Our Koryu is Mugai Ryu Iai Hyodo. Mugai Ryu was founded by Tsuji Gettan Sukemochi in the late 1600's in Edo, Japan. Tsuji Gettan Sensei was born in Koga, Omi no Kuni [Present day Shiga-Ken] in 1649. When he was 13, he went to study Yamaguchi Ryu Kenjutsu in Kyoto, with Yamaguchi Bokushinsai. When he was 26 he moved to Edo [Tokyo] to set up his own dojo after receiving a Menkyo kaiden of Yamaguchi-Ryu. After this time he started to practice Zen at the Azabu Kyokuji temple under master Sekitan Zenshi. He achieved satori, and started Mugai-Ryu after that. The name Mugai comes from this Zen poem:
Which, in Japanese, is read: “ippo ha jitsu ni hoka nashi (mugai), kenkon ni ittei wo eru, suimo masa ni hisoka ni osamu, dochaku sureba sunawachi hikari kiyoshi.
This poem discusses the nature of truth, and the fact that such that is truth has no exceptions to it, and that the one who understands this fact will become endowed with a power sharper than the greatest sword.
After founding his Mugai-ryu, Tsuji Gettan found that his dojo became more and more popular. By the time he was 60, his students included several Daimyo and hundreds of samurai of various rank and position. The name of Tsuji Gettan and of Mugai-ryu was very famous throughout Japan at the time.
The lineage of Mugai-ryu has continued directly from Sensei to deshi starting from Tsuji Gettan himself. Because, at the time Mugai-ryu was in such high demand from Daimyo all over Japan wanting to train their Samurai in this most effective style of kenjutsu, Tsuji Gettan was getting on in age, so he sent his best deshi [disciples] in his place to teach. As such, in modern day Japan now there are at least 4 different branches of Mugai-ryu and some other small groups who are on their own according to the various politics surrounding them… True to the spirit of Zen, each group is taking the basic teachings, principles, spirit and framework of the kata and adapting [kufu suru] according to their own experiences, interpretation, etc.
There is a certain element of acceptance in Mugai-ryu that is missing from other ryu-ha. There are many stories of Tsuji Gettan accepting people of various status in Samurai society as an element of what he sees as his stage of enlightenment. Zen is a major part of Mugai-ryu, Tsuji Gettan refused to accept into his dojo anyone who wasn’t first studying and making progress in Zen, but at the same time he would accept people of a lower (Samurai) social rank, which definitely wasn’t usual in those days. You can see this Zen-ness in the atmosphere of Mugai-ryu dojos and in the “aura” of the Mugai-ryu kenshi. There is an overall calmness and benevolence and it sometimes comes as a shock to see how efficiently lethal the Mugai-ryu kata actually are...
Mugai-ryu Iai Hyodo contains several kata sets, but not all branches and dojos do the same set of kata sets. At our dojo we do the Goyo, Goka, Go'o, Hashirikakari, Naiden and Kumitachi kata sets. Goyo and Goka are sitting kata of 5 kata in each set. Goyo means 5 uses and covers basic techniques. Goka means 5 items and introduces the idea of winning without killing and offering compassion to your attacker. Go'o means 5 responses and these are standing kata which includes Gyoko which has become Nuki'uchi in the Seitei kata. Hashirikakari is a running kata set, where you react to a perceived threat and run through the the crowd to disperse them before killing your attacker. The Naiden are the highest level kata and are only taught to the very highest level students. All the Naiden kata are non-killing kata. To be taught the naiden you have to have a very good understanding and practice of the philosophy and Reigi surrounding Iaido and Mugai-ryu.
Mugai-ryu, Zen, Kenjutsu and Budo
There is an interesting relationship between Zen, Kenjutsu and Budo with Mugai-ryu. Mugai-ryu iaido is a well known Iaido ryuha in Japan with Mugai-ryu dojos often being affiliated to the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei as well as the Zen Nippon Iaido Renmei. From the foundation of the ryuha there has been incorporation of Kenjutsu elements as well as Jo in certain Soke and Sensei's teaching structures. Whatever the various influences and extra arts, the core of Mugai-ryu is Zen influenced Iaido, in a very true Budo sense. The philosophy of the ryuha is clearly Budo or seishin shugyo and this can be seen in the kata sets that all Mugai-ryu dojos practice. When there are other aspects included in dojo training such as Tameshigiri, Kenjutsu, Kumitachi, Jo, and so on, these are usually done as somewhat related but separate element of training.
Our Wakayama dojo lineage did not include Kenjutsu or Jo into our Iaido training, and so the New Zealand Mugai-ryu Dojo doesn't either. Even though, there is still a strong aspect of practicality together with the Zen of the ryuha. For example while we prefer not to kill the attacker, or will employ techniques to diffuse the attack, which is very Zen, when we do cut, the cuts are hard, effective and lethal, with a kaishaku (coup de grâce) to make sure the attacker is dead / not suffering, which is more like Kenjustu. Effort is made to refine cutting so that even though you prefer not to kill another person, when you do cut it will realistically do what you are intending to do, which is the essence of Budo.
This relationship forms the unique philosophy and feeling of Mugai-ryu and influences both how we train and how we approach Iaido. the essence of iaido or an Iaido ryuha is not the kata that you outwardly see or do, it is ultimately the philosophy behind the kata.
Mugai-ryu and Seitei Iaido
We see Seitei as the basics or starter Iaido and Mugai-ryu as a valuable learning which we must treasure. Both Seitei and Mugai-ryu are important and have value in the learning of Iaido, but since each has a different focus, it is not right to say that they are the same. ZNKR Seitei is a standardised form taken from koryu, and the ZNKR's purpose of cultivating Seitei iaido is for practitioners of Kendo to have experience with real swords. Seitei grades also allow for meaningful interpretations of a person's skill level or suitability to teach the art.
Mugai-ryu however has been passed down through direct transmission since the time of Tsuji Gettan and each Soke or Shisho has cultivated the ryuha in the spirit of Shu- Ha-Ri and passed on a living style that is in most cases still reflecting the ideals and teachings that it was founded in. Mugai-ryu is about self development and becoming a better person through use of the sword. It is also about seeing the real situation in front of you, and in the context of the art this means understanding what you opponent is doing and reacting to this accordingly.
Mugai-ryu has a fluidity in its style which encourages the practitioner to go through the stages of development Shu-Ha-Ri. These stages have different nuances in different koryu, but for Mugai-ryu, Shu means study or practice - this is the stage where you learn exactly what is taught by your sensei. When you have become competent at what has been taught, you start to incorporate Ha - breaking out or discovery, developing your own individual sense and ideas into your iai. The final stage, Ri is where you have become shisho and you no longer need to learn from others, but have a complete understanding of your own.
It may not be possible for a person to go through all of these stages in their life time, but it is important to keep this concept in mind as a practitioner of Mugai-ryu.