There are few martial artists in history who have been able to influence an entire generation of politicians, military personnel, police, educators, and civilians alike. Who’s student’s (if only for a day) talked about their experiences with him in detail nearly seventy years after his death. The first San-Dou-no-Hanshi () in history. The “God of Kendo” () Nakayama Hakudo.
Nakayama Hakudo was arguably the most influential martial artist in modern history. Many instructors and students around the world claim to have some “connection” to him, having practiced some form or another of his Iaido. Yet, these same people (in Japan and abroad) know little more than his name. Only by looking at his humble origins, ambitions, accomplishments, and outlooks can we come closer to understanding the man and his styles.
Second Generation Headmaster of the Yushinkan Dojo ()
Second Generation Headmaster of Kanto Ha Shindo Munen Ryu Kenjutsu ()
Creator of Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido () and Nakayama no Jo ()
Nakayama Otsuyoshi () was born in in Imae, Komatsu City, Ishikawa Prefecture in 1873, the eighth son of former Maeda clansman Nakayama Gennosho. At the age of five his family moved to Nakacho in Toyama where they opened a small yakitori restaurant located in East Sogawa Merchant Lane. The restaurant was located on the first avenue off of Main Street, and was a modest shop by most accounts. At age eight the young Otsuyoshi came to work in local inn (ryokan: a Japanese traditional inn) called “Toyama Hall” located just two streets over from his family’s yakitori shop.
There in Toyama Hall he worked in the kitchen. As his luck would have it the manager of the inn, one Takazawa Toyoshi (a kind and loving man by all accounts) encouraged the young Otsuyoshi to pursue swordsmanship after seeing the eight year old playing with a bokken (wooden sword) fashioned from a tree branch. At age eleven he gained entrance to Saito Michinori’s dojo of the Yamaguchi Ha Itto Ryu school of swordsmanship in Hoshiicho off Sogawa Lane. The young Otsuyoshi had a busy schedule. In the morning he would travel to Nishi-jubucho where he learned how to read and write at the Ada Kanji Academy (a supplementary school). In the afternoon after school he would go to Michinori’s dojo where he to trained in Yamaguchi Ha Itto Ryu. He then went straight from the dojo to work at the “Toyama Hall.”
Otsuyoshi progressed under his various teachers until a visitor from Tokyo changed his life forever. A swordsman of sizable skill by the name of Hosoda Kenzo took up residence in the “Toyama Hall”. Kenzo, an educator by trade was just transferred to Toyama by The Ministry of Education. He was a member of the Yushinkan Dojo (), a Shindo Munen Ryu school run by Negishi Shingoro. Highly impressed the young Otsuyoshi talked to Kenzo for hours. Kenzo’s stories and insights into swordsmanship left a great impression on the Otsuyoshi, ultimately shaping his entire life.
In 1890 Kenzo handed in his letter of resignation to the Toyama school district and returned to Toyko. His departure left the young Otsuyoshi with many questions. Otsuyoshi felt it was time. He received permission from his family and employer to travel to Tokyo to pursue kenjutsu.
Takazawa was kind enough to escort the young Otsuyoshi to Iwasehama, a small port in Toyama Prefecture. There Otsuyoshi boarded a ship to Naoetsu, Niigata Prefecture. At Naoetsu he boarded a steam ship that sailed to Ueno, Tokyo. It was there on the open Japanese Sea that Otsuyoshi, with the cold sea air on his face remembered the words of Takazawa: “Otsuyoshi, you’ll be a man who other men fall in love with“. These words stuck with Otsuyoshi well into his adulthood.
Otsuyoshi arrived in Tokyo in 1891. There, armed with a letter of introduction from Kenzo, Otsuyoshi was successfully admitted into Shingoro’s Yushinkan at the age of eighteen. Otsuyoshi trained hard, changing his name to Hakudo () at age nineteen. Shingoro encouraged him to study other styles and literature. He tried his hand at various ryu, or schools, sleeping only four hours a day so that he could attend around five-six practices a day.
Hakudo was not perfect, however and had several bad habits to overcome. In shiai geiko Hakudo’s hip rose every time before a strike, telegraphing his intentions to his opponent. In order to correct this Hakudo was forced to wear stones around his waist to improve his center of gravity. To learn to execute suri-ashi in a more effective way, Hakudo was made to wear geta (Japanese wooden sandals) with a loose thread. This allowed him to develop a type of scraping suri-ashi, making his movement harder to see.
Hakudo’s intense dedication paid off and he rapidly advanced through the ranks. In 1906 he fought the bouts that came to define his early career as a swordsmen. At the Dai Nippon Butokusai Enbu Taikai he defeated Ozawa Jiro and Takano Shigeyoshi of the Hokushin Itto Ryu school, Koseki Kiyomasa of the Muhen Ryu school, and Sasaki Masanobu of the Suifu Ryu. At twenty three he received Jun-Menkyo and at twenty-seven was licensed Menkyo, Inkyo. At twenty-eight he was named Daihan or “Acting Headmaster” and was married to Shigoro’s daughter. Thus, Hakudo was adopted into the Negishi family (becoming Negishi Hakudo).
In 1912 Shingoro elected Hakudo to take his place on the committee responsible for creating the Dai Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata. There were several problems, however and both Hakudo and his wife separated from the Negishi Family for personal reasons, rejoining the Hakudo Family. Hakudo then built his own dojo in Masagocho, Hongo ward (present day Bunkyo ward) and was given permission to use the Yushinkan name.
Hakudo was now renowned around Japan for his skill, however this was not enough for him. He traveled across Japan to study various arts like: Itto Shoden Muto Ryu, Ono ha Itto Ryu, Hokushin Itto Ryu, (Toda) Buko Ryu, Nen Ryu, Shinkage Ryu, Musashi Enmei Ryu, Jigen Ryu, Ichiden Ryu, and Ooki-Isshin Ryu. In his search he found two ryu or schools that would effectively change his life forever, Shinto Muso Ryu () and Muso Shinden Eishin Ryu ().
In 1912 Hakudo began training in Shinto Muso Ryu Jojutsu and calligraphy under Uchida Ryogoro at Shiba Park, Tokyo and with Takeda Kohachi at his residence in Kyobashi, Tokyo. He trained very hard, finding his study of the jo to be among the most valuable of his pursuits. Hakudo wrote:
“As a youth I was taught Shinto Muso Ryu by Shihan, Uchida Ryogoro. It was because of this training that I came to understand the Ura or inner methodologies of Kendo. I learned the ins and outs of handling the jo, manipulation of the feet, body mechanics, and other (fundamentals). Even in my Kendo practice I was able (utilize and) cultivate these (Jo) techniques. Thanks to this (integrated) practice I learned a lot. (In the world of martial arts) there are no kata as thoroughly developed as Shinto Muso Ryu Jojutsu’s. I believe Shinto Muso Ryu jojutsu is a national treasure.”
In 1916 Hakudo was introduced to Tosa Eishin Ryu by Itagaki Taisuke (a famous Meiji statesmen and a student of Oe Masamichi). Hakudo had learned Iai before in Shindo Munen Ryu, but felt something was missing. He initially approached Oe Masamichi about training, but was rejected. Taisuke saw Hakudo’s resolve to learn the style, however and introduced Hakudo to Hosokawa Yoshimasa of the Muso Shinden Eishin Ryu school (aka. Shinmomura Ha Hasegawa Eishin Ryu) and Morimoto Tokumi of the Goto Ha Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu school (aka. Tanimura Ha Hasegawa Eishin Ryu). Hakudo was accepted as a student of both teachers, making him the first outsider to learn Tosa Eishin Ryu in history.
Hakudo trained earnestly and in 1920 the Nippon Butokukai awarded Hakudo the title of Hanshi in both Kendo and Iaido. Around this time Hakudo was said to have received Menkyo Kaiden in jojutsu from Uchida Ryogoro prior to his death in 1921 (though this is greatly debated). After receiving his certification Hakudo did something unexpected: he took what he learned and created his own version of Shinto Muso Ryu, commonly referred to as Nakayama-no-Jo, along with a set of five kihon (basic drills). Shimizu Takaji was said to have later incorporated Hakudo’s five kihon into his set of twelve some years later.
In 1922 Hakudo was awarded Menkyo Kaiden in Goto Ha Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu from Tokumi and Menkyo in Muso Shinden Eishin Ryu from Yoshimasa. Contrary to popular belief, however Hakudo did not recieve Menkyo Kaiden from Yoshimasa. Hakudo continued to visit both Yoshimasa and Tokumi in Kochi. During his time there Hakudo trained with Yoshimasa at his house. He maintained a very good relationship with Yoshimasa until his death in 1923.
In 1925 Hakudo was asked by the head fencing instructor of the Rikugun Toyama Academy (a military academy) to assist him in creating a system of Gunto Soho ( ) or methods of manipulating military swords. Hakudo, through his research developed five standing iai kata that made the foundation of the Toyama Ryu Guntojutsu system. In the same year Hakudo supported Noma Seiji in the construction and development of the famed Noma dojo. Noma Dojo became a vessel for men and women of various ryu-ha or schools to test their skills and exchange their ideas with other kenshi. In 1927 at the age of fifty-five he received the rank of Hanshi in Jodo from the Nippon Butokukai.
In 1930 Hakudo was called on by the Butokukai to demonstrate Muso Shinden Eishin Ryu publicly (outside of Kochi) for the first time in history. Hakudo had a problem though: he never recieved Menkyo Kaiden in the system. As such, during the demonstration he presented the art as ”Muso Shinden Ryu Battojutsu” (). This was done to avoid any altercations that might come from him using the school’s name.
In 1933 Hakudo restructured what he learned in Kochi into Muso Shinden Ryu () using the Chinese characters for dream or vision. The Yushinkan once a training hall exclusively for Shindo Munen Ryu and Gekiken under Negishi Shingoro; became a dojo for several martial arts. Students of the Yushinkan (under Hakudo) were selected to learn specific styles. Men like Nakayama Zendo and Hashimoto Toyo learned everything while others like Nakakura Kiyoshi, Danzaki Tomoaki and Nakajima Gozoro learned only Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido and Kendo.
In his time Hakudo had seen the death of stylized Gekiken and the birth of modern Kendo. In 1934 he and his contemporary Takano Sasaburo demonstrated the Dai Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata at the Tenranjiai while Emperor Hirohito watched on. Both Hakudo and Takano were highly commended for their performances.
Kendo gained popularity and Hakudo along with Takano Sasaburo became among (if not) the most requested teachers in Japan. They traveled the country teaching at universities, police stations, military bases, Japanese Government installations, and even the Imperial Palace. Hakudo’s students ran into the tens of thousands. In fact over two thirds of those who held the rank of kyoshi with the Nippon Butokukai had studied with Hakudo to some effect.
World War II was a desperate time for Japan. The proud Japanese Military was being pushed back by Allied Forces. Japan had now become a target to American firebombing. Japanese buildings largely made of wood and built in close proximity to other residences became mere kindle for Allied bombs. Tokyo and other cities were decimated. This accompanied by the destruction Hiroshima and Nagasaki via Atomic Weapons brought about Japan’s formal surrender on September 2nd, 1945. Hakudo was quick to use his influence, using the Japanese idiom “a samurai never talks (bad mouths) about what is finished” Hakudo asked people to meet their American occupiers with dignity.
“In fencing we call ‘ohen‘ () the spirit or ability to adapt one’s self to the change. What this means is in a condition where after understanding and acknowledging the natural tide of affairs (what has happened), all past ambitions (or goals) must be given up. In doing so one can reach the state of nothingness. This requires noble heart. It (nothingness) is the ultimate goal of fencing. We must meet the Allied Army with such a spirit. Yesterday they were our enemies, but today they are not. If we fail not to think of them as enemies, then it cannot be said that we (the Japanese) truly understand Bushido. If there is even the smallest feeling of ill will remaining in our hearts and if we cannot take a broader outlook, it will to show in our faces and attitude, giving reason for them (Allied soldiers) to think of us as cowardly. I am of the personal belief that the greatness of a nation lies in its open-mindedness.”
The end of the war brought on many hardships. In an effort to pacify the Japanese people Japanese martial arts were banned. This brought Hakudo in cooperation with his compatriots to fight for the right to practice martial arts in Japan. Eventually through the help of Sasamori Junzo, Kuroda Yasuji, and Kunii Zenya the ban on martial arts as a whole was eventually lifted. Japanese could practice martial arts again.
Hakudo’s victory brought about harsh realities however. Many of his most dedicated students died in the war, with even fewer of the surviving returned to train. Budo fell into decline. Hakudo felt a change was needed.
Hakudo restructured Muso Shinden Ryu for the general populous. The attempt was to reduce the aggressive nature of the kata and emphasize the more spiritual side of the ryu. Certain aspects of the kata were changed to reflect this. Omori Ryu’s Gyakuto for example, pre-war ended with stabbing the teki in the back of the head. Hakudo later changed the stab into Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu’s todome, which was considered a more merciful coup de grâce.
(*Authors note* the Pre-War Gyakuto Todome was done far differently than what most iaido-ka do it today. The sword was raised high in the air and caught on the mune of the blade with the middle finger. Then after flattening the palm against back of the blade, it was thrust into the part of the head where the spine meets the skull [US. Marine Scout Snipers were taught to shoot the same spot]. The Yushinkan preserved this method).
Hakudo did have several regrets. In his Kendo Koshutsujyu () or Collection of Oral dictations on Kendo, Hakudo talked about his regret over a style he kept in secrecy from most of his students. The style of Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto no Shigenobu.
Hakudo intended all of his serious students to learn all of his arts. Only those students who pursued and progress in all of Hakudo’s arts had access to what Hakudo called Hayashizaki Hon Ryu () or the real teachings of Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu. According to Hakudo only nine people learned the first inner tier of the school; they were:
Otuska Iwao (Menkyo)
Hasegawa Minoshiro (Menkyo)
Ohayashi Jungo (Menkyo)
Sakonji Tadaichi (Menkyo)
Nakayama Zendo (Menkyo)
Aoki Eizou (Menkyo)
Hashimoto Toyo (Menkyo)
Mukuta Kozou (Menkyo)
Suhara Sugematsu (Menkyo)
Hakudo added that only four individuals surpassed them by learning all the kata and in effect achieving Menkyo Kaiden, their names were:
Nakayama Zendo (Menkyo Kaiden)
Hashimoto Toyo (Menkyo Kaiden)
Mukuta Kozou (Menkyo Kaiden)
Sakonji Tadaichi (Menkyo Kaiden)
Hakudo said, it was his intention to teach the Hayashizaki Hon Ryu () school more, but by the end of the war he lacked the proper time and suitable candidates to do so.
This is not to say that Hakudo did not foster or teach his other students. Less than a handful of outstanding students ever received any traditional ranking (ie. Densho) from Hakudo. The most notable of them were perhaps Matsuo Kenpu and Kimura Eijyu, who received Menkyo Kaiden in Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido ().
The man called “The Last (True) Martial Artist” () died in 1958 at the age of eighty-five. Hakudo was survived by his son Nakayama Zendo to whom he passed all of his knowledge onto.
Hakudo demonstrating proper striking
Hakudo demonstrates proper kiriotoshi
Takano Sasaburo (left) and Nakayama Hakudo (right) during andemonstration of the Dai Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata at Noma Dojo
Hakudo in bogu while in seiza
Hakudo demonstrating proper Nukitsuke
Hakudo demonstrates the kata Junto
Nakayama Hakudo (right), Hashimoto Toyo (left), HasegawaEishin Ryu: Oroshi
Special Thanks to: Richard Stonell .