To try to win is empty
To try to avoid defeat is essential

The Philosophy Ittosai Kagehisa


The ‘One Sword’

One of the most successful styles to have survived to this day is Itto Ryu. In Japanese, it means literally: “one sword”. The exact date of the formulation of the style is difficult, but it can be traced to sometime in the middle of the 16th century.

The History

The founder of this style was a man named Yagoro. At age fourteen, Yagoro arrived in the little seaside village named Ito. How he got there is speculation. According to legend, he floated across the narrow Sea of Sagami from the island of Oshima on a piece of wood. Villages were closed societies in that time and hostile to strangers. However the young Yagoro soon earned the friendship of the inhabitants, when he drove away six bandits who attacked the village one day. He ended up remaining there for some years. The villagers then saved up money for him to travel to seek out a master, since he had expressed the wish to become a great swordsman. He went to Kamakura to the famous Hachiman Shrine to pray to the gods. He stayed there for six nights, practicing and praying, on the seventh night, he was attacked from behind by some unknown assailant. Somehow he sensed the attack, drew his sword, turned and cut the man down in one stroke. His technique was spontaneous and done without any thought. He did not understand the meaning of the technique he had used that night until many years later, when it would become the fundamental technique and philosophy of the style he would eventually create. He would also change his name to Ito Ittosai Kagehisa.

Major Figures & Influences

Itto Ryu has proven to be one of the most studied styles of swordsmanship. Many superior swordsmen have graduated from this school over the centuries. The most notable is:

Ono Tadaaki who became the successor to the Itto style when Ito Kagehisa mysteriously disappeared from the field of Koganegahara where Tadaaki and a would be successor, Zenki, fought a duel to decide who would succeed Ittosai as the next master ofthe style. He was reputed to be an excellent swordsman, even superior to Yagyu Munenori, but his cold and stern character earned him less respect and admiration than his contemporary Munenori. Along with Munenori, he was also designated as an official teacher of swordsmanship to the Tokugawa Shogunate.


There is some speculation that one of the famous treatises on Zen and swordsmanship, “the Sword of Taia” written by Soho Takuan, was addressed specifically to Ono Tadaaki. If this was indeed the case, then it lends credibility to the speculation that Itto Ryu became influenced by Zen at a much earlier stage, under Tadaaki. Tadaaki’s son Tadatsune, an excellent swordsman in his own right, founded the Ono branch of Itto Ryu.

Ono-ha Itto-ryu

Ono-ha Itto-ryu remains as the founding school of the Itto-ryu styles of classical swordsmanship and was founded by Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki, at that time his name was Mikogami Tenzen and he took the name Ono on becoming the leader of the Ryu [school] and successor to Ito Ittosai Kagehisa as the second headmaster of Itto-ryu kenjutsu.

When Tadaaki was appointed as the Kenjutsu shinan-yaku – instructor in swordsmanship to Tokugawa Hidetada [Ieyasu’s son], and the second Shogun of the Tokugawa, Itto-ryu became, together with Yagyu one of two official schools of Kenjutsu to the Tokugawa shogunate. Tadaaki also served Iemitsu, the third Shogun, in the same position.

The fourth headmaster, Tadakazu, also taught to the lord of the Tsugaru clan; Tsugaru Echigo-no-kami Nobumasa, [The Tsugaru’s fief, is nowadays Hirosaki city, Aomori prefecture, the northern most place of Honshu island], the whole system of the Ono-ha Itto-ryu and thus establishing a separate Tsugaru line. Other clans and senior retainers also began to study Ono ha, both enhancing its reputation and increasing the prestige of the style throughout Japan.

Tsugaru Tosa-no-kami Nobutoshi the second lord of the Tsugaru clan returned the responsibility for the transmission of the teaching to the Ono family, when he taught both Ono Tadahisa and Tadakata. The Ono and the Tsugaru families then jointly held responsibility for the teaching Ono-ha Itto-ryu up until the Kansei era (1789–1801), when the seventh head of the school, Ono Tadayoshi then taught Yamaga Hachirozaemon Takami, a retainer of the Tsugaru clan, the entire Ono-ha Itto-ryu system.

The Tsugaru and Yamaga families then worked together in an informal coalition to transmit the system. This continued into the Taisho era (1912–1926).

Sasamori Junzo 1886-1976 was born in Tsugaru and started to learn Itto-ryu in the 1890’s from Tsushima Kenpachi. Tsushima sensei was the former master of Itto-ryu for the Tsugaru Clan and as previously stated, the Tsugaru Clan’s Itto-ryu had succeeded as the legitimate lineage of Ono-ha including partially adopting Nakanishi-ha gekken Kenjutsu (one of the first types of Kendo to appear at that time) as a part of its practice.



After that he studied for a long period under Nakahata Hidegoro sensei (also a former master of Itto-ryu for the Tsagaru Clan)

Finally Sasamori Junzo acceded as 16th Soke to the legitimate Ono-ha from Yamaga Takatomo the previous successor of Ono-ha for the Tsugaru Clan.

His son Sasamori Takemi succeeded his father to become the 17th and current Soke of the school.

Ono-ha Itto-ryu is also studied and taught independently, away from the main stream of the Ryu, by some Kendo sensei and exponents from Daito-ryu and other organisations. It is probably the most widely known type of Itto-ryu

The lineage of Itto-ryu also includes Hokushin Itto-ryu with such famous figures such as Chiba Shusaku, Ito Kashitaro and Naito Takaharu. Nakanishi-ha Itto-ryu founded by Nakanishi Chuta and later with Takano Sasaburo. Kogen Itto-ryu. Itto Shoden Muto-ryu founded by Yamaoka Tesshu and the Mizoguchi-ha Itto-ryu founded by Mizoguchi Shingoemon Masakatsu, a student of the second headmaster of Ono-ha Itto-ryu, Ono Jiroemon Tadatsun before creating his own style of the Mizoguchi-ha.

Ono Jussei

Was born into a farmer’s family in Saga Prefecture in 1896. He started Kendo when he was 11 years old and moved to Kyoto after junior high school. At the age of 18 and entered the Butoku kai Honbu where he was taught by the most high level teachers.

After this period ended he became Shihan at the Shiga Prison and the Shiga Prefecture Ohtsu Polytechnic School. During this time he visited Manchuria for his further study and training and later to Korea where he became Shihan to the Butoku kai’s Korean Branch. After this he moved to Tokyo for his further training and became Shihan at Tokyo Police (Keishi-cho) and the Kokushikan School, he was 38 years old at that time. .

In 1928 he was awarded Kendo Kyoshi. At the 1940 Ten ran shiai in front of the Emperor he was narrowly defeated in the semi finals. Also in 1940 he began the study of Ono ha Itto ryu under the 16th Soke: Junzo Sasamori and received the Menkyo kaiden –certificate of proficiency. He was awarded Hanshi in 1954 and later graded to 9th Dan Hanshi. In 1961 he retired from Keishi-cho and became honorary Shihan. He died in 1974 aged 77

Ono Torao

Born as the first son of Jussei in 1926. He started Kendo when he was 9 years old. In 1943 he entered study in the Kokukan Kendo course at the Kokushikan School. From 1947 he began to study Ono ha Itto ryu under the 16th Soke Junzo Sasamori. He was awarded Kendo Renshi in 1953 and became Shihan of Seijudo Kendo Dojo in Setagaya in 1954. In 1957 he obtained 6th Dan and awarded Kyoshi in 1958, obtained 7th Dan in 1961 and was awarded Ono ha Itto Ryu Menkyo-kaiden from Sasamori sensei in 1972. He retired as Shihan from Seijudo in 2004, but continues to study and practice both Ono ha and Shinai kendo today.



Extract from Paul Budden’s book:

‘DEVIL’S GLOVES’ and the One Cut – A study of Ono ha Itto Ryu Kata

The Ono ha Itto Ryu that we study was transmitted to Kodokan under the personal instruction of the late Ono Torao sensei Kyoshi Nanadan, Shihan of Seijudo Kendo Dojo Setagaya: Ono ha Itto Ryu Menkyo Kaiden from Sasamori Junzo sensei.





The Mizoguchi Ha Itto Ryu was founded in the early Edo period (1630s) by Mizoguchi Jingozaemon Masanori a direct student of Ono Jiroemon Tadatsune (The second headmaster of the Itto Ryu and founder of the Ono Ha tradition).

A student of Mizoguchi sensei called Ito Masamori visited the Aizu Han (in present-day Fukushima Prefecture), where he taught Edamatsu Kimitada a clan retainer.

Masamori sensei unfortunately left before passing the entire system to Edamatsu.

Edamatsu transmitted his understanding of the system to Ikegami Jozaemon Yasumichi, who later went to Edo (Tokyo) on his lord’s orders to continue his training in swordsmanship. Ikegami studied not only Mizoguchi-ha Itto-Ryu, but other kenjutsu styles as well.

Later, with more training and experience, Ikegami incorporated his ideas and experience in Mizoguchi-ha Itto-Ryu and other systems and founded his own variation of the system. This became the Aizu line of Mizoguchi-ha Itto-Ryu kenjutsu, which has passed down through warriors of that domain to the present day. Because of the partial nature of the original transmission, and subsequent developments in the art as it was practiced in the Aizu-Wakamatsu area, there are differences between Mizoguchi sensei’s original art and that practiced by swordsmen of the Aizu.

The original line of the Ryu has been lost, so it is difficult to tell just what these differences might be.

Presently, the Fukushima prefecture local kendo federations are responsible for practicing and transmitting the art to future generations Within Fukushima Prefecture there still exists a related but different tradition located around the former home of the Aizu clan.

Interestingly, although Takeda Sokaku, the founder of Daito-ryu, claimed to have maintained the traditional teachings of the Aizu clan within his system his son, Tokimune believes that the core of his approach to the sword was based upon the Ono Ha Itto Ryu rather than the Mizoguchi ha Itto Ryu. Daito Ryu is of course the old tradition that shaped modern Aikido.

In the Sayu Tenka Demi No Hitachi there are five odachi and three kodachi katas.

Shidachi begins with pressure to develop suki and initiate sen, then uses a strike to draw out Uchidachi’s attack.

The attack is then reflected back at the Uchidachi by evasion or deflection. This is quickly followed up by a decisive cut (Kazushi), usually to the back of the neck (Kesa Gake), an angled slicing cut with the mid point of the blade into the side/back of the neck, striking down between the second and third vertebrae.

The kata are done without kiai and should build in speed and intensity from Odachi Ittenme to Gotenme, and then again from kodachi Ittenme to Santenme. The footwork and movement should be smooth and light.

The main difference in Riai between the Nihon Kendo No Kata and the Mizoguchi ha Itto Ryu is that Uchidachi leads and performs the techniques, Shidachi then being the loser.

The Reiho used is basically the same as for the Nihon kendo no kata except that there is no Kamae otoku withdrawal is carried out in the Gedan Kamae

From Paul Budden – Kodokan and Gary O’Donnell – Do Shi Ken Yu Kai, personal notes on the Mizoguchi Ha Itto Ryu Heiho and the teaching of Hiroshi Ozawa sensei.

Wada Shin sensei and Mizoguchi Ha Itto Ryu

Wada Shin sensei was born in Aizu-Wakamatsu city 6th April 1897. He began Kendo firstly with his father Matsushiro and then at the Aizu Junior High School with Akira/Toru Sugawara. During his study at the Tokyo Shihan High School Physical Education department he was taught by Takano Sasaburo. After his graduation he was appointed as Shihan at Ishikawa Shihan School, Kanazawa 4th High School, 7th Junior High School and Kogyokusha Junior High School. In 1932 he went to Manchuria and was Shihan at South Manchu Industrial School Kendo Club. During his stay in Manchuria he studied with Takano Shigeki Shihan.

At the very end of the 2nd World War (Far East conflict) actually on the 31st July 1945 to be precise, Wada sensei summoned 600 staff immediately after he was informed that he was to become the chief of patrol police in Manchuria, this while he was still working as a teacher at the South Manchurian Industrial School. This was the final acceptance of Japan’s defeat in the war and in the hindsight was probably a response to try and protect the Japanese living in Manchuria. The end of the war was declared on the 15th August 1945.

The Chinese military then prosecuted Wada sensei asking for the death sentence for the war crime of hiding weapons.

At the trial the military judge asked Wada sensei

“Do you like the Emperor?”
“Yes, I do” was his reply
The judge immediately asked “Why?”
“The reply to the Judge was “Do you like Mao”
The Judge answered “I do.”
“It’s the same reason for both of us then”, Wada sensei replied

The judge then stated but asked also asked a further question? “The defendant is an honest Japanese person, but it true that you hid weapons?”

“It is not true.” was Wada sensei’s final answer.

“The judge trusts the voice of the man of truth.” Was the Judges final reply and he then turned down the prosecution of death sentence against Wada sensei and announced a not guilty verdict

In April 1947, Wada sensei returned to Aizu-Wakamatsu with his family, where he found Kendo activity deteriorating, he then started to work towards the reinstatement of Kendo with his colleagues.

The GHQ had forbidden the teaching in school of Kendo (6th Nov 1945) and demanded the dismissal of The Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai (9th Nov 1946) and also stopped practice for police Kendo (21st May 1949)

The former Aizu Junior High School graduates founded ‘Kenyu Kai’ and resumed Kendo practice in the evenings in 1947; its Chairman was Wada sensei. It was still forbidden to practice Kendo in schools and Kendo practice at school facilities was also strictly forbidden for students and adults.

It is therefore quite astonishing that the Head of the school decided to provide such a permission to pursue the activity of Kendo at that time.

In April 1950, the representative of a group who wished for a Kendo reinstatement visited Wakamatsu Police and asked the chief for supply of a venue for their Kendo practice. That representative was Wada sensei. The chief promised to provide a venue within the police premise during the evenings for one hour from 7pm, 3 times a week. This was also during the time when police Kendo was also strictly forbidden by the GHQ. Here again it is astonishing that such a contradictory decision was made by a chief of police.

The All Aizu Kendo Federation was founded prior to the All Japan Kendo Federation. and on the 14th The All Japan To-zai (or East-West) Kendo Championships was held on the 15th September 1968 at Fukushima Sports Hall.

Each team had 30 players and the matches swung both ways but eventually they finally drew, leaving the winners, the West team to be announced by counting the points scored, which came to be only a difference of one point.

When the Federation requested Fukushima Prefecture to provide a demonstration of the Koryu of Fukushima for the To-zai Kendo Championships, Wada sensei was convinced that it was time for Mizoguchi-Ha to be revealed and to contribute to the development of Kendo for the future. And for such a mission, keeping the old secrecy traditions of the school was considered to be out of date.

For the further continuance of the Ryu Ha he then chose Yoshikawa Tadashi, who was his junior at Tokyo Shihan School and was teaching at Aizu High School at the time. They then began Mizoguchi-Ha Itto-Ryu practice at Aizu Butokuden.

On the day of the Championships a most memorable demonstration of Mizoguchi-Ha Itto-ryu was performed, which had the spectators’ breathless after having watched such a heated Kendo match previously. Uchidachi was performed by Wada Shin sensei with Yoshikawa Tadashi sensei as Shidachi.

All of the kendoka present had an eye opening experience as they witnessed a remarkable performance of Mizoguchi-Ha Itto-Ryu.

Mizoguchi-Ha Itto-Ryu is one of the Aizu Five Ryu-Ha and was specifically taught secretly, forbidding indiscretion and had never been exposed to the public before. On this day the old tradition was broken and Sayu-Tenka-Demi-no-Hitachi was performed in front of public spectators in the full light of day.

Mizoguchi history

The Aizu clan had lost in the Boshin War and although they had succeeded in the release of the chief of the clan Matsudaira Hiroshi and his son Tamotsu, the responsibility of defeat fell on Kanno Gonbei the most senior advisor to the clan, who was then taken to Tokyo for Seppuku on the 18th May 1869. The night before this date he and Hanshi Iuka Takuuzaemon who accompanied him to Tokyo performed tea for their farewell. Kanno was a master in the Mizoguchi-Ha Itto-Ryu. He took a pair of bamboo chopsticks used for tea and taught Ibuka the Mizoguchi-Ha as he was afraid of the demise of the Ryu-Ha by his own death.

Ibuka’s daughter Mieko married Wada Matashiro of Byakkotai. Ibuka taught Matashiro Mizoguchi-Ha Itto-Ryu. They had 4 sons and 4 daughters and he taught his 3rd son Kei and 4th son Shin Mizoguchi-Ha and strictly forbade indiscretion or disclosure of the Ryu Ha. Wada sensei was only 10 years old when his father first taught him the Mizoguchi-Ha the Mizoguchi-Ha Itto-Ryu ‘Sayu-Tenka-Demi-no-Hitachi’.

From 1947 Wada sensei taught at Wakamatsu commerce High School and in 1948 took office at Aizu-Wakamatsu Physical Education Association.

Founder of the Aizu Shinai Kendo Renmei Aizu-Wakamatsu branch and was vice-chairman. He also taught at Aizu College and was the all Aizu Kendo Renmei Chairman, Aizu Butokuden Shihan, Fukushima Kendo Renmei vice-Chairman and All Kendo Federation Committee member. He also received the Fukushima Prefecture Cultural Contribution award. Kendo Hanshi 9th Dan he died on the 17th September 1982 aged 84.

Translation from Kendo Jidai April 2009 by Kazuyo Matsuda.

Mizoguchi-Ha Itto-Ryu has been transmitted to Kodokan under the personal direction of Ozawa Hiroshi sensei Kyoshi Hachidan, Meguro Hideharu and Ninomiya Itaru sensei, Kyoshi Nanadan.