Swordsmanship of Aizu: Onoha Itto-ryu Kenjutsu Mugenshinto-ryu Iaijutsu

Zenyu Nagao

Deputy Professor of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu

In Meiji 2 (in 1869), Master Sokaku Takeda Minamoto Masayoshi was initiated into Onoha Itto-ryu Kenjutsu by Toma Shibuya, who was serving for Aizu Domain as a kenjutsu master.

From Meiji 5 to 6 (1872 - 1873), Master Sokaku Takeda was also initiated into Jikishin Kage-ryu Kenjutsu by Kenkichi Sakakibara at the Kurumazaka Dojo in Tokyo. In addition, he was initiated into Shinto Seibu-ryu Kenjutsu and Battojutsu of Aizu Domain in his boyhood. From the Meiji Period to Taisho Period (Meiji Period: 1868 - 1912, Taisho Period: 1912 - 1926), he is said to have experienced several fights with real swords. (This story was told by Master Kakuyoshi Yamamoto.)

Master Sokaku Takeda told Kakuyoshi that kenjutsu fencers had to use a silent sword, which meant that, unlike modern kendo fencers, kenjutsu fencers should not utter any sounds. This is said to be because you must prevent the opponent from predicting your move from your voice or breath. The same can be said about the movement of sword, and it is said that you must sense the whiff of the opponent and hit it. I heard that, at the Sakakibara Dojo, disciples practiced kenjutsu without uttering any sounds. I also heard that they practiced on dojo floors on which adzuki or soy beans were scattered. This is because that they had to be able to use their swords very well however unstable their footing was. I think this is the way of people who practice kenjutsu.

I heard that Master Sokaku had Master Kakuyoshi hang a silk thread from the ceiling and Sokaku hardly drew his sword when he cut off the thread. Sokaku said to Kakuyoshi, "When you have 10 matches with someone, be sure you must win the first match, the other 9 matches are nothing important. You can lose these nine, and let the opponent to have the credit for the success." Sokaku told that this was a vital way of thinking in case of a real sword fight, which determined whether the fencer could stay alive after the fight.

Sokaku also told Kakuyoshi emphatically that he should not use the sword stored in a plain-wood scabbard (*1) in a real-sword fight, by which Sokaku meant that if a fencer was cut in his finger (thumb), he would be killed. Also, it is said that Sokaku had Kakuyoshi set two burning candles on a stand, and then Sokaku hardly drew his sword when he cut off the flames with a horizontal stroke of the sword.

Master Kakuyoshi Yamamoto practiced martial arts as the last live-in disciple of Master Sokaku, who told Kakuyoshi that he would initiate his last live-in disciple into all the martial arts he had mastered, and he initiated Kakuyoshi into Onoha Itto-ryu Kenjutsu and other sword techniques and mystiques of Aiki. Kakuyoshi added the principles of Daito-ryu to what he inherited from Sokaku and integrated them into the current Mugenshinto-ryu Iaijutsu.

Principles of Master Sokaku Takeda as a swordsman were thus inherited. Master Sokaku Takeda was a very cautious person, and it is said that the only tea he drank was tea brewed by Master Kakuyoshi Yamamoto, or he would drink tea brewed by any other person only after the person drank it. According to Master Kakuyoshi Yamamoto, when Master Sokaku slept, he always put his short sword under his pillow, kept his iron-ribbed fan at hand, and hid his long sword by his bedding.

As to this long sword, Master Sokaku Takeda later gave it to Master Kakuyoshi along with the stamp of Daito-ryu and great silken ties for a haori coat, which had been given to the Takeda family from Aizu Domain Head Katamori Matsudaira. According to Kakuyoshi, Sokaku told him that he would teach Kakuyoshi shurikenjutsu. However, Kakuyoshi said to Sokaku, "What is shurikenjutsu for in this modern world of the Showa Period." At his words, he shouted at him, "You bloody fool." Master Kakuyoshi told me that he should have learned it, and he looked very regretful. I am also regretful.

Tadaaki Jiroemon Ono, who was the founder of Onoha Itto-ryu Kenjutsu, was born in Isumi-gun of Kazusa no Kuni (an area in the current Chiba Prefecture) and identified himself as Mikogami Tenzen in his younger days. He practiced under Ito Ittosai Kagehisa, who was the founder of Itto-ryu, accompanied Ittosai to visit various areas in the country for their training, and was finally initiated into the innermost secrets of Itto-ryu. By order of his master, he had a real-sword fight with the senior disciple Ono Zenki, and then he was given kaiden (certified that all the techniques were inherited to the certificate holder). Later, he served Tokugawa Ieyasu (the first Tokugawa Shogun) and was given an annual stipend of 500 koku (koku is a unit for measuring rice, and many samurai received annual stipends in koku).

It is said that Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki was more skilful in sword than Yagyu Munenori. So, the third Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu did not allow him to have matches of kenjutsu with others. Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki told that if the skill of two fencers was equal, one with the longer sword, even by one or two inches, had an advantage over the other. The sword he was bearing was a Naminohira Yukiyasu with a 2-shaku 8-sun (approx. 85-cm) long blade.

The document written in the Edo Period has bequeathed essential words about iai and kenjutsu: "Try to draws of your sword in the morning and evening for iai practice. Only through a lot of practice of draws, you can make your sword great." "There is a hell under fighting swords, but go a step further toward the opponent and you will find a heaven."

Note: Master Sasamori is maintaining another Onoha Itto-ryu Kenjutsu, which is inherited in the Tsugaru area and different from the kenjutsu of Daito-ryu of the Aizu Domain in style and practice method.

*1: A sword that is not used for a long time is coated with oil and stored in a plain-wood scabbard to maintain it in good condition. A sword stored in the plain-wood scabbard is not equipped with a tsuba, hand guard.