Saturday, April 25, 2015

Kaminoda Tsunemori Shihan

Kaminoda Tsunemori Shihan 1928 - 2015

I am working on an essay about the concept of on 恩 (pronounced like “own”). It has to do with obligation and indebtedness. The concept is one that is particularly strong for me right now because a great teacher, to whom I am indebted in many ways, direct and indirect, passed away recently. Kaminoda Tsunemori Shihan was 88 when he passed away last month, and he stands as one of the great budo teachers of the second half the 20th century and into the 21st.  

Kaminoda Shihan was a teacher of Shinto Muso Ryu Jodo and Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido. Born in Kagoshima in the third year of the Showa Emperor’s reign, 1928, Sensei grew up and came of age during the era when Japan was at war in China and Asia. In that era, like every other boy in Japan, he would have studied kendo and judo and maybe even jukendo as part of the school curriculum. IN 1955 though, he was accepted as a student of Shimizu Takaji Sensei, and began learning Shinto Muso Ryu.

Over the decades, Kaminoda Shihan mastered the jo, the staff of Shinto Muso Ryu, as well as the associated arts of Shinto Kasumi Ryu Kenjutsu, Isshin Ryu Kusarigama Jutsu,  Ikkaku Ryu Jutte Jutsu, Uchida Ryu Tanjo Jutsu and Ittatsu Ryu Hojojutsu.  Eventually he received Menkyo Kaiden, or “License Of Complete Transmission” signifying that he had learned completely the curriculum of Shinto Muso Ryu.  

At the same time Kaminoda Shihan was doing this, he also found the time to become 7th dan kyoshi in kendo, and 8th dan hanshi in both iaido and jodo from the All Japan Kendo Federation.  Any one of those ranks is impressive, to achieve all three of them as well as mastering the koryu bugei of Shinto Muso Ryu is incredible.  

I first had the privilege of meeting Kaminoda Shihan in about 1998. My teacher, Matsuda Sensei, introduced us at the big taikai in held in Shiga, Japan every year.  Already, I was indebted to Kaminoda Shihan, because he had become my teacher’s teacher. Thus, I am indebted to Kaminoda Shihan, as I am to all of the teachers before him, who worked and trained and polished Shinto Muso Ryu into the art I am receiving, and who also patiently and carefully taught the generations of teachers who have made it possible for me to begin learning Shinto Muso Ryu.

A few years later, for reasons I was never brave enough to inquire about, I received an invitation to attend a gasshuku that Kamindo Shihan sponsored twice a year. Shihan and his senior students, all Menkyo Kaiden themselves, would gather at in the countryside outside of Tokyo at Kashima Shrine to train intensively in Shinto Muso Ryu for several days.  I asked Matsuda Sensei about this, because training with another teacher is highly frowned up if you don’t have the understanding and permission of your teacher. Matsuda Sensei was more than gracious about this unexpected invitation. He said that Kaminoda Shihan was an exceptional teacher, and that any time I had the opportunity to train with him, I should seize it.

With such strong encouragement from Matsuda Sensei, I couldn’t wait to go and train with Kaminoda Shihan.  Training with Kaminoda Shihan was a wonderful experience. He was frighteningly fast and intense, and his precision seemed inhuman. He, however, was very human. After practice he welcomed all of our questions, and he was unfailingly patient with my poor Japanese.

Many of my fond memories are of the post practice gatherings in Kaminoda Sensei’s room at the gasshuku, as we all talked about the Shinto Muso Ryu and any questions we might have from the day’s training, or from some other source. It didn’t matter that we were all in sweats or yukata and ready to relax. If a question came up that required demonstration to adequately answer, Kaminoda Shihan would be up and demonstrating, moving us around the room easily with smooth technique. I was nearly twice his size, and yet Kaminoda Shihan could move me as easily as he did anyone his own size.  He enjoyed pointing out our suki, or openings, with a simple amusement and a big smile, especially when one of us thought we were strong enough to resist his technique. We never were.

Kaminoda Shihan wrote several books about Shinto Muso Ryu and it’s related arts. He was unfailingly kind and generous whenever someone asked him to sign one. He never just signed a book. He always took some time to think of something to say, and wrote it in his marvelous calligraphy.  I have several of Kaminoda Shihan’s books, and each has a thoughtful and beautiful dedication in the front.

Book dedication by Kaminoda Shihan  Photo Copyright 2015 Peter Boylan

I remember well going to a gasshuku Kaminoda Shihan was sponsoring, and arriving the night before.  When my friends and I arrived, Kamindo Shihan was the only other person there. He took us out to dinner and spent the evening talking with us about all manner of budo.  In fact, at every gathering, he was always patient about sharing his ideas and understanding of budo.  I don’t always remember the post-training discussions as well as the above dinner. After training we usually had beer and sake to accompany the discussion, and that may have sometimes clouded my memory.

My experiences training with Kaminoda Shihan are all vivid and clear in my memory.  His technique was crisp, clean and when he was teaching and training, just difficult enough to make you work to reach the level he was giving you, without being so far above you that you couldn’t get there.  That doesn’t mean it was easy or what you would exactly call “fun,” but training with him was an incredible experience that would push you to new levels. I remember the full throated fear that I was not going to be able to keep up with him, with his sword whizzing at my head much faster than I thought it should be. He always kept the speed just within what I could do, nothing I was comfortable with, but a level that I could manage if I dug down deep and found ability I didn’t know I had.

I only knew Kaminoda Shihan for a small part of his life. He had many accomplishments far greater than sharing a bit of himself with me, but that is what I know, and the part of him I knew.  I owe Kaminoda Shihan for all that he shared so freely with me, and for all the times he kicked my butt during training. There was never any thought on his part that I should or could ever repay him, and I always suspected what I now know, that there was never any possibility that I could repay him. The best I can do is to give away what he so freely gave to me, remember him to my students, make sure they know where all the things I give them came from, and let them know that they are part of a grand tradition that includes great men like Kaminoda Tsunemori.

Kaminoda Tsunemori  Shihan 1928-2015        
神之田常盛 範士
Kendo Kyoshi 1965                                         
 剣道教士 昭和40
Jodo Hanshi 1985                                             
杖道範士 昭和60
Iaido Hanshi 1992                                             
居合道範士 平成4
Taihojutsu Jokyu 1966                                      
逮捕術 上級 昭和41
Kenjuho Jokyu 1966                                        
 けん銃法 上級 昭和41
Kodokan Judo Sandan 1976                            
講道館 柔道 三段 昭和51
Fuji Ryu Goshido Nanadan 1984                    
 富士流 護身道 七段 昭和59
Shinto Kasumi Ryu Kenjutsu Menkyo 1971    
神道霞流 剣術 免許 昭和46
Shinto Muso Ryu Menkyo Kaiden 1972           
神道夢想流 免許皆伝 昭和47
Isshin Ryu Kusarigama Jutsu Menkyo 1978   
一心流鎖鎌術 免許 昭和53
Ikkaku Ryu Jutte Jutsu Menkyo 1978              
一角流十手術 免許 昭和53
Ittatsu Ryu Hojojutsu Menkyo 1978                 
一達流捕縄術 免許 昭和53
Uchida Ryu Tanjojutsu Menkyo 1978            
 内田流短杖術 免許 昭和53

There is more about Kaminoda Shihan at the Capital Area Jodokai website.

1 comment:

Ronin scholar said...

Hi Peter

I am slowly catching up on my reading. Thank you for the lovely memoir of Kaminoda Shihan. Working with him directly on kata always scared the crap out of me, initially, but always left me with a good feeling after I managed to rise above my self-doubt and perform a proper technique with him.