Toyama Ryu

Toyama Ryu (戸山流) is a modern form of iai created by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1925 at the Rikugun Toyama Gakko, or “Toyama Army Academy” in Toyama, Tokyo, Japan. Today, Toyama-ryu is primarily located in the Kanto region. It does not have a single headmaster.

Toyama Ryu focuses on practical swordsmanship.  The samurai class was abolished in 1867.  This was the beginning of the Meiji Restoration and the class system eliminated in a move to bring Japan into the modern era.  The Samurai are gone, but definitely not forgotten.  Their legacy lives on in the sword arts they developed.  People around the world continue to look back at those legendary figures in history and strive to keep Japanese Sword arts alive so they can be shared with future generations.

Toyama Ryu Batto Do is a Japanese sword art that was established in 1925.  It was formed by a committee and not a individual.  The senior member was Nakayama Hakudo (16th soke of the Shimomura-faction of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido). This sword art draws its techniques and philosophy from the expert swordsmen and their styles. It’s roots are in Omori Ryu Tachi Iai and the tachi waza of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. It is the art of drawing and using the single sword from a standing posture. It not only teaches drawing and cutting techniques, but also the mental and spiritual aspects of the Samurai.

Toyama Ryu is all about using the katana as a weapon.  It strives to keep practical swordsmanship as the basis of the art.  It does not have elaborately choreographed and complicated movements.  It is focused on efficiency and effectiveness.  It also keeps the structure and traditions of the Japanese Dojo.

After the Meiji Restoration, officers in the Japanese army were required to carry Western-style sabres. However, this caused problems during battles against rebels in Satsuma (now Kagoshima Prefecture), since soldiers equipped with single-shot rifles and sabres were frequently overwhelmed by samurai who knew Jigen Ryu (示現流)and could charge much faster than the non-samurai soldiers could cope with.

During the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05), the Cossack cavalries frequently charged against the Japanese infantrymen and again it was extremely difficult for the Japanese to defend themselves using sabres once their enemy reached them.

The Japanese studied the First World War with great enthusiasm, hoping to learn more about fighting modern warfare. They discovered that much fighting was still occurring at close quarters in trench warfare, often with heavy swung weapons like entrenching tools and home made clubs.

This likely prompted the Japanese to tighten up their close quarter combat training. The Katana was therefore readopted as the Japanese could access domestic sword masters more easily than European ones. Jūkenjutsu (銃剣術, Jūkenjutsu) was also developed at this time, being based on the use of sōjutsu (spear) techniques. This later became the rarely practiced sport of jūkendō, after the war ended.

Thus, Japanese army officers were later issued new Swords shaped more like katana. However, not all officers had sufficient background in kenjutsu to deploy these weapons in combat. Consequently, in 1925, a simplified form of sword technique was devised that emphasized the most essential points of drawing and cutting. For instance, the army iai-battō kata differ from those of many koryÅ« sword schools in that all techniques are practised from a standing position. (KoryÅ« schools included a number of techniques executed from seiza.) Also, this modern ryÅ« has an unusually strong emphasis on tameshigiri, or “test-cutting.” Swordsmen involved in developing this military system included Nakayama Hakudo and Sasaburo Takano.

At the end of World War II, the Toyama Military Academy became the U.S. Army’s Camp Zama. Nonetheless, the military iai system was revived after 1952. By the 1970s, three separate organizations represented Toyama-ryu Iaido: in Hokkaidō, the Greater Japan Toyama Ryu Iaido Federation (established by Yamaguchi Yuuki); in Kansai (Kyoto-Osaka area), the Greater Japan Toyama Ryu Iaido Association (established by Morinaga Kiyoshi); and the All Japan Toyama Ryu Iaido Federation (established by Nakamura Taizo).

Each of these organizations was autonomous and retained its own set of forms; the Hokkaido branch even included sword versus bayonet exercises. Today, there are also at least half a dozen active instructors of Toyama-ryū outside Japan, many of whom are in California, though there are also schools in Poland and Australia.

The adoption of the Katana by the Westernised Japanese army was also part of a Nationalist trend in Japan. During the 1920’s Japan went through a phase of Militant Nationalism that lasted until defeat in the Second World War. By adopting the Katana, the traditional sword of the Samurai* the Japanese were allying themselves with the Samurai military tradition.

Adopting the Katana also served to calm discontent among the more politicized sections of the army who had been outraged at mechanization (another lesson learned from World War I) which had de-emphasized the role of infantry and cavalry.

Although the Samurai traditionally carried two swords (a katana and wakizashi) Non-Samurai had been banned from carrying Katana (with numerous exception) in 1607 and the Katana had become associated strongly with the Samurai.

Takayama Masayoshi demonstrates "Jissen Budo Takayama ryu Battojutsu". This was the sword method used by the Imperial Japanese Navy, which were essentially the same as the Toyama ryu methods taught in the Army.

There are eight kata in the modern Toyama Ryu style.  These are not the kata that were taught in the Toyama Academy.  Those seven kata were based on using a gunto (WWII Japanese Sword) worn edge down in tachi style mounts.  The modern Toyama Ryu kata were developed later from these and adapted for used with the katana.

Kata teach the student how to move, draw, defend, and attack efficiently.  They present scenarios where the enemy attacks from different directions and instructs the student how to deal with the situation.  They are the main training tool for Japanese Swordsmanship.

Each of the kata teaches different lessons.  It is important to know the purpose of each detailed movement, but it may take the student time to understand the nuances.  Basic movement must be learned first.  It is through the understanding of the subtle details that we reach a true understanding of our art.  There are lessons to be learned the first time a kata is done, and still lessons to be learned after doing that kata hundreds or even thousands of times.  It is not about the memorization of many kata, it is about the true understanding of a few.

  • Ippon Me
  • Nihon Me
  • Sambon Me
  • Yonhon Me
  • Gohon Me
  • Roppon Me
  • Nanahon Me
  • Happon Me

Toyama Ryu Kumitachi : Kumitachi are two person kata.  Each Kumitachi presents the student with a different attack and potential defense.  There are two roles in each Kumitachi.  The Uchidachi (打太刀) is the attacker who initiates the confrontation.  The Shidachi (仕太刀) is the defender who must react with a defensive action followed by a counter-attack.  Kumitachi teach the student how to gauge distance, predict an opponents movement, and react to different attacks.

The student should understand the concepts of sen-no-sen 先の先 (React and take initiative during the attack by anticipating the attack) and go-no-sen 後の先 (Take initiative after the attack).

A set of Kumitachi begins and ends with a bow to your training partner. In general all forward steps start with the right foot and all backwards steps start with the left. Every attack should also have a Kiai. The Uchidachi (Attacker) leads all movement up to the point they would be struck down. The Shidachi (Defender) leads all movement after that. The person leading movement defines positions and form. The person following adjusts to those positions. For instance – the Shidachi might place their sword into a Chudan Kamae position at the end of a Kumitachi and the Uchidachi would make sure the kissaki were level and overlapping the proper amount. Kumitachi end with five short steps back to their original starting position.

What is Toyama Ryu : Toyama ryu Gunto no Soho was created in 1925 as part of the Rikugun Toyama Gakko curriculum, which was founded in 1873, and was a school in the Imperial Japanese Army. Army officers were taught how to use the gunto with the seven battoho techniques that were researched from koryu toho.

Cutting through multiple tatami omote targets. Published in the 1986 book "Naked Blade" by Obata Toshishiro

After World War II, three instructors with relations to the Toyama army school resumed teaching Toyama Ryu to the public. The techniques of the three individuals began to differ as time passed, so the three men came together once in an attempt to unite and standardize their organizations and techniques. Unfortunately, this effort failed.

Nakamura Taizaburo was one of the coaches at the Toyama army school, and he was one of the three mentioned previously who resumed teaching Toyama Ryu after the war. The Zen Nippon Toyama Ryu Iaido Renmei was established to hand down these Toyama Ryu techniques, and Nakamura Taizaburo titled himself SoShihan of the Federation. This organization added an eighth technique to the original seven part battoho kata (teaching dotangiri) as well as a six part kumitachi (pre-arranged paired form).

The techniques of Nakamura’s Toyama ryu changed many times over the years as he realized the irrationality of the original Gunto no Soho techniques when applied to a battle context, and he incorporated ideas from arts like Kendo and various sword ryu-ha. The nomenclature of the techniques also changed; right kesa giri was later referred to as left kesa giri, etc. The name Gunto no Soho also changed to Toyama Ryu Battojutsu, then to Toyama Ryu Iaido/ Battodo.

Toyama Ryu Iaido (Battodo) : During the time that the first tameshigiri competition was being planned, a more neutral name was called for so other sword exponents could also feel comfortable competing. Additionally, some people believed that the Toyama ryu name itself brought back bad memories of the war, and that use of the Toyama ryu name outside the now-defunct military was inappropriate. It was at this time that Obata Toshishiro suggested the name Battodo (instead of Battojutsu), since Iaijutsu had also changed to Iaido. Obata’s suggestion was used by Nakamura’s group, who in turn established the Zen Nippon Battodo Renmei. Several years later, the Zen Nihon Battodo Renmei splintered into different organizations consisting of Toyama ryu, Battodo, Battojutsu, Nakamura ryu, Todo, Iai Battodo, and others.

Toyama ryu and Tameshigiri Seminars : Nakamura held many seminars in the earlier years in which Toyama ryu and tameshigiri were the focus of instruction. However, since the techniques were changing frequently during that time, the instructors that participated in these seminars now remember and teach different forms of Toyama ryu based on which seminars they had attended.

Many suwari (seiza no bu; techniques from kneeling) Iaido instructors attended these seminars. At one seminar, in which there were 200 participants, Nakamura took advantage of the opportunity to ask the Iaido instructors present why they wear their katana in the belt and practice while sitting in the formal kneeling position (seiza). They replied that they didn’t know, that they were taught this way by their instructors, and as such, taught their own students the same way. None of them had asked their instructor, knew the answer themselves, or had researched the roots of their art to find out.

The fact is, historically there was no tradition of samurai wearing the katana in the belt while indoors, and while sitting in seiza position in particular because it was against the samurai code of etiquette. When the long sword is worn in the belt indoors, it is also a disadvantage in regards to freedom of movement. There were several instructors who did not care about the history, they only did what they were taught regardless of whether it was historically logical. Unfortunately, there were also instructors present who only cared about receiving high dan rankings, and were there because they were interested in incorporating tameshigiri into their own style. There were probably also people who practiced suwari-style Iaido or other sword styles that joined Toyama Ryu or Battodo simply to compete in cutting competitions.

Interestingly though, there were many Toyama ryu and Battodo students that cross trained in other sword arts. One reason may be that there was not enough technique or diversity in Toyama Ryu and Battodo to be satisfied practicing them alone. The fact is, the eight kata of Toyama Ryu/Battodo combined with Happogiri are too simple and are not sufficient technically to properly understand tameshigiri theory and application. The methods must be supplemented with a more comprehensive study of swordsmanship.

Tameshigiri is Not a Sport : Toyama ryu was taught at the Toyama army school to officers in order to train them to rapidly deploy their gunto from a draw. As a result, there was not enough basic suburi movements in the curriculum, and no kenjutsu style kata or sparring to supplement the Toyama ryu training. The officers at that time already had substantial experience in Kendo, so adding sparring to their Toyama ryu training would have been deemed redundant.

The original uniform worn at the Rikugun Toyama Gakko, clearly influenced by the European military. Published in the 1986 book "Naked Blade" by Obata Toshishiro

However, after the war when the Toyama ryu federation was first established, Nakamura created six pre-arranged sparring sequences (similar in flavor to the Kendo no Kata), but were unrealistic and insufficient when compared with the techniques of koryu kenjutsu. Since there was not enough suburi practice, there were reports of people cutting their knees or palms, or throwing their swords in the periods before, during, and after World War II. Even Nakamura writes about his own injuries in his books. Perhaps it is this reason, to avoid injuries, that the movements and sword swings in Toyama ryu Iaido have become slow.

Since Toyama ryu has so few techniques in most curriculums, it seems that the emphasis is placed on the tameshigiri competitions. If this is to be the case, then it must be acknowledged that these lines of Toyama ryu are no longer being practiced in their original form or with the original spirit. Tameshigiri is necessary to check one’s toho, but Toyama ryu must not degrade into a sport focused only on cutting. One must study the fundamentals thoroughly and understand the theory and practice in order to do perform proper tameshigiri.

The Toyama ryu of the Kokusai Toyama Ryu Renmei is taught as a gaiden of Shinkendo. Since the practice of Toyama ryu only is considered insufficient, as previously stated, it can not be studied without the practice of Shinkendo. Additionally, since Toyama ryu is trademarked in America by the KTRR, any unauthorized use of the name is prohibited.