We have finally arrived to the last post regarding Kyohachi ryu. So far, I have covered not only numerous points of mystery for both Kyohachi ryu and the martial schools tied to it, but how they are elevated to supernatural heights due to these points in stories and literature. Yoshioka ryu, the martial system being discussed about today, follows in suit just like the others. What makes this martial school special is that not only the details concerning the techniques of this kenjutsu school are nowhere to be found, the family who developed this system left little traces of their existence other than what others had documented about them.
CLAIM TO EXCELLENCE
During the 1500s to mid 1600s, there lived a family by the name of Yoshioka in the former Capital city (present day Kyoto Prefecture). Through their connection with the Ashikaga shogunate, gained a prestigious reputation. Taking advantage of their current situation, they created their own martial system called Yoshioka ryu, which bears their family name. Interestingly, the strength of Yoshioka ryu on the battlefield doesn’t appear to be documented. However, with claims of its techniques based on the teachings of Kiichi Hogen, not only is attention drawn to this family martial system, but its excellence was sealed on the same level as legendary. However, on what grounds does Yoshioka ryu stake its claim as having roots in Kyohachi ryu? Let’s take a look back at how this art started.
The Yoshioka clan’s exploits begin with their military career. This history starts, as far as it is recorded, with Yoshioka Naomoto. He was employed as a sword instructor for the Ashikaga shogunate sometime during the early-mid 1500s. Years later, his brother, Yoshioka Naomitsu, would also follow in the same footsteps and take up the same position. To gain such a position in the service of the shogun is a great honor, and possibly a testament to Yoshioka ryu’s strength as a martial system. Between the two, however, it is recorded that Naomoto actually saw combat on the field and earned merits for it. Naomitsu, on the other hand, established the family dojo in Imadegawa (in the western part of Kyoto not too far from the Imperial Palace) while still serving the shogun. This family dojo, called Heihoujo1, is where he and future generations would teach Yoshioka ryu.
BEST SWORDSMAN IN THE LAND
In Yoshioka ryu’s lineage, Naomoto is recorded as the 1st successor, while Naomitsu is the 2nd successor. The 3rd successor, Naokata, continues with maintaining the family dojo in the late mid 1500s. He would continue the family’s tradition and work as a sword instructor for the Ashikaga shogunate, albeit part time. In certain books such as “Nitenki”2, Naokata is described as “the best swordsman in the land”3, implying that he made a quite a reputation for himself. With such a label, one would expect he must have faced many challenges against other swordsmen. There isn’t much info regarding this, save for one. It’s a duel he had with an individual by the name of Shinmen Munisai.
Shinmen Munisai, a seasoned warrior and master of his own style called “Touri ryu”4, came to Kyoto and had a match arranged between him and Naokata. It was scheduled to happen on the outskirts of Kyoto at Rendaino, a large area of land where parts of it was used for vegetation, and burying the deceased. Many witnesses were there, including the shogun himself. Both men pit each of their style’s techniques against one another using bokken, and through 3 exchanges, Munisai came out as the winner as he won 2 of the exchanges. The shogun not only declared Munisai the winner, but also endowed him with the title “Unrivaled warrior in Japan”5. While considered a significant piece of the puzzle in Yoshioka’s history, it is a shame that there are no detailed descriptions on how the match progressed, or the techniques used that define Yoshioka ryu.
For Naokata, to be bested in competition in front of the shogun was probably a major blow. This doesn’t mean the ending of the world for him or Yoshioka ryu, for in defeat opens the door for growth and improvement. This defeat possibly cost the Yoshioka family their position as sword instructors for the Ashikaga shogunate, unfortunately, for there is no more talk about the future generations doing such work. One thing to point out on behalf of Yoshioka ryu, is that during the duel Naokata won the 1st exchange. To his credit, if this were a fight to the death Naokata would’ve been the sure victor. A nod in favor of a martial system representing Kyohachi ryu, perhaps?
REVIVAL OF YOSHIOKA RYU
Possibly the most talked about member is Yoshioka Genzaemon Naotsuna. Featured in many Japanese programming, books & novels, and games, Naotsuna can be considered the face of the Yoshioka clan. While his birthdate and time of death are listed as unknown in official documents, it is estimated that he lived from the last quarter of 1500s to early-mid 1600s. In “Yoshiokaden”6, it states that Naotsuna assumed the role of 4th successor of Yoshioka ryu and, through reviving this martial system7, takes charge in running the family dojo in Kyoto. Through his efforts, he launched the reputation of his family style by winning several duels, some to the death. It is even stated that he claimed the title “Best Swordsman in the Land”8.
Faith would have it that Naotsuna’s new found fame would be put to test by another who wanted to make a name for himself, who so happened to be Miyamoto Musashi. Traveling throughout Japan at the age of 21, Musashi arrived in Kyoto in 1604 and, learning about the Yoshiokas’ reputation, sought out their residence and issued a challenge to Naotsuna. What makes this an encounter of faith is that Musashi is the son of Shinmen Munisai9, the same man that defeated Naotsuna’s father, Naokata, in a duel in front of the Shogun.
YOSHIOKA CLAN VS MUSASHI
The highlight of Yoshioka ryu is the the famed duel(s) between the reputable Yoshiokas and the ambitious young swordsman named Miyamoto Musashi. This encounter was recorded years after the incident in numerous written sources by different writers, each with varying views depending on which side of the combatants they were most loyal to. Due to this, none of them are considered 100% factual since certain details10 and outcomes vary based on which source declares which side the winner. In the end, this point in the Yoshioka history is where they are most remembered, as this story is revisited in novels, movies, TV series, and comics for years in Japan despite them all telling it from differentiating viewpoints. Here’s a quick summary of two of the more well known versions, with one supporting Musashi’s side11, and the other supporting Yoshioka’s side.
MUSASHI’S SIDE: Musashi and Naotsuna have their duel at Rendaino using bokken. During their exchanges, Musashi deals Naotsuna such a devastating blow that knocks him cold. Waking up later at his residence after being carried home by his students, Naotsuna is filled with grief from his defeat that he gives up walking the path of a warrior. His younger brother, Mataichi Naoshige, issues a challenge to get revenge on Musashi. Meeting at the Sanjuusan Kandou, a famous building due to its long design, Naoshige waited inside brandishing a very long bokken12. Musashi, seizing the right moment, wrestles the long bokken away and in turn beats Naoshige to death with it. A third challenge is issued by the Yoshiokas to take place at Ichijouji Sagarimatsu in Kyoto, this time with Matashichiro, the son of Naotsuna, put up for the fight. Matashichiro is only a kid, however, and would most likely be no match for Musashi due to inexperience. This fact is what the students of Yoshioka ryu were hoping to make Musashi drop his guard, as around 70 of them lie in wait around the area, wielding various weapons with intent to murder Musashi. However, Musashi caught on to this plan and, proceeding to the location unnoticed, not only cut Matashichiro down swiftly, but fought off the many students before making his escape. Thus the extermination of the Yoshioka family and the ending of Yoshioka ryu.
YOSHIOKA’S SIDE: Accepting the challenge, Naotsuna and Musashi arranged their duel to take place in front of the Kyoto Shoshidai, a government administrative building. Both using bokken, they battled intensely. At some point both men struck at each other, with Naotsuna’s bokken cutting into Musashi’s eyebrow and leaving a big bloody gash. Since stopping the blood flow was an issue, the duel had to be concluded as a draw. Naotsuna later requested another match in hopes to finish their duel appropriately, but Musashi insisted that, instead of Naotsuna, he could pit his might against the next senior of the dojo. This happened to be Naoshige. Accepting the new challenge, Naoshige and fellow students of Yoshioka ryu made their way to the designated location for the duel. They waited all day, but Musashi was a no show. In the end, Naoshige was declared the winner.
OTHER TALES CONCERNING YOSHIOKA FAMILY
Whether the Yoshioka family truly battled with Miyamoto Musashi is still up for debate. If such a thing took place, discerning the true winner is another task difficult to approach. One thing that is certain, however, is that the Yoshioka family did survive this event and Yoshioka ryu was still active during the rest of the 1600s. There are written accounts of their later engagements, still being tied to Yoshioka ryu. I will list them in order according to dates.
① In 1614, some members of the Yoshioka family were part of a public attendance for a sarugaku performance at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto13. One of the members got into an altercation which later got the palace guards involved and, by drawing out a hidden short sword, escalated the matter into a fight. This rash action ultimately leads to his death. There are several versions of how the commotion was started, but they all end the same way.
Most sources say that this member was Yoshioka Kiyojirou Shigekata, who was the younger brother of Naotsuna and Naoshige. Despite being a criminal act within the Imperial Palace, it didn’t mean the end of the Yoshioka family; it was only one member who fought the guards, while the others weren’t involved. Whether it’s because they didn’t know what was happening or realized the severity of accompanying their fellow brethren in a losing battle, it isn’t made clear.
② During the winter of 1614, some of the Yoshioka clan members participated in the Osaka no Jin (aka Seige of Osaka). Sources say that they were Naotsuna and Naoshige. Joining the Toyotomi forces, they assisted in protecting Osaka Castle against the army of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ultimately Osaka Castle was overtaken, forcing the Yoshiokas to withdraw from the battlefield. Returning back to Kyoto, it is said that the Yoshioka clan left the life of bujutsu behind, and instead turned their full attention to their dye business. What is this dye business and why would they get involved in such a labor all of a sudden? More on this later.
③ In 1632, there was a bujutsu competition called “Kanei Gozenjiai”14 that took place in the Edo castle. Being a friendly competition, many representatives of various martial schools participated to demonstrate their style’s strength against others. Yoshioka Matasaburo Kanefusa, a reputed kodachi expert, participated in this event as a representative of Yoshioka ryu. There are few details about this competition, and whether it really happened is still up for debate. Still, the fact that Kanefusa is even mentioned is a positive nod to Yoshioka ryu still being an active system past the point most believe it to have died out.
⑤ Speaking of Yoshioka Matasaburo Kanefusa, he appears to be a legendary figure within his clan. He been featured in various works, primarily solo from his other well known siblings…that is if he truly bears any relations with the main Yoshioka family line. For example, Kanefusa appears in a woodblock print drawn by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (shown above). There is also a book on his adventures called “Kodachi Meijin Yoshioka Kanefusa Matasaburo” (小刀名人吉岡兼房又三郎), which was published by Hogyusha Toko in 1897. In it, Kanefusa is described as a master of Yoshioka ryu Kodachijutsu (short sword techniques).
④ In a book called “Mukashi Banashi”15, a Yoshioka Kahei16 is featured in one of the stories. It is here where Kahei explains that he is a descendant of the Yoshioka clan, and discusses abit about Yoshioka ryu Kenjutsu. No other distinguishing details about Kahei or his family.
⑤ Along with martial arts, the Yoshioka family had a separate business, where they produced a unique dye. This dye, which is called “Kenpo Iro” (Kenpo Color), is a special dark-brown color that only the Yoshioka family was able to produce for many years. It is written that one of the students of Yoshioka ryu, who was originally from China17, was very talented in producing this special dye. A dye production shop was started at Shijou Nishidouin18 in Kyoto around the mid 1600s. Today, there are few shops that have the ability to reproduce Kenpo color. There is a particular shop owned by Yoshioka Sachio who, despite bearing the same family name and sharing tales of the Yoshioka clan, claims no blood relation. You can visit Sachio’s website here.
This sums up the chapter on Yoshioka ryu. There isn’t much detailed documentation about this system, other than being a representative of Kyohachi ryu, and recollections of the incidents the Yoshioka family were involved in. Are there any scrolls, manuscripts, or training equipments that can be considered as relics of this lost art? If there are, they have not been disclosed. At this point, we can only imagine what type of kenjutsu was developed that made the Yoshioka family famous.
With this post ends my discussion on Kyohachi ryu. It is indeed a legendary methodology of kenjutsu and combat that is hard to concretely pinpoint its form and lessons. In a sense, the tales surrounding Kiichi Hogen and the 8 martial systems have lasted much longer than the techniques believed to be unbeatable.
2) 二天記. This was written by Toyota Kagehide (豊田景英) in 1776.
3) The original statement, found in the Kokura Hibun (小倉碑文), is written as “fusou daiichi no heijutsu Yoshioka” (扶桑第一之兵術吉岡). Fusou (pronounced as Fusang) is an ancient name used in China in reference to Japan.
5) 日下無双兵法術者. Literal translation would be “Unrivaled warrior under the sun”. The sun reference is two-fold: 1) Japan is known as the “land of the rising sun” and 2) anything under the sun is where mortal beings (such as humans) reside, whereas “divine beings” (aka certain gods and spirits in Asian lore) live above (up in the heavens). Depending on interpretation, the phrase paints Munisai’s skills as unbeatable on a human level. However, this is only in Japan.
6) Yoshiokaden (吉岡伝) is a biography of sorts that recollects historical details of the Yoshioka family. It was written in 1684 by Fukuzumi Doyu. Certain details, however, have abit of fantasy to it, so its contents are difficult to accept as 100% trustworthy.
7) Some questions arise with Naotsuna’s claims. For starters, it indicates that Naokata had at some point retired from life as a swordsman, most likely at an early date. Books such as ” Kokura Hibun” claim that he had given up on kenjutsu after his loss to Munisai. However, due to the writters’ affiliaction with the winning side (being Miyamoto’s adopted son, Iori) there is a possibility of bias in this statement. It is abit unusual to claim reviving a martial system in Naotsuna’s case, especially since he is the next immediate generation. Maybe the real meaning is that Naokata, at some point, wasn’t actively teaching publicly. It is a possibility, but if this is the case, at least Yoshioka ryu wasn’t so inactive that it needed to be recreated.
8) 天下の兵法者 (Tenka no Heihosha). Apparently, this statement is made in Miyamoto Musashi’s book “Gorinsho”, and not by Yoshioka Naotsuna himself.
9) Historians over the years have had disagreements over discrepencies concerning Munisai’s relation with Musashi. It stems primarily on when Munisai died, who Musashi’s mother was, and the correctness of his identity. Some sources, based on a gravesite, say he died in 1580, which means he died a few years before Musashi’s birth. Others claim the date of death is incorrect, and that Munisai was alive during Musashi’s conception. Next, Munisai married twice, bearing children with his first wife. Some sources say that with his 1st wife they had a daughter and a son (Musashi). Others say that it was actually two girls, while a third child, being a boy, was adopted from another family. This boy is said to possibly be Musashi. Lastly, Munisai’s true surname is Hirata (平田), whereas Shinmen was adopted later. Apparently Munisai changed his name due to his friendly associations with a certain Shinmen clan. Identifying him to be the same can be tricky, for he may be known under one during important historical events, but then go by another later on.
10) It is not really clear what Musashi and Naotsuna used. For example, in the book “Korou Chawa” (古老茶話), it mentions that they used shinai (bamboo sword). In other sources, however, it is mentioned that bokuto (wooden sword) were used.
11) Possibly the biggest issue are the names used for the Yoshioka family in the works that support Musashi’s version. For example, Naotsuna’s name is written as “Seijurou” (清十郎). Why use different names? The reasoning is never given, thus the difficulties in learning what really happened between Musashi and the Yoshioka family. In any event, I am sticking with the names used by default for the Yoshioka family in this post for the sake of consistency and to avoid confusion.
12) The length of the bokken is stated as being 5 shaku (1 shaku = 0.9942 ft). In kenjutsu standards, this is not a normal sword size. Utilizing this bokken would be similar to that of an oodachi or nodochi, 2 types of Japanese long swords that saw more usage on the battlefield.
13) Sarugaku (猿楽) is a theatrical performance once valued in the old days of Japan. Note that normally the public are not granted entrance into the Imperial Palace to watch this, or for any event, unless on special circumstances.
15) 昔咄. This book on various stories of old was written by Chikamatsu Shigemori sometime in the 1700s during Edo period.
17) The name of this student is Li San Guan (李三官).