History of Hontai Yoshin Ryu
Hontai Yoshin Ryu: 400 years of martial tradition
Takagi Oriemon Sigetoshi is the founder of Hontai Yoshin Ryu.
He was born in 1635, and was the second son of the family who served as lord of the castle Shiroishi, in the Mutsu-no-Kuni region.
Oriemon (nicknamed Ummon) was best known for his powerful physical strength and, remaining in legend, for his victorious fights in the area of Shiroishi territory.
During his young age, his father admonished Oriemon to rely too much on his physical strength and urged him to develop greater competence and elegance in his technique.
So to explain his will to his son, He used the doctrine of Yoboku (weeping willow tree). A doctrine that is simple in itself but with very profound implications – both on the philosophical and on the technical front.
The doctrine explains that:
The willow bends in the wind of the storm remaining strong and unscathed on its roots, while the taller and more rigid trees (Takagi) snap into the storm and brutally break.
The assonance of the surname Takagi, with the word indicating the high tree that breaks – takagi precisely – leads the young Oriemon to identify himself with the image of the broken tree. This upsets him intimately, shaking his soul.
The willow doctrine impacted Oriemon so deeply, that he decided to change his name from Takagi Oriemon to Yoshin Ryu Takagi Oriemon to include the willow philosophy (Yo-Shin) in his lineage.
At that time the philosophy of what would later become the school known as Hontai Yoshin Ryu was outlined.
TAKAGI Umanosuke Shigesada was Oriemon’s successor
It is said he was more than two meters (7 feet) tall and much stronger than Oriemon.
He came from a peasant family in the area of Huga-no-Kuni, which served the Mori family in Mimasaka-no-Kuni and, although they shared the same family name, Oriemon and Umanosuke were not relatives.
At the age of 16 Umanosuke had already learned all the secrets in the Martial Arts that his master handed down to him, obtaining permission to teach his apprentices.
Some time later Umanosuke challenged TAKEUCHI Hisakatsu who was Takeuchi Ryu’s second founder (or Takenouchi Ryu) – another version states that the challenged was Takeuchi Ryu’s third School Head, TAKEUCHI Hisayoshi.
In any case, the outcome of the meeting was disastrous for Umanosuke, who understood that his martial knowledge was not yet complete. So with newfound humility, he began to study Tekeuchi Ryu, eventually becoming a skillful teacher with permission to teach.
During this experience, Unmanosuke refined his techniques and improved in his renewed martial skills and understood that to overwhelm the opponent it is not necessary to have a powerful body or great physical strength, but it is necessary to develop: Technical skill, Flexibility and Readiness.
This art was later called Hontai Yoshin Ryu Takagi Ryu
TAKAGI Gennoshin Hideshige: the 3rd Successor
Son of Umanosuke, he served the lord of Himeji Castle in Harima no Kuni as a weapons master.
His house (following the historical map of Himeji) was placed in the back, just behind the housing area of the lord of the castle. The safest, protected and unreachable area in the event of a sudden attack.
In addition, for his services, he received a salary of as many as 500 koku of rice – as documented by a payment order kept in the castle. A very high sum for the standards of the time.
These privileges acknowledged to Gennoshin testify to how skilled he was in his art and how highly respected he was by the lord of Himeji.
The 4th Soke was Okuni Kihei Shigenobu
He was originally the teacher of Tendo Ryu Naginata Jutsu and one day, while he was praying to the ancestral spirits, he had a mystical vision in which nine evil spirits (Oni) attacked him without warning.
During the fight the demons broke his naginata, leaving only the wooden support in his hand – a kind of long blade-less stick.
Kihei, with the remaining piece, managed to beat the demons, killing all nine evil spirits and remaining miraculously unharmed.
From that spiritual view, Kihei developed the techniques of bojutsu (long stick) which he called Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu. The meaning of Kuki is precisely “nine spirits”.
Later, Kihei clashed with Takagi Gennoshin (3rd Soke of the Hontai Yoshin Ryu). During the battle, Khiei found that the opponent’s abilities were technically more efficient and stronger than his.
Later the two became friends training together until Gennoshin proposed to Kihei to become the 4th successor of Hontai Yoshin Ryu Takagi Ryu.
Khiei accepted with honor and integrated into the martial curriculum of the Hontai Yoshin Ryu the techniques of Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu that he had elaborated and perfected since the time of his mystical vision.
Given that Kihei was the teacher of the lord of Ako the Hontai Yoshin Ryu Takagi Ryu school (with the Kukishin Ryu insert) was inherited by the Okuni family and the Nakayama family – arrived at the twentieth generation within the Ako region.
At that time the techniques and specialties of the Hontai Yoshin Ryu began to spread and be taught also outside the regions of Ako and Himeji, reaching as far as Owari, Obama and Tosa.
Stable for many generations
From that moment on, the school was handed down from generation to generation – up to the 13th soke – without particularly significant events thanks to the guaranteed stability of the importance of the Okuni and Nakayama families.
Hontai Yoshin Ryu becomes pubblic and spreads rapidly throughout Jappan
The 13th Soke was Yagi Ikugoro Hasayoshi who lost his position as a samurai in the Ako region, becoming a “ronin”, a samurai without a master. So, to survive, he opened a public dojo and started to start many beginners in the study of martial arts.
This event brought the school out of the close private circle of samurai and feudal lords, laying the foundations for the great diffusion that took place in a few years.
One of his first apprentices was ISHIYA Takeo Masatsugu who distinguished himself for his remarkable fighting skills. His learning speed and the skills he developed in the following years impressed Soke Yagi, who later named ISHIYA Takeo Masatsugu 14th Soke of the school.
Soke ISHITA, opened many Dojos in as many regions of Japan and combined the already extensive curriculum of the school, including his personal techniques developed during his apprenticeship at the 13th Soke – which he called Ishiya-den.
Since its beginnings Hontai Yoshin Ryu absorbed technical skills from many different schools – Takenouchi Ryu, Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu, and also from Sojutsu (long spear) of Takagi Ryu and Mikan Ryu – expanding and perfecting more and more their martial curriculum.
Today Hontai Yoshin Ryu is one of the very few (if not the only) Koryu (ancient school) of Ju Jutsu recognized by the Nihon Kobudo Kiokai, to have developed, perfected and integrated in its curriculum a complete set of abilities that include – beyond hand-to-hand combat – even the use of traditional weapons like the Bo, the Hanbo, the Kodachi and the Katana
The School’s Curriculum keeps on expanding and perfectioning
Kakuno Happeieta Masayoshi – who became the 16th Soke – was already a student of the 14th Soke Matsutaro.
He left his home at a very young age and opened a dojo in Nigata-ku – a district of the city of Kobe – where he accepted many new apprentices by starting them rigorously in the study of martial arts.
Kakuno, was the master who most of all worked for the dissemination and enrichment of the technical skills of the school. In fact in that same period, he reviewed the technical background of the school, perfecting it and enriching it with techniques and applications of his personal style.
He is responsible for the idea and the beginning of the study of the kata against knife attack, known as Tanto Dori.
Soke Kakuno never managed to finish formalizing the Tanto Dori because of his advanced age, so when he named Minaki Saburo Masanori 17th Soke of the school, he asked him to continue his work formalizing and making this Kata “operational”.
With Soke Minaki Hontai Yoshin Ryu enters the modern era
Also known as Kosyu, Minaki was born in the 39th year of the Meiji era – 1906.
In 1922 he came into contact with Soke Kakuno and entered the school which was then known by the name of Hontai Yoshin Ryu Takagi Ryu.
He was considered one of the best students in the school. He enjoyed the esteem and appreciation of Soke Kakuno who chose him as his successor.
Many episodes speak of his ability to break river stones with a slash of his hand.
Soke Kakunno’s esteem for Minaki was mutual. They traveled together throughout Japan demonstrating the school techniques in each dojo they encountered and were very active in introducing the school into public.
In the 14th year of the Showa era (1929) when his Master Kakuno died, Minaki returned to Kobe to take a pause for reflection.
He completed his chiropractor / acupuncturist studies and was authorized to become independent in 1933 when he opened a bone-setting clinic (physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy).
While in Kobe Minaki began to practice Fumon no Taki – meditation under the waterfall – on the Maya mountain. This work led him to sharpen his spirit, but also to deepen his understanding of his techniques.
He spent much of his time studying, analyzing and organizing all the work done by his Master over the years, refining and enriching the most important skills of the school and codifying them in precise techniques.
Master Kakuno, in fact, structured the various techniques and specialties of the school, in the guidelines of those who would later become the kata of Hontai Yoshin Ryu. Minaki completed the master’s ambitious work bringing to light the current coding of some Kata – Gyaku, Oku and Nage no Kata and Tanto Dori.
The last “true samurai” of our times
Minaki’s exploits as a fighter are known throughout Japan.
In the period of the Second World War and throughout the post-war period Minaki became very famous for the fights and the amazing stories – halfway between legend and reality – that were spread on his behalf.
It is said that at that time, in order to survive the difficult living conditions, Minaki joined with … a skilled sword master, and … whose specialty was long stick fighting.
Combined with Minaki’s amazing abilities in fighting bare-handed and with the hambo, the three were able to face (and beat) all the major martial disciplines known in Japan.
Together they traveled to Japan challenging the dojo owners they met on their way to a duel.
The meetings were held according to the martial tradition: the best student of the dojo against one of the three challengers – who alternated according to the discipline practiced by the challenged dojo.
After each victory, the defeated dojo paid a large sum of money to keep the outcome of the battle secret and avoid repercussions on the image and enrollment of the students.
Soon the shameless feats of the three went around Japan.
Their fame preceded them and in a short time, the clashes were directly replaced by the offer of money, giving them the opportunity to stay in the dojo until departure.
The many legends handed down feed themselves and even if they cannot be officially documented – given the turbulent historical period we are talking about – they have contributed to making Hontai Yoshin Ryu a school known throughout Japan.
The division: from Hontai Takagi Yoshin Ryu two parallel branches from the same common roots.
During the years when Minaki studied alongside Soke Kakuno, TSUTSUI Tomotaro Yoshina was also introduced into the school and with him, Minaki worked from day to day helping him to hone his skills.
It is assumed that TSUTSUI Tomotaro Yoshina was the nephew of the 15th Soke ISHIYA Matsutaru Masaharu (the eldest son of the married daughter).
Soke ISHIYA, during his life he had only daughters and when it was time to name one of his successors, he opted for his most deserving pupil – Kakuno – breaking the bloodline of his descendants.
Passing the reins of the school to another genealogy was common practice in the absence of a male firstborn and did not present any problem – if not of a sentimental nature – and the master Kakuno, although honored, was aware of the situation.
The years passed and Kakuno appointed Minaki as head of the school, who when he heard about the story of Tsutsui Tomotaro, spontaneously renounced Sokeni in favor of Tsutsui by returning the school to the original lineage before soke Kakuno.
But things did not please the Nihon Kobudo Kiokai (back then a young constitution) who did not want to lose the contribution of such a skilled, capable and famous man as Minaki Saburo.
Thus it was decided that both – Tsutsui Tomotaro and Saburo Minaki – would become soke and Hontai Takagi Yoshin Ryu was split into two distinct branches, but joined by common roots dividing the inheritance of the name: on one side remained the TAKAGI RYU, and on the other the HONTAI YOSHI RYU
Tsutsui Tomotaro was declared the successor of Takagi Ryu and Minaki Soke of Hontai Yoshin Ryu.
Today these two ramifications have moved apart without sharing any relationship, except during some formal occasion during public demonstrations.
The rumors and gossip surrounding the relations between the two schools are often put around by self-styled masters who would like to exploit the confusion generated by the divison for their own personal ends, trying to attribute themselves merits and degrees that in reality have no truth.
The truth linked to the division is this: the Takagi Ryu preserves the “formal” heritage of the school (over 500 ancient Kata that have fallen into disuse since the second half of the 18th century), while the Hontai Yoshin Ryu preserves the technical heritage witnessed by the continuous improvements and additions to the sokes that have followed.
The proof of this lies in Omote no Kata which – despite being the only kata in common between the two schools – presents marked differences in style in the execution made by the two branches: one more focused on the beauty of the form, the other more oriented to the effectiveness of the technique.
Soke Minaki worked hard and decisively to pass on the true essence of Hontai Yoshin Ryu
From that moment the school began to grow with great progression.
Through his pupils, Minaki taught that Budo without the spirit of Buddha is a heresy: it is necessary to correct one’s heart by eradicating anger, envy, pride while cultivating courage, righteousness and wisdom.
Minaki Saburo Masanori - 17th Soke Hontai Yoshin Ryu
Budo development requires passion and creativity. Having a good heart, living honestly and walking on the road to truth is the way to reach the essence of the true Budo. Otherwise it falls into ruins in the arms of the devil. [/ Pullquote]
Over the years Minaki trained a large group of students, bringing several to technical excellence. In this group there was also INOUE Tsuyoshi and his son Kyoichi (the future 18th and 19th Sokes).
The two were first students of Kanazawa Ichiro, an extraordinary teacher who was among the best students of the 16th Soke Kakuno Hachieita (along with Minaki).
Kanazawa, having noticed the amazing skill of the two Inoues, decided that he had nothing else to transmit to them and addressed them to Soke Minaki’s dojo to continue their martial training.
Minaki was an old man at that time, but his appearance masked an unparalleled strength of spirit which, combined with his superfine technique, made him one of the greatest masters of his time.
The Inoue family was impressed and the technique of Minaki and in particular the younger of the two – Kyoichi – adopted him as a model, committing himself beyond all limits to understand the secrets of his incomparable talent.
According to his words:
Minaki Sensei was a tiger disguised as a cat … his gentle, gentle and courteous appearance hid a demon of hell that emerged brutally during the battle and then quickly disappeared soon after … in the decisive moment his eyes changed, as if they blazed, only to return kind and compassionate a moment later
The formation of the Inoue family at Minaki’s Dojo continues for several years until in 1971 (year 46 of the Showa era) Inoue Tsuyoshi received total freedom to teach, becoming independent.
Minaki handed over all his most precious teachings to the INOUE family, which continues today to pass them on to new generations of students, with passion and integrity.
INOUE Tsuyoshi Munetoshi has integrated his technical background also practicing some modern Budo arts (Gendai Budo) such as Judo (of which he was 9th Dan) Kendo and Jukendo, in which he excelled becoming a member of the No. 1 team in Japan and earning 2nd place in the national championship for individual matches.
But his interests were not limited to modern Budo and also span in the ancient arts (Kobudo) becoming over the years also master of Iai-do, Sojutsu and other arts in ancient Budo.
In 1982 Soke Minaki handed over the reins of the School to INOUE Tsuyoshi Munetoshi who became the 18th Soke of Hontai Yoshin Ryu.
During the ceremony of passing the title of Soke, Inoue Tsuyoshi received an ancient sword that was in possession of the school since the 13th Soke Yagi Ikugoro.
This represents the treasure of descent and symbolizes the passage of the enormous technical / martial heritage of the school to the following generations.
The fulcrum of the ceremony is in fact the oath of the “new” Soke that, taking possession of the sword, promises in the presence of the old soke – and the ancestor generations – to protect it, respect it and keep it inside the school.
After the death of Master Minaki, his successor continued to devote energy and efforts to pass on the culture of Budo and the values of Hontai Yoshin Ryu to future generations.
Tenacious scholar and sword master, Soke Inoue officially reintegrates the Iai-jutsu study into the school’s curriculum by extending it with several sword kata both standing and kneeling.
Constantly committed to developing the techniques and evolving the school, his dissemination activity was not limited to Japan, opening the door to the West and reaching Europe, Australia and America.
Soke Inoue will be remembered in history as the one who first brought Hontai Yoshin Ryu out of Japanese national borders and started spreading it worldwide.
In 1980, Sensei Stelvio Sciutto came into contact with the school and in 1983 was hosted in the Japanese Sohonbu Dojo. From that moment on, he became a part of the Family and cemented the friendship with Kyoichi, the eldest son of Soke Inoue – with whom he shares his year and month of birth – and began to share Soke Inoue’s dreams of expansion, helping him to further spread the school in Italy and in Europe.
On 16 January 2005 INOUE Tsuyoshi Munetoshi with the same ceremony that has been handed down for 19 generations, passed on his legacy to the Son Kyoichi who by adding to his name that of Munenori, became the 19th Soke of Hontai Yoshin Ryu and will lead the school in the new millennium.