Written by Guy H. Power,
Renshi, 7th dan

Copyright 1995-present.


The Heigakko (Officer Academy) was established in 1868 at Kyoto to graduate leaders for the new Meiji Restoration army; it later became the parent school of the Rikugun Toyama Gakko, Toyama Army Academy, which was established in 1873. The Toyama Military Academy trained the officers and noncommissioned officers of Japan's modern, western-styled army and was located in the Toyama district of Tokyo.1 Both academies were the Japanese equivalent of America's West Point, or England's Sandhurst Military Academy.

1940. Zan Geki: Rikugun Toyama Gakko ni te (Combat Cutting: at the Toyama Military Academy) (photos from the war-time magazine Shin Budo and reprinted in Hiden Magazine with the caption: Gunto Jutsu no Tameshigiri (Test Cutting with the Military Sword) (Hiden, vol. 9, 1992, p. 83).

To ensure the rapid modernization of the army, the Minister of Military Affairs designed the new post-Tokugawa army after the French model; French officers were engaged to staff the academies and oversee the training. After France lost the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, the Vice Minister of Military Affairs, Yamagata Aritomo (later Prime Minister from 1889-91; and 1898-1900) wanted to adopt the Prussian military system; however, because of the conservative nature of the Ministry, he was not able to effect the change until 1878, after becoming the Minister of Military Affairs2.

Curriculum References:

Finding references in English about the Toyama Academy is a major undertaking; so far I have only been able to find two. The balance of references are in Japanese and these, too, are not easy to find. Major Genjiro Tanabe wrote the following brief synopsis of the Toyama Academy in 1900.3

The Toyama Military Academy was established in 1873 as a branch school of the Army Military Academy (Rikugun Heigakko-ryo) and began to teach officers and noncommissioned officers. Its official name was the Rikugun Heigakko-ryo Toyama Gakko Shucho-jo.

In 1874 it was renamed "Toyama Military Academy" and came under the jurisdiction of the Army Academy; in 1875 it came under the jurisdiction of the Army Ministry.

The students would master tactics, marksmanship, calisthenics, swordsmanship, military music, and other normal military subjects. Moreover, research and experiments were conducted with fire teams who performed tests with machine guns.

Furthermore, the Toyama Military Academy turned into a place which placed an importance in turning military music students into accomplished musicians.

The Toyama Academy's transition was finally completed as it became the army's physical training school, as well as the home for the Army School of Music.

Nakayama Hakudo, a legendary kendo and iaido master in his own lifetime, taught at the Toyama Academy. One reference lists a notice announcing that Nakayama would be giving a lecture or class or Omori Ryu iaido.4

It is documented that Nakayama taught Omori Ryu iai forms at the Toyama Military Academy in May, 1922, before he professed his own style, Muso Shinden Ryu Batto Jutsu.

Future Reminder:

A pamphlet of Master Nakayama's

Instruction on Omori Ryu iai forms is
Offered for the benefit of taking notes.
      Captain Kano

Unfortunately the article did not specify whether Nakayama was a guest lecturer or a full-time instructor. Another famous kendo master, Takano Sasaburo, was the Academy's chief fencing master during this time period.

A book about Japanese military academies, published circa 1960, offers this account of the school: 5

In August, 1873, the general principles of the Toyama Military Academy were codified. Officers and noncommissioned officers from other army camps and installations were selected and assembled for seven months of training. The infantry branch taught tactics, target practice, and calisthenics.

This famed and admired school was heretofore the Rikugun Heigakko-ryo Toyama Branch School. It was here that the Toyama Military Academy was reformed (becoming a temporary officer academy).

In October 1873, one hundred four retired officers were matriculated to teach the French method of tactics and strategy at the Temporary Officers Academy (Toyama Military Academy). In December the Temporary Officers Academy was officially opened.

In June 1874, Emperor Meiji paid a royal visit to the Toyama Military Academy.

In May 1875, the Toyama Military Academy, once associated with the Army Military Science Academy, became independent. As the army's Military Preparatory School, it came under the control of the Army Ministry.

Another reference is provided by Colonel Tsuji Masanobu, the Chief of Operations and Planning Staff, 25th Japanese Army, Malaya. Col. Tsuji was the officer responsible for the Japanese army's success in taking Singapore during the Second World War. In his book, Singapore: The Japanese Version, he laments the poor military quality of the Imperial Guards Division; however, he offers high praise for one of its officers, one of his classmates at the Officers Academy.6

The best battalion of the division appeared to be that led by Major Hidesaburo Take-no-Uchi ... (L)ater he became an instructor at the Toyama Military School.* For many years he trained in the martial arts and won high honors -- seventh grade in fencing, fifth grade in bayonet exercises, fifth grade in Judo, fourth grade in dagger exercises - twenty-odd grades in all. Such a veteran was known as the Miyamoto Musashi of the Showa period.

*The Toyama School taught the military arts of Judo, Jujitsu (sic), and Kendo.

While attending the Infantry Officers Advanced Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1985, I also researched the information for the book Naked Blade. I came across a very clear description of the Toyama Academy curriculum in a book written by Hillis Lory, an American faculty of the Hokkaido Imperial University in Sapporo. From 1926 through 1937 he was able to obtain in-depth knowledge of the Japanese Army by associating with army officers such as General Araki Sadao, 7 and General Hayashi Senjuro, both Ministers of War. Lory offers this account of the Toyama Academy8:

From the point of view of the infantry, the Toyama School of Physical Training must be mentioned. Younger officers, particularly non-commissioned men and first and second lieutenants are chosen by their regimental commanders to attend. Instruction is given in different groups according to rank. Bayonet fighting, Japanese fencing, ju-jutsu and Japanese wrestling are included in addition to the usual courses of physical training.

Toyama Ryu Iaido

Nakamura Taizaburo is the senior master of Toyama Ryu iaido, a graduate of the Toyama Academy, and is the Senior Master of Battodo for the Dai Nippon Butokukai. He states that the Toyama Academy implemented a system of army-sword techniques in 1939 because of the swordsmanship's "poor showing" on the battlefield during the Manchurian Incident and the Japan-China War. 9 

A 1941 Toyama Academy fencing manual 10 dates the birth of Toyama Ryu as 1925; therefore, I am presuming that Nakamura sensei refers to a probable re-evaluation of the then-current techniques. This manual provides only a written description of the five Toyama Ryu iai kata, as well as describing Omori Ryu and Einshin ryu kata.

The 1944 copy of Gunto no Soho11, published by the academy, shows a photograph sequence for seven kata. When compared against the 1941 manual, we see an addition of two kata, a section on tameshigiri (test cutting), and the incorporation of kesagiri (kesagiri, the diagonal cut was not used in the 1925 description). A circa 1944 edition of the Shin Budo magazine has a photograph of a helmeted soldier in full field gear cutting through makiwara with an army sword. The caption states "At the Toyama Army Academy." 12

After the Second World War, Nakamura sensei kept the spirit of the Toyama Academy alive by organizing Toyama Ryu iaido after the martial arts proscription was rescinded in 1952. In 1977 he founded the All Japan Toyama Ryu Iaido Federation. The first president was Masuda Hideo, an All Japan Kendo Federation hanshi (master teacher) in both kendo and iaido, and a former Toyama Academy fencing instructor. The senior master is still Nakamura Taizaburo, a Toyama Academy graduate and a Special Battlefield Kenjutsu Instructor. He is also hanshi, 10th dan in battodo, awarded by the Kokusai Budoin. 13 Nakamura sensei modified the original seven army forms and added an eighth, itto ryodan.. This form is actually a test-cutting technique. Its Japanese name means to "cut in two with one stroke." It is also known as suemono giri, shin choku giri, nuki uchi, makko, karatake wari, and shomen giri.

Three separate organizations represented Toyama Ryu iaido in the 1970s: in Hokkaido, Yamaguchi Yuuki sensei's Greater Japan Toyama Ryu Iaido Federation 14; in the Kansai region (Kyoto-Osaka), the late Morinaga Kiyoshi sensei's Greater Japan Toyama Ryu Iaido Association; and Nakamura Taizaburo sensei's All Japan Toyama Ryu Iaido Federation (ATIF). Each organization is autonomous and retains its own set of forms; the Hokkaido branch even included sword versus bayonet exercises. 15 At one time Nakamura sensei felt it was imperative for the three organizations to consolidate into one body to preserve the Toyama Academy's spirit and sword techniques. Unfortunately the three leaders could not come into agreement.

I once asked Nakamura sensei why Toyama Ryu does not have a soke. 16 He replied that since "Toyama Ryu was established by committee it cannot have a soke. There is, instead a kaicho and a so-shihan ..." The kaicho (chairman or president) governs the organization. The so-shihan gives direction to the ryu. 18 Nakamura sensei has often been erroneously called the soke of Toyama Ryu.

Toyama Ryu Today

Toyama Ryu iaido exclusively employs standing sword techniques, as opposed to kneeling forms of the traditional styles, making it adaptable to one's surrounding environment. The practitioner is not restricted from practicing outside the dojo; any place may be used: a gymnasium, racquet ball court, uneven field, or a city park. Likewise, one is not restricted by having to wear a "proper" uniform. Although most swordsmen wear the traditional Japanese training wear of hakama and keikogi (or uwagi), anything can be worn: sweat suits, jeans, karate/judo gi, slacks, or even the Japanese Self Defense Force white physical training uniform. 19

If the traditional uniform is too costly, or if time is at a premium, just strap on the unique Toyama Ryu sword belt, 20 or any other wide-support belt, and begin training. Since Toyama Ryu exclusively uses standing forms, you need not be concerned about dirtying your business clothes on the floor or ground.


In 1874 the mission of schooling officers was transferred from the Heigakko to the Rikugun Shikan Gakko at Ichigaya, 21 Tokyo, where it remained until 1936. It was then moved to the vicinity of Zama city, 37 miles southwest of Tokyo, and given the name Sobudai by Emperor Hirohito. At the end of the Second World War, Sobudai was occupied by the U.S. Army and renamed Camp Zama. Today it is the headquarters of the United States Army, Japan.

I was stationed at Camp Zama for five years and my office was located in a converted kendo dojo. What a waste of an historic building. While coordinating events with the 3rd Engineer Brigade of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) 22 which was co-located on Camp Zama, I had the opportunity to visit their small museum which was dedicated to the Army Officers Academy. Inside on of the display cases were two certificates presented to officer cadets, awarding a 3 dan in Ryo-te Gunto Jutsu, two-handed army sword techniques.

Although I was not able to get one of the original certificates, the Operations Officer was willing to photocopy them for my research. It would be interesting to discover whether or not the instructors were graduates of the Toyama Academy, and if the text used was the Gunto no Soho manual. I have talked with former graduates of the Officers Academy, but they do not remember; although, they did remember practicing "kenjutsu," kendo, and jukendo.

During a one-week period I was privileged to be a guest lecturer at the JGSDF Intelligence School. While there, I obtained a chart listing important events at the Toyama Academy, as well as a map of Camp Zama when it was the Army Officers Academy, Sobudai. Sobudai had a total of six kendo dojo and one jukenjutsu (bayonet) dojo. The buildings each were about 200 feet long and 40 feet wide, with three separate entrances. Sobudai was divided into two sections: north, for the Japanese; and south, for the foreign students from China, Korea, Indochina, etc. Three kendo dojo and one smaller dojo (about 60' x 40', possibly for instructors) were on the south side. Two kendo dojo and one juken-jutsu dojo were on the north side.


1A suburb of western Tokyo about .5 kilometer south of Waseda University.

2Japan, an Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1993 ed., s.v. "Military Academy."

3Major Genjiro Tanabe and Captain Jiro Arakawa, Teikoku Rikugun Shi (History of the Imperial Army), (Tokyo: Imperial Army Friends Society, 1900), pp. 58-59.

4Kioshi Ikeda, "People Who Defended the Shimomura Faction's Thread of Life," Kendo Nippon, June 1933, p. 113.

5Author unknown, Shikan Gakko Shi (History of the Military Academies), (location and publisher unknown, ca. 1960). p. 212. From a photocopy in the author's collection.

6Colonel Masanobu Tsuji, Singapore: the Japanese Version, ed. H.V. Howe, trans. Margaret E. Lake. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1960), pp. 32-33.

7Araki Sadao. Minister of War. Araki urged the military to return to the traditional Japanese sword after the Manchurian campaign. Until 1932 the military service sword was of European design. Nakamura Taizaburo had an audience with the retired General Araki and received the calligraphy, "Shin Ken Hyaku Ja Futsu" (God's Sword Dispels 100 Evils).

8Hillis Lorry, Japan's Military Masters: The Army in Japanese Life, (New York: Viking Press, 1943), p.101.

9Information in a handout from Nakamura Taizaburo, 1994.

10Toyama Military Academy Kenjutsu Department, Kenjutsu Kyohan Shokai (Fencing Manual: A Detailed Explanation), (Tokyo, Seibudo Publishing, 1941; eighth printing, first published in 1935), pp. 536-540.

11National Defense Martial Arts Association, Gunto no Soho Kyu Tameshigiri: Rikkugun Toyama Gakko Han (Army-Sword Method Exercises and Testcutting: Toyama Military Academy Textbook), (Tokyo: Japan Publishing Distribution Co., LTD, 1945). First and second printing, 1941; third printing, 1943; fourth printing, 1944; fifth printing, 1945.

12Takahara Mori "Shin Budo o Miru," (A look at "Shin Budo Magazine") Hiden Koryu Bujutsu vol. 9 (1992), p. 83.

13Kokusai Budoin (International Martial Arts Federation). This is the same organization which conferred the rank of 10th dan on Ueshiba Mirohei (founder of aikido), Yamguchi Gogen (Japanese Goju Ryu karate), and Sugino Yoshio (Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu). Sponsored by the Imperial family, it is the senior governing body of Japanese martial arts today, replacing the Dai Nippon Butokukai in that role.

14The phrase "Greater Japan" (Dai Nippon) was extensively used until the end of the Second World War; after which it was replaced by the current "All Japan" (Zen Nippon). "Greater Japan" retains an imperialistic overtone and is seldom used today.

15Sword versus bayonet forms are also practiced by the All Japan Jukendo Federation, and look quite similar.

16 Soke (head of the family). The hereditary leader of a martial art system.

17I suppose this would apply also to the All Japan Iaido Federation, as well as the All Japan Kendo Federation's Iaido Section. Both organizations practice seitei waza - forms and techniques adapted from traditional schools of iaido and standardized by committee. Rank up to the 4th dan is based on seitei waza; afterwards, one is promoted based on forms from the traditional schools of swordsmanship.

18It looks like a chef's uniform with nehru collar, and has been in constant use since at least the 1920s. It may have evolved from the European cavalry fatigue duty uniform worn while cleaning out stables; a three-inch wide "stable belt" is also worn.

19This belt is still worn today by all the Japan Self Defense Forces with the physical training uniform. Toyama Ryu has made one modification: a leather pocket is sewn to the left side which will snugly accommodate a sword scabbard; sometimes, a cord-retaining loop is also sewn along the right side of the belt. When properly worn, the belt buckles to the rear (just like the current British regimental "stable belt").

20Ichigaya is today the headquarters of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF). It can be called the successor of the Toyama Army Academy in that selected members of the JGSDF undergo specialized training qualifying them as Martial Arts Instructors in jukendo (bayonet),knife fighting, and hand-to-hand combat. Kendo is not taught as it is the "official" sport of the Maritime Self Defense Force (Navy); jukendo is the JGSDF (Army) official sport. Ichigaya is the location where author Mishima Yukio captured world attention by committing seppuku, ritualistic suicide also known as "hara kiri." Because the kaishaku-nin (one who delivers the coup d'grace) never practiced tameshigiri, he required three strokes before decapitating Mishima. The sword used by Mishima was previously owned by Nakamura sensei. Nakamura sensei sold the sword to a second individual who, in turn, sold it to Mishima; Nakamura sensei states that the sword was too short for him.

21Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF). A euphemism for what is in essence the Japanese Army. Japan's constitution forbids the establishment of an offensive force; since an "army" can be used offensively, the term "Self Defense Force" is used to emphasize its non-aggressive mission.