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Tag Archives: Meiwa


The importance of practicing the military arts as a means for character formation and practicing in military arts with a malevolent heart is perceived to be destructive; a mindset referred to as ‘the killing sword’. Practicing with the proper attitude, aimed at quelling hostilities and finding peaceful solutions, is referred to as the ‘life-giving sword’. The process of ‘musha shugyō’ is directed here at the practitioner’s awakening to the concept of ‘the life-giving sword’ and his fulfillment as a human being. Practice is aimed at gaining unparalleled superiority and strength over the enemy. However, it is a kind of strength that must not be revealed on the surface.
Similar interpretations of ‘the killing sword’ and ‘the life-giving sword’ can be found in the philosophies of later military arts traditions. However, preaching the ‘life-giving sword’ and putting it into practice are two different things. For example, the ‘Shintō-ryū’ provides an example of a military arts tradition which not only taught, but also uncompromisingly adhered to the principles of the ‘life-giving sword’ for half a millennium. There may have been others, but they did not endure and have been lost to history.
On the other hand, schools preaching that the final goal of one’s practice in the military arts lies in achieving a virtuous character (expressed in the ‘life-giving sword’ and consciousness), such as the famous ‘Yagyū Shinkage-ryū’, ‘Jigen-ryū’, ‘Maniwa Nen-ryū’, or ‘Ittō-ryū’, have left behind an extensive track record of duels, participation in wars, and killings by the order of ‘daimyōs’ (warlords / governors). For example, Tōgō Shigekata (1561-1643), the founder of Jigen-ryū, is said to have killed over ten people by the order of the Satsuma ‘daimyō’ while serving as the supreme teacher of swordsmanship in the Satsuma domain. Numerous duels and other feats of arms of the Yagyū family, which taught swordsmanship to the Tokugawa ‘shōguns’ for many generations, provide abundant material for popular storytelling and fiction. It is also suspected that the family was involved in the assassination of Noda Hankei, the famous swordsmith of the early Tokugawa era.
Moreover, we can find swordsmen of the pre- and early Tokugawa eras who, on the contrary, pursued only “the killing sword,” casting aside any humaneness under the pretext of ‘musha shugyō’. Such was the famous founder of the ‘Niten Ichi-ryū’ tradition (which also may be referred to as ‘Nitō Ichi-ryū’, ‘Emmei-ryū’, and other names), Miyamoto Musashi (1582-1645). He allegedly wrote that, by mastering ‘the virtue of the sword’, one masters the peaceful and orderly governance of a nation. Yet simulataneously, he is said to have murdered all his opponents in over 60 duels in a quest for victory over others.
To the critical eye, Musashi’s reckless striving for duels may be seen as a form of almost psychotic addiction to violence. However, uncritical academic and non-academic writers have raised Musashi to the status of an icon of the ‘bushi’, revering him as a ‘great master of swordsmanship’, or even a ‘saint swordsman’ (‘kensei’). This is without attaching any importance to the fact that he did not choose a means to engage in what he perceived as the process of self-perfection. Some scholars maintains that the Japanese cultural phenomenon of ‘musha shugyō’ reached its apogee in the life and career of Musashi. And, even though its authenticity is questioned, both scholars and popular writers have been preoccupied for generations with Musashi’s ‘Gorin no Sho’ (The Book of Five Rings, 1644), as well as with his personality, when considering ‘bushi’ moral values. Some argue that Musashi embodied the “Way of the Japanese people,”, even maintaining that ‘Gorin no Sho’, which is actually a treatise on the art of killing human beings, contains an image of a man that should serve as a model for people of the 21st century.
The impetus for the Musashi boom in Japan, and later overseas, was Yoshikawa Eiji’s novel ‘Miyamoto Musashi’ which was published as a newspaper serialization from 1935 to 1939. This serialization became a book in 1939, and it was also used for numerous theater and radio plays, TV and cinema films. The fictionalized image of Musashi has, through the process of repetition, become a historical reality in its own right. But, as Yoshikawa himself admitted, “there are almost no records about Musashi that could be trusted as true historical facts. If we are to summarize the truth about Musashi, it will take no more than 60-70 lines of printed text.” Apparently, few people know this and Musashi continues to be one of the most recognizable warrior figures in popular culture. His treatise on the art of killing has even become a manual for doing successful business among modern businessmen. Musashi has also been an object of reverence and commemoration in one of his supposed homelands in Mimasaka city, Okayama prefecture, where one can find a major practice center bearing his name. In Japan, modern ‘kendō’ tournaments are sometimes held in commemoration of Musashi.
It is necessary to establish an objective historical fact: Musashi did not kill his opponents in the righteous cause of, for example, defending his land against foreign aggressors, or fighting for his lord’s interests on the battlefield. His obsession with bloodshed was revealed through ‘polishing’ his sword skills by challenging others for individual duels. Musashi’s distorted notion of ‘musha shugyō’, or ‘self-perfection’, brought nothing but misfortune to his victims and their families. During his life he received ‘guest swordsman’ (‘kyakubun’) treatment from several ‘daimyōs’. However, his stipend was always much lower than that of other swordsmen in a similar position. He apparently sought to affiliate himself with the ‘Bakufu’ central government, but without success. This can be viewed as a social rejection of Musashi’s cruelty, which was regarded as excessive even in the early Tokugawa-era.


Komagawa Tarōzaemon first learned Shinkage-ryū from Kamiizumi Ise no kami Nobutsuna. But even though he soon felt confident in his skills, Kamiizumi would refuse to give him the Shinkage-ryū menkyo, only saying that Komagawa had a “bad habit” in his movements. Komagawa felt wronged by his teacher’s constant rebuttals and decided to take the high road and impress Kamiizumi by getting a menkyo in many other kenjutsu ryū. Returning some years later with over a dozen menkyo, he tried to get Kamiizumi to give him his hard-earned Shinkage-ryū menkyo at last by showing him what he had learned. But Kamiizumi didn’t flinch a bit and stuck to his previous statement about Komagawa having something not quite right in his movements. Then something happened that made Komagawa change his outlook on his whole practice up to then. One evening, while Komagawa was deeply engaged in training, a pack of wolf sneaked up on him. He only had a wakizashi on himself at the time, but he still managed to drive off the pack by repeatedly using a single technique, technique which would later become the first tachi kata and the basis of Komagawa Kaishin-ryū’s whole curriculum. During the tense fight, Komagawa realized that he was left-handed and that this was what Kamiizumi referred to by saying he had a “bad habit”. Komagawa then rebased his whole attitude towards his teacher and changed his name to “Kaishin” or “renewed heart” to show that fact. After correcting his movements, he was finally given a Shinkage-ryū menkyo by Kamiizumi. Komagawa then taught under the banner of Shinkage-ryū. The name of the ryū was changed to its present name by one of Komagawa’s student, Sakurada Jirōzaemon Sadakuni (桜田次郎左衛門貞国). Sakurada also added the jutte kata to the curriculum.


In 1767 (Meiwa 4), a samurai by the name of Fujii Umon Sadayuki (藤井右門定之), real name Fujii Naoaki Yoshitarō (藤井直明吉太郎), was sentenced and executed for ‘lèse majesté’ towards the Tokugawa Shogunate along with his teacher, a renowned scholar of Confucianism and military strategy named Yamagata Daini. They were denounced by troublemakers on the public place thus forcing the shogunate into investigating the allegations, which were that they conspired to mount a revolt against the shogunate in an attempt to reestablish the Emperor as de facto ruler of Japan. Since the trials and subsequent verdicts were kept secret even though the accusations were first made publicly, both were in the meantime unjustly vilified by the public as traitors to the shōgun and disturbers of the peace. The vilification intensified after their executions, which were made in public, while the specific offenses under which they were condemned still remained secret. The reason to this secrecy may be that the shogunate wanted the rumours about their association with the restoration movement to continue, although the two men were ultimately not found guilty of advocating the restoration of power to the Emperor. It was true, however, that Yamagata criticized the Tokugawa regime in a published book, and so the shogunate felt they had to act rapidly. The students of Yamagata were thus almost immediately released, except for Umon who was directly implicated in the original allegations as he was the one who spurred the troublemakers. The student and the teacher were later executed, in all probability as a deterrent to the proponents of restoration, while the troublemakers were exiled.
At the time of this incident, Umon was the chief proponent of Komagawa Kaishin-ryū, going so far as to add a complete series of kodachi kata in the curriculum, a series that has been handed down to this day. As a consequence of the bad influence brought on the ryū’s name by Umon’s involvement in what was then seen by the public at large as an attempted revolt, many if not all fiefs closed down their Komagawa Kaishin-ryū school branches. Even in Toyama, the birthplace of the ryū, it has since then been publicly referred to by the name of its parent art, the Shinkage-ryū. The secrecy was so complete that even the grandfather of the current sōke, the 13th sōke Kuroda Yasuji, thought when he was young that he was practicing Shinkage-ryū. Only by comparing his techniques with practitioners of other ryū did the thought cross his mind that he did not actually practice Shinkage-ryū at all. He then asked his own father, the 11th sōke Kuroda Hiroshi Masakuni, who passed down this story about the concealment of the ryū’s real name and origins. Yasuji was thus the first to use the name “Komagawa Kaishin-ryū” outside of Toyama since the incident when he relocated to Tokyo at the start of the Taishō period.