Final Chapters of Kyohachi ryu: Kyo ryu

After a short hiatus, we now set our attention to the final chapters on my discussion regarding Kyohachi ryu. Originally, this post was to cover the last 3 martial systems connected to Kyohachi ryu in one shot. However, due to how voluminous the info gathered from researching, I decided to make separate posts showcasing each of the martial systems. What makes these 3 schools connected is their claim to direct transmission to the military strategist Kiichi Hogen’s martial teachings on Mt. Kurama, but have a serious gap or inconsistency that says otherwise.


The martial style called Kyo ryu1 would sound like it has an automatic connection to Kyohachi ryu. The name meaning “(Sword) style of the Capital”, Kyo ryu gives a nod at being a martial system born in the rich culture of Heian Kyo, Japan’s Capital during the Muromachi period (1336~1573). Due to the residence of the Imperial family, as well as rich and infuential families, anything coming out of the Capital was regarded as high quality. This included instruction of martial systems found there…one case being Kyohachi ryu.

Artwork of Yamamoto Kansuke by Matsumoto Fukou. Dated late 19th century. From Wikipedia.

The story of Kyo ryu begins with Yamamoto Kansuke Haruyuki (1493-1561), commonly referred to by his nickname Kansuke2. Born in Hoi District in Mikawa Province (present day Toyokawa City in Aichi Prefecture), he was one of Takeda Shingen’s3 famed 24 generals4. Kansuke is recognized for his contribution to many written works related to both the military and martial field in the Takeda house, such as Rodanshu5 and Heiho Hidensho6. He was also a major contributor in the development of Takeda Shingen’s army and the tactics they utilized, as well as gave lectures to certain high ranking individuals on topics to ensure that the might and influence of the Takeda house throughout Kai Province and neighboring lands stays constant.

Opening the book Heiho Hidensho by Yamamoto Kansuke. The version in my collection was published by Keibunsha.

Written accounts such as “Koyo Gunkan”7 and “Bukou Zakki”8 describe Kansuke as being skilled at martial combat, as well as an accomplished strategist. It’s here where claims of his personal system being called Kyo ryu are mentioned. Tales speak of Kansuke as very skilled and fearsome warrior, some of them making him bigger than life. For example, feats such as outbesting a certain Ishii Tozaburou9, who wielded a live sword, with only a mere stick10. Also, a popular portrayal of him is using a naginata for support in walking like a cane to compensate for his lame leg. Tales like these are the perfect precursor to being tied to Kyohachi ryu, whether real or not. His abilities contrast with his physical state, however, for his appearance is considered quite appalling. Kansuke was blind in the right eye, had damaged fingers, lame in the left leg, and had many scars on his body due to the rough life he endured during his journey.

In sources like “Heihoden Toroku”, it is stated that Kansuke’s first exposure to martial and military studies when he was little11 is through his foster father, Oomori Kanzaemon, and military strategist named Suzuki Hyuuga-no-Kami Shigetatsu, who was a colleague of Kanzaemon. Kansuke learned a lot from the 2 of them, enough where he could pit his might against other warriors to test his skills. After the death of his mother, Yasu, Kansuke journeyed around different parts of Japan in his 20s for about 10 years as a rounin12, in order to further his training as a warrior. He was also able to study many areas concerning warfare and strategies, such as heiho (martial combat), chikujoujutsu (castle construction and defense), and jintori (tactics against armies). What he learned during this period is possibly the makeup of Kyo ryu, although there are no scrolls or manuals that verify this under such a title.

Art work named “武田二十四将図”, the feudal lord Takeda Shingen (top, middle) is shown sitting amongst his trusted 24 generals. Yamamoto Kansuke is present in the bottom row, 2nd to the left. Scanned from “Furin Kazan: Sengoku no Yo o Kakenuketa Meiso ‘Takeda Shingen’ to Gunshi ‘Yamamoto Kansuke'”.

The connection to Kyohachi ryu is speculated to happen before Kansuke’s employment under Takeda Shingen, through his foster father Kanzaemon and the strategist Shigetatsu. The story in Heihoden Toroku states that around mid 1300s Kanzaemon was employed as a Daikan (prefectural governor or magistrate during Edo period) at the Takabashi Manor located in Mikawa country (present day Toyoda City in Aichi prefecture). Chuujou Nagahide13 was also employed in the same area, and taught his system, Chuujou ryu. At the time, Chuujou ryu is said to pertain the touhou (sword methods) of Kiichi Hogen. It is believed that Kanzaemon, as well as Shigetatsu, spent some time training in Chuujou ryu, and in turn taught this to Kansuke. If this is true, then Kansuke’s kenjutsu is based on Chuujou ryu, and Kyo ryu can rightfully be said to represent Kyohachi ryu. However, there are no official records of Kanzaemon and Shigetatsu studying at the Chuujou dojo in historical documents, thus making this more of a theoretical speculation.

If Kyo ryu did exist, is it possible that Kansuke had students to pass down this knowledge? Some sources give a nod to this possibility.  For example, in the book “Honcho Bugei Shoden”14,  a warrior by the name of Maebara Chikuzen-no-Kami 15 is written to have been a skilled swordsman of Kyo ryu, who could cut down numerous sensu (folding fans) tossed at him. Apparently he learned kenjutsu and other skills of combat from Kansuke.

A depiction of Yamamoto Kansuke on the battlefield. From the art series “甲越勇将傳 武田家二十四将”. Artwork by Utagawa Kuniyoshi made between 1848-49.

In honesty, Kyo ryu’s existence is legendary, as it is tied with one of Japan’s respected historical figures, Yamamoto Kansuke. While there are documentations of Kansuke’s knowledge on kenjutsu and other areas of combat and strategy, which contributed immensely to the success of Takeda Shingen’s military campaigns and shinobi network16, there is no concrete documentation about Kyo ryu and its curriculum. Did it truly exist? Until new authentic discoveries are made, this is hard to say.

This sums up the discussion on Kyo ryu, a system just as mysterious as Kyohachi ryu. The next post will cover the history of Kurama ryu, which bears the same name as the location where Kyohachi ryu is said to have been born.

1)  “Kyo” of Kyo ryu is written in 2 ways. One is with the Chinese character “京”, which stands for Capital. The other is “行”, which has several meanings including “to journey”, “to carry out a task”, “line”, and “bank”. Which of these is the intended meaning is not mentioned. It is also possible that the pronunciation using the second character would change to “Gyo ryu” or “Ko ryu”, but this is an assumption on my part.

2)山本勘助晴幸. He acquired many other ways of writing Kansuke (勘助), where the phonetic stays the same, while the Chinese characters are written differently. He also has a religious name upon his entrance into priesthood later in his life, which is Doukisai (道鬼斎).

3) Takeda Shingen (1521-1573) was a daimyo (feudal lord) famous for his numerous successes in military campaigns, and the skilled & resourceful individuals he kept in his company. Well known by the nickname “Kai no Tora” (Tiger of Kai Province) due to his reputation as a powerful lord.

4) Takeda Shingen ran a very strict and organized househould and army. To ensure things go smoothly in his pursuit of power, Takeda kept certain individuals close that he trusted dearly. There was around 24 of them who were appointed as generals to help keep his army in top shape, as well as manage his numerous spies that keep tabs on his enemies around Japan.

5) Rodanshu (老談集) is an illustration scroll that shows hand drawn tools and weapons said to be used by shinobi.

6) Heiho Hidensho (兵法秘伝書) is a 5-volume documentation written around the mid 1500s. It is a collection of notes and pointers by Yamamoto Kansuke regarding weapon usage (ranging from the sword, staff, and bow & arrow), and strategies on and off the battlefield.

7) Koyo Gunkan (甲陽軍艦) is a collection of about 20 scrolls covering the achievements, battles, rules & punishments, and strategies of the Takeda house. It also covers the skills, ideals, preparations, and other important points for those of Koshu ryu, a martial system derived from Takeda Shingen’s military force.

8) Bukou Zakki (武功雑記) is a war journal written by Matsuura Shigenobu (松浦鎮信), a 4th generation lord of Hirado Domain in Hizen Province (divided into present day Saga prefecture and Nagasaki prefecture). Compiled in 1696, it covers the accomplishments of certain warriors and warlords that were active between 1573-1624.

9) A practitioner and swordsman of Shinto ryu (新当流).

10) 心張り棒. A short or long stick used to secure windows and doors. It is propped at an angle and wedged between the door frame and floor for a door, or the side and base of a window frame.

11) Another source of his training is credited to his uncle, whose name is Yamamoto “Tatewaki” Nari (山本帯刀成). However, it cannot be considered completely viable as there is so little info on him. On top of that, there are supposedly other relatives and/or students of Kansuke who bear the nickname “Tatewaki”, so it’s possible that the whole former point is erroneous.

12) 浪人, which means “a wandering masterless samurai”

13) Chuujou Nagahide’s Chuujou ryu is counted as a martial system related to Kyohachi ryu. This was covered in a previous post here.

14) Honcho Bugei Shoden (本朝武芸小伝) is a collection of 10 volumes of books about various fields, topics, and individuals pertaining to martial arts. It was written by Hinatsu Shigetatsu (日夏繁高) in 1714.

15) 前原筑前守. Chikuzen-no-Kami was a samurai who is said to have studied combat and field tactics from Yamamoto Kansuke as a student of Kyo ryu. He was under the employment of the Obata family in Kouzuke Province (present day Gunma prefecture).

16) Takeda Shingen developed his own group of shinobi by using the knowledge of shinobi no jutsu from Iga and Koka regions, and adapting it to his area of rule, Kai Province (present day  Yamanashi Prefecture). It was a well knit system that had both in-house shinobi & civilians used as spies, all serving as the eyes of Takeda.

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