The Hokushin Ittô-Ryû Hyôhô (literally the “the north-star one sword school of strategy”) is a sôgô-bujutsu (comprehensive martial art system), which was transmitted unbroken from generation to generation with direct transmission up to the present day. This koryû (traditional Japanese martial arts school) was founded in the early 1820’s during the turbulent years of the late edo period (1603-1868), by the legendary sword saint, Chiba Shûsaku Taira no Narimasa. From all the still extant koryû, the Hokushin Ittô-Ryû is one of the very few schools which is completely and authentically preserved, as well as still actively engaging in taryû-jiai (friendly duels with swordsmen from other schools).
Chiba Shûsaku was considered “tenka musô”, peerless under heaven in the arts of war and within only a few years, his ryûha (school), the Hokushin Ittô-Ryû, became the top of the “Edo San-Dai-Ryû”, the three strongest and biggest martial arts schools in the history of feudal Japan. The other two schools were the Shintô Munen-Ryû and the Kyôshin Meichi-Ryû. Each of these three schools had a very large number of masters and students, as well as shibu-dôjô (branch schools) all over the country.
Chiba Shûsaku’s dôjô (school, meaning the place where the training takes place) in edo, today’s tôkyô, was named Genbukan. When Shûsaku moved away from edo, after him it was his younger brother Chiba Sadakichi Masamichi who then led the Genbukan for a couple of years and taught the Hokushin Ittô-Ryû Hyôhô to Shûsaku’s sons there who still were very young. Later Sadakichi founded – in edo, too – his own school, the Chiba-Dôjô.
Being a visionary, Chiba Sadakichi opened his dôjô not only for bushi (members of the warrior class) as it was usual at that time but for peasants, craftsmen, merchants and even for women and children, too. He thought that more important than pure ancestry is the real intention to train hard and continiously. This “politics of open doors”made Sadakichi’s dôjô popular and increased the number of his students immensely.
Most bushi who shaped the history of Japan with their swords and minds during the violent years of the Bakumatsu period (1853-1868) had studied or even mastered the Hokushin Ittô-ryû at some point. This art was so influential and popular, that even members of the ruling shôgunate dynasty (the Tokugawa family), daimyô (lords), hatamoto (high ranking vassals of the shôgun) and other influential officials studied this sôgô-bujutsu (comprehensive martial arts).
At the end of the edo-period the Hokushin Ittô-Ryû Hyôhô was one of the main schools taught at the Kôbusho, the famous military academy of the Tokugawa shôgunate (military rulers of Japan from 1603-1868) and later in the Meiji period (1868-1912) it was even taught at the Keishichô, the famed Tôkyô police department. Furthermore, the Hokushin Ittô-Ryû is one of the most important predecessors out of which modern kendô has been created.
You can find a more detailed historical overview of the Hokushin Ittô-Ryû Hyôhô on the homepage of the honbu (headquarter) of this traditional school of martial arts.