Swordsmen were engaging in single combat in Japan up until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. After the restoration, swordsmanship went into a general decline, but a number of schools perpetuated the art of swordsmanship: Iaaijutsu, Kenjutsu, or Batto-jutsu among them. The emphasis in these schools was preservation of techniques that swordsmen had practiced before 1868.
The full name of the style of Iaido that is the most widely practiced in central Japan today is Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu, meaning “peerless, direct transmission, true-faith style of Eishin.”
Eishin-Ryu claims a lineage about 450 years long, making it the second oldest extant martial art form in Japan. The only Budo form with a longer history is Tenshin Shoden-Katori Shinto-Ryu, an eclectic system of fighting arts that includes some Iaijutsu.
The founder of Eishin-Ryu was Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenoubu, who lived between 1546 and 1621 in present-day Kanagawa prefecture. Many of the historical details of Hayashizaki’s life are suspect, since, like most famous martial artists in Japan, his story has been widely fictionalized, but it seams clear that he grew up during a time of constant warfare in Japan, and was exposed to various sword fighting methods from an early age. It is said that he went to Yamagata Prefecture to pray for guidance and receive divine inspiration for a new way of drawing the sword. Whatever the circumstances, at some point he established his own style of swordsmanship and called it Shimmei Muso-Ryu, “divinely inspired, unparalleled style.”
Hayashizaki’s Iaido has had many names since then. It is considered the foundation for the two major styles of Iaido practiced today: Eishin-Ryu and Muso Shinden-Ryu. In each generation a headmaster, or soke, has been appointed to guide the practice of the art, and each soke has had his own influence on the development of Iaido.
Eishin-Ryu claims an unbroken line of transmission from Hayashizaki Jinsuke through twenty one generations to the present-day soke, Fukui Torao, who was appointed in 1975 after the death of his predecessor, Kono Hyakuren. The names of all the headmasters from the founders time are as follows:
|1 - Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shgenobu (Founder)
2 - Tamiya Heibei Narimasa
3 - Nagano Muraku Nyudo Kinrosai
4 - Momo Gumbei Mitsushige
5 - Arikawa Shozaemon Munetsugu
6 - Banno Dan-Uemon-no-Jô Nobusada
7 - Hasegawa Chikaranosuke Eïshin
8 - Arai Seitetsu Seishin
9 - Hayashi Rokudayu Morimasa
10 - Hayashi Yasudayu Seisho
11 - Oguro Motoemon Kiyokatsu
12 - Hayashi Masu-no-Jô Masanari
13 - Yoda Manzo Takakatsu
14 - Hayashi Yadayu Masataka
15 - Tanimura Kame-no-Jô Takakatsu
16 - Goto Masasuke Magobei
17 - Oe Masamichi Roshu
18 - Hokiyama Namio
19 - Fukui Harumasa Tekkotsu
20 - Kono Minoru Hyakuren
21 - Fukui Torao born 1915
22 - Soke Ikeda Takashi Seiko
Most Iaido historians agree that the inspiration for the name Eishin-Ryu came from the name of the seventh generation headmaster, Hasegawa Chikaranosuke Eishin. Certainly the characters used in his name are the same as those used in the name of the style.
After the eleventh generation, the lineage split into two separate lines: one leading to Saito Iamau, the eighteenth generation soke of the Muso Shinden-Ryu, and the other to Fukui Torao, as shown above. There are a number of other, less widely-practiced forms of Iaido that grew out of Hayashizaki Jinsuke’s art.
Today, Eishin-Ryu is practiced by two or three thousand people in Japan, and has exponents around the world. The administration of the system is primarily handled by the Eishin-Ryu Traditions Association, led by the soke, and by the all Japan Iaido federation, which oversees competitions and promotions in many different Iaido styles.