Chujō-ryu 中条流

Kurama (鞍馬), a small mountain northwest of Kyoto, is considered one of the primordial centers of Japanese combatives.  It was believed to be the residence of Sōjōbō (僧正坊), the king of the tengu,  chthonic nature spirits.  Sōjōbō is usually pictured as a yamabushi (mountain ascetic), with long white hair, and frequently a long nose as well.  Sōjōbō was said to have taught swordsmanship to Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the famous 12th century warlord.

Legend has it that in later times,  eight monks, disciples of a mysterious master swordsman, Hōgen Kiichi, developed different martial traditions, then known as the Kyo Hachi-ryu (“Eight Traditions of the Capital”). Legends about Hōgen abound—making him everything from a tengu  to a master of esoteric lore.  Among those eight monks, one developed the Chujō-ryu (中条流) which, along with Shintō-ryu and Aisu Kage-ryu, is considered one of the primordial martial traditions.  Chujō-ryu was allegedly transmitted through the Chujō family for many generations.

Soma Shiro Yoshimoto (circa 1368–1427 c.e.), is the next significant figure in the Kurama tradition. When Soma was five years old, his father, a vassal of Nitta Yoshisada, was murdered. Soma’s wet nurse ran away with the young boy, and two years later he became the disciple of a traveling priest. He was given the name Nen Ami, and took up a life of wandering. At the age of ten, they traveled to the Kurama-dera.   Soma was taught the “inner secrets of military tactics” by an ijin, a word that means either an outsider or a foreigner; in this case, it probably means a mountain ascetic.  At the age of sixteen, Soma was further taught Mikkyo at Jifukuji temple in Kamakura. At eighteen, asleep in the precincts of a temple in Tsukushi on the island of Kyushu, he received enlightenment from Marishiten, a Buddhist deity associated with both justice and war, taking the name Jion.  He returned to his birthplace and avenged his father’s death.  (Note:  more details on Jion can be read in Chapter 2:  Maniwa Nen-ryu in Ellis Amdur’s Old School).

Jion is said to have had fourteen disciples, seven from the Kansai region and seven from the Kanto. Many of these men started their own martial traditions. Three of these individuals became especially famous. Two developed branches of the famous Nen-ryu.  The third, Chujō Nakahide (中条長秀), is said to have restructured the Chujō-ryu based on a combination of his family’s teachings and those of Jion.

The Chujō-ryu gave rise to many important ryu, among them the Toda-ryu, the Togun-ryu, and the Ippo-ryu. The most important descendent of the Chujō-ryu is the Itto-ryu. The founder, Itto Ittosai Kagehisa, learned Toda-ryu from Kanemaki Jisai. Kagehisa’s Itto-ryu became the most influential martial tradition in the Edo period (1603–1868), through its utility in unarmored dueling kenjutsu and its further permutation into kendo (modern-day Japanese fencing).