I'm headed off to Japan in few days to spend a week and a half with my sword teacher, Kiyama Hiroshi. Kiyama Sensei is 88 years old, had been doing budo for all but 5 of those years. He has more ranks than I can wrap my mind around. He is 7th dan Kyoshi in iaido, kendo and jodo. He holds ranks in Shito Ryu karate and judo. Those are just the arts I know about. He is an absolute budo treasure. I am looking forward to this trip, and I'm spending a lot of time thinking about what sort of questions I want to ask him and the things I would like to hear him talk about.
I know from experience that anything he wants to talk about will be fascinating and give me food for thought for months and years to come. He's very much a traditional Meiji man though, which means he tends to be reticent and reserved and not much for light conversation. Getting him talking sometimes requires a bit of prompting. That's why I like to go in with a bunch of questions ready to help get the conversation going.
I've got a few. I'm still asking him about various points in his budo career. Lately I'm really interested in what it was like training kendo, iaido, jukendo and judo in the 1930s during the war. I'm also curious about what the postwar training environment was like. The common myth that martial arts were banned by the Allies after the war is just that, a myth. (See Joseph Svinth's article at ejmas.com). That doesn't mean that the training environment was incredibly difficult. Food was scarce, the country was in ruins, and through efforts of the militarist government budo has been used and manipulated for the war effort. People were working hard to find enough to eat and rebuild the country from literal ruins. I want to know how he and others found the energy to train in these conditions and what motivated them.
I'm really interested in how he managed to train to an advanced level in so many arts, both from a matter of time, and how he kept them all straight in his body. I constantly find aspects of one art showing up where it shouldn't when I am training in something else. I really want to know how he kept, and keeps, them straight. At 88, he is still in the dojo
Which is another topic I want to ask him about. What is he working on in the dojo now? Does he have any goals for his daily training? Are there particular aspects of his budo that he is still trying to polish. I look at how my training goals and motivations have changed over the comparatively short time I've been training and I wonder how Kiyama Sensei's have changed (next to someone with 83 years of training, my 27 years feels like I'm still at the elementary school level).
Kiyama Sensei was trained during a pivotal time in the development of modern Kendo, Judo and Iaido. I wonder what his thoughts are on the changes they have undergone in his lifetime. Kendo and Judo seem to have become more and more about competition every year. How does he feel about that? On the other side, he has also delved deep into koryu bugei. He has been doing Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu for at least 60 years, and he did Shinto Muso Ryu for I don't know how many decades. He knows both the koryu and gendai budo worlds intimately. Does he prefer one to the other? How well does he think each is adapting to the 21st century?
These are the lines of thinking I'm following, but if anyone has good suggestions, I will try to bring them up with Kiyama Sensei and see what he says.