Aikido Journal Home » Articles » Famous Budoka of Japan: Ukei Kato
and Kito-ryu Jujutsu (1)
Aiki News Japan

Famous Budoka of Japan: Ukei Kato
and Kito-ryu Jujutsu (1)

by Yoshinori Kono

Aikido Journal #110 (1996)

Sagoemon Hotta: reviver of Kito-ryu

Okunojo Yoshida, whose writings I have often used as a source for this series, was of retainer of the Tomiyama Domain and one of the most promising students of Tenshin Shirai-ryu founder, Toru Shirai. In addition to Shirai-ryu, however, he also practiced Kito-ryu jujutsu under Hanshiro Suzuki, a third-generation shihan in the lineage of Ukei Kato, who is considered one of the foremost shihan in the history of Kito-ryu.

The origins of Kito-ryu are so complicated that it is even difficult to pinpoint the style’s actual founder. The first important name connected with Kito-ryu is Shichirouemon Masakatsu Fukuno, a student of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu founder, Sekishusai Yagyu. Fukuno collaborated with one of his fellow students, Sensai Toshifusa Ibaraki, on jujutsu research and later created a style called Ryoishinto-ryu (also called Fukuno-ryu). He also studied Teishin-ryu under Heizaemon Yasusada Terada, and this style seems to have influenced his Ryoishinto-ryu a great deal. In addition to these, he incorporated principles and techniques from Chinese kempo learned from a Chinese individual by the name Gen-Pin Chin whom he encountered at Kokusho Temple in Edo.

Sensai Ibaraki, Fukuno’s fellow jujutsu researcher, called his own style Midare Kito-ryu. Ibaraki also received recognition (inka) in Zen from the monk Takuan.

Hachizaemon Yoroshige Terada learned jujutsu from both Fukuno and Ibaraki as well as from his older brother Heizaemon. The name Kito-ryu seems to have become formally used from around the time of Hachizaemon’s son, Kanemon Masashige Terada. Some sources suggest that Kanemon was actually Heizaemon’s son, and that after he entered the Matsue Han he began calling his style Jikishin-ryu Judo.

The lineage of Kito-ryu then continues through from Kanemon to Heisuke Suke-naga Yoshimura, whose students included Hayata Omori and Taemon Fukushima. One of Heisuke Yoshimura’s top students was Sagoemon Yoritsune Hotta (formerly Hanpei Hirano), a retainer in the House of Ako in the Banshu Domain. Hotta was a retainer of Asano Takumi no Kami, who drew his sword in anger and attacked Kira Kozukenosuke while in the shogunal castle, resulting in his own death by seppuku and the attainder of the House of Ako. Originally Hotta was among those who joined Kuranosuke Oishi in the plot to revenge their lord, however, in the end, he renounced his vow and took a new name.

Among the Ako retainers, the leader of the revenge, Kuranosuke Oishi, and eleven of his confederates, including Sanpei Kayano, are all said to have been awarded licenses in Kito-ryu by Hotta.

Hotta seems to have been outstanding among Yoshimura’s students. Okunojo Yoshida mentions in Kito-ryu Jujutsu Kirokit (“A Record of Kito-Ryu Jujutsu”) that in addition to what he had learned from Yoshimura, Hotta created seven additional forms, was highly praised by his teacher, and was acknowledged as an interim master of the style. Hotta apparently referred to his own style as Kito Jujutsu Shiyu Myojutsu.

Conceivably Hotta was excluded from the revenge plot out of fear that this talent would be lost. Also, although at that time it was not uncommon for ronin (lordless samurai) to fall into destitution, a talented jujutsu practitioner like Hotta would be able to make a reasonable living teaching his art, and this may have been taken into account as well.

However, because those former Ako retainers who had not participated in the plot were looked upon coldly by society, Hotta probably spent the remainder of his days under a cloud of social stigma. Incidentally, nowhere in the Record of Kito-Ryu Jujutsu does Okunojo Yoshida mention that Hotta had been an Ako retainer, referring to him only as “a ronin born in Tamba.” Hotta died at the age of 67 on March 22, 1724. His grave is at Honden Temple in Osaka.

Yuken Takino

Succeeding Hotta as the next individual to disseminate Kito-ryu jujutsu in Edo was Yuken Takino. Born in 1695 in Tamba, Yuken began learning jujutsu from an early age. He met Hotta and became his student in 1714 after being impressed by his skill. Eventually he received his license and on the recommendation of his teacher took a position as a jujutsu instructor in the Imperial Court. He retired in 1744, at the age of fifty, and went to disseminate Kito-ryu in Edo.

Yuken seems to have been regarded as a cunning individual, although since most of these stories originate in the literature of the Sekiguchi-ryu (a rival jujutsu school) it is difficult to substantiate their validity.

Yuken had left Kyoto to make his way in Edo, where he opened a dojo near Shiba Nishikubo Tentoku Temple. Over 5,700 students passed through this dojo at one time or another, with licenses awarded to 170 of these. Such numbers suggest that Yuken, like Hokushin Itto-ryu founder, Shusaku Chiba, possessed considerable business acumen in addition to his talent as a martial artist.

Attesting to Yuken’s skill we have the following story of how Lord Nagato, a daimyo from Sesshu, became Yuken’s student. Nagato had been learning Shibukawa-ryu under Bangoro Shibukawa. Unusual for a daimyo at that time, he was a man of enormous strength and martial skill, so much so, in fact, that even Shibukawa found him difficult to manage. After receiving his license, he began making a nuisance of himself by engaging in excessively rough practice sessions with his retainers, many of whom ended up with sprained wrists, dislocated or broken arms, and all manner of other injuries.

Nagato had heard rumors of Yuken’s skill and, confident enough to want to test his own mettle even further, he dispatched a messenger to request a match. As it happened, Yuken had just spent over three months ill in bed and was still far from recovered. He sent a reply explaining that he would go as soon as he felt completely well again.

Thinking it more likely that Yuken was simply afraid of him, Nagato repeated his request several times. Realizing there was not much he could do about it (Nagato was, after all, a daimyo), Yuken forced himself out of bed and went to explain his refusal in person. When he met Nagato he said, ‘As I am in rather poor health just now, I think it will be impossible for me to have the honor of a contest with you at this time.”

But Nagato was not to be dissuaded and continued insisting on the match until Yuken finally gave in and agreed. Before the bout began, however, he reminded the daimyo carefully, “During matches like these I sometimes have occasion to employ means that may be considered disrespectful; I would ask that you forgive me should such a thing occur.” Nagato, eager to get on with the contest, replied that Yuken was free to do whatever he liked.

The match began and Nagato rushed in to catch Yuken in his powerful grip. But Yuken was no longer there, for he had sunk down to avoid the attack, leaving his opponent to stumble past out of control, carried forward on his own momentum. He reappeared behind him and with a kick to the buttocks sent the unfortunate daimyo sprawling headlong off the edge of the veranda.

When Nagato managed to stand up again he was bleeding from a scrape on his forehead and shaking with rage. Turning to face Yuken, he grasped the hilt of his short sword and screamed, “What impudence! How dare you place you’re feet on a daimyo! If that’s your game, then let’s have a real match!” Yuken, however, remained placid. He said, “I believe that but a moment ago I reminded your Lordship that I may occasionally need to employ means that may otherwise be considered disrespectful. Supposing your Lordship were now to insist we continue the match with a naked blade, I would, of course, be obliged to participate, but I wonder, would it not be the greater dishonor for you, a daimyo, to have your fine blade taken by an unarmed mere ronin like myself?”

Nagato considered this for a moment. Then, obviously impressed, he replied, “It is as you say. Wait here for a moment,” and disappeared into the back for a while. When he emerged he was wearing a simple linen outfit. In a respectful tone he said, “I am certainly impressed with Sensei’s skill. From this day I shall call myself your student.” The two exchanged vows to seal their new relationship as student and teacher and from then on Lord Nagato busied himself with diligent training in Kito-ryu and stopped abusing his beleaguered retainers, to everyone’s great relief.

(The full article is available for subscribers.)

Subscription Required

To read this article in its entirety please login below or if you are not a subscriber click here to subscribe.

Remember my login information.