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Yagyū Munenori (柳生 宗矩, 1571 - May 11, 1646) was a Japanese fencer, founder of the Edo branch of Yagyū Shinkage-ryū, which he learned from his father Yagyū "Sekishusai" Muneyoshi.
It is one of the two official fencing styles patronized by the Tokugawa shogunate (the other being Ittō-ryū).
Munenori began his career in the Tokugawa administration as a hatamoto, a direct vassal of the Tokugawa house, and later saw his income raised to 10,000 koku, making him a secondary fudai daimyo (obligated to the Tokugawa), with landholdings around his ancestral village of Yagyū-zato.
He received the honorary title of Tajima no Kami (但馬守) (Governor of Tajima Province) from the Imperial Court.
Munenori entered the service of Tokugawa Ieyasu at a young age and later became a fencing instructor to Ieyasu's son Hidetada. Still later, he became one of the main advisors of the third shogun, Iemitsu.
Shortly before his death in 1606, Sekishusai passed the leadership of the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū to his grandson Toshiyoshi. Following a period of musha shugyō, Toshiyoshi entered the service of a younger branch of the Tokugawa clan that controlled the province of Owari.
Located in Nagoya, Toshiyoshi's school is called Owari Yagyū-ryū (尾張柳生流), while Munenori's school in Edo, the Tokugawa capital, is known as Edo Yagyū-ryū (江戸柳生流). Takenaga Hayato, founder of the Yagyū Shingan-ryū, was a disciple of Yagyū Munenori and received the gokui (secret teachings) of the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū from him.
Around 1632, Munenori completed the writing of the Heihō kadensho, a treatise on the practice of shinkage-ryū fencing and how it can be applied to everyday life and politics.
Regularly printed in modern-day Japan, the text has been translated into English several times. Munenori Ken zen's two fetish slogans ichi nyo (拳褝一如), meaning joint training of body and mind, and Katsujinken (活人剣), the saving sword, have a major influence on modern budō.
Although recognized as a kensei (剣聖 litt. Saint of the Sword), it is well known that Munenori focused on politics, and was denied succession as head of the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū by his father, Sekishūsai, who appointed Yagyū Hyōgonosuke Taira-no-Toshiyoshi (Munenori's nephew and Sekishū-sai's grandson) instead.
The disgrace that it represented for Munenori to be sent as the shōgun's military instructor without being recognized as the school's leader was the main cause of the split between the two lineages Owari Yagyū and Edo Yagyū.
Sekishūsai's intention may have been to keep politics and pure martial arts separate for safety's sake, but many historians and works of fiction postulate that Munenori took this as condescension on the part of his father.
Yagyū Jūbei (Yagyū Jūbei Taira-no-Mitsutoshi) and Yagyū Munefuyu (Yagyū Matajurō Taira-no-Munefuyu), two of Munenori's three sons, are also famous fencers. The third, Yagyū Samon Taira-no-Tomonori was a close courtier of the shōgun Iemitsu.
He also had a daughter, Akane, who is said to have been gifted with diplomatic skills and thus served her father as a Kunoichi. Munenori's youngest son was Yagyū Gisen Rokkumaru Retsudō (Taira-no-Yasutaka), who is said to have turned to a career as a Buddhist monk, often forgotten, despite his talent in Kenjutsu:
He is featured in semi-fictional form in the manga Kozure Ōkami, as the leader of Ura-Yagyū, the Tokugawa Bakufu's special service network.
Munenori's favorite katana, Ōtengu Masaie, is one of the finest blades in the world, and is still kept in museums and exhibitions in Japan.
"No matter what secret tradition you have, no matter what technique you use, if your mind remains trapped in that technique you will know defeat. Yagyū Munenori, sword master of the Tokugawa Shogun house, 1571-1646."