By: Frank Nieves, M.A.
Ryushin Shouchi Ryu is a school of kobudo (ancient martial art) specializing in iaijutsu (the art of drawing and cutting). Its origins can be traced back through the centuries to Tenshisho-den Katori Shinto Ryu and the sword schools of Kashima. The philosophy of the Ryushin Shouchi Ryu parallels that of most modern forms of budo, (i.e. kendo, judo, and aikido) and entail cultivating the mind and conditioning the body through rigorous training for the purpose of improving the self rather than to kill an enemy; a concept more commonly known as fudoshin (immovable mind) which refers to a state of equanimity. Based on this reasoning the name Ryushin Shouchi Ryu was selected by the founder Kawabata Terutaka. Ryushin means “Mind or Heart of the Willow tree” and gives the image of this tree which does not does not lose its leaves even in winter” and Sochi which translates to “shining wisdom.” Together these characters convey the sense of “establishing in the world an unmovable wisdom and everyday mind by means of a strong yet flexible body and spirit.
Kawabata Terukata was born in Tokyo in 1940. His interest in Japanese swordsmanship began in his early childhood when his grandfather gave him a sword he had purchased in San Francisco. Since then, Kawabata has been dedicated to the study of Japanese swords and the international dissemination of his school of Japanese swordsmanship- Ryushin Shouchi Ryu. Throughout his life he has made significant contributions to both the study of Japanese swords and Japanese Swordsmanship.
Kawabata began his swordsmanship training in his early twenties at the Sogo Budo Shobukan which was founded in 1963 by the headmaster of the Tenshinsho Jigen Ryu, Ueno Yasuyuki Genshin (1913-1973). Tenshinsho Jigen Ryu is a shool of swordsmanship which has its origins in the Kanto area dating back to the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States Period).
Kawabata trained at the Sogo Budo Shobukan for nearly a decade, after which he continued his studies under his sempai, Shimizu Tadatsugu (1921-1998) at the Isshin-juku in Tokyo. Shimizu was a skilled martial artist and held the ranks of 9 DAN Iaido, 9 DAN Kendo, and 9 DAN in Jujutsu. In addition, to martial arts Shimizu was an accomplished swordsmith and a member of the Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK) (Society for the Preservation of Japanese Swords). Kawabata worked closely with Shimizu as an executive of the NBTHK himself and would become one of their expert sword testers in which he utilized the ancient techniques derived from his studies at the Sogo Budo Shobukan and the Isshin-juku. An example of Kawabata’s proficiency as a sword master was demonstrated in 1987 when he appeared on the TBS television program Chikyu Roman Yomigaeru Hiken/Sengoku Kabutowari. In this program he demonstrated a secret sword technique, dating back to the warring states period, of cutting through a warrior’s helmet. The helmet-splitting technique had not been performed since Sakakibara Kenkichi, the hanshi of the Chokushinkage-ryu, demonstrated it before Emperor Meiji in the autumn of 1886, over 100 years before. Using a sword made by swordsmith Yoshihara Yoshindo, a contemporary of Shimizu’s, Kawabata cut a gash measuring 12 cm. (nearly 4 sun). Kawabata’s demonstration cemented his place in budo history as an expert of this technique in the Showa era. It was around this time that he received the Martial Arts Meritorious Award (Budo Korosho), considered the highest honor in the world of martial arts.
In 2006, Kawabata established the Ryushin Jigen Ryu. A system of kobudo specializing in iaijutsu composed of over 60 kata (prearranged solo forms) and iai kumitachi (two man bokken training). The iaijutsu kata can trace their origins to the Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto and the Kashima Shinkage Ryu, and have been passed down from master to student for over 500 years. The synthesis of these two systems resulted in a combination of katas that entail circular motions with proven battle field techniques. Kawabata has endeavored rigorously to preserve the integrity of these kata and continues to teach them as they existed through the generations. The iai kumitachi, when performed at its most advanced levels, mimic the speed and ferocity of live combat, as it would have transpired 100s of years ago by the samurai. In addition to these forms of training, Kawabata also places a strong emphasis on tameshigiri (cutting); a practice that is performed on a regular bases at the Seiseikan dojo.
On the 1st of January in 2008, Kawabata relinquished this position to his senior student, Yahagi Kunikazu. Currently, Kawabata is active as the head of the Seiseikan and advisor to the soke.
In 2011, to clarify the purpose of the school and dojo in cultivating the mind and conditioning the body through rigorous training, the original name of the school, Ryushin Jigen Ryu, was changed to Ryushin Shochi Ryu.
Yahagi Kunikazu, the second headmaster (soke) of Ryushin Shouchi Ryu, was born in Kastsushika-ku, Tokyo in 1948. As a child, Yahagi was inspired by his grandfather whom he visited regularly and had 2 sets of antique kendo bogu (armor) on display in his home. When Yahagi was old enough he was introduced to kendo by his uncle at the age of 10 and commenced his kendo training in elementary school. He also trained in Judo from the age of 12 in which he later went on to earn the rank of 2 DAN at the Kodokan. He would continue his martial studies through his formative years and at the age of 30, he entered the NCR dojo (now the Nihon Zaidan Building) in in Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, which was then under the authority of Kawabata. After nearly 30 years of diligent training under the tutelage of Kawabata, Yahagi was licensed by the International Martial Arts Federation (IMAF) as a Kobudo Hanshi 8 DAN and later succeeded in becoming a director for IMAF. This would mark the beginning of Yahagi’s international teaching career. In 2008 Yahagi became the second headmaster of the Ryushin Shouchi Ryu.
In addition to his Ryushin Shouchi Ryu training, Yahagi continues his studies in Kendo and currently holds the rank of Kyoshi 7 DAN from the All Japan Kendo Federation. Yahagi believes that Kendo is an essential component to the proper training of Ryushin Shouchi Ryu as it serves as a means to train the psychological and practical applications of the school. He believes that through the diligent training of Kendo one can develop the true spirit and mindset long lost from times past that are necessary for the proper practice of kata. In light of this, Yahagi has continued to improve and further develop the philosophy of the Ryushin Shouchi Ryu.
Today, the Ryushin Shouchi Ryu is practiced across the globe with several dojos in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan. Every year Yahagi makes official trips to conduct training courses abroad, where he receives the warm support of his overseas students.