Before I begin, I would like to make a short disclaimer. While I have spent a great deal of time in working on the research from which this article is based, what I have written should not be taken as the “final word” on Hoki ryu. I have not been practicing Hoki ryu for very long and have only just begun any serious research on it. For those reasons, this should be viewed just as a general “rough” overview of Hoki ryu. In particular, readings of names and places have been an issue, and occasionally I have had to resort to a "best guess" after looking through dictionaries and consulting my Japanese instructors.
Within the art of Iaido, the influence of Hayashizaki Jinsuke can not be understated. This mysterious man could quite easily be considered one the greatest influences on the art. While many people are aware of Hayashizaki, little is known for sure about him or his art. There are many legends, but hard facts are another issue. Regardless, his influence and teachings have been a strong force in a great number of ryuha. Probably the best known would be Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu and Muso Shinden ryu, both of which claim him as their founder. However there are also a number of lesser-known ryuha that have felt his influence, either through his direct successors or his other students. Tamiya ryu, Mugai ryu, Sekiguchi ryu, among others, all claim some connection to Hayashizaki’s teachings. However, with the possible exceptions of Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu and Muso Shinden ryu, there seems to be little information, much less training, available on any of the ryuha outside of Japan.
Another ryu that has felt the influence of Hayashizaki is Hoki ryu. Hoki ryu was founded by Katayama Hoki no Kami Fujiwara Hisayasu (born Tensho 3, 1576), one of Hayashizaki’s senior students. Katayama Hisayasu also inherited some additional teachings (perhaps pronounced Iai Juhatto) from his uncle, Shoan. Katayama Hisayasu was called before Kampaku Toyotomi Hidetsugu and came to serve the Toyotomi family as a martial arts instructor to Toyotomi Hideyori (Hideyoshi's son). The Osaka Summer Campaign of 1615, an attack on Osaka castle, brought an end to the Toyotomi family and helped secure Tokugawa power in Japan with the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s son, Hideyori, who was a rallying point for anti-Tokugawa warriors. In Keicho 15 (1610) Hisayasu was asked to demonstrate his sword techniques for the Emperor Goyozei. He presented the secret teachings of Iso no Nami, for which he received the court rank Jugoige Hoki no Kami.
After the destruction of Osaka castle, Hisayasu traveled to various places in Southern Japan, such as Shikoku, and Suo and Aki provinces, while spreading his art. He was a guest of the Kitsukawa family who supplied him with a stipend for 10 people. Eventually Hisayasu settled the Katayama family in Iwakuni, in Suo province. He died in 1650 at the age of 76. One of his sons, Hisataka inherited the ryu while another, Hisakatsu, traveled to Edo and founded his own ryu.
One interesting side note in the life of Katayama Hisayasu is the possibility that he was in fact the younger brother of the founder of Takenouchi ryu, Takenouchi Hisamori. While this is not a fact known for sure, there are various sources suggesting that they may have been brothers. The famous researcher Watatani Kiyoshi (of Bugei Ryuha Daijiten fame) states in the first line on his entry on Katayama Hisayasu in "Shin Nihon Kengo 100 Sen" that they were in fact brothers. He later relates a story of the two having a discussion on whether Hisayasu could actually effectively draw his huge three shaku three sun sword (Hisamori felt it was too long to be effective) and an ensuing contest between the two. Whether they were in fact brothers may never be known for sure, but it is an interesting possibility to consider when looking at the two ryu.
Hisayasu’s original name for Hoki ryu was Ikkan ryu (written with the characters meaning one, and to pierce). In Bunroku 5 (1596) Hisayasu traveled to Atago shrine near Kyoto for seven days and seven nights of prayer and ritual practices. On the final night, he received divine enlightenment to the meaning of the character "kan" and thus used it as the name of his ryu. As a side note, Atago shrine is similar in purpose, to Southern Japanese warriors, to what Katori and Kashima shrines are to the Kanto area ones, and a number of ryuha trace their founders' divine revelations to this shrine, probably the most notable being Takenouchi ryu. Later the ryu has been known under a number of names such as Katayama Hoki ryu, Batto Hoki ryu, and Katayama ryu, among others. Today it is generally refereed to as just Hoki ryu. As is typical of most ryuha, various ha, or branches, have also developed. Couple the name changes and splits with the fact that Hisayasu is also claimed as the founder of a few additional ryuha (not to mention the work of his successors) and one has quite a mess to sort through lineage wise.
The original Hoki ryu/Ikkan ryu (or sometimes just Kan ryu) is said to have been a comprehensive system, including kenjutsu, iaijutsu, bojutsu, jojutsu and jujutsu like teachings. This would seem to be confirmed by the existence of a Hoki ryu jujutsu system that was passed down in the Katayama family in Iwakuni for nine generations. Recently this ryu has been "recreated" using a number of documents that survived into the present within the Katayama family. As is not uncommon, the ryu appears to have fragmented at some point in its history or perhaps more correctly, slowly abandoned certain parts of the curriculum. From what I have seen of the original documents in question, the Hoki ryu jujutsu ryuha contained techniques for dealing with sword wielding opponents. However it appears that in many of the current lines of Hoki ryu Iai, the kenjutsu and jujutsu related techniques have mostly been lost (that said, a few lines do appear to still have kenjutsu as at least a minor part of the curriculum). Today, Hoki ryu Iaido/Iaijutsu (which term a group uses seems to be entirely up to that group and has little or no reflection on its actual techniques) is by far the most widely spread of Hisayasu’s teachings. Having said that, the total number of practitioners is still vastly lower than the more popular Iaido ryuha, such as Eishin ryu and Muso Shinden ryu.
Another important family in Hoki ryu's history is the Hoshino family from Kumamoto (in Kyushu). In fact Kumamoto was (and still is) a major center of Hoki ryu and all of the lineage's of current Hoki ryu groups I have seen to date trace themselves back to Kumamoto. The Hoshino family also was deeply involved in Shiten ryu Jujutsu and Yoshin ryu Naginata jutsu and if one watches the Budokan Kobudo series video on Hoki ryu (which features the Hoshino lineage), you will in fact see a few Shiten ryu jujutsu techniques as well.
It is worth asking “What separates Hoki ryu from the maze of other sword drawing traditions currently practiced in Japan?” There are two obvious things that come to mind; the kamae named Garyu, and the use of the Soete-tsuki thrusting action. Also, drawing actions tend to be much faster than the drawing of, say, Muso Shinden ryu, and the techniques are often designed to be done at very close ranges. In one group, for example, students are placed roughly 2 feet in front of a wall and practice drawing without hitting the wall they are facing. As an iai ryuha, the current curriculum focuses on 6 omote techniques, 9 chuden techniques. The Okuden level varies in organization and content group to group. For example the Hoshino group's Okuden is significantly different from that as taught by Katsuo Aihara in Hiroshima. The omote techniques are all suwari waza, seated techniques. The chuden techniques are a mixture of suwari waza and tachi waza (standing techniques). The seated techniques make use of both the seiza and tatehiza postures. While some of the techniques are defensive in nature, other scenarios, such as pursuing a fleeing enemy, are covered as well.
The targeting in the current kata, including downward cuts to the head and thrusts to the body, along with the use of the seiza would seem to indicate that at some point, the ryu shifted its curriculum towards the unarmored type of combat that an Edo period warrior was most likely to face. These sorts of attacks would be of questionable combative value against an armored opponent of pre-Edo battlefield warfare. All ryuha had to take this sort of shift in combative circumstance into account or face extinction because it failed to adapt to changing combative conditions. That said, there are other targets and elements of the ryu which seem to reflect an older style of combat as well.
One of the techniques Hoki ryu is known for is soete-tsuki (sometimes also called soetezuki), a reinforced thrust using the left hand along the back of the blade, or mune, done at close range where the traditional two handed thrust would be difficult if not impossible. Anyone who is familiar with the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei Seiteigata will be familiar with soete-tsuki, as it is the basis of the 9th technique of the same name. The Zen Nihon Iaido Renmei also uses a technique, Kissaki Gaeshi, from Hoki ryu in its set of kata, which contains this method of attack as well. While the name implies a thrust (and indeed this is how it is usually used), this technique can also used to aid cutting in close ranges where the traditional two handed cut would also be difficult. Many other ryuha have similar techniques as well, but whereas, say, Eishin ryu often uses this type of action in a sweeping sort of sideways motion, Hoki ryu tends to use it for thrusting and downward cutting.
In the case of thrusting motion, the placing of the left hand along the mune enables one to drop the right hand further back along the right hip than would be possible with the traditional two handed grip, where the twisting of the left hand around the body would be awkward. The left hand then aids in supporting the blade, thus increasing accuracy (much like the role of the left hand in a pool shot). The combination of forward body movement and right hand thrust provides a very strong attack at close range. In addition, weight can be placed on the forward left hand at the point of penetration, and by leaning slightly forward on the blade, a slicing action is added to the thrust as well. For cutting, the soete-tsuki method of holding the sword can be done at extremely close ranges. The power for the actual cut can be generated using the left hand almost exclusively. The blade is placed on the enemy's body and the left hand pushes down on the blade causing it to cut into the enemy's flesh. In extremely close combat, one would just need room to put their blade on the attacker’s body and then push them away. The blade cutting into their flesh would generally be enough to cause them to move back. Moreover, the enemy's retreating action actually helps the blade cut more efficiently as he essentially has to drag his body along the blade in order to get off of it.
While this sort of cutting can be done using mainly the left hand, it is appears in the kata using both hands in a full cutting motion (the right hand moves as if making a one handed cut). In addition, a twist of the hips and sinking of the body weight is added to further improve the slicing action of the cut. There are several techniques within the Hoki ryu curriculum that utilize one or both of these methods of attack.
The true “trademark” of Hoki ryu is Garyu kamae. Garyu is written with the characters meaning “to lie down, bend down or retire” and “dragon”. This kamae is used in final stage of the kata, after the final cut, and during the observation period used to check the situation and see if it has indeed been fully “resolved”. After the final cut, the practitioner will raise his sword into the Jodan position and take a few steps backwards. Being relatively sure the combative situation has been resolved, he then will lower his sword to Gedan. Once in that position the elbows are pulled back, pulling the sword upwards and to the left side of the body, bringing the tsuka to just above the koiguchi. This is Garyu Kamae in most groups (again the Hoshino ha has a slightly different version) and it is said to resemble a dragon slowly reclining. While being relaxed, the dragon, or swordsman, is not asleep and fully able to react to a sudden movement from the enemy who was thought dead or defeated. In practical terms, the kissaki is pointed downward, directly toward where the enemy is lying on the ground. The elbows are pulled back and bent. Any sudden movement and the swordsman is able to make a strong downward thrust at the enemy to finish the situation. Once the swordsman decides that his enemy is no longer combatively inclined (he should be dead after all), chiburi and noto are performed. Noto is usually performed by squatting down, leaving the left knee raised and returning the sword to the saya.
Given the general lack of information available about Hayashizaki and his teachings, one may be tempted to try and glean some hint of his original sword drawing art by comparing the various ryuha which he has had a hand in. While Hoki ryu has some resemblance to the other schools that have felt his influence, these similarities could just as well be attributed to the inherent similarities of all sword drawing ryuha. Finding any real connections may well prove to be impossible for a number of reasons. With 400 years of evolution since Hisayasu’s study with Hayashizaki, the sheer passage of time in and of itself makes finding real, direct connections in teachings highly unlikely. Also, having developed his own ryuha, Hisayasu, and his successors, didn't come under the direct influence of future teachings that developed within the lines that are traditionally thought of as having evolved directly from Hayashizaki (for example, Muso Shinden ryu, Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu, Hayashizaki Muso Ryu, etc.), so direct comparisons with those ryuha will likely not prove fruitful. After all, they followed their own evolutionary path. This shouldn't be taken as meaning that ryuha didn't influence each other however, ryu were always busy coming up with ways to deal with another rights techniques and something of a technique arms race was always in effect.
As he founded his own ryu, Hisayasu was certainly busy developing his own methods well after his study with Hayashizaki. Any of Hayashizaki’s teaching could well have been, and probably were, altered by Hisayasu himself and most certainly were by Hisayasu’s successors, given the differences in the various groups still practicing today. Originally, Hisayasu supposedly developed over a hundred techniques in Ikkan ryu. As there are currently only roughly 30 or so main iai related techniques being taught in most groups today, any real similarities might well be lost with the reduction and altering of the curriculum and the passage of time. It should be kept in mind that Hoki ryu was originally a comprehensive system of combat. Clearly the ryu has undergone significant fragmentation and change since Hisayasu’s time and the narrowing of the curriculum to mainly sword drawing techniques a more recent development.
Today, Hoki ryu is practiced in several places within Japan. The largest followings being in Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Kumamoto. There are also a number of ha, or branches, and other smaller groups in other areas, including Yokohama, Niigata and Akita. Outside of Japan, there is a group practicing in the United States (Indiana), under the supervision of a high ranking Japanese practitioner. There also appears to be a few small groups in Europe practicing as well.
Some groups are rather large; for example, the group training in the Butokuden in Kyoto has many members, while some groups have as few as 3 practicing members. Unlike larger ryuha, such as Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu and Muso Shinden ryu, who often have more organizational structures in place, the various Hoki ryu groups seemed to have been developing independently of each other for at least one or two generations, if not more in some cases. Some groups have aligned themselves with the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei, others with the Zen Nihon Iaido Renmei, while others have chosen to operate independently. This has lead to some of the various groups having little or no contact with, or knowledge of, each other. While many of the kata are more or less similar, there is a wide range of variations in basic technical movements. Given the general similarity still evident in all the groups' kata, it would appear that some sort of fragmentation may have happened within the last few generations of the ryu's history. Okada Kosuke, a Taisho (1912-25) period practitioner of Hoki ryu, has in fact commented on how the confusion of the Taisho period, with people suddenly moving all over the country to major cities and such, isolated many of the members of the ryu from each other. He lists a number of famous practitioners and where they went, and those locations do in fact coincide with where a number of the current Hoki ryu groups are today. This was most likely the cause of much of the fragmentation.
Local politics aside, there are still more than enough similarities
to conclude that many of these groups had a strong connection to each other
up until the last few generations. The use of Soetezuki and Garyu is a
strong common characteristic of all of them, even with local variations
on the theme, and in the general ideas and applications of the movement
in the kata are for the most part still very much the same. While it may
be impossible to know just how close the current Hoki ryu is to Katayama
Hisayasu’s original Ikkan ryu, Hoki ryu is nevertheless an interesting
member of the koryu iai world today and worthy of further research.