The Kokusai Toyama-ryu Renmei (KTRR, AKA International Toyama-ryu Federation) is headed and founded by Obata Toshishiro, Honbucho. Obata Sensei originally came to America in 1980, licensed with the positions and responsibilities of Beikoku Honbucho (American Headquarters) for Toyama-ryu, Nakamura ryu and Battodo, and is continuing in his efforts under the KTRR.
Originally a small sub-system of sword drawing techniques created for officers of the Japanese Imperial Army, Toyama-ryu is now represented in various forms throughout the world as an independent sword art.
The Toyama-ryu “gunto soho” (military sword methodology) was created and standardized (seitei - established forms) in 1925 in response to concern that officers would not be able to effectively draw and employ their sword (gunto- military sword) should the need arise while operating in hostile environments. After WWII, the Japanese Imperial Army was disbanded, and three major lines of Toyama-ryu were adapted and taught independently - Morinaga style, Yamaguchi style, and Nakamura style. Nakamura Taizaburo Sensei was one of Obata Sensei’s main sword instructors. In view of Obata Sensei’s skill and dedication to the art of Toyama-ryu, upon his relocation to America, he was given the position of Chief Instructor of the USA.
Since that time, Toyama-ryu has been completely subsumed into the Shinkendo curriculum and embellished as follows:
- Toyama-ryu kihon kata (the eight basic kata as transmitted through the Nakamura line).
- Toyama-ryu jokyu kata (advanced variations on the eight basic kata).
- Toyama-ryu henka (advanced applied variations).
- Toyama-ryu hensen (the study of the original methods and their technical evolution to the present time; i.e. Gunto soho, Battojutsu and Battodo/Iaido periods).
Gunto no Soho kata
(Ushiro no Teki).
Toyama-ryu is categorized in Shinkendo as “gaiden waza” (borrowed techniques). Though ranks are awarded separately for Toyama-ryu, these limited methods are taught as part of the overall Shinkendo curriculum, and as such cannot be taught independent of the art of Shinkendo. The KTRR does not participate in kata (engi- form performance), or cutting (tameshigiri) competitions, and is not affiliated with any other line or organization.
The KTRR emphasizes accurate, powerful and rapid deployment of the sword, combined with a strong expression of kiai. This spirit of training was how the art was originally taught to the students of the Imperial Japanese Army Rikugun Toyama Gakko. Though elements of Iaido (the art of sword drawing) arts were used in the formation of the Toyama-ryu curriculum originally, the context and intent of Toyama-ryu and modern Iaido are totally different, and were not intended to be practiced in the same way.
Toyama-ryu Gunto no Soho was created in 1925 as part of the Rikugun Toyama Gakko (Toyama Military Academy) curriculum, which was founded in 1873, and was a school in the Imperial Japanese Army. Army officers were taught how to use the gunto with the seven battoho (sword drawing method) techniques that were researched from koryu toho (traditional schools of sword). After World War II, three instructors with relations to the Toyama army school resumed teaching Toyama-ryu to the public. The techniques of the three individuals began to differ as time passed, so the three men came together once in an attempt to unite and standardize their organizations and techniques. Unfortunately, this effort failed.
Nakamura Taizaburo was one of the coaches at the Toyama army school, and he was one of the three mentioned previously who resumed teaching Toyama-ryu after the war. The Zen Nippon Toyama-ryu Iaido Renmei (All Japan Toyama-ryu Iaido Federation) was established to hand down these Toyama-ryu techniques, and Nakamura Taizaburo titled himself SoShihan of the Federation. This organization added an eighth technique (dotangiri - to cut through in a single stroke) to the original seven part battoho kata as well as a six part kumitachi (paired sparring form).
Takayama Masayoshi demonstrates “Jissen Budo Takayama ryu Battojutsu”. This was the sword method used by the Imperial Japanese Navy, which were essentially the same as the Toyama-ryu methods taught in the Army.
The techniques of Nakamura Sensei’s Toyama-ryu changed many times over the years as he adapted and rationalized the original Gunto no Soho techniques for use in battle. He also incorporated ideas from various sword ryuha(traditional schools) and other arts like Kendo . The nomenclature of the techniques also changed; right kesa giri was later referred to as left kesa giri (cutting angles), etc. The name Toyama-ryu Gunto no Soho also changed to Toyama-ryu Battojutsu, then to Toyama-ryu Iaido/Battodo.
During the time that the first tameshigiri competition was being planned, a more neutral name was called for so other sword exponents could also feel comfortable competing. Additionally, some people believed that the Toyama-ryu name itself brought back bad memories of the war, and that use of the Toyama-ryu name outside the now-defunct military was inappropriate. It was at this time that Obata Toshishiro suggested the name Battodo (instead of Battojutsu), since Iaijutsu had also changed to Iaido. Obata’s suggestion was used by Nakamura’s group, who in turn established the Zen Nippon Battodo Renmei. Several years later, the Zen Nippon Battodo Renmei splintered into different organizations consisting of Toyama-ryu, Battodo, Battojutsu, Nakamura ryu, Todo, Iai Battodo, and others.
Nakamura held many seminars in the earlier years in which Toyama-ryu and tameshigiri were the focus of instruction. However, since the techniques were changing frequently during that time, the instructors that participated in these seminars remember and teach different forms of Toyama-ryu based on which seminars they had attended.
Many suwari (seiza no bu; techniques from kneeling) Iaido instructors attended these seminars. At one seminar, in which there were 200 participants, Nakamura took advantage of the opportunity to ask the Iaido instructors present why they wear their katana (long sword) in their belt and practice while sitting in the formal kneeling position (seiza). They replied that they didn’t know, that they were taught this way by their instructors, and as such, taught their own students the same way. None of them had asked their instructor, knew the answer themselves, or had researched the roots of their art to find out.
The fact is, historically there was no tradition of samurai wearing the katana in the belt while indoors, and while sitting in seiza position in particular because it was against the samurai code of etiquette. When the long sword is worn in the belt indoors, it is also a disadvantage with regard to the freedom of movement. There were several instructors who did not care about the history. They only did what they were taught regardless of whether it was historically logical. Unfortunately, there were also instructors present who only cared about receiving high dan rankings, and because they were interested in incorporating tameshigiri into their own style. There were probably also people who practiced suwari-style Iaido or other sword styles that joined Toyama-ryu or Battodo simply to compete in cutting competitions.
Interestingly though, there were many Toyama-ryu and Battodo students that cross trained in other sword arts. One reason may be that there was not enough technique or diversity in Toyama-ryu and Battodo to be satisfied practicing them alone. The fact is, the eight kata of Toyama-ryu/Battodo combined with Happogiri are too simple and are not sufficient technically to properly understand tameshigiri theory and application. The methods must be supplemented with a more comprehensive study of swordsmanship.
In the Kokusai Toyama-ryu Renmei, the changes in technique are separated into four divisions. In studying all thirty one techniques, one will understand how Toyama-ryu has changed over the years and what it really entails. The techniques of Toyama-ryu Gunto no Soho, Toyama-ryu Battojutsu, and Battodo (Toyama-ryu Iaido) remain as they were at the time they were taught during the aforementioned seminars. While practicing one may realize the dangers in the technique, the good changes in the technique, and where the techniques could perhaps been better left unchanged. The Jokyu (advanced) techniques were made by omitting the weak points of Toyama-ryu while at the same time making them more practical.
In Gunto no Soho there are some less effective techniques, however it is the original Toyama-ryu technique and it is necessary to study them in order to accurately hand down all of Toyama-ryu to future generations. There is significance behind practicing a technique while knowing its flaws, rather than just mimicking them without realizing its flaws and purpose.
Cutting through multiple tatami omote targets.
Published in the 1986 book “Naked Blade”
by Obata Toshishiro
The characteristics of the KTRR kata and techniques are:
I- Gunto no Soho (7 techniques)
- These are the original seven techniques taught at the Toyama army school.
- There are traces left that indicate that the techniques originated largely from suwari-style Iaido.
- The rhythm is strange because the techniques were made to suit military marching, which starts with the left foot.
- There are many straight cuts that were borrowed from Iaido, and these are not practical.
- There are two techniques where one cuts diagonally downward in the direction of the forward leg. This is very dangerous.
II- Toyama-ryu Battojutsu (8 techniques)
- These techniques are more practical because all the less effective elements were removed or adapted.
- The flow and rhythm of the movements are much improved.
- Cuts in the direction of the forward leg are removed, making the techniques safer.
III- Battodo/ Toyama-ryu Iaido (8 techniques)
- This set of kata incorporates ideas from Kendo and other sword ryu-ha, making the individual techniques more direct and quicker.
- The Batto (drawing) is faster and the distance is closer. This requires more skill to perform correctly.
- The first technique involves a rising diagonal draw-cut with the left leg forward - this is dangerous.
- The second technique finishes with left kesagiri (instead of right kesagiri).
IV- Jokyu (8 techniques)
- In the Jokyu techniques, all the weak points found in the other kata are compensated for. This form is safer, and is more complex with a variety of techniques.
- These techniques cover the zengo-sayu (front, back, side to side) movements more smoothly and more effectively. They emphasize smooth ashisabaki (footwork), taisabaki (body movements), and kensabaki (sword movements), which creates speed and strength in movements.
- The techniques are more practical and effective, so variations can be included easily. This makes the techniques more comfortable and enjoyable.
Toyama-ryu was taught at the Toyama army school to officers in order to train them to rapidly deploy their gunto from a draw. As a result, there was not enough basic suburi (sword swinging drills) movements in the curriculum, and no kenjutsu style kata or sparring to supplement the Toyama-ryu training. The officers at that time already had substantial experience in Kendo, so adding sparring to their Toyama-ryu training would have been deemed redundant. However, after the war when the Toyama-ryu federation was first established, Nakamura created six pre-arranged sparring sequences (similar in style to the Kendo no Kata), but these were unrealistic and insufficient when compared with the techniques of koryu kenjutsu. Since there was not enough suburi practice, there were reports of people cutting their knees or palms, or throwing their swords in the periods before, during, and after World War II. Even Nakamura writes about his own injuries in his books. Perhaps it is this reason, to avoid injuries, that the movements and sword swings in Toyama-ryu Iaido have become slow. Originally, Toyama-ryu emphasized speed and strength to allow for it to be used in battle, and this is evident from the photos in IJA publications of officers training.
The original uniform worn at the Rikugun Toyama Gakko, clearly influenced by the European military. Published in the 1986 book “Naked Blade” by Obata Toshishiro
Since Toyama-ryu has so few techniques in most curriculums, it seems that the emphasis is placed on the tameshigiri competitions. If this is to be the case, then it must be acknowledged that these lines of Toyama-ryu are no longer being practiced in their original form or with the original spirit. Tameshigiri is necessary to check one’s toho, but Toyama-ryu must not degrade into a sport focused only on cutting.
One must study the fundamentals thoroughly and understand the theory and practice in order to perform proper tameshigiri.