The Iaido Journal  Aug 2008
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One on One with Kajitsuka Sensei
(Ohtsubo branch of Owari Line, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu)

copyright © 2008 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved

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:

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.

Kajitsuka sensei
With Kajitsuka sensei in Yokohama

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: Kenjutsu means fighting with 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 armour)

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:
  1. the police saved some and kept them intact (e.g., kendo)
  2. some became showcases for performance, like performance arts**
  3. some evolved into sports (e.g., kendo, judo)

(** kyudo(Japanese 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 is the Japanese way of swordfighting or swordsmanship?

Sensei: In old times, kenjutsu was not 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 prove it.**

(** 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 yourself.*

(* 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 mean when you say that Japanese swordsmanship became about promoting life?

Sensei: Kenjutsu was originally just a way to kill people. Learning how to kill people. Techniques for killing.

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 meaning.

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 era.*

(* 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 “Way”)

I will tell you about two types of sword:

  1. “katsu ken” (literally “victory sword”): sword for winning and killing. But when you kill them, there will be hatred left behind…

(* leading presumably to unending strife. Revenge upon revenge without end?)

  1. “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.

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TIN Aug 2008