The Iaido Journal  Sept 2010
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Through the Mists of Time 7

copyright 2010 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved.

In this series of articles, we examine parts of Master Yoshio Sugino’s seminal book Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Budo Kyohan (A Textbook of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Martial Training), published in Japan in 1941.

In this passage, Sugino Sensei tells us about the history of Katori Shinto Ryu.

The Emperor’s True Tradition KATORI SHINTO RYU (gods way) Warrior’s Law

Emperor’s tradition, Katori Shinto Ryu, IZASA IGAMORI IENAOKO is the founder.

From the time of MIHANAZONO TENNO (Emperor Hanazono) to today (SHOWA reign), in Chiba prefecture SHIMOSA NO KUNI (place name), Katori’s land, the tradition of budo exists.

IZASA KE (family’s name) is, generation after generation, in SHIMOSA NO KUNI (place name), the regional leader.

IENAOKO, in MIKAMEYAMA TENNO (Emperor Kameyama) emperor’s reign’s 4th year, 2047 years from the coming of the sun goddess (Shinto calendar), in Katori region IZASA village was born.

From today, this was 554 years ago. In Katori’s land, this old time style’s name did not exist.

The house of the warrior’s law, the house of BU JUTSU (martial arts) was called, this family, generation to generation, these martial arts send out.

The founder, from childhood, liked sword and spear arts, earnestly liked and studied. Also army studies he studied.

When a youth (30’s), warrior arts, greatly and maturely, many times went to fight and not once was beaten.

In 4 neighbourhoods, the brave art’s name reached out. He had, in IZASA’s countryside, house and castles built in SHIRAII, HAPPON, OKON, OSAKI (place names) and around there.

He had, as the lord, the founding family’s place in CHIBA, destroyed for going against the SHOGUN. One important BUDO family was destroyed by the SHOGUN.

Six villages of people perished or were cast away. Confronted with this situation, IENAOKO was hurt, sad, and moved.

We many times fight and never lost, though they said CHIBA family’s war luck was childishly destroyed.

This human power cannot be changed by human power. But his despair changed over time.

At this time, he was the source, morning, war, brave founder and KATORI’s great gods’ deep tradition asked for this god’s virtue’s great enlightenment.

After this, he went up to KATORI’s shrine, and made up his mind to do nothing but severe BUDO training. After this, to KATORI’s shrine, he gave the vast land of OSAKI village, MIYAMOTO village was built in the temple’s name, OTSUKI GO (place name) as temple’s land, a vast land was offered. He himself had about 50 people as servants, who he laid off without land.

He was about 64 years old when in the shrine near UMEKISAN HUDANSHO (place name), inside the gate building (near the grave of CHOISAI-sensei), he locked himself inside for 1000 days and nights.

He made a great wish, practiced pouring on cold water in winter austerities, earnestly practiced warrior’s law.

He polished and trained every night until 10pm. Every night he stepped in front of the gods and to many gods, he sang a celebration song. He prayed for world peace and at 11pm, he returned to the gate building and read religious books.

In early morning, again he went in front of the gods and crashing bones’ training did for 1000 days.

One night, in his dreams, a great god from the god’s book volume one, gave to him the words, “You, later, will be a teacher of every sword,” so he was told.

Finally, he gained the god/person becoming one secret enlightenment. Furthermore, the warrior’s law secret, he opened.

War arts extremely he learned, truly he was 70 autumns old. In this way, warrior’s law, 100 KAJO (forms) DOJO SHINPUKUJIN (place name) stood in front of the gate.

After a while, many students, teaching well and leading, advanced in technique.

Originally, this way had the name KEITSU SHUSHIN NO SHODEN (“KEITSU’s leading god’s correct tradition”). It is said that it was privately called TENSHIN SHODEN SHINTO RYU.

When he reached 80 years old, he had a stout frame and could move quickly. It was as if the knowledgeable spirit gods’ precious sword sacred state of mind was present.

The gods left him (he died) in the 2nd year of SHO KYO (a period) on the 15th day of the 4th month at the amazing age of 102 years old.”

Sugino Yoshio
The 16th Year of Shōwa
Chiba-ken, Katori-gun, Katori-cho

Extract from:
Sugino Yoshio & Ito Kikue (1941). Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Budo Kyohan.

Author’s Post-Script:

Wonderful stuff here. Epic and moving and a little fantastical but all good grist for the imagination.

“When a youth (30’s), warrior arts, greatly and maturely, many times went to fight and not once was beaten.” 

This sentence is interesting. A person still in his thirties would be considered a youth. But for Sugino Sensei, who lived to the age of 94, I suppose 30 years old to him would be considered young! In olden times in Japan, a person was not considered as mature until they reached 40 years old. A swordsman was said to be at his peak (in terms of skill and maturity) when he reached 40 years old.

Even in modern day Japan, a man is not considered a man until he has children. Before children, he is still considered to be a boy. He is carefree, without serious responsibilities or commitments. Free to do as he wishes, not accountable. He can come and go as his whims dictate.

With the responsibility of taking care of dependents (not only his own family but extended family as well - parents, in-laws, etc…) and providing for their needs, however, comes maturity. The measure of a man is how he handles responsibility, duty. Like a king, how does he wield power and authority? Does he wield it justly or does he abuse it? Does he become easily embroiled in petty squabbles and his own selfish concerns? Or can he rise above it all and lead effectively?

Let’s recall an old discussion of ours:

“This code is said to have emphasized virtues such as loyalty, honor, obedience, duty, filial piety, and self-sacrifice.” - Source:

Very compelling. Duty and self-sacrifice. In today’s world, these are rare concepts. Doing one’s duty is doing what should rightfully and morally be done. What is my duty as a parent? What is my duty towards my parents? What is my duty towards my students? This is thinking of others.

Self-sacrifice is giving of yourself. Maybe without pay or reward. For the responsible parents out there, they know exactly what I am talking about. Sacrificing your time and energy for your kids, without any pay or reward. You give and you give and you give.

“If there be any truer measure of a man than by what he does, it must be by what he gives." - Robert South English Churchman (1634 – 1716)

But with the responsibility comes pressure and stress. Can he handle the pressure of this burden of responsibility or does he crumble? It reminds me of an old quote from a very famous and courageous leader:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” -Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (1963) US black civil rights leader & clergyman (1929 - 1968)

What it means to be a man in Hollywood’s version is if you can kill the bad guy and win the girl in the end. In Japanese thinking however, it is how mature you are. How you handle responsibility and duty. How you deal with adversity. How tough are you, in spirit? Yet, how giving are you? How magnanimous?

That, in old Japanese thinking, is the true measure of a man.

After this, he went up to KATORI’s shrine,”

The Katori Shrine is the local shrine in the area where the founder lived, namely the Katori District of old Shimosa province (modern-day Chiba prefecture).

For more information on the Katori Shrine, see: Katori Shrine For tourist information on the shrine, see: Video travel guide of Katori Shrine In Japanese, see: katori jingu

“ ‘You, later, will be a teacher of every sword,’ so he was told.”

It is curious that this prophecy would become so very true. Later styles that were influenced by Katori Shinto Ryu include: Shinkage Ryu, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, Shintō Musō Ryu, and Kashima Shintō Ryu, among others.

“… he went in front of the gods and crashing bones’ training did for 1000 days.” About 3 years of intensive training.

It was as if the knowledgeable spirit gods’ precious sword sacred state of mind was present.”

Reminds me of the concept of “shu-ha-ri” where “ri” is transcendence, when one achieves such mastery over the form that the techniques and movements are natural and a part of him without any conscious effort. The practitioner has transcended the forms.

For more information on this concept, see: Shu-ha-ri For a great description of this concept, see this site: The Meaning of Shu-ha-ri

One night, in his dreams, a great god… gave to him the words…”

The god in question is Futsunushi no kami, god of fire and lighting and god of war. Futsunushi no kami is a general of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. Futsunushi no kami is the patron deity of the Katori Shrine.

Finally, he gained the god/person becoming one secret enlightenment.”

It was as if the knowledgeable spirit gods’ precious sword sacred state of mind was present.”

The gods left him…”

In other words, he became imbued with the god’s spirit. According to tradition, he was taught (or given) the secrets of Futsunushi no kami’s swordsmanship. Hence the words “the secret enlightenment.” That is why this sword style is considered to be not human (i.e., not of human origin) but heavenly. And for those who have some experience with the style, it has a lot of really unique techniques and movements and philosophies that are not found in any other Japanese sword style. Granted all styles are unique in their own way.

However, some say that Katori Shinto Ryu is the most complex and sophisticated of the sword styles, containing a lot of intricate swordplay and body movement in its kata. Difficult to learn. Like the Ph.D. of sword arts.

Finally, the words Katori Shinto Ryu mean “The Style of the God of Katori’s Way.” In other words, Futsunushi no kami’s Way of swordsmanship. Legend says the founder was possessed by the god’s spirit. Legend says that he received the secrets of the art from a god. In other words, the style is not of this world! It’s heaven-sent.

Of course,… if you believe in that kind of stuff. It really is all a question of faith.

 Mr. Tong can be contacted via email at:

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