The Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Kagami, featuring a very important article from Masayuki Shimabukuro.
The Booklet Style PDF Can Be Downloaded Here. Click To Download
The phrase “saya no naka no kachi”, victory while the sword is still in the saya, should be familiar to most practitioners of Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu Iaijutsu in theKNBK/JKI. In fact, the meaning of “saya no naka no kachi” is one of the questions in the written portion of the test for shodan in Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu. Most everyone knows what translation of “saya no naka no kachi” is; it sounds so good, so “philosophical”, but how many really know what the concept of “victory while the sword is still in the saya” means? Moreover, how do we train for “victory while the sword is still in the saya”? How do we actualize “saya no naka no kachi”in our daily lives? As indicated above, the translation of “saya no naka no kachi” is “victory while the sword is still in the saya”, meaning attaining victory without drawing and cutting; defeating an enemy without killing; victory without violence or confrontation. A noble sounding view of budo ethics, it nonetheless does not say much about how one actually accomplishes such a lofty goal, or how one applies this concept to the affairs of everyday interactions with other individuals or groups. There are essentially two ways to obtain victory. The first and most obvious way is train diligently to become highly skilled and to develop a strong body and very strong technique. With the development of powerful, skillful technique comes strong confidence and presence; presence that is palpable to others.
On Choosing a Sword by Masayuki Shimabukuro, Hanshi
Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu, as we all know, is classified as a system of iaijutsu. However, we must remember that iaijutsu, although indicative of the prevailing strategies behind the use ofthe sword, is a component of kenjutsu. In short, as a complete sword art, iaijutsu cannot exist in separation from kenjutsu.
Many iaijutsu waza were codified to transmit strategies and methods of simultaneous defense and counters against surprise attacks, as opposed to techniques of combat that begin after swords have already been drawn. As I alluded to above, Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu contains extensive practice in both aspects of sword combat. That being said, it should stand to reason that the sword a practitioner chooses should be suitable for each aspect or “mode” of our art. It would be neither logical nor practicable to require one sword for situations requiring “iai techniques” and another for “kenjutsu techniques”.
Considering the range of principles, techniques, and methods that we study, it is natural that a practitioner would have many questions about choosing the right sword for their practice. There are many important considerations to keep in mind when selecting a sword, including, but not limited to length, weight, curvature, and geometry. We typically offer general guidelines or suggestions with respect to considerations such as length. Additionally, some budo arts have specific requirements with respect to the dimensions of the training weapons that they use.
However, the approach to choosing the “proper” sword is really not quite so straightforward and is often ultimately based on personal preference. Added to this reality is that through diligent training, one’s skill grows and one’s waza changes. Often, a student finds that he or she needs a new sword, perhaps a longer sword, or a heavier sword, that reflects these changes. One has to keep in mind, however, that each sword, long or short, light or heavy, has advantages as well as disadvantages. For instance, a shorter sword may be easier and quicker to draw, but a longer sword may afford the practitioner greater reach. The samurai of feudal Japan faced the very same questions with respect to swords and the various iaijutsu and kenjutsu arts that they practiced. And given the significance of the sword to a samurai at that time in Japanese history, such concerns were of great importance.
A samurai’s ability to serve, in fact his very life, depended on his ability to wield, as well as properly choose, his sword. However, despite the importance of these questions, it was rare that a samurai would receive direct verbal advice or guidance as to how he should select his most important weapon. Then, as now, students most often emulated their teacher with respect to the sword they selected. As an example, if the teacher taught using a heavy sword or bokken, expressing great power in his waza or kumitachi, than the students would be likely to select heavy swords as well. If the teacher used a lighter sword, and executed his techniques with great speed and dexterity, then it was highly likely that they would choose lighter swords as well. If the teacher used a longer sword, or a shorter sword, the students would follow suit.
Knowing this, a good teacher often employed a strategy, usually unbeknownst to his students, to help them find the type of sword best suited to their body types, skill and individual attributes. If the teacher typically used a heavier sword, he might start teaching with a lighter sword. Seeing how fast and dexterous the teacher’s technique suddenly appeared, the students would often begin to use lighter swords as well. After teaching with this lighter sword for a period of time, the teacher would switch back to the heavier sword. Having grown accustomed to light and fast techniques, the students would be surprised by the power of the teacher’s technique, and in an attempt to “catch” this aspect of his technique, would switch back to heavier swords. Over time, the teacher would repeat this process, changing from lighter swords to heavier swords and back; from shorter swords to longer swords and back. With each change, the teacher quietly helps each individual student find the most proper sword. Additionally, through this process, the students would, as a result of direct experience, develop skill, polished technique and internalized strategy with a wide range of swords. In this way, they could also determine what type of sword was best suited for them. This is a very compassionate teaching method!
My experiences studying under Miura Sensei were no different. Miura Sensei never told me directly what type of sword I should choose. In fact, Miura Sensei’s way of teaching any aspect of iaijutsu often was to demonstrate something once! It was my responsibility to absorb, understand and develop whatever it was that he had just shown me. His method of teaching me how to choose a sword was the same. Miura Sensei used the same sword, regardless of the training format, whether practicing iaijutsu and kenjutsu. Knowing that I had been wondering about how to choose a proper sword, he once gave me the opportunity to practice with his. Of course, at such an early stage, Miura Sensei’s sword seemed like it was perfect, that there could be no better sword than his. But was that really true for me? Was my impression based on my respect for my teacher? What I learned from his example was that to find the sword best suited for me, as well to fully develop my technique, I had to practice and gain experience with a wide range of swords.
At this point, one may be wondering what type of sword is the best. A large part of the answer depends on one’s body type, skill and expression of strategy. However, considerations such as the length of a sword can be important. A longer sword may allow for greater reach with respect to targeting. Sasaki Kojiro was famous for a very long odachi that he used, and he was never defeated until his duel with Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi is said to have defeated Sasaki Kojiro by carving a bokuto that was slightly longer that Kojiro’s famous “Drying Pole”, eliminating his advantage of distance.
It is important to keep in mind that a longer sword is not necessarily better or more advantageous than a shorter sword, especially if one’s technique is flawed. The concept of chotan ichi mi illustrates this effectively. If one has a three foot sword and advances one step, they have a reach of six feet. However, if one retreats three feet, their effective reach is zero! Therefore, a longer sword is no guarantee of victory. Additionally, as stated above, a shorter sword can be drawn more quickly. But once drawn, the swordsman has to have the skill to get inside of the enemy’s defenses. In this way, a swordsman with excellent technique can effectively defend himself using a wakizashi or kodachi against an enemy wielding a katana or even a yari or naginata! Although this approach to technique and strategy is very difficult, it is also very effective. Yamaoka Tesshu, the founder of Muto-ryu (and a master calligrapher) was renowned for his use of very short swords. The issues of advantage and disadvantage also apply to the weight of a sword. A heavier sword may seem to cut more effectively, but a lighter sword is easier to wield with great dexterity!
Training methods may also dictate what type of sword or bokken that you choose! For example, the nature of Ono-ha Itto-ryu Kenjutsu practice demands a fairly heavy and strong bokken. Eventually, other factors such as age, health or perhaps declining strength will influence how one selects a sword. Whereas one may have favoured a heavy sword at one’s physical peak, the onset of age and frailty may demand that one use a lighter sword in later years. It should be clear now that one’s method of selecting the proper sword for his or her practice and skill level is not solely based on artificial constructs such as one’s height in relation to the length of a sword. Rather, your choices should be based on properly guided, direct experience. But the responsibility of making the correct choice lies with the student; the teacher only offers guidance.
One final point that bears consideration when choosing a sword is the cost. This means that one shouldn’t base one’s choice on how inexpensive a sword may be. One should try to purchase the best sword that they are able, even if it means saving for it for a long time. Budo is about growth, self-improvement and polishing one’s character; the sword that one practices with is a “training tool” used to help one in this purpose. One should therefore save their money in order to obtain a sword that is worthy of their budo. Perhaps one has to eliminate spending in other areas in order to purchase such a sword. This in itself is another form of discipline which also serves to teach one an aspect of the value of their art. Additionally, although one may be prone to treat a valuable sword with greater respect than a less expensive sword, how one treats and cares for their sword should not be based on the price of the sword. Its value is far greater than its actual cost, because one’s sword is their training tool in budo, and budo is beyond price!
Ultimately, one’s iaijutsu and kenjutsu skill should be such that one’s technique is not constrained by the type of sword that one chooses. One’s technique must be adaptable to a shorter sword or a longer sword, or a heavier sword or lighter sword. Whether one is practicing iaijutsu waza or kenjutsu kumitachi, he or she should be intuitively cognizant of the differences, and their strategy and technique should naturally reflect this. While the choice of sword may dictate elements such as strategy, ma-ai or targeting, one’s technique should not be adversely affected in any way. What is important is how one uses the sword that they have. One must swing a light sword like a heavy sword; a shorter sword or a longer sword must be wielded with the same skill; there is no difference! The intent is the same, no matter what! This is real budo!
This article is part of the new issue of the Kagami – Spring 2009 JKI Newsletter.
JKI Focus for 2009: A Deeper Expression of Budo
As we draw to the close of one year and look forward to the beginning of the next, I would like to ask that in 2009, all Jikishin-Kai members focus on a deeper understanding of Budo. This focus has two components, namely a greater understanding of etiquette based on sincerity, and, particularly for yudansha, a more advanced practice of waza that reflects a deeper understanding of the meaning or, riai, of the waza. As I have previously discussed, Budo is an effective and deeply meaningful vehicle for the cultivation of morals, respect and etiquette. And while we all understand the significance of etiquette, I want to make sure that, as budoka, indeed, as inheritors of the samurai way, everyone looks deeper into the necessity of etiquette and respect, and cultivates an expression of deeper understanding in their daily lives. Please remember that a teacher and a friend are not, and should not be, the same thing. One may make many friends in life, but a true teacher is a rare find indeed. That teacher may have many qualities that would make him or her a great friend, but to treat him or her as such may cause you to miss the opportunity for a lifetime of guidance. It is up to you to choose what you want. A loyal student must remember to be straightforward with his or her teacher. If one tells his teacher that he can do something within a given time frame, then he has an obligation to meet that deadline. It is not proper to miss that deadline and then tell the teacher that more time is required. It is far better for one to say that one needs one month to do something if that is what one believes is needed. It is also important to remember that one should have the courage to tell one’s teacher that they cannot do something if they truly cannot, rather than saying that they can, and then failing to do so. It is also important to be brave enough to disagree with someone, including one’s teacher if that is truly how one may feel. Additionally, remember that a promise is just that; a promise. Budoka should be like a tiger with regard to promises; they must be committed to follow through. This is the Samurai way. Also remember that etiquette and respect are not the same things. Etiquette refers to proper manners, but it seems that good manners are lacking in our society. Proper etiquette is never superficial, but should be an expression of sincerity, coming from the heart. Regardless of with whom one may interact, one should always treat that person with proper courtesy. This is also the Samurai way.
As I stated, respect is different from etiquette. One should always treat another with proper manners, but one does not necessarily have to respect another person, beyond the general respect for life. Individual respect is something that must be earned and is never something that is given to those who are unworthy, especially those who are care about nothing or no one other than themselves. Certainly, those that commit evil deeds in this world are not deserving of the respect of good people. Remember that one must have respect for life, but that does not mean that one must have respect for each individual that one may encounter in life.
With regard to the subject of respect, it is important to note that the act of bowing is not necessarily an act of respect, but rather an act of appreciation. When one bows to a training partner in the dojo, one is showing appreciation to that partner. However, he may or may not necessarily respect that training partner as a person. Additionally, bowing to the dojo training floor or shomen is an expression of acknowledgement and appreciation that the dojo is a special place, one that is separate from the outside world, and perhaps in a way, somewhat “holy”. With respect to focusing on a deeper understanding of Budo within our physical practice, it is important that our execution of waza becomes a clear expression of our understanding of the waza, bunkai and riai. To illustrate these ideas I will discuss the significance of Okuden waza with respect to such an expression. Okuden waza is distinct from other waza in the Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu curriculum in that they represent real combat, often against multiple opponents. And in real combat, one slight mistake can mean certain death. This is what makes Okuden waza the most difficult waza to execute with a real expression of understanding. The previous waza, Shoden and Chuden waza, while significant and often seemingly difficult, teach the practitioner how to execute the various components of waza properly and how to move the body efficiently and effectively. In short, they teach toho and body mechanics, preparing one for the deeper study that is Okuden waza. One of the key considerations required to truly understand the waza is to think from the standpoint of uchitachi, the attacker or attackers, when analyzing waza. When you consider the positions and reactions of uchitachi, your waza should not be executed based simply on what the waza “calls for”; they cannot be performed in a mechanical “1, 2, 3, 4” rhythm. Because Okuden waza is real fighting, one’s intent must be directed toward that end, with their waza expressing this understanding. The execution of Okuden waza is not the time for thinking about basic components of toho, such as hasuji. If one is still focusing on hasuji, one really should not be performing Okuden waza. As an expression of real fighting, there can be no mistakes in Okuden waza, for even the slightest error would have resulted in certain death. To gain deeper insight and understanding of Iai, one cannot perform waza in a mechanical or rigid way; one must execute waza in a manner that conveys connection to the enemy and his movement and with an understanding of potential variations in martial encounters. In short, your nukitsuke and kirioroshi must be directed to where your enemy or enemies would really be. In order to really understand this idea, it is essential to think of waza from the standpoint of the uchitachi. Remember to consider that historically, uchitachi or tekki, the enemies that you face when you execute waza, were Samurai as well. As such, they would most likely have been highly trained warriors, possessing many of the attributes and skills that we strive for in our own practice. In short, they would likely have been warriors who expressed kihaku and had sound technique; warriors with an understanding of martial strategy. So, when you try to think from the standpoint of uchitachi, you must view them in this regard, not as some untrained attacker who will merely standstill waiting for you to cut them down. That being said, it is essential that you consider uchitachi’s movement and reactions to your movements so that your technique will have real meaning and therefore express true understanding and real effect. Put succinctly, you must cut to where uchitachi will be as a result of you actions and in relation to your movement. Your execution of waza must express this understanding; the riai of the situation must be clear.
This is also one of the reason for “variations” in the execution of waza. Variation in a given waza is a result of “seeing” different situations; of expressing different bunkai and riai that reflect a difference in a situation. However, while the toho may be slightly different, the waza itself, and therefore the principles that it teaches, is really the same. This is why I do not really think in terms of kaewaza. Kaewaza are “formal” variations in waza. I am talking here about the spontaneous expression of riai as a result of an understanding of the principles that the waza, indeed the entire curriculum, teach. Editor’s note: Thanks to David Loya of Bakersfield Budo the photographs accompanying this article.
It is for this reason that the headmasters in our lineage, would teach a waza one way and codify it within the densho or present it in books in that same way, while perhaps performing the very same waza differently during an embu. As an example, Oe Sensei, Masaoka Sensei and Miura Sensei have all taught Kasumi with both nukitsuke and the following kirikaeshi executed as yoko ichimonji. However, during embu, the kirikaeshi would likely be executed as an attack to the enemy’s leg, therefore expressing the riai of the situation. When Kasumi is performed this way, is demonstrates that uchitachi leaned slightly backward to avoid the nukitsuke (executed at the level of his eyes), a very likely response in a trained swordsman. However, the lean to avoid the nukitsuke might leave uchitachi’s front leg vulnerable, hence the execution kirikaeshi at the level of his leg. Even kamae is not truly “fixed”, as even slight variations between martial encounters or differences in opponents would likely result in slight changes to kamae, reflecting the riai of the situation. Another important consideration of Okuden waza as “real combat” is the necessity to be able to cut at anytime, to maintain constant pressure on your enemies. When you cut one enemy, your blade must instantly be in position to threaten and cut any subsequent enemies. Even if one should lose his balance in combat (and therefore while executing Okuden waza), there can be no openings in your defenses; one must be able to keep pressure on the enemies; to cut them down despite the situation. As an aside, the natural development and expression of “variation” in waza, through an understanding of changing riai, is one of the elements that separates koryu waza from modern compulsory kata, in which no variation is permitted whatsoever. Another indicator that I frequently see that reveals one’s level of understanding of riai, or one’s realization that advanced Iaijutsu is real combat, is found in one’s metsuke and facial expression. We often speak of enzan no metsuke, or “distant mountain gaze,” however, within waza, enzan no metsuke really exists primarily at the beginning of nukitsuke and as part of zanshin as one move into noto. During waza, as one directs their intention towards and enemy or cuts an enemy, one’s gaze should be focused on the enemy (while still maintaining awareness of other enemies), expressing that reality. Relative to this idea is one’s facial expression during waza. When I observe people executing waza, I often see faces that are calm and expressionless, devoid of kihaku. To me, this reveals a lack of understanding that waza, especially Okuden waza, is combat. Without this understanding, waza is little more than mere performance; a dance. I am not advocating that anyone execute waza with angry or contorted expressions, but rather that one’s expression should convey a degree of intensity that reflects the understanding that waza is an engagement in life and death combat. We have touched on far-ranging topics in this article, but I believe that these subjects are essential to ones growth in Budo. I hope that this discussion has been helpful and enables you to delve deeper into your practice, serves to assist you in your development as a Budoka and enriches your experiences and interaction in everyday life.
Editor’s note: Thanks to David Loya of Bakersfield Budo the photographs accompanying this article.
Dedicated to: The Preservation and Dissemination of Traditional Japanese Budo and Bujutsu Sakura Budokan Was Established In 1989, Kingston, Pa 18704. What is a Traditional Martial Art? Traditional martial arts are quite different than the ‘Modern eclectic forms” of sport karate or MMA that have become popularized today. The emphasis in Traditional budo is placed on studying combat tested techniques that were developed by actual warriors of days gone by. The traditions and techniques of the founders of the arts are preserved. Unlike “Modern eclectic forms,” where the techniques … Read More...