Myths & Tales: Kyohachi ryu ~Part 3~

Part 3 of our discussion on Kyohachi ryu will focus on two martial schools that are representatives of this mysterious system. Both were started by 2 of the 8 monks who are said to have received direct teachings from the source, being Kiichi Hogen. Or is the “8 monks” claim a figurative statement? These two schools are known as Nen ryu and Chuujou ryu, which are 2 schools out of the 8 of Kyohachi ryu that share a direct connection with each other.


Let’s start off with Nen ryu, which can be considered the “senior” of the two schools. Nen ryu’s history begins with its creator, who goes by the name Souma Shiro Yoshimoto. He is well known under, and generally referred to by a few names he’d pick up over time such as “Nenami” and “Jion”, but for this blog we will stick with his given name. There are a lot strange points concerning his history, and details that cannot clearly be verified. Most of these uncertainties evolve around his age when he embarked on his journey to studying kenjutsu, how he achieved enlightenment in the way of the sword, to the numerous names he is known under. How he acquired the knowledge of Kyohachi ryu is also one of those points, which will be addressed below.

Yoshimoto was born in Souma of Oshu (present day South Souma City in Fukushima Prefecture) in around 1350. He came from a well to do family, for his father, Souma Shiroemon Tadashige, was a busho (military commander) in employment of Nitta Yoshisada, and had earned merits in serving time participating in numerous battles. Tragedy struck, unfortunately, for Tadashige was murdered, although there are no details accounting to how or why. Yoshimoto was 5 years old when this event took place. For safety sake, Yoshimoto and his nursing mother escaped to Imajuku in Musashi no Kuni (present day Yokohama City in Kanagawa Prefecture).

At the age of 7, Yoshimoto became an apprentice to a Yugyo Shonin1 from Soushu Fujisawa2 and had his name changed to “Nenami”, thus his entrance into priesthood. This also is the start of his journey to get revenge on his father’s murderer by studying the ways of the sword3. At the age of 10, it is said that he climbed up Mount Kurama (accompanied by his fellow elder priests…?)in Kyoto, and met an “ijin”4 or unusual individual,  in Kurama Temple. From this individual Yoshimoto received training in unique yet mysterious sword methods that define Kyohachi ryu.

Gateway to Kurama Temple. From Wikipedia.

Not making Mount Kurama his last stop, Yoshimoto would leave around the age of 16 and continue his martial studies over the years at Kamakura under a holy priest (named Eiyu/Yoyu…?), and later at Anrakuji in Tsukushi, until finally reaching a state of true understanding of kenjutsu. Yoshimoto also succeeded in getting revenge after leaving his religious duties for a short time and returned back to his hometown. Later, he would resume his Buddhist practices as a Zen monk and change his name to “Jion”, and establish his own temple called Chofukuji in the Namiai Village of Ina City, located in Shinshu (present day Nakano prefecture). Being well versed in his martial studies, Yoshimoto taught his knowledge to 14 personal students. Different martial schools were established based on his teachings, many under their own names.

While Yoshimoto’s martial training expanded to a few different places, his time at Mount Kurama is key to the discussion on Kyohachi ryu. Who exactly did he study under at Mount Kurama? Who is this “unusual individual”? No records available can clearly identify this person. There are speculations that this person could’ve been Kiichi Hogen, but this is impossible. While there are no clear dates for either his birth or death, records about Kiichi Hogen indicate him being alive in the 1100’s, and describe his as an elderly man when Minamoto no Yoshitsune encountered him (around 1170). Since Yoshimoto was born around 1350, and goes to Mount Kurama around the age of 10 (1360), then Kiichi Hogen would have to have been alive almost an extra 200 years on top of however old he was! So, whomever Yoshimoto studied under had to have been someone else, most likely another monk of Kurama Temple.

A screen capture of “Maniwa Nen ryu Kagami Biraki” a public demonstration that takes place on January of the new year.

Today, Nen ryu survives under the title “Maniwa Nen ryu”. In this system kenjutsu, sojutsu, naginatajutsu, and yadomejutsu5 are the primary focus. Since it is still active, we have a means to learn about it in public demonstrations the current practitioners participate in. (these can be viewed on Youtube, especially if you type “馬庭念流” as your search query) Some unique traits of Maniwa Nen ryu are the Mu Gamae (a low posture used to intercept incoming attacks), the handling of the naginata and yari with a tachi grip (right hand closer to the spearhead while left hand is closer to ishizuki), and a rare method of deflecting arrows with the tachi. This school is also well known for using protective gear for the head and hands when engaging in training similar to gekken6. As a koryu, Maniwa Nen ryu is respected as a martial system whose main intention is self-protection for the common people, as well as for its simple yet efficient movements and techniques, especially in its kenjutsu. There are no long, drawn out sequences in their kata. Instead, what is demonstrated are short exchanges, some resulting in a parry to get in, others being a counterattack after evading a sword cut at the last moment. Are these examples of the secret lessons from Kiichi Hogen that makes up Kyohachi ryu? Possibly, but this is difficult to discern due to a lack of sources to compare it to.


Next we set our focus on Chuujou ryu. This can be considered the “junior” of the two schools in this blog. In order to explain this, we need to briefly shift our attention back to Nen ryu.

Amongst koryu schools in Japan, Nen ryu is labeled as a “Sandai Genryu”, or one of the 3 martial schools responsible for the birth of other kenjutsu-centric schools. Many schools can trace back one way or the other as having roots in Nen ryu kenjutsu, such as Ittou ryu, Kyosui ryu, and Kanemaki ryu7. This all started when Souma Shiro Yoshimoto (at the time was known by the name of Jion) had 14 prominent disciples, whom he taught the secret sword techniques revered as the teaching of Kiichi Hogen. These students in turn started their own martial system, and expanded this knowledge throughout the lands in Japan. One of those disciples is said to be Chuujou ryu’s founder, whose name is Chuujou Hyogonosuke Nagahide.

The family crest “Ichimonji”, used by the Chuujou clan. While it represents the number one in Japanese, the meaning as a family crest is “undisputed” or “unrivaled”. From Wikipedia.

A resident of Kamakura in Soshu (present day Kamakura City in Kanagawa Prefecture), Nagahide was born into the reputable and influential Chujou family sometime in the 1300s. He was already versed in, as well as the successor of his own family’s martial system called “Chuujou ryu Heiho”8 before meeting Yoshimoto. While it was a system designed for warfare and had strategies with the use of weapons such as the naginata and the yari, Chuujou ryu Heiho also had a section for sword techniques called “Chuujou Kadenrai no Kenjutsu”. Despite inheriting an established system, Nagahide must’ve been in need to further his knowledge on sword fighting, for he left home possibly to find some means to do so.

Now, let’s see how Chuujou ryu becomes intertwined with Nen ryu. The more common story in Japanese sources tell that Nagahide set out and met Yoshimoto at Jifuku Temple, which is located not too far from him in Kamakura.  Nagahide was taken in as a disciple, and learned the sword methods of Nen ryu9. Whether or not he also studied Buddhism this is not clearly explained. After a few years, Nagahide took what he learned of Nen ryu and incorporated it into his family’s martial system, making it more complete than it was before. Nagahide would later become an appointed sword instructor for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu10 to train his soldiers, as well as gain employment in the Hyojoshu (State Council) of the Kamakura Shogunate. His activeness in both military and government affairs helped Nagahide to not only promote his martial system, but also make a name for himself. Chuujou ryu grew in reputation, attracting potential students who, in turn, would open their own schools under the name of Chuujou ryu, and teach the techniques of the martial system. There were other students as well who would open up their own schools under a different name, yet still have a kenjutsu curriculum that is based on what was learned under Chuujou ryu.

Chuujou ryu’s history, for the most part, doesn’t have any major events, for not only did the family line end in this martial system with Nagahide (he had siblings, yet chose an individual named Kaibuzen no Kami Kagehiro, a non-relative, to be the successor), but many dojos that represented Chuujou ryu also are closed down11.  Although no longer active, there are many martial schools that derive from the teachings of Chuujou ryu today. Most notably are the numerous lines of Ittou ryu, Toda ryu, and Togun ryu, which are all still active. These schools’ kenjutsu should reflect the kenjutsu of Chuujou ryu, but that depends on how much has been retained over the years along with what new materials and changes made by the different successors.

A demonstration of Onoha Ittou ryu Kumidachi at Ise Jingu (or Ise Great Temple) in 2015. One of the kenjutsu schools said to derive from Chuujou ryu.

There are scrolls in the possession of certain collectors that have a list of the techniques and forms of Chuujou ryu, but how they are physically performed has been lost. Interesting to note, there are about 33 forms that consist of a short tachi12 used against a longer tachi in those scrolls. This is very similar to Minamoto no Yoshitsune’s sword methods, which also incorporated a short tachi13. It is not clear if Chuujou ryu originally utilized a short tachi, or if this was incorporated after Nagahide’s training in Nen ryu. Is this a special skill set found in the secrets of the sword that originates in Mount Kurama?

While Chuujou ryu is considered a representative of Kyohachi ryu, there are some points to consider. Chuujou Nagahide, just like Souma Yoshimoto, never met Kiichi Hogen, so the secrets of Touhou, or methods of the sword, were not directly transmitted to them from the main source. Mount Kurama is next in line to being a source of this knowledge, which is where Yoshimoto had trained at, and most likely learned from one of the monks at Kurama Temple. However, there is no mention that Nagahide made the climb to Mount Kurama. It is possible that since Yoshimoto did and had the knowledge himself, that just being a direct student of him was good enough for Nagahide to get that knowledge…although age-wise, Yoshimoto was in his late teens to early 20s and was also in training himself while in Kamakura. Or, the association of being a martial system with knowledge of kenjutsu learned from the great capital of Heian Kyo automatically earns the position of being a Kyohachi ryu representative. This appears to be more so for Chuujou ryu.

This here ends the discussion on the beginnings of Nen ryu and Chuujou ryu, and how they both were the foundations for other kenjutsu schools. Their reputations are fitting to put them as representatives of Kyohachi ryu. Stay tuned to the final part on Kyohachi ryu, which will focus on other martial systems whose claims to direct heredity to the secrets sword methods of Kiichi Hogen are just as mysterious and questionable as the source itself.

1) Yugyo Shonin can translate to “traveling priest”, but there is more to this. This is a label for a Buddhist priest belonging to the Shojoko Temple, located in present day Fujisawa City. This temple, also known as Yugyo Temple, belongs to the Jishu sect (時宗) of the Pure Land Buddhism. This temple was founded by Ippen Shounin (1239-1289), who is famous for traveling around Japan with his followers promoting his religion to the people through such acts like handing out pamphlets and performing dances of invocation. Ippen helped to promote the idea that anyone can reach the road of salvation after death simply by reciting “Namu Amidabutsu” everyday, whether you were a believer of Buddhist faith or not.

2) Modern day Fujisawa City in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.

3) Interesting, in this time period, many temples were associated with the upkeep of martial-related training and documentations, especially those concerning the sword, which works as an essential path for Yoshimoto.

4) Ijin (異人)  is a phrase in Japanese that has several nuances. Literally it stands for “outsider” and “foreigner”, yet these descriptions are not a clear cut as one would think. Before being a unified country, Japan was made up of different territories and “countries” in the past, so traveling up north from, say, south east would mark you as an outsider. Coming from overseas would also mark you as an outsider. On a social level, ijin can mean “someone who is different”. For example, in the olden days there where those who pulled away from society and became recluses, making their habitats in the wild or mountainside while seeking enlightenment. These individuals, called yamabushi (mountain ascetic), can also be labeled as outsiders.

Despite which context it is used, the use of ijin here is to indicate a person of extraordinary skills and ability. Their identity remains a mystery, possibly to give more power to the idea that this “outsider” possesses knowledge unfathomable. Thus, to train under such a person would mean you possess amazing skills, and in turn, elevating you and your martial system’s reputation.

5) “Techniques for stopping arrows”.

6) Gekken, also known as gekiken, is a form of fencing using kenjutsu. Unlike kendo, there is little restriction on what targets you can aim for.

7) Kyosui ryu currently has no schools or successors, but its kenjutsu appears to be taught in one of the Shinkage ryu lines. Kanemaki ryu’s line actually originates from Chuujou ryu, but is sometimes tied to Nen ryu. Today, Kanemaki ryu is a battojutsu-centric school, for its kenjutsu curriculum (Kumitachi) has been lost as the successor died during WWII and didn’t pass down this knowledge.

8) Nagahide’s birth date is in question, but nothing verified. What is known that he lived until 1384. Nagahide, along with his family style Chuujou ryu Heiho, were active in the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573).

9) Popular stories accept this version. However, there is another version that disputes this, stating that Nagahide studied under Yoshimoto’s teacher at Jifuku Temple, a holy priest named Eiyu (Yoyu?). If this is so, then the relationship between Nen ryu and Chuujou ryu could be debunked.

10) 3rd ruler of the Ashikaga Shogunate from 1368 to 1394.

11) The Chuujou ryu line lasted until the middle of the Showa period (1926ー1989), in the possession of the Yamasaki family.

12) Can be referred to as a kodachi (小太刀). Sometimes is referred to as a wakizashi (脇差).

13) More about this can be read in part 2 here.

2 thoughts on “Myths & Tales: Kyohachi ryu ~Part 3~

  1. Pingback: Final Chapter of Kyohachi ryu: Kyo ryu – Light in the Clouds

  2. Pingback: Shitsuden: Present-day look at past martial systems ~ Part 1 – Light in the Clouds

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