some, no. For some yes. I think part of it has to be conveyed through
intensity - and honestly, many non-traditional, non-Japanese
instructors are reluctant to do this. If one trains in a dojo where
there is an emphasis on hinkaku (dignity), formality, etc., certain
essential qualities are certainly conveyed, but they could equally be
done so in tea ceremony or flower-arranging. I believe that there has
to be a sense, in bujutsu training, that your mistakes are
unforgivable and unredeemable. I was told that in a least one elite
combat unit, if an 'operator' makes one mistake concerning
weapons-management, he's out. Period.
|Kiyama Hiroshi Shihan. Photo copyright Yamada Kumiko.|
of the problems people have with this is that they imagine,
therefore, a dojo of screaming abuse, etc. I've written about this as
'wolf-pack etiquette' - the wolves are relaxed, even playing, but are
continuously aware of the alpha(s) and at the slightest muscle
twitch, they are 100% committed in attention and action.
said, this is an elite model - and some people will never bring the
intensity, some people may collapse mid-way.
in this model, there is a lot of self-study required - not only
introspection and solo-training, but in rounding out your knowledge
any way one can, through books, etc
Amdur, from a conversation on Facebook
koryu budo ryuha is a challenge, even in Japan. Koryu don’t fit
neatly into the modern world of computer games and polite work
cultures. The ferocity and intensity of good koryu practice are not
generally welcomed in the workplace or anywhere else. The spirit of
practice is very different from modern budo forms that have been
created to fit into a sporting style of training and encourage ideas
of fairness and openness. Teaching the techniques of a koryu budo
tradition is the easy part. It’s transmitting the essential spirit
of a koryu budo ryuha that is difficult.
aren’t nice, they aren’t sporting and they really aren’t fair.
Koryu are about self-mastery and survival. Not all koryu are as raw
as EllisAmdur’s descriptions
Araki Ryu training, but they are all ferocious in their approach to
training and to living. Nice, at best, would get you ground under
foot in the worlds of hot and cold conflict where they evolved in the
Japan of the 14th through 19th centuries. Even during the enforced
peace of the Edo era, daimyo were in conflict with each other, and
everything was fought in ways that required absolute self-mastery.
The 47 ronin ended up committing seppuku because their daimyo, Lord
Asano, didn’t have the self-mastery to deal with the indignities
that Lord Kira is said to have inflicted on him. There were right
ways and wrong ways to go about handling a matter of honor between
two men of their rank. Losing your temper and drawing your sword in
the shogun’s castle was the worst way. Asano’s actions declared
him unfit to be a daimyo.
is an essential quality that all traditional Japanese arts seek to
instill in their practitioners. The Kodansha Online Dictionary
defines it as “grace; dignity; class; style; panache”. These
qualities are fundamental to hinkaku, and are developed in all
Japanese arts, from shodo to cha no yu to koryu budo (they are
supposed to be taught in gendai budo as well, but from the behavior I
have seen at judo, and karatedo tournaments, this idea is
honored more in the breach than in the keeping). Hinkaku in koryu
budo has additional characteristics. It is fierce with a cold
intensity that can freeze others with a look.
iaido teacher, Kiyama Hiroshi, displayed hinkaku every second I was
with him. He even managed to project hinkaku when playing with my
then preschool daughters and with his own grandchildren and
great-grandchildren. One of the things that sets koryu budo apart
from other arts is this ferocious intensity. With Kiyama Sensei, that
intensity was something that was always there if you looked for it,
but the only time I saw it fully uncovered was during koryu budo
practice. His intensity during iai was so great I expected the floor
of the dojo to start smoking where his gaze was focused. During
kenjutsu training he could freeze me in place with his ferocity.
|Kiyama Hiroshi Shihan, Photo copyright Yamada Kumiko.|
all that ferocity and intensity though, he was never tense. He was
the embodiment of relaxed power even when tearing me apart in
kenjutsu. Relaxed and focused and ferocious all at once. The ferocity
and intensity of the hinkaku displayed by koryu budo adepts is what
sets the hinkaku they display apart from that shown by masters of
shodo, cha no yu and other arts.
ferocious, relaxed intensity is an essential element of living koryu
budo. Developing such intensity, whether in a local dojo or a distant
study group, is a challenge. Early on in my training my teachers were
often frightening in their intensity. Over time, as my skills
and my own intensity developed, I came to relish those moments when
they unleashed it. I had to discover within myself the ability to
stand before that level of focused ferocity and not disintegrate
under its power. It is this aspect of the spirit of koryu budo, of
relaxed, ferocious intensity that I am still trying to figure out how
to develop in my students.
that intensity and ferocity can cause people to imagine a world of
teachers barking orders, students rushing around with military
precision, corporal punishment and casual physical abuse. It’s not.
Koryu dojo are the most relaxed places I have ever trained. Gendai
budo are much more militaristic than koryu budo. The intensity and
ferocity of koryu budo are always available, always within easy
mental reach, but they are only pulled out when they are to be used.
the koryu dojo is not run with military precision does not mean that
people are sloppy and lackadaisical. Just as with any good budo,
there is no unnecessary tension. Everyone is aware of what’s going
on and paying attention to sensei. Sensei never speaks louder than
necessary to be heard. He doesn’t have to. People are paying
attention and always ready to react to sensei’s direction, without
looking like they are standing at attention.
of my seniors is the nicest, gentlest person I have ever met. He’s
Japanese and he is so gentle that he uses keigo (very polite,
honorific language) with everyone he talks with, whether they are the
most senior teacher or the most junior student. It is impossible to
imagine him saying anything harsh, and I can’t imagine how you
would have to misbehave for him to yell at you. However, bow in to
train with him, and he is intense, ferocious and wickedly fast. He
apologizes profusely if you get hit during training (he’s so
precise that if I get hit, I know it was my fault) but he doesn’t
pull his attacks. He comes in with intensity whenever he is actively
training. In between he’s sweet and gentle.
the focus and intensity that characterize this kind of practice is
one of the great challenges for koryu budo teachers in the 21st
century. When my teachers were growing up and were first learning
their koryu Japan was a hard place to live. Kiyama Sensei was born in
1925 and grew up when Japan was at war. Much of the education system
was devoted to developing toughness and ferocity in the students. The
first couple of decades after World War 2 bred their own sort of
toughness, with food shortages and everyone’s energy directed
towards rebuilding the country. What would be an overwhelmingly
brutal practice session now was a walk in the park for people who had
lived through WW2 and the post war deprivations.
got the tiniest taste of it when I was first training in Japan. Most
dojo still weren’t heated yet, so winter training in unheated dojo
was the norm. I was training with plenty to eat every day and working
a cushy job teaching English with plenty of rest. Food wasn’t
rationed and I wasn’t laboring 12+ hours a day to rebuild my
community and then going to practice.
all, Japanese included, now live relatively comfortable lives. How
you teach the ferocity and relaxed intensity necessary for good budo
is a real question inside Japan and out. In the past teachers could
start out expecting certain basic toughness from their students on
the first day. Being willing and able to survive those sorts of
practices was a given. Life was harsh at best.
the 21st century, anyone who expects that sort of toughness on the
first day won’t have many students. Toughness that was a given 75
years ago is hard to find. People in the industrialized world don’t
need it, so it isn’t automatically developed. But such
toughness is a necessary foundation for the intensity of koryu budo,
so how do we develop that in our students in such a way that we don’t
drive students away and we don’t weaken the ryuha?
successfully transmit the spirit of koryu budo, teachers and training
must be ferocious and intense. When I started koryu budo, I had
several years of Kodokan Judo training, including in those old,
unheated gymnasium dojo to develop a foundation upon which my koryu
teachers could build. Even that did not prepare me for the particular
quality of koryu budo training. Gendai budo, like any modern sport,
has intense training that requires strong focus and dedication.
I respect and honor that. However, koryu budo training brings in
something additional that isn’t necessary in modern budo and
me, it comes down to the cliche of life and death. What we are doing
in koryu dojo is going as close to the edge as we can, and then
having our teachers and our seniors drag us several steps further
through training. If I lose focus for an instant in judo, I get
thrown or choked or arm locked. The moment passes and training
continues; it’s nothing special. If I lose focus in koryu budo
training, I’m liable to come in contact with my partner’s weapon.
Even if your partner is tremendously skilled, the training is done
with such intensity that there is no room for error. If you lose
focus, you will get hit. You will know that you died.
when everything goes well, the margins in koryu dojo are only a
centimeter or two. That’s all the space you have between success
and death. Those weapons come in horribly close. You have to be so
intent on your partner that having a dangerous weapon swing just past
your nose doesn’t elicit the smallest response. For example, there
are several kata in Shinto Muso Ryu that involve aiuchi situations.
Uchitachi attacks and shijo doesn’t try to evade. She doesn’t try
to block. She stops the attack with her own strike to uchitachi’s
face. That end of the jo ends up about 5 cm deeper than where
uchitachi’s face was. If uchitachi isn’t paying attention, she
will get hit between the eyes. Hard. There is no room for error here.
koryu kata there are many places where the margin for error has been
removed. You either do your part perfectly, or you get hit. I’ve
been hit a number of times. One of the most memorable involved a dear
friend of mine. We were doing kenjutsu and I got careless. I started
my evasion too early and gave her the time to adjust her cut. She did
a wonderful job of tracking me and connecting her bokuto with the
side of my head. I had an impressive swelling and bruising at the
site for a couple of weeks. Other times I’ve moved too late or too
slowly or left my elbow behind when I moved and gotten whacked. None
of this is ever malicious. It’s just that the margins leave no room
I train with any senior student of Shinto Muso Ryu, I know they will
be focused on hitting their target, and I’m the target. The cuts
and strikes are precise. Move too soon or too far, and I create an
opening that my partner will exploit. Move too late or not far
enough, I get hit. Training at this level of intensity is always
quite thrilling, and if I make a mistake it can be painful.
a teacher, I have to develop this intensity in my students. If you
come to my dojo, I will try to make some of every practice as intense
as I think you can handle. Often this will be more than you think you
can handle. If I’m wrong, you probably won’t come back. The
difficulty for teachers is gauging what a student can handle
correctly. Even with a dedicated student, pushing too far too fast
can be disastrous. People can get seriously hurt. Sometimes people
decide not to come back, even if the teacher hasn’t made any
okay. Koryu aren’t concerned with having lots of students and
members. That’s not what they are about. Koryu budo are about
training people to fully embody the spirit of the ryuha. The spirit
of any living koryu is ferociously intense. Each ryuha has a unique
spirit. Araki Ryu is very different from Shinto Muso Ryu, and both
are far different from Yagyu Shinkage Ryu. Training in any of them is
a fiercely intense experience. The individual differences are clear
when you watch experienced practitioners.
intensity is always present at a low boil. There is laughter and
joking, but always respect for the lessons we are learning, the
weapons we are using and the people we are training with. Ellis’
metaphor of the wolf pack is apt one. If Sensei motions for
attention, everyone is immediately silent, regardless of what sort of
shenanigans were going on at the moment. There is a richness to this
intense focus and practice that I don’t experience in the normal
world outside the koryu budo dojo.
are not for everyone. That’s not an elitist or exclusivist
statement. Lots of people bow into the dojo. Very few stick around.
The dropout rate in gendai budo is high, but it’s even higher in
koryu budo. Most people aren’t interested in the level of intensity
required to fully transmit koryu budo; however, change the intensity
level , and you won’t be doing koryu budo. The intensity is an
essential part of the training.