Basic Overview of the System
Firstly, let me give a basic overview of this martial art. It is often described as “The art of Japanese sword drawing”. While this description forms part of the art, it by no means describes it in its entirety. It could better be described by saying that it is the art of being ready to defend (or attack) with the sword at any time, in any place, and under all circumstances.
– The word Iai is only connected to swordsmanship in a contextual way. Funakoshi Gichin (Karate master of 20th century) used the word within the context of Karate on occasion.
It means, “to be ready to use or move the body efficiently or effectively, at a moment’s notice, under all circumstances”. This is quite a mouthful, but is a full and hopefully literal translation of the word “Iai”
The word has become associated with the art simply because this art epitomizes the word completely. This is a feature of the Japanese language and culture.
Iai is not a military combat skill as such. It was never intended to be used whilst on the battlefield. It was developed as a means of wielding the sword whilst wearing traditional Japanese period clothing, during normal daily life.
Understanding the many varieties of Japanese fighting systems is a complex business. We will not attempt that here. It is enough to say that the many and various schools (ryu) would emphasize certain aspects of combat in their training. Some would emphasize jujutsu (yawara or kumiutchi) while still teaching sword work. Others would emphasize fencing (kenjutsu) and other battlefield weapons such as spear (yari) or halberd (naginata).
Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu was a style which largely favored the long sword, but various headmasters along the centuries have also been expert in jujutsu (Muso Jikiden Ryu being one associated style) as well as other arts.
The Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu we practice today is an art that has its roots going back to the 15th century (and possibly further than that).
There is something important that we need to understand about the style, and in fact all classical Japanese martial arts. Much of what the art once was has been lost. Over time, elders of the school have amalgamated with other schools for various reasons and other techniques have been added. The jujutsu element has disappeared and we are left with just the sword. And what we practice today is only a fraction of the entirety of the system. It could be seen as “representative” and not complete.
Even so, there is enough material in what we are left with today to get a reasonable idea of the skill of the samurai. Always bear in mind that the samurai soldier trained diligently every day. He would be thrust into battles and have civilian encounters too. If he survived, he trained some more. These men were fully “expert”. No one today is in a position to attain this level of skill. We can only try and learn the basics and continue to polish them throughout our lifetimes.
First of all, the student will learn to carry the sword in the appropriate traditional Japanese clothing. They will then learn the basics of the following:
- To draw the sword & cut in one movement (nukitsuke)
- To parry or cut with the sword unsheathed (furikaburi & kirioroshi)
- To remove the blood from the blade (chiburi)
- To re-sheath the sword (noto)
Although these activities sound basic, as you can imagine, there are numerous ways of achieving them. The long-term goal of the student is to master the technicalities of all these movements in as many scenarios as possible.
This is accomplished by various methods outlined below:
- Kata – a collection of techniques that include all of the above 4 points, done in many and various ways (some 62 kata in our school).
- Tachiuchi – a collection of two-man kata performed using a wooden sword (bokuto/bokken).
- Suburi – sword exercises
- Tameshegiri – actual cutting with a live blade (generally for more senior students)
- Paired bokken exercises – drawing, parrying, and cutting exercises designed to highlight technicalities of both basic technique and kata application.
Equipment for Beginners
First of all, you will need comfortable clothing such as a tracksuit or an old Karate suit if you have one.
Next, you will need an Iai belt. Don’t be tempted to get something like a Karate belt because it is totally useless for Iai. You should be able to get a fairly cheap one for about £11 or £12. Have a look at www.ninecircles.co.uk
You will need a bokken (wooden sword) and a plastic scabbard. See the dojo leader for help in buying (or borrowing) these items.
Normal Training Equipment
All the following equipment can be sourced at many price levels. Best to talk to dojo leader for best prices and availability.
- Iai jacket (Keokogi)
- Pants (optional, but warmer)
- Hakama (traditional pleated “trousers”)
- Iai belt (obi)
- Wooden sword (bokken/bokuto)
- Scabbard (saya) – can be cheaply improvised by acquiring a golf bag tube (order from a good golfing shop!
- Sword/bokken bag – very necessary to prevent PC Plod from feeling your collar!
- Sword – see below
- Sword care kit – again this can be improvised, but it’s nice to have the real thing
- The All-Important Sword
WARNING – DO NOT go out and buy any kind of sword straight away! They come in two sorts, stupidly cheap (and dangerous) or stupidly expensive (dangerous for the pocket). Talk to your dojo leader, who will advise you when it would be best for you to begin using a metal sword.
I advise my students to wait at least 6 months before even considering using anything other than a bokken.
Your first sword will probably be the one you use for the next 5 to 10 years, so make sure you buy a good one.
YOU SHOULD NOT BUY A LIVE BLADE! You will buy something known as an “Iaito”. This is a practice sword made specifically for practicing Iai. It has a metal blade, but is made of a composite alloy that has strength for Iai practice, but will seriously bend if you hit something with it! It may sharpen, but will not hold the edge. Semi sharp Iaito can be bought, but I would only recommend such a sword for an experienced student. The best iaito are those made in Japan by traditional swordsmiths, but a less expensive variety can be had from the Paul Chen workshops in China.
Don’t be tempted to buy anything that costs less than £180-£200 (new) because it will not be suitable or cost-effective.
Again, talk to your dojo leader about recommended retailers. I recommend the following:
As you may have gathered by now, a major consideration in taking up this art is one of cost! It can be quite expensive, so I feel it is better to know in advance.
A Short History of the System
Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu may be translated into English in a number of ways. Firstly, a direct translation…
“Without equal, direct transmission, true-faith style”
Secondly, a more Anglicised version…
“The True-faith style which has no equal, being passed directly from teacher to student.”
In the long history of this style of swordsmanship, it has undergone many name changes along the way. This latest name was given by the last unchallenged head (Soke) of the style, Oe Masamichi (Shikei), 1852 to 1927.
Prior to Oe Sensei’s time, the style was incumbent of the Tosa Clan, who lived in Kochi prefecture, Japan. Hence it was known by the names Tosa Eishin Ryu and Kochi Iai-jutsu.
Many changes have befallen the art of Iai-jutsu since it was popularised by a greatly respected man by the name of Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu (1546 to 1621). He is incorrectly attributed as being the founder of fast drawing and cutting with the katana. At least one major school of Japanese swordsmanship is recorded as using similar techniques, over a hindered years prior to Shigenobu, that being the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu.
Nevertheless, Shigenobu produced a stand-alone system for fast drawing the sword, which had a great following, and has informed the generations of swordsmen until today.
At this point, it might be useful to look at the lineage of headmasters since the founder, Jinsuke Shigenobu.
- 1st Headmaster – Hayashizaki Jinsuke Jigenobu
- 2nd Headmaster – Tamiya Heibei Shigemasa
- 3rd Headmaster – Nagano Muraku Nyudo Kinrosai
- 4th Headmaster – Momo Gumbei Mitsushige
- 5th Headmaster – Arikawa Shozeimon Munetsugu
- 6th Headmaster – Banno Dan’emon no Jo Nobusada
- 7th Headmaster – Hasegawa Eishin (Hidenobu)
- 8th Headmaster – Arai Seitetsu Kiyonobu
- 9th headmaster – Hayashi Rokudayu Morimasa
- 10th Headmaster – Hayashi Hasudayu Seisho
- 11th Headmaster – Oguro Motoemon Kiyokatsu
After the death of the 11th headmaster in 1790, the Ryu leadership split into two “ha” or branches, each following the leadership of two of Oguro Kiyokatsu’s students. Although the ha was not named directly after these two students, the names for the ha did come from later headmasters in the two lines.
The first ha was eventually regarded as the “Shimomura ha” which has continued until today, and is generally regarded as being the ha responsible for the style of “Muso Shinden Ryu”. Many changes were implemented to the style during the ensuing years. So much so that Shimomura ha Iai is considerably different than the second ha, that being the “Tanimura ha”.
The Tanimura ha is much more closely associated with the Tosa Clan and it is this style that has been passed down to us today as Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu.
Continuing the Tanimura ha lineage:
- 12th Headmaster – Hayashi Masu no Jo Masanari (Seishi)
- 13th Headmaster – Yoda Yorikatsu
- 14th Headmaster – Hayashi Yadayu Masayori
- 15th Headmaster – Tanimura Kame no Jo Yorikatsu (Sugio)
- 16th Headmaster – Goto Magobei Masasuke (Seiryo)
- 17th Headmaster – Oe Masamichi (Shikei)
- 18th Headmaster – Hogiyama (Okiyama) Namio
- 19th Headmaster – *****ui Harumasa
- 20th Headmaster – Koko Hyakuren Minoru (Yamamura-ha)
- 21st *****ui Torao (incumbent)
It should be noted that on Oe Masamichi’s death, the lineage of the Ryu is contested. Although the lineage stated above is most commonly quoted and is regarded as the official lineage, it is said that one Masakoa Kazumi was Oe sensei’s most expert and favored student, but it was “another” (Hogiyama Namio) student who attended Oe sensei whilst battling with cancer, that came into possession of the Ryu’s credentials.
If we follow this lineage, then the headmasters after Oe sensei are:
- 18th Headmaster – Masaoki Kazumi
- 19th Headmaster – Narise Sakahiro
- 20th Headmaster – Miura Takeyuki Hirefusa (incumbent)
I run Wigan Bujutsu Kai, which is a small club in Wigan, Lancashire. My sensei is John Lovatt (5th dan) who has his own club in Stoke.
We are members of Kokusai Budoin (International Martial Arts Federation). There are other organizations that teach this style in the UK, such as the British Kendo Association, Eikoku Roshukai, and Dai Nippon Butokukai.
There are some variances across these organizations. If you are seeking to begin training, you will no doubt be limited to location. If you have a choice of venues, then make sure you spend time finding out about the teachers and their organization before committing to any membership.
You would also do well not to buy any expensive swords or clothing until you are absolutely sure that you wish to seriously study the art.
I hope you have found this information useful. Please do not hesitate to contact me for any further information.
- The Art of Japanese Swordsmanship – A Manual of Eishin Ryu Iaido by Nicklaus Suino (Weatherhill)
- Flashing Steel – Mastering Eishin Ryu Swordsmanship by Masayuki Shimabukuro & Leanord J. Pellman (Frog Ltd)
- Japanese Swordsmanship – Technique & Practice by Gordon Warner & Donn F. Draeger