TENSHIN SHODEN KATORI SHINTO RYU
HISTORY AND TRADITION
HISTORY AND TRADITION
Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū (天真正伝香取神道流?) is one of the oldest extant Japanese martial arts, and an exemplar of koryū bujutsu. The Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū was founded by Iizasa Ienao, born 1387 in Iizasa village (present day Takomachi, Chiba Prefecture), who was living near Katori Shrine (Sawara City, Chiba Prefecture) at the time. The ryū itself gives 1447 as the year it was founded, but some scholars claim circa 1480 is more historically accurate.
Iizasa Ienao (飯篠 長威斎 家直 Iizasa Chōi-sai Ienao, c.1387–c.1488) was a respected spearman and swordsman whose daimyo was deposed, encouraging him to relinquish control of his household to conduct purification rituals and study martial arts in isolation.
Born in the village of Iizasa in Shimosa Province he moved when young to the vicinity of the famous Katori Shrine, a venerable Shinto institution northeast of Tokyo in what is today's Chiba Prefecture. The Katori Shrine enjoys a considerable martial reputation; even the name of the Shrine's deity includes the sound of a sword cleaving the air - 'futsu'.
After studying swordsmanship he went to Kyoto, where, according to most authorities, he was employed in his youth by the eighth Muromachi shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436–1490), a devotee of the martial arts. Iizasa was later known as Yamashiro no kami (governor of Yamashiro Province) in accordance with a practice of Muromachi times whereby noted warriors took old court titles. Still later in life Iizasa became a Buddhist lay monk and was known as Chōi-sai, 'sai' being a character that many noted swordsmen chose for their sword name.
When Chōi-sai returned home he offered prayers to the deities of both Katori Shrine and Kashima Shrine, the latter a famous local shrine in nearby Tochigi Prefecture where shrine officials themselves reputedly practised a form of swordsmanship, called 'hitotsu no tachi' (the solitary sword). Even today the Kashima Shrine training hall attracts Kendō practitioners from around the world, and the chief object of interest for visitors is the shrine's sacred sword. Supplementing his considerable skills with assorted weaponry, Chōi-sai was also an expert in Musō Jikiden Ryū Yawaragi, holding the position of seventh head in the history of that ryū. ('Yawara/yawaragi' is the older more correct term for the jūjutsu, unarmed combat, of that period)
Legend says at the age of 60 Chōi-sai spent 1000 days in Katori Shrine practising martial techniques day and night, until the kami of the shrine, Futsunushi no Mikoto (経津主之命), appeared to him in a dream and handed down the secrets of martial strategy in a scroll named Mokuroku Heiho no Shinsho. He called his swordsmanship style derived from this miraculous dream the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, the "Heavenly True, Correctly Transmitted Style of the Way of the God of Katori".
This legend is typical of martial arts ryūha and other cultural forms as well. Ryūha founders often attributed their mastery to magical teachings transmitted by Shinto or Buddhist deities, by long-dead historical figures like Minamoto no Yoshitsune, or by legendary supernatural creatures like the 'tengu', a Japanese goblin commonly depicted with a long red nose. Ienao died in 1488 at the age of 102.
Iizasa's Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, thus presumably linked to the sacred tradition of both Katori and Kashima Shrines, was transmitted through his own family.
Iizasa devised a unique method to ensure warriors could train without serious injury and yet maintain a resemblance to 'riai' (integrity of principle) and combative reality. The interactive weapon training of the ryu, in the form of kata-bujutsu (pre-arranged, combative training drills), illustrates this well. What appears to the outsider as merely a block of the opponent's attacking weapon is, in actuality, only a substitute for the part of the attacker's body intended to be cut or struck. Thus, full impact training could be maintained with safety to the practitioners. Furthermore, while the sword was considered to be the central and most important weapon in the Japanese warrior's arsenal of his era, Iizasa designed the scope of his ryu to include a wide range of weaponry. Thereby, he extended the training of his students to the use of other weapon systems as well, in order to be totally familiar with their capabilities and not be surprised on the battlefield by something unexpectedly different.
The uniqueness of Iizasa's Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū is still evident today, in some of the modern variants of the school, in the particular aspects of weapon-wielding, posture, stance, and foot and body movements which make allowance for the fact that the bushi (classical samurai warriors) of his era would be wearing 'yoroi' (armour) weighing around 35 kg, and fighting on uneven terrain. These factors tend to keep the wearer's feet firmly and flat on the ground, and slow down mobility considerably. The distinctive techniques and tactics of this ryū also acknowledge the design of classical Japanese armour, which, although protecting the wearer well, had many 'suki' (openings). The main attacking areas included... under the wrists; inside and behind the legs; the hip area; the space between the 'kabuto' (helmet) and 'do' (chest protector) where the neck arteries and veins could be easily severed. The signature, 'omote' (basic-battlefield) sword technique of the ryū, 'makiuchi-jodan', was created by Iizasa because the bushi could not raise the sword above the head, due to the obstruction of the kabuto, and secondly, notwithstanding that restriction, a very powerful 'chopping' blow from above was still needed to be generated in order to produce the maximum destructive force for when circumstances dictated attacking areas of the 'yoroi' other than the 'suki'.
Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū is the source tradition of many Japanese martial arts. Several famous swordsmen (including Tsukahara Bokuden and Matsumoto Bizen no kami Masanobu) who learned directly from Chōi-sai or his immediate followers became founders of their own schools, with either the same name (Shintō, written with a variety of other characters) or different names: Kashima Shintō-ryū (Bokuden-ryū), Kashima-ryū, Kashima shin-ryū (founded by Matsumoto), Arima-ryū, Ichiu-ryū, Shigen-ryū, and others.
As such in 1960 the school received the first ever "Intangible Cultural Asset" designation given to a martial art. It claims to have never aligned itself with any estate or faction, no matter what stipend was offered. This allowed the ryū to maintain its independence and integrity.
Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū was popularised in the west by the extensive research and writings of late Donn F. Draeger (1922–1982).
The current (2009), twentieth generation headmaster, is Yasusada Iizasa (飯篠 修理亮 快貞 Iizasa Shūri-no-suke Yasusada). For reasons of health he does not teach his family's system and instead appointed as his current, main representative instructor Risuke Otake who has a personal dojo close to (Narita City, Chiba Prefecture).
- Yukihiro Sugino, 9th Dan, son of the late Yoshio Sugino, 10th Dan (杉野 嘉男 Sugino Yoshio, 12 December 1904–1998) at Yuishinkan Sugino Dojo (Kawasaki, Japan).
- The International organisation founded by the late Goro Hatakeyama, 9th Dan (17 August 1928 - 8 December 2009), former head instructor under the late Yoshio Sugino, headquartered in his Yokohama Dojo (Kanagawa, Japan).
- Tetsutaka Sugawara, a former senior student who was issued an instructor license in 1986 by Risuke Otake, at the Sugawara Martial Arts Institute (Tokyo, Japan).