A retention system and method for the blades of a rotary machine for preventing forward or aft axial movement of the rotor blades includes a circumferential hub slot formed about a circumference of the machine hub. The rotor blades have machined therein a blade retention slot which is aligned with the circumferential hub slot when the blades are received in correspondingly shaped openings in the hub. At least one ring segment is secured in the blade retention slots and the circumferential hub slot to retain the blades from axial movement. A key assembly is used to secure the ring segments in the aligned slots via a hook portion receiving the ring segments and a threaded portion that is driven radially outwardly by a nut. A cap may be provided to provide a redundant back-up load path for the centrifugal loads on the key. Alternatively, the key assembly may be formed in the blade dovetail.