The Iaido Journal  Jan 2011
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Through the Mists of Time 8

copyright 2011 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 passage, Sugino Sensei explains the rules and training procedures used in Katori Shinto Ryu.

“Our style’s way to practice, from beginning to end, uses BOKKEN, BO, NAGINATA, YARI, etc… From old times, armor was not used. We continue not to use armor. Therefore, if you make a mistake, maybe you will get hurt. This is a serious way to practice.

At first, OMOTE WAZA practice is started. This is more than enough. After thoroughly doing OMOTE WAZA, the URA WAZA is started. Also from competition (SHIAI WAZA – very serious competition with a real sword), from this practice you advance in the mysteries until the end, training without armor.

Also, in our style, competition with other styles is prohibited. This is natural, of course. Our style has been practiced for 500 years, without using SHINAI (bamboo swords) or anything like that. We use a bokken like a real sword. Since we do, matches are life or death situations only. We have to do this way, or surely the opponent would get a serious injury…”

(to be continued…)

Sugino Yoshio
The 16th Year of Shōwa
Chiba-ken, Katori-gun, Katori-cho

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

Author’s post-script:

Let’s examine some of the really intriguing ideas in this passage.

“Therefore, if you make a mistake, maybe you will get hurt.”

Use of bokken in practice carries with it the possibility of serious injury. It is imperative that practitioners use caution and exercise good judgement. All too often, beginners and even some experienced practitioners (who should know better) want to go really quickly or very hard. I really do not understand why. Maybe to prove how skilled they are? Perhaps to let out or bleed off their aggression? Bloodlust? To live on the edge or to go to the edge, walk on the edge? It is curious. But maybe that is just part of this type of art and part of the make-up of people who practice this type of dangerous art-form. Maybe we are on the edge, or need to be on the edge. But regardless, we still need to consider our partners. It’s always great if you are the one dishing out the punishment. It is however not so great if you are the one on the receiving end. If you have ever been hit by a bokken, you know what I am talking about.

“At first, OMOTE WAZA practice is started. This is more than enough.”

Omote waza are the basic kata, entry-level kata. I like what Sugino Sensei has said though. It is more than enough. However, many practitioners are always wanting to zoom ahead for various reasons. Let’s look at some possible reasons.

Sometimes could it be because they are curious about what is next. They think the secrets are in the higher-level kata so there is the mad rush to get farther and farther so as to learn these secrets. More kata means more techniques, and if I know learn more techniques I will be a better swordsman or I will know more about this art.

For some people, accumulation of kata is a status symbol or a symbol of rank in the hierarchy of the dojo. If I know 10 kata, I must be better than someone who only knows 5 kata, they think. Or, I know a higher-level kata than you do, so I am the senior. In some cases, they want to keep up with or keep ahead of the Joneses. The motivations are completely social and political.

In both cases, quantity is what is focused on. But what about quality? You may know 10 kata but the question remains: how well do you know them? This is a really good question.

“… you advance in the mysteries until the end”

I love this phrase. We all need our little mysteries. It is what makes training so intriguing and for some people, it provides the motivation to persevere and continue to train. Swordsmanship is not that mysterious. It’s pretty straight-forward but if we are too cut and dried, then the mystery is gone and so is the interest.

The really interesting aspect of this phrase that I want to touch on is this issue of reaching the end. As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, those students who want to rush ahead, to get farther in the curriculum, I am wondering to what ultimate purpose? Obviously, they want to reach the end, to see the entire curriculum, presumably to have mastered it. But therein lies the conundrum.

Rushing through the curriculum accomplishes what? You do not master it. You may gloss over it but really, in all honesty, can someone master the curriculum that quickly? Unless you are the second coming of Choisai Ienao or Tsukahara Bokuden, I do not think so.

Also, upon reaching the end, then what? Are you going to quit? Are you then promoted to be a master of the art? No. Then why rush? It doesn’t make any sense at all. In the mad rush to get to the end, you miss the enjoyment of the art. I guess people want to feel some sense of accomplishment, of having achieved something. But really what have you achieved by rushing through the curriculum to reach the end?

It’s like those situations in Western karate dojos, usually the McDojos, where you have 13 year olds (Grade 7) who are black belts. They can barely take care of themselves, never mind other kids, and they are some sort of karate master? Something does not make sense here.

“After thoroughly doing OMOTE WAZA, the URA WAZA is started.”

The key word here is “thoroughly”. As we discussed, for some people, they are oblivious to the issue of knowing something “thoroughly”. For these people, they are satisfied if they “know” it; in other words, they have experienced it and are bored of it. Time to move on.

For others, and these are usually the long-term, serious martial artists, they are not satisfied with just “having experienced” a technique. They want to really understand it, to find out how it works and why it works. These types of martial artists do not get “bored” of the kata or the techniques. They love performing them, examining them, over and over again. These are the hardcore practitioners. Is it any wonder why they are so skilled and knowledgeable?

And the people who rush through the kata, who gloss over the techniques, eventually wonder why, even though they know more kata, they are not as skilled as the hardcore types.

“This is more than enough.”

He is so right in so many ways…

 Mr. Tong can be contacted via email at:

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