The Sword of No Abiding Mind--
Mujuushin Kenjutsu and Samurai Champloo

"Throughout his whole career Chao-chou (Joshu, c. 778-897) taught in a simple manner with just a few quiet words. It is said that a light seemed to play about his mouth as he spoke. Dogen Kigen, who freely criticized many of his ancestors in the Dharma, could only murmur with awe, 'Joshu, the Old Buddha.' Forty generations of Zen students and more since his time, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and now people everywhere, have breathed his one word, 'Mu,' evoking the living presence of the Old Buddha himself.

Thus Mu is an arcanum--an ancient word or phrase that successive seekers down through the centuries have focussed upon and found to be an opening into spiritual understanding. When you join that stream you have joined hands with countless pilgrims, past, present, future.

In everyday usage the word 'Mu' means 'does not have'--but if that were Chao-chou's entire meaning, there wouldn't be any Zen."

--Robert Aitken, "The Gateless Barrier"

Part I: the Historical Mujushin--Sekiun and Ichiun

Mujushin kenjutsu is a style of shimpo kenjutsu--"sword skills of the mind"--founded by Sekiun Harigaya, sometime around 1640. (The spellings mujuushin and mujushin are interchangeable and equally correct.) One definition of mujushin is "spirit in continuous motion" like clouds in the wind, or flowing water. Bebop-aria and cowgirlnoir put it this way in their notes to Champloo episode #8: "The kanji are broken down as mujuu, 'temple without a priest'; shin, 'real sword' (as opposed to practice sword); and kenjutsu, 'sword technique'. By analogy, the name implies a precognitive or instinctual method of swordfighting, sometimes translated as 'the sword of no abiding mind'".

In actual practice it was a short-lived school, active less than a hundred years and with only three known headmasters in succession. But its reputation as a discipline, as the purest and most ethereal art of the sword, lasted long after the Mujuu itself, and fascinated a generation of swordsmen in a time when the once revered training of kenjutsu was slowly degrading into routine, empty form and eventual oblivion.

It's not hard to see why the Mujuu (as we will call it, Champloo style) never enjoyed widespread popularity. At a time when all other schools prided themselves on a distinctive style, it scorned even the idea of a style. When every other school of kenjutsu taught its students how to conquer an opponent by strategy, swift response, strength, or shrewd foresight--or any combination of these--the Mujuu taught that one should not even react to one's opponent; that to treat the art of swordfighting as a mode of combat was a corruption of its purity, a descent into crude bestiality. Kenjutsu in the Mujuu style is not at all about winning and losing, beating or being beaten, in fact is not about conflict at all: it's a flowing movement of breath, spirit and power. The last serious devotee of the Mujuu, passionate kenjutsu purist Toru Shirai, once told a student that the three things he must forget completely to fight in the true Mujuu form were his own body, his sword, and the existence of his adversary. To any hard-working samurai whose first responsibility was to defend his master with his life, this didn’t seem to have much practical application—to say the least. But as we will see, its real applications were more profound than that…

Sekiun Goroemon Harigaya --founder and first master of Mujushin kenjutsu
Ichiun Odagiri --Sekiun's heir, second master
Mariya-tsu Enshiro Gikyoku (a/k/a Mariya Enshiro, Mariya Enjiro)--third and last known master

Much of what we know about Sekiun Harigaya's early life comes from a collection of historical and philosophical writings passed down from Mariya Enshiro to his pupil Kawamura Yakobei, who compiled them into a single volume called the Zenshu. Kawamura writes that Sekiun Harigaya was born sometime around 1593, in the Ueno area, with the name of Goroemon. He remained a roshi [a ronin, or lordless samurai] all his life. Sekiun first learned Shinkage-ryű; when he came of age he learned the ways of Taoism and Buddhism, and studied kenjutsu on his own (he eventually studied some 12 different styles). In his later years he took the name Sekiun and lived, until his death by illness at the age of 68--approximately the year 1662--in the Hatchobori district of Edo.

He entered his martial arts career at a young age--12 or 13--and became one of the best pupils of Shinshinkage-ryu master Genshinsai Ogasawara. Ogasawara was considered one of the foremost swordsmen of the day, and was said to have studied directly under Shinkage-ryű founder Kami Izumi Ise-no-Kami Nobutsuna--a warrior much valued and respected by Jin's most illustrious probable ancestor, the brilliant 16th century warlord Takeda Shingen.

In his text Mujushin Kenjutsu Sho, Ichiun Odagiri (Sekiun's star pupil, and the second Mujuu headmaster) writes that Ogasawara was originally a hatamoto (retainer or aide) of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, and following the fall of Osaka Castle, traveled to China for a year to stay clear of any reprisals sent by the new Tokugawa regime against Toyotomi's followers. While on the Continent he's said to have taught Japanese bujutsu to Chinese warriors, among them a descendent of the Han Dynasty tactician Choryo, from whom he learned halberd (naginata) techniques passed down from that master strategist. One of these, called hassun no nobegane, Ogasawara added to his Shinkage-ryű technique with great success, and after returning to Japan he could not be defeated, even by pupils of his own master Kami Izumi. Although the specific nature of hassun no nobegane has been interpreted in a variety of ways--one of them refers simply to a way of turning the body so as to give one's sword more reach--it has also been interpreted as a "mental technique", or kenpo approach, in which the swordsman imagines that the tip of his weapon extends about eight inches further than its physical length: that is, he concentrates his intention or feeling through the tip of his sword directly into his opponent's space. This is the most interesting and pertinent usage of the term for our purposes here, that is, how the Mujushin is used in Samurai Champloo, and it's intriguing that it allegedly came from China, as (I speculate) did the quasi-paranormal fighting skills we see in the series.

One can see the roots of the Mujuushin teaching in Sekiun's early experience with Shinkage-ryű. For the Shinkage-ryű swordsman, shin-kage, "heart-reflection," implies that one understands his opponent's intent perfectly, and creates a situation which will cause him to react in a certain way, which one then counters accordingly. In terms of actual combat, one must know the enemy and oneself; one must make the enemy conform to one's own will. At the same time, the swordsman's spiritual state should encompass both the serene benevolence of Zen and constant flexibility, enabling one not to become totally absorbed or attached to anything in this world. Kami Izumi Ise-no-Kami was the first to apply such Zen Buddhist philosophy to swordsmanship, and for this reason developed techniques for taking an assailant's sword away from him unarmed, without needlessly taking life. Cuts in the Shinkage style use only the tip of the sword, and are intended to never strike bone, so that the effect is of a single, never-stopped, flowing movement.

Kami Izumi taught that "the techniques of Shinkage-ryű are unbeatable; this arises not from the needless taking of life, but from the true courage required to avoid unnecessary conflict." He and his followers spread these principles everywhere they traveled, hoping that if enough warriors accepted and practiced them it would bring an end to warfare and the beginning of a peaceful society. Eventually, these concepts came to bear fruit under Yagyu Munenori, master swordsman to the Tokugawa Shogun, and resulted in three centuries of peace.

See Shinkage-Ryu.
See Noble House Shinkage

Sekiun Harigaya created Mujushin kenjutsu based on insights he gained when he was about fifty years old. By then he was an imposing, veteran warrior, a survivor of 52 battles, both formal duels and combat experience; tall (6 shaku, which is 180 cm or about six feet), physically powerful, and possessed of great courage and ferocity. A story is told in which his pupil, Ichiun, notes in surprise that the master carries an unsharpened sword; Sekiun replies that this is because he never knows when he may lose his temper and charge into a duel, and with his sword kept blunt he is more likely to simply injure his opponents than kill them. (He adds dryly, "Of course, I always kept a keen edge on my short sword, knowing that one day I might have to use it for my own seppuku.")

Although Sekiun had been one of Ogasawara's best pupils, the powerful, rough-and-tumble style of swordplay he had developed on the battlefield did not show much of the peaceful influence of Shinkage-ryű. Nonetheless, along with the changing times, even this fierce warrior began to reflect deeply on, and to question, the nature of his own swordsmanship.

Sekiun went about finding answers to his questions: he studied with a succession of Zen scholars and eventually placed himself under the tutelage of a Zen priest, Kohaku. He became both a devoted admirer and friend (Kohaku himself eventually presided over Sekiun's burial rites), and through the priest's teachings came to understand how to plumb the depths of his own mind and spirit for the knowledge he needed. It was Kohaku who suggested the name Mujushin Kenjutsu for Sekiun's new, enlightened style.

Yoshinori Kono wrote:
"According to Ichiun Odagiri in the Mujushin Kenjutsu Sho, in the process of working through a dozen or so of Kohaku's koan [questions for meditation, often used in Zen training], Sekiun arrived at the conclusion that the techniques of all those who had gone before him, including the renowned Shinkage-ryu founder Kami Izumi no Kami Nobutsuna, and even the hassun no nobegane of his own teacher Ogasawara, were all delusion, unfounded on any of the natural workings and movements of human life. Such styles and techniques, he determined, were based on a beast-like spirit (chikushoshin) through which the best that could be expected would be to defeat one's inferiors, to be defeated by one's superiors, and to achieve mutual destruction or stalemate with one's equals. Based on this conclusion, Sekiun began to devote his every waking moment to devising a style that could move the practitioner away from such 'brute swordsmanship' (chikusho kempo). He purged his swordsmanship of various movements he felt arose from the bestial spirit exclusively, and studied how to achieve victory naturally, based on the capabilities and resources with which human beings are essentially endowed.

"Finally, in a flash of spiritual awakening, Sekiun was able to depart from the generally accepted principles of swordsmanship to clarify certain principles of achieving victory (particularly those taking advantage of essential aspects of the way people live) and breaking completely through all sword techniques he came to realize the secret he sought in the reality of the serenity of independence from the worldly.

"Thus enlightened, Sekiun began engaging in contests with swordsmen from various other traditions; and when he applied his new insights none were able to match him. Naturally he discussed his discoveries with his own teacher Ogasawara and the two arranged a match, but even Ogasawara's hassun no nobegane was annihilated in an instant--'like a sliver of bamboo in a raging inferno'--by Sekiun's newfound style.

"With this, Sekiun discarded completely all the movements and techniques he had learned from Shinshinkage-ryu and the rest of the styles he had practiced, and consolidating the fruits of his Zen experience he began to follow a style of swordsmanship entirely his own. Mujushin-ryu kenjutsu teaches that rather than concerning oneself with how the enemy will advance and trying to parry his attack, all that is necessary is to raise the sword to one's brow and bring it down again— in other words, it is a highly rarefied technical approach, a philosophy that rejects any and all so-called 'techniques'."

Side note: We cannot say for sure where the dojo was located in real life, but in Champloo, it is set in Kisarazu, then a small town across the bay from Edo. This location makes sense, as it's placed within close proximity of castles owned and built by both the Takeda and Mariya families. [See footnote for more on this.]

Sekiun's eventual successor would be Ichiun Odagiri, who had met him when Ichiun was 28, studied with him five years and attained the title of Shimenboku (true form) when he was 33. According to the Zenshu, however, there were very few others. Out of a reported 2,800 of Sekiun's original pupils, eighty-three received diplomas in Shinkage-ryu and of those he considered thirteen to be his best students. He undertook to train these 13 in his new school, but among these the Zenshu describes only four as "understanding the meaning of this style." This suggests that there were only three students besides Ichiun who ever truly understood Sekiun's Mujushin kenjutsu. One of these we know to be Ihei Hideyasu Kataoka, a retainer of Mimasaku Kuroda, but unfortunately the identities of the other two remain unknown.

The Mujushin kenjutsu style --as we've said--was only taught for about 70 years, and is nowhere recorded as an active school after the death of Mariya Enshiro, its third and final headmaster. As we said earlier, one of the reasons for its brief life may be that while a technically and spiritually pure style, it presents some problems in real-life use.

Kono writes:
"Typical of shimpo or mind-oriented styles of kenjutsu, Mujushin kenjutsu rejects specific techniques entirely, suggesting instead that no matter how the opponent attacks, the only thing the defender need do is raise his own sword above his brow and bring it down again. [Insert: Note the line of Mujuu students we see drilling exactly this move in episode 25.] Such an approach may be adequate for self-defense, and it may work if you are able to position yourself in front of your lord; but when there are multiple attackers, when fighting conditions become confusing, or when the topography allows the enemy numerous other options for attacking, it can hardly be relied upon as a means to fulfill one's duty as a guardian. To put it another way, while such techniques may be appropriate to defend against someone attacking you directly, the moment you find yourself turning to pursue an attacker who disregards you and slips past you to cut down your lord from the flank, you have already abandoned everything that could be called Mujushin kenjutsu.

"In the transmissions of Mujushin kenjutsu it is written, 'When attacked by surprise or in the dark of night, grapple without drawing your sword if you are close enough, or, if you are slightly too far apart to grapple, then down your opponent with a kick; in any case, never attempt to fight with your sword in such situations.' Bushi, for whom protecting their lord was an extremely important responsibility, would undoubtedly hesitate to learn a form of swordsmanship so ill-suited to the exigencies of bodyguarding."

However, it is extremely interesting to note that it continued to exert a powerful influence. In particular, as the teaching of sword skills continued to become more corrupt and decadent, and more sensitive and purist students came to feel that much of value was being lost and forgotten, more than once it was the study of Mujushin kenjutsu to which they turned, to become reacquainted with the art of the blade in its purest and subtlest style.
Probably the most notable of these later followers were swordsmen Muneari Goroemon Terada and his student Toru Shirai.

Part II: the Historical Mujushin--Terada and Shirai

Modern kendo using shinai (bamboo practice swords) and bogu (protective equipment) is generally believed to have originated during the Kyoho period [1716-1735] .Some suggest that the modern kendo shinai was developed by Tanetake Nakanishi, second headmaster of the Nakanishi-ha Itto-ryu (c. 1750-60?). Tanetake adopted the practice of uchiaigeiko--training through competitive matches between opponents equipped with shinai and bogu-- because he felt that kata training alone was a too difficult and time-consuming way to learn.

In traditional kata training, one's progress depends on one's grasp of the nuances and details of the kata, as well as one's ability to understand the kata's deeper meaning. In uchiaigeiko, however, a certain level of mastery may be attained by becoming accustomed to technique more than learning it--that is, by simply learning how to perform the movement and nothing more. Predictably, this simplified form of training appealed to many, and people flocked to enroll in the Nakanishi dojo. Despite the dojo's prosperity, Tanetake's decision to break with tradition and adopt uchiaigeiko was criticized, both within his own dojo and in the martial arts world in general. However, by the late Edo period, uchiaigeiko using bogu and shinai had become mainstream.

Muneari Goroemon Terada enrolled at the Nakanishi dojo when he was fifteen or sixteen years old, and was among those who questioned the new uchiaigeiko training. He soon withdrew from the school and enrolled in the Heijo Muteki-ryu of Nariharu Ikeda, a school heavily influenced by Zen and Taoist thought. Like Mujushinken-ryu (which was to influence Terada greatly later on), it was one of the schools known as "shimpo (mind) kenjutsu" because of its emphasis on the mental and spiritual aspects of swordsmanship [shimpo contrasts with giho (the technical/physical aspects) and includes things such as maintaining awareness of your surroundings and keeping your mind calm and free of obstructions].

(In Terada's rejection of the popular uchiaigeiko training method we see a real-life example of the same decline in the martial arts that Mariya-sama sadly describes to Jin in their conversation in episode 25--though Mariya only sees the beginning of the decline, some seventy years before Terada's time. Respect for and interest in the deeper meaning of kenjutsu was fading, and people--just as today--preferred a quick-and-easy method of learning to the hard, concentrated drilling and discipline that had always characterized sword training. Tanetake's "kendo for dummies" was making his dojo wealthy, but at the expense of the art.)

Terada set his mind on learning true kenjutsu and achieved a deep understanding of the school's teachings. He once told a student, "Heiho (tactics; strategy) consists of techniques for winning in a conflict, techniques that decide life or death. When you have thoroughly understood the principle (ri) of life and death, and when you are free from partiality, doubt, perplexity, and delusion, then your mind becomes calm and unfettered by thought and undue discretion. Then you can respond freely to your situation." In response to a question on training methods, he replied: "'There is one and only one way. That is to maintain a concentrated mind to free yourself from irrelevant thoughts and attain spiritual enlightenment. Competitive bouts only increase the viciousness of one's mind. Thus, you should always try to free yourself from evil thoughts." --Here he reminds one of Sekiun-sensei, who had similarly rejected his combative warrior experience.

Terada eventually returned to the Nakanishi itto-ryu school--after the death of the innovative Tanetake--and became certified as an itto-ryu master. Having thoroughly studied the densho (written teachings) of Mujushinken-ryu kenjutsu, he established his own form, which he called Tenshin Itto-ryu ("enlightened single sword"; tenshin literally means "aware of one's own divine nature"); his kenjutsu was sometimes referred to as shimpo kenjutsu. But it was probably Toru Shirai, rather than Terada himself, who became most deeply involved in Shimpo and could be called the last true devotee of the Mujuu.

Toru Shirai (1782-1843) had originally been a fellow-student of Terada's, and later became Terada's pupil. However, they were soon to fall out, since Terada never immersed himself as deeply in Mujushin kenjutsu as Shirai would have liked. Shirai had first learned of its existence from Terada, who most likely provided him with information on the style merely as a reference, but Shirai gained his high admiration of Odagiri and the Mujuu on his own, and eventually the style seems to have become for him the ultimate goal of his training. Although Shirai eventually became the second headmaster of Terada's Tenshin Itto-ryu school, he was never satisfied with it and consequently developed his own style, which he called Tenshin Heiho ("enlightened strategy"). He felt that from the perspective of someone like Ichiun Odagiri, whom he had adopted as his ancestral mentor, even Terada's Tenshin Itto-ryu would certainly fall into the category of the "brutish swordsmanship" that the Mujuu strove to be purged of.

As Kono points out, the differing orientations of these two swordsmen may have been at least partly attributable to their respective social situations, Terada being employed in the service of Matsudaira, the lord of the Takasaki domain, and Shirai enjoying the much freer status of ronin, or masterless samurai. We can suspect that Terada's consciousness of his responsibilities to his lord prompted him to maintain a certain distance from Mujushin kenjutsu. For Shirai, a ronin, bujutsu was not bound up in such loyalties to the same extent, and for him it became more of a spiritual foundation for life. Turning away from the harsh world of training in dojo style, he started down the path of shimpo kenjutsu and pursued that path with ever greater passion and conviction.

It's clear the intense purist Shirai felt that his master--though he had rejected the soulless uchiaigeiko method and continued to spurn it all his life-- had not lived up to his ideals, and that Tenshin itto-ryu was hardly different from any other form of this style. The kumitachi (basic moves) transmitted in Itto-ryu naturally involved movements and postures of receiving and parrying the opponent's weapon and other such techniques. This kind of kenjutsu, in which the swordsman observes his opponent's attack and responds accordingly, was in fundamental disagreement with the technical philosophy of the Mujuu, which Shirai was increasingly convinced represented the most rarefied form of Japanese swordsmanship. Shirai remained extremely uncomfortable with Terada's statement to the effect that "While rentan [rentan no ho, "abdominal training method"--a breathing and centering technique] must be practiced with an enlightened spirit, bujutsu [the "warrior's art"] is realistically a path of deceptive tactics and trickery by which to lure the opponent to defeat." Such doubts may have been what caused Shirai's kenjutsu to take on an increasingly esoteric or spiritual flavor quite similar to that of Mujushin-ryu kenjutsu—in other words, much more esoteric than Terada's kenjutsu had ever been. Shirai gradually set his sights on nothing less than attempting to restore the Mujuushinken-ryu.

By studying the purity of the simple movements of Buddhist priests in their temple devotions, and how competely their concentration in prayer and meditation surrounded and protected their bodies without any conscious intent, Shirai gained enlightenment and advanced far beyond the teachings of his teacher Terada. Meikei Tsuda comments in Itto-ryu Heiho Toho Kigen that Shirai had attained "secrets so deep that even the ancient masters had not known of them." The kata of Shirai's Tenshin Heiho were actually much closer to Mujushin kenjutsu in their extreme simplicity, being comprised primarily of movements such as "simply raising the sword above the brow to jodan and bringing it down again" and "simply thrusting." To his discoveries about Mujushin kenjutsu Shirai added practices such as rentan no ho to lend the tradition a fresh edge and a new flavor, and took it upon himself to become the reviver, restorer, and inheritor to a tradition for which no legitimate or direct successors remained by that time. His intentions are especially plain in looking over the books on sword training he wrote: Meidoron (Clear Path Discourse), Shinmyo-roku (Record of the Exquisite Divine), and Tenshin-roku (Record of Enlightenment). Tenshin-roku is in effect a Mujuu textbook: Shirai quotes the entire Tenshin Dokuro text of Ichiun Odagiri**, and adds profiles of both Odagiri and Mujushin-ryu founder Sekiun Harigaya. As such, the work could well be considered a new version of the densho, or transmitted traditions, of Mujushin-ryu kenjutsu, plainly suggesting Shirai was fully aware that he was restoring (or hoping to restore) that school.

Following Terada's death in 1825, Shirai succeeded as headmaster of the Tenshin Itto-ryu for a time. He hoped to pass it on to Terada's grandson Kisata, but Kisata unfortunately died young, shortly after Terada, leaving Shirai to continue as second headmaster of the school. Unfortunately, he was not at all interested in Tenshin Itto-ryu. Though the position of Terada's successor was one of great honor, he deliberately chose not to maintain it, and passed this position to one Meikei Tsuda while he himself went on to found Tenshin Heiho. Tsuda's swordsmanship, however, was probably not nearly the caliber of either Terada's or Shirai's, so the title was more nominal than real. Following Tsuda's death, his son-in-law, Meijo, became the fourth headmaster, but with Meijo Tsuda's death Tenshin Itto-ryu faded away completely. Eventually counting numerous daimyo and hatamoto among his students, Shirai became quite successful and his name spread far and wide. His fame continued to grow, but on November 14, 1843, he died suddenly, at the age of sixty-one. With his death and the passing of his Tenshin Heiho school, the Mujuu truly left the world...for about a hundred and sixty years...

...go on to Part III: The Mujuushin in Samurai Champloo.

..go back to Sword of No Abiding Mind.

** The Tenshin Dokuro text of Ichiun Odagiri: Probably the most widely known of Ichiun's writings on Mujushin kenjutsu. Alternate titles include Sekiun-Ryu Kenjutsu Sho, Kempo Sekiun Sensei ("Thoughts of Master Sekiun"), Ichiun Sensei Densho and Mujushin kenjutsu Dempo Sho. It is written in a mixture of Chinese characters and the hiragana and katakana syllabaries.

AnimeForever's sub of episode 8 (bless them!) translates the text on ALL the dojo signboards, not just the one that's torn down. One of them says "Kisarazu Mujuu-Shinken Dojo". From this we were led (arigato, Google) to the formerly reported ruins of a 15th century castle named "Mariya-jo" [literally "Mariya Castle"], which was founded by the Takeda clan. And noticed that it's located just outside a town called--that's right--Kisarazu.

Kisarazu appears to be a good sized town/small city today; in the late 1600s it was a small town, right across the bay from Edo. It's in Chiba prefecture, which was called Awa at the time. Furthermore, still standing in Kimitsu City, just to Kisarazu's south (practically a suburb these days, though it wouldn't have been so 400 years ago) is Kururi Castle, which was built in 1540 by-- you're gonna love this--Mariya Takeda. =)

So we have Mariya Enshirou's dojo, the ruins of a real Takeda family castle, and a complete Mariya family castle all within a few towns of each other. Along with the proximity, this gives us two items of fairly good proof that Jin and his late sensei are related (if we're right that Jin is a Takeda, at least, and I'm 90% sure we are):
--a person of one clan having another clan's name as his given name, which almost always indicates actual relationship (beyond simple allegiance) between said clans: and
--a castle named "Mariya Castle" known to have been built by the Takeda Clan.
The joys of research. =)

Here's a website with info: Kururi Castle.

And here's all we know about the now-in-ruins Mariya Castle:
"Mariya-jo Castle was a mountain castle built about 500 years and several decades ago by Takeda Clan of "Kai" country (now Kofu, Yamanashi prefecture), who marched into Boso district early "Sengoku" period. This castle was the center of this district boasting of its large site scale extending 700m from east to west and 400m from south to north, with its main building in the center. In Bamboo Shoot Festival [held in mid-April] at the ruins of the castle, many events are held such as performance of "Kisarazu-Suwa Taiko" (a large Japanese drum), open-air tea ceremonies accompanied by sounds of Koto, direct sales of bamboo shoots/fresh agricultural products, and a live show of bamboo works." (Note the mention of Kisarazu.)