When our dear Budo Bum buddy, Peter Boylan, waved the possibility of his being here the end of October, friends hereabout started talking about a mini-sem, gathering aikidoka, judoka and sword bunnies to experience the red-headed martial mania that is Peter in all his glory.
Peter had come to visit us in Bavaria before, but it was a family vacation and he was strictly limited to two regular classes with no special budo marathon arrangements. This time, he'd be in Germany on business and would stretch his time out over the weekend to come play.
Somewhere between then and now, however, my immune system exploded and I wasn't sure I'd be up to anything remotely budo-related, however, I supported the notion and aided and abetted as much as possible. When the event actually gelled and we started gathering itineraries from friends in Holland, Greece, Germany and the UK, I was feeling better, but still not on top of my game, so I sat Saturday's body arts (a day of aikido and judo in Regensburg) out, saving energy for Sunday's sword slinging soiree here in sunny Grafenwoehr.
I'd asked Peter to teach us the Shinto Hatakage Ryu, a set of iai kata possibly derived from the Katori or Kashima lineage, that is, sadly, almost extinct today. One of Peter's teachers, Kiyama Hiroshi Sensei, says that the last headmaster of SHR (who was a MJER practitioner as well) and his eldest son both died within months of each other, leaving no one in possession of the scrolls or designated as soke. After WWII, the system had almost died out.
Peter learned the SHR almost by accident. Kiyama Sensei (who named my dojo, by the way), was practicing one of the SHR kata in a corner of the Kusatsu dojo when Peter lived in Japan. When Peter asked about the chiburi -- it's more than just a bit different from the standard Seiteigata or Jikiden-style return -- Kiyama Sensei offhandedly remarked that it was just on of the old Shinto Ryu things. Peter continued to pester Kiyama S. until he was persuaded to actually teach the set of 26 kata blocked into seiza-no-bu, tate-hiza-no-bu and tachi-no-bu (sounds to me like there was more than a little cross-pollination of SHR by the Jikiden line) to a handful of folks.
I had no hope that we could absorb and retain the entire set in one go, but wanted to offer my students and a few sword-bunny friends the chance to sample something rare. I wasn't disappointed. Sunday was a total overload, and I can recall and replicate maybe half a dozen of the kata, but got what I feel was a good grasp of the basic 'feel' of the SHR. My evil plan is to keep Peter coming to visit (whatever shore I wash up on in the next year or so) and start over with the first few kata, and continue to build from there.
Now, the thing is, right now, I'm pretty limited. I cannot do seiza for more than about 5 seconds, and while I can sit tate hiza, I can't get UP form there. The arthritis simply doesn't allow my feet to work that way (I'm slowly rehabbing all that, however). I had to do all the kata standing. However, my limitations notwithstanding, what I learned was extremely interesting (and fun). And some of it felt very familiar, while other bits apparently originated on the Moon.
Some thoughts on SHR:
There are a lot of what I call anti-kesa cuts. In our swordwork, we always do kesa giri into the open space on the stance, in other words, if my left leg is forward, my kesa is always going to be L-to-R. The anti-kesa cuts the other way: if your left leg is forward, you're going to cut R-to-L, with the cut finishing just above your left knee. In my entirely uneducated opinion, I think this is a vestige of a tobi chigai or chidori ashi foot-switch. If you were to do the SHR anti-kesa with the foot switch, you'd end up cutting kesa "normally".
The SHR signature chiburi and noto are interesting to me, because some of our batto kata are very similar. Generally speaking, in SHR, the kata performer will raise the kissaki to seigan no gamae, then shift her body about 45 degrees to the right, then do the chiburi and noto. The SHR kaiten chiburi spins the sword (on the axis of its length) much like the Katori school does, but there's no thump at the end, just a repositioning of the hand, which is then followed by a reverse-grip noto.
Mixed in with this particular chiburi-noto combo are a good handful of 'standard' yoko chiburi and even 1 or 2 (by the time we got to these I was pretty worn out and boggled, but will review the pics and video later) o-chiburi with standard-grip noto. I'm thinking that the yoko and o-chiburi bits were grafted on at some point, replacing the SHR ones ... but I could be completely wrong. In the kata that I remember having more Jikiden-ish chiburi, they did make sense.
SHR uses the fairly square footwork common to the MJER and Muso Shinden Ryu iai I've seen and practiced, but not a rigidly square as, say, Seiteigata. Playing with a couple of the kata, I find that they get much more, um, zing, for lack of a better word, if you use more of a sankaku stance (heels on a line, hips not square to teki, but canted away at about 45 degrees). Yeah, yeah, I know I ought to be doing the kata as exactly like Peter taught them as possible, but I've been doing un-square stances and ashi-sabaki for 30 some-odd years. Even when I TRY to be square, it don't always work. At any rate, I'm thinking the footwork of SHR has been heavily influenced by the Jikiden lineage as well and may well have featured a more koryu-like tachiwaza and ashi sabaki at some point.
Duck and Thrust
In a couple of the kata, you draw and thrust, but the thrust used is unique. Instead of the fairly simple thrust of Seiteigata's Ropponme, the SHR thrust is a sort of full-body exercise with the torso tilted forward, the head almost between the arms and an extremely long reach. Maybe the head-down posture is meant to duck under and evade a wild swing (perhaps a pole-arm or spear?), and reach in under the attack to skewer teki.
Aside: I think developing a set of kumi-tachi to suss out the SHR iai kata would be a fascinating exercise for someone who's learned the complete set and could pick someone's brain, (perhaps Kiyama Sensei, ahem, someone like Peter).
Otherwise, the SHR encompasses sword and cutting principles that are fairly basic to the Jikiden lineage, such as the BARCing cut (that is, a Big-arse Arcing Cut), except for one kata that used what definitely appears to be a Katori-style compression cut. I have extensive photos and video of the day, and of Peter's demo (despite his claim that the Tachi-no-bu Ropponme is a Faux Kata in Fugue), and will try to post some online soon.
All in all, the experience was excellent and I hope to continue working on the SHR to help preserve a small, but I think interesting piece of budo. I can only wonder, how many other such sets are being lost even as I type ...
For more on Chuck Gordon, visit http://www.the-dojo.com/