Kata homework - Itto Ryu lineages

A figurine of Ito Ittosai as he appears in the manga "Vagabond"



(People do not accidentally scratch their heads when their feet are itchy, even when they are sleeping. People have an unconscious instinct to defend themselves. You have to make use of that principle.) 

This is one of the famous observations of Ito Ittosai, founder of the Itto Ryu (One Sword School). It might not sound like much, but there's a lot to think about there.


I've made a brief playlist of the main Itto Ryu lineages. There are some others I haven't listed that are more recent (i.e. less than 200 years old) but these are the main ones. 

Of these, the Ono-ha, Hokushin, Mizoguchi-ha and Nakanishi-ha are the most widely practised. Kogen Itto Ryu is less common.

Most have hereditary headmasters, usually called soke. The Mizoguchi-ha is unusual in this sense as it does not have a hereditary path of transmission. No-one 'owns' it. Although it is important in a number of dojos and regions in Japan.

All of these styles are descended from an original branch of Itto Ryu (now lost I believe) founded by an almost legendary figure, Itosai Itto. The importance of Itto Ryu to the development of Kendo can't be overstated. One of the main features of all Itto Ryu is the very straight, overhead kirioroshi (downwards cut). This is basically how we swing the sword in Kendo, from kata through to shiai. 

After the haitorei 廃刀令 in 1876 (the banning of wearing two swords in public), the only form of income for teachers of swordsmanship were the public matches organised by Sakakibara Kenkichi. From these matches between different schools of swordsmanship wearing bogu and using shinai came the development of Kendo. One of the terms for this kind of competition was gekken 撃剣. George McCall sensei has written an excellent article on this competition and it significance for Kendo. https://kenshi247.net/blog/2013/07/17/gekken-kogyo/

In watching these videos I hope you can see the origins of Kendo kata. 

And if you think that the demonstration of Ono-ha seems to be taking place in a church, you're not imagining things. The current headmaster Sasamori Takemi is an ordained Methodist minister, as was his late father, Sasamori Junzo. Sasamori snr was also a highly ranked kenshi and wrote the first Kendo instruction manual in English, "This is Kendo". 

TIP - watch the 1897 clip of Ono-ha at half speed. 


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