Hokushin is another description for the North Star.
This naming is taken from “Hokushin Musoryu”, a style practiced by the founder of the style, Master Chiba Shusaku Narimasa during his adolesence.
Ittoryu was taken from the “Nakanishi Ittoryu” school which he trained as a youth.
Since the North Star can be seen immovable in the center of the celestial sky the name “Hokushin Ittoryu” was used to imply the physical center where the strength gathered making the swordsman immovable and invincible.
The school (dojo) of Hokushin Ittoryu was located at, Kanda Otamaga Ike in today’s Chiyoda-ward, Tokyo and was named “Genbukan”. Genbu is an imaginary beast that protects the northern sky and is represented in a chimerical form of a snake entangled by a turtle. The snake symbolizes the prosperity, while the turtle is said to symbolize the Martial Arts (Budo).
Characteristics of Hokushin Ittoryu
Hokushin Ittoryu is considered the most influential school during the end of Tokugawa period founded by a master swordsman Chiba Shusaku Narimasa.
Unlike the other sword schools in the past, it did away with any mystical and authoritative practice methods, with emphasis only on logical explanations and practical training, thus earning a reputation that the curriculum facilitated the progress in learning the art of swordsmanship.
It appealed and gathered a lot of students and when a roster of practitioners was dedicated in honor of the school at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa the names of listed students numbered over 6,000.
Master Shusaku trained the students by both introducing a shinai (bamboo stick) sparring with protective gears along with a kata (forms) practice and considered the two methods inseparable.
The adherence to kata training when most schools were only practicing shinai sparring is something to be noted.
This was influenced by the tutelage of Master Terada Goro Uemon during Master Chiba’s days at the Nakanishi school. (Master Terada was a formidable swordsman who achieved the highest level of swordsmanship only thru the practice of kata).
Master Chiba’s prowess was so great, such that the head of Jikishin Kageryu school, Master Otani (who was the highest ranking swordsman at that time) commented that “Master Chiba must have faced unimaginable hardships to achieve such a high level of skills”
His second son Eijiro was also reputed with outstanding skills, and they together became a father and son model as Akiyama Kohei and Daijiro, two main characters of a well-known and popular Japanese periodic novel entitled the “Kenkaku Shobai.” ( Professional Swordsmen).
About Master Chiba Shusaku
Master Chiba Shūsaku Narimasa was the son of the swordsman Chūzaemon, who was originally from Miyagi Prefecture. He was born as the second son of his family in Kesen-Mura. The father and son later moved to Mito Prefecture where during childhood he practiced the Hokushin Musoryu under the tutelage of Master Chiba Kichinojo.
At the age of 16 as an adopted son of Master Kichinojo he assumed the name Shusaku and left for Edo (today’s Tokyo) to practice under the tutelage of Master Asari Matahichiro Yoshinobu. From there on his name remained as Chiba Shusaku Narimasa.
Master Asari Matahichiro Yoshinobu
Master Asari was an expert swordsman from the Nakanishi style school and was appointed as the guardian of the Nakanishi family.
This is considered an exceptional position as such that if the Nakanishi family resulted in losing all of its successor(s) the Asari family will assume the position to succeed and head the school..
In another words, Master Asari wielded a special influence to one of the most prestigious sword school at that time in Edo (today’s Tokyo).
Master Asari saw a genius in Chiba Shusaku.
Master Asari first trained Shusaku as the most valued student at his own school and once considering him ready, sent him to continue his practice at the Nakanishi school.
At that time Nakanishi school was considered to be the best training hall in Japan attended by famous practitioners such as Goro Terada, Toru Shirai, Takayanagi Matashiro and Asari Shichiro Yoshiaki who later tutored the famous Yamaoka Tesshu to achieve zen enlightenment thru the practice of swordsmanship.
By giving him that opportunity, Master Asari helped progress Shusaku’s mastery of his swordsmanship. However, for Shusaku, being a genius as he was, even training at the number one school in Japan did not make him satisfied.
The birth of the Hokushin Ittoryu
Soon, Master Chiba began to make changes to improve the Ittoryu style.
For Master Asari who had great hopes for Chiba Shusaku’s talent, it made his position politically difficult as a guardian of the Nakanishi style since he needed to protect the school’s tradition.
In order to avoid any conflicts, both parties decided to separate amicably thus allowing Master Chiba to pursue new possibilities
It should be noted that even after the separation, the relation remained amicable since Master Chiba continued to use the name of Asari Shusaku whenever he wrote his manuscripts.
As a result, Master Chiba Shusaku left the Asari household together with his wife and became independent, establishing a new school named the Hokushin Itttoryu.
The demise of Hokushin Ittoryu
With the Meiji Restoration, the carrying and use of the sword was legally banned. Also for the Chiba family the succeeding children all died whilst young, and this misfortune led to the demise of the lineage in three generations starting from Shusaku to Eijiro and finally to Michisaburo.