His sword became one with the god’s; the most supreme battōjutsu, which would shine throughout history was born.
During the Muromachi period lived a man who would go on to change the art of swordsmanship forever. The legacy he left survived nearly half a millennium, a legacy larger than that of any martial artist in his wake.
On the 12th of January 1542, a boy known as Asano Tamijimaru was born into a warrior family in Hayashizaki, a small village in Tateyama, Dewa Province (modern day Yamagata Prefecture, Murayama City).
His father was Asano Kazuma no Minamoto Shigenari. A retainer to the Mogami family branch in charge of the southeastern part of Dewa, he served Mogami Inaba no Kami Mitsuhide, the sixth Mogami Lord and overall fifteenth Lord of Tateoka Castle, in the Kitamurayama District of Tateoka City (modern day Yamagata Pref. Murayama City). Asano was known as a gentle and outgoing individual, earning him the trust of his lord.
Tamijimaru’s mother, Sugano, was the daughter of the Takamori Household in Tateoka. She was once a handmaiden to the princess of Yamagata Kasumi Castle and was an intelligent woman with a strong sense of determination, excelling in many arts.
At the age of five* Tamijimaru’s family was struck by tragedy. In 1547 Tamijimaru’s father was brutally murdered by Sakagami Shuzen (also known as Sakagawa Ichiunsai or Unsai), a fellow retainer of the Mogami Clan.
Serving as a martial arts instructor to the clan, Sakagawa bore a strong grudge and sense of envy towards Asano due to the way he performed etiquette within the castle.
One night, blinded by his resentment, Sakagawa ambushed Asano on his way back from visiting his family grave at Hayashizaki Daimyōjin Shrine. Sakagawa violently murdered him and fled into the dead of the night.
Tamijimaru and his mother Sugano, deprived of their breadwinner, were thrown into poverty. It is said from the moment his father was murdered, his mother spent years praying to the deity of Hayashizaki Daimyōjin Shrine with one single wish—retribution for her husband’s death.
With infant in her arms, Sugano prayed every day at the shrine, all the while waiting for her son to come of age and enact her husband’s vengeance. After eventually hearing from his mother that his father was murdered by a man called Sakagawa Shuzen, Tamijimaru took his first step towards justice and began his martial arts training as his mother instructed.
When he turned seven years old, Tamijimaru began studying Kyō Ryū Kenjutsu Heihō under Higashine Jirō Dayū, a chief vassal and kenjutsu instructor to the Mogami Clan his father served. (Kyō Ryū is also known as Kyōhachi Ryū. This style of swordsmanship was founded in the Heian Era, and legend states that all other kenjutsu schools to this day were born from this style. The famous Yoshioka brothers who Miyamoto Musashi defeated were said to be practitioners of this school.)
At twelve years old, Tamijimaru decided to retire to Hayashizaki Daimyōjin to begin training in earnest. However, his spirit and technique were not one and developed very little during his time training.
At fourteen years old, Tamijimaru went once more to the shrine to perform 100 days of prayer, this time pouring his entire soul into his training. On this occasion, his dedication shone through, with his spirit and technique harmonising. Then, one night, the deity of the shrine appeared to him in his dreams. During this epiphany, Tamijimaru received the innermost secrets of the most superb swordsmanship from the god.
At this moment, his sword became one with the god’s; the most supreme battōjutsu, which would shine throughout history, was born. This was the birth of Musō Shinden Jūshin Ryū.
Among the secrets of battō that were bestowed to Tamijimaru from the god of the Hayashizaki Daimyōjin Shrine was “Kesa no Hitotachi no Seishin”, the mindset of Kesa no Hitotachi:
Do not draw, do not force others to draw.
Do not cut, do not force others to cut.
Do not kill, do not be killed.
Even if one encounters the greatest of sinners, one should kindly offer sermon and steer them onto the righteous path.
If the worst occurs and they do not heed one’s sermon, then without hesitation apply Kesauchi and send them to Buddha.”
It taught the young Tamijimaru that above all, one should avoid violence at all costs, favouring steering your opponent onto the righteous path of peace and morality rather than simply cutting them down. He learnt that it was better to create a great man who in turn would create more great men, instead of just killing.
It was only as a last resort that one should turn to violence, and this was only to prevent others from being subsequently killed by that opponent. This was known as katsujinken, the life-giving sword.
In order to attain this state, Tamijimaru would have to cut away the Three Poisons from within himself: don, shin and chi. “Don” referring to the Buddhist Rāga or desire, “shin” to Dvesa or rage, and lastly “chi” being Moha or ignorance. After detaching himself from these poisons, he finally achieved serenity, thus wielding a “Sword of Compassion” and represented the god of the shrine itself.
He also received the secrets of wielding the sanjaku sanzun katana (a long sword with a one-metre blade) and the kyūsun gobu wakizashi (a short sword with a roughly 29 cm-long blade):
one should use the long sword as if it were short and the short sword as if it were long. Destroy your opponent’s distance and timing by smothering them in close quarters while still being able to draw the long sword; overcome tremendous distance, utilising every inch of one’s body with the short sword.
In 1559 upon turning seventeen, Asano Tamijimaru changed his name in light of discovering his new self, a practice very common for Japanese warriors.
He henceforth went by the name of Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu. He chose Hayashizaki after the name of his village, Jinsuke after his father’s infant name, and Shigenobu by utilising the first character of his father Shigenari’s name.
Soon after this, Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu received the inner secrets of Kyō Ryū Kenjutsu Heihō from Higashine Jirō Dayū. He travelled back to the shrine where he received his epiphany and vowed to the god that he would avenge his father’s death, simultaneously praying for success on his coming journey.
He requested leave from his mother and his teacher to begin musha shugyō, a warrior pilgrimage, and set out onto what would later be known as the Nakasendō Road (one of the five main roads of the Edo period), leaving Hayashizaki Village on the path of vengeance.
While walking the Nakasendō, Hayashizaki found himself in Shinshū (modern day Nagano Pref.). While here, he found lodging at the residence of Kitayama Hanzaemon, a member of a powerful local clan. During his stay, however, the Ibaragumi, a group of nobushi turned bandits, attacked the residence. In an incredible feat, Hayashizaki drew his sword, and in one swift, continuous movement, he dispatched the leader in a flash and easily finished off the remaining enemies. Talk of his amazing swordsmanship spread like wildfire, acting as a lightning rod drawing many warriors who were so impressed that they requested to be his students.
After his stay in Shinshū, he headed out onto the Tōkaidō Road, heading south in the direction of Bishū (modern day Nagoya), where eventually he reached castle grounds. After Bishū, he later settled in the former city of the Heian Emperor, Kyōto. Along the way, he trained with many skilled martial artists and attracted numerous students, who would subsequently go on to create their own schools of swordsmanship.
In April 1561, the nineteen-year-old Hayashizaki took part in a martial arts competition held before the thirteenth shōgun of the Ashikaga shogunate, Ashikaga Yoshiteru. Among the spectators were several local daimyō military leaders, including Matsunaga Tanjō. During his duels, Hayashizaki spectacularly defeated Nitta Yoshiaki, a master of Suwa Ryū, and was awarded a famous sword made by the Nobukuni family of smiths. This event was another turning point for Hayashizaki’s style and further added to his already growing reputation.
Not long after his success, Hayashizaki’s life was in for a dramatic turn of events. In May of the same year, he learned that the man who murdered his father, Sakagami Shuzen, the man he had been so desperately searching for all of those years, was living in Fushimi, Kyōto, hiding under the alias Rozan Daizen Toshitaka.
Upon hearing that the killer was residing in the same city, he immediately proceeded to Matsunaga Tanjō, whom he had met at the competition the previous month. Matsunaga was acting as the local shogunate security officer, and he was able to acquaint Hayashizaki with Miyoshi Nagayoshi. Miyoshi was the daimyō holding authority over the region, and his authorisation would be essential for Hayashizaki to carry out his mission. He proceeded to contact Miyoshi and requested permission to confront Rozan. Impressed by Hayashizaki’s martial prowess and dedication to his father, Miyoshi gave Hayashizaki his official stamp, signifying his consent for Hayashizaki to confront his father’s killer.
Filled undoubtedly with anticipation and determination, Hayashizaki began his reconnaissance on Sakagawa, carefully observing his movements and awaiting the opportune chance to take justice. It was finally on the 17th of May that Hayashizaki was ultimately able to confront his father’s killer at Tanbakaidō. Drawing his Nobukuni blade, Hayashizaki clove Sakagami’s head clean from his shoulders in the perfect embodiment of iai and sending him to Buddha. At last, Hayashizaki was able to avenge his father, decisively putting an end to his family’s years of grief. After performing the Buddhist rites, Hayashizaki prepared Sakagami’s head and set off on the long journey back to his hometown. Almost immediately, ripples were felt through Kyōto, as the story of Hayashizaki’s dedication echoed through the streets.
Upon arriving back in his hometown, Hayashizaki told his mother and teacher of his achievements on his pilgrimage and proceeded to lay Sakagami’s head atop his father’s grave. He prayed that his father could finally rest in peace, and he went once more to the shrine where it all started. The local village held a festival in his honour to celebrate his bravery, devotion and martial prowess at the shrine. With his mission complete, Hayashizaki offered his Nobukuni sword to the shrine, where it remains to this day.
Sadly the following year in 1562, after many years of hardship, Hayashizaki’s mother passed away due to illness and Hayashizaki was orphaned. With no more reason to stay in Hayashizaki Village and keen to further improve his swordsmanship, he set out again onto his second musha shugyō. Hayashizaki headed south to Yonezawa before then proceeding on towards Aizu (west of modern day Fukushima Pref.). There he took temporary residence in Akai Village, Wakamatsu, overall spending three years in southern Tōhoku. During his brief stay here, Hayashizaki took on many students from the surrounding area, training them in iai, and further spreading his style.
Come 1565, Hayashizaki travelled further south into the Kantō region of Japan and onto Kashima in Ibaraki Pref. While travelling around Kashima, he spent his time practising and studied Tenshinshō Shintō Ryū for around three years before setting out to his next destination. During this time, Tsukahara Bokuden was also studying the style from his adopted father.
At twenty six, Hayashizaki took residence with Matsuda Norihide, a direct vassal of the Hōjō Clan. He instructed the clansmen in the martial art he had spent so many years refining. The following year in 1569, Takeda Shingen’s forces attacked Suruga (modern day Shizuoka Pref.), storming Kanbara Castle. Under the service of Matsuda, Hayashizaki took part in the subsequent battle of Kanbara Castle. Despite massive losses on both sides, Hayashizaki demonstrated his phenomenal skills and even presented two heads he had claimed from Shingen forces following the battle.
After exhibiting his prowess on the field, he received a direct invitation from the Hōjō Clan asking him to return to continue instructing martial arts to their soldiers. Over the next few years, he continued training and amassing students.
In traditional pilgrimage fashion, it was time to depart once more. On the 10th of May 1595, Hayashizaki continued on his path South to Ichinomiya (modern day Ōmiya, Saitama Pref.). He lived on the grounds of the local Shintō Shrine, where he would spend three years developing his art further and searching for internal harmony.
After many years of wandering, he found himself arriving in Kawagoe City on the 18th of February 1616. During his time in the city, he stayed with Takamatsu Kanbei.
The following year he took his leave of Kawagoe, finally heading off in the direction of his home village, only to vanish into the sands of time. His whereabouts after this period, his place of death and the location of his grave are unknown, though a humble wooden plaque remains in Kawagoe, signifying his final known resting place.
It is very rare for someone with as much influence as Hayashizaki to have so little recorded of them. However, his life and legacy took place amongst long periods of civil upheaval; the fall of the Ashikaga Shogunate and a move towards decentralised government and the daimyō system, this subsequently cast Japan into the Warring States period. Finally, the country would arrive at a time of national unification and peace, the Edo period.
Throughout this turmoil, it is thought most records were lost amongst the rise and fall of governments. Along with the death of his students in war, many records were lost when they changed hands. But despite this, he amassed many students who would continue his legacy, create their own military fighting methods, and some who were already famous in their own right.
These students include but are not limited to:
-Takamatsu Kanbei Nobukatsu, Ichimiya Ryū (Takamatsu Line)
-Higashi Shimono no Kami Motoharu, founder of Shinmyō Musō Higashi Ryū
-Tamiya Heibei no Jō Shigemasa, founder of Tamiya Ryū and second generation Jūshin Ryū.
-Nagano Muraku Nyūdō Kinrosai, founder of Muraku Ryū and third generation Jūshin Ryū.
-Ichimiya Sadayū Terunobu Kōshin, founder of Ichimiya Ryū, fourth generation Hayashizaki Shin Musō Ryū (Ichimiya Ryū Tani Ha).
-Sekiguchi Yarokuemon Shinshin Ujimune, founder of Sekiguchi Ryū.
-Katayama Hōki no Kami Hisayasu, founder of Hōki Ryū.
-Sakurai Gorōzaemon Naomitsu, teacher of Mima Yoichizaemon Kagenobu, founder of Suiō Ryū.
-Ashikaga Shōgun Yoshiteru
-Senshi Yamashiro no Kami
-Daitōji Suruga no Kami Masashige
-Amakasu Ōmi no Kami
-Utsunomiya Mikawa no Kami
-Nagano Shinano no Kami
The swordsmanship passed on to a boy of only fourteen has continued for almost 500 years, still prospering to this day. No one knows exactly why the god of the shrine chose a young boy to receive the secrets of divine swordsmanship. Perhaps it was a moment of compassion by the god, looking down on a boy struggling to survive with his mother. Or even possibly Tamijimaru was destined to be the mouth of god in order for divine iaijutsu to prosper. It may even have been the plan of a God of War, hungering to carve its way through a country in civil turmoil. Maybe it was the wisdom and devotion needed for man to live through a country in chaos. The only thing that can be certain is that mere men will never understand the workings of gods.
Timeline of Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto no Shigenobu’s life:
1540: Parents Asano Kazuma no Minamoto Shigenari and Sugano were married.
1542: Born on 12th of January.
1547: Father murdered by Sakagami Shuzen.
1549: Entered into Higashine Dōjō to study Kyō Ryū.
1554: Prayed at Hayashizaki Daiyōjin to improve swordsmanship, mind and technique were not ready.
1556: Performed hundred day prayer at Hayashizaki Daimyōjin and this time received the secrets of iai in an epiphany.
1559: Changes name to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu. Masters Kyō Ryū, sets out on musha shugyō
1560: -Arrives in Kyōto.
-Awarded Nobukuni sword.
-Defeats Sakagami Shuzen on Tanbakaidō.
1562: Loses his mother Sugano to illness, sets out on second pilgrimage.
1563: Travels from Yonezawa and recruits students at Akai village in Wakamatsu, Aizu.
1565: Studies Tenshinshō Shintō Ryū alongside Tsukahara Bokuden.
1568: Enters into the service of the Hōjō Clan as a martial arts instructor.
1569: Fights in the battle of Kanbara Castle.
1595: Settles onto sacred grounds in Ichinomiya
1598: Leaves Ichinomiya to continue on pilgrimage.
1616: Stays with Takamatsu Kanbei in Kawagoe.
1617: Sets off on final journey back to his hometown, never to be heard of again.
千早振る 神の勲功我受けて 萬代まで傳え残さむ
*Many sources cite Hayashizaki’s age as six, and subsequent ages a year older. This is due to the kazoedoshi tradition in Japan of being classed as one year old at birth, and aging one year at New Year’s.
**Many sources claim he received the secret of utilising a long hilt for iai but this is a mistake. The mistake was born from Higashi Shimono no Kami Motoharu having of a student of similar name: Hayashizaki Jinsuke Katsuyoshi. He was a practitioner of a Shintō Ryū Kenjutsu which purports the benefits of a longer sword and hilt. Tamijimaru inherited the secrets of the longer sword, and the hilt was longer simply for balance purposes. His focus was on instantaneous reaction from the scabbard. Tamiya Heibei no Jō Shigemasa was also a practitioner adept with a sword with a long tsuka to gain distance over your opponent (but not a longer sword).
This article was originally intended to be the first article on this website. However, it took a lot longer than expected (and a lot longer than planned!) to write. Many problems with dates and places and a complete lack of information made this article a challenge to write, hence why it took so long.
I have tried my hardest to make this as historically accurate as possible, cross-referencing the dates of Hayashizaki’s life across numerous sources and researching the historical events happening at the same times. A lot of time researching and translating was spent on this article. Sadly, however, his life was surrounded in mystery, and many legends exist.
Despite this, I humbly consider that this article is currently the most detailed account of his life in the English language, condensed into one article, with most anomalies and inaccuracies removed.
Should anyone wish to use the information within this article, I would be flattered but request that I be contacted first and properly cited.
林崎抜刀術兵法 夢想神傳重信流 伝書集及び業手付解説木村榮壽
詳解 田宮流居合 妻木正鱗
無双直伝英信流居合兵法 地之巻 政岡壹實
詳解居合 無双直伝英信流 三谷義里
居合の研究 夢想神伝流 上・下巻 松峰達男