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Yagyu Shin Kage Ryu is one of the koryu -- the ancient martial systems of Japan. It is a hyo ho, a strategic system. Although today's practice focuses on the long sword, more advanced practitioners also practice the wakizashi (short sword), tessen (samurai fan) and muto (open-hand disarming techniques). As with other koryu, Yagyu Shin Kage Ryu focuses primarily on preserving and transmitting a martial system hundreds of years old. Unlike present-day Japanese sword arts like iaido, which seeks to perfect the drawing, cutting, and re-sheathing of the sword, and kendo, which is a competition-based system based on specific rules, the various Yagyu ryu are historical, living martial traditions handed down from teacher to student for more than 400 years. Our branch of the Yagyu Shin Kage Ryu traces it's lineage to the early 16th century, through seventeen headmasters.


The lineage of the Yagyu Shin Kage Ryu can be traced in brief from Kamiizumi Nobutsuna (1508-1578), student of the Kage Ryu and founder of the Shin Kage ryu, to Yagyu Sekishusai Muneyoshi (1527-1606), founder of the Yagyu Shin Kage Ryu, to his successor Yagyu Tajima No Kami Munenori (1571-1646).

Nobutsuna was an expert swordsman traveling Japan with his students, working on his skill. When he reached the area of the Kinki region one of the finest swordsmen of the area requested a lesson with him. This swordsman was Muneyoshi, head of the Yagyu clan. During his lesson with one of Nobutsuna's students, Muneyoshi was easily beaten, and so amazed by the skill of the Shin Kage Ryu student that he immediately asked that Nobutsuna teach him. For two years Nobutsuna taught Muneyoshi in the Shin Kage ryu before awarding him the hidden, or secret, teachings. In effect, this made him the successor to the Shin Kage Ryu.

After inheriting the ryu Muneyoshi created the Yagyu Shin Kage ryu and continued his development of empty hand against the sword (muto). His skill in this was so famous that it caught the eye of Tokugawa Ieyasu, then a daimyo under Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. After a demonstration by Muneyoshi Ieyasu picked up a bokken to test Muneyoshi himself and was quickly beaten. Ieyasu was so impressed with Muneyoshi's skill that he requested that he become his sword instructor. Muneyoshi, being advanced in years, declined but suggested his son, the successor of the ryu in his place.

It is unusual for the youngest son to inherit a ryu, however Munenori's eldest brother, Yoshikatsu, had been terribly wounded in battle in 1571, therefore both he and Munenori inherited the school. These two schools continue today as the Owari and Edo branches of the Yagyu Shin Kage Ryu. The Edo branch became the sword ryu of the main Tokugawa shogunate, in Edo (present-day Tokyo). Yoshikatsu became advisor to the Tokugawa representatives in Nagoya, where he founded the Owari Yagyu Shin Kage Ryu.

The Yagyu Ryu and the Shogunate

Yagyu Tajima No Kami Munenori was in the service of Ieyasu at the battle of Sekigahara, which determined the successor to the Shogun Hideyoshi. There are no documents stating exactly what his responsibilities were, but conjecture and the rewards bestowed on him after the battle lead us to believe they were secret in nature. After the battle, which propelled Ieyasu to the head of power, Munenori was promoted to hatamoto, with a large income and title as head sword instructor to the shogunate.   click for
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Battle of


The shogun's instructor at the time of this event was Ono Taddaki, founder of the Ono Ha Itto ryu, which has lead to many fictionalized accounts of rivalry between the Itto ryu and the Yagyu ryu. During Munenori's service to the second Tokugawa shogun, Hidetada, he also acted as his bodyguard. There is an account of Munenori slaying seven attackers singlehandedly while defending the shogun.

  According to lore, many of the "hidden" Yagyu Shin Kage Ryu teachings were revealed to swordsmen by winged goblins called tengu. The famous "one stroke" rock near the Yagyu village is said to have been split by Yagyu Sekishusai Muneyoshi during a furious battle with a tengu. (click to enlarge)

Under the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, who was Munenori's student from childhood, Munenori was promoted to the rank of sometsuke, head of all security. It was following this appointment that Munenori began the introduction of Zen Buddhism to his style. Focusing on mental attitude instead of technique, Munenori composed the hyoho kaden sho, the strategic guide for his system, which emphasized the Zen quality of the empty mind as being paramount to swordsmanship.

Munenori's eldest son, Jyubei Mitsuyoshi, continued the Edo line of the Yagyu Shin Kage Ryu and is perhaps the most written about Japanese swordman in history. His skill with the sword and pursuit of enlightenment through it set the stage for an era of enlightenment through martial arts.