Iaido Journal Jan 2009
Meiji Shrine Demonstrations and All
copyright © 2008 Jeff Broderick, all
Culture day in Japan means 2 things to me - the Kobudo
the Meiji Shrine, and the All-Japan Kendo Tournament at the Nippon
Budokan. They are held on the same day, and so I have (for the past few
times that I've been living in or around Tokyo, anyway) gone to the
Meiji Shrine in the morning, and then gone off to the Budokan to catch
the third round and onwards of the kendo, in the afternoon.
am a weakling and a horrible budoka (don't all jump to my defense at
once, it's true) I slept in on Sunday morning, so after my 90-minute
train ride, I didn't get to the Meiji Shrine until about mid-morning.
As usual, a large section of the shrine lawn had been roped off, and
was surrounded by people (about 50% foreigners, it seemed) with huge
zoom-lens cameras and camcorders, busily recording the action. In fact,
the whole area had so many cameras, it was hard to move without getting
in the way of somebody's zoom lens.
I felt pretty inadequate
with my little point-and-shoot, but I got a few pictures anyway, some
of which (of course) are better than others.
is the Muhi Muteki Ryu, famous for their very interesting bojutsu.
Interesting stuff; they seem to take a lot of difficult kamae. For me,
the most interesting thing is seeing how the ma-ai differs between
jojutsu and bojutsu.
cute is that? This is a demonstration of Kurama Ryu. I didn't get a
program (it may only be for participants, I'm not sure) so I couldn't
verify whether the demonstrators are father and daughter, but I'd like
to think so.
Muso Ryu jojutsu. I have no idea who these gentlemen are, unfortunately.
Shigetoshi, son of Otake Risuke, demonstrates the iai forms of Katori
Shinto Ryu. I was happy that I didn't miss the demonstration this year
as I have in the past.
naginata of Katori Shinto Ryu. A friend of mine doesn't like TSKSR
because he believes that the kata are too long to be of any practical
use, but I've always enjoyed watching their demonstrations, because
they are always done to a very high level of technical excellence.
I was able to get a couple nice photos. This one surprised me because I
didn't think that I could get such a high shutter speed on such a gray
day and with such a high level of zoom. But it looks pretty crisp! That
chunk of tatami seems to be floating there in mid-air. Nice cut by this
fellow from Toyama Ryu.
are always some really weird, inscrutable koryu on display. This is
Shin Muso Hayashizaki Ryu, and the kata all seem to feature someone
with an immense no-dachi (extra long "field sword" - why anyone would
wear this indoors is beyond me) sitting down very, very close to
someone else with a strange, chopped-down katana. I say "chopped down"
because the blade is short and stubby but the tsuka is normal length.
It doesn't have the proportions of a wakizashi or standard short sword.
They sit down so close that the tsuka of the no-dachi is poking right
in the face of the other fellow, who (understandably) gets offended and
tries to cut the other guy. It's all very strange.
Which kind of
brings me to my next point. Why do we (foreigners in particular) care
so much about the koryu, especially when we don't even practice them,
or in many cases, even want
to practice them? When the pair above were doing their demonstration,
dozens of cameras (representing scores of thousands of dollars in
camera equipment) were zoomed in on them. I know I'm a hypocrite,
because I was there too, doing the same thing, but I couldn't escape
the feeling that this was an absolutely pointless exercise. We're like
butterfly collectors, I think, trying to get pictures of that rare and
elusive species that we've never seen before. The weirder the better!
Boring old karate doesn't excite anybody's interest, but hey! Guys with
huge swords doing impractical waza badly, that's fascinating. I don't
Anyway, the time was getting on, and so I headed off
to the Budokan. As a member of the "press" I get embarrassingly good
seats for the most prestigious kendo event in Japan.
was sitting down right beside those tables reserved for the judges. In
the far left of the photo, to the left of the number 2, you can see the
NHK television cameras, pointing directly at where I was sitting. Which
explains why many of my students who do kendo came up to me later in
the week and said, "Did you know that you were on TV?" I tried to tell
them I was a judge, but they wouldn't believe me.
It was a great
event. I always start thinking about getting back into kendo when I see
it, especially at such a high level. This year's finals were the most
interesting in the last few years. Teramoto, last year's winner and
many people's favourite for the title this year, was deposed in the
quarter-finals, I think. The eventual winner was Shodai, a jodan
fighter from Osaka. His strikes from Jodan were so quick that, between
my slow trigger finger and the shutter lag on my camera, I couldn't
ever time a shot. I kept getting him coming up off the rebound.
The nice thing about kendo, in my mind, is that it's kind of
a professional sport (there are certainly police and teachers at sport
universities who are paid to play kendo) but basically, even at the
highest level tournament in the country, little kids can come up and
get autographs. And the players sit on the floor to write them. And they seem kind of embarrassed
by all the attention.
the tournament, a bunch of people went out for drinks afterwards, which
was a lot of fun. Some people were kind of incredulous that I don't
practice kendo. "What the heck are you doing here?"
The next day
I went to talk to a doctor about my knee and the ongoing pain I've been
having. I actually haven't done iaido in about 3 months because the
pain has been pretty bad, on and off. Just when I think it's getting
better, it comes back for no apparent reason. Anyway, a brief
consultation and a few x-rays later, it seems that I have osteoarthritis,
probably a result of being overweight and doing iaido for 17 years.
It's not a good prognosis, because there's no cure and it tends to just
get worse as you get older, but ... well, there are things I can do
(like losing weight) to keep it under control. And, maybe this is blind
optimism but ... I am hopeful that treatments will get better in the
future. Maybe 10 or 15 years from now, they will be able to give you an
injection of stem cells or something, and you'll start growing new
This last weekend, I went to an exhibition of the recent works of Tenmyouya Hisashi.
He does a weird blend of pop illustration, graffiti art, and classical
Japanese drawing. He calls his work "New Japanese Art" or Shin-Nihonga.
His stuff is amazingly cool and staggeringly good from a technical
standpoint. But (paranoid foreigner that I am) I couldn't help
wondering if he is right-wing, politically. A lot of his stuff is about
"The Spirit of Japan" and I can't tell if it's being ironic or not.
Anyway, speaking of irony, I initially saw this illustration on the web
and laughed out loud:
actually it's part of a series of beautifully drawn ink paintings done
to illustrate daily articles in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. The rest of
the pictures are completely serious, and in fact resonate with a kind
of gravity that is hard to describe. Taken together, they seem like
visions from a dream whose meaning is inscrutable. So I viewed this
drawing completely differently in context with all the other pictures
in the series. As a scribbler myself (it's hard to call myself an
artist in comparison to him) I was very envious of his technique and
In connection with all this (envying the artist his
skill; envying the All-Japan kendoka their skill; being impressed by
the level of the All-Japan iaido tournament, etc.) I have been trying
to bear in mind something Miyamoto Musashi wrote (as quoted from Colin
Watkin's hyoho.com page):
Sozen to wa soto gawa kara mieru: Means, "When I look at people I am disturbed
by them and am envious."
That happens to me more often than I'd care to divulge, so I've been
really trying to take it to heart lately.