Iaido Journal Aug 2008
One on One with Kajitsuka Sensei
copyright © 2008 Douglas Tong, all
(Ohtsubo branch of Owari Line, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu)
The following article is the first part
of an interview with Kajitsuka Yasushi Sensei, headmaster of the
Ohtsubo branch of the Owari Line of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu. Here are some
of the thoughts and ideas that Kajitsuka sensei wanted to share with
practitioners of Japanese sword arts in North America. Those
interested in this branch of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu can consult his
group’s website: http://www.arakido.org/
Author’s note: This interview was
conducted on July 23, 2008 in Kagurazaka, Tokyo. While Kajitsuka
sensei does speak some English, the interview was conducted mostly in
Japanese. We were assisted by two of his students, one Japanese and
one American, who tried to help out with interpretation at points
where the Japanese was too complex for me. I have thought it best to
try to preserve what he told me directly as he said it, which he did
in both Japanese and English. At various points through the interview
transcript presented here, I have added a few notes that may help
readers as to what sensei might have meant. Any errors in
interpreting what sensei has said are entirely my own. I hope that
readers will find the reading enjoyable nonetheless.
With Kajitsuka sensei in Yokohama
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: Kenjutsu means fighting
swords. But in old days, we were not just fighting with swords. We
fought with bo, spear, bow and arrow, and other weapons. When you
lost these weapons on the battlefield, then we used the sword. After
you lost your sword, then we used jujutsu.*
(*Kajitsuka sensei also
teaches Yagyu Shingan Ryu taijutsu, which has a jujutsu component
which focuses on unarmed fighting techniques used while wearing full
In the old styles, styles were
composite, all-encompassing – not just sword. In old days, kenjutsu
was just one of the parts. **
(** here sensei may be
referring to old styles like Katori Shinto Ryu for example which
contain study in a variety of weapons like spear, naginata, bojutsu,
shuriken, etc…and even include a program in jujutsu)
In the Sengoku Jidai*, the sword was
only a tool, like any other weapon.
In the Edo Jidai*, the peaceful era,
the katana became more than just a tool. It became a symbol and an
image. The sword became a personification. The sword also became
indicative of status; it became a status symbol.
(* the Warring States
Period (1467-1600) was a period of civil war and political intrigue
where various clans fought to gain control of the country. The Edo
Period (1603-1868), established by Tokugawa Ieyasu once he defeated
his rivals and gained control of the country, was a period of
political stability lasting 250 years.)
In the Edo Jidai, then we see the
emergence of only kenjutsu styles. In the era of peace, we start to
see the separation of the military arts. Specialization began. So
gradually we have styles that focused specifically only on sword.
In the Meiji Jidai, wearing swords was
banned and so the fighting arts gradually disappeared. Some were
saved from extinction in three ways:
- the police saved some and kept them intact (e.g., kendo)
- some became showcases for performance, like performance arts**
- some evolved into sports (e.g., kendo, judo)
archery) or yabusame (archery on horseback)?)
So traditionally kenjutsu is simply the
art that focuses on how to fight with sword.
Question: In your opinion, what
Japanese way of swordfighting or swordsmanship?
Sensei: In old times, kenjutsu
thought of as anything special. Only in the Edo period did it become
a personal thing*.
(* I think here sensei is referring
back to his idea of the sword and sword study gradually becoming a
personification of ideas and ideals)
In old days, it was about strength and
pride and emotion only. Example: “I am the strongest” and so I
(** an interesting idea. Would seem
to fit with the idea of the Civil War Period being a time of civil
unrest, incessant fighting, political intrigue with themes of
allegiances, betrayals, vengeance and revenge, etc… Life was not as
cultured as in later, more peaceful eras.)
Before, it was about my pride. It was
about being the strongest.
But with the Edo Period and the new
Shogun, the sword became something to further yourself. The sword
became the way to grow a soul.
It became not about killing people. It
became about promoting life.
Swordsmanship became about saving
(* this brings to mind exactly the
plot of Director Hiroshi Inagaki’s acclaimed epic Miyamoto
Musashi (renamed Samurai
Trilogy in North America) which won the
Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1955).
Question: What exactly do you
you say that Japanese swordsmanship became about promoting life?
Sensei: Kenjutsu was originally
way to kill people. Learning how to kill people. Techniques for
But in the Edo period, the thinking
evolved. It was not just a set of techniques anymore. There was a
philosophy in the technique. Hidden things, like how you act, what
you do. It became concerned about mannerism. There is a deeper
You learn a martial art so that you
don’t need to use it. Using kenjutsu to promote life.
Yagyu Munenori prepared the Heiho
Kaden Sho for the Shogun for the next peaceful
(* Yagyu Munenori was appointed the
official swordsmanship instructor for the Shogun and his family, the
highest and most glorified position in the land, a position coveted
by many professional swordsmen.)
For the Shogun to promote to the
people, to teach the people as His way.
Shinkage Ryu is not a technique** for
you to win.
It is a technique so you don’t lose.
(** here, sensei says in English
“technique” but he may mean other concepts like “art” or
I will tell you about two types of
- “katsu ken” (literally “victory sword”): sword for winning and
killing. But when you kill them, there will be hatred left behind…
presumably to unending strife. Revenge upon revenge without end?)
- “makenai ken” (literally “cannot-lose sword”): instead of leaving
hatred behind, it leaves a curiosity behind. Because you do not win but
you do not lose, there is a sense of respect left behind.
Hence, promoting life…
Douglas Tong began his studies of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu with the late
Mutou sensei (Kajitsuka sensei’s teacher) in Zushi-shi in 1992.