Yagyu Shinkage-ryu, one of the leading schools of swordsmanship in Japan for over 450 years, was started in the early 16th century by master swordsman Kamiizumi Ise no Kami.
Kamiizumi Ise no Kami created Yagyu Shinkage-ryu’s most distinctive concept, that of katsunin-ken, or the life-giving sword. This approach forces one’s opponent to move and then utilizes that movement to defeat him. This was a complete departure from previous methods of attack, which used strength or speed to overwhelm opponents. In this way it expresses Yagyu Shinkage-ryu’s core principle of marobashi, the philosophy of individual change in response to changes in nature.
Later, Yagyu Sekishusai Munetoshi, who devoted himself to practice under the overwhelmingly strong Kamiizumi Ise no Kami, developed the weaponless mutodori technique to combat a sword attack, and succeeded Kamiizumi Ise no Kami as the second head of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu. The third head of the school, Yagyu Hyogonosuke Toshitoshi, was the grandson of Munetoshi, from whom he received thorough training in Yagyu Shinkage-ryu techniques. As Japan entered a peaceful era, Hyogonosuke revolutionized the school’s techniques. Rather than fighting from a lowered position while wearing armor, he emphasized a more upright stance, thus firmly establishing Yagyu Shinkage-ryu’s distinctiveness.
Yagyu Shinkage-ryu was preserved by the Yagyu family and the feudal lords of Owari province (modern-day western Aichi Prefecture) for centuries thereafter. The teachings have been handed down from generation to generation to Koichi Yagyu, the current and 22nd head of the school.
Based on excerpts from the book “Budo: Japanese Martial Arts,” published by Nikko Graphic Arts Co., Ltd. For more information, visit nga-publication.com.