The Hokushin Ittō-ryū Hyōhō (北辰一刀流兵法) was created in the 1820s (some decades before the end of the Edo period) by the samurai Chiba Shūsaku Taira no Narimasa (千葉周作平成政). He was one of the last fencing masters who was called a kensei (sword saint). The name of the school, Hokushin Ittō-ryū can be translated as “One-sword-school of the North Star”.
Chiba Shūsaku was born 1792 in a village named Kesen (today part of Kesennuma) in the north of Japan. He was the second son of the samurai Chūzaemon. His father studied swordsmanship under Chiba Kōemon Narikatsu, the headmaster of Hokushin Musō-ryū. There are some historical uncertainties in Chiba Shūsaku’s adolescent years because his father moved the family from Kesen to Mito, which was close to Edo. Due to his prowess with the sword his father was adopted by Chiba Kōemon and took the name Chiba Chūzaemon Naritane. As a child, Chiba Shūsaku learned Hokushin Musō-ryū from his father and later studied directly under his grandfather Chiba Kôemon Narikatsu finishing his studies of the art with a Menkyo-Kaiden. From that time on he started to use the name Chiba Shūsaku Taira no Narimasa.
Some years later Chiba Shūsaku started the study of Ittō-ryū under Asari Yoshinobu Matashichirō and after that under Nakanishi Chūbei Tanemasa receiving Menkyo-Kaiden of the art. He married Asari’s daughter and took the new name Asari Shūsaku Narimasa and was leading the Asari-Dōjō together with his father-in-law. After a dispute with his father-in-law he divorced, left the Asari family and changed his name back to Chiba Shūsaku. The dispute is said to have started as Chiba Shūsaku defeated Asari in a duel in front of their students after he founded the techniques of the Ittō-ryū incomplete and insufficient.
After this, he started his musha-shugyō (warrior pilgrimage) together with his younger brother Chiba Sadakichi Taira no Masamichi. Together the Chiba brothers visited many dōjō and fought many duels with a number of famous sword masters from the most prestigious Schools all over the country. The best-known are the Shintō Munen-ryū, Jikishinkage-ryū, Maniwa Nen-ryū and a couple of different Ittō-ryū lines plus many not so well-known schools.
After those profound experiences he made on his musha-shugyō, he founded in the 1820s his own school, the Hokushin Ittō-ryū Hyōhō. The name is a combination of his family art, Hokushin Musō-ryū and the Ittō-ryū lines he have mastered. In some parts this school is a simplified form of the Ittō-ryū but focusing on the very essence of its techniques as intended by its founder Itō Ittōsai Kagehisa. Certainly, Chiba Shūsaku’s teaching methods were easier to understand than those of other schools. There was a saying in the Bakumatsu period: “If someone needs six years to master a school, he will only need three years to master the Hokushin Ittō-ryū.”. There have even been students who received the Dai-Mokuroku / Menkyo-Kaiden scroll (full transmission of the school) after just one year of severe and consequent training.
The simple teaching methods made sure that the school gained a lot of popularity.
At the end of the Edo-period in the so called Bakumatsu-period (1853–1867) the Hokushin Ittō-ryū was on the top of the so called San-Dai-Ryū, the three strongest and biggest schools all over Japan. The San-Dai-Ryū consisted of the Hokushin Ittō-ryū, Shintō Munen-ryū and Kyoshin Meichi-ryū. However today only the Hokushin Ittō-ryū and the Shintō Munen-ryū survived. The Kyoshin Meichi-ryū died out completely in the Showa-period.
Chiba Shūsaku Narimasa died of natural causes on January 17th, 1855. He was 63 years old. He was the first sword master who, as a kaiso (founder), was able to see his own school grow to such fame and popularity throughout the country. Throughout the japanese history there is no swordmaster who accomplished this as well. His grave is located in Tōkyō and can be visited.