The Iaido Journal  Oct 2008
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One on One with Sasamori Sensei (Ono-ha Itto Ryu)
Part Three: Teaching and Learning

copyright © 2008 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved

The following article is the third and final part of an interview with Sasamori Takemi Sensei, soke of Ono-ha Itto Ryu. In this part of the interview, Mr. Tong talks with Sasamori Sensei about what he believes to be important in teaching and learning.

Question: As a teacher, what do you try to teach your students, apart from just technique?
: Well, of course, the first thing is to teach correct technique. This is extremely important. But I think the most important is to develop their personality.

Question: What do you mean by this?
Sensei: I hope that they become a better person, a more mature person.

Question: As a teacher, what do you believe is most important for students to remember when studying kenjutsu (or budo)?
Sensei: Steadiness is the most important. Slow but steady is very important.

Continuation is also very important.*
(* in other words, sensei likely means that students need to keep practicing and not stop.)

Junzo Sasamori

Question: Who was your teacher?
Sensei: My father.* (Laughs)
(* Sasamori Sensei’s teacher was his father, the famous Junzō Sasamori. Junzō Sasamori, born in 1886, was a Japanese politician in the Taisho and Showa Eras and served as a cabinet minister during the Katayama government. He was also an educator and author. He co-authored the English-language kendo primer This Is Kendo: The Art of Japanese Fencing with Gordon Warner. And he exhaustively wrote down all the information about Ono-ha Itto Ryu techniques, kata, and philosophy in one book entitled “Itto Ryu Gokui” (“The Secrets of Itto Ryu”); every technique, every move, every kata, step-by-step. Unfortunately, it is available only in Japanese.

Itto Ryu Gokui cover Itto Ryu Gokui inside

Of course, he was also a sword master: the 16th headmaster of Ono-ha Itto Ryu and 10th dan kendo. He received the Order of the Sacred Heart, for meritorious service to the country. He passed away in 1976.)

Of course, I learn from my students also. They are my teachers too because teaching is learning.**
(** In other words, when you teach, you learn from your students about what works or doesn’t work with students.)

Learning is teaching too.
(*** possibly, sensei means here that students, when they are learning, are telling us how they learn and this is good information for the teacher. Students are in essence teaching us how to teach better.)

Question: Do you mind a personal question?
Sensei: No, it’s OK.

Question: Thank you. Can you remember one interesting thing that your father said to you or did to make you interested in studying Itto Ryu?
Sensei: Well, my father never forced me to study or practice Itto Ryu. He was always accepting. It made me feel very comfortable.

I do remember that he taught gently. He was a gentle person.
And he was always very encouraging. He gave me a lot of encouragement.

Question: Thank you, sensei. You have been very kind. It has been a great interview.
Sensei: You are most welcome.

Ono Ha Itto Ryu group

Author’s Postscript: I have been to many dojos in Japan. At Sasamori sensei’s dojo, the atmosphere is very friendly and open. The assistant instructors are patient and understanding and quite jovial. They are not closed in mind or spirit. I believe you can tell a lot about a teacher by his students and by the atmosphere of the dojo. Sasamori sensei is kind and, like his comments about his father, he is likewise a gentle soul. He never raises his voice. He speaks quietly but when he speaks, everyone is listening. He has a unique presence in the dojo. But make no mistake, his technique is sharp and his depth of knowledge about Itto Ryu impressive. But what impressed me the most personally is his view, as a teacher, that the most important thing in training in budo is to develop a better person. As a teacher myself in my daily work, I believe this to be true as well. Budo is about ethics and training in budo is training in ethics. I feel very blessed to have had and continue to have the opportunity to practice with such a great teacher. It has been spiritually uplifting. And isn’t that truly what budo training is all about?

Douglas Tong began his studies of Ono-ha Itto Ryu with Sasamori sensei in Tokyo in 1992. Mr. Tong can be reached via email at:

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TIN Oct 2008