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Kenjutsu is the art of combat with the samurai sword.  It has been practiced continuously in Japan for over 1,700 years, but only for the last 400 years has it been practiced with the weapon we now think of as the "samurai sword."  Until the mid-16th century, the swords used by the Japanese samurai were much longer than those now used.  But, with increasing use of firearms in battle, the role -- and ultimately the shape and length -- of the sword changed over a span of about 50 years.

The sword (katana, tsurugi, or ken) held a unique role in the life of the samurai.  Often, samurai wore swords that had been handed down from father to son for several generations.  The swords were more than just heirlooms; they symbolized the heritage of the family, and the honor of the samurai's status as a samurai.  Often, samurai gave their swords names that conveyed the pride and dignity of years, even centuries, of honorable service to their daimyō (feudal lord) and accorded their sword all the respect one would give a person.  No other weapon was treated in equal fashion.

Itō Ittōsai Kagehisa (c. 1560 - 1630) was one of Japan's most famous swordsmen and founder of the Ittō-Ryū style.  Together with Yagyū Sekishūsai Muneyoshi, founder of Yagyū Shinkage-Ryū, Itō became one of the two kenjutsu teachers to the Tokugawa family.  Itō's successor was Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki (1565 - 1628).  An intense rivalry soon developed between he and Yagyū Munenori, Muneyoshi's successor.  Although Ono was generally considered the better swordsman, Yagyū was by far the better politician and succeeded in currying greater favor from the Tokugawa.

Perhaps because of these political issues, several senior students of both Itō and Ono formed their own factions of Itto-Ryu.  "Ono-Ha" means "Ono branch", so we study the Ono Branch of Ittō-Ryū.  The full name of our style, therefore, is Ono-Ha Ittō-Ryū.

Among Ono Tadaaki's many accomplishments was the creation of the shinai, a bamboo sword designed to reduce the number and severity of injuries while training in kenjutsu.  The shinai probably would have remained a relatively obscure training device used chiefly, if not exclusively, by the practitioners of Ono-Ha Ittō-Ryū, had it not been for the 16th headmaster of the style, Sasamori Junzo.  As the first headmaster of Ono-Ha Ittō-Ryū following the Meiji Restoration and the abolition of the samurai, Sasamori was one of the principal organizers of the modern sport of kendō.  Due in great part to Sasamori's influence, the shinai became the principal training and competition weapon of kendō.

"Ittō-Ryū" means "One-Sword Style", but not because we only use a single sword in combat.  Instead, it refers to the core technique of our style:  using a single cut (i.e., "one sword") to simultaneously deflect the opponent's attack and counter-strike.  This unique facet of Ono-Ha Ittō-Ryū kenjutsu means that successful execution of its techniques is almost entirely dependant upon the opponent initiating the attack.  Thus, kiriotoshi ("downward cut") is called "the life of kenjutsu" in Ono-Ha Ittō-Ryū, because it serves as both defense and counter-attack simultaneously.  So the success of kiriotoshi depends upon its exquisite timing, following just a fraction of a second after the opponent's strike begins.  As a result, Ono-Ha Ittō-Ryū is truly a defensive style of kenjutsu in which the practitioner trains to prevail only by not being the aggressor.  Moreover, since the majority of techniques are practiced against a single opponent, some refer to Ono-Ha Ittō-Ryū as a "dueling style" of kenjutsu.

Accordingly, Ono-Ha Ittō-Ryū kenjutsu seems ideally suited to serve as a companion art to Musō Jikiden Eishin-Ryū iaijutsu.

Students of the IWU Budōkai have the opportunity to learn the core curriculum of Ono-Ha Ittō-Ryū kenjutsu, as preserved by 17th sōke (headmaster) of the style, Sasamori Takemi.

To view a brief video introduction to the techniques of Ono-Ha Ittō-Ryū kenjutsu, as performed by Sasamori sōke and one of his most senior students, please click the image at left.