Aisû Ikôsai, founder of the Kage-ryû (陰流) tradition of sword fighting, was born into the prominent bushi (“warrior”) Aisû family in 1452, and lived from the middle to the late Muromachi Period (1392-1573). This was one of Japan’s most turbulent periods. Ikôsai’s original name was Aisû Tarozaemon Hisatada, but he later took the name, ‘Ikôsai’. The Aisû family was a branch of the Kii clan of Kumano in the province of Kii, a powerful family, based in the Ise peninsula, in the center of the Kumano Bay area. They had been put in command of five castle areas by Shogun Morinaga Shinno (1308-1335) in the Nanbokuchô (Southern Dynasty) Period and were related to the Kitabatake clan with close relations to guerrilla fighters in the Iga area.
It is not clear where or from whom Ikôsai originially learned heihô (martial ways), but he was living during a period of great activity in fighting arts. Iizasa Ienao’s Tenshin Shôden Katori Shintô-ryû was active in the Kanto area, and Chûjô Hyôgono Nagahide had been spreading his Chûjô-ryû in Mikawa-guni (present day Aichi-ken) more than a hundred years earlier. As well, it is thought that in the Kyoto-Nara area, a core group of Nen-ryû of disciples known as the ‘Six Men of the Capital’ were spreading their art at the beginning of the 15th century.
Aisû Ikôsai had gained attention among Chinese military authorities when he and his fleet had raided both the Chinese and Korean coasts during that period. Using very long swords (tachi) and unorthodox methods of movement and weapon usage, they decimated Chinese and Korean troops that attempted to board their vessels or halt their raids. Obviously, though, the military authorities were impressed with the swordsmanship of these Japanese fighters and for years were at a loss as to how to defeat these rogue warriors whenever they appeared.
The story of Ikosai’s ‘ken-no-satori’ (sword enlightenment) is that in 1488, at the age of 36, after surviving a shipwreck while returning home from a pirating raid, Ikôsai, who already had been refining his sword skills for many years, decided to visit the temple of Uto Gong. There he prayed for purification and enlightenment, while making a vow to give up piracy, since his life had been spared from the shipwreck. After 7 days of incessant practicing and praying, a monkey-shaped god appeared to him in a dream and revealed the secrets of swordsmanship.
Deciding to reveal this knowledge to selected students, Aisû Ikôsai named his style ‘Kage-ryû’ (‘Current of the Shade’). Later, Ikôsai’s student, the renowned warrior and swordsman, Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami Hidetsuna developed his Shinkage-ryû (“New Current of the Shade) based on the instruction he received from Ikôsai. Shinkage-ryû (新影流) thus includes the core techniques, such as Enpi, Enkai, Yamakage, etc., from Kage-ryû.
Aisû Ikôsai passed away in 1538 at the advanced age of 87 years old.
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