History and principles of Ono-ha Itto-Ryu (Takeda Den)

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The art of Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki

After Ono Tadaaki became the successor to Ittosai, he left for Edo, where he opened a dojo for Itto-Ryu. His greatest moment of fame happens after the incident in Hizaori. Namely, after a former samurai rebels and kills a few people, he entrenched in their house and refused to come out. Some bushi (warriors) were immediately sent – but instead of defeating the killer, they were massacred by his sword. After this, the town’s elder sent a message to the officials in Edo, to send a skilled swordsman. They chose Ono Tadaaki, who got on a horse immediately and left for Hizaori. After he arrived at the bandit’s hideout, the teacher shouted with all his voice: “Ono Tadaaki from Itto-Ryu, just arriving form Edi. If you believe in your katana, come out and fight.” The ronin, who was unusually big, got out of the house and returned: “Here’s someone worthy of dying beneath my sword”, after which he quickly and unexpectedly slashed in the direction of his opponent. At that same second, the killer was left without hands. Tadaaki asked the policeman who was present if he was supposed to kill him. The policeman granted the permission, and Tadaaki took the killer’s life. After this event, the news about the courage and skill of Ono Tadaaki got all the way to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who named him Hatamoto (high-class samurai), payed with 200 koku a year. He was immediately charged with teaching the shogun’s son, Hidetada, swordsmanship. However, Hidetada grew to hate Tadaaki soon, because of his harsh teaching methods – he wasn’t hesitating to hit the shogun’s son hard with the bokken during practice sessions. Even today, as in the past Itto-Ryu is a practical and rough style, with a great percent of injuries during training. Because of that, the Tokugawa family taught it’s members the more philosophical and gentler style of Yagyu Shinkage-Ryu. However, Ono’s school remained mandatory for the swordsman (bodyguards) of the Shogun.

Refused honor

Because of his grumpy and harsh character, Ono Tadaaki was penalized three times by the Shogun. Regardless, Itto-Ryu’s toughness wasn’t reduced at all. In 1660, during the Sekigahara battle, Ono server in Hidetada’s battalion as a karita-bugyo or a sort of internal police in the army which was in charge of protecting the civilians form the horrors of war. During a roundup, accompanied by his colleague Tsuji Taronosuke, they ran into enemy patrol, killing Yoda Hyobu, and officer of great importance with the opposing army. Because the officer didn’t tell his name, they didn’t know who he was. But during the uncovering of the identity of the victim, Taronosuke said that he was the first to strike Yoda Hyobu, and Ono just finished him. To this, Tadaaki said that he sensed that they are facing someone important, but that was the exact reason he decided to strike – it turned out that Tadaaki’s version was the correct one. He was accused of working for his own glory, and his grumpy character didn’t allow him to find enough words to defend himself from this accusation. Because of this, Ono was put under the supervision of Yukimura Sanada for a year. After this period passed, because of his great skill, the Shogun takes him in his service again as a teacher, and raises his payment to 400 koku. To his misfortune, Yagyu Munenori, the official Shogun’s teacher from the Yagyu Shinkage-Ryu, and a personal friend to Tokugawa, spread greatly in his absence. This style was more about philosophy and spirituality than practicality and effectiveness. Tadaaki wanted to challenge Munenori, but he couldn’t as they both depended on the Shogun directly. According to oral transmissions, one day Ono Tadaaki left to visit the dojo of Yagyu Munenori as a guest. During the visit, the son of Munenori, Yagyu Mitsuyoshi, known as Jubei, stood up in front of Tadaaki and they crossed swords. The story says that at the same moment Yagyu Mitsuyoshi gave up, because he recognized the great skill and superiority of Ono Tadaaki. Munenori then ordered another student to face Ono Tadaaki, to which, he responded that everyone could strike at once if they want to test his skill. Four of Yagyu’s students accepted the offer – they were struck down in seconds. Two of them found themselves on the ground, the third was disarmed and the fourth injured in the head. Everyone present, especially Munenori, were surprised from the skill of Tadaaki. The story also says that Munenori, on a few occasions secretly asked and took private lessons at Tadaaki.

The heritage of Ono-ha Itto Ryu in Aizu

Before leaving this world, Ono Tadatsune transferred the entire catalog of Ono-ha Itto-Ryu to his younger brother, Ono Jiroemon Tadaoki as well as to Hoshina Masayuki, who was actually an illegitimate son to the second shogun, Hidetada Tokugawa. Masayuki was adopted by Hoshina Masamitsu, who served the Aizu (Takeda) clan, with the blessing of Hidetada in order for him to be protected from the legitimate heirs. Later, he was acknowledged by his father and brother (the third Shogun), and that way he became a Daimyo (master) to the Aizu. Out of respect, Masayuki and his clan, became on of the greatest allies to the Tokugawa family. With the intension to always be ready to defend the Shogun, he ordered every descendant of the Aizu to learn the Ono-ha Itto-Ryu school. Starting with Tadaoki, through the different successors of the Aizu clan, the techniques and kata of the school began to grow, shaping them in what they are today – Ono-ha Itto-ryu (Takeda Den).