The Iaido Journal  Aug 2008
Our Sponsor
Our Sponsor, SDKsupplies, click here

One on One with Sasamori Sensei (Ono-ha Itto Ryu)

copyright © 2008 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved

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 website:

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.

Sasamori sensei 2008
L to R: Kaiwa sensei, D. Tong, Sasamori sensei, Shimizu sensei

Part One: The Nature of Japanese Swordsmanship

Question: There is still some confusion about what exactly is “kenjutsu”. What is “kenjutsu” and how is it different from kendo or iaido?

Sensei: Let me say firstly, that kendo 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, fluid motion)

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 was “i-ai”.

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 is the 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 question. (Laughs)
In Japanese thinking, swordsmanship training is not just physical training but it is mental and spiritual as well.

The purpose of swordsmanship is not to win over another person. We are searching for the meaning of fighting...

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 honour.

(** 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 important?

Sensei: In kenjutsu, you have to respect.

(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 side…)

If you lose, you must say thank you to your opponent.
In modern sports, we focus only on winning.
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.

Our Sponsor
Our Sponsor, SDKsupplies, click here

TIN Aug 2008