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Yagyu Muneyoshi

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Yagyū Muneyoshi Sekishusai 柳生宗厳(1527- May 25 1606) was one of the most famous swordsmen in Japanese history. He founded the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū, and raised the Yagyū family up from being a minor noble family to the official instructors of swordsmanship of the Tokugawa shoguns.

Muneyoshi fought in his first battle at the age of sixteen, against Tsutsui Junshō. The Yagyū were defeated, and Muneyoshi was forced to serve Tsutsui for a time, until Tsutsui was betrayed by his ally Miyoshi Chōkei; Muneyoshi then joined and fought under Miyoshi.

In 1563, Muneyoshi met Kamiizumi Nobutsuna, a great swordsman and the founder of the Shinkage-ryū school. Through an invitation by the monk Inei, chief priest of the Hōzō-in temple, Muneyoshi had a swordsmanship contest with Kamiizumi's nephew Hikida Bungorō; this duel remains the earliest recorded use of a shinai, a bamboo sword now common in kendo (Japanese fencing). Muneyoshi was struck several times by the bamboo sword, and recognized the superior style of swordsmanship wielded by his opponent. He asked to become Kamiizumi's pupil and, after two years of hard training, was named the successor to the Shinkage-ryū school.

Upon Kamiizumi's death, Muneyoshi inherited the school and appended his own family name to its own, creating the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū. He was then invited by the great warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu to his mansion in Kyoto in 1594, for a similar contest and display of swordsmanship. Muneyoshi brought his son, Munenori, and the pair gave an impressive performance. Ieyasu himself fought Muneyoshi, and was disarmed and defeated, his rival demonstrating the technique known as mutō, or "no sword". Following this impressive display, Tokugawa offered to make the Yagyū his family's official sword instructors. Muneyoshi declined, retiring soon afterwards, but gladly offerred his son Munenori to become Ieyasu's instructor.

Muneyoshi died in 1606, by which time Tokugawa Ieyasu had become shogun, thus making Munenori the official shogunal instructor in swordsmanship.

Yagyū Muneyoshi in Fiction and LegendEdit

Like many other great figures in Japanese history, Muneyoshi has become a popular figure in literature, movies, video games and other media, and has accumulated a number of exaggerated tales and legends about him. At the Hōzō-in temple in Nara, near the Yagyū family burial ground, is a large rock called Itto-seki, which has been split in half. Though it was most probably split by lightning, legend says that Muneyoshi cleaved it himself with his sword.

Muneyoshi also makes several appearances in the manga series Vagabond, a fictionalized telling of the life of Miyamoto Musashi, the most famous of all samurai who is traditionally hailed as the greatest swordsman. In that story a young and still wild Musashi seeks out Muneyoshi, seeking to make a name for himself by defeating the famous swordsman. By that time however, Muneyoshi is already old and ailing, and instead of dueling, the encounter turns into a learning experience for Musashi, who is awed by the spirtual power of Muneyoshi, and makes him aware of his shortcomings as a person, and the shortsightedness of his quest to become "Invincible Under the Sun".

In the Onimusha video game series, Jubei was the main character in Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny. After Nobunaga destroys the Yagyu Villiage, Jubei goes off on a journey to avenge them. He also appears in Onimusha Blade Warriors and is out hiding in Onimusha 3: Demon Siege. In Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, he retires and gives the Jubei name to his granddaughter, Akane. He is referred to Sekishusai as a result. His son, Munenori became a servant of the evil Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and for this, he sent Akane to kill him.

ReferenceEdit

  • Turnbull, Stephen (1998). 'The Samurai Sourcebook'. London: Cassell & Co.

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