Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu Technique From Rurouni Kenshin Explained

"Rurouni Kenshin" is the story of a samurai in the meiji era, during which time the societal role of the samurai warrior was becoming obsolete in favor of societal modernization. Kenshin Himura, the series' titular protagonist, is a former war hero who has become a wandering samurai in the series' present. However, whereas in the past he was a relentless killer, Kenshin has since renounced violence and even fights with a sword designed such that its blunt end is facing forward, rendering it less likely to seriously maim his opponents.

Originally, "Rurouni Kenshin" was a manga by author Nobuhiro Watsuki, serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump alongside influential series like "Dragon Ball" and "One Piece" (via Anime News Network). It was then adapted into an anime that was popular for a time before declining ratings caused its cancellation. The most recent incarnation of "Rurouni Kenshin" is a series of live actions movies. Though live action anime adaptations are oftentimes disappointing, especially when produced stateside, the "Rurouni Kenshin" films have found legitimate success. "Rurouni Kenshin: The Final," the fourth film in the series, was released worldwide in June 2021. A review of the film on Polygon praised the "Kenshin" films as "the best Japanese action film series of the last 10 years."

While the live action adaptations of "Rurouni Kenshin" succeed in many respects, by necessity they also cut down on a fair share of content from their source material, in order to fit their stories into the constraints of feature films. That includes cutting down on some of the background of Kenshin's signature sword style, often Westernized as the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū.

The Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū's origins

In Japanese, Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū is written 飛天御剣流. The first two characters, pronounced "hiten," refer to an image specific to Buddhist temples of a heavenly being in flight. The following two characters, which are read "mitsurugi," make up a name rather than a word. Individually, 御 means "honorable" and 剣 means "sword." Finally, the last character simply connotes a way or a manner.

In-fiction, Kenshin learns the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū from a swordsman named Hiko Seijuro XIII (his twelve predecessors the prior masters of the sword style). However, Hiko Seijuro XIII's story significance is considerably greater than merely acting as Kenshin's teacher. Rather, Hiko is Kenshin's surrogate father, and even turns out to have given Kenshin his name. The Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū, then, is not just a manner of wielding a sword but part of the legacy that Kenshin's father figure passed down to him. This backstory is briefly touched upon in the third "Rurouni Kenshin" movie, "The Legend Ends," and, of course, explained in greater detail in both its anime and manga incarnations.

The Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū in practice

Functionally, the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū is a sword style designed to maximize the chances of a single samurai's combat efficacy when outnumbered by a large number of foes. This is accomplished through high speed attacks, as well as an emphasis on learning battojutsu, which is the technique of drawing and sheathing one's katana. Practitioners of the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū develop a sort of sixth sense that they use to predict their opponents' movements, thus drawing their sword not in response to but in advance of an incoming attack. As a result, Kenshin is often depicted with his sword sheathed and at the ready, in a state of intense concentration.

The Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū also includes a number of special techniques. The Ryutsuisen, for example, is a two-handed sword slash generally preceded by a jump, such that the attack comes from above its opponent. Kenshin, appropriately, is often attacking from above, generally favoring the Ryutsuisen above most other special techniques. In "Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends," Kenshin learns the ultimate Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū technique, called Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki. The attack is simply a quick slash that starts with the sword sheathed. A particular footwork pattern makes the technique uniquely deadly.

In "Rurouni Kenshin: The Final," Kenshin must face off against Yukishiro Enishi, one of his most powerful opponents in the film's original manga source material. Viewers can expect some frenetic sword fights, with Kenshin's Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū on full display.