Some people only think of Tendō-ryū in relation to the naginata, yet one of the characteristics of Tendō-ryū is that all the naginata techniques are executed against a sword. Moreover, the curriculum has a large number of techniques which do not use a naginata at all. It is a comprehensive martial art or sogobujutsu. My first exposure to Tendō-ryū was in 1996 when my Atarashii Naginata instructor began teaching me the first set of techniques (shodan). I was practicing kendo, iaido, and naginata quite actively at the time and welcomed new things to work on despite the already heavy load.
* * *
In Tendō-ryū, people start with the naginata and, after basic techniques are learned solo, beginners are matched with more senior students for tachiai, in which the naginata and sword are paired for each technique. After some time, I progressed through the techniques of the shodan, chudan, and gedan sets. My teacher introduced me to her
teacher, the venerable Sawada sensei
in Shinjuku, Tokyo. I deepened my knowledge of the naginata but was not introduced to the sword work of Tendō-ryū.
Some years went by. Life happened, my Tendō-ryū practice slowed, then stopped. I remained active with daily practice in other martial arts but I often felt that I needed to return to naginata, and to Tendō-ryū in particular, when the time was right.
Then came the big restart. At the end of 2016, the schedule came out for the March 2017 International Budo University Budo Seminar – an annual event of prime importance for seasoned martial artists living in Japan. Though focused primarily on the nine modern budo promoted by the Japanese government, the organizers also invited a different koryu bujutsu [old style martial art
] to give a hands-on experience each year. 2017 would feature Tendō-ryū. I knew the moment I saw the information that the time had come, that I would try to become active in Tendō-ryū again.
The seminar was fantastic and it felt so good to see and practice familiar techniques once again in the hands-on portion of the day. The group's demonstration earlier in the morning was also strong and reminded me of how good the senior people are.
I spoke with Kimura sensei
, the current head [soke
] of the ryuha and expressed my interest in rejoining regular practice. She was full of encouragement and basically said "any time".
Who could have imagined that one of her regular teaching locations is a short bicycle ride from my home? Over the years (oh, decades at this point) how many thousands of hours of one-and two-hour train rides around the vast Tokyo megalopolis have I invested, just to get to and from practice? And here she was, minutes away.
This was an opportunity not to be missed. I went to the very next practice and have been steady ever since. This time around, I am focusing exclusively on Tendō-ryū, despite sharing practice space with highly respected Atarashii Naginata practitioners.
This time around, there is also sword. Lots of it. More than I knew even existed. I can't keep up with it all – and more is waiting for me. I was asked fairly quickly to begin wielding tachi for some of the newer members as they worked on their naginata techniques. That is what I knew existed – the senior student using the tachi as the junior student worked with the naginata (and then of course changing partners, becoming the junior, and working on my own naginata techniques!).
And this time around, I have also begun working on various other aspects of the vast Tendō-ryū curriculum. The two-sword nito
techniques [three sets] are intriguing and I had the chance to perform several of them with partners at a recent demonstration in Tokyo. There are several sets of tachi tai tachi
techniques, in which each partner faces off with a sword. No naginatas in sight. I am also working on the use of kaiken
, and kodachi
in various techniques.
So… enough of the background.
* * *
Tendō-ryū swordwork incorporates seven blades of varying length if you count nito
as two [and they are of slightly different length]. Going back about four and half centuries, Tendō-ryū was originally a school of swordwork directly tied to famed swordsman Tsukahara Bokuden
[天道流, founded in 1582 by Saito Hangan Denkibo Katsuhide
]. Even today, Tendō-ryū joins numerous other ryuha
for an annual enbu
performance at Kashima Jingu
, all of them related in some way to Bokuden
One of the oldest books about Tendō-ryū, written by Mitamura Kunihiko
, goes into great detail about sword usage throughout the book. Chapter XVII in particular is all about weapons-related etiquette and is very detailed, including instructions on all weapons, and notes on drawing the sword and returning it to the scabbard. It also includes photos and explanation of how to grip a katana. So it is clear that in the past, sword work was quite important in Tendō-ryū. How did the naginata come in?
When was it brought into the curriculum? No one knows. There are other questions which are hard to answer. Where did the kusarigama
techniques come in? And those of the jo
? How did the sword fall from prominence within Tendō-ryū, to the extent that many people think of Tendō-ryū solely as a naginata ryuh
In any case, there is a deep amount of swordwork involved, and there has been for centuries. Most people are initiated to the bokuto
side [as tachi] after some years of practice and that is the extent of their sword training. But within the overall curriculum, there are numerous tachi tai tach
is slightly shorter than the standard bokuto
. The techniques are short and crisp and the encounters last seconds. They offer a very different way of using the sword than we have come to know through modern kendo
. At the same time, the tachi
techniques form a coherent whole with the naginata
techniques in terms of things like strong hip motion while rotating into the crossed-leg kumi ash
i stance when cutting downward.
Then there are the other sword techniques: nito
. Some techniques involve dropping one's naginata
and pulling out a shorter weapon. There are a few particularly interesting techniques which involve taking the opponent's sword away. Indeed, Tendō-ryū offers a wide and deep look at swordwork against a variety of weapons.
Stay tuned!The original article was published by Bryan Peterson via Kendo World on the 25th of September2019.