The Iaido Journal  Nov 2007
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A Comparative Analysis of the Mugai Ryu and Kuniba Ryu Iai




By Robert M. Rivers

4th Dan, Meishi ha Mugai Ryu Iaihyodo Suimokai

October 2007

©2007 Robert M. Rivers

Revised 11-07-07

Table of Contents

國場流 1

Introduction 3

Brief History of Mugai Ryu Iaihyodo 3

Mugai Ryu in the Modern Era 3

Kuniba Shogo and Mugai Ryu 4

Kuniba Ryu and Mugai Ryu Curriculum Comparison 4


ZNIR Toho 7

A Physical Comparison 9


Tabulated Comparison 10

Graphic Tabulation 12

Summary 17

Conclusions 18

A Comparative Analysis of the Mugai Ryu and Kuniba Ryu Iai

By Robert M. Rivers, 4th Dan, Meishi ha Mugai Ryu Iaihyodo Suimokai


I began my iaido training in 1991 with the AKKA (Kuniba Ryu derivative). I associated with people who trained directly with Kuniba Shogo, founder of Kuniba Ryu Iai. My research into Kuniba Ryu produced many references including print material and video footage. In December of 2002 I made my first contact with the Meishi ha Mugai Ryu honbu and applied for formal membership early in 2003. I have been a member of the group ever since. –Robert Rivers, October 2007

Brief History of Mugai Ryu Iaihyodo

Mugai Ryu Iaihyodo was founded in 1693 by Tsuji Gettan Sukemochi. Prior to that date, Tsuji Gettan had been a student of Bokushinsai Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi was a student of Kashima Shinto Ryu as well as Shinkage Ryu and Awaga Ryu. Yamaguchi eventually would found the Yamaguchi Ryu. After 13 years with Yamaguchi, Tsuji Gettan received Kaiden (full transmission) in 1674.

Tsuji Gettan was attracted to the philosophy “Zen Ken Ichi Nyo,” or “the sword and Zen are one,” a philosophy shared by many great swordsman including Musashi Miyamoto. In 1693, after 19 years of refining his sword skills and philosophy through severe physical training and zazen training, the Mugai Ryu was founded. Gettan adopted the term “Mugai” from a Chinese zen poem:

Ippo jitsu mugai
Kenkon toku ittei
Suimo hono mitsu
Dochaku soku kosei”

“There is nothing but the one truth: It is universal, constant. The wind-blown feather truly obtains this secret; To know harmony amidst confusion is to be illuminated…”1

Mugai Ryu in the Modern Era

From the sixth (6th) generation head of the style (Soke), Takahashi Hachisuke Mitsusuke, the art was passed through the Takahashi family to the eleventh (11th) head of the art Nakagawa Shiryo Shinichi.

Nakagawa Soke attempted to appoint a man named Gogetsu Ishii as the successor to Mugai Ryu. This was unsuccessful. After a difference in opinion, Gogetsu was summarily dismissed from Mugai Ryu and separated from Nakagawa. Nakagawa then proceeded to form an Association of Mugai Ryu practitioners and Nakagawa’s Kaiden and Shihan holders continued the dissemination of Mugai Ryu.

Mugai Ryu is practiced in Japan to this day as a result of transmission from several of Nakagawa’s senior students including Shiokawa Houshou, Konishi Tatsuo Gosaichi, and Nakatani Takashi. A line of Mugai Ryu is also still taught within the Takahashi family though it differs greatly from Nakagawa Soke’s Mugai Ryu.

The Mugai Ryu curriculum, as taught by Nakagawa Soke, is preserved today by Menkyo Kaiden (certificate of full transmission) holders stemming from his first generation students. Students of Konishi Tatsuo and Shiokawa Houshou to include Niina Gyokudo (Meishi ha), Sega Yoshiyuki, Konishi Shin, Tamenori Akitada, Fujimura Michio, Nakatani Masaya, Furuhata Kimiyuki, and Kuniyuki Kai carry the torch of the orthodox Mugai Ryu curriculum.

Kuniba Shogo and Mugai Ryu

As stated on the web-site of the Kuniba Kai, the umbrella organization of the Kuniba Ryu arts headed by the late Kuniba Shogo’s sons, Kosuke and Kozo, Kuniba Sensei began training in Mugai Ryu in 1952 at the age of 17 with Gogetsu Ishii. Kuniba Sensei would continue to practice Iai for 40 years.

The date of the introduction of Mugai Ryu to the US is hard to pinpoint, however, proponents of Kuniba Sensei and a student of his, Albert Church (Iaido sandan under Kuniba) date Mugai’s beginnings in America between 1970 and 1972. Following the introduction of the art to the US, Kuniba Sensei’s visits from Japan in the 1970’s and his eventual relocation to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia added to the number of martial artists in the United States who began familiarizing themselves with the term “Mugai”. Exponents of Kuniba’s brand of Mugai Ryu exist today within the Kunibakai, Seishinkai (founded by Kuniba), Chikubukai, and among practitioners who have trained with Kuniba during his time teaching in the USA. For over 30 years, the curriculum, as taught by Kuniba, has been readily available in print and video format. Demonstrations of Kuniba performing his iai can be found anywhere from old videos including instructional videos and Albert Church’s memorial enbukai (demonstration) to the newly added video footage that can be found on the internet’s ever-popular YouTube.

Kuniba Ryu and Mugai Ryu Curriculum Comparison

Regardless of the leadership of the several orthodox Mugai Ryu lineages in Japan, the curriculum is virtually unchanged and structured in the way Nakagawa Soke set forth. The Kuniba Ryu iai is also virtually the same as how Kuniba was known to teach it regardless of which former Kuniba student is demonstrating the art. The need for comparison arrives when one notices the differences between the curricula of orthodox Mugai Ryu and Kuniba Ryu.

While Kuniba Ryu carries over some of the nomenclature of Mugai Ryu, the most apparent difference between the two styles is the breadth of the curriculum. For the analysis, I will only address the known kata of each ryu and not include basic training drills.

Kuniba Ryu includes 13 kata. They are called Shin, Ren, Sa, Yuu, Sha, Hibiki, Riken, Hibiki Gaeshi, Riken Gaeshi, Makko, Tsuki Age, Nukido, and Sanpo. The following kata list and kanji was written by Kuniba.

Top Kanji: “Mugai Ryu Iaido”, written by Shogo Kuniba, courtesy Lenny Jordan, ISKU Honbucho

Kuniba Ryu offers versatility to the practitioner as training these kata is done both from seiza (seated in the kneeling position) and standing. Therefore, if each of the 13 kata can be performed from two positions, the number of kata available for practice doubles. A concept that is applied differently in Kuniba Ryu is the foot switch common in Mugai Ryu seated kata. In Kuniba Ryu, when the kata are done standing, the foot switch is retained. This is not done in Mugai Ryu.

Orthodox Mugai Ryu contains 20 basic kata, five Kumitachi (formal standing partner sets), five wakizashi (short sword) techniques, and the five habiki no kata (original Mugai Ryu Kenjutsu kata). These techniques are practiced to a point of demonstrated proficiency after which additional kata from the Naiden and Okuden (techniques reserved for the highest level practitioners) curriculum are introduced bringing the total to over 40 individual kata.


Mugai Ryu Kata

Kuniba Ryu Kata

Similar (Yes/ No) or Not Applicable (N/A)














Sha (Mugai Ryu Inchuyo)






N/A (Kuniba Ryu Sha)





Hibiki Gaeshi




Hibiki Gaeshi











No Okuri






Mae Goshi



Muso Gaeshi



Mawari Gakari



Migi no Tekki




































Habiki no Kata (5), Naiden, Okuden




Mugai Ryu kata “tsuki kage kanno” and Kuniba Ryu kata “riken and riken gaeshi” contain a similar initial cut. Aside from the initial cut, the kata are completely different. The kata Makko, Tsuki Age, Nukido, and Sanpo were added by Kuniba and are not in the orthodox Mugai Ryu curriculum.

The origin of the Kuniba Ryu kata Makko, Tsuki Age, Nukido, and Sanpo is not officially known. However, it is interesting to note that Gogetsu Ishii, Kuniba’s teacher, was a member of the Zen Nippon Iaido Renmei, (ZNIR), though Nakagawa discouraged him from being so heavily involved. The ZNIR influence can be seen, not only in the way that Kuniba’s version of the Mugai Ryu kata are done, but also in his adaptation of two kata that are not Mugai Ryu in origin.

When the ZNIR was founded, a set of Seitei Kata (standardized forms) called the ZNIR Toho were created to represent the different koryu that the ZNIR had at its foundation. The kata and style that they come from are listed here:


  1. Maegiri - Eishin Ryu

  2. Zengogiri - Mugai Ryu

  3. Kiriage - Shindo Munen Ryu

  4. Shihogiri - Suio Ryo

  5. Kissaki Gaeshi - Hoki Ryu

ZNIR kata Zengogiri is based on Mugai Ryu kata Ren. However, its execution is far from its Koryu foundation (Zengogiri has an additional turn and makkogiri). Kuniba Ryu Ren and ZNIR Zengogiri are nearly identical in form. Indications are that Kuniba Ryu kata Makko and Sanpo are Eishin Ryu in origin. Kuniba Ryu kata Makko is, for all intents and purposes, Eishin Ryu kata Makko from the Tatehiza no bu set. Sanpo, according to Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu sources is similar to Tatekito from the Okunokata set but done from zagi, not standing. There isn’t an exact Eishin Ryu match done in zagi, but Sanpo seems to draw influences from the Eishin Ryu kata Tozume, Towaki, and Shihogiri..2 Considering there is an Eishin Ryu division in the ZNIR, Kuniba would have certainly been exposed to this kata through Gogetsu. The history of Kuniba Ryu Tsuki Age and Nukido is still elusive and may be Kuniba’s creation. Kuniba Ryu Nukido bears a slight resemblance to the last yokoichimonji (horizontal one-hand cut) of Mugai Ryu Naiden kata Jinrai, but, is different enough that it may have been created by Kuniba.

The surface of Mugai Ryu can be seen in 8 of the 13 Kuniba Ryu kata. But, there are many things to consider, in addition to names and the “shell” of the kata, when comparing the kata of two ryu-ha. Timing is the first aspect compared. The demonstration of the timing within a kata presents the practitioner’s awareness of the true bunkai (meaning) of the kata. Kuniba Ryu can be seen as quick (looking rushed depends on the practitioner) and staccato. Mugai Ryu is taught so that the response of the attacker during each phase of a kata is overtly perceived. When the kata of the two styles are done side by side, the similarities in form are evident. However, when each fundamental facet of an individual kata is performed side by side, such as nukitsuke (drawing of the sword) and noto (returning the sword to the scabbard), the techniques are obviously different and could be interpreted by an un-informed observer as two unrelated styles of swordsmanship.

Ma ai (fighting range) is another important aspect of iaido training. The perceived awareness of the practitioner as to the physical location of the opponent before, during, and after the kata is paramount to understanding true swordsmanship as practiced 300 years ago. The apparent ma ai of Kuniba Ryu is seen as relatively short, whereas the ma ai of Mugai Ryu is long. The explanation from representatives of each style concerning the difference in ma ai reflects the refinement of Mugai Ryu and the absence of Mugai Ryu-specific partner training in Kuniba Ryu. Certain internal principles of Mugai Ryu can also be seen during the execution of the Mugai Ryu kata. These principles are not visible in Kuniba Ryu kata.

The angles of certain cuts within each style also differ. The fundamental kata, Shin, not only contains differences in form, timing, and ma ai, but the angles of each cut are also different. In the case of the kiriage (rising cut) during nukitsuke, Kuniba Ryu kata utilize the same angle, approximately 45 degrees, for all kata. The same goes for the standard kesagiri (downward angle cut). The Kuniba Ryu makkogiri (downward vertical cut) is done by dropping the hands down whereby the sword, being attached to the hands, follows. Makko giri and kesagiri in Mugai Ryu are considerably different as the perception of the opponent’s location, being farther away than in Kuniba Ryu, is seen in the cut.

Mugai Ryu offers different angles for all of the various cuts depending on the kata. The perceived attack for each kata is not universal. Also, the opponent’s response to the initial technique in a kata is different from kata to kata regardless of how similar the kata appear. Execution of a particular cut depends greatly on where the opponent is and where in time the practitioner is in relation to the ensuing attack. This concept can only be taught and understood, ultimately making the technique “correct”, if there is a historically and technically correct understanding of an authentic Japanese swordsman’s attack. In general, orthodox Mugai Ryu pushes the practitioner to work towards an intimate understanding of a true sword attack and an effective response. Bunkai practice with partners is quite different between the two styles.

Kuniba Ryu varies greatly from Mugai Ryu in that many branches of Mugai Ryu, in particular the Meishi ha, are kireru iai, or “cutting iai”. This means that every time the sword is drawn, an effective cut is made. By “effective” I mean that any katana (Japanese sword) is certainly a remarkable weapon regardless of the style wielding it. While moving the ha (cutting edge of the sword) in the direction of a target will certainly result in a cut of some sort, only proper coordination between the body and the sword will result in a penetrating swing (versus a slicing cut on the surface of the body) able to cut through vascular tissue, muscle, and bone. Kuniba Ryu utilizes more of a slicing motion. In Mugai Ryu, individual techniques of a kata as well as entire kata sequences are practiced during tameshigiri (test cutting) practice. This training regimen involves setting up targets made of rolled and water soaked tatami (straw mats used for Japanese flooring) in varying thicknesses and positions simulating various examples of the human form. Successful cuts indicate an effective cut. With a target in place, the difference between “kata iai” and “kireru iai” becomes emphatically clear.

Most Kuniba Ryu in practice is done from the seated position. Orthodox Mugai Ryu begins with ten seated and ten standing kata. Mugai Ryu kata practice includes seated kata, standing kata, and running attacks that offer a range of attacks from varying positions as well as addressing multiple armed assailants. While Kuniba Ryu practitioners work the seated kata in the standing position, much of the footwork and sword-work demonstrated while standing differ from the Mugai Ryu practices.

A Physical Comparison

It will be impossible to note every difference between the two ryu, however, an attempt will be made to compare one kata that the two ryu have in common. In general, there are four kata from the Goyo (five needs) set of Mugai Ryu that Kuniba Ryu practices. The kata are called Shin, Ren, Sa, and Yuu. Kuniba Ryu does have a kata named after the fifth kata of the set, Sha, however, this kata as done in Kuniba Ryu is closer to the Mugai Ryu kata Inchuyo from the Goka (five items) set. The reason for this discrepancy is not known. The kata from the Mugai Ryu Goka, Hibiki Gaeshi and Hazumi, are done in Kuniba Ryu as Hibiki and Hibiki Gaeshi respectively. Again, the reason for the change in the names of the kata of Kuniba Ryu is not known.

Before I start, I must emphasize that neither art is properly respected by divulging every difference. This would, in essence, make public the “secrets” of the particular art. Mugai Ryu, for example, is considered a Koryu (Old/ Classical Style) and as such contains techniques that differentiated it from the “competition” found in feudal Japan. One method of evaluating the effectiveness of a martial art is noting that it is in fact still in existence. If a technique was proven inefficient or ineffective in combat, it was most certainly discarded, as a result of the death of the losing combatant. The 300 year history of Mugai Ryu, as well as other koryu still being taught today, speaks volumes as to its effectiveness. It would be improper to reveal intricacies of the kata which directly relate to the secrets of strategy to either ryu. Rather, a comparison of the overt motions, or techniques easily discerned by the observer, within the kata will be compared. The tradition of publicly demonstrating kata and teaching beginners with intentional mistakes is carried over from feudal Japan in the Mugai Ryu. This was done to provide misinformation to would-be enemies attempting to learn the secrets of an opposing style.


The first kata of both ryu is called Shin, which, appropriately, means truth. This correlates with the first line of the aforementioned Zen poem, Ippo jitsu Mugai, “There is nothing but the one truth.”

Tabulated Comparison


Mugai Ryu

Kuniba Ryu


(Drawing the Sword)

The hands meet in the center and the draw is completed with a combination of pulling the sword out and pulling the saya back quickly (sayabiki). The draw is done slowly through the first 1/3 and then the cut is made.

With the katana in the belt, the right hand reaches across, grabs the tsuka, turns the tsuka so that the edge is down, and pulls the sword from the saya without sayabiki. This is done immediately after the koiguchi (opening of the saya) is opened. The sword is drawn full speed from the start.


(the initial rising cut)

A full katate gyakukesa (one hand reverse angle cut) is made from left to right. Care is given to throw the monouchi (end of the cutting edge of the katana where the cut is made) as far out as possible. The draw combined with the hips and sword position yields a full, deep cut.

The cut is executed similarly, however, the opponent is very close. The cut is made with the hand on the centerline. This results in more of a slice than a full, deep cut. In watching Kuniba demonstrate the Bunkai, this is exactly what is done.

Furi Kaburi

(Position of the sword over the head)

Hands are brought over the head. Kissaki (point of the sword) is slightly below horizontal. The body is kept forward and the kissaki does not drop as the final cut is made.

Hands are brought up similarly however, kissaki is usually brought down to around 45 degrees down or more (like one is scratching his back) before the cut. The transition between furi kaburi and the final cut is very quick.


(Downward final cut)

Cut is kesagiri (angle downward cut) from right to left. The step is deep with the left foot. The cut also reaches out forward with a deep stance and pushing the hips forward.

Cut is also kesagiri. The stance is shallow. The sword is not thrown out but the hands are simply dropped down indicating again that the opponent is close.


(Following the opponent)

The kissaki is taken from the last position to the centerline.

The kissaki is also taken from the last position to the centerline. There is an added kissakigiri (cut with the tip of the sword) forward after the sword is centered up.


(Removing the blood from the blade)

There is no Chiburi during the zagi (seated) kata of Mugai Ryu. However, standing kata do have chiburi. Chiburi is done by simply bringing the right hand to the side. Kissaki is to the right of the centerline.

Chiburi done from zagi is ochiburi (big chiburi) where the sword is brought above the head and then the theoretical “blood” on the blade is flicked off with a large circular motion. Monouchi is on the centerline. Similar to Eishin Ryu.


(Returning the sword to the saya)

Noto is done by trying to keep the right hand still and keeping the blade in between the opponent and the practitioner. The blade is brought around horizontally. Mugai Ryu uses monouchi noto and kissaki noto (describes what part of the sword touches the hand before the blade is guided back into the saya). The sword moves quickly until the sword is about 1/3 in the saya.

The right hand makes a very flowing motion in a sort of figure 8 motion. The sword is brought back vertically. Noto is almost a habaki noto (the brass collar above the tsuba is where the sword meets the left hand). Once the sword meets the left hand, the movement is done very quickly until the sword is about 3/4 in the saya.


(Sitting back)

There are two methods of sonkyo depending on which branch of the Mugai Ryu tree is being done. Meishi ha sits all the way back to seiza but remains on the balls of the feet. This is the method used by Soke Nakagawa. Another method made popular by Gogetsu is also used. The sitting back is timed with the returning of the sword the remaining 2/3 of the way into the saya.

Sonkyo is done by pulling the forward leg back almost to hanmei (sideways stance) with the knee of the moving leg out to the side. This was done by Gogetsu and is appropriate as he was Kuniba’s teacher. It is done faster as there is only ¼ of the sword left out of the saya to return It is done quicker than Mugai Ryu.

Graphic Tabulation

Mugai Ryu Shin

Kuniba Ryu Shin

Sword is pushed forward. Hands meet in the center. The sword is not turned until just before the draw.

Tsuka turned before the draw

(Left) The sword is still not turned. Sword is turned and drawn at the last moment. The picture to the right shows the depth of the stance and the reaching for the target. The photo on the right and Kuniba’s to the right are at the same point in time.

Ma ai is very short, stance is narrow, note position of monouchi in relation to hand. Kissaki is brought up with the wrist.

Pulling the right foot back and bringing the hands up to furikaburi are simultaneous. Though the foot comes back, the pressure is still forward, off the heels.

Kuniba Sensei pulls his foot back before pulling to furikaburi. He also sits back on his heels before bringing the sword to furikaburi

Kissaki is up. The hands are slightly forward. The tip does not drop as the movement to execute kesagiri is made.

The hands are placed behind the head, the kissaki is almost to his belt. He has already started to lean right to hook the kesagiri around.

The sword remains straight overhead as the step with the left foot is made. The movement to make the kesagiri is done by putting the sword at an angle, not moving the arms to the side or leaning.

The hands are brought from furikaburi to the side of the head to set up the kesagiri before forward motion is started

The kesagiri is done by moving forward and letting the angle of the sword do the cut. The stance is deep. The bottom photos show how far forward the body is when the cut is made. The right photo is where the body moves for tekkitsuke after the cut.

Stance is short indicating close ma ai. The hands, shoulders, hips, and sword are brought around together. Sword cut is at around 45 degrees, but is more of a slicing motion.

No chiburi in seiza

Start of chiburi

Here is the chiburi from standing. The sword moves directly from the position shown on the left to the position shown on the right. Again, the longer ma ai is seen in the chiburi.

Kissaki is on the centerline. Sword is pointing just in front of his right foot.

Compare the left photo with the right. The right hand has not moved. The sword hits the saya near the kissaki. Sword is in the saya and the saya pushed forward about 1/3 over the sword. The sword is brought to the saya in a horizontal circle.

Note the sword meets the koiguchi at the habaki. He “whips” the sword around in a figure 8 to this position in a big circular motion. The sword is brought to the position in a more vertical circle.

Noto is brought back to the center. The pressure is still forward. The sword moving the remaining 2/3 is timed with the left foot pulling back. The second type of sonkyo is done also, but the shoulders are still square. The body is not turned sideways.

Kuniba “snaps” to this position. The noto is done very quickly until the sword is about ¾ the way in the saya. The last ¼ is done slower and timed with his right foot as he sits back to sonkyo. He twists a bit at the end completing sonkyo.

Mugai Ryu stands up in between each kata. There is also a specific method to this.

In this video, he ends the kata by standing up in a similar fashion to that of Mugai Ryu.


The differences listed are many, and the differences not listed are considerably more. Details such as how a student sits in seiza, how the torei (the bow to the sword before beginning practice) is done, how the sword is placed in the belt, even how the sageo (the chord on the side of the saya) is affixed to the practitioner are all specific and consistent through all branches of orthodox Mugai Ryu, yet different in Kuniba Ryu. There are also the remaining kata whose names and general structure the two ryu also have in common to consider if an in depth comparison is to be made. However, I think the above comparison does the job of establishing that the two ryu ha are in fact considerably different.

The perception of this article may be that orthodox Mugai Ryu may be somehow preferred or considered “more authentic” than Kuniba Ryu. Remembering that this is a “comparison”, we have to establish what we are comparing and to what we are comparing it. Mugai Ryu, in this comparison, is considered the control, or what things are being compared to, as Mugai Ryu, as taught in Japan, has an uncontestable development of curriculum since its founding. Kuniba Ryu, as the newer rendition of the art, is what is being compared to the control. Objectively speaking, orthodox Mugai Ryu is in fact “more authentic”; however, it is a standard that the “better” martial art will always depend on the needs of the practitioner. But, determining a “better” martial art or trying to expose “shortcomings” of Kuniba Ryu is not my intent. Martial styles are all different. The differences can never be documented as shortcomings, but as differences. Kuniba Ryu, when performed by someone with a love for the art, its heritage, and an understanding of Kuniba Sensei’s intent for his rendition of Iaido, is a wonderful martial art and an excellent form of mental and physical practice. Practitioners of Kuniba Ryu enjoy years of intense study of the art which has a 40 year legacy in the United States.

The conclusion of this comparison will not be the revelation of the better art, but simply a description of the similarities and differences between the two. A comparison between the Mugai Ryu practiced in the Suimokai (headquartered in Tokyo) and the Seibukan (headquartered in Miyazaki) could have just as easily been done noting many differences in technique and timing. The comparison between Mugai Ryu and Kuniba Ryu was prompted due to the overwhelming interest in the topic. I felt that, due to my training in both arts, I could offer a point of view that would be useful, not only to general public interest, but to those members of both lines who wish to know more about the differences between the two methods.

While slightly off topic for a standard comparison, the following information is necessary to have as a background understanding for the conclusions of this comparison.

Mugai Ryu is identified by the authorities on the subject, the senior instructors in Japan, as having a direct lineage to the teachings of Tsuji Gettan, as having certain technical, tactical, and philosophical traits. It is clear that Kuniba Ryu does not share these same characteristics. Kuniba Ryu utilizes 16% of the Mugai Ryu kata and, of the common kata practiced, few Mugai Ryu internal principles are visible. Also, only 69% of Kuniba Ryu kata is Mugai Ryu in origin. Four of the thirteen (31%) Kuniba Ryu kata are not Mugai Ryu in origin, two of which are clearly Eishin Ryu in origin.

I think that, today, most practitioners of any traditional Japanese ryu-ha would agree that an art calling itself Mugai Ryu should contain what is generally accepted by the authorities as the authentic Mugai Ryu curriculum. It is also generally accepted in Japan that in order to head a traditional ryu and the implementation of the “ha” before the style name, authorization must be given to do so, typically the Menkyo Kaiden. Thus, according to the extant Mugai Ryu lines in Japan, the name Kuniba Ryu Iaido is the more appropriate name for Kuniba Sensei’s art.3

Incidentally, Kuniba Ryu cannot be called Mugai Ryu simply because he trained with Gogetsu Ishii. In fact, this is not necessarily complimentary. Clearly, Gogetsu’s Mugai Ryu was heavily influenced by his involvement with the ZNIR and thus was changed from Nakagawa Soke’s teaching. An excerpt from a letter written by Nakagawa illustrates Nakagawa’s opinion of Gogetsu’s Mugai Ryu after he became more involved in the ZNIR:

“…they are just aping the movements without understanding the underlying principles or theory, so in my mind I don’t compare them to humans. I consider them a bunch of monkeys.” 4

He also mentions that he did not teach Gogetsu the entire Mugai Ryu curriculum. It was shortly after this that Gogetsu was issued hamon (dismissed from the school and stripped of all rank) by Nakagawa Soke. This chain of events is the root of the differences between orthodox Mugai Ryu and Kuniba Ryu.


How does Kuniba Ryu compare to Mugai Ryu? I think adequate conclusions can be drawn from the information provided here to answer many questions regarding the two styles and how they relate to each other; their similarities and their differences.

Kuniba Ryu is a Gendai (modern) budo and Mugai Ryu is a classical Koryu. Mugai Ryu is an established ryu with a standard curriculum. Kuniba Ryu and its derivatives draw influences from Mugai Ryu, Eishin Ryu, and the ZNIR. Comparatively, they are as different as any two koryu or gendai martial arts. The unique similarities between Kuniba Ryu and Mugai Ryu are the nomenclature and the common kata where the trademark footswitch is made. But I believe this is where the similarities end. The principles, tactics, and execution of the kata are all considerably different. As mentioned earlier, if an individual makkogiri or kesagiri or nukitsuke, chiburi, or noto are done side by side, it would look like two different sword styles being demonstrated. The physical comparisons, I believe, are presented and should provide most with a casual understanding of the two ryu.

The final chapter of this comparison relates to how Kuniba Ryu is referred. Should it be referred to as “Kuniba Ryu” or “Kuniba ha Mugai Ryu” or is simply “Mugai Ryu appropriate? Is there a difference or is this game of names ultimately insignificant? To the general public, it is absolutely insignificant. Martial artists have the task of determining for themselves what issues of courtesy and etiquette are appropriate.

Regardless of the style name, Iaido offers many the world over an opportunity to practice the art of the Japanese sword. Gendai or Koryu, historically-accurate or completely made-up, any style can open doors to classical methods and, ultimately, most martial arts promote humanity and build good moral character. As long as the instructor is knowledgeable and the dojo offers a healthy atmosphere, all martial arts are successful. Where a student ultimately ends up on the path is completely up to the student. However, the doors to authentic Budo are opened and closed with etiquette.

1 History of the Founder, Meishi ha Mugai Ryu Iaihyodo Suimokai Honbu web-site,

2 Clarification provided by Eishin Ryu kenshi Charles Mahan and Will Schutt. Reflected in revision from 10 October, 2007.

3 Through correspondence with Suimokai Honbu, Tokyo, Japan. Kuniba’s highest recognized rank in the Mugai Ryu community in Japan is 4th Dan.

4 Letter from Nakagawa Shinichi dated November 10 translated by Renjosai Kuroda, Suimokai Honbu


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