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Famous Japanese Swordsmen Posted by on Apr 26, 2011 in Culture

Japan has a long list of famous swordsman, including a swordsman named Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武). So many stories of Mushashi’s duels and ability as an expert swordsman can be found, but details of his personal life, like when he was born, when he died, his ancestry and how he died is still unclear. What we do know is that he traveled across the country to hone in on his swordsmanship. He was best known for his two-sword technique called nitōichi (二刀一).

Another famous swordsman is Yagyu Munenori (柳生宗矩). He is best known for the school of swordsmanship called Yagyū Shinkageryū  (柳生新陰流), which is still a school of swordsmanship today. Munenori has a legendary status in Japan. There is one story about how he had attained a supernatural level of sensory awareness when he sensed a dangerous energy radiating behind him. When he turned around, he was surprised to see his assistant posed to attack.

Yagyu Munenori’s son was Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi (柳生十兵衞三厳). There are gaps in the records of Mitsuyoshi’s life. It’s hard to tell exactly what is fiction and what is fact. We do know that Mitsuyoshi was a sword fighting instructor, There is one persisting legend that Mitsuyoshi wore an eyepatch. There are several stories as to how Mitsuyoshi lost his eye, and one of these stories details a sour encounter with his father that resulted in the loss of his eye.

Itō Ittōsai (伊東一刀斎) is known for being a prominent member of the Ittōryū (一刀流), which was a school of swordsmanship using the one sword technique. There is very little information about Itō Ittōsai, but many legends surround his name. There is one legend that says he protected an entire village by defeating a group of bandits. In gratitude the villagers paid for his travels. It’s said that it was through his travels that he perfected his one sword technique.

Sasaki Kojirō (佐々木小次郎) was a legendary swordsman who was slayed by Miyamoto Musashi. Sasaki Kojirō’s famous technique was called “tsubame gaeshi” (燕返し) or the “turning swallow cut”. Supposedly, this technique was so swift that it could cut down a bird in mid flight. Unfortunately, this technique was not enough to defeat Musashi, and it cost him his life. What’s interesting is that althogh Kojirō accomplished much, his death at the hands of Musashi is what Kojirō is most known for.


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  1. Burt:

    Did Itō Ittōsai fight with Miyamoto Musashi as it is shown in vagabond?

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