Introduction

IMG_0025When I initially moved to Japan back in October 2012, I started up a blog called Itchy Feet with the intention of keeping a regular record of happenings both in and out of my budo life. Since then, my activity on there has been sporadic at best but, starting from this month, I’ll be maintaining a much more diligent note of my activities and decided to run two blogs separately: travels and other experiences on Itchy Feet and all things budo on here.

Thus, this blog will be given over primarily to kōshūkai, gasshuku and any keikokai of note. If anyone reading spots anything they’d like more information on or I make a mistake, please let me know! In the case of the former, I’ll respond via post or message and for the latter I’ll make the necessary correction.

Lastly, I only aim to convey my own experiences and opinions as one of many budōka in Japan, and do not claim that these represent the entirety of the budō experience in Japan. Furthermore, all translations are my own unless otherwise stated and I therefore take full responsibility for any errors and mistranslations.

Happy reading!

Taking 6dan Jō

On the morning of 2 August 2019, I was in Isahaya City Central Sports Centre, Nagasaki Prefecture, having a final run through all potential 6dan grading forms (i.e. Seitei 1-12) with a fellow Kanagawa candidate while we waited for the reception desk to open. As with my iai 6dan grading, I’d spend the previous year attending every dojo keiko I could as well as every possible seminar and taikai. However, unlike in my iai grading keiko, I focused almost exclusively on all twelve of the Seiteigata and only occasionally practiced any koryū; this was because, since all the potential shiteiwaza were originally drawn from the Shintō Musō Ryū curriculum with, in some cases only very slight changes, there was a greater chance of slipping into koryū in the heat of the moment.

Although there was thankfully no need for montsuki or special hakama, I did get a much-needed new hakama and keikogi and otherwise just focused on training, seeking out any sensei I could for input. Pretty much all the advice I received was technical but I was also reminded that my partners would most likely be significantly shorter and smaller that my broad 184cm and not used to dealing with giants. In particular, I was warned not to be too vigorous with my tai-atari to avoid knocking my Uchidachi on their arse. With this in mind, I was soon winging my way south for Judgement Day.

Soon enough, it was announced that the grading reception desk had opened and, thanking each other quickly we made our way to register. We received our small slip of paper bearing our name, date of birth, prefecture, grading group, and position. In ZNKR jōdō gradings, candidates are divided into groups of four, each group being assigned a number, and each member of that group being given a letter indicating their position within that group. As the second youngest candidate, I was 1B and would start out as the first Shijō alongside 2B with 1A would as my Uchidachi before rotating over to act as Uchidachi for 1C.

Once registered, we were gathered together for Kurogō S. to give us a short pep talk and announce the shiteiwaza: Monomi, Kasumi, Tachiotoshi, Raiuchi, Seigan, Midaredome. Then, everyone was milling about desperately trying to find who else was in their group and, eventually, I found my grading buddies, none of whom I’d ever met before, let alone trained with. As expected, 1A and 1C were both much shorter and slighter than me while 1D was almost as tall and bigger. We rushed to the neighbouring keikojō to try and get some practice but had no sooner lined up and rei‘d than we were summoned to begin.

I have absolutely no memory of the first five waza, just a sense that I could’ve done better but that it was definitely not my worst. Then came Midaredome. I took Hissage-no-Kamae, waited for my partner to come into distance, stopped him, and took Gyakute-no-Kamae. I pulled back and raised my left arm for Gyakute-Uchi and, sliding the left hand down the jō… missed the kissaki. There was that word again that autocorrect insists is “duck”. My Uchidachi reacted quickly, dropping his weapon and shuffling back but the damage was done. We were the closest pair to the panel and there was no way any of them missed it but we continued as though nothing had happened.

Missed!

I did my best to put my mess-up out of my mind as went over to get my bokutō and focused on providing 1C with as good a Tachi as I could. The disappointment and exhaustion didn’t hit until I’d finished and was walking off with both my weapons. We thanked each other as a group, handed our numbers to the organisers, and I went up to the stands to join the other Kanagawa people who’d come to watch and a couple of sempai from the UK and Australia who were taking their 7dan. The Kanagawa members were supportive and tried to keep my spirits up but, when the numbers of successful candidates were released, mine was unsurprisingly not among them.

Some were also kind enough to have filmed my attempt and, looking at the footage, I don’t think I would’ve passed even without messing up. It all looked too careful and too deliberate, like I was just trying to tick each chakuganten. There was no sense of combat, fighting or seme and my tai-atari in particular looked like I was holding back. In retrospect, I’m quite glad I failed, despite all the preparation and travel expenses; a pass would not have felt right or valid.

As with my first iai grading, I took a few weeks off from jōdō to refresh myself and also get my motivation back before getting back into training. I again stuck mostly to Seitei and, even though it’s not a technique I struggle with more than any other, I did some extra Gyakute-Uchi training as well.

Fast-forward to 24 January of this year and I was in Kōfu, Yamanashi Prefecture for my second attempt with Kanchō and Fuku-Kanchō watching from the stands along with various Sempai from the UK, Australia, and the dōjō. The same procedure as last year saw me being assigned 1A and relieved to see that 1B was a very strong jōdōka from Hokkaidō whom I’d practiced with a couple of times before and 1D was a UK-based Russian student of Ueda S.; no need to hold back (much)! The shiteiwaza were the same as in August but, this time, we all got to practice a bit with each other and provide a bit of last-minute feedback before being called up to begin. We also got the chance to practice/demonstrate how the rotating would work for the first-timers. As 1A, I also got a bit of a breather between my Uchidachi and Shijō portions. My performance felt and looked a lot better and this was reflected in the positive result.

Incidentally, I was the youngest candidate and the oldest, at 89 years old, also passed! If I’m half as active if/when I reach her age, I’ll be very happy and I hope to see her again in 6 years when we’ll both try for 7dan.

Preparing for 6dan: “Show Them Your Iai.”

In the 18 months or so leading up to my last shinsa, when I was seriously knuckling down and making a concerted effort to improve as much as possible before then, a number of Kanagawa Senseis were kind enough to give me points to help me do it. While the vast majority of those points were technical in nature (“your foot needs to be more turned this way”, “your kissaki‘s a bit low here”, “try to show a bit more jō-ha-kyū“, etc.), one Sensei’s advice was just: “Show them your iai.”

This means that it is no longer enough simply to demonstrate the waza according to the ZNKR manual. We must take everything we have learnt in the dōjō, at seminars, and our own study of our own ryūha (i.e. koryū waza) as well as our own feeling and thoughts about each technique and add it to the specifications laid out in the Seitei manual to make our own iai. Seitei Iai is not simply what is stated in said manual, far from it; the book provides its structure but its life also comes from what is not mentioned therein: the tension, timing, and feeling (not to sound too metaphysical).

The book fails to mention a surprising amount; certainly, when I first started really studying it, I was surprised to find that much of what had been drilled into me at many seminars was not there; that is not to say that these non-Seitei manual points have no value, only that they belong to a different category. This is where our depth of practice, research, and enquiry into both Seitei and koryū, in addition to our Sensei’s teachings, shine through. This is where we can make our iai distinct, unique compared to that of other practitioners’ and, crucially, alive.

This is what needs to be shown at 6dan level. In addition to performing the waza according to ZNKR specifications and clearly showing the chakuganten, we need to show that we have, through our depth of understanding, research, and study, internalised them and made them our own.

Taking 6dan Iai

Last June, I went for my next ZNKR iai shinsa and, as is usual for me, I started seriously preparing for it a couple of years ago, ramping up my seminar/taikai attendance and intensifying my in-dojo training. I am fortunate enough that Kanchō runs four sessions a week, including an often nearly-full day on Saturdays and I took full advantage, spending as much time in the dojo as I could. I’d never really asked myself whether I was ready for it as it just seems quite natural that gradings should be taken at the first opportunity and the onus is on me to make myself ready for it. I give myself plenty of time to prepare, using the date of the grading as a deadline to try and improve as much as possible. To that end, every session, I worked on all twelve of the Seitei forms, often referring to the book and consulting Kanchō and, when they were around, Kiyota S. and Morishima S. Even though all ZNKR gradings now consist of 6 Seiteigata (I believe most prefectural shinsa still include koryū), I wanted my koryū to improve at the same rate as my Seitei so this was always followed by more study of a rotating set of koryū (Seitei then Shoden one keiko, Seitei then Chūden the following keiko, and so on) including all kaewaza. Kanchō, Kiyota S. and Morishima S. as well as the other Kanagawa sensei I was exposed to at seminars/taikai were all incredibly kind and generous with their teaching and assistance to help me raise my level.

Copyright Aurélien Nacrour 2019

With ZNKR iai shinsa, inevitably, come the joys of the near obligatory montsuki that I needed to acquire. I decided to use my own mon rather than picking one out of a catalogue so, since my father’s family don’t have a mon or any equivalent, I had one made and, having cleared it with Kanchō, ordered my montsuki, also making sure to get extra-long sleeves to compensate for my freakishly long arms. For the hakama, I opted for boring grey in order not to stand out more than I already would. Once it arrived, I wore it a few times at the dojo for regular training to get used to it and all its kinks and quirks, and to double-check that it was acceptable.

As grading days tend to do, this one crept up on me despite all this preparation and, before I knew it, I was leaving work with my shinken and attire, and taking the bullet train to Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. I arrived at the hotel well after everyone else and Kanchō was chatting in the hotel lobby with Claudio (who was taking his 7dan) and Daniella from Italy, Matsuoka S., Kinomoto S. and some of their students, including David and Elaine from the Netherlands who were also grading. We spent the evening with the senseis trying to relax and put the following day’s challenge out of our minds before turning in for the night.

Plenty of nervous smiles

The next morning, we met in the hotel lobby, those of us grading already in montsuki, and took taxis to the venue. We left our bags in the stands near the senseis and, while we were waiting for the registration desk to open, went for a warm up in the smaller practice dojo. Once the registration desk opened, we registered and were given our grading numbers; surprisingly, I was only the second youngest, with Elaine being next up and David being in the next group.

Once that was done, all the candidates gathered together and Ogura S. gave us a short pep talk and announced the shiteiwaza: Mae, Ukenagashi, Morotezuki, Sanpō Giri, Soetezuki and Shihōgiri.

One bonus (some might call it a down side) of being on the younger side relative to the other candidates is that Elaine and I were in the first group so we were done first with David not being far behind. As usual, I don’t remember anything of my actual embu, other than that it felt like it could have been better and that I didn’t do a waza-machigai, my biggest fear. Then came the waiting. We went back up into the stands and thanked our senseis before settling in to wait for the other 114 people to finish. Kinomoto S. and Inari-san were kind enough to take video the grading so we were able to have a look. While there were certainly a number of issues that need fixing, I was fairly happy with my overall performance, although it was by no means my best.

It was nearly lunchtime when the results came out. Both Elaine’s and David’s numbers were up but mine was nowhere to be found. The word that sprang to my mind is often autocorrected as “duck”. There was of course a healthy dose of disappointment in that feeling but, more than that, it was the sheer exhaustion of the previous 18 months or so that came crashing down and, soon enough, I’d moved on to “oh well” and “shōganai” (“can’t be helped”). I was now thinking ahead to November, the next opportunity, and that at least I wouldn’t have to travel or pay the registration fee just yet.

Unfortunately, I was still preparing for a jodo shinsa so I wasn’t quite able to completely relax but I did take a few weeks’ break from iai to avoid destroying my body more than I already had. I’ve always approached gradings with the same mindset as taikai and treated them as opportunities to put myself under a level of pressure that you simply don’t get in the dojo, not really placing much importance on the result. If Kanchō is happy with my performance, that’s enough. Shinsa being quite rare, failure at least means that, not only do I get another chance to test myself like that, but I also get another six months to prepare so, although I will be competing in both the Suiō Ryū Koden Budō Taikai and the All Japan Jodo Taikai next month, my mind is very much on 30 November.

Musō Shinden Ryū

Nakayama Yūshin Hakudō

Founded in 1933 by Nakayama Hakudō, Musō Shinden Ryū is arguably one of the youngest modern iai koryū but its origins lay in the 16th century in the style of Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu. Born in Kanazawa prefecture in 1873 with the first name Otsuyoshi, Nakayama first began studying Yamaguchi-ha Ittō Ryū under Saitō Michinori at age 11. The pivotable moment in the young Nakayama’s life came when he met a newcomer from Tokyo named Hosoda Kenzō. Hosoda, a member of Negishi Shingorō’s Yūshinkan Dojo and practitioner of Shintō Munen Ryū, left such a strong impression on the boy that, although he returned to Tokyo in 1890, Nakayama was not far behind.

He arrived in the capital in 1891 bearing a letter of introduction from Hosoda and was accepted into Yushinkan Dojo, changing his name to Hakudō a year later. He was encouraged by Negishi to try out several other ryūha but his main affiliation was always to Shintō Munen Ryū and Yushinkan dojo, being named Daihan (代範, “acting headmaster”) in 1901. Five years later he defeated opponents from the Hokushin Ittō Ryū, Muhen Ryū, and Suifu Ryū at the Dai Nippon Butokusai Embu Taikai and, in 1912, was chosen by Negishi to replace him on the committee overseeing the creation of the Dai Nippon Teikoku Kendō Kata, later renamed Nippon Kendō Kata. 1912 was also the year he began studying Shintō Musō Ryū jōjutsu under Uchida Ryōgorō.

Yet, 1916 was the year that set his feet on the path to creating Musō Shinden Ryū. He had been travelling the country to study a wide variety of ryūha and, in the course of his travels, he was introduced to Tosa Eishin Ryū (aka Hasegawa Eishin Ryū) by the Meiji statesman Itagaki Taisuke, who also happened to be a student of Tanimura-ha Hasegawa Eishin Ryū’s Ōe Masamichi. Tosa Eishin Ryū was the style created 400 years previously by Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu and had long been taught exclusively to natives of Tosa Province (土佐国, modern-day Kōchi Prefecture) as an otome ryū (i.e. a school that was not to be taught to non-Tosa people). He applied as a student to Ōe but was turned him down as a student. Yet, seeing his resolve, Itagaki introduced him to Hosokawa Yoshimasa of the school’s Shimomura branch, who referred to the style as Musō Shinden Eishin Ryū, and Morimoto Tokumi of the Gotō-ha Musō Jikiden Eishin Ryū (aka Tanimura-ha Hasegawa Eishin Ryū), both of whom accepted him as the first non-Tosa student of the school.

Nakayama Hakduō demonstrating in 1930

He eventually received Menkyo Kaiden in Gotō-ha Musō Jikiden Eishin Ryū from Morimoto and Menkyo in Musō Shinden Eishin Ryū from Hosokawa and, in 1930, the Dai Nippon Butokukai asked him to demonstrate Musō Shinden Eishin Ryū. However, as he had not been awarded Menkyo-Kaiden in that system, he named his art as Musō Shinden Ryū Battōjutsu (無双神伝流抜刀術) to avoid using the school’s name. A few years later, he restructured and renamed it as Musō Shinden Ryū (夢想神伝流). Under his leadership, Yūshinkan Dōjō, previously exclusively a Shintō Munen Ryū and gekiken dōjō, also practiced Musō Shinden Ryū and Shintō Musō Ryū. His school is now one of the most widely practices styles both in Japan and out, thanks to his students.

Musō Shinden Ryū Genealogy

Musō Shinden Ryū Kata

初傳Shoden
初発刀Shohattō
左刀Satō
右刀Utō
当刀Ataritō
陰陽進退In’yō Shintai
流刀Ryūtō
順刀Juntō
逆刀Gyakutō
勢中刀Seichūtō
虎乱刀Kōrantō
陰陽進退替業(逆手陰陽進退)In’yō Shintai Kaewaza (Gyakute In’yō Shintai)
抜刀(抜打)Battō (Nukiuchi)
中傳Chūden
横雲Yokogumo
虎一足Toraissoku
稲妻Inazuma
浮雲Ukigumo
山下風Yamaoroshi
岩浪Iwanami
鱗返Urokogaeshi
浪返Namigaeshi
滝落Takiotoshi
抜打Nukiuchi
奥傳(座業)Okuden (Seated Forms)
Kasumi
脛囲Sunegakoi
四方切Shihōgiri
戸詰Tozume
戸脇Towaki
棚下Tanashita
両詰(向詰)Ryōzume (Mukōzume)
虎走Torabashiri
奥傳(立業)Okuden (Standing Forms)
行連Yukizure
連逹Tsuredatsu (Rentatsu)
惣捲Sōmakuri
総留Sōdome
信夫Shinobu
行違Yukichigai
袖摺返Sodesurigaeshi
門入Mon’iri
壁添Kabezoe
受流Ukenagashi
暇乞其之一Itomagoi Sono Ichi
暇乞其之二Itomagoi Sono Ni
暇乞其之三Itomagoi Sono San
太刀打之位Tachi Uchi no Kurai
出会Deai
附込Tsukekomi
請流Ukenagashi
請込Ukekomi
月影Tsukikage
水月刀Suigetsutō
独妙剣Dokumyōken
絶妙剣Zetsumyōken
心明剣Shinmyōken
打込Uchikomi
詰居合Tsumeiai
発早Hassō
拳取Kobushidori
浪返Namigaeshi
八重垣Yaegaki
鱗返Urokogaeshi
位弛Kurai Yurumi
燕返Tsubame Gaeshi
眼関落Ganseki Otoshi
水月刀Suigetsuō
霞剣Kasumiken
討込Uchikomi
大小詰Daishōzume
8本8 forms
大小立詰Daishō Tachizume
7本7 forms

Sources

Ishidō, Shizufumi, Dō wo Tanoshimu Iai Kōza, Kendō Nippon, Ski Journal, 2017

Kimura, Eiju, Hayashizaki Battōjutsu Heihō Musō Shinden Jūshin Ryū, Ōmura Printing Co. Ltd, 1983

Karinja, Jeffrey, A Lineage all but Forgotten: The Yushinkan (Nakayama Hakudo) (online article), Kenshi247, 2011

45th All Japan Jodo Taikai

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8dan seitei jodo embu

Last month saw the 45th All Japan Jodo Taikai (AJJT) take place in Kurume, not far from Mt Hōman, the mountain on which Musō Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi allegedly received his vision and inspiration to create the Shintō Musō Ryū and, by extension, the art of jodo. Unlike the All Japan Kendo and Iai Taikais, which only selected representatives from each prefecture are allowed to enter, the AJJT is open to all ZNKR members and this year saw 180 pairs from as far afield as Hokkaido and Okinawa compete in separate categories from 1dan to 7dan. Also unlike the AJIT, the six shiteiwaza for each grade do not vary, with pairs performing the first three kata before swapping weapons for the last three.

Given that, despite having been to Fukuoka Prefecture a couple of times for the Kita-Kyushu Iaido Taikai, I’d never really done much exploring or sight-seeing of the area and considering the historical significance of the area, I flew down to Fukuoka early Saturday morning, took the train down to Dazaifu (the nearest town to Mt Hōman) and hired a car to get to the mountain before heading down to Kurume.

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Hōman Shrine

According to tradition, after his defeat at the hands of Miyamoto Musashi, Musō Gonnosuke ended up at a shrine on Mt Hōman in what was then Chikuzen province and undertook 37 days of rigorous training before receiving the divine teaching on which he would found his school. The school doesn’t specify which shrine and I don’t know whether there were any others in existence on the mountain at the time but it is usually thought to be Kamado Shrine. Founded in the late 7th century by Emperor Tenji and dedicated to Tamayorihime-no-mikoto, a female kami dealing with marriage (although sailors have also long prayed for safety in their sea voyages), the shrine was close to a thousand years old when Gonnosuke arrived. This historic event would then be commemorated over three hundred years later in 1967 when Shimizu Takaji, along with Otofuji Ichizō and his Fukuoka Dojo, erected a large stele and built the small Musō Gonnosuke Shrine next to the haiden (main hall) of Kamado Shrine.

I then continued on to Kurume, settled into my very smoky business hotel (only twenty minutes’ walk away from the venue), took in a few sights around Kurume and sampled the delicious local tonkotsu ramen before turning in for a very early night.

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Sano-san (shijō) and Ishida-san (uchidachi)

The day of the taikai started with the usual introductions, national anthem and greetings from various organisers before we were treated to kendo kata, iai and jodo embus by local 8dans Makise s. (Hanshi) and Aoki s. (Kyoshi), Ide s. (Hanshi), Fukuda s. (Kyoshi) and Kojiro s. (Hanshi), respectively. The morning consisted of the 1dan to 4dan categories   while the 5dans to 7dans and the finals took place in the afternoon. Nishigaki-san, my usual taikai partner, was sadly not able to enter this year so I went with Taguchi-kun, also from Shimbukan, although neither of us had been able to train as much as we would’ve liked. In addition, the Ishikawa brothers and the Ishibashis also came from the dojo, the remaining Kanagawa people being from Suigetsukai. Unfortunately, the Ishikawas lost in the first round of the 1dans as did the Ishibashis in the 6dans while Taguchi-kun and I made it to the third round of the 5dans, losing out to a pair from Osaka. Most of the remaining Kanagawa participants didn’t do much better, only Sano-san and Ishida-san making it to the 6dan finals but losing to Miyagi’s Murakami-san and Kozuka-san. It was Hokkaido that really shone this year, winning the 1dan to 4dan categories (including the kids I met at Kamado Shrine).

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First round

All in all, another wonderful event and I felt relatively happy with my performance, although I felt something lacking from it in our final match, so I wasn’t that surprised when we lost.

44th Suiō Ryū Koden Budō Taikai

A couple of Mondays ago, the Suiō Ryū, under 15th Sōke Katsuse Yoshimitsu Kagehiro, organised the annual Suiō Ryū Koden Budō Taikai in Fujieda, Shizuoka Prefecture. Although this is, as far as I know, the only koryū taikai in Japan where competitors demonstrate 5 free-choice koryū waza, there is the option of supplementing said kata with seitei or doing seitei only. The grades are divided in much the same way as with all other taikai: mudan, shodan, nidan, etc. up to and including 6dan. While mudans and shodans may be entirely justified in doing just or some seitei, it is surprisingly common for people as high as 5dan and 6dan to throw in one or two seitei.

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Katsuse Yoshimitsu Kagehiro s. looks on as Katsuse Fumitaka s. demonstrates Suiō Ryū Iai

Yoshimura-kun and Yokomizo-kun and I caught the shinkansen down the day before, settling into our business hotel until Morishima s. and Fujikawa s. joined us. They had just come straight from the Kanagawa grading up to and including 5dan, which a number of dojo members and students from China took. Kanchō, Jane and Inari-san all came up the following morning, skipping most of the opening embus.

The day kicked off first with the usual speeches and introductions of the attending 8dans before Katsuse Sōke performed the Kiyome-no-Kōhō, a ritual intended to dispel evil spirits. His son and heir to the sōkeship, Katsuse s., then demonstrated some Suiō Ryū Iai. We were then treated to embus from a variety of ryūha, starting with a jōhō embu by the Suiō Ryū’s Ichimon (all members of the ryū), followed by demonstrations from Tenshin Shoden Katori Shintō Ryū (kenjutsu and naginatajutsu, specifically), Shintō Musō Ryū jōjutsu, as well as pretty much all the various arts of the Suiō Ryū curriculum, including their famous kusarigamajutsu waza which involves wrapping the chain around uchidachi’s neck.

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Kusarigama embu by Katsuse Fumitaka s. and Fukazawa s.

Normally, only the 7dans act as shinpan but, this year, the 6dans joined them so Jane and Inari-san had a busy day of refereeing in the morning on top of competing in the afternoon. Yokomizo-kun made it to the quarter finals of the 3dan division, while Yoshimura-kun lost in the second round of the 4dan division. In the 6dan division, Jane lost in the first round but Inari-san made it to the finals, losing to Kanagawa superstar and this year’s All Japan champion, Nakano-san. As for me, I deployed my usual five Jūshin waza and made it to the third round, losing to Kusama Daisuke, the eventual winner of the 5dan category.

As an event, I would highly recommend the Suiō Ryū Koden Budō Taikai to anyone as a fantastic opportunity to take five koryū waza out for a spin in taikai conditions and, even if you don’t compete, it’s one of the rare opportunities to see some fascinating ryūha.

Not a whole lot else to tell so here are some photos!

Points from the 45th Central Iaido Seminar

Last weekend, the ZNKR Iaido Bu held the annual central seminar in Kyoto, which was attended by representatives from every prefecture. The Kanagawa delegation consisted of Furuichi s., Kiyota s. and Kubo s. who explained the three points that had been covered during the morning of today’s seminar with Nakada s. demonstrating. The afternoon was given over to incorporating them into our practice. I think iaidoka outside of Japan will find this useful so I’ll briefly explain as best I can what was conveyed to us.

However, I should first point out that these are not new points or changes to the seiteigata; rather, they are points that have not really been taught properly or sufficiently emphasised and are therefore lacking in most people’s practice.

Rei to the Shōmen

Before bowing to the shōmen, the heels of the feet should be brought together at the point of the sword being lowered on one’s right side, i.e. just before the rei itself, and can be returned to a natural position when the sword is returned to the left hip in Keitō-Shisei.

Ukenagashi

The drawing of the sword should start at the same time as you stand. This means that, the seal of the koiguchi is broken when the hands take hold and, as you straighten and bring the left foot up to the inside of the right knee, the hands remain in that position with the sword horizontal. The draw upwards only begins when you start to stand by pushing up with the left foot.

Shihōgiri

This last point is specifically regarding the matter of taking wakigamae before cutting the final opponent. It has long been and continues to be the overwhelming tendency of most people to drop the kissaki as the body is turned and, in some cases, even before turning the body. Actually, the kissaki should only be lowered when the left foot steps sideways (not forward) to the left, those two simultaneous movements bringing the body into wakigamae. Further, the size of that step should be small enough to bring the two heels in line as this is the correct foot position in wakigamae and ensures that the sword blade remains hidden from the final opponent right up until the cut. Lastly, it was also mentioned that, although most people are showing the intent to sufficiently lower the kissaki, this movement is in most cases not completed (i.e. the kissaki is not lowered enough) and therefore most people don’t actually complete the kamae before making the final cut.

30th Tokyo Jodo Taikai and Festival

A couple of weeks ago, on 14 July 2018, 344 jodoka from Tokyo and some surrounding prefectures (Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama and Niigata) gathered at the Tokyo Budokan in Ayase (north-eastern Tokyo) for the 30th Tokyo Jodo Taikai and Festival. Despite the early hour of 8:45 when most of us had gathered around the doors, the sun was already beating sweltering heat down on us that would only get hotter. Most of us were feeling as if we’d just spent the last few minutes cooking in an oven and thanked whoever invented air conditioning when the doors were finally opened at 9:00. The Tokyo Kendo Renmei (TKR) members and sensei had already set all the courts, boards, and tables up with their usual well-oiled efficiency and the taikai kicked off at 9:30 with the usual speeches of encouragement from Furukawa s. and TKR chairman Chiba s. as well as the national anthem.

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Sasaki-san and Hisada-san (red)  vs Morishima-san and Tsuchiya-san (white) (both Kanagawa) in the 4dan category

The Shimbukan contingent this year consisted only of the Ishibashis and myself, the vast majority of the Kanagawa group being from Suigetsukai. Unfortunately, due to work and other commitments, Nishigaki-san and I had only managed one keiko together in the weeks leading up to the taikai so we tried to run through the shiteiwaza (5 – 10, like last year) a few times before our group started, including once in the corridor sans weapons. Unlike in previous years where Nishigaki-san had started out as shijō for the first three kata, this time I performed the shijō first; Nishigaki-san was having trouble with his knee and 8 – 10 didn’t put as much strain on it as 5 – 7.

Like the All Japans, competitors enter in pairs, with the performances of both shijō and uchimachi being judged and, with 39 pairs, the 5dan category was by far the most populous and yet, somehow, all categories made it to the finals before lunch as planned. The Ishibashis lost in the second round to the eventual 6dan winners, Tokyo Metropolitan Police officers Ochiai-san and Takawashi-san, and Nishigaki-san and I made it to the 5dan finals to face our fellow Kanagawans Shimizu-san and Minami-san. Before the finals, the university team taikai pitted Tokyo University of Science, Kokushikan University and Senshu University against each other, with TUS A and B taking first and second place respectively.

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Ochiai-san and Takanashi-san (red) vs the Ishibashis (white) in the 6dan category

My legs were shaking like leaves as I went onto the shiaijō and, throughout the final, every clattering hikiotoshi made me cringe but, when hantei was called, two flags went up for us. All in all, Kanagawa prefecture did very well this year, taking first place in 3dan, 4dan, 5dan and 7dan and second place in 5dan, 6dan and 7dan.

This was followed by the festival portion of the event consisting of embus showing nearly the full breadth of the Shintō Musō Ryū curriculum, with only the Kage and Chūwa Ryū tankenjutsu not being demonstrated, and embusha not being limited to 7dan and 8dans. The day concluded with the usual closing ceremony, speeches entreating the winners not to rest on our laurels but to keep training and improving and photo ops for the various prefectures. The full results can be found here.

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Photobomb courtesy of Tsuchiya-san and Morishima-san

36th Kanagawa Prefectural Jōdō Taikai

Last Sunday saw the jōdōka of Kanagawa converge on the Budokan for the 36th Prefectural Jōdō Taikai. The Shimbukan group, consisting of Kanchō, Fuku-Kanchō, Jane, Inari-san, and Ishikawa-san and her two sons, Hiroki and Yuki, arrived in Fuku-Kanchō’s and Tanaka-san’s cars nice and early to help get chairs, tables and whiteboards all set up. We then changed and lined up for the opening ceremony which officially started the day. After a few brief words of encouragement from Kanchō, standing in for Yamaguchi s., and Ōtake s., as well as announcements and housekeeping from Yasuda s., we dispersed, 4dans and below to the seats and 5dans and above to their designated shiaijō for court management and refereeing duties.

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Last year’s taikai had had four shiaijō and proved to be a problem logistically as both participants and shimpan were spread so thin that many people were left scrambling for partners and a number of matches were delayed as the competitors were busy refereeing. This year, however, there were only two courts (one managed by Kaminosono s. with Yano s. and Abe s. while the other was overseen by Kotsuka s. and Hayashi s.), which made the whole day much easier, especially for those of us competing, refereeing and helping with court management.

The morning consisted of the shodans and below up to half of the 5dans with the remaining 5dans as well as the 6dans and 7dans going on in the afternoon. Ishikawa Hiroki-kun unfortunately went out in the first round, while Yuki, made to the second. Inari-san got knocked out in the first round by Fushimi-san from Odawara. The bulk of the Shimbukan contingent were competing in the 5dan and 6dan categories with three of us in the former (Taguchi-san, Tanaka-san and myself) and five in the latter (Fuku-Kanchō, Ishikawa-san, Jane and the Ishibashis).

The 5dan category was fierce as always. Taguchi-san made it through the first round, beating Shigematsu-san from Tsurumi, to face me after I’d beaten Nishigaki-san, my usual taikai partner. I was lucky enough to win that match and the next to make it to the finals where I lost 3-0 to Shimizu-san from Suigetsukai (Yano Shōichirō s.’s dōjō). Tanaka-san also did well, making it through to the semis where she also lost to Shimizu-san. In the 6dan category, Fuku-Kanchō lost in the first round to Ishida-san (the eventual winner), Jane fell to the very strong Kawagoe-san, and Ishikawa-san lost to Tsuchiya-san.

We then moved on to the team taikai and, with no team, those of us who could moved back into refereeing while those who couldn’t took up filming duties or watched on.

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Photo courtesy of Nakagawa Ishida

The day finished off with koryū and seitei embus. Nishigaki-san and I had arranged to do a Shintō Ryū kenjutsu embu (Aisui Hidari, Jū, Chibarai, Sarin, Ukenagashi) and, even though we’d only been able to practice the kata a grand total of 3-4 times (including a couple on the day), it went off without any serious hitch; I felt I was a bit too far in Jū but Aisui Hidari, the kata I was most worries about, went better than it had at any point during our practice. As well as giving me a great opportunity to practice an art I don’t get as much practice as I’d like, it was good to give it more exposure. The vast majority of Kanagawa sensei being Fukuoka style, Tokyo style never gets shown so it was good to show the differences between the two, albeit just in the kenjutsu. It was also a great learning experience to train with a Fukuoka style partner.

The day ended with the awards ceremony. Once the medals and certificates were handed out, the day concluded with comments from Otake s. who advised us to not just practice the forms but conduct research into the theoretical side of jōdō and to really think about what we are doing rather than just go through the kata; the riai of the kata is what makes it a budō and not just a choreography. It’s not enough to simply go through the kata because it’s what the kata dictates but we should be conscious of the rationale behind every movement. He also jokingly asked if the men of Kanagawa were ok, given that women had won every single category aside from the 4dan and 7dan.

All in all, another wonderful and invaluable day of learning, study and practice.

44th All Japan Jodo Taikai

Last Sunday, 8 October 2017, the 44th All Japan Jodo Taikai was held in the Tokyo Budokan in Ayase in North-Eastern Tokyo, organised by both the ZNKR and the Tokyo Kendo Federation. As with the EJC, the AJJT changes location every year, usually alternating between East and West Japan and, this year, it was East Japan’s turn.

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Although the doors weren’t due to open for us until 8:45 (there was also what appeared to be a high school kyudo taikai also taking place, for which the participants were allowed in at 8:30), most people arrived well in advance. This year, 262 pairs entered the taikai from as far afield as Hokkaido and Kagoshima (no Okinawa representative this year), split up in grade categories from 1dan to 7dan, and flooded in as soon as the doors opened. We signed in at our grade’s reception desk and received a program and tshirt before making our way up to the gallery and each prefecture commandeering a bunch of seats for their competitors. Nishigaki-san and I had a look at the 5dan lineup, by far the largest with 64 pairs, and immediately thought “oh well, there’s always next year.” Our first match was against Kozuka-san and Ouchi-san from Miyagi, both very strong students of Murakami s. Although we hadn’t been able to train with each other as much as last year (Nishigaki-san had been ridiculously busy at work and I’d also had other things on my plate) and had only managed three keiko, we were both feeling pretty good…until we saw those two names.

Still, after the opening ceremony consisting of words of encouragement from some of the top sensei and the national anthem, the morning was given over to the 1dans to 3dans while we and the 6dans and 7dans were not due to go on until the afternoon so we got a bit of last-minute practice in. Unlike both the Kanagawa-ken Taikai and every taikai I’ve attended in Europe, for the AJJT, competitors enter in pairs, both side of which are judged, 6 shitei-waza are set and the weapons are exchanged after the first three waza. The shitei-waza had been released months in advance and, in my experience have never changed:

1dan: 1-6

2dan: 2-7

3dan: 3-8

4dan: 4-9

5dan: 5-10

6dan: 6-11

7dan: 7-12

There are also no pools, only knock-outs, the specific number of rounds per category being dictated by the number of pairs. As with previous years, Nishigaki-san and I agreed that he would be shijo for Sakan, Monomi and Kasumi while I would do Tachiotoshi, Raiuchi and Seigan. The court managers well-organised. They had us lined up ready to go well before any of us were due on and had us take it in turns to do aisatsu. We were the fifth match so we had a bit of time but that time seemed to vanish instantly and we were soon entering the shiaijo.

I don’t actually remember much of the match itself but, even though I felt it went quite well – I felt relaxed, all my techniques felt like they were hitting their marks and I’d even managed to take most of the power out, my own biggest demon – I wasn’t surprised when two flags went up against us, our one flag being given by our own Abe s.. Iwata s., Nishigaki-san’s teacher, was kind enough to film our match (minus Sakan), and from that footage, it’s clear why we lost: my second tsuki in Raiuchi was noticeably low but Abe s. couldn’t see that from where he was sitting. While we would’ve liked to have progressed beyond the first round, it was a relief for it to be over.

While Kanagawa tends to do quite well, this was not the case this year, with only Ishida-san and Sano-san beating Ochiai-san and Takawashi-san, two police officers from Tokyo, to win the 6dan category. As far as the other participants from Shinbukan go, Lucy and her partner from Suigetsukai, Shimizu-san, got knocked out in the third round by Hidaka-san and Tani-san of Tokyo and both Mr and Ms Ishibashi went out in the first round.

This year was definitely Hokkaido’s year, with last year’s 5dan winners, Nozawa-san and Asano-san, successfully defending their title; both first and second place in the 1dan and 4dan divisions as well as the first place in the 3dan division being won by Hokkaido pairs. The full results can be found here and the 4dan-7dan finals have been uploaded here (the first two matches are 4dan (left) and 6dan (right), the second two are 5dan and 7dan).

The day finished off with the shinpan embus, both koryu and seitei at the same time (this time we even got a Suio Ryu embu in the koryu group), before the closing ceremony, prizes and various photo ops. For Nishigaki-san and I, the next challenge will hopefully be the Tokyo Taikai in July 2018 but, for now, we’re taking a couple of months off taikai training. Personally, I’m looking forward to getting stuck back into koryu for a few months before I also start thinking about my next grading in 2019.