Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu

Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu (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 Shinto-ryu 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 ryu 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 Choi-sai Ienao, c.1387–c.1488) was a respected spearman and swordsman whose daimyō was deposed, encouraging him to relinquish control of his household to conduct purification rituals and study martial arts in isolation.

Legend says at the age of 60 he 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. Ienao died in 1488 at the age of 102.

The current (2007), twentieth generation headmaster, is Yasusada Iizasa (飯篠 修理亮 快貞 Iizasa Shuri-no-suke Yasusada). The representative, and head instructor on behalf of the headmaster is Risuke Otake (Narita City, Chiba Prefecture).

The son of the late Yoshio Sugino (杉野 嘉男 Sugino Yoshio, 1904–1998), Yukihiro Sugino (Sugino Yukihiro) is also teaching Tenshin Shoden Katori Shintō-ryū at Yuishinkan Sugino Dojo in Kawasaki, Japan.

The previous long-term head instructor under the late Yoshio Sugino, Goro Hatakeyama, is also independently teaching Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu in his Yokohama Dojo in Kanagawa, Japan.

Tetsutaka Sugawara is a previous senior student and holder of an instructor license issued in 1986 by Risuke Otake. He teaches Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū at the Sugawara Martial Arts Institute in Tokyo, Japan.

Tenshin Shōden Katori Shinto-ryu is the source tradition of many Japanese martial arts, and as such in 1960 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 ryÅ« to maintain its independence and integrity.

Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu was popularized in the west by the writings of late Donn F. Draeger (1922–1982).

Curriculum: The Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu is a comprehensive martial system. This means that unlike modern martial ways such as Kendo or Iaido, which concentrate on one specific area of training, study is made of a broad range of martial skills.

The main emphasis of the school is on Kenjutsu (sword technique). A wide range of other weapons are being taught as part of the curriculum, but the sword remains the central weapon.

Membership: Historically, the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryÅ« variant headed by Risuke Otake applied stringent limitations on prospective members. These, as detailed in Otake’s formal Shinbukan Dojo Rules, include:

  • Nyumon (admittance) is restricted to those prepared to take keppan (blood oath) and pay the prescribed nyumon-ryo (entrance fee);
  • Persons of foreign nationality interested in joining must reside in Japan;
  • Upon leaving Japan, the applicant must not teach in any way;
  • Persons practising other martial arts will not be accepted.

In recent years, however, with the relaxing of these rules Otake’s Narita-headquartered organisation has achieved significant growth in membership through a crop of recently appointed and soon-to-be-appointed shidosha (country representatives) in a number of European countries and as far afield as Russia and South Africa.

A rapidly increasing inflow of visiting foreign enthusiasts spend periods of up to a few weeks at the Hombu (head) dojo, no longer excluded by the historic rules (2) to (4). Otake’s younger son and Shihan (chief instructor)-in-waiting, Shigetoshi Kyoso, in actively fostering the school’s upsurge in accessibility and recent international growth, has made a number of overseas training visits in support of these new branches.

The Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū variants headed by senior Japanese instructors Goro Hatakeyama, Yukihiro Sugino, and Tetsutaka Sugawara had not laboured under such restrictive policies in the past and have always been readily accessible world-wide for a number of decades. Over that period they had developed significant student followings throughout Europe, Canada, and the Philippines.

Keppan: Historically, before beginning any training in Tenshin Shpden Katori Shintp-ryu, every prospective pupil had to sign an oath of allegiance to the school. The method was to make keppan (blood oath) in support of the following kisho or kishomon (pledge). This oath was a written one with the prospective member being required to sign his name in his own blood. The applicant would prick or cut a finger or sometimes the inner arm and with the blood drawn, sign the following pledge:

On becoming a member of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu which has been transmitted by the Great Deity of the Katori Shrine, I herewith affirm my pledge that:

  1. I will not have the impertinence to discuss or demonstrate details of the ryū to either non-members or members, even if they are relatives;
  2. I will not engage in altercations or misuse the art against others;
  3. I will never engage in any kind of gambling nor frequent disreputable places.
  4. I will not cross swords with any followers of other martial traditions without authorization.

I hereby pledge to firmly adhere to each of the above articles. Should I break any of these articles I will submit to the punishment of the Great Deity of Katori and the Great Deity Marishiten. Herewith I solemnly swear and affix my blood seal to this oath to these Great Deities.

Marishiten is originally the Brahman figure of Krishna. In later Chinese Buddhist mythology she became the heavenly queen who lives in one of the stars of the Great Bear. She is mostly depicted with eight arms, two of which are the symbols of the sun and the moon.

Tenshin Shōden Katori Shinto-ryu variants headed by instructors other than Risuke Otake do not require keppan. However, to this day, Risuke Otake regards the making of keppan as a strict requirement for all candidates seeking entrance into the ryu in order to preserve the secrecy and integrity of the ryÅ«’s teachings.