:: The Life-giving Sword ::

by Yagyu Tajima No Kami Munenori

Yagyu Munenori was born on the lands of his family in 1571. From a very young age, Munenori was trained in the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu by his father, and founder of the school, Yagyu Muneyoshi. Muneyoshi trained Munenori in all ways, military and political, to prepare him for the eventual responsibility of leading the increasingly powerful Yagyu clan. This was a slight change from normal hereditary customs, as Munenori was the fifth son, and thereby should only have been in line for army service. However, the first son had been incapacitated in battle beyond the ability to rule, the second and third had already become priests, and the fourth was killed in battle. In this way, did the responsibility fall to Munenori.

After his father’s meeting with Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1594, Munenori represented the Yagyu clan interests in service to Tokugawa. As tensions heightened among Hideyoshi’s top aides, two camps formed in the East and West. Ieyasu headed the Eastern camp, while the Western camp was headed by his rival, Ishida Mitsunari. The battle between these camps was finally fought in Sekigahara. The troops gathered by Munenori, from his father’s land, proved a great asset in what turned out to be the decisive battle of this power struggle.

Like his father before him, Munenori was given the title of official sword master to Ieyasu, but now Ieyasu was shogun. This meant a great increase in power and wealth for the Yagyu, as Ieyasu raised the clan’s koku stipend from 200 to 2000 koku per year. Barely a year had passed, before Munenori was awarded an additional income of 1000 koku. Money was not the only perk, or this increased position, however. As Munenori grew in power, and proximity to the shogun, the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu engendered respect as tenka ichi; the best sword school in the land.

This change in fortune could not have come at a more opportune time. Just a year before the battle of Sekigahara, Yagyu Muneyoshi had fallen ill, at which time he had written a will which asked that if he “fell dead in some place,” the income from the sale of their tea utensils be used for his “funeral and other household expenses for the time being.” Despite of the growing political influence of Muneyoshi, the finances of the Yagyu clan had been steadily deteriorating since 1594, when the family’s farmland was confiscated by the Toyotomi government for failing to report it properly for tax assessment. Muneyoshi would not die until 1606.

The good fortunes of the Yagyu clan did not end with the retirement of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1605. Seeing the useful connections Munenori possessed, as well as his obvious skill with a blade, the incoming shogun, Hidetada, kept Munenori on in his prior positions as well as making him one of his personal bodyguards. Munenori upheld this honor, in the Osaka summer campaign in 1615, by swiftly killing seven of the enemy’s special attack force that had penetrated close to Hidetada’s camp. This is the only recorded instance of Munenori participating in the actual killing of another swordsman. In 1623, Munenori (now 52) was once again appointed the instructor of swords for the third incoming Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu.

In the 1632, the financial state of the Yagyu clan would again take a turn for the better, as Iemitsu raised the clan income was raised from 3000 koku, to 6000 koku. Munenori was said to have been a close personal friend and advisor to Iemitsu, and was two months later raised to the position of an o-metsuke, or inspector general. The primary duty of this position was to monitor the daimyo – warlords and samurai with a minimum holding of 10,000 koku.

This would also prove to be an important year in the history of the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu school of swordsmanship. In 1632, Munenori completed his most comprehensive treatise on swordsmanship, the Heiho Kaden Sho. This book describes in great detail the full extant of both the physical and mental sides of the Shinkage-ryu style. To quote Munenori from the Heiho Kaden Sho, the school aims to “come up with a series of measures by changing in response to the opponent, just as one handles the sail by watching the wind and releases the hawk upon seeing a rabbit.”

In 1636, with his annual income raised to 10,000 koku, Munenori joined the prestigious ranks of the daimyo. At the time of his death in 1646, his income stood at 12,500 koku. He is without a doubt the only professional swordsman who served three shoguns, attained such a high position, and exerted the kind of authority he did at the seat of government.