Any fan of martial arts will know of Miyamoto Musashi, the Japanese swordsman from the 1600’s that pioneered niten ichi-ryu, or “the way of two swords” as it is known in the west. Musashi is the author of The Book of Five Rings which has been ubiquitous in the study of the fine art of violence for centuries now. Even today, modern fighters study his writings alongside Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.
Niten ichi-ryu may seem mythical and something from a long gone age, but the practice is still practiced in Japan. Musashi handed down what is called a “Soke” title to students that would lead his school of teachings.
Born in 1584, Miyamoto Musashi was born into a turbulent time in Japan called the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Japan was on the tail end of reuniting under two warlords known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Oda Nobunaga. But shortly after, Japan would enter the Edo period and be controlled by the Tokugawa shogunate.
Musashi got his love of violent arts from his father, Shinmen Munisai. He was a martial artist and expert with the sword and jute, a weapon from Japan’s Edo period.
As Musashi went through life, he developed his style of fighting with two swords, Niten Ichi-ryu, and won duel after duel. It’s said that at the end of his “career” he would rack up an impressive undefeated record of 61 wins with no defeats.
But those duels will be a story for another time, a prequel to this, perhaps. I want to start off our journey in the week of June 5, 1695.
The first successor: Terao Kyumanosuke
Musashi was near the end of his life in June it 1695. After a lifetime of swordsmanship, Buddhists practice, and philosophy, Musashi was finally giving in to thoracic cancer. He knew his teachings should last the ages.
In May of that year, Hugo Province’s Lord ordered Terao to tend to Musashi until the end of his life. Kyumanosuke and his brother, Terao Magonojo, went to their teacher’s aid.
A week before his passing, Musashi approached Magonojo with the Hyoho Sanjugo Kajo (35 Articles of Strategy) and passed the knowledge on.
Musashi approached his best student, Terao Kyumanosuke, with his two swords and a certificate of transfer for Musashi’s school. Terao was overwhelmed but did not feel worthy and instead, he gifted the honor to Musashi’s adopted son, Miyamoto Iori. But being taught by Musashi his whole life, Iori knew it was Terao that was chosen to lead the school by the leader and founder, himself. He gladly helped the name, Miyamoto, live on but the school, he felt, was better in Terao’s hands. Iori said the following in response to Terao’s offer:
I can be heir to the name and warrior’s honor of Musashi, but I cannot take on the succession of his school. It is my wish that you, to whom Musashi passed on his art, succeed him. Please be kind enough to accept.Miyamoto Iori
Unfortunately, Magonojo passed away before passing on the 35 articles and his brother took leadership of the school.
Kyumanosuke was a well known warrior before he was made leader of Niten Ichi-ryu. In 1638, he fought at the Shimabara Rebellion. The daimyō of the Shimabara Domain drastically raised taxes and violently prohibited Christianity. As a group of Catholic peasants and ronin rose up, the Tokugawa Shogunite sent 125,000 troops and the Dutch East India Company to suppress and, ultimately, defeat the rebels. Kyumanosuke fought at the battle and received gold and a robe for his service.
As the years went on, Kyumanosuke had several children. Of his six sons, Fuji-tsugentaka (his second son), Bensuke Nobumori (fifth son), and Goemon Katsuyuki (sixth son) all practiced Niten Ichi-ryu. But it was his fourth son, Terao Nobumori, who was particularly adept in the art. Like his master before him, Terao Kyumanosuke passed Miyamoto Musashi’s school onto his successor, his fourth son.
Terao Kyumanosuke would pass away in 1688 when his son would take over the school completely.
Unfortunately the annals of time didn’t pass down much verifiable writings from here until later in our story. The next five soke for Niten Ichi-ryu we’re Yoshioka Masahiro, Santo Kyohide, Santo Kiyoaki, and Santo Kiyotake, who is pictured above.
The modern lineage, a split, and reunification
The eighth soke of “two swords as one,” the technique of Miyamoto Musashi was Aoki Hisakatsu. At only six years old, Aoki began practicing Niten Ichi-ryu under the aforementioned Kiyotake. In 1908, he succeeded his master after 21 years.
Among his students, Aoki was very popular and was an avid swimmer. So much so that he would practice swimming in Yoroi, or full samurai armor.
His teachings took him to Taiwan in 1920 where he taught Miyamoto Musashi’s art in private schools. It wasn’t until 1947, after World War II, that he returned home to his country of Japan. With the turbulence going on in Japan, Aoki gave the relics from Musashi, the scroll and wooden sword passed down, to a disciple for safekeeping.
After the war, there was a ban on martial arts in japan, banning judo, kendo, Kyudo, and karate. Niten Ichi-ryu was effectively swept away with the ban as well. The directive was attempting to facilitate “the removal and exclusion from public life of militaristic and ultra nationalistic persons.” Teachers of the arts were forced to teach in secret, like that discussed in Gichin Funakoshi’s Karate-do: My Way of Life.
He would go back to teaching in Japan and his students, Kiyonaga Tadanao and Gosho Motoharu, would be thought and succeed him. The two students did a demonstration in Usa, Japan, marking a big return for the discipline of Niten Ichi-ryu.
It wasn’t until 1958, at least 11 years since returning to Japan without Musashi’s sword and writings, that his student from Taiwan returned the relics to Aoki.
In 1967, Aoki named Kiyonaga and Gosho both soke of the school, splitting it in two as Musashi did 272 years earlier when he passed his teachings to brothers Terao Magonojo and Terao Kyumanosuke. With the two taking over the school, Aoki would pass away only two years later.
The teachings began to split apart after the passing of Aoki. Gosho Motoharu named his branch “Gosho-ha Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu” with the hopes of keeping the teachings to what was handed down to him from Aoki in 1967 with Tadanao at his side. Then in 1976, Tadanao died and did not leave a successor, making Gosho the lone soke for eight months. Wanting to keep the lineage and dual soke title alive, the Kiyonaga family asked Gosho to prepare Imai Massayuke to be the 10th soke and Takanado’s son, Kiyonaga Fumiya, would follow him.
As Massayuke and Fumiya grew under Gosho’s tutelage, a rift began between Massayuke and Gosho. Massayuke went about changing the kata as he took on more teaching roles at the school. Gosho wanted Aoki’s teachings, the ones he believed to come from Musashi himself, to be preserved.
Massayuke continued to teach his different style and in 2003 decided that the title of “soke” be done away with. Massayuke also decided that the 11th generation successors would be split again. As promised by Gosho, Kiyonaga Fumiya, son of Kiyonaga Tanado, became a teacher as well as Chin Kin of Taiwan, a student of Aoki, and finally Iwami Toshio. Massayuke also put Musashi’s sword at the Usa Jingu Shrine.
Sadly, Fumiya died only a year later. His students decided not to join under Toshio or Chin Kin. Instead they returned to Goshi, who was still alive in 2004. Massayuke died in 2006.
After Massayuke’s death, the Kiyonaga family and the leaders of Gosho’s school med a. Orion to reestablish the one lineage of Niten Ichi-ryu in May of 2007.
The decision saw the son of Gosho Motoharu, Yoshimoti Kiyoshi, become the 12th successor of Miyamoto Musashi. Yoshimoti had trained under Gosho since childhood and was, of course, a natural at the art. Massayuke still has successors, though not recognized by the official Niten Ichi-ryu school, to this day.
Not all we’re happy when Kiyoshi was named sole leader of the Niten Ichi-ryu school. Fumiya and Chin Kin’s lineages merged again. The third leader, Iwami Toshio, denied the sole representation of the school, as he was left out.
The school was then in two factions: one led by Iwami Gensho, the student of Massayuke. The second the son of Gosho Motoharu, Yoshimoti Kiyoshi.
The final consolidation: The sole lineage of Miyamoto Musashi
In 2020, Yoshimochi Kiyoshi, son of Gosho Motoharu died. He left no successor to his teachings. From Kiyoshi to Gosho, tracing back further to Aoki Hisakatsu, the Santo family. Even further, we go to Terao Katsuyki, then to Terao Nobuyuki, student of Miyamoto Musashi himself. Finally we get to Miyamoto Musashi, the man responsible for the entire 400 plus year lineage. This line worked to preserve Musashi’s teachings and now, they are leaderless.
That’s not to say a leader for the lineage is not to be named. The school is still active and will eventually name someone. Or the could even merge. But with who?
Massayuke’s school continued on and Iwami Gensho became the 11th successor of Miyamoto Musashi. After years long in dispute with Kiyoshi and his line, his line is all that’s left.
Today, Kajiya Takanori is the 12th successor of Miyamoto Musashi from Imai Massayuke’s lineage. Once seen as a heretic, Massayuke’s line is the sole leader for Niten Ichi-ryu with an actual named successor, a soke in the traditional terminology.
On November 24, 2013, Kajiya Takanori was named the headmaster and received the certificate of ownership. Takanori’s dedication to the art lasted for years. He was originally a student of Massayuke and remained diligent under Iwami Gensho. He has an extensive background in several martial arts, including jiu jitsu.
Takanori’s still teaches Niten Ichi-ryu to this day in Japan while traveling the world to teach abroad. According to their website, there are 20 schools worldwide for Niten Ichi-ryu under Takanori’s lead. Musashi’s teachings may have evolved through Takanori and his predecessors, but the philosophy and spirit of Miyamoto Musashi live on.
Continuing a legacy
Miyamoto Musashi’s influence on martial arts has been incredible. Putting weapon arts aside, martial arts around the globe adopt his tactics and philosophies.
While the original line from Aoki, of which Gosho fought so hard to keep pure, is no longer led by a headmaster, Musashi tells us to “accept everything the way it is.” Kajiya Takanori is the head of Niten Ichi-ryu at this time. The other lineage may rise up and find it’s own leader in the near future. But Takanori is the one true leader as things sit right now.
This isn’t the traditional type of study I like to do for this website. But I feel it was one that was quite needed. Miyamoto Musashi’s teachings permeate 400 years after his passing. He inspires martial artists from Japan who practice Niten Ichi-ryu or kendo to the biggest names in the UFC.
Our lives pass us by and most people are a blip on the radar. There are a select few who last though the generations. Sun Tzu, Milo of Croton, Many are religious. Some are infamous. Others are inventors. Musashi will be best known for his philosophy. His story and teachings permeate through that philosophy.
The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him.Miyamoto Musashi