumi Doyu. Certain details, however, have abit of fantasy to it, so its contents are difficult to accept as 100% trustworthy.

7) Some questions arise with Naotsuna’s claims. For starters, it indicates that Naokata had at some point retired from life as a swordsman, most likely at an early date. Books such as ” Kokura Hibun” claim that he had given up on kenjutsu after his loss to Munisai. However, due to the writters’ affiliaction with the winning side (being Miyamoto’s adopted son, Iori) there is a possibility of bias in this statement. It is abit unusual to claim reviving a martial system in Naotsuna’s case, especially since he is the next immediate generation. Maybe the real meaning is that Naokata, at some point, wasn’t actively teaching publicly. It is a possibility, but if this is the case, at least Yoshioka ryu wasn’t so inactive that it needed to be recreated.

8) 天下の兵法者 (Tenka no Heihosha). Apparently, this statement is made in Miyamoto Musashi’s book “Gorinsho”, and not by Yoshioka Naotsuna himself.

9) Historians over the years have had disagreements over discrepencies concerning Munisai’s relation with Musashi. It stems primarily on when Munisai died, who Musashi’s mother was, and the correctness of his identity. Some sources, based on a gravesite, say he died in 1580, which means he died a few years before Musashi’s birth. Others claim the date of death is incorrect, and that Munisai was alive during Musashi’s conception. Next, Munisai married twice, bearing children with his first wife. Some sources say that with his 1st wife they had a daughter and a son (Musashi). Others say that it was actually two girls, while a third child, being a boy, was adopted from another family. This boy is said to possibly be Musashi. Lastly, Munisai’s true surname is Hirata (平田), whereas Shinmen was adopted later. Apparently Munisai changed his name due to his friendly associations with a certain Shinmen clan. Identifying him to be the same can be tricky, for he may be known under one during important historical events, but then go by another later on.

10) It is not really clear what Musashi and Naotsuna used. For example, in the book “Korou Chawa” (古老茶話), it mentions that they used shinai (bamboo sword). In other sources, however, it is mentioned that bokuto (wooden sword) were used.

11) Possibly the biggest issue are the names used for the Yoshioka family in the works that support Musashi’s version. For example, Naotsuna’s name is written as “Seijurou” (清十郎). Why use different names? The reasoning is never given, thus the difficulties in learning what really happened between Musashi and the Yoshioka family. In any event, I am sticking with the names used by default for the Yoshioka family in this post for the sake of consistency and to avoid confusion.

12) The length of the bokken is stated as being 5 shaku (1 shaku = 0.9942 ft). In kenjutsu standards, this is not a normal sword size. Utilizing this bokken would be similar to that of an oodachi or nodochi, 2 types of Japanese long swords that saw more usage on the battlefield.

13) Sarugaku (猿楽) is a theatrical performance once valued in the old days of Japan. Note that normally the public are not granted entrance into the Imperial Palace to watch this, or for any event, unless on special circumstances.

14) 寛永御前試合

15) 昔咄. This book on various stories of old was written by Chikamatsu Shigemori sometime in the 1700s during Edo period.

16) 吉岡加兵衛

17) The name of this student is Li San Guan (李三官).

18) 京都四条西洞院

Final Chapters of Kyohachi ryu: Kurama ryu

Today, we continue on with one of the remaining martial systems tied to Kyohachi ryu. This post focuses on Kurama ryu. Bearing the name of the place mentioned numerous times in my posts as the starting grounds of Kyohachi ryu, one would assume that this system would be the perfect representative. However, as we look into its history, you’ll see that this isn’t quite the case.

THE BEGINNING

Kurama ryu is, not surprisingly, another segment of Kyohachi that bears an unusual past. For starters, Kurama ryu is supposedly the martial system as taught on Mt. Kurama. Actually, claims by the Shuseikan dojo (where Kurama ryu is currently taught) have it that its full original name is Kuramahachi ryu1. Furthermore, it is said that, under this title, it is the alternative name of Kyohachi ryu. As being a collection of martial combat and strategies from Kiichi Hogen as taught at Kurama Temple, this makes sense. The teachings of Kurama (hachi) ryu consists of many areas of combative arts, including kenjutsu, sojutsu, bojutsu, and battojutsu, to name a few. Kenjutsu, however, seems to be the prime focus in talks related to Kyohachi ryu, and “Kurama ryu” as discussed further down in this post is no different.

Sketch of the type of bokken used in Kurama ryu. It’s unique due to its straighter shape, and thick wooden tsuba. Sketch done by Neal H.

When did the knowledge kept sacred on Mt. Kurama become organized into an actual school called Kurama ryu? An individual by the name of Ono Shougen (1573-1592)2 is said to be the originator of a specific version of Kurama ryu. The original titles of this martial system are “Shougen Kurama ryu”, and “Kotengu Kurama ryu”3. Interesting, Musashi Enmei ryu also has a story stating that Kurama ryu (aka Kuramahachi ryu) was originally devised by Minamoto no Yoshitsune4. In the history of Shougen’s Kurama ryu, Yoshitsune is also recognized for his talents in utilizing the knowledge of Kyohachi, mainly as a pioneer.

Shougen’s version of Kurama ryu kept the kenjutsu portion, and survived 14 generations of successors, perservering the war torn Sengoku period up until the more peacefully stable Meiji period. Kaneko Sukesaburou, the 14th successor,  is said to have been a vassel to the shogunate during Meiji Period. There isn’t any information mentioning him running a dojo actively teaching this system. What is known, however, is he would take up a student under his wing and teach him what he knew of Kurama ryu. That one student is known as Shibata Emori.

SHIBATA LINE

Shibata Emori (1849-1925) was born in Nakatomo town, located in Yotsuya, Edo.5 Before becoming a student of Sukesaburou,  Emori was learning Honshin Kanchi ryu Sojutsu (spear techniques) at a young age from his father, Shibata Masao. For how long it is not mentioned. When he began receiving training from Sukesaburou (as well as from his son, Kuma Ichiro), Emori was 8 years old. How this was set up it is not explained, but he would stick with his Kurama ryu teacher and train dedicatedly for 10 years.  He would not only earn menkyo kaiden, but also be appointed as the 15th successor of Kurama ryu, starting a new chapter in the history of Kurama ryu. Later, Emori continued his studies and trained in another system called Onoha Itto ryu6. In his career he would also join the Rikigun7 and participate in the Seinan Senso, or better known as the Satsuma Rebellion8. Despite holding the position of kangocho (chief nurse), Emori had the opportunity to study many skills such as kenjutsu, sojutsu, jujutsu, and torinawajutsu.

After his time of service, Emori returned to Yotsuya, and would then open up the Shuseikan dojo9. He also gained employment as an instructor at the town’s police department10 helping to manage their gekiken11 and martial arts training.  Kurama ryu would continue being taught by the Shibata family successfully at the Shuseikan dojo for 2 more generations until an unforeseen incident occurred.  In 1945, during the time when the 17th successor Shibata Tetsuo was actively in charge, the Shuseikan dojo was burnt down in a great fire by fire bombings during the Pacific War.  It is said that everything related to Kurama ryu, from specialty training weapons, scrolls, and key documentations were lost in the fire. Shuseikan dojo and Kurama ryu would once again be rebuilt and revived by Tetsuo, and continue to be an active martial system even to this day.

While Kurama ryu was recovered, essential information about Ono Shougen were lost. It’s possible that within those burnt documents are details regarding how he organized the kenjutsu teachings kept in Kurama Temple into a complete system, from whom he trained under, and why he only received the kenjutsu of Kurama ryu. These documents are possibly the only legitimate way to verify the the contents of Kurama ryu, as well as the names and stories behind the other successors who are missing in the lineage chart12. While these missing pieces won’t hinder the continuation of Kurama ryu, it is a shame to lose a piece of history.

Screen capture of a recent public demonstration at Kashima Shrine, in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.

MODERN TIMES

Today, Kurama ryu is maintained at Shuseikan dojo by the 18th successor Shibata Akio, in present day Tokyo. As far as it is known, there is but one active line of Kurama ryu, which is the Shibata line. On the dojo’s own personal website13, the story of Kurama ryu is also explained here (in Japanese). Along with Kurama ryu, kendo is taught there as well. Shuseikan dojo is especially well known and respected for it’s participation in the kendo world for many years, for since Emori’s time the students of this dojo participated in many gekiken competitions around Japan. Shibata Akio is also a current member of the Nihon Kobudo Kyokai. Like many koryu schools, Shuseikan dojo participates in public demonstrations, not just in Japan, but in other countries primarily in Europe.

While it’s a respected martial system in and outside of Japan, Kurama ryu’s position as a classical system is shaky due to its lack of documented history, which causes it to be viewed as a revived school. With an incomplete lineage, and lost of important materials to a fire, how accurate are the teachings of Kurama ryu to that of what was taught at Kurama Temple can only be accepted as what is verbally accounted for by the Shibata family.

Photo of the Shuseikan dojo’s sign.

SPECIALTIES OF KURAMA RYU

Compared to the more agile & dynamic swordplay attached to the image of Minamoto Yoshitsune, Kurama ryu as demonstrated by the Shibata family is very simple and straight forward. This does not detract from its strong and solid traits, however. Like a traditional school, the movements and strikes in the kata hide deep and insightful principles essential for understanding Kurama ryu’s methodology of kenjutsu.

Some of the more well known specialties of Kurama ryu include the use of a kidachi14 that has a hamaguriba15, a kata called “Seitouken”16 said to influence the shomen uchi used in kendo, and a technique called “Henka”17 that is a downward twisting strike18 also said to be incorporated in modern kendo.

ENDING WORDS

This concludes the story of Kurama ryu. As one of the few schools related to Kyohachi ryu that is still active today, you can do a search on it to see more visuals of this martial system (i.e. Youtube) and current information. The final page of Kyohachi ryu will be on Yoshioka ryu, a martial system that had gained popularity through many exploits related through stories even in present time.


1) 鞍馬八流

2) 大野将監. On many English websites the given name is written as “Shokan”, but this is incorrect.

3) Kotengu Kurama ryu (小天狗鞍馬流) and Shougen Kurama (将監鞍馬流). It is said that Kotengu was a nickname given to Minamoto Yoshitsune when he was little, possibly in regards to rumors of him being taught extraordinary sword skills by a tengu.

4) Minamoto no Yoshitsune is said to be a creator of many different martial systems, most not in existence. There are many tales tied to him, possibly due to his legendary portrayal in numerous books and stories. You can read more about his relationship with Kyohachi ryu here.

5) Nakatono Town (中殿町) is an old name for an area in Yotsuya, Tokyo. This name is no longer in use. Edo is an old name for the area which is known today as Tokyo.

6) 小野派一刀流. A kenjutsu style started by Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki. Tadaaki was the successor of Ito Ittosai Kagehisa, the originator of Itto ryu (also known as Ittosai ryu). It is said to have roots in Chuujou ryu, a martial system considered one of the 8 styles of Kyohachi ryu.

7) 陸軍. An older name for the Imperial Japanese army.

8) Seinan Senso (西南戦争) is written as “Southwestern War”. A war that lasted a bit under a year (1877), Saigo Takamori was the leader of many samurai and warriors who resisted the new Imperial government. Most of these  samurai took residence in Satsuma Domain, located in the southwestern part of Japan, when their position in society became obsolete.

9) 習成館道場

10) 警視庁, which literally means police department. For a more appropriate naming scheme, this particular branch is called Tokyo Metropolitan Police Station.

11) 撃剣. Also pronounced as gekken. This form of gekiken is part of the martial system used by the Japanese police called Keishi ryu (警視流).

12) Current lineage chart layout:

Ono Shougen (1) → Hayashizaki Kansuke (2) → …. ↠ Kaneko Sukesaburou (14) → Shibata Emori (15) → Shibata Susumu (16) → Shibata Tetsuo (17) → Shibata Akio (18)

13) Shuseikan dojo’s website is here

14) 木太刀. Another name for a wooden sword, such as bokken.

15) 蛤刃. Refers to the edge of the bokken being much rounder than normal, resembling the shape of a clam.

16) 正當剣

17) 変化

18) In Japanese, named makiotoshi (written as 捲き落とし, as well as 巻き落とし).

Final Chapters of Kyohachi ryu: Kyo ryu

After a short hiatus, we now set our attention to the final chapters on my discussion regarding Kyohachi ryu. Originally, this post was to cover the last 3 martial systems connected to Kyohachi ryu in one shot. However, due to how voluminous the info gathered from researching, I decided to make separate posts showcasing each of the martial systems. What makes these 3 schools connected is their claim to direct transmission to the military strategist Kiichi Hogen’s martial teachings on Mt. Kurama, but have a serious gap or inconsistency that says otherwise.

KYO RYU

The martial style called Kyo ryu1 would sound like it has an automatic connection to Kyohachi ryu. The name meaning “(Sword) style of the Capital”, Kyo ryu gives a nod at being a martial system born in the rich culture of Heian Kyo, Japan’s Capital during the Muromachi period (1336~1573). Due to the residence of the Imperial family, as well as rich and infuential families, anything coming out of the Capital was regarded as high quality. This included instruction of martial systems found there…one case being Kyohachi ryu.

Artwork of Yamamoto Kansuke by Matsumoto Fukou. Dated late 19th century. From Wikipedia.

The story of Kyo ryu begins with Yamamoto Kansuke Haruyuki (1493-1561), commonly referred to by his nickname Kansuke2. Born in Hoi District in Mikawa Province (present day Toyokawa City in Aichi Prefecture), he was one of Takeda Shingen’s3 famed 24 generals4. Kansuke is recognized for his contribution to many written works related to both the military and martial field in the Takeda house, such as Rodanshu5 and Heiho Hidensho6. He was also a major contributor in the development of Takeda Shingen’s army and the tactics they utilized, as well as gave lectures to certain high ranking individuals on topics to ensure that the might and influence of the Takeda house throughout Kai Province and neighboring lands stays constant.

Opening the book Heiho Hidensho by Yamamoto Kansuke. The version in my collection was published by Keibunsha.

Written accounts such as “Koyo Gunkan”7 and “Bukou Zakki”8 describe Kansuke as being skilled at martial combat, as well as an accomplished strategist. It’s here where claims of his personal system being called Kyo ryu are mentioned. Tales speak of Kansuke as very skilled and fearsome warrior, some of them making him bigger than life. For example, feats such as outbesting a certain Ishii Tozaburou9, who wielded a live sword, with only a mere stick10. Also, a popular portrayal of him is using a naginata for support in walking like a cane to compensate for his lame leg. Tales like these are the perfect precursor to being tied to Kyohachi ryu, whether real or not. His abilities contrast with his physical state, however, for his appearance is considered quite appalling. Kansuke was blind in the right eye, had damaged fingers, lame in the left leg, and had many scars on his body due to the rough life he endured during his journey.

In sources like “Heihoden Toroku”, it is stated that Kansuke’s first exposure to martial and military studies when he was little11 is through his foster father, Oomori Kanzaemon, and military strategist named Suzuki Hyuuga-no-Kami Shigetatsu, who was a colleague of Kanzaemon. Kansuke learned a lot from the 2 of them, enough where he could pit his might against other warriors to test his skills. After the death of his mother, Yasu, Kansuke journeyed around different parts of Japan in his 20s for about 10 years as a rounin12, in order to further his training as a warrior. He was also able to study many areas concerning warfare and strategies, such as heiho (martial combat), chikujoujutsu (castle construction and defense), and jintori (tactics against armies). What he learned during this period is possibly the makeup of Kyo ryu, although there are no scrolls or manuals that verify this under such a title.

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Art work named “武田二十四将図”, the feudal lord Takeda Shingen (top, middle) is shown sitting amongst his trusted 24 generals. Yamamoto Kansuke is present in the bottom row, 2nd to the left. Scanned from “Furin Kazan: Sengoku no Yo o Kakenuketa Meiso ‘Takeda Shingen’ to Gunshi ‘Yamamoto Kansuke'”.

The connection to Kyohachi ryu is speculated to happen before Kansuke’s employment under Takeda Shingen, through his foster father Kanzaemon and the strategist Shigetatsu. The story in Heihoden Toroku states that around mid 1300s Kanzaemon was employed as a Daikan (prefectural governor or magistrate during Edo period) at the Takabashi Manor located in Mikawa country (present day Toyoda City in Aichi prefecture). Chuujou Nagahide13 was also employed in the same area, and taught his system, Chuujou ryu. At the time, Chuujou ryu is said to pertain the touhou (sword methods) of Kiichi Hogen. It is believed that Kanzaemon, as well as Shigetatsu, spent some time training in Chuujou ryu, and in turn taught this to Kansuke. If this is true, then Kansuke’s kenjutsu is based on Chuujou ryu, and Kyo ryu can rightfully be said to represent Kyohachi ryu. However, there are no official records of Kanzaemon and Shigetatsu studying at the Chuujou dojo in historical documents, thus making this more of a theoretical speculation.

If Kyo ryu did exist, is it possible that Kansuke had students to pass down this knowledge? Some sources give a nod to this possibility.  For example, in the book “Honcho Bugei Shoden”14,  a warrior by the name of Maebara Chikuzen-no-Kami 15 is written to have been a skilled swordsman of Kyo ryu, who could cut down numerous sensu (folding fans) tossed at him. Apparently he learned kenjutsu and other skills of combat from Kansuke.

A depiction of Yamamoto Kansuke on the battlefield. From the art series “甲越勇将傳 武田家二十四将”. Artwork by Utagawa Kuniyoshi made between 1848-49.

In honesty, Kyo ryu’s existence is legendary, as it is tied with one of Japan’s respected historical figures, Yamamoto Kansuke. While there are documentations of Kansuke’s knowledge on kenjutsu and other areas of combat and strategy, which contributed immensely to the success of Takeda Shingen’s military campaigns and shinobi network16, there is no concrete documentation about Kyo ryu and its curriculum. Did it truly exist? Until new authentic discoveries are made, this is hard to say.

This sums up the discussion on Kyo ryu, a system just as mysterious as Kyohachi ryu. The next post will cover the history of Kurama ryu, which bears the same name as the location where Kyohachi ryu is said to have been born.


1)  “Kyo” of Kyo ryu is written in 2 ways. One is with the Chinese character “京”, which stands for Capital. The other is “行”, which has several meanings including “to journey”, “to carry out a task”, “line”, and “bank”. Which of these is the intended meaning is not mentioned. It is also possible that the pronunciation using the second character would change to “Gyo ryu” or “Ko ryu”, but this is an assumption on my part.

2)山本勘助晴幸. He acquired many other ways of writing Kansuke (勘助), where the phonetic stays the same, while the Chinese characters are written differently. He also has a religious name upon his entrance into priesthood later in his life, which is Doukisai (道鬼斎).

3) Takeda Shingen (1521-1573) was a daimyo (feudal lord) famous for his numerous successes in military campaigns, and the skilled & resourceful individuals he kept in his company. Well known by the nickname “Kai no Tora” (Tiger of Kai Province) due to his reputation as a powerful lord.

4) Takeda Shingen ran a very strict and organized househould and army. To ensure things go smoothly in his pursuit of power, Takeda kept certain individuals close that he trusted dearly. There was around 24 of them who were appointed as generals to help keep his army in top shape, as well as manage his numerous spies that keep tabs on his enemies around Japan.

5) Rodanshu (老談集) is an illustration scroll that shows hand drawn tools and weapons said to be used by shinobi.

6) Heiho Hidensho (兵法秘伝書) is a 5-volume documentation written around the mid 1500s. It is a collection of notes and pointers by Yamamoto Kansuke regarding weapon usage (ranging from the sword, staff, and bow & arrow), and strategies on and off the battlefield.

7) Koyo Gunkan (甲陽軍艦) is a collection of about 20 scrolls covering the achievements, battles, rules & punishments, and strategies of the Takeda house. It also covers the skills, ideals, preparations, and other important points for those of Koshu ryu, a martial system derived from Takeda Shingen’s military force.

8) Bukou Zakki (武功雑記) is a war journal written by Matsuura Shigenobu (松浦鎮信), a 4th generation lord of Hirado Domain in Hizen Province (divided into present day Saga prefecture and Nagasaki prefecture). Compiled in 1696, it covers the accomplishments of certain warriors and warlords that were active between 1573-1624.

9) A practitioner and swordsman of Shinto ryu (新当流).

10) 心張り棒. A short or long stick used to secure windows and doors. It is propped at an angle and wedged between the door frame and floor for a door, or the side and base of a window frame.

11) Another source of his training is credited to his uncle, whose name is Yamamoto “Tatewaki” Nari (山本帯刀成). However, it cannot be considered completely viable as there is so little info on him. On top of that, there are supposedly other relatives and/or students of Kansuke who bear the nickname “Tatewaki”, so it’s possible that the whole former point is erroneous.

12) 浪人, which means “a wandering masterless samurai”

13) Chuujou Nagahide’s Chuujou ryu is counted as a martial system related to Kyohachi ryu. This was covered in a previous post here.

14) Honcho Bugei Shoden (本朝武芸小伝) is a collection of 10 volumes of books about various fields, topics, and individuals pertaining to martial arts. It was written by Hinatsu Shigetatsu (日夏繁高) in 1714.

15) 前原筑前守. Chikuzen-no-Kami was a samurai who is said to have studied combat and field tactics from Yamamoto Kansuke as a student of Kyo ryu. He was under the employment of the Obata family in Kouzuke Province (present day Gunma prefecture).

16) Takeda Shingen developed his own group of shinobi by using the knowledge of shinobi no jutsu from Iga and Koka regions, and adapting it to his area of rule, Kai Province (present day  Yamanashi Prefecture). It was a well knit system that had both in-house shinobi & civilians used as spies, all serving as the eyes of Takeda.

Myths & Tales: Kyohachi ryu ~Part 2~

We continue today with part 2 on the topic about Kyohachi ryu. The focus of discussion will be on people who have direct ties to the legend of this sword system. If you missed out on the previous discussion on the beginnings of Kyohachi ryu, you can read it here.

First on our list is Minamoto no Yoshitsune. A famous general of the Minamoto clan on his own merit and deeds, Yoshitsune is viewed as a possible representative of Kyohachi ryu. There are some speculations that he may have been  one of the eight monks whose style collectively represents Kyohachi ryu. There are, unfortunately, no solid proof regarding this. The reason behind these possibilities has to do with how close he was to the source.

Let’s set our sights to the early years of his life, when Yoshitsune was known by the name of Ushiwakamaru. Around 1170, Ushiwakamaru was sent to reside in the Kurama Temple around the age of 11 up in Mount Kurama. There, under the care of the monks, he was fed, clothed, and educated in various things, including bujutsu.

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Artwork called “Ushiwaka-maru training with the tengu”. (鞍馬山での修行, created in 1859 By Yoshikazu Utagawa) Features Ushiwakamaru (middle, top), Daitengu Sojobo (right, pale skin, red attire), and other tengu of different ranks. From Wikipedia.

It is written that he was very talented and skilled in the martial arts, particularly with the tachi. It is even fabled that he was taught an unusual sword method by a tengu, due to his unique sword play. However, in some written accounts it is said that the “tengu” was actually Kiichi Hogen1. This is most likely the case, since Kiichi Hogen is associated with Kurama Temple. The Gikeiki2, a written account on Ushiwakamaru’s (Yoshitsune’s) life, features detailed accounts regarding Ushiwakamaru and Kiichi Hogen’s history together. There is even an account of him stealing one of Kiichi’s prized manuals and studying it to understand the secrets of warfare3. However, the many accounts in Gikeiki are not all considered factual, so some things have to be taken with a grain of salt.

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A sketch of Minamoto no Yoshitsune’s kuruma dachi (車太刀), which can be found on “Kuramadera“, the official website of the Kurama Temple here. Sketch by Neal H.

While there are no descriptions on a systematic level in regards to what was learned while residing at Kurama Temple, what has been passed down in documentations are descriptions of Yoshitsune’s display of skills. For example, Yoshitsune apparently wielded a short tachi4 with great mobility. A description of it from Wikipedia illustrates his kenjutsu as:

「敏捷性を生かし、短い刀を用いて素早く敵の懐に入る剣術」

Which I’ve translated as:

“A sword art that incorporates a short sword to quickly trap his adversary through the use of agility”

Described as being quick, yet crafty & tactful at a young age, Yoshitsune was a force to be reckoned with. Could it be that this is a representation of Kyohachi ryu? Did he utilize this same unusual sword method to defeat the likes of individuals such as the warrior monk Musashibo Benkei5, and the thief Kumasaka Chouhan6?

Gojo_Bridge

Artwork entitled ” Ushiwaka and Benkei duelling on Gojo Bridge” (五条の大橋, 1881 by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi). From Wikipedia.

As an adult, Minamoto no Yoshitsune is said to have been a skilled fighter and strategist during the Genpei Gassen, or the Genpei War7. His skills with the sword is fitting with the premise Kyohachi ryu is based on. Is it possible that some form of records or inheritance of his kenjutsu exist? There are several guesses. One of them, for example, is that Yoshitsune inspired the development of martial system known as Yoshitsune ryu. It is also known as Kurama ryu in some sources, but this is highly debated, and will be addressed at a later time.

There are no known detailed records of Yoshitsune ryu’s history or contents, which makes verifying its existence even harder. On a positive point, it is mentioned in old documents pertaining to other martial schools, Musashi Enmei ryu being one of them. Musashi Enmei ryu, which specializes in kenjutsu and iaijutsu, gives credence to several sources for its foundation, which are Shunjoubou Chougen (founder of the main line Enmei ryu), Miyamoto Musashi (founder of Musashi Enmei ryu), and none other than Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Here’s a brief summary (in my own words) of what is explained in this school’s history8.

“In the Heian period, Minamoto no Yoshitsune received training on Mount Kurama from the Daitengu Sojobo, as well as studied many military manuals. (Kiichi Hogen’s presumably…?) Later in the years, he developed Yoshitsune ryu. Shunjoubou Chougen too trained under the same Daitengu, and through the tutelage from Yoshitsune, was taught the inner secrets of his Kurama ryu (aka Yoshitsune ryu). From this, Chougen developed his own sword system, Enmei ryu.”

Since Musashi Enmei ryu, a branch to the original Enmei ryu, traces back to the knowledge of sword play from Yoshitsune himself, one would think that it’s possible to get an understanding of the great sword methods passed down from Kiichi Hogen. Perhaps. But with many arts that have a long history, there is a strong chance that the contents have changed based on the times, the necessity of certain techniques, and the vision the successors of the time may have had on Enmei ryu. Or association with a legendary figure like Yoshitsune may have been used as an angle to give more credibility to this sword school.

Here ends part 2 on the discussion of Kyohachi ryu and Minamoto no Yoshitsune’s connection with this sword system. In the next part, we will continue further with particular individuals said to be one of the 8 monks that received their sword training from Kiichi Hogen himself.


1) In martial arts, stories about being trained by tengu implies how extraordinary the techniques are. This also implies that the individual receiving the training was supernaturally skilled. Since there are many tales regarding Yoshitune achieving feats that seem impossible, it is most fitting to tie his abilities to be the making of the tengu.

2) Gikeiki (義経記) is a book on military-related tales concerning Minamoto no Yoshitsune. It is believed to have been written and compiled sometime between the Nabokucho period and Muromachi period.

3)  Rikuto (六韜, pronounced as Liu Tao in Mandarin), which translates as “The 6 Secret Strategies”, is a famous Chinese military manual written by Jiang Ziya, believed to have been first penned in the Zhou Dynasty. (circa 1100 BCE) This is 1 of 7 writings on warfare from China, which as a collection are referred to as “The 7 Military Classics of Ancient China”.

4) The name of Yoshitsune’s sword written in kanji (Chinese characters) is “車太刀”. This is read as “kuruma dachi”, and is very akin to the kodachi (short sword). According to the book “Koshirae – Japanese Sword Mountings” by Markus Sesko, this type of sword was possibly designed for use in confined spaces, such as while riding a coach-like vehicle. The sword length of Yoshitsune’s kuruma dachi is 53 cm with a rather wide curvature.

5) Musashibou Benkei, a famous sohei (warrior monk) who was a loyal companion to Yoshitsune. A rather large and brash monk who is usually portrayed wielding a naginata, Benkei proved to be a great support in the many adventures of Yoshitsune till the very end. While there are conflicting accounts as to when, where, and how the two became acquaintances, one of the more popular versions from the book “Nihon Mukashi Banashi” (written by  Iwaya Sazanami in 1894) tells the story as the following: On the Gojo Daibashi (Gojo Bridge) Musashibo Benkei was terrorizing any warriors that attempted to cross by beating them, and confiscating their swords. Benkei amassed 998 swords and would stop once he acquires 999 total. His 999th encounter so happened to be with Ushiwakamaru (Yoshitsune). Although Benkei tried intently to smite his young opponent, Ushiwakamaru used light footwork and agility to evade his attacks, and defeated him with his own counterattack. Amazed, Benkei gave full devotion to his young superior, and from there on joined Ushiwakamaru’s company.

6) Kumasaka Chouhan is a legendary leader of a gang of thieves during the Heian period. A popular version of his story from the traditional performance “Eboshiori” recites how Chouhan lead a robbery attempt with his gang of 300+ thieves on Ushiwakamaru (15 years old at the time) and his merchant companion Kaneuri Kichiji as they were traveling at night to an area called Oshu. Ushiwakamaru is said to have cut down 83 of the thieves with speed and agility, as well as beat Chouhan 1-on-1 with unique yet superior sword techniques.

7) The Genpei Gassen (1180-1185) involved the rivalry between the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan. Both sides were struggling to maintain power over the Imperial court and gain control over Japan. Minamoto no Yoshitsune contributed to ending the war through offensive warfare and strategic approach during the progression of battles, which ultimately led to the eradication of the Taira clan.

8) Full explanations can be found on Musashi Enmei ryu’s official website here

Myths & Tales: Kyohachi ryu ~Part 1~

Today’s post is part 1 of a discussion on Kyohachi ryu, a martial system shrouded in mystery. It is said it possesses knowledge of unique yet superior techniques with the Japanese sword, such as the tachi. Many Japanese schools of old that have kenjutsu in their curriculum give credence to Kyohachi ryu. Some even claim hereditary traits to it, placing it on a platform that feels too high to ever reach. Before we get into the beginnings of this legendary martial system, let’s take a look into concept of tall tales found in many koryu bujutsu, and the reasoning behind them.

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The legitimacy of Kyohachi ryu: Truth or a tale to work up the imagination? Untitled work by Utagawa Toyokuni I, from ukiyo-e.org

Those who are into the history and origin of Asian traditional martial schools (whether through research or through verbal explanations) tend to get a tale or two on a level of fantasy. This is no different with Japanese martial arts. These tales tend to present situations concerning how the founder came about with said martial system that is either surreal or plain out of this world. Examples of these tales are the following: a religious man or warrior from another country makes their way to Japan and teaches secret and amazing techniques. Or, a warrior seeking solitude in the mountains or forest for intense training and meditating for days miraculously becomes enlightened through some form of dream or revelation. Then there are those where a fighter engages with a wild animal, with the encounter helping to understand strategies in combat.

Why the tall tales? Well, one reason could be that, when establishing a martial system, there may have been a need to make it stand out and appear special. Having tales that make the founder and the course in obtaining the knowledge appear supernatural will give the teachings & techniques a more extraordinary quality. This will draw in prospect students, as well as grant employment by warlords looking for someone who is versed in winning strategies that would train his soldiers. This is especially true if the martial system is tied in with a religious practice, such as Buddhism or Shinto; techniques and strategies that have esoteric naming conventions make them feel empowered by the will of the gods.

With that little tidbit out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the beginnings of Kyohachi ryu. The time frame for this legendary martial system dates back around the end of the Heian Period1, an era where the Imperial family resided in Heian Kyo, or Capital city of “Peace and Tranquility”2. In the Northwestern area near Heian Kyo is Mount Kurama, well known for its growing religious and spiritual practices, and famous for tales of it being the home to the Tengu3. Up in Mount Kurama, an old monk versed in the way of both literary and military affairs by the name of Kiichi Hogen is said to have taught 8 priests that made their way up the mountain the mysterious secrets of Touhou, or sword methods. The priests, in return, passed on this knowledge to others by creating their own schools on sword fighting. As a whole, the 8 priests’ systems are collectively labeled as “Kyohachi ryu”, which is translated as “The 8 (Sword) Styles of the Capital”. This Kyohachi ryu, or each of the 8 martial systems, lead to the creation of many other sword schools in Japan.

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A artwork depicting Kiichi Hogen. From kotobank.jp

So, what are the teachings received from Kiichi Hogen that would categorize under Kyohachi ryu? Unfortunately this is unknown. Were the 8 priests taught these secret lessons together? Or were they taught separately, as each one made their own personal journey up Mount Kurama? These questions are also difficult to answer without any detailed written records. It is said by historians that from the Muromachi period onward, many documentations related to Kyohachi ryu were lost, so it is difficult to accurately determine the specifics…let alone prove the existence of Kyohachi ryu at all. Yet, many stories that mention its use in the hands of swordsmen, such as Minamoto no Yoshitsune4 and Yamamoto Kansuke5, paint a picture of this sword style’s techniques surpassing others with ease. Should such high belief be placed on this elusive sword style only through tales of valor?

This here ends part 1 on the legendary sword art of Kyohachi ryu. Stay tuned for part 2, which will focus on particular individuals and martial schools dating back around the same time as Kyohachi ryu. We will look into how their involvement with Mount Kurama gives them direct ties to this legendary martial system.


1) Time frame is from 794 to sometime around 1185~1192.

2) Present day Kyoto city. Before modern times, Emperor Kammu moved his establishment from Nara to this area around the 8th century. The Imperial family lived here for many generations. As the Capital city, Heian Kyo was an important area where many migrated to live in. It was the center of Japan’s rich culture, as well as the center of many major historical conflicts between warring clans, noblemen, and religious groups.

3) A tengu (天狗) is a spirit/mythical creature that is half man, half crow. Usually depicted in the guise of a yamabushi (a mountain hermit), sometimes with the legs and wings of a crow, a red face with a long nose. There are different grades and types of Tengu throughout the history of Japan. A Daitengu (大天狗, meaning a grand or supreme tengu) by the name of Sojobo (僧正坊) is believed to have resided in Mount Kurama.

4) (1159-1189) A general of the Minamoto clan. Famous for many successful victories against the Taira clan, which ultimately lead to their demise.

5) (1501-1561) One of 24 generals of the warlord Takeda Shingen. Although described as having physical handicaps, it is documented that he was a brilliant strategist.