Iaido Journal Aug 2008
One on One with Sasamori Sensei
(Ono-ha Itto Ryu)
copyright © 2008 Douglas Tong, all
The following article is the first part
of an interview with Sasamori Takemi Sensei, soke of Ono-ha Itto Ryu.
Here are some of the thoughts and ideas that Sasamori sensei wanted
to share with practitioners of Japanese sword arts in North America.
Those interested in Ono-ha Itto Ryu can consult his group’s
Author’s note: This interview was
conducted on July 26, 2008 in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo. While Sasamori
sensei does speak some English, the interview was conducted mostly in
Japanese. He has asked me to interpret and expand on what he told me
in Japanese but as my Japanese is not at a high enough level, I feel
that I would do him a disservice to assume that I can understand
precisely his thinking on the complex issue discussed below. I have
thought it best to preserve what he told me directly as he said it,
which he did sometimes in Japanese and sometimes in English. Instead,
throughout the interview transcript presented here, I have decided to
add a few notes that may point to possible avenues of thought which
readers may want to ponder. Any errors in interpreting what
sensei has said are entirely my own.
R: Kaiwa sensei, D. Tong, Sasamori sensei, Shimizu sensei
Part One: The Nature of Japanese Swordsmanship
Question: There is still some
about what exactly is “kenjutsu”. What is “kenjutsu” and how
is it different from kendo or iaido?
Sensei: Let me say firstly,
and kenjutsu are the same. Kenjutsu is old kendo.* Gendai kendo
(modern kendo) is sports.
(*here sensei may be referring to the concept of ken-do or
ken-no-michi, namely the Way of the Sword, as a way of life and as a
professional study. This is in contrast to the coined term of kendo
used as the name of the modern sport of Japanese fencing)
Kenjutsu is old budo. In old budo,
“kokoro no shugyo” (spiritual training) was very important, not
only physical or technical training.
Secondly, nowadays, iaido is now known
as way of only using the sword*.
(* perhaps he is thinking of the modern conception of iaido as
some people consider it now: as an art with a narrow specialization;
i.e., the art of drawing and cutting, specializing only in practicing
how to draw the sword from the scabbard and cut in one continuous,
But in old times, kenjutsu and iaido
were not different. It was all practicing how to use the sword**.
(** presumably this is perhaps why old kenjutsu styles, like Yagyu
Shinkage Ryu, Ono-ha Itto Ryu, and Katori Shinto Ryu to name a few,
all have iai components in their curriculum)
If we consider the Japanese characters
(kanji) that make up the word iaido, “i” means “here I am”
and “ai” means “there you are”, and the confrontation of both
Originally, everything was “iai-do”.**
(** if we consider sensei’s interpretation of iai-do as “the
Way of confrontation between you and I”)
Kenjutsu includes everything: iai,
batto, etc… Nowadays, batto jutsu is focused on tameshigiri but not
in old times. In old times, it was the same as kenjutsu. And old-time
iai had shi kata (attacker/protagonist) and uchi kata
(receiver/antagonist), because you always need opponent. *
(* here sensei may be meaning that you always need to be cognizant
of the opponent. Swordsmanship does not happen in a vacuum. In the
curriculum of major styles of iai like Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, there
are 2 person kata included as well)
Question: In your opinion, what
Japanese way of swordfighting or swordsmanship? How is it
different from other types of swordsmanship like Western fencing or
Chinese swordfighting styles?
Sensei: This is a difficult
In Japanese thinking, swordsmanship
training is not just physical training but it is mental and spiritual
The purpose of swordsmanship is not to
win over another person. We are searching for the meaning of
In Japanese, we like to think “otagai
wo takameru” (literally, “to improve each other”).
Swordsmanship is not only about skill
but it is also about development and growth, developing your
personality (i.e., developing your character)**. It is about
(** perhaps sensei means here that
through the trials that each of us endures in studying a martial art,
we grow and mature as people)
Question: Why is this
Sensei: In kenjutsu, you have
(at this point, sensei writes some
kanji on paper) “taiji sei” – confrontation of you and I.
You must pay respect to the other
person. Not only enemy, sometimes teacher or friend.*
(* here I was not sure exactly what sensei meant: simply that we
must pay respect to our teachers and friends, or that your opponent
may not be a faceless antagonist but could be someone you know like a
teacher or friend, forced by circumstance to be on the opposing
If you lose, you must say thank you to
In modern sports, we focus only on
In ken-do, even though you lose or win,
you must say thank you to your opponent. A good example is the old
time rugby game. Even in such (an intensely confrontational)
game, they shake hands after the game.
This is all based on the old European
idea of chivalry. We have the same ideas in Japanese kenjutsu.
It is about honour and respect.
Douglas Tong began his studies of Ono-ha Itto Ryu with Sasamori
sensei in Tokyo in 1992.