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Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū

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Title: Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū  
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Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū

Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū (天真正伝香取神道流) is one of the oldest extant Japanese martial arts, and an exemplar of bujutsu. The Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū was founded by Iizasa Ienao, born 1387 in Iizasa village (present day Takomachi, Chiba Prefecture), who was living near Katori Shrine (Sawara City, Chiba Prefecture) at the time. The ryū itself gives 1447 as the year it was founded, but some scholars claim circa 1480 is more historically accurate.[1][notes 1]


  • History 1
    • Foundation 1.1
    • Recent history 1.2
  • Curriculum 2
  • Keppan 3
  • Notable swordsmen in relation to Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8



Iizasa Ienao (飯篠 長威斎 家直 Iizasa Chōi-sai Ienao, c.1387–c.1488) was a respected spearman and swordsman whose daimyo was deposed, encouraging him to relinquish control of his household to conduct purification rituals and study martial arts in isolation.

Born in the village of Iizasa in Shimōsa Province he moved when young to the vicinity of the famous Katori Shrine, a venerable Shinto institution northeast of Tokyo in what is today's Chiba Prefecture. The Katori Shrine enjoys a considerable martial reputation; the Shrine's Kami, Futsunushi 経津主神 (Futsunushi no kami) being revered as a spirit of swordsmanship and martial arts.

After studying swordsmanship he went to Kyoto, where, according to most authorities, he was employed in his youth by the eighth Muromachi shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436–1490), a devotee of the martial arts. Iizasa was later known as Yamashiro no kami (governor of Yamashiro Province) in accordance with a practice of Muromachi times whereby noted warriors took old court titles. Still later in life Iizasa became a Buddhist lay monk and was known as Chōi-sai, 'sai' being a character that many noted swordsmen chose for their sword name.

When Chōi-sai returned home he offered prayers to the deities of both Katori Shrine and Kashima Shrine, the latter a famous local shrine in nearby Tochigi Prefecture where shrine officials themselves reputedly practised a form of swordsmanship, called 'hitotsu no tachi' (the solitary sword). Even today the Kashima Shrine training hall attracts kendo practitioners from around the world, and the chief object of interest for visitors is the shrine's sacred sword. Supplementing his considerable skills with assorted weaponry, Chōi-sai was also an expert in Musō Jikiden ryū yawaragi, holding the position of seventh headmaster in the history of that ryū. [notes 2]

Legend says at the age of 60 Chōi-sai spent 1000 days in Katori Shrine practising martial techniques day and night, until the kami of the shrine, Futsunushi no Mikoto (経津主之命), appeared to him in a dream and handed down the secrets of martial strategy in a scroll named Mokuroku Heiho no Shinsho. He called his swordsmanship style derived from this miraculous dream the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, the "Heavenly True, Correctly Transmitted Style of the Way of the God of Katori".

This legend is typical of martial arts ryūha and other cultural forms as well. Ryūha founders often attributed their mastery to magical teachings transmitted by Shinto or Buddhist deities, by long-dead historical figures like Minamoto no Yoshitsune, or by legendary supernatural creatures like the 'tengu', a Japanese goblin commonly depicted with a long red nose. Ienao died in 1488 at the age of 102.

Iizasa's Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, thus presumably linked to the sacred tradition of both Katori and Kashima Shrines, was transmitted through his own family.

Recent history

Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū is the source tradition of many Japanese martial arts. Several famous swordsmen (including Tsukahara Bokuden and Matsumoto Bizen no kami Masanobu) who learned directly from Chōi-sai or his immediate followers became founders of their own schools, with either the same name (Shintō, written with a variety of other characters) or different names: Kashima Shintō-ryū (Bokuden-ryū), Kashima-ryū, Kashima shin-ryū (founded by Matsumoto), Arima-ryū, Ichiu-ryū, Shigen-ryū, and others.

As such in 1960 the school received the first ever "Intangible Cultural Asset" designation given to a martial art. [2] It claims to have never aligned itself with any estate or faction, no matter what stipend was offered. This allowed the ryū to maintain its independence and integrity.

Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū was popularised in the west by the extensive research and writings of late Donn F. Draeger (1922–1982).

The current (2014), twentieth generation headmaster, is Yasusada Iizasa (飯篠 修理亮 快貞 Iizasa Shūri-no-suke Yasusada). For reasons of health he does not teach his family's system and instead appointed as his current, main representative instructor Risuke Otake who has a personal dojo close to (Narita City, Chiba Prefecture).

Iizasa devised a unique method to ensure warriors could train without serious injury and yet maintain a resemblance to 'riai' (integrity of principle) and combative reality. The weapon training of the ryū, in the form of kata-bujutsu (pre-arranged, combative training drills), illustrates this well. What appears to the outsider as merely a block of the opponent's attacking weapon is, in actuality, only a substitute for the part of the attacker's body intended to be cut or struck. Thus, full impact training could be maintained with safety to the practitioners. Furthermore, while the sword was considered to be the central and most important weapon in the Japanese warrior's arsenal of his era, Iizasa designed the scope of his ryū to include a wide range of weaponry. Thereby, he extended the training of his students to the use of other weapon systems as well, in order to be totally familiar with their capabilities and not be surprised on the battlefield by something unexpectedly different.

The uniqueness of Iizasa's Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū is still evident today, in the particular aspects of weapon-wielding, posture, stance, and foot and body movements which make allowance for the fact that the bushi (classical samurai warriors) of his era would be wearing 'yoroi' (armour) weighing around 35 kg, and fighting on uneven terrain. These factors tend to keep the wearer's feet firmly and flat on the ground, and slow down mobility considerably. The distinctive techniques and tactics of this ryū also acknowledge the design of classical Japanese armour, which, although protecting the wearer well, had many 'suki' (openings). The main attacking areas included: under the wrists; inside and behind the legs; the hip area; the space between the 'kabuto' (helmet) and 'do' (chest protector) where the neck arteries and veins could be easily severed. The signature, 'omote' (basic-battlefield) sword technique of the ryū, 'makiuchi-jodan', was created by Iizasa because the bushi could not raise the sword above the head, due to the obstruction of the kabuto, and secondly, notwithstanding that restriction, a very powerful 'chopping' blow from above was still needed to be generated in order to produce the maximum destructive force for when circumstances dictated attacking areas of the 'yoroi' other than the 'suki'.

Curriculum [3]

The Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū is a comprehensive martial system. This means that unlike modern martial ways such as Kendo or Iaido, which concentrate on one specific area of training, study is made of a broad range of martial skills.

The main emphasis of the school is on Kenjutsu (sword technique). A wide range of other weapons are being taught as part of the curriculum, but the sword remains the central weapon.

The primary curriculum includes:

Arts Forms
Sword arts
Sword combat
4 Forms: Basics of the Sword (表之太刀 Omote no Tachi)
5 Forms: Five Teachings of the Sword (五教之太刀 Gogyō no Tachi)
3 Forms: Seven Essential Articles of the Sword (極意七条之太刀 Gokui Shichijo no Tachi)
Sword drawing
6 Forms: Basics of Sword-Drawing (表之居合 Omote-no Iai)
5 Forms: Standing Sword-Drawing (立合抜刀術 Tachiai Battōjutsu)
5 Forms: Essentials of Sword Drawing (極意之居合 Gokui no Iai)
Two swords
(両刀術 ryōtōjutsu)
4 Forms: Two Swords (両刀 Ryōtō)
Short sword
3 Forms: Essentials of the Short Sword (極意之小太刀 Gokui no Kodachi)
Staff art
6 Forms: Basics of the Staff (表之棒 Omote no Bō)
6 Forms: Five Teachings of the Staff (五教之棒 Gogyō no Bō)
Glaive art
4 Forms: Basics of the Glaive (表之長刀 Omote no Naginata)
3 Forms: Seven Essential Articles of the Glaive (極意七条之長刀 Gokui Shichijo no Naginata)
Spear art
6 Forms: Basics of the Spear (表之槍 Omote no Yari)
2 Forms: Secret forms (Hiden no Yari)
7 Forms: Basics of Spike Throwing (表之手裏剣 Omote no Shuriken)
8 Forms: Five Teachings of Spike Throwing (五教之手裏剣 Gogyō no Shuriken)
9 Forms: Essentials of Spike Throwing (極意之手裏剣 Gokui no Shuriken)
Jujutsu 36 Forms: Essentials of Jujutsu (極意之柔術 Gokui no Jūjutsu)

The Gogyo and Gokui kata are only taught to advanced practitioners after many years of fundamental practice.

Other, more advanced areas of study of the school include:

  • Shinobi (intelligence gathering and analysis)
  • Chikujojutsu (field fortification art)
  • Gunbai-Heihō (strategy and tactics)
  • Tenmon Chirigaku (Chinese astrology and geomantic divination)
  • In-Yo kigaku (philosophical and mystical aspects derived from Mikkyo - specifically the esoteric Shingon school of Buddhism)


Historically, before beginning any training in Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, every prospective pupil had to sign an oath of allegiance to the school. The method was to make keppan (blood oath) in support of the following kisho or kishomon (pledge). This oath was a written one with the prospective member being required to sign his name in his own blood. The applicant would prick or cut a finger or sometimes the inner arm and with the blood drawn, sign the following pledge:[4]

On becoming a member of the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū which has been transmitted by the Great Deity of the Katori Shrine, I herewith affirm my pledge that:
  1. I will not have the impertinence to discuss or demonstrate details of the ryū to either non-members or members, even if they are relatives;
  2. I will not engage in altercations or misuse the art against others;
  3. I will never engage in any kind of gambling nor frequent disreputable places.
  4. I will not cross swords with any followers of other martial traditions without authorization.
I hereby pledge to firmly adhere to each of the above articles. Should I break any of these articles I will submit to the punishment of the Great Deity of Katori and the Great Deity Marishiten. Herewith I solemnly swear and affix my blood seal to this oath to these Great Deities.

Marishiten is originally the Brahman figure of Krishna. In later Chinese Buddhist mythology she became the heavenly queen who lives in one of the stars of the Great Bear. She is mostly depicted with eight arms, two of which are the symbols of the sun and the moon.

Most Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū variants headed by instructors other than Risuke Otake do not require keppan. However, Risuke Otake regards the making of keppan as a strict requirement for all candidates seeking entrance into his school in order to preserve the secrecy and integrity of the ryū's teachings. Even so, students joining his various overseas branches readily receive instruction from the local instructors until such time as they may be able to travel to Otake's dojo to take keppan. Additional opportunities arise should an overseas dojo be visited by one of the school's senior instructors who has been authorised to take keppan from those members wishing so to do. This was the case in 2007, and again in 2009 when Kyoso Shigetoshi, younger son of Risuke Otake, held an open European seminar and existing participants of varying levels of expertise from the different organisations were invited to take keppan.

Notable swordsmen in relation to Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū


  1. ^ 1387 is given as Iizasa's birth year in Deity and the Sword, Vol 1 p. 16-17. Watatani (1967) speculates 1417-1420 is more historically correct.
  2. ^ Yawara or yawaragi is an older term for jūjutsu, unarmed combat, of that period. Contrast with modern jujutsu, yawara was mostly grappling while wearing armour.


  1. ^ Watatani, Kiyoshi (1967). (Zusetsu) Kobudōshi, Tokyo
  2. ^
  3. ^ Otake, Rizuke. 2007. Katori Shinto Ryu: Warrior Tradition. Koryu Books. p 61. ISBN 978-1-890536-21-3
  4. ^ Ōtake, Risuke (2007). Katori Shinto-ryu: Warrior Tradition, Koryu Books. ISBN 978-1-890536-20-6 (A total revamp of The Deity and the Sword, combining all 3 volumes into one re-translated and edited book with additional material. However, with far fewer photographs per kata as compared to the original 3 volumes. Similarly, all the original English explanatory notes and guidelines relating to each of the kata have been removed.)

Further reading

  • Amdur, Ellis (2002). Old School: Essays on Japanese Martial Traditions, Edgework, p. 21-45
  • Draeger, Donn F. The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan series, 3 volumes.
  • Friday, Karl F (1997). Legacies of the Sword, the Kashima-Shinryu and Samurai Martial Culture, University of Hawaii Press, p. 26 & 93, ISBN 0-8248-1847-4
  • Hall, David Avalon. Marishiten: Buddhism and the warrior Goddess, Ph.D. dissertation, Ann Arbor: University microfilms, p. 274-292.
  • Hurst 111, G. Cameron (1998). Armed Martial Arts of Japan, Swordsmanship and Archery, Yale University Press, p. 46-49 & 58, ISBN 0-300-04967-6
  • Mol, Serge (2001). Classical Fighting Arts of Japan, A Complete Guide to Koryu JuJutsu, Kodansha International, p. 43 & 151, ISBN 4-7700-2619-6
  • Otake, Risuke (1977). The Deity and the Sword - Katori Shinto-ryu Vol. 1, Japan, Japan Publications Trading Co. ISBN 0-87040-378-8 (Original Japanese title for all three volumes in this series is Mukei Bunkazai Katori Shinto-ryu)
  • Otake, Risuke (1977). The Deity and the Sword - Katori Shinto-ryu Vol. 2, Japan, Japan Publications Trading Co. ISBN 0-87040-405-9
  • Otake, Risuke (1977). The Deity and the Sword - Katori Shinto-ryu Vol. 3, Japan, Japan Publications Trading Co. ISBN 0-87040-406-7
  • Ratti, Oscar & Westbrook, Adele (1973). Secrets of the Samurai, A Survey of the Martial Arts of Feudal Japan, Charles E. Tuttle Co. ISBN 0-8048-0917-8
  • Skoss, Diane (editor) (1997). Koryu Bujutsu, Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, Koryu Books, vol 1, ISBN 1-890536-04-0
  • Skoss, Diane (editor) (1999). Sword & Spirit, Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, Koryu Books, vol 2, p. 67-69. ISBN 1-890536-05-9
  • Skoss, Diane (editor) (2002). Keiko Shokon, Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, Koryu Books, vol 3, ISBN 1-890536-06-7
  • Sugino, Yoshio & Ito, Kikue (1977). Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Budo Kyohan (A Textbook of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Martial Training; originally published in 1941).
  • Warner, Gordon & Draeger, Donn F. (1982). Japanese Swordsmanship: Technique And Practice, ISBN 0-8348-0236-8
  • Watatani, Kiyoshi (1967). (Zusetsu) Kobudōshi, Tokyo

External links

  • Official website
  • TSKSR kata in the martial arts encyclopedia
  • Introduction to Tenshinshō-den Katori Shintō Ryū
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