Isshin the Sword Saint is the final boss in Sekiro, found in the game's Ashina Castle area, following on from Divine Dragon in our walkthrough of the game's bosses and mini-bosses.
You'll find Isshin the Sword Saint at the end of the Near Secret Passage in the moonlit field - through the tunnel you first escaped through with Lord Kuro right at the start of the game.
Below, we'll cover how to beat Sekiro's final boss Isshin Sword Saint, including any particularly strong methods or weaknesses they might have and any handy things to bear in mind.
For more guides and pages like this, meanwhile, cycle back to our main Sekiro walkthrough and boss guide hub.
Sekiro Isshin Sword Saint - how to beat and kill his first phase, Genichiro Way of Tomoe
The first time you see Isshin Sword Saint here at your final showdown, it'll actually be in the form of Genichiro, Way of Tomoe, once again.
He has just the one Deathblow Mark - although that's obviously not all of the fight - and fights broadly in the same way as late-phase Genichiro did when you first faced him. Give our guide to beating Genichiro Way of Tomoe in Sekiro another look over to refresh yourself before diving in here, if you like.
This time, Genichiro won't use any lightning-based attacks, but otherwise he's most similar to his final phase from the earlier fight in Ashina Castle, using his full range of attacks, plus the jumping lunge attack as a gap-closer, some modifications to some of his attacks from before, and one fully new attack: a big two-hit combat art.
He always opens with that combat art here, but as with so many Sekiro bosses it's those big intimidating attacks that are actually one of his biggest weaknesses. Here's how to beat phase one of the Isshin Sword Saint fight.
How to beat Isshin the Sword Saint phase one - Genichiro Way of Tomoe
1. As soon as the battle starts, Genichiro will use his combat art, but it takes a moment to charge. Sprint up to him immediately, use a Whirlwind Strike combat art, then immediately dodge towards him and slightly to his right. Push the analog stick to about the 1 or 2 o'clock direction as you dodge, and you'll go through his combat art unharmed. You can then land two free hits on him, or another Whirlwind. Half of the time he'll do this attack again right after - so you may need to roll through it immediately after that Whirlwind again. Just keep an eye on his body language and sounds to spot him going for a second try.
2. You should've chunked his health a nice amount already, which'll help a lot. Now go on the offensive, just as you did the first time you fought Genichiro Way of Tomoe at Ashina Castle. Think of it as two hits, then react.
3. React to whatever he throws at you, and stay close to him at all times if you can, and he'll go down surprisingly fast. If you've got this far in the game you're good enough to go toe-to-toe with the big boys like this, so trust your ability to counter and react well to Perilous Attacks, and you'll get him nailed down after a few tries. (Don't beat yourself up if you're struggling though - he's beatable but some timings are awkward and it's still easy to get caught out).
Staying close, being aggressive and reacting well is easier said than done of course, so here's a quick rundown of the Genichiro Way of Tomoe phase of Isshin Sword Saint's attacks, so you know what to watch out for.
Isshin Sword Saint phase one Genichiro attacks to be wary of
The Genichiro phase of the Isshin Sword Saint fight has several Perilous Attacks, including several lunges, a sweep attack and a troublesome grab that's only used when you're already caught in a combo.
For the most part they behave in the same way as they did in the previous fight, but the main thing to note is that, given the long grass of the field you're fighting in, it's much harder to see whether he's going for a sweep or thrust attack after you've dodge his jump.
If you remember it, after a few hits on him Genichiro will jump in the air to slam is sword down. Dodge it to the side and towards him and you can get a hit in on his back, but he has several options for a follow-up that can leave you in stun-lock and primed for a nasty combo.
There are two Perilous Attacks - that hard-to-read sweep or thrust - but there's also a slow sweep-like attack that isn't marked as perilous, but you won't be able to stun him out of it by hitting him first. That means that, if you attack him after dodging his jump attack, you could get caught in a big hit from him quite easily, either by misreading the Perilous Attack or by hitting him and leaving yourself open to his non-perilous sweep.
With that in mind, after you dodge his jump, we recommend you dodge away from him entirely. It's the safest option and won't let off much pressure in terms of the posture damage you'll be doing to him.
The other one to worry about is his grab Perilous Attack. In our experience he only does this after successfully nailing you with a Perilous lunge - specifically the jumping gap-closer one - which in most cases you should be using to your advantage with a Mikiri Counter anyway. Still, if you get hit with a jumping lunge, get up and dodge or run away fast or he'll finish you with huge damage from the follow-up grab attack.
Sekiro Isshin Sword Saint - how to beat and kill Isshin Sword Saint's second phase
The second phase of this fight, sees you tackle Isshin the Sword Saint himself for the first time. In this phase, he just has a sword, and is very similar to the Isshin Ashina fight in the 'bad' ending, if you already got that and are playing Sekiro through for the second time (if not, take a look at our Sekiro ending steps guide if you want more detail on how to reach that).
In other words then, defeating Isshin Ashina's first phase is about deflecting well and knowing which attacks of his are easily dodgable, giving you a window for a brief counter. You'll get his Posture bar full before his health is depleted in this round, but like Genichiro before him, beating Isshin Sword Saint's first phase is surprisingly easy when you get the feel for it.
How to beat Isshin Sword Saint's second phase
1. Heal up in the brief pause after the cutscene if necessary, and close the gap to Isshin. You want to stay close most of the time where possible.
2. Trade blows in close range. He has no set first move this time, so just follow some basic principles: you can hit him once or twice before he parries you - the orange flash and higher-pitched clang when your blades hit - then you need to instantly parry his follow-up. Go for a hit after he parries you and he'll always hit you faster. Note that his attack cycles are always three hits - sometimes the third is very delayed, which can bait you into dropping your guard. Try to parry all three successfully each time.
3. React fast to his thrust attack. Often, when you're in close range trading blows, he'll go for a thrust Perilous Attack. This is much faster than most thrusts. You don't have long to react, so be ready to Mikiri Counter as quick as possible (we often found double-tapping the dodge into him helped, as the range and timing can occasionally be a bit awkward).
He also has a different thrust attack, which starts with a punch that knocks you back, then you have a much longer amount of time to Mikiri Counter. Don't do it too early for this one or you'll get caught out - you'll get the timing after some practice and look forward to the easy counter you get when he does this move.
4. Break away for his special attacks and counter appropriately. He has four special, unblockable attacks in this phase. A Perilous combo, which starts with a punch followed up by a sweep that's very hard to avoid; an Ashina Cross, the same as Emma and Isshin Ashina in that fight or the Ashina Elite you faced a while back before the first Genichiro fight in Ashina Castle; plus a two charged-up attacks, one being an area-of-effect sweep around him, and another being two rounds of long-range straight lines, like a beam.
For the Ashina Cross, he'll sheathe his sword and you'll see a little silver glint of the blade as he does so, which is the giveaway. When he does that, start sprinting around him in a circle to his left. He'll miss you if you do that right, and you can land a full Whirlwind Strike on his back easily. Get the feel for that right and you'll actually look forward to him doing this attack, as it's free damage for you.
For the Perilous combo he'll do the same sheathing thing - so basically when you see him sheathe his sword, run away from him and to the side. It'll get you gonig for the counter to the Cross above, and for this attack it'll mean you avoid it in general and can do the same Whirlwind Strike to his back if you fancy it.
For the other two, he'll crouch down and start growling - similarly to how he sheathes his sword above - only you'll see gusts of wind around him instead of the glint of the blade. As soon as you see this sprint away from him as quick as you can, ideally diagonally. That way you'll get out of range of the sweepy whirlwind one, and be moving sideways - and thus dodging - the straight line one.
He's locked in the straight line animation in particular for a while, so if you're close to him you can get another free hit in after the attack's over.
Finally, there's one other move that gives you a nice free hit: his big sword slam attack, where he holds it high about his head for about two seconds before crashing it down. When you see him holding it over his head, wait a moment, and then dodge towards and just to the side of him - about 10-11 o'clock if your analog stick was a clock face - and you'll go straight under him and be behind him, for two good free hits on his back. It's another one you'll be glad to see once you get the hang of it!
Sekiro Isshin Sword Saint - how to beat and kill Isshin Sword Saint's third phase
Phase three of Isshin the Sword Saint is where things get properly tricky: he has a sword, and a spear and a gun as well as some big and tasty special attacks.
You can start cheesing him from now - more on that in the section at the bottom of this page - but we actually recommend fighting it out. The cheese is somewhat unreliable for one, and so it wasn't that much faster to do it the boring way than it was to do it the fun, probably-as-the-game-intended way that we're going to outline here. Back yourself!
How to beat Isshin the Sword Saint's third phase
1. Play defensive. In this phase it's very risky to open up and start attacking Isshin for more than one hit, if at all. The first thing you need to get to grips with is parrying everything he throws at you.
2. Counter two specific attacks: his jumping spear-slam gap-closer, and his thrust Perilous Attack. If you can dodge everything else and counter these two each time they happen, you'll win the fight. Obviously that's easier said than done, so more on these below.
Where you can counter Isshin Sword Saint's third phase attacks
One of Isshin the Sword Saint's most frequent attacks in this phase will be a gap-closer, where he jumps towards you and slams his spear down on your head - if you don't more or counter.
The good news is that it's surprisingly easy to counter. When he does it, start moving towards him and then dodge under him - either directly towards him, or mostly towards him and just a little to the side - and you'll come out behind him with space for a full Whirlwind Strike combat art, just about, or just about two hits (if you take too long or dodge more to the side, you can only get in one before he blocks).
He'll normally follow that up with a swing of the sword and a jump backwards to disengage, where he swings his spear too, so be prepared to block once, if not twice, immediately after you get those hits in.
The other main one to try and bait out of Isshin Sword Saint is his thrust attack, which normally comes towards the end of a big spear-swirling flurry of attacks in melee range, or as a surprisingly short-to-medium-ranged gap-closer.
He does have a Perilous sweep, but it's very rare, so whenever you see the red Kanji be ready to Mikiri counter him for some nice posture damage. You can also land one free hit on his Vitality immediately after the Mikiri Counter, too.
What else to look out for in phase three of Isshin Sword Saint
Other than those two moments, the rest of this battle is going to be played on the back foot.
In his third stage Isshin Sword Saint does very heavy posture damage with each hit - even if you perfectly parry his spear swings it'll still build up fast - so be prepared to back away often and hold down the block button to restore that posture whenever you get a chance. Keep your health topped up to at at least two-thirds, ideally three-quarters, too (this'll also give you breathing space to take a hit without dying too, obviously).
His main flurry of attacks - two sword hits, then three spear swings, then the Perilous thrust attack - will max out your Posture if you mistime just two (often just one) of your parries, and the final couple of hits do huge damage, too, so perfect timing is essential. You can also disengage (run away) after the two sword hits if you mistime those and know your Posture's about to get overloaded, which worked well for us.
He has big area-of-effect attacks here, but you should just manage those like you did the ones above, by running away far and fast.
Finally, there's the matter of his gun. The good news is that there's an obvious audio cue, as well as a visual one, when he's about to use it. Listen out and you can parry every shot for minimal posture damage - and if you do get hit by a couple they don't actually do huge damage, so don't worry too much. It's more about knocking you out of your rhythm and healing than raw damage like the rest.
Ultimately, phase three just comes down to this: manage the space, manage your health and posture closely, and use the two clear openings for attacks, when he jumps at you and when he uses his main Perilous thrust. Do that, and you'll get through with relative ease! Time for phase four.
Sekiro Isshin Sword Saint - how to beat and kill Isshin Sword Saint's fourth phase
Right, final phase, and he has one more trick up his sleeve: lightning!
Thankfully by now you should be fairly familiar with it, between the first Genichiro fight and the Divine Dragon recently. The principle is the same - jump, get hit, throw, attack - but obviously there's the rest of his attacks to bear in mind too!
How to beat Isshin the Sword Saint's fourth phase
1. Carry on like it's the third phase, focusing on using the Mikiri Counter where you can and dodging through his jump attack for a free hit or two.
2. Watch out for his new special attack - he gets one new wind-like attack, where he gathers in some energy like the other special attacks above to charge up, but instead he fires out two diagonal beams instead of two straight ones. They're similar to the Divine Dragon's diagonal slashes if you remember those. Just run away as soon as you see him charge up - but run at an angle - and you'll always avoid all of his special attacks, including this one.
3. Use the lightning to your advantage. As with Genichiro and the Divine Dragon, the lightning throws are secretly your best friend. Jump late to catch it in the air, and tap R1/RB while locked onto him to throw it, and he'll stunned just long enough for one Whirlwind Strike before you need to instantly block again.
How to catch the lightning and use it against Isshin Sword Saint
The timing for this one's a little odd, so here's a closer look.
The main thing to know is that you need to jump later than expected if you want to catch it. For us, the best timing was to jump just as the red Kanji symbol is beginning to fade away.
You'll get struck mid-air, and then you'll need to mash that R1/RB button to make sure you throw the lighning before landing and get the stun on him.
Note that it's possible for it to fail - some terrain got in the way when we successfully caught and threw it, blocking him from getting stunned, for instance - and that it's also possible to dodge the lightning entirely if you're far enough away. It happens in an area-of-effect circle around him, similar in size to his big windy circular strike that he does earlier on.
Master that and follow up with a couple of free hits, and it'll only take a few of those and a few Mikiri counters to bring him down.
Sekiro Isshin Sword Saint cheese - how to easily beat Isshin with a cheese method
Finally, if you're really struggling with the above, there is a cheese for the third and fourth phases of this fight - although it's not completely easy to replicate.
How to cheese Isshin Sword Saint with relative ease
1. Back away to a long distance, and get running around him in a wide circle, going anti-clockwise (so running to your right).
2. Keep running past everything he throws at you, including gunshots, which will miss.
3. Wait for him to leap towards you for his big jump attack. If you keep running, he'll miss that, and you can land one free hit on his back.
4. Try to bait out that jump, and repeat. Just keep running no matter what, land one and only one hit on him each time he misses, and don't fall off the edge! There are cliffs either side of the area that can catch you out.
That's it! Simple enough, but like we said it only works for phases three and four when he gets his big jumping move, and it's slightly easier said than done - baiting that jump is quite hard, and we actually found it more reliable to dodge-roll under it in the proper combat methods we outlined above instead. It's your preference though, of course!
Head over to Kuro to choose your ending by choosing which items to give him - again, more on how to do that in our Sekiro ending steps guide - but note that you can save after defeating Isshin Sword Saint here before speaking to Lord Kuro and choosing your ending, so if you have the ingredients for the three different ones that are available now, you can backup a save now to an external hard drive or the cloud on PS4, and reload it three times for the three different endings.
That's all you'll hopefully need for tackling this encounter, and for our boss guide for now - you can cycle back to our main Sekiro walkthrough and boss guide hub, meanwhile, for much more explainers and advice.