Having promised to write something on the histories of our club, here is the dojo version of the history of Hyo Ho Niten Ichiryu. The dojo version is not fact checked, it’s what I might say when asked during a class, so pay attention to what I say about sources.
In the late 1500s Japan was going through a long series of wars as the feudal kingdoms were being gathered into fewer and fewer camps until, in 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged as the ultimate victor. The saying goes, Hideyoshi mixed the ingredients, Nobunaga baked the cake, and Tokugawa ate it. Hindsight is great, we know this was the point at which it was all done, but the folks at the time didn’t know it was over, and there were a few more battles, 1615 Osaka when Tokugawa defeated Hideyoshi’s son, then the Christian uprising in Shimabara in the 1630s, and some other revolts of starving peasants, but mostly it was over.
But those living through it didn’t know that. Miyamoto Musashi lived during these times, fought in the wars, and eventually became a pretty famous fellow. Here’s the story everyone knows… everyone that is, who has read a bit further than a novel that came out in the 1930s.
Musashi was born in a couple of towns (it’s often disputed), one of which is Ohara in Okayama. We accept this one for reasons given later. His father was a good fighter, he beat Yoshikawa two times of three. Yoshikawa was sword instructor to the Ashikaga shogunate. Munisai (dad) was an expert in the jutte, a baton with a sword catching tang on one side. Musashi learned the arts from his father and maybe an uncle. When he was 13 he challenged a swordsman from the Shinto Ryu. The challenge was supposed to be called off but Musashi rushed in anyway, grabbed the swordsman and threw him on the ground, then beat him to death with a bo. Musashi was a big fellow. Something like six feet tall.
Fast forward through 20 years or so of wandering around and dueling, during which time he had 60 matches. One or three of which were with the Yoshikawa swordsmen. The last duel was with Sasaki Ganjiro on Ganryujima where Musashi carved a bokuto out of an oar and whacked Ganjiro on the head while having his headband cut. You’ve all seen the anime, Musashi was that guy.
At 30, Musashi decided that up to that time he had been lucky, or the other guys were not very good. He started to look into Hyo Ho, strategy, much more seriously. At around 50 he figured he understood. In that 20 years he worked for various lords, took baths, adopted a couple of boys and found them good jobs, fought in a couple of battles, painted some, carved some, did some urban design, and did quite a bit of writing. Musashi wrote several versions of his precepts about budo, many of which seem to have been his form of license to students.
Along the way, those students founded several schools of various names from what Musashi taught, many of which exist to this day. One of those lines eventually became the Hyo Ho Niten Ichiryu, the school we practice.
Now, you can find this history, and much more in the many, many books that have been written about Musashi. The last book he wrote, the Go Rin no Sho is famous now, but was first published in 1909 in Japan. Be aware of that. Other manuscripts of such writings as the Sanjugokajo are coming to light. The first English version of the Go Rin no Sho was written by Victor Harris, and this is the first version that I read. Many translations have been done since then, including one with explanations by yours truly. I have also done a book on the Sanjugokajo with explanations, and you can find both of them at SDKsupplies.com. These contain much more history, lists of sword schools from Musashi, lineages of our branch and others, including descriptions of the kata (and videos elsewhere).
The history of our dojo begins I suppose with Aoki sensei, who was headmaster of the Santo ha Hyo Ho Niten Ichiryu for a very long time. After him was Kiyonaga sensei (the senior) and Imai sensei. These three headmasters (8, 9, and 10) taught in many places, and our direct instructor, Matsuo Haruna sensei from Ohara in Okayama (birthplace of Musashi and location of the Musashi dojo) studied with all three of these headmasters.
In the early 1990s, Haruna sensei began teaching at our yearly iaido seminar here in Guelph. On his second visit he asked me what we would like to learn that year and I, not knowing any better, said I’d like to learn Niten Ichiryu. That got a surprised look, but this was pre-internet and Canada was a long way from Japan so he said yes. I think this was 1992, and we have practiced ever since. For the first year or so it was only a few of us practicing but when sensei asked me “where are all the other students?” I took that as an expectation that I would pass along what I had learned, which was the three usual sets of sword practice plus a couple of extra sets of two-sword kata.
When Haruna sensei died, I asked the students that were around at that time what they wanted to do. Invite the headmaster (soke) they decided, so I got in touch with Colin Watkin (Hyakutake) who was practicing with Imai sensei at that time. They visited Guelph, along with Iwami sensei in the early 2000s, and when Imai died, Iwami sensei and then Kajiya sensei have visited Canada each year. Those are the 10, 11, and 12th headmasters. Eventually, it became more efficient for the Soke to visit Europe rather than have several of those students come to Canada each year, so the seminars shifted overseas.
Imai sensei had changed the style of practice a bit, so that it was somewhat different from what I teach, but not radically so. Certainly not enough for the headmasters to tell me to stop teaching “my way”, and I did ask. Kajiya soke’s comment, the last time I brought it up, was “it’s all Niten”. So this is why the Niten at Sei Do Kai looks different from that in other places. Koryu practice can change, and it does. In the last 20 years or so there have been some complaints about those changes from students who were taught one way and were upset at seeing another. This is natural, and I would ask all my students to learn from anyone, but to remember your roots.
About this, please consider the current understanding of how to learn. Repeating something many times works, of course, but repeating that same thing with small variations is a much more efficient way to learn. Go look up the science. Anecdotally, over 40 years of practice in many martial arts I’ve found that it is indeed true. Learn from everyone BECAUSE they “do it different”.
Our practice of Niten has continued now for 30 years and there are many students out there who have come through our dojo. As I come to the end of my useful shelf life, I have made arrangements that our style of practice will continue to the next generation. Please don’t call it Haruna ha or for goodness sake, not Taylor Ha. We practice Niten Ichi Ryu, and we recognize the Headmaster, Kajiya sensei. “It’s all Niten”
One further point, Kajiya sensei has taught us the Niten bo, and since I was not very healthy at the time, Denis Nikitenko has kindly assumed that part of the curriculum.
Jan 30, 2020
U. Guelph Japanese Swordsmanship Club (Sei Do Kai): Tues. 9-11pm, Fri. 7-9pm, Sunday 1-4pm.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
To Shin Kai Jodo/Iaido classes, Clarke Hall, Port Credit, Feb 10, Mar 16
March 7, Iaido seminar, Port Credit.
March 8, Jodo seminar, Port Credit.
Apr 18, 19. Peterborough Haru Geiko, Jodo, Niten Ichiryu, MJER jujutsu, and one other I can’t remember.
May 15-18. Annual CKF Spring International Iaido and Jodo seminar and Jodo grading.