Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Budo, and Talking About Budo

Hey everybody. I just got back from a 6-day trip to Kyushu. It was a great opportunity to visit some friends and also some Sensei who have been very kind to me in the past. For example, the man I used to get my budo supplies from is an iaido 7-dan, kendo 8-dan, jukendo 8-dan and former All-Japan Senior Jukendo Champion. He's also good with a tanken, (although I don't know if there's a separate licence for that) and once had a shiai where he defeated his opponent (who was armed with a naginata) using a short sword. Pretty cool guy! He had his friend over, a very interesting old fellow who has been doing Chito Ryu karate for over 50 years. We spent the afternoon drinking tea and talking about martial arts. We hit on a lot of topics, and it was pretty inspiring to listen to these guys chat.

I also visited my old iaido sensei. He's the one who learned Shindo Munen Ryu from the Soke, or the Soke's son, or he WAS the Soke at some point, or something (none of it is very clear)... Anyway, I didn't get any more answers about his actual connection to the school, but we talked about it for a while, and how the school came to the Omura area of Nagasaki a few generations ago. Sensei also had a very interesting book called "The Bugei of the Hirado Area" which listed some of the styles taught to retainers of the Hirado daimyo, the Matsuura clan. Interesting stuff. It says in that book on Musashi by Tokitsu that one Lord Matsuura, a disciple of Yagyu Shinkage ryu as I recall, was defeated by a disciple of Musashi's Enmei Ryu. He then used this new knowledge to formulate a new school called the Shin-Gyo-To Ryu... (I'll have to check that book again.) Anyway, interesting to think that the samurai from where I used to live have a connection to Musashi...

The next day I went to Saga and visited Colin, our Niten Ichi Ryu friend. He had a friend over, a British guy who had apprenticed himself to a sword polisher in the past. Jealous me. However, I had other things on my mind because I agreed to buy Colin's katana. So, I am now the proud owner of a new shinken. Let's hope that I can remain proud owner of all ten of my fingers for some time to come. I must admit that I'm a little bit scared of the thing. As luck would have it, it is exactly the same length as my iaito. It IS fairly heavy, so I'll have to see if that means I need to deepen the bohi, start lifting weights, or what. Maybe I can live with it as is. We'll see...

The funny (?) thing is that my iaido instructor in Kashiwa thought I was using a real sword all along. He said "You handle it as if it were real." He told me that some people don't use iaito the same way they would use a real sword, and you can tell somehow. I'm not sure what he means, but I guess it's a good thing.

Anyway, on the next-to-last day I went to Fukuoka and stayed overnight at Namitome Sensei's place. I really messed up the meeting time, and he was really angry at me. You don't want this guy angry at you. It's really scary. But anyway, it was nice to see him again. He wasn't feeling well at all, though. I guess he went to Sweden and contracted some sort of virus that laid him low for a while, so we didn't practice at all, but I am lazy (as you know) so that was fine with me. We talked about budo, which is all I seem to want to do lately anyway! In any case, as Haruna Sensei used to say, it's better to do a technique once while really thinking about it, than to do it a hundred times without thinking. So... if thinking and talking are the same thing, I'm halfway there, right? Right?

Photos of my new "baby" if I can ever figure out how to do photo hosting.

Sunday, November 07, 2004


This post is going to be my own personal Ran-Ai: trying to create some sort of unity out of formless chaos. More than likely, though, it's going to remain a random collection of my unrelated thoughts.

First, I forgot to mention in my last post that Furukawa Sensei and Arai Sensei did the ZNKR Jodo demonstration at the "half time" of the Kendo Championships on Wednesday. I was sitting way up in the rafters, but with the help of my super-zoom lens, I managed to grab a few shaky pictures. They didn't turn out so well, but that's what happens when you try to do manual focus and you're not wearing your glasses.

The next day, I went to the Kashiwa city Iaido practice. They are a group that practices in a local Elementary School gymnasium, and they seemed a little bit cool when I first approached them for permission to train. Thursday was my first practice, and I was told to warm up and go ahead into ZNKR Iai. As I did Mae a few times, I realized that everybody was watching me. They were sizing me up! Suddenly, it was like I was doing a grading or a shiai and I started to get very nervous. I don't know whether it was nerves, or the fact that I haven't done Iaido in over two months, but my legs were shaking after the first few waza. It was quite ridiculous.

But anyway, they seemed fairly impressed that I knew the techniques at least and seemed to have a pretty good idea of what I was doing. I can only imagine that they must have seen some weird foreigners come through the doors before, with weird ideas about what iaido is... That's probably why their reception was initially so cool, because they seemed to warm up to me a little bit after that.

I received a few pointers for things I was doing wrong. I already knew some of these points, but was doing them wrong anyway. For .... ooooh, earthquake! (Sorry. Back to what I was saying...)
For example, on mae, I wasn't returning the koiguchi to the center line during furikaburi. As you slide forward, you must firmly pull the koiguchi back to the center so that the left hand rises straight up the center line to grab the tsuka overhead. (We all know this, but are we doing it properly?)

During the opening etiquette, after placing the sword on the floor for the to-rei, it is wrong the move the left hand first. Therefore, if you want to adjust the sageo, apparently you are supposed to pull the right hand back first, and only then lift the left hand to adjust the sageo. Details, details. (I don't know if this is official ZNKR policy, or just at this dojo.)

As for Jodo, I was impressed to see that all the junior students in the dojo (i.e., everyone under 6th dan) keeps a detailed jodo notebook with sketches, quotes and pointers from each lesson. I must start doing this, too... I have a few small points that I'm going to forget if I don't record them soon.

Apparently, that earthquake was a 5.8 (for those of you keeping track).

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Taikai Fever

Wednesday was Culture Day, a national holiday. I had the day off, which was nice because it let me take in some Culture in the form of a huge budo demonstration and the Kendo Championships.

The budo demonstration was in Meiji Shrine Park. It was outdoors, which I thought was kind of strange, considering the amount of rain we've had lately, but fortunately it was sunny. In fact, although it was November, I was sweating and would have gotten sunburned if I had stayed any longer. The demonstrations themselves were, um, kind of boring. Okay, incredibly boring. They announce the next weird style of art, usually with the word "shin" in the name somewhere. A bunch of people parade out and do their weird, inscrutable kata with weird kiai and weird etiquette. Then, they leave, and another even weirder group comes out.

I'm being sarcastic, obviously, but it seems kind of futile as an outsider to try and understand what other schools are up to. Some of their demonstrations might just be exercises, but we perceive them as fighting techniques. Some techniques may be altered for the sake of safety, or to obscure their meaning so that outsiders can't understand them. In any case, once you've seen a few demonstrations like this, they quickly lose their appeal. This time, in particular, I noticed (in my infinite wisdom and vastly superior knowledge, haha) that most of the demonstrations could be lumped into one of three categories:

1) Schools (often the really, really old ones; not naming any names) that seem to have lost any connection to fighting. Somewhere along the way, something happened, and although they may have been founded by illustrious swordsmen, they are now being performed as if the participants are under water. ("Okay, now I will cut you veeeeeeeery slowly, and you reach up and grab my hands like that, that's it, and now I fall down, and you sit on top of me and scream.")

2) Schools that seem to be composed only of very young people (probably because they only were invented in the last couple decades) and have extremely bizarre, lengthy, and acrobatic techniques. ("Okay, first we draw the sword in reverse Zatoichi-style, cut the opponent in two, throw the sword in the air, and before it falls, do a spin kick to the opponent's solar plexus. Now while he's still stunned, we drop and kick his legs out, do a front roll, come up behind him, catch the sword, stab him in the back of the neck, and sheath the sword, while the opponent falls into six pieces.")

3) Schools that seem to have reasonable techniques executed with strength, sharpness, and precision. Needless to say, category 3 is the rarest of the lot.

So, I stayed at the demonstrations for a while. It seems as if politics plays a big role in who is invited to demonstrate (is that a surprise??) For example, while I was there, there were at least two separate groups doing Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo. Kind of odd.

Anyway, I got bored after two hours or so, and decided to go over to the Budokan for the last part of the Kendo Championships. They were terrific and have made me want to learn kendo again (at least for the next few minutes). It was awesome to see so many great bouts in person. After the first two rounds, they got rid of the split court and just had one court in the center of the floor. For these matches, it was as quiet as a church, with the audience paying rapt attention to the fight.

If you're into this sort of thing and haven't heard the results yet, I'll just say that the winner was a bit of a surprise. I hope to get a copy of the NHK broadcast, so I'll send it when I get a chance. Over and out!