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Nihon No Kenjutsu

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  • Nihon No Kenjutsu

    There is a series of two magazine format books available in Japan called 'Nihon No Kenjutsu'. These two books serve as a good rudimentary introduction to koryu bujutsu. These books are both heavily picture based, and lightly cover the history of each ryu in question.

    I recently translated (read loosely interpreted - very heavy on the electronic dictionary) the first chapter about Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu because I have lots of free time at the moment.

    I thought I'd put it up here, as there are rarely any informative posts about koryu here anymore.

    Anyone who reads Japanese please let me know your honest critique of my translation attempts if you own the original book - I'm sure it has oversights and errors.

    Mods - If this violates copyright or something please feel free to delete the thread.

  • #2
    Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu

    The way of the sword transmitted for over 600 years.

    Shinto Ryu is among the original kenjutsu ryuha of Japan. Even through peacetime the mysterious sword of Shinto Ryu has survived.

    Powerful, tight, and then fast, this is the way of a koryu kenjutsu dojo.

    On the peaceful Shimosa plateau, as the wind gently blows through the fields one might not think that this place was once the home of an important part of Japanese history. 600 years ago on this very ground, the god of war Futsunishi Okami, enshrined at Katori Jingu, gave Japan its oldest surviving koryu kenjutsu Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu. The mysterious sword of Shinto Ryu has been passed down through the ages, and still thrives today.

    The present 20th generation headmaster Iizasa Yasuyada Soke and Otake Risuke Shihan currently teach this system. Since Japan has been more and more opened to the West, a strong flood of students from not only Japan, but also foreign countries has entered the school. For over 600 years people have been trying to understand the deep principles of Shinto Ryu.

    The founder, Iizasa Choisai was born in 1387 (the 4th year of Genchu) at Iizasa-mura in present day Chiba prefecture. He was known to be particularly skilled with the sword and spear, and thus became a military commander for the Chiba family. He participated in many successful battles, however the Chiba clan eventually fell from power, and Choisai returned to the fields of Iizasa-mura.

    Time passed by until at just over the age of 60, Choisai had a revelation and retired to Katori Jingu. There he ritually purified his heart and mind, and practiced his martial skills for 1000 days. Despite encountering much difficulty, it is said that he became one with the gods and learned from them mysterious techniques with which to become undefeatable.

    Because this teaching came form the god Futsunushi, Choisai adopted the name Tenshinsho-den, furthermore adding the place Katori, and way of the gods thus becoming Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu. In addition to Kage Ryu and Nen Ryu, we have the three great original ryu from which many different styles spread.*

    Choisai taught many swordsmen who opted to visit him, including the founder of Shinkage Ryu, Kamiidzumi Hidetsuna, Tsukahara Bokuden, and Matsumoto Masamoto of Kashima Shinryu.**

    Many great people came to learn from Choisai. Among others the Hozoin Ryu spear (Musashi later fought a duel with Hozoin Ryu students), the Jigen Ryu of Satsuma, and the Tennen Rishin Ryu of the Shinsengumi all trace their lineages back to Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu.

    In the Sengoku Jidai many different ryu had systems of sword, iai, yari, naginata, bo, shuriken, military strategy, grappling in armour, and jujutsu (all elements of what was called bugei juhappan 18 martial arts), however the basic element of all these systems was the sword.

    Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu kenjutsu includes the armoured techniques of the Omote no Tachi and the unarmoured techniques of the Gogyo no Tachi. Each of these kata are very long, very fast, and use many complicated movements of both the sword and the body as well as strong hitting together of bokuto. That power and impetuous can amaze onlookers. Having said this we may raise some important questions. We might ask why the kata are so long and fast. The reasoning behind this is that on the battlefield one requires stamina and the ability to assert aggression in the blink of an eye.

    Even a person who knows much about swordsmanship will not be able to interpret the true meaning of the kata simply by watching. If someone applied the techniques as they are in a real fight using shinken, they would soon be locked up with the opponent and would lose. The real idea is to enter into an opponents space and to hit him before he is able to do anything. Otake Shihan has many such interesting insights into Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu.

    The truth is that the real interpretation of kata is different form its appearance. Techniques were hidden inside kata so that people of other schools could not interpret the full meaning of techniques should they observe someone practicing. When bokuto hit against each other they often replace a vulnerable target which would be struck when performing the true technique.

    These hidden techniques are skills to be acquired through regular and repeated practice of the kata. At one time the higher level teachings of the curriculum were not allowed to be seen or discussed by junior members of the ryu.

    The real application of techniques should be performed with kuzushi.

    In the regular practice of Omoto no Tachi for example one might strike from jodan, but would hit the partners bokuto and stop, however the real waza with kuzushi would cut in a similar way to nuki-do, hitting the opponents abdomen. One must also make use of the defensive weaknesses of the opponent and gaps in his armour. Lower the body, but move the hips freely and use the hara to generate power (kasa zuri making an impression in the grass?) and as if entangling the opponent in a rope, cut and stab into the exposed areas between the armour. Following this the sword is raised up again and cuts to kote.

    Japanese armour consists of strong iron plate and chain mail mainly protecting the front of the body, leaving the rear vulnerable and exposed. In addition the areas around the wrist and neck can be exploited in order to cut into the opponents arteries.

    Kata must be hammered into the bodys muscle memory, and one must know how to manipulate another body with kuzushi. This is described as being like melting together. Only when this can be done every time perfectly can the reality of the kata be revealed.

    When the Omote no Tachi kata is performed with kuzushi it is completed in the blink of an eye. To the observer, the intent and focus of experienced practitioners sends shivers up the spine. One might consider the iai section of this school, where one technique includes a large leap into the air. That surprise leaping combined with a powerful cutting motion is, with a shinken, a sight to behold.

    When we think of the constant instability and backstabbing of the Sengoku period, with allies and enemies constantly changing sides we might appreciate the lethality of the techniques of Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu. Considering this, Otake Shihan has some surprising insights.

    Over 600 years almost none of the students of Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu have been involved in fighting, struggles, or killed in combat. Choisai himself lived a long natural life, until he died of natural causes at the age of 102.

    The way of Shinto Ryu is to win without drawing the sword
    (Tachi o nukazu hito ni katsu koto shinto ryu no konryu nari)

    This is the fundamental thought of Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu, and throughout its long history its students have been testament to this ideal.

    The ways of war are also the ways of peace
    (Heiho wa heiho nari)

    First take victory over the opponent, to strike the opponent comes only after this
    (Tekki ni katsu mono o ue toshi, tekki o utsu mono wa kore ni sugu)

    This training is preparation in case you should need it. It is not training without reason. Not only should one be able to win in a fight, one should also garner a respect for people.

    There is a portrait of Choisai in which he sits gently smiling, holding a fan instead of a sword, perhaps contemplating his desire for peace, but still on guard and able to strike instantaneously.

    In rustic Shimosa people say in order to make people feel better, always approach them with a smile this kindness will soothe people. Otake Shihan is now 80 years old, but he certainly doesnt look that age. His movement and caring spirit have kept him looking young. When he grasps a sword his technique is still as quick as lightning.

    The students of Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu have developed a spirit of protecting their homelands, and the people that live in them, as well as the culture and teachings of the ryu itself. The spirit of fostering peace between each other has remained for 600 years, and is unchanged to this day.


    • #3

      *There are in fact styles of swordsmanship that historically predate Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu, such as the Chujo Ryu (now extinct), and perhaps also Nen Ryu. Undoubtedly there were systems of martial arts that influenced these styles, but whether they were codified into ryu is doubtful.

      **I translated this bit as if Choisai taught these people directly, but with the exception of Matsumoto Masamoto it appears that the other two swordsmen mentioned were born after Choisai died.


      • #4
        Thank you very much for posting this. I am glad that you took the time to do it, and that you even double checked the statements made by the magazine. It seems like some of it was really over exagerrated to keep the reader's interest, but it was still thouroughly engrossing.


        • #5
          Very nice.

          Very interesting read thank you. I'm sure that the translation is accurate enough for us amateurs.
          Originally posted by ZealUK
          There is a portrait of Choisai in which he sits gently smiling, holding a fan instead of a sword, perhaps contemplating his desire for peace, but still on guard and able to strike instantaneously.
          If you look at the picture closely you will see that he doesn't hold the fan in a regular way.
          Otake Sensei has a theory that he is ready to strike with the fan. To demonstrate this theory he showed a fan which has a hidden blade in it. The way he is holding it was proof of this when he showed how the hidden blade works. Sometimes not everything that you see is what it is.


          • #6
            I have both these books - absolutely superb stuff.

            Feel free to PM (or post) a translation of the HNIR pages...


            • #7
              Just started looking at doing the Kashima Shinto Ryu pages.

              I'm a bit busy this week, but I'll try and do the HNIR pages next instead.

              Make no mistake my Japanese is still crap so take what I write with a pinch of salt


              • #8
                May I also request the same, either a PM or a post would be awesome


                • #9
                  Awooga Guy would like to third that request. Great job Alex

                  That is all.


                  • #10
                    Great work - it's nice to read something from a good source.


                    • #11
                      Nice work ALex. Looking to join the two green bubble club?

                      What other ryu are contained in this series?


                      PS - Extremely jealous of the "lots of free time" bit!
                      Last edited by ben; 28th November 2006, 09:28 PM.


                      • #12
                        Hi Ben,

                        The first book has;

                        Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu
                        Kashima Shinto Ryu
                        Yagyu Shinkage Ryu
                        Ono Ha Itto Ryu
                        Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu
                        Jigen Ryu Hyoho
                        Yakumaru Jigen Ryu
                        Shindo Munen Ryu
                        Tennen Rishin Ryu
                        Hokushin Itto Ryu

                        Also a kobudo taikai repot, something about battlefield combat and Yagyu Shingan Ryu, short articles about cutting, a bit about chanbarra, Satsuma koshirae, ryu lineage charts, kenjutsu to kendo, history of the shape of japanese swords, Morishima Tateo interview, and something about young people doing koryu.

                        Book two has;

                        Kashima Jikishinkage Ryu
                        Maniwa Nen Ryu
                        Bokuden Ryu
                        Taisha Ryu
                        Mizuguchi Ha Itto Ryu
                        Shingyoto Ryu
                        Kurama Ryu (?)
                        Sekiguchi Ryu Battojutsu
                        Kanshin Ryu
                        Tatsumi Ryu Hyoho

                        Kobudo taikai report, zen nippon iaido taikai report, zen nippon kendo taikai report, iaibattodo taikai report, in what ways did kenjutsu become kendo article, something about koshirae purchasing, the story of Hokushin Itto Ryu's Shinbukan(?), look at practice in an iai dojo, and starting koryu kenjutsu guide.

                        I've started on the Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu bit, so I should have that vaguely interpreted soonish.

                        Anyone want to help me?


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by ZealUK
                          Anyone want to help me?
                          Sure, if any of it is written in 'dunce'...


                          • #14
                            Hi Alex,

                            Hope everything is going well.... and hope you have got off your lazy ass and finally done some Kendo instead of all this old fashioned Koryu :-D

                            Seriously, I know myself and I am pretty sure Gary would be very interested in the Mizuguchi Ha Itto Ryu stuff if you have the time.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by GMason
                              Hi Alex,

                              Hope everything is going well.... and hope you have got off your lazy ass and finally done some Kendo instead of all this old fashioned Koryu :-D...
                              Damn straight! You're around Taniyama right? You could esily head to Minami Keisatsu Budokan for asageiko M, W and F. Do kendo against a BUNCH of hachidans, even 1 kyudan! And not just any hachidans but former Japan captains, World champs, All Japan Senshuken champs, All Japan 8 dan champ, etc, etc...

                              Getting jealous again... must go to happy place...