The Iaido Journal  May 2010
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Through the Mists of Time 4

copyright 2010 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved

In this series of articles, we examine parts of Master Yoshio Sugino’s seminal book Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Budo Kyohan (A Textbook of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Martial Training), published in Japan in 1941.

In this article, we examine the Third Preface in the book. This particular Preface was written by Yoshio Sugino Sensei in 1941.

Third Preface

“Katori Shinto Ryu, in Chiba Prefecture, in the land of Katori, was born, for longer than 500 years the tradition has had a proper tradition and deep warrior’s law.

For a long time, from every country and land, many people have been rushing teaching and begging this style under heaven, famous everywhere in Meiji and Taisho until today, especially willing people through which to correctly learn, this still passed on tradition.

In recent time, the pure country’s respect and Japanese spirit is raised. As a result, our style’s true value is gradually acknowledged from many places and welcomed strongly becoming the actual Nihon Kobudo Organization and Chiba Prefecture’s sponsor, Chiba Prefecture Women Teacher’s School.

Many elementary schools and Tokyo area schools have spread it and as you can see, gradually what we are doing now is becoming more popular.

For some time, the reviving of this style has yet to see one suitable textbook or reference book exist. Naturally I think it’s a fact that there is a great need and desire.

To many people, originally, this style’s gods’ literature was passed on in a limited, closed way to apprentices. To tell others, or let other people see secret techniques was strictly prohibited.

So I thought to be publicly open would be extremely difficult. But at this time, the leader of the style made a brave decision and because of my honest wish, I pleasantly accepted permission I got from the leader.

I whipped myself because I am not talented and I wasn’t ready, but I decided not to regard these facts and took brush in hand and this is the reason why.

Recently, budo, kendo, or judo, with sword, bojutsu etc..., each one was taught differently to those who wished to learn them – this is a wrong idea.

Essentially, budo is sword law, and you cannot ignore sword law if studying bojutsu or other weapons. Even judo, if you reach the deep secret of the style, it’s towards sword arts. It is necessary to learn sword arts.

For exact budo, to simply want to study how to deal with bo or naginata, not only sword law must be known.

For this reason, in our style’s warrior law, as one whole, that is why iaijutsu, tachijutsu, kenjutsu, naginatajutsu, and bojutsu all together are written about and shown.

If this book, more or less, shows the Way to students, it is a sign that this correct old budo revival is useful. If this book is published, this purpose can be reached.

This book came out with prior law minister Koyama Matsukichi majesty, aristocrat Matsumoto Manabu majesty, army leader Ono Masanobu majesty, their calligraphy in the front. Also given were 19th leader and Katori Shrine’s head priest, and Sawada Soju sensei’s preface, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

At the writing of this book, Iishino leader also at the same time my dear teacher, Shina Ichizo sensei from beginning, Kanai Saku sensei, Kamagata Otsunosuke sensei, Tamai Saido sensei, Hayashi Yozaimoi sensei, Isobe Komei sensei with very kind teaching, deep thanks.”

Sugino Yoshio
The 16th Year of Shōwa
Chiba-ken, Katori-gun, Katori-cho
In front of the Founder’s grave and each following sensei, the author writes.

Extract from:
Sugino Yoshio & Ito Kikue (1941). Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Budo Kyohan.


Author’s post-script:

Another fascinating view into Katori Shinto Ryu policy and history. Let’s take a closer look at what was written.

“… originally, this style’s gods’ literature was passed on in a limited, closed way to apprentices. To tell others, or let other people see secret techniques was strictly prohibited.”
He is probably referring to the tradition of keppan (blood oath) and the tradition that the curriculum was passed only onto a few disciples or perhaps ultimately only one disciple. As the keppan certificate clearly shows, disciples were forbidden to show technique to outsiders.

“So I thought to be publicly open would be extremely difficult.”
Likely due to the 500 year-old tradition of maintaining secrecy about the style and its techniques. Possibly also resistance to change from within.

“But at this time, the leader of the style made a brave decision and because of my honest wish, I pleasantly accepted permission I got from the leader.”
Here we are told that the Sōke made an unprecedented decision, one that would change the course of the style. Iishino Shuriryo Sensei, the 19th Leader (Sōke) of the Katori Shinto Ryu, opened the style up by granting permission for Sugino Yoshio to write a textbook on Katori Shinto Ryu technique and gave him permission to teach Katori Shinto Ryu in Kawasaki and in public schools (e.g., Sugino Sensei made reference to many elementary schools and Tokyo area schools, as well as the Chiba Prefectural Women Teachers’ School). There are photos in the book that show the women teachers practicing naginatajutsu, for example.

“Recently, budo, kendo, or judo, with sword, bojutsu etc..., each one was taught differently to those who wished to learn them – this is a wrong idea.”
Sugino Sensei disagreed with the division of weapon arts into their own narrow specialization. I suppose the thinking might be that excessive specialization creates a loss of understanding of how each weapon fits in the grand scheme of overall weaponry use (e.g., as part of an arsenal) and its relationship to the other weapons.

We can think of the old expression: Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.

This expression means that when people are so involved in the details of something that they forget or do not realize the real purpose or importance of the thing as a whole. For example, sometimes when you concentrate on the minute details of a problem, you lose sight of the overall picture. You miss the big picture.

So, following this train of thought, studying only naginata, for example, has the danger that you can lose perspective on how the naginata is designed to be used, particularly against other weapons such as a sword. Naginata against naginata is nice but not the same as naginata against a sword. Naginata against naginata is an equal proposition. Naginata versus sword is an entirely different proposition. In this scenario, one really has to understand the inherent strengths and weaknesses of each respective weapon.

Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.
When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal.
If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.

Sun Tzu
Military Strategist
(544-496 B.C.)

From: Griffith, S. (Trans.) (1963). Sun Tzu: The Art of War. London: Oxford University Press.


“Essentially, budo is sword law, and you cannot ignore sword law if studying bojutsu or other weapons.”
As was pointed out above, by knowing the sword, you can understand the naginata. By knowing the sword, you can understand the spear: how it works, how it doesn’t work, the best way to use it, the worst way to use it. All weapons, in Katori Shinto Ryu philosophy, emanate from the sword. The sword is the pre-eminent weapon, the killing weapon par excellence.

For some time, the reviving of this style has yet to see one suitable textbook or reference book exist... and,
“If this book, more or less, shows the Way to students, it is a sign that this correct old budo revival is useful.”
We see Sugino Sensei mention this issue of “revival” more than once. Leads us to assume that the style was in serious decline or in jeopardy of dying out altogether. The other possible reason is, as I alluded to in a previous article, that there was a general revival of old budo ideology throughout Japan as Japan was gearing up for war. Or a combination of the two. The reader can decide for himself how to interpret what Sugino Sensei meant by “revival”.

“If this book is published, this purpose can be reached.”
Presumably, the purpose of reviving the style. How to do that? You would have to make it more popular, to attract new students. For such an archaic art with its archaic traditions like the oath of complete secrecy, not many modern young people would be interested. But for the style to survive, a new infusion of fresh blood would be necessary. Like an endangered species in real danger of becoming extinct, steps would need to be taken to repopulate the species, so to speak.

It is interesting, from an historical perspective, that this one issue, this one circumstance was tackled with the best of intentions. The plan put in place did ultimately achieve the purpose for which it was designed, but it would eventually be the cause of the current situation of Katori Shinto Ryu in the world. Once you open the floodgates,…

Now Katori Shinto Ryu is thriving worldwide and the problem is too many lines and too many teachers. There is a lot of excitement for the art, the various teachers all have overseas affiliated dojos in many countries and are booked solid to teach seminars year-round all over the world. Foreign students all travel to their respective hombu dojos in Japan to have specialized training in the summers. The style is the talk on all the Internet forums, with adherents of all camps arguing about who is legitimate and who is not. Even people not associated with the style argue about it, convinced that they know who is right and who is wrong. A little controversy never hurts to generate publicity and popularity. Katori Shinto Ryu has become a worldwide phenomenon.

The popular expression says: too many cooks spoil the broth. And in most cases, it is true.

But perhaps it is better to have many cooks and many variations of this broth than no cook and no broth at all…


 Mr. Tong can be contacted via email at: dtong@tokumeikan.com

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