This annual event was held once again at the Nippon Budokan's Training Center in Katsuura, Chiba from March 5 - 8th. Over 100 people, from something like 33 countries, came to hear lectures on budo, to socialize and discuss martial arts, and to train in Judo, Kendo, Karate, Aikdo, Naginata, Shorinji-Kempo, Sumo, and Jukendo.
The seminar began on Friday afternoon with an excellent lecture on the commonalities between Zen and Budo, given by Thomas Kirchner, a monk at Tenryu-ji in Kyoto, and an associate researcher at the International Research Institute for Zen Buddhism at Kyoto's Hanazono University. One of his main points is that Zen and Budo could be complementary arts, because some of the points learned in Zen are more easily or more quickly learned in Budo, and vice versa. He believes that there could be a benefit in studying both, and cited a few famous "Zen Budoka" like Yamaoka Tesshu. He also mentioned his experience with Kyudo, and the impression he received from his Kyudo teacher.
Saturday and Sunday both began with lectures in the morning. One very interesting talk was about "Women in Budo". Despite some objections to the contrary, I think this is a topic that everybody should be interested in, but particularly anybody who's part of a minority group, including "Foreigners Doing Budo in Japan".
We heard a good talk from the Soke of Togun Ryu kenjutsu, who is also a historian and writer. He talked about "Yamato-gokoro" (the Japanese Heart) and how this is a good alternative to "Bushido", which was basically a fabricated and idealized code that never actually existed.
In the afternoon we had sessions allowing us to "Experience a New Budo". This is a chance to get an introduction to a martial art you don't usually practice, and in some cases is very "accelerated". For example, if you join a Kyudo club, you don't even get to handle a bow in the beginning, but progress from working on your stance with an imaginary bow, moving on to using a rubber strap, and then firing an arrow into a target only a few feet away. Finally, after an extended time (in the old days, it sometimes took years) you graduated to firing an arrow at the full distance. We, however, were able to try a few shots within 15 minutes, with one-to-one instruction. Similarly, in kendo one usually trains basics for a number of months before putting on the armour, but we got into the armour almost immediately, and had a bash. I also tried jukendo (bayonet) which is very interesting, but is waning in popularity and now practiced almost exclusively by military personnel.
After the "Experience a New Budo" sessions, there were practical training sessions where you get the opportunity to practice with top-notch Sensei in your own martial art. Unfortunately, neither iaido or jodo are represented, so I got to go sit in a hot bath and relax! Poor me.
Dinners were provided by the Training Center, and after dinner, almost everyone stayed around to chat and drink until the wee hours of the morning. This seems to be a part of Budo culture: it doesn't matter how much you drink the night before, the real test comes the next morning. If you can still get up and train, (assuming of course that you're not still inebriated) then you didn't drink too much. Doing budo with a splitting headache and upset stomach is a form of endurance training, right?
Monday was the final day, and every year the headmaster of a Koryu group is invited to give a lecture about his or her style. This year, Nemoto Soke of Katsushin-ryu Jujutsu came along with some of his top students. They demonstrated a number of kata, and then allowed us to try 5 or 6 of the techniques, with hands-on instruction. It was fascinating stuff. I had seen Katsushin-ryu demonstrated at the Kobudo Taikai this year, so it was really cool to be able to see (even superficially) how it works. Watching a demo, it struck me as a bit slow and perhaps ineffective, but I quickly changed my mind when I found myself on the receiving end.
The best part of the seminar, as usual, is that you get to meet and talk with martial artists from different arts, from different countries, with different experiences in Japan, but you always find some common ground. Drinking and laughing together, you really do get the feeling that budo is not a way to fight, but a way to bring people together.