The founder of Mugairyu, Tsuji Gettan Sukemochi (also known as Heinai) was born in 1648 in what is now Shiga Prefecture. When he was 13 he went to Kyoto to study Yamaguchi Bokushinsai’s Yamaguchiryu kenjutsu.
At the age of 26 he was certified as a teacher of Yamaguchiryu and with the permission of the Edo government he opened a Yamaguchiryu school in the 9th sector of Kojimachi in Edo (old Tokyo).
However, no one wanted to study under an unknown sword teacher from the countryside, so only a few students came to learn at his school.
Tsuji realized that he required more spiritual education, and so he went to study Zen and Chinese philisophy under monk Sekitan at Azabu Kyukoji Temple.
After monk Sekitan passed away, Heinai continued his Zen practice under the second chief priest Shinshu, and at the age of 45 achieved enlightenment.
Heinai once again took the name Gettan Sukemochi and in 1693 founded Mugairyu. The name “mugai” was taken from a poem penned by the late Sekitan:
Ippo jitsu mugai
Kenkon ichijoo e
Suimo masani mitsuni osamu
Dochaku sureba hikari kiyoshi
Due to 20 years of spiritual dedication, Gettan was known not just as a master of the sword, but also as an enlightened philosopher and scholar. At Kyukoji Temple he was often in contact with many powerful lords of the time, including the Lord of Ogasawara Sado, Sakai Kageyu Tadataka, leader of the feudal Umayabashi clan, and the leader of the Tosa clan, Yamanouchi Toyomasa.
Because Gettan’s house was destroyed in the 1695 fires of Edo, the exact number of his disciples is unknown, but it is known that in the 14 years to 1710 his students included 32 households of major lords, 156 disciples of high rank, and 930 other students.
Gettan was invited to teach for two powerful lords’ houses, but being a restless spirit he sent his students instead: his blood relative and second master of Mugairyu Tsuji Uheida to the Sakai house of the Maebashi clan, and his adopted disciple and third master of Mugairyu Tsuji Kimata Sukehide to the Yamaguchi house of the Tosa clan. Uheida also taught Isoda Bou of Sakai house in Isesaki, and from there to the Naito household of the Koromo clan (present day Fukuda City) as well.
When Gettan was 61 years old, at the discretion of Lord Sakai he was to debut in front of the fifth shogun Tsunakichi, but unfortunately Shogun Tsunakichi passed away before Gettan had an audience with him. However, for a masterless sword instructor to be invited to have an audience with the shogun at that time was an incredible acheivement.
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 Mugairyu. Any who wanted to learn Mugairyu had to first become a proficient student of Zen before Gettan would teach them the sword.
3 months before his death, it is said there is a beloved image of Gettan as a Zen priest holding a hossu (Zen master’s whisk) his gaze calm and serene, and in another beloved image Gettan holds in his right hand a wooden practice sword, with the piercing eyes of a sword ster.
And so, having never had a family, in 1728 at the age of 79, on the same day of the same month Zen monk 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.
Mugairyu iai is actually Jikyoryu. Gettan studied Jikyoryu from master Taga Jikyosai Morimasa, who did not have a pupil to carry on after him, and so instead of letting Jikyoryu fade away, he brought those teachings into Mugairyu. Today’s Mugairyu iai is the original Mugai teachings and Jikyoryu iai (practiced together since the foundation) consolidated by the 11th head of Mugairyu, Nakagawa, into Mugairyu Iaihyodo.