Komatsuzaki Kotō (小松崎古登夫)


The information that follows is derived from a remarkable interview, originally published in Meiji 38. (1905), a republication of the inaugural issue of what is probably Japan’s oldest and most prestigious women’s magazine, “Fujingaho” (Click this link for the original). This is an interview/article with Komatsuzaki Kotō, currently regarded as the 15th generation headmistress of Toda-ha Bukō-ryu. [1] Komatsuzaki sensei describes a history of the development of this school that is quite at variance to that recorded in other areas of this website. Her interview is transcribed, as is, however, as this is her understanding of the ryu & the historical context within which she practiced. Please refer to other pages concerning the historical figures in this essay for the orthodox historical record.

 The photograph that one can see in this article shows Komatsuzaki, with a bokken, training with a young student with a naginata, in her dōjō, the Bukōkan. On the wall behind, one can see the Shinmon (vows to the school) as well as a compendium of the techniques of the school, divided in omote, ura, and oku sections, listing the general groupings of kata.

Komatsuzaki’s History of Toda-ha Bukō-ryu

Odawara castle was under final attack by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Hōjō Ujikuni, the lord of the Hachigatajyō castle, spoke to his wife, Daifuku Gozen, who was in the last stages of her pregnancy, Ujikuni said, “I’m going to kill myself, but you must survive. If you give birth to a boy, you cannot name him Hōjō, because Hideyoshi would not let him live. Name him Suneya Danjyō. If it’s a girl, do whatever you want with it.”

Daifuku Gozen narrowly escaped the castle with only a couple of servants. They walked many miles through hills and valleys, escaping to the foot of Mt. Bukō (Bukōsan). It was a terribly cruel journey through rugged land.

She went into labor as they arrived at Bukōsan. Her retainers made a small log hut, covering it with thatch. She gave birth to a boy, whom she named Suneya Danjyō. As he grew up, she trained him in naginata. Word drifted back to the survivors of the siege of Hachigatajyō, and some gathered at the foot of Bukōsan, building a small village of eighty households. This was the start of the Suneya clan.

My Teacher

My teacher was Suneya Ryosuke, known as Bukōsai. He and his wife, Suneya Satō, were bujutsu instructors in area of Joshu, in Kiryu (Ashikaga area). This was a prominent farming and silk-producing area (therefore well-to-do and able to afford to hire bujutsu teachers). In Kaiei 6 (1854), Perry arrived and forced contact with the West upon Japan. The bakufu hired many kenjutsutsukai as did many of the daimyō, to prepare for possible invasion. Ryosuke and Satō were engaged as bujutsu instructors by a prominent official of the Kishu domain. Mizuno Ooi no kami, and they were stationed in Edo. They taught in that capacity for some time, but eventually quit and opened up their own dōjō in Yotsuya, Tenmachō.

I had wanted to learn naginata since I was very young.  Hearing that this dōjō had opened, I went there straight-away at the age of sixteen, and began practicing every day until the start of the Meiji era. [2] The dōjō was very popular. Bukōsai mostly taught gekiken, while his wife taught mostly naginata. [3] She was the 8th generation shihan of the school. The dōjō had about one hundred fifty to two hundred students who came to train everyday. All classes were a mix of men and women.

Bukōsai had one son named Suneya Takenosuke, whom he intended to make the ninth generation shihan of the school, but he died young. [4]. Bukōsai sensei was profoundly disappointed and told me that I must preserve this ryugi. That is why I have done this, bearing terrible hardship to this day. [5] I am the third daughter of an old bakufu retainer, Komatsuzaki Yoshihiro.

The Benefits of Naginata

 The most important aspect of naginata is kiai. Unlike sports, where movement and technique is all that is important, you cannot move properly or wield the naginata without kiai.. Kiai comes from the fullness of spirit, where the entire body can be used in unity to drive your movements. That is why naginata practice is so useful to those who enter  training with weak bodies or nervous disorders. After one to two months, trainees stop needing to see doctors–they feel healthy, even their food tastes better. Not only students, but their parents notice the change. It’s not just movement (exercise) that makes it a medicine. it is due to the concentration of ki (気)in the lower abdomen. This becomes ‘medicine’ for the entire body.

Through this, you develop tanryoku (胆力), [6] which gives you the ability to be decisive. No matter what happens, you will not become uncertain. Through tanryoku, you will not waver or make a fuss. Even in very dangerous situations, your tanryoku will ground you and you will not be impulsive. You will thereby cultivate bravery. This cannot be developed through exercise—only through budo.

When I was about sixteen or seventeen, our country had just started to come into (forced) contact with the outside world. I began to think that Japan being a very small country, we had to cultivate great people if we were to confront the West. Pondering upon that, I began reading history books and listening to my elders, and came to believe that the development of solid strong women of endurance can produce heroes of mythic stature.

We must produce quality mothers. I do not have that much education, so I feel hesitant in saying this, but I believe I can contribute to our country by creating strong women with tanryoku, who thereby can create many strong children. It is fortunate that, nowadays, women have more and more chance to study. More and more intelligent women have been produced in the Meiji era. If you add bujutsu to these intelligent women, you will produce perfect ladies of strength and intelligence.

I have had many hardships and difficulties, that most people could not bear or even imagine. Using just my own courage, I’ve arrived to this day. I exhort everyone to cultivate their tanryoku and create heroes of mythic stature and work for our country.

What is naginata?

 Not many people really know about the naginata. From time to time, people attend gekiken-kai (fencing matches), and the impression that most people get is that they are just hitting each other. Naginata is not just that. Whenever I teach, I first recite our Shinmon (vows concerning practice, loyalty to the school and how to live). It is essential that you are loyal to your country, to your parents, and to your husband. I will only take someone as a disciple if they can keep these vows. People who do not understand this about our school assume that practice will turn you into a coarse and violent person. Quite the contrary–through practice, you will place your feet upon fujin-no-michi (the path of womanhood). It must be conceded you will, in fact, run across coarse, mannerless and violent women at the gekiken-kai. Therefore, this misapprehension on the part of others is understandable. Naginata practitioners also can get a reputation as being too strict and stubborn. The purpose of practice—and I hope you agree with me—is to create full, perfect women for Japan.

Toda-ha Bukō-ryu Becomes Known Beyond Japan

 In Meiji 34 (1901), a prominent English educator, Elizabeth Phillips Hughes came to observe my class at Meiji Jōgakkō. She was enthralled, and told me that she had been in Japan for two and one-half months, and that this was the best thing she had seen. She stated that this was a perfect method of women’s physical education, and inquired of me why I did not adapt it to a regular school program. I said that I did not believe the Mombushō (Ministry of Education) would want to do that. Miss Hughes said that she thought I should submit a formal proposal and that she would be happy to accompany me to the Mombushō. [7] Five days later, Miss Hughes came to vist me at the dōjō. On the previous occasion, I only presented Toda-ha Bukō-ryu kata, but this time we donned men-gote and showed her shiai. Miss Hughes was astonished and inquired of the translator how old I was. Informed that I was in my sixties, she exclaimed that she was ten years younger and couldn’t imagine moving like I did. Thanks to Miss Hughes’ introduction, I began teaching that the Women’s English Language Academy

How I Made My Name

Let us return to an earlier period: Meiji 15 (1882). There was a well-known man named Koteda Yasusada. He was the ex-governor of Shiga Province, and an avid practitioner of budo. [8] He would train in gekiken at the Yamaoka dōjō whenever he came to Tokyo (formerly Edo). Upon hearing of me, he wanted to have a match. However, I had had many fires at my house, and I no longer had a shiai naginata, so I refused. Koteda thought I was afraid. Every day, he would send students of the dōjō to pressure me. Yamaoka sensei, too, sent emissaries, requesting that I engage him in a shiai. Finally, I went to an old craftsman, who still had a shop, and asked him to make me a shiai naginata [9] On December 16th, 1882, I presented myself at the dōjō. There were nine renowned masters waiting there in a line, (including Ono sensei, Chiba sensei and Yamaoka sensei), none of whom I had met before. Koteda had made ryōtō shinai especially for this match (presumably replicas of a katana and wakizashi, which suggests he intended to fight her in Shingyoto-ryu’s two-sword style). There was a huge audience.”

I said, “I haven’t practiced for fourteen years, but let’s have a match. [10] [11] Unfortunately, I soon became short of breath and my body didn’t move as I wished. I took a break, and then demanded a second match. This time, I felt my body move with more grace and I could maintain control of my breath. I barely made it, and then we stopped. Then someone accompanied me home. The assembled sensei got together and partied, and critiqued the match they had just seen. [12] I was later made aware that the assembled sensei viewed the first bout as a draw, I won the second  70-30. That was their decision and Koteda was really chagrined.


Meiji Period: A match at the dojo of Chiba Shusaku

Meiji Period: A match at the dojo of Chiba Shusaku

Hearing about this led Kawada Kageoki, a member of the nobility, to ask me to teach his daughters. This was the beginning of my career as an instructor. I was then about forty years old.

Koteda later came to Tokyo for business. He dropped by the Kawada mansion on a day that I was teaching, and talked about the match. He said, “I haven’t been sleeping well. All I can think about is my loss.” Food and wine were brought out and we ate. Then he said, “I can’t beat you. Let’s stop the fight and be friends.” (Komatsuzaki, it is implicit, really hadn’t been thinking about him at all).

Then, he demanded another match, asking Kawada to be a second to the match. Komatsuzaki agreed, but later on, he was nowhere to be found. Komatsuzaki asked Kawada who said, “That’s puzzling. He usually says goodbye to me before leaving town. He just went home. He must be so afraid of you that he simply left!”  Komatsuzaki, writing of her thoughts, said, “Imagine that! He challenged me, solicited Kawada for support, making it a formal match, and then he returned home! What a coward. I’m going to tease him.”

I do not compose poetry all that well, but I wrote the following waka:  My preface was: ‘I had heard of the governor of Shiga, and his great tanryoku, but he’s a coward.’

What is to admire in this manly figure

What is the use of your vow?

Then, I wrote: “PS—Please give me your reply.

Koteda never wrote me back. I didn’t tell Kawada about this, and time passed. The next year, Koteda became a senator in the Diet. Kawada said, “Now that he’s a senator, he’ll come visit us.” I replied that I would love to see him. A month later, I was at the mansion, relaxing in Kawada’s wife’s salon, before practice, and Kawada entered the room laughing. He sat down beside me and said, “You are such a bold person!” I asked him what he was talking about. He told me that Koteda had presented himself to the Diet for his first session, and the entire chamber began laughing at him.

Kawada said, “You sent him a waka, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did,” I replied. “If he were a common policeman or such, I’d let it go. [13] But this is a governor. He made a vow and broke it. That is cowardly to the max. If I see him, I’d love to get a reply.” Kawada told me, “Well, it caused huge laughter, but he can’t write poetry.”  Koteda later visited the mansion and I confronted him. He tried to turn the tables on me, saying, “It’s not that I can’t write poetry, but if I replied, people would think it was a love poem, and I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” We became very good friends. Sadly he died young. He would have supported me in my endeavors, and with his loss, that’s how my life became a struggle.

POSTSCRIPT: Beyond this article, the only other thing known about Komatsuzaki is that she presented her art in Meiji 41 (1917) before one of the princes of the imperial family, Fushiminomiya Sadanaru.


[1] The reader will note in the article that Komatsuzaki sensei refers to herself as the 10th generation headmistress. For at least a hundred and fifty years, the lineage of Toda-ha Bukō-ryu listed far fewer individuals listed that one would expect going from the founding years of the ryu. Different makimono list place some names in different order, and have other small variations, but the most salient point is that the lineage jumps from Suneya Danjyō, the progenitor of the Suneya family to Suneya Ryosuke, whom we regard as the chuko no sō, the founder of the renaissance of Toda-ha Bukō-ryu, a gap of several hundred years. As can be noted in the biographies on this website, Nitta Suzuyō sensei, based on her own historical research, inserted all the members of the Suneya family from Danjyō to Ryosuke. Logically speaking, how could the art have been transmitted from Toda Seigen through the first several generations, without a family transmission in the Suneya clan? However, given that as far back as Komatsuzaki sensei, these names were not included-at least not all of them—it is also possible that the ‘founding’ generations of the ryu may not have had such a direct link. Suneya Ryosuke may have incorporated these names based on oral tradition. There may have been an inchoate Suneya-kei (family) martial art, but Suneya Ryosuke may have had a much more direct role in the establishment of Toda-ha Bukō-ryu.

[2] The best information we have is that Suneya Ryosuke returned to Chichibu at the fall of the bakufu – around 1868 or 1869. It is likely that Suneya Satō returned with him, if for no other reason than she is listed in the lineage of the Chichibu-den Toda-ha Bukō-ryu of the Sakai family, which was apparently established after the Tokyo dōjō era. In any event, this suggests that Komatsuzaki probably studied about eight to ten years, depending on when she entered the Yotsuya dōjō.

[3]  Bukōsai was a master instructor of Kogen Ittō-ryu—in fact, this is where he was most famous.At this time, most sword schools taught kata (pattern drills) and gekiken (competitive fending with protective equipment). Later, with more strict rules codified, it developed into modern kendō.

[4] There is one kishomon, dated 1858, signed by Suneya Ryoemon Minamoto no Tomotake, listed as a shihan of the Kishu domain. It is reasonable to assume that Takenosuke is the same son, by another name, given that he, too, was listed as shihan. This also helps us pin-point the history of the Yotsuya dōjō a little more, as it would have started after this date.

[5] In truth, there were others who received menkyō-kaiden (full licensure as shihan) in the ryu. There is, of course, the lineage in Chichibu, probably established after the start of Meiji, when Ryosuke and Satō returned to their ancestral home. In addition, there was another shihan in Tokyo named Yazawa Isaō, who received menkyo-kaiden in 1869 from Suneya Satō. Komatsuzaki was the teacher of Murakami Hideō, the 17th generation headmistress, but oral tradition maintains that after Komatsuzaki’s death, Yazawa took over as Murakami’s instructor. This was clearly a lateral transmission. In some records, Yazawa is referred to as zuishin, a term to refer to such a relationship. Furthermore, in makimono Yazawa bequeathed to her own students, the lineage goes from Suneya Satō to Yazawa Isaō–Komatsuzaki was not mentioned.

[6] Tan is a word that means the gall-bladder-liver. Coupled with the character for ‘power,’ this word means courage/grit/pluck/mettle. It is a perfect Meiji word, and epitomizes the Meiji man or woman.

 [7] At this time, Europeans had remarkable influence. The subtext of Komatsuzaki sensei’s doubts was that Meiji Japan, in trying to compete with the Western powers, was throwing away its own traditional culture. Many cultural treasures of Japan, among them traditional martial studies, only remain because a foreign visitor or resident of some prestige expressed interest in it.

[8] Koteda Yasusada held a menkyo-kaiden in Shingyotō-ryu, famed for its two-sword technique and also Yamoka Tesshu’s Ittō-Shoden Mutō-ryu, famed for the severity of its practice. He also trained in Jikishinkage-ryu kenjutsu.

[9] In those days, a shiai-naginata was a wooden replica of a naginata, more slender than the ones used for kata, sometimes sheathed with leather.

[10] There are some interesting nuances to this story. Counting back fourteen years from 1882, we come to the inception of the Meiji period, when her teacher’s, Suneya Ryosuke and Suneya Satō returned to Chichibu. She entered their dōjō at the age of sixteen, and trained approximately eight years, when she would have been in her mid-twenties. She was designated a shihan of the school. First of all, she must have been very powerful, and made quite a name for herself. However, does this mean that she was absolutely inactive for fourteen years? If so, why would this powerful man wish to challenge her out of all the naginata practitioners in Tokyo? Why would nine of the foremost sword teachers of the era assemble to see such a match? Therefore, it is possible that what she means is that she had not engaged in competitive matches for fourteen years, but was still well-known as a teacher in Tokyo, focusing on the instruction of Toda-ha Bukō-ryu’s kata. On the other hand, perhaps I am reading too much into it. Perhaps she was so well-known that a decade and a-half later, she was still a worthy opponent to challenge, despite her early retirement from training.

When we put the pieces together, we have a woman who was deliberately modest. She was a daughter of the nobility, and the successor of the school of a renowned husband and wife pair of shihan-yaku. She was, at one time, a famous fighter, so much so that of all the naginata fighters ‘available,’ she is the one that Koteda wants to enhance his reputation, and this is something that makes perfect sense to the top teachers in Tokyo.

[11] In these days, there was no score-keeper or referee to determine a winner. Rather, one was aware oneself when one struck or was struck by an opponent. Further, the watching teachers would note what happened, and come to a consensus who was a winner or loser.

[12] As a woman, it would have been unseemly for her to participate in the drinking and feasting (and possibly ribald entertainment) that followed.

[13] Policemen were among the most prominent participants in nascent kendō matches, but they weren’t exactly the kind of people for a woman of Komatsuzaki’s stature to write poetry to.