Tennen Rishin Ryu


We could translate Tennen Rishin Ryū as “school (Ryū) of the natural (Tennen) comprehension (Ri) of the spirit (Shin)”. “Without going against nature, we will take the heaven as the model and conform to the earth”. By doing this, the principles of the sword (called kenri) will be achieved.

The Tennen Rishin Ryū is a Japanese traditional swordsmanship school, codified during the Kansei Era (1789-1801) by Kondō Kuranosuke Nagahiro (or Nagamichi). There is limited information in regards to him: he came from Tōtōmi Province (today’s western Shizuoka Prefecture), but we do not know when he was born. He visited many provinces for his musha shugyō, eventually becoming a member of the Kashima Shintō Ryū. Even though he would have most likely been appointed as a teacher of this style, he left the Shintō Ryū aiming to create a new sword based combat system. In fact, during those years the Japanese swordsmanship gradually evolved from the rigid katageiko (form practice performed with either bokutō or with dull-edged swords called habiki) towards a free practice called shinaigeiko (also known as gekiken). This kind of training allowed two practitioners to spar without the risk of severe injury thanks to bamboo swords (shinai) and armors protecting the head (men), the arm (kote), and the torso (). With some exceptions, the popular gekiken of the second half of Edo period was quite similar to modern Kendō.

Kuranosuke organized all his martial arts knowledge into a new system of teaching and transmission; for this reason, even if codified during the Edo period, Tennen Rishin Ryū could be listed among new schools called shin ryūha. This was a breaking point between koryū (old schools) and gendai budō (martial arts developed after the Meiji Restoration). He created his own school by synthesizing an actual sword fight every occasion, sticking to a fencing style whose last goal was to obtain full victory without losing composure in front of an enemy. At the end of his musha shugyō Kuranosuke went to Edo. While he was establishing a dōjō in Yagenbori he most likely went to teach in the Sagami area (today’s Kanagawa Prefecture) and Tama area (western part of Tōkyō). Since Tama was the birthplace of 2nd generation (Kondō Sansuke), 3rd generation (Kondō Shūsuke) and 4th generation (Kondō Isamu) headmasters, there is little doubt that this actually happened. Kuranosuke died in the 4th year of Bunka Era (1807).

Tennen Rishin Ryū became quite popular during the Edo under the leadership of the 3rd generation headmaster, Kondō Shūsuke (sandaime). Within the dōjō, he was running at Ichigaya Yanagichō (the Shieikan), where some of the most talented swordsmen of the Bakumatsu period practiced. The school recorded the highest level of popularity with his son, Kondō Isamu. After having inherited the title of 4th generation headmaster (yondaime) during the 2nd year of Man’en (1861), he became the commander of the Shinsengumi two years later. This was a special police corps established by the Bakufu (the Tokugawa military government) in the 3rd year of Bunkyū (1863), noted for its bloody suppression of antigovernment activity in Kyōto. Four of the thirteen core members of the Shinsengumi were Tennen Rishin Ryū practitioners: Kondō Isamu himself, Hijikata Toshizō (vice commander), Okita Sōji (captain of the first unit) and Inoue Genzaburō (captain of the sixth unit). The other four were guests (shokkaku) at the Shieikan and friends with Kondō: Yamanami Keisuke (Hokushin Ittō Ryū, general secretary of the corps), Nagakura Shinpachi (Shindō Munen Ryū, captain of the second unit), Tōdō Heisuke (Hokushin Ittō Ryū, captain of the eighth unit) and Harada Sanosuke (Hōzōin Ryū, captain of the tenth unit).

The Shinsengumi ceased to exist after the 2nd year of Meiji (1869), with the end of the Boshin War and the collapse of Bakufu. It is commonly believed that the Boshin War marked the end of Tennen Rishin Ryū since Kondō Isamu was sentenced to death and beheaded in Itabashi, Okita Sōji died of tuberculosis, and both Inoue Genzaburō and Hijikata Toshizō died in battle (the first one at Toba-fushimi and the latter in the battle of Goryōkaku). However, this is not historically correct. It was probably a great loss for the Shieikan dōjō, but the tradition survived. There were many teachers of the school at that time, most of them in the Tama area.

Before leaving for Kyōto in the 3rd year of Bunkyū (1863), Kondō Isamu adopted his older brother, Miyagawa Otogorō’s second son, Miyagawa Yūgorō (born in 1851). The boy was supposed to marry Tama, Kondō’s daughter (born in 2nd year of Bunkyū (1862), from a wedding with Matsui Tsune once the girl reached the age to be wed. Even though he did not probably receive any teaching from Kondō, Yūgorō was already practicing Tennen Rishin Ryū with his real father. Miyagwa Otogorō was a pupil of Tennen Rishin Ryū as well, since he joined the school together with his younger brother Katsugorō (the latter Kondō Isamu). After the death of Kondō in the 1st year of Meiji (1868), Yūgorō continued his training under several teachers. He probably studied with Harada Kamezō (son of Harada Chūji, a disciple of Kondō Shūsuke), despite another theory claiming that he was to become a pupil of Matsuzaki Watagorō (eldest son of Matsuzaki Shōsaku, student of the nidai Sansuke). Yūgorō eventually opened his own dōjō in the 9th of Meiji (1876) in Kami-ishihara (Chōfu city), calling it Hatsuunkan. It is said that Yamaoka Tesshū (1836-1888), the founder of Ittō Shōden Mutō Ryū and one of strongest swordsman of Bakumatsu and early Meiji periods, gave this name (translated literally as “the hall where the dark clouds are removed”) upon his arrival. In the 16th year of Meiji (1883), Yūgorō’s first son Hisatarō was born. However, his mother, Tama, died three years later (1886). The bloodline of Kondō Isamu ceased to exist when Hisatarō died in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 at the age of twenty-two.

Yūgorō was remarried with a woman from Kokubunji city, called Tayo. From this union Kondō Shinkichi was born. Kondō Yūgorō eventually divorced from his new wife because she had a bad relationship with Matsui Tsune, the wife of Kondō Isamu and mother of Yūgorō’s wife Tama. The third and the last marriage the godaime contracted was with a girl name Kashi.

Kondō Yūgorō died in the 8th year of Shōwa (1933), aged 83. Under his direction, the Hatsuunkan greatly flourished, gathering thousands of practitioners in the Tama area. At the beginning of Shōwa period he was interviewed by Shimozawa Kan (1892-1968), a writer whose Shinsengumi related books would go to inspire an entire literature genre in regards to the swordsmen corps. In fact, a large portion of Tennen Rishin Ryū’s fame was due to jidai shōsetsu (historical novels).

The best disciple of Kondō Yūgorō, Sakurai Kinpachi, inherited the title of 6th generation headmaster when his teacher was still alive. However, in the 7th year of Shōwa (1932), he was forced to leave the school since he moved to Hokkaidō. The school’s fate was then passed to Yūgorō’s son, Shinkichi, who became the 7th generation headmaster (nanadaime). Shinkichi also served as a Kendō assistant teacher (joshu) for the Keishichō, the police department.

Isuke (student of Yūgorō and Shinkichi), returned from the war to claim the position of headmaster.

Katō Isuke was born in 44th year of Meiji (1911) and began learning Tennen Rishin Ryū under Kondō Yūgorō at the age of ten. From then on, he continued practicing with Shinkichi until he was sent to China during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The Hatsuukan opened again in the 23rd year of Shōwa (1948), three years after the end of the Pacific War. After many years, practitioners would gather with a will to restore the name of the school. This group eventually created the Mitaka Kendō Federation also. In the 33rd year of Shōwa the Kondō Isamu Shiseki Honzonkai (Association for the preservation of the historical sites related to Kondō Isamu) was created. This association would eventually change its name to Tennen Rishin Ryū Monjinkai (Association of Tennen Rishin Ryū practitioners). During the 36th year of Shōwa (1961) two brothers, Hirai Taisuke (born in 1946) and Hirai Masato (born in 1949), joined the school. Within only three years, they became assistant Kendō teachers for the Mitaka Police Department. In 1975, with the Hirai brothers, Katō Isuke began to teach Tennen Rishin Ryū at the Mitaka Budōkan, since the Hatsuunkan was scarcely used anymore (it was rebuilt in 1931).

In the 54° year of Shōwa (1979) the Nihon Kobudō Kyōkai (Japanese Ancient Martial Arts Association) was established. Tennen Rishin Ryū was immediately asked to join with Katō Isuke being recognized as the 8th generation headmaster (hachidaime). From that year onwards the school participated in many martial arts exhibitions (enbu taikai), in both Japan and abroad (including France and Australia).

During the 7th enbu taikai (1985) Katō Isuke received the Kobudō Kōrōsha Hyōshō, the highest, most traditional martial arts decoration award of the Nihon Kobudō Kyōkai due to his efforts directed towards preserving Tennen Rishin Ryū. He would pass away at the age of eighty during the 3th year of Heisei (1991). Throughout his life, he practiced and taught Tennen Rishin Ryū, and would become a Kendō hanshi, as well.

After his teacher’s death, Hirai Taisuke inherited the leadership of the school, becoming the 9th generation headmaster (kyūdaime). In the 9th year of Heisei (1997), he moved the honbu dōjō of the school to the Iguchi Community Center of Mitaka city, near the graveyard where Katō Sensei rests.

Hirai Taisuke led the school for twenty-two years, passing away in October of 2013. He was the first Tennen Rishin Ryū teacher who taught foreign practitioners.

Today his younger brother, Hirai Masato, represents the school as the 10th generation headmaster (jūdaime) among the Nihon Kobudō Kyōkai.

Kato Kyoji is the best and most advanced student of Hirai Taisuke. He is also only one who received Inka licence from Harai Taisuke, which is the highiest and last teaching of Tennen Rishin Ryu. In present time there is nobody except Kato Sensei who has this the highiest licence.

Kato Kyoji after established his own school named Tennen Rishin Ryu Bujutsu Hozonkai.

In Bujutsu Hozonkai we teach Tennen Rishin Ryu in exact way as in past. So that´s why we invite teachers and students from other martial art´s schools and try to inprove our skills each other in Gekkiken.

Koryukai dojo is only one dojo outside of Japan which has status Keikokai Tennen Rishin Ryu Bujutsu Hozonkai and Filip Bartos is only one teacher who has permission to teach Tennen Rishin Ryu outside of Japan.

So that why is great honor for us that we are the only one in the world, who has official authorization to practice and teach this school outside of Japan directly under the guidance of Kato Sensei.

If you are interested in trainings of this unique martial art do not hesitate to contact Filip Bartos – filip@bujin.cz or +420 736 534 469 who regularly studying Tennen Rishin Ryu under the direction of Kato Kyoji – Menkyo Kaiden and Inka. Filip Bartos is also only one official teacher of this school outside of Japan.