Yagyū Munenori 柳生宗矩(1571-1646 May 11) was a Japanese swordsman who inherited leadership of the school of swordsmanship called Yagyū Shinkage-ryū from his father Yagyū "Sekishusai" Muneyoshi. This was one of two official sword styles patronized by the Tokugawa Shogunate (the other one being Itto-ryū). Munenori began his career in the Tokugawa administration as a hatamoto, a direct retainer of the Tokugawa house, and later had his income raised to 10,000 koku, making him a minor fudai daimyo (vassal lord serving the Tokugawa), with landholdings around his ancestral village of Yagyu-zato. He also received the title of Tajima no Kami (但馬守).

Munenori entered the service of Tokugawa Ieyasu at a young age, and later was an instructor of swordsmanship to Ieyasu's son Hidetada. Still later, he became one of the primary advisors of the third shogun Iemitsu.

Shortly after his father's death in 1606, leadership of the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū was split between Muneyoshi and his elder brother Toshiyoshi. Toshiyoshi's branch remained based in Nagoya, and was called the Owari-ha Yagyu-ryū (尾張派柳生流), while Munenori established his in Edo, the Tokugawa capital, giving rise to what was known as the Edo-ha Yagyu-ryū (江戸派柳生流).

Munenori's sons, Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi and Yagyū Munefuyu, were also famous swordsmen.

Munenori in Fiction and LegendEdit

Like his father, and his son Jubei, Munenori has achieved a degree of legendary status. A number of exaggerated tales and abilities have been attributed to him.

One of the most often repeated is the tale of his amazing sense of danger approaching. He was meditating in his garden facing away from the door when his assistant brought him his sword silently and without any declarations. His assistant, being a young and imaginative sort of person, thought to himself how it would be interesting to see if he could attack Munenori from this position. Before he could act on the fantasy, Munenori leapt to his feet and turned around, stunned to discover only his assistant was behind him. He was sure there was some impending danger.

Later on he was still troubled by the event. How could he have mistaken his assistant for impending danger? Was he losing his edge? He spoke of the incident to one of his trusted advisors while his assistant was in the room, and, being a virtuous youth, his assistant admitted that he had "thought" about attacking him earlier, but made no physical movements in accordance with the attack. Therefore, Munenori concluded that he was not in fact losing his edge but had actually achieved a new level of swordsmanship, one where a man can anticipate impending danger even when people are thinking about it.

Recent fiction has not always been as kind to Munenori as it has been to his son or his father. Munenori has sometimes been depicted as having an adverserial relationship with his son Jubei, (the legends that say that Jubei lost an eye as a boy while sparring with his father are often used to further this), or even being jealous of Jubei's supposedly greater skills. The film Shogun's Samurai shows him as a master of intrigue, repeatedly using tactics such as assassination to secure the post of Shogun for Tokugawa Iemitsu when Iemitsu and his brother Tadanaga vied for the title. The same film also shows Munenori ordering the ruthless slaughter of his own followers when they become a potential obstacle.

In other movies and television shows he is shown as having a bitter rivalry with legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi, and being willing to stoop to underhanded tactics to attempt to kill Musashi.

It should be noted that most of the works that do this take great liberties with history.

In Onimusha's latest edition, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, Munenori appears with an eye patch, which conceals his powerful demon eye, and a pet crow. Munenori hates everything having to do with Jubei of Onimusha 2, who is his father, since he despises him for the death of his mother. It is revealed that his Demon Eye was actually his mother's eye and she gave it to him when she died in order to save him. This Munenori is a servant of the evil Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Munenori betrayed the Yagyu clan and killed many of its members, and because of this Jubei Yagyu (Akane), Munenori's niece and Jubei Sekishusai Yagyu's granddaughter, is sworn to kill him.