The Iaido Journal  Apr 2002EJMAS Tips Jar

The History of the Mugai Ryû - An interview of Sato Kimimaro sensei

Copyright © Marko Laitinen 2002. All rights reserved.

An Arctic Midsummer meeting of Hontai Yoshin ryû jujutsu was held in Helsinki on 20-25 June 2001. In the course of the meeting we had the good fortune of getting an introduction to Mugai ryû iaido by training under Sato Kimimaro Sensei. The writer had also an opportunity to interview Sato Sensei about the history of the Mugai ryû. This article is a result of two separate interviews, the second one done together with Mr. Pasi Hellstén. The interpreter for both interviews was Mr. Kauko Uusoksa.

Sato Sensei

Sato Kimimaro Sensei (Mugai Ryû Hachidan, Kyoshi and Hontai Yoshin Ryû Menkyô Kaiden) was born in 1936 in Nishinomiya. He started learning Mugai ryû 35 years ago as a pupil of Nakagawa Soke, who was his first iai teacher.

He started to practice Mugai ryû iaido because he felt that only through sword training he could understand fully the Hontai Yoshin ryû jujutsu he was studying. This was especially true with mutô-dori practice. Hontai Yoshin ryû iaijutsu was not available in those days, as the previous soke of the ryû did not teach the iai component. But for the efforts of the present soke Hontai Yoshin ryû iaijutsu might have been completely forgotten. It has now been restored to the curriculum of the school, and Sato Sensei has also studied this style.

Sato Sensei has also practised some judo and karate, but he does not do that anymore.

Religious Aspect of Mugai Ryû Training

During the seminar, Sato Sensei talked a lot about the connection between the Mugai ryû and Zen Buddhism. He explained that in the old days one had to join a Zen school before one could be accepted into the Mugai ryû. Sensei himself has been active in a Zen school and said that he had liked it a lot. Sensei explained that most of the other sword schools are more linked to esoteric Buddhism.

Sensei emphasised that one should think about the consequences of one's actions beyond the deed itself. Sensei taught that e.g. at the end of each kata, one should not hurry or allow one's zanshin to lapse but rather one should stop for a while to show respect for one's adversary. Sensei described this feeling with the words ’Namu amida butsu’. With this, he meant that when one has killed a human being, one should still bear certain responsibility for the slain adversary and by saying these words give him a chance to redeem himself. Sensei pointed out that this same phenomenon can be seen in many samurai movies: when a bad guy kills someone, he just walks away, while the good guy stops for a while beside the corpse.

According to Sensei, the ryû's link with Zen Buddhism is visible also in the fact that there is no hidden teaching in the school. In Mugai ryû nukitsuke is taught in the same way to beginners and to more advanced students, unlike e.g. in Muso Shinden ryû with its basic style and oblique nukitsuke. Naturally, a more experienced practitioner does it better and the length of one's sword and one's ability to use the pelvis influence it, but the way nukitsuke is taught does not change. As in many other schools, the first technique is the most important one and one returns to it again and again.

Origin and History of the Mugai Ryû

Mugai ryû traces its origins to the Iga ninja clan. The founder of the Mugai ryû was Tsuji Mugai Gettan, who as born in the year Keian 2 (1649) in the Shiga (Ômi) prefecture. After receiving menkyô kaiden in Yamaguchi ryû kenjutsu from Yamaguchi Bôkushinsai he moved to Edo to start his own dojo.

Gettan was poor and had very few pupils. Consequently, he had plenty of time in his hands and he went to the Buddhist temple Kyûkôji to study Zen Buddhism and classical Chinese culture to improve himself. The name of his Zen teacher was Sekitan Zenshi. Many daimyo visited the temple regularly and while Gettan helped them with their studies, he became familiar with the higher society.

While in the temple Gettan experienced satori (enlightenment) at the age of 45 and founded the Mugai ryû. Originally Mugai ryû was a kenjutsu school and the iai component came to the school later from the Jigyô ryû. The soke of the Jigyô ryû at that moment was Taga Jikyôsai Morimasa and he lacked a pupil who could carry the tradition on. So instead of letting his ryû fade he joined the Mugai ryû bringing his teachings with him. The kenjutsu component is still today preserved in the Mugai ryû as a ryûha recognized by the Nihon Butokukai. Sato Sensei teaches five kenjutsu kata to his advanced students. Sensei explained that these kata are very hard and one cannot do them with a real sword because the blades would be destroyed. Thus the kata are practised solely with a bokken.

Gettan had especially good relationships with two powerful daimyo, Yamaguchi and Sakai. Eventually both of them asked Gettan to come to teach them. Gettan had, however, lost interest in teaching and instead sent two of his pupils, Tsuji Kimata and Tsuji Uheita to them. Uheita was a blood relative of Gettan while Kimata had taken up his name (yôshi). This is how the Mugai ryû started to spread around the country.

Tsuji Mugai Gettan died in Kyôhô 12 (1727) while meditating, but Sato Sensei did not know the exact location where he died.

The Himeji castle near Kobe became the central point of the Mugai ryû, and many of the soke of the school taught there. One of these was the 10th soke of the Mugai ryû, Kyûtarô Takahashi, who was also one of the few kendo hanshi in the Meiji-period. He was invited to Tokyo to teach kendo there, and with him the Mugai ryû was moved temporarily to the capital. Later Kyûtarô Soke was invited back to Kobe to teach kendo to the local police force.

In Kobe he met Nakagawa, his successor to be. Kyûtarô and Nakagawa were very close, and in the 1950’s Kyûtarô Soke moved to live with Nakagawa in order to teach him and make him ready to take over Mugai ryû as the next soke. This was very unusual since still at that time it was usually the pupil who came to the teacher to learn. According to Sato Sensei, this shows how much Kyûtarô Soke wanted to keep Mugai ryû alive.

By occupation Nakagawa Sensei was a vice president of a corporation. Sato Sensei describes him as a great person who had a great sense of humour. He was a teacher who really cared about his students: to him the students were like his own children while simultaneously he was very strict in practice sessions. Nakagawa Sensei also practised kendo and jodo.

After Nakagawa became the 11th soke of the Mugai ryû, he searched out the different Mugai ryû branches around Japan and compiled the history of the ryû into a book called Mugai ryû iai heidô-kô. Despite Nakagawa Soke's efforts, not all the branches were willing to join under him. Some of these branches still exist as menkyô kaiden lines and some of their heads present themselves as the soke of the Mugai ryû. Sato Sensei has reservations about this: according to him, a person cannot be the soke of the Mugai ryû without the authorisation of the Mugai Kai. On the other hand, Sato Sensei points out that a menkyô kaiden gives a person the permission ‘to walk alone’, so these claims cannot be completely refuted. Sensei explained that these matters are always quite complicated and it is hard for him to comment on these claims since the persons making them are his seniors.

Nevertheless, it is a fact that the 11th soke Nakagawa did not appoint a successor. Instead, he gave the authority over the Mugai ryû to the Mugai Kai that was founded earlier to act as the administrative body of the ryû. At the moment, there are two menkyô kaidens in the Mugai Kai, Nakataro Yoshitaro who is the Kaicho (President) of the Mugai Kai and Mori Kimio who is Sato Sensei’s sempai.

Sato Sensei talked much also about the Goen (karmic relationship) between the Mugai ryû and the Hontai Yoshin ryû. The third soke of the Hontai Yoshin ryû, Gennoshin Hideshike Takaki was teaching in the 1690’s in the Himeji castle while at the same time there were also Mugai ryû teachers present. Today these two ryû come together again in Sato Sensei, and he believes that this is a result of Goen.

TIJ Apr 2002