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Ono-ha Ittō-ryū

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Title: Ono-ha Ittō-ryū  
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Subject: Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu, Takeda Sōkaku, List of koryū schools of martial arts
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Ono-ha Ittō-ryū

For the manga, see Blade of the Immortal.

Ittō-ryū (一刀流?), meaning "one-sword school", is the ancestor school of several Japanese Koryū kenjutsu styles, including Ono-ha, Mizoguchi-ha, Nakanishi-ha, Kogen, Hokushin, and Itto Shoden. The style was developed by Ittōsai Kagehisa.

Ono-ha Ittō-ryū

Ono-ha Ittō-ryū (小野派一刀流?) is the oldest of the many Ittō-ryū styles which branched off from Ittosai Kagehisa's original art. It continues to be one of the most influential of the traditional kenjutsu styles today, exerting a major influence, along with Hokushin branch, upon modern kendo's kata, tactics, and aesthetic.

Ono-ha was founded by Ittosai's immediate successor, Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki (1565–1628), from whence the name of the art is derived. Oral tradition indicates that Ittosai made Tadaaki fight a serious duel with another student, Zenki, in order to establish a successor to the style. Serving as an instructor to both the second and third shoguns, along with Yagyū Munenori of the rival school the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū, Tadaaki was able to continue to give his art wide exposure. It was said that Tadaaki was Munenori's superior in swordsmanship, but that his severe character led him to be the less favoured and respected of the two.

Known as a dueling style which focused upon the sword rather than a more multifaceted, multi-weapon, battlefield style, Ono developed a mock sword (see: shinai) in order to reduce training injuries and allow more committed fighting practice.

From a technical standpoint this style consists of more than 150 techniques for both long and short swords. Kiri-otoshi, which translates simply as "cutting down", is still the defining technique, like that of its parent style. Characteristically, practitioners often feel that they have the ability to strike freely due to their technique of cutting down the centre-line during an opponent's cut in order to displace their attacker's sword and gain victory. The style adheres to a philosophy articulated in the phrase "itto sunawachi banto" or "one sword gives rise to ten thousand swords," meaning that a thorough understanding of the fundamental technique of cutting will lead one to understand the myriad variations.

Although formally established as a system for unarmoured fighting, the techniques maintained an awareness of the demands and tactics of armoured fighting, making the techniques adaptable to such circumstances.

The transmission of the system passed out of the Ono family briefly and was maintained by the feudal lord Tsugaru Nobumasa. The second headmaster from this family taught Ono Tadakata, allowing the Ono family to continue preserving the line while the Tsugaru family continued their practice of the art, thereby having two families maintain the main line of the Ono-ha Ittō-ryū tradition thereafter. The Tsugaru family also taught the system to members of Yamaga family, and they worked together to preserve the line of their art.

Sasamori Junzo, a well known and high ranking kendo practitioner, took over the preservation of the system in the Taishō period and his son, Sasamori Takemi, is presently the 16th headmaster of the system.

Mizoguchi-ha Ittō-ryū

Mizoguchi-ha Ittō-ryū (溝口派一刀流?) was founded by Mizoguchi Shingoemon Masakatsu, who was a student of the second headmaster of Ono-ha Ittō-ryū, Ono Jiroemon Tadatsune, before creating his own style, the Mizoguchi-ha.

Ito Masamori, a student of Mizoguchi's, visited the Aizu clan and taught Edamatsu Kimitada an incomplete version of the art. Ikegami Jozaemon Yasumichi, a student of Edamatsu, was sent by the daimyo (feudal lord) to study the sword methods to be found in Edo (present-day Tokyo). Combining methods learned there with the original teachings of Mizoguchi-ha Ittō-ryū, he created a distinct Aizu line of the Mizoguchi-ha school with many significant differences in technique. This is the line that survives today, as the original line has disappeared.

Watching a demonstration of the Mizoguchi-ha Ittō-ryū it easily distinguishable from its parent art, the Ono-ha Ittō-ryū, and the Nakanishi-ha and Itto Shoden Muto-ryū. The kata used in these styles bear a close resemblance to each other. The Mizoguchi-ha at times looks like an entirely different art rather than just a different branch of the Ittō school, although employing some similar tactics. Many of the kata seem more overtly instructive in their orientation, teaching tactics to the left and then to the right.

The curriculum consists of five long-sword and three short-sword techniques with omote (outside/surface) and ura (inner/more sophisticated) versions. Being a traditional school of the Aizu clan, which was based in Fukushima, it is currently maintained by the Fukushima prefecture and local kendo federations.

Interestingly, although Takeda Sōkaku, the founder of Daitō-ryū, claimed to maintain the traditional teachings of the Aizu clan, according to his son, Tokimune, the core of his approach to the sword, although modified, was based upon the Ono-ha Ittō-ryū rather than Mizoguchi-ha.

Nakanishi-ha Ittō-ryū

Nakanishi-ha Ittō-ryū (中西派一刀流?) was founded by Nakanishi Chuta Tanesada who studied under either the 5th or 6th generation headmaster of Ono-ha Ittō-ryū, before establishing his own style. His son revolutionized practice by implementing the use of shinai, a bamboo mock sword, in conjunction with bogu, a protective armor. (Shinai were already used in Shinkage-ryū, Nen-ryū, and Tatsumi-ryū by this time.) Using the equipment to allow swordsmen to practice techniques freely and engage in sporting matches, foreshadowing the rise of modern kendo, led to the rapid popularity of the Nakanishi branch of Ittō-ryū.

Stylistically the Nakanishi branch is said to more closely resemble its source, the Ono-ha Ittō-ryū, than do any other branches of the Ittō-ryū. The kata practiced on the surface appear to be identical in form but differ in such aspects as timing, breathing, and use of distance.

The Nakashima branch is marked by its wide stances and deliberate movements, which confer a feeling of power and dignity. This style, like the Ono-ha Ittō-ryū, employs the use of the heavily padded glove known as the "onigote," to allow forceful finishing strikes practiced as the denouement of each kata.

Many famous swordsmen have emerged from this ryū, some founding schools of their own. Some of the more prominent among them were:

  • Terada Gouemon (Founder of the Tenshin Ittō-ryū)
  • Shirai Toru (Successor to Terada)
  • Takayanagi Yoshimasa (Founder of the Takayanagi-ha Toda-ryū)
  • Asari Yoshinobu (Teacher to Yamaoka Tesshu)
  • Chiba Shusaku (Founder of Hokushin Ittō-ryū)
  • Takano Sazaburo (A key developer of modern swordsmanship).

Takano, as a well known educator, was able to introduce swordsmanship into the public school system in Japan and was instrumental to the development of the Nihon Kendo Kata.

Kogen Ittō-ryū

Kogen Ittō-ryū (甲源一刀流?) was founded by Henmi Tashiro Yoshitoshi, a student of Sakurai Gosuke Nagamase, who in turn was an exponent of the Aizu branch of Mizoguchi-ha Ittō-ryū.

Hokushin Ittō-ryū

Hokushin Ittō-ryū (北辰一刀流) was founded in the late Edo period (1820’s) by Chiba Shūsaku Narimasa (1794 – 1856). He was one of the last masters who was called a Kensei (sword saint).

The curriculum of the ryūha contains mainly Kenjutsu, Battōjutsu, Kodachi and Naginatajutsu. But the main weapon used is the long sword (Katana).

The Hokushin Ittō-ryū is a very intense dueling style, which focuses on simple and fast techniques where no unnecessary movements are made. Controlling the enemy’s center line with the Kiri-Otoshi and dominating him with extremely fast tsuki-waza are the signature techniques of this ryūha. The principles of this style are that a perfect technique should contain defence and offense in one action.

Characteristic for the training is the use of Onigote (heavily padded gloves) like in its ancestor styles Ono-ha Ittō-ryū and Nakanishi-ha Ittō-ryū which are used in several Kumitachi-Kata (two person practice).

This style is also one of the few remaining ryūha which is still training Kumitachi with Shinken (real swords). One has in order to become Shihan, master every technique with Shinken (Kumitachi and Battōjutsu). This is a very dangerous training method but guarantees, that the quality of those masters is held on a very high level.

At the end of the Bakumatsu period (1853-1867), the Hokushin Ittō-ryū was one of the three biggest and most famous ryūha all over Japan. Swordsmen of the Hokushin Ittō-ryū had a strong influence on the development of modern Kendō in the late 19th century. Also many famous and politically influential people were masters of this swordsmanship school.

Some of the most prominent names:

  • Sakamoto Ryōma (famous revolutionary)
  • Itō Kashitarō (military advisor of the Shinsengumi)
  • Yamaoka Tesshū (founder of the Ittō Shōden Mutō-ryū)
  • Chiba Sana (daughter of the 1st Chiba-dōjō headmaster)
  • Yamanami Keisuke (vice commander of the Shinsengumi)
  • Tōdō Heisuke (captain of the 8th squad of the Shinsengumi)
  • Yoshimura Kanichirō (Kenjutsu instructor of the Shinsengumi)


Old Main lines

The two main lines were that of the Kaiso Chiba Shusaku Narimasa and his Edo-Genbukan, the other was that of his brother Chiba Sadakichi Masamichi with the Chiba-Dôjô. In the mid Taisho period, the line of the Edo-Genbukan disappeared soon after the Dojo was destroyed in the big Kanto earthquake in 1923. The Chiba-Dojo was also destroyed at that time, but this line, unlike that of the Edo-Genbukan, has survived until today.

Edo-Genbukan lineage:

  • 1st Chiba Shusaku Narimasa
  • 2nd Chiba Eijiro Nariyuki (he leaded the Genbukan until his death in 1862)
  • 3rd Chiba Michisaburo Mitsutane
  • 4th Chiba Katsutaro
  • 5th Chiba Shunosuke Koretane (restored the Edo-Genbukan with the help of Yamaoka Tesshu and Inoue Hachiro in 1883)
  • 6th Chiba Eiichiro (wrote the book "Chiba Shusaku Iko" in 1942/ last Genbukan Headmaster)

Chiba-Dojo lineage:

  • 1st Chiba Sadakichi Masamichi
  • 2nd Chiba Jutaro Kazutane
  • 3rd Chiba To-ichiro Kiyomitsu
  • 4th Chiba Tsukane
  • 5th Chiba Hiroshi Masatane
  • 6th Otsuka Yoichiro Masanori

On July 1st 2013 the Chiba family head of the line of Chiba Sadakichi, gave the title of the 6th Headmaster of the Hokushin Itto-ryu Chiba-Dojo to Otsuka Yoichiro Masanori in order to preserve the old Chiba line of the ryuha. He is now the 6th headmaster of the main Hokushin Itto-ryu line.

Side lines

At the middle of the Meiji-period there were many side branches, founded by pupils of the two main lines. One of the most famous was the Tobukan in Mito. It was established by Ozawa Torakichi, a student of the Edo-Genbukan. The Ozawa family is still preserving the teachings of its first headmaster.

Mito-Tobukan lineage:

  • 1st Ozawa Torakichi
  • 2nd Ozawa Ichiro
  • 3rd Ozawa Toyokichi
  • 4th Ozawa Takeshi
  • 5th Ozawa Kiyoko
  • 6th Ozawa Tadahiko
  • 7th Ozawa Satoshi

Otaru-Genbukan lineage:

  • 1st Kobayashi Seijirou Sadayuki (He open the ShiseiKandojo.)
  • 2nd Noda Sirou (changed the name the OtaruGenbuKan.)
  • 3rd Konishi Shigejiro (Moved to Tokyo, named SuginamiGenbuKan.)
  • 4th Konishi Shinen Kazuyuki

There may be more side lines, due to the amount of teaching licenses issued during the Edo period.

Ittō Shōden Mutō-ryū

Main article: Itto Shoden Muto-ryu

Ittō Shōden Mutō-ryū (一刀正伝無刀流?) was founded by Yamaoka Tetsutaro Takayuki, better known as Yamaoka Tesshū, an exponent of Ono-ha Ittō-ryū and Nakanishi-ha Ittō-ryū, in both of which he received a license of full transmission.

Yamaguchi Ittō-ryū


Kaji-ha Ittō-ryū


Tenshinden Ittō-ryū


Sekiguchi-ha Ittō-ryū


Enshin Ittō-ryū

Enshin Itto Ryu Battojutsu is the art of drawing and cutting with the Japanese Samurai Sword. This is a family art taught by Soke Machida Kenshinsai of Nodashi Japan.

The mother of Machida Kenshisai Soke is from a prestigious samurai clan in Aizu area of Tokugawa era. Machida Soke was born in 1932, and was taught martial arts since he was 3 years old from his father and grandfather.

Machida Soke believes that practicing martial arts is completely different from doing sports. The true martial art is to attain the level of skills that could instantly kill the opponent. in Enbukan philosophy you must not be afraid of anything.

References and further reading

Further reading

  • De Lange, William 2012. "Famous Samurai: Ono Tadaaki". Floating World Editions. ISBN = 978-1-891640-68-1
  • Draeger, Donn. 1973. Classical Budo. The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan, 2. New York & Tokyo: Weatherhill.
  • Skoss, Diane (Editor). 1997. Koryu Bujutsu. Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, volume 1. New Jersey, Koryu Books.
  • Skoss, Diane (Editor). 2002. Keiko Shokon. Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, volume 3. Koryu Books. ISBN 1-890536-06-7
  • Sugawara, Makoto (1988). Lives of Master Swordsmen. The East Publication. ISBN 4-915645-17-7.
  • One on One with Sasamori Sensei (Ono-ha Itto Ryu) Part One
  • One on One with Sasamori Sensei (Ono-ha Itto Ryu) Part Two: Ono-ha Itto Ryu and True Perfection
  • One on One with Sasamori Sensei (Ono-ha Itto Ryu) Part Three: Teaching and Learning
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