Not much is known about the origins of Kondo Kuranosuke Nagamichi (近藤内蔵助長裕), the founder of the Tennen Rishin Ryu (天然理心流) samurai martial system. He is believed to be from the rural part of Totomi province west of the Kanto plain, in what is now known as Shizuoka Prefecture and his date of birth is unknown. However, the martial lineage he passed down would become widely known throughout the Tama region of what is now western Tokyo.
At some point around 1789, he went on a warriors pilgrimage (武者修行/musha shugyo) to study sword-based combat and eventually became adept in the Kashima Shinto Ryu (鹿島新当流). His travel and training included significant time in Shimosa province in the area currently known as Chiba and Ibaraki prefectures. He visited the revered martial shrines of Kashima and Katori that held significance as the one-time frontier edge of the ancient Yamato State.
He would later mix the kanji used by Katori Shinto Ryu (香取神道流) with his Kashima credentials to render his lineage using kanji (鹿島神道流) in a way that differs from the school descended from the famed Tsukahara Bokuden.
Inspired By Dissatisfaction
The Tokugawa Shogunate had solidified hegemony over the feudal clans in 1602, thereby concluding the era of constant conflict, and the once warring samurai had settled into the routines of bureaucratic life by the time Kondo established Tennen Rishin Ryu. One could imagine that most samurai had lost their martial spirit and Kondo may have been disillusioned by the tame, yet popular, modes of training in the late Edo period.
Kondo organized Tennen Rishin Ryu with an orientation on actual combat, primarily using the long and short swords. This comprehensive system (Sogo Bujutsu) also incorporated jujutsu for grappling with an armed or unarmed opponent as well as bojutsu for being able to continue in battle even when one’s spear tip has been broken or cut off.
Taking the first two characters in the name of the lineage, (天然) Tennen means natural. One can find these characters used in regular Japanese, such as when describing a hot spring or forest. The second part of the name, Rishin (理心), speaks of reason, logic, or principle as well as heart, mind, or spirit.
Taken together, Kondo, wanted his system to have a natural yet logical approach to understanding how to prevail in interpersonal combat. The school’s transmission documents describe achieving total victory while maintaining composure in the face of conflict. The techniques are straightforward and raw, yet encompass deep subtlety.
Finding Opportunity in a Crowded Market
While samurai enjoyed legal privileges over the other classes in feudal society, Tokugawa hegemony during a time of extended peace also saw financial resources move out of the hands of warrior bureaucrats and into the rising fortunes of merchants and farmers.
The samurai largely forgot their martial responsibilities and grew comfortable while insulated from the realities of war. Divorced from the discipline of combat, yet fed from a steady stipend, samurai became lazy and unresponsive to the security needs of the country outside their palaces.
In the security vacuum left by the indolent samurai, average people, on the other hand, saw the need to attend to their own security rise. Kondo found opportunity in teaching the farmers in the rural Tama region to the west of the military capital in Edo. This also fit the Tokugawa policy of encouraging common people in Tama to practice the martial arts so as to allow them to fend for themselves and save the Shogun’s policing resources for other priorities.
From Tama To Kyoto And Infamy
Kondo traveled around Tama and fostered several branch dojo teaching his combat system to farmers, merchants, commoners, and townspeople. For this reason, Tennen Rishin Ryu became known as Tama No Hiken (多摩の秘剣), the Secret Sword of Tama.
While the techniques passed down may be secrets held by initiates, the name of Kondo's system would reach the height of fame after the fourth headmaster, Kondo Isami, applied them with great ferocity several decades later as a founding member of the legendary Shinsengumi special police corps.
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