Iaido at Baltimore Aikido

Mugai Ryu Kumi-tachi at Shingikan Dojo, Kishiwada

From old times Iaido is the way in which one draws and strikes the opponent in one single devastating movement at lightning speed with sprit, sword, and body as one—“Ki-Ken-Tai-Itto.”  Iai can be understood as “facing an opponent” (or several opponents). I (居) is the position you are at and the position of yourself. It could be outside or inside. You may be sitting down, lying down, standing up, walking or running. Persons with bad intentions could be right in front of you, behind you, on one or both sides of you, or all around you, and you need to be able to swiftly defend from whatever position you are in.  AI (合) is to meet or adjust. It could be distance and timing (combined = Ma-Ai) or strength and mental state.

The Iai techniques/forms (“Kata”) can be seen as a “specialization” within the overall methods of traditional Japanese sword fighting, and always starting from a position with sword in scabbard. The techniques are meant for forestalling the opponent’s move against you and delivering a searing blow before the opponent has time or the ability to counteract. Although the art is concerned with sword techniques, its essence lies in controlling the opponent before drawing the sword (“Saya-no-Uchi”). The peaceful state before drawing the sword—and the achievement of harmonious relations with other people—is also what is meant by and contained within the art. Iai kata are primarily practiced solo but can also at times be practiced with a partner (“Kumi-tachi”).  

Tsuji Gettan

Brief history of Mugai-ryū Iai Hyōdō (Mugai Shinden Iai Hyōdō 無外真伝居合兵道)

Mugai-Ryu is a traditional, feudal-era form of swordmanship founded in the late 1600s by Tsuji Gettan Sukemochi (1648-1727). Tsuji Gettan was a goshi (“country samurai”) and when he was 13 he went to Kyoto to study Yamaguchi Bokushinsai’s Yamaguchi Ryu Kenjutsu.

At the age of 26 he was certified as a teacher of Yamaguchi Ryu, and he opened a Yamaguchi Ryu school in the Kojimachi district in Edo (old Tokyo). However, no one wanted to study under a young and unknown sword teacher from the countryside, so only a few students came to learn at his school. Gettan realized that he required more spiritual education, and so he went to study Zen and Chinese philosophy under the priest Sekitan at the Kyukoji Temple. After Sekitan passed away, Gettan continued his Zen practice under the second chief priest Shinshu, and at the age of 45 achieved enlightenment.

After his enlightenment and further intense studies of swordsmanship, he founded Mugai Ryu around 1693. The name "Mugai" was taken from a poem penned by Sekitan:

一法実無外  “Ippo jitsu Mugai” - (There is nothing but the one truth)
There is nothing except for absolute truth or the path to the truth.  Everything is the reflection of this absolute truth.
乾坤得一貞  “Kenkon toku ittei” - (It is universal, constant)
As vast as Heaven and Earth may be, only the Way can create this single virtue and keep it steadfast and righteous.
吸毛方納密  “Suimo hono mitsu” - (The wind-blown feather truly obtains this secret)
This absolute truth, like a sword that is sharp enough to cut the fluttering feather, lives in our hearts.
動着則光清  “Dochaku soku kosei” - (To know harmony amidst confusion is to be illuminated)
If your heart moves so slightly, it is purifying like a shining light.

(interpretation by Omori Sogen Roshi, a prominent 20th century Zen master and exponent of Itto Ryu Kenjutsu and Mugai Ryu Iai)
Due to twenty years of spiritual dedication, Gettan was known not just as a master of the sword, but also as an enlightened philosopher and scholar, and his work Mugai Shinden Kempō Ketsu is recognized as a superb and unique book in Japan’s martial arts literature for its depth, flowing style and elegant composition. At Kyukoji Temple he was often in contact with many powerful lords of the time, including Sakai Kageyu Tadataka, lord of the feudal Umayabashi clan, and the lord of the Tosa clan, Yamanouchi Toyomasa.  Gettan was invited to teach at the two powerful lords’ houses, but being a restless spirit he sent his top students instead: his blood relative (nephew) and second master of Mugai Ryu, Tsuji Uheita, to the Sakai house in Maebashi (later Himeji), and his adopted disciple and third master of Mugai Ryu, Tsuji Kimata Sukehide, to the Yamanouchi house of the Tosa clan. Both Uheita and Kimata Sukehide as well as other senior students of Gettan taught several other clans at their residence in Edo. The primary line which has survived up to the present day though runs through the Sakai clan in Himeji, and was passed down through several generations of the Takahashi family—sword teachers at the Himeji castle.
As a sword master and Zen disciple, Gettan felt that the sword and Zen were inseparable, as he explained in his seminal writing on the true meaning of Mugai Ryu. Any student who wanted to learn Mugai Ryu from him had to first become a proficient student of Zen before Gettan would teach them the sword.

A beloved image of Gettan as a Zen priest holding a hossu (Zen master’s whisk), his gaze calm and serene.

In 1727 at the age of 79, on the same day of the same month Zen priest Sekitan passed away, Gettan passed peacefully into the next world while deep in meditation, his rosary in his left hand, his hossu in his right.

Mugai Ryu Iai is actually Jikyo Ryu Iai. Gettan studied Jikyo Ryu from Taga Jikyosai Morimasa.  Subsequent generations of Mugai Ryu Kenjutsu swordsmen also learned Jikyo Ryu Iai, and the school was as such practiced in parallel with Mugai Ryu Kenjutsu as an “adopted ryu.”  One can say that today’s Mugai Ryu Iai is the original Mugai teachings of Tsuji Gettan and the Iai of Jikyo Ryu. It was consolidated into its current form by the 11th Soke, Nakagawa Shiryu Shinichi as Mugai Ryu Iai Hyodo.  He had learned from the 10th Soke in the Himeji line, Takahashi Kyutaro Koun in the early-to-mid 20th century, and thus helped preserve Mugai Ryu for the benefit of future generations. 

Nakatani Yoshitaro, 12th Soke and Chairman of Mugai Kai

Nakatani Yoshitaro

Born in 1930, he practiced kendo from an early age.  He entered Shingikan Dojo in Kishiwada in 1965 and began receiving Mugai Ryu Iai instruction from Nakatani Takashi, Shirai Ryotaro and Sasaki Takatsuki—three early students of Nakagawa Soke. From 1967 onwards he visited Nakagawa Soke’s home regularly and learned Mugai-ryu Iai and Ryogo-ryu Jojutsu directly from him. He received Menkyo Kaiden in 1999 from Toda Motohisa sensei. Nakagawa Soke passed away in 1981 and had instead of appointing a single direct successor established the Mugai Kai to oversee the further continuation of the Ryu.  However, per the request of Mr. Nakagawa Sohei, the eldest son of Nakagawa Shinichi Soke, Nakatani sensei was appointed 12th generation Soke in 2003. He was already the chairman of the Mugai Kai at that point.

The Iaido group at Baltimore Aikido is led by Flemming Madsen, a direct student of Nakatani Soke.

Nakatani Soke and Flemming Madsen Sensei

Equipment for practice

The common practice sword is known as “Iai-to.”  The Iai-to is not sharp but it has all the specifications and feel of a real sharp blade (“Shinken”—which is only used by the most senior members of our dojo). In addition to the Iai-to, wooden swords (“Boku-to”) are used as well for certain basic solo practice, as well as for all practice with partners. The uniform used for practice is Hakama, Gi-top and Iaido obi (broad sash).


Flemming Madsen leads classes weekly on Saturdays from 8:30 am to 10:00 am, and Devin Rushing-Schurr leads a class on Thursdays from 5:45 pm to 6:45 pm.

If you are interested in Iaido training at Baltimore Aikido or have additional questions, please contact Flemming sensei using the form below.