This is a reprint of an article I co-wrote that was originally published in Kendo World magazine issue 4.4 in 2009.
The International Budo University in Katsuura, Japan, famous for its one‐year budō program created for foreign exponents, houses a well‐stocked library, a mine of information about martial arts, martial sports and budo. One would find on its shelves a broad variety of books, very old or new, magazines, journals dealing with martial arts, etc., in Japanese, English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, and so on. However, one would have to go to the small library of the Research Department, located on the other side of the university, to find the locker that contains the cherry on the cake: the old Japanese martial schools’ scrolls.
Today, we will have a look into some scrolls from the Bokuden Matsugo Ryū (卜伝 末後流 ), a martial tradition which originated around the late 16th century / beginning of the 17th century. Ishihara Ichibee Yoshiie signed the scrolls in the 4th year of Kan’ei (1627).
Not much is known about Bokuden Matsugo-ryū. This ryūha is now extinct, and to say the least, sources are scarce. Our main reliable one would be Bugei Ryūha Daijiten (綿谷雪 山田忠史『武芸流派大事典』東京、高山本店、1978年), the encyclopedia of Japanese old martial traditions. Nonetheless, the information available on page 764 is patchy:
The entry states that Ishii Bokuoku, who was a direct student of the famous Tsukahara Bokuden (1489 – 1571), founded Bokuden Matsugo -ryū in the Yonezawa Domain (actual Yamagata prefecture).
No date available.
Systems: kenjutsu, naginatajutsu, bōjutsu.
o Ishii Bokuoku (founder)
o Ishihara Ichibee Yoshiie (2nd headmaster)
o Ishihara Heinai Ietada (3rd headmaster)
o ... ...
o Ishihara Heinai (11th and last headmaster)
As we can see above, Bugei Ryūha Daijiten says that bōjutsu (staff techniques) is part of the Bokuden Matsugo -ryū’s curriculum, but the scrolls kept at International Budo University do not show any bōjutsu techniques. On the other hand, 2 scrolls are dedicated to sōjutsu (spearsmanship) and one to both naginata-jutsu and sōjutsu. The information contained in Bugei Ryūha Daijiten is thus far to be complete. We do not know anyway how many scrolls Ishihara Ichibee issued at that time. The nine scrolls preserved until now are:
Jitsuji Tendō Hiden Mokuroku. Secret teachings. The scroll is incomplete.
Jūmonji Yari no Mokuroku.
Jūmonji Omote Mokuroku.
Jū [...] Ken. The second character is missing, but this scroll features kenjutsu techniques.
A scroll dealing with naginata (incomplete – title unknown).
A second scroll dealing with naginata (incomplete – title unknown).
Tonomono Hyakkajō Kime Mokuroku. Shows naginata and yari basic stances (kamae).
A scroll dealing with nitō (incomplete).
Yagi no Mokuroku. This scroll is also incomplete. Kenjutsu techniques.
These scrolls show ink drawings of old sword or spear techniques. Only the Jitsuji Tendō Hiden Mokuroku contains words. Scrolls are read from right to left, start with a title and end with a signature.
The last part of each scroll shows the lineage and the headmaster's signature. From right to left:
Sōden nari (handing down)
Kan’ei yonen (4th year of Kan’ei – 1627)
Gogatsu kichi-jitsu (a fortunate day of the fifth month)
Signature (kaō) of Ishihara Ichibee Yoshiie
Followed by the name of the recipient. The name is rather hard to read. Maybe "Isomichi Yukioshi Dono".
A closer look at the Jitsuji Tendō Hiden Mokuroku
As we already stated above, only the scroll Jitsuji Tendō Hiden Mokuroku contains words. It is however incomplete: the beginning is missing. The first characters appearing are:
Isshō ichigan, written within a circle featuring the moon and the sun.
Isshō -> the universal essence.
Ichigan -> the ultimate truth.
This diagram can be also found in scrolls handed down by Iizasa Chōisai Ienao, the founder of Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō Ryū , and Tsukahara Bokuden to attest the divine origin of their teachings.
“Before defeating the enemy.”
“Whatever happens , if you believe in yourself, you have to throw your self away. Then, the world may be saved.”
(i.e. Be resolute, step towards your opponent’s sword, only then you will secure victory)
“Even if you throw your self away, you will not be defeated, because you will have the blessing of the gods.”
“Even a smallest negligence in the mind, will prevent you to take the initiative.”
“In everything, being negligent is the real enemy. Think, be patient and wait for an opportunity.”
"Jitsuji Tendō Hiden Mokuroku. "
Lineage and signature.
4th year of Kan’ei (1627) on a fortunate day of the 5th month.
A few remarks
We tried to find more about the school, but we could not get any significant information so far, neither in Japanese books nor on the Internet. Bokuden Matsugo Ryū’s line of descent died out with Ishihara Heinai, the 11th headmaster of the school. Some sources state that Ishihara Heinai lived during the Bakumatsu, the turbulent period that saw the end of the Edo era. After the advent of the Emperor Meiji’s modern Japan, numerous martial traditions were thought “obsolete” and soon became extinct. Bokuden Matsugo -ryū might have share that fate.
It is also possible that being from the Yonezawa Domain, Ishihara Heinai died during the Boshin War . Samurais of Yonezawa joined those of Sendai, Aizu, Shonai and Nagaoka, under the "Northern Alliance" to fight against the imperialists. They were however defeated in 1869. That also could explain why the ryūha did not survive the end of the feudal era.
The nine scrolls are too large to be presented here, so I will post their contents on instagram in the coming weeks