Kajitsuka Yasushi Sensei is the soke of Yagyu Shingan Ryu Taijutsu and also the 3rd headmaster of the Ohtsubo branch of the Owari Line of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu.
Additionally, Kajitsuka Sensei is the Secretary General of the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai (the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Classical Martial Arts and Ways) (日本古武道振興会 ).
Those interested in learning more about Kajitsuka Sensei can consult his group’s website: http://www.arakido.org/
On July 5-7, 2013, we had the great honour to host Kajitsuka Sensei in his second seminar in Canada. All three days were spent exclusively focused on the art of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu kenjutsu.
Kajitsuka Sensei giving a lecture about the role and aims of the uchi-dachi
Rather than simply going through a synopsis of what was covered each day, I thought it might be more interesting to hear directly from a few of the students about their collective thoughts and impressions on this special occasion:
“This year’s encounter with Kajitsuka Sensei was another awesome experience for me. We were guided on our path with the same humility and deep understanding of his art, that we discovered of him last year, when Kajitsuka Sensei visited us for the first time. Friday was a very intense day, especially for the new students, and was dedicated entirely to the Sangakuen No Tachi kata set. Lots of things were presented, discussed, analyzed, and corrected. Sensei took time to explain the basic philosophy of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, how it came about, and why this is not just another sword-handling style but something way above and beyond that. Again, I was blown away by his knowledge, understanding and ability to explain things in simple terms so that everyone could understand not only on the surface, but deep down to the core. This, in my mind, is the mark of a great teacher.
Kajitsuka Sensei making some detailed points about footwork
There are so many things to be said about the first day of the seminar, but I think it was best summarized by one of the newer students, who said “You know, you come to these events and there are so many things to learn, but in the end, it is that one special thing that you learn, that one realization, that makes it all worthwhile.” I think for me it was more than just one thing. Nevertheless, I agree. It was definitely worthwhile.
The weekend was spent on giving us a thorough understanding of the Kuka No Tachi kata set. The fact that we were a small group gave us a great opportunity to receive individual attention from Sensei, as we alternated the practice rounds with explanations on the kata forms, and the philosophy and the history of the kata. We even learned some of the secret ways* that the early practitioners used to describe the ways that are just now being deciphered from the old scrolls.
* including secret code words and phrases that refer to specific tactical concepts in swordfighting (e.g., phrases like “the moon in the water”). Yagyu Munenori was living and instructing in Edo (modern-day Tokyo), the capital city of the Tokugawa Shogunate. He also worked as Head of Intelligence for the Shogun. Edo was the central seat of government and the business and commercial centre of the country. In such a beehive of activity where there was the high probability of enemies around, when they had to talk about swordsmanship, they did so in coded phrases, to confuse and throw off spies and eaves-droppers from other schools or factions.
Kajitsuka Sensei explaining about the philosophy of the style
A special thank you to our resident translator Brent, who made this so much easier for everyone. After the 3 days, we were left with a lot of things to digest and practice, and even though we have a mountain to climb ahead, the path was once more shown to us.
Learning aside, I would like to mention two things that were said by Sensei (one of which, I discovered, was mentioned to Sensei Tong back in 2008 when he interviewed Kajitsuka Sensei in Japan). First, in Sensei's own words, in the dojo there is no such thing as Teacher and Students, there are simply people that have traveled the road for a longer time and would be able to share their experiences with the others. Second, at the end of the weekend when we thanked Sensei for this amazing experience, he just said that it is not really for him to receive the praise for his knowledge, but rather for us for asking good questions.
I am looking forward to our next encounter with Kajitsuka Sensei and we will definitely prepare even better questions for next time!”
As an example of the value of learning about the history of certain kata, Kajitsuka Sensei told us the story of one of the techniques named Gyakufuu (reverse wind or adverse wind), from the Kuka no Tachi set. As the record says, Yagyu Munenori was with the 2nd Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada at one of the big battles. The enemy broke through with a small contingent of warriors and they rushed the command center. A skirmish ensued in which all the Shogun’s personal bodyguards were slain or otherwise incapacitated. There were seven attackers left and they rushed the Shogun. Munenori was the last samurai left and he dispatched all seven assailants using the marvellous technique known as Gyakufuu. Usually, in the official recorded histories of the Tokugawa Shogunate, they name only key figures and outcomes. But this technique and the circumstances surrounding its use were so spectacular that it has been singularly pointed out and named in the official records. It is the only sword technique so conspicuously recorded.
Kajitsuka Sensei teaching the nuances of a technique using an iaito
Once the students heard this, there was a newfound respect for this technique, a technique now full of distinction, and a renewed interest in learning more about it and how and why it works. In this case, learning about the history of a kata created much more interest in studying it.
In another instance, we learned that the names of the katas in the Sangakuen no Tachi set are all derived from specific Zen Buddhist terms which are found in certain Zen koans. This piqued the interest of some students when they learned of this fact, which of course has made them want to research more carefully the (Buddhist) philosophy behind the techniques. So, in these ways, it was a very different and a much more interesting seminar this year.
Thank you for organizing the seminar Sensei! I really enjoyed how everything seemed so comprehensive this year. I think we really saw how intertwined the kata are with the style's philosophies; so much so, that separating one from the other compromises the effectiveness of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu altogether.
Brent [the interpreter] said he really enjoyed it, and he could definitely see why we like Yagyu Shinkage Ryu so much with all its complexities, and also Kajitsuka Sensei who was both humble and funny.
Kajitsuka Sensei discussed in depth the concept of mawai (ma-ai) in general and specifically with reference to different types of weapons. In this photo, we examine ma-ai in the case when facing a spear.
A big thank you to everyone involved in making Kajitsuka Sensei’s seminar and trip to Canada a big success. I realize that it takes a total group effort to do it and therefore, I would like to acknowledge and thank everyone for their contribution to the effort.
I would finally like to personally thank Kajitsuka Sensei once again for agreeing to come so far to teach our little group of dedicated enthusiasts. Words cannot adequately express our gratitude for his effort and his generosity in telling us more about Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, and for his endless patience and good humour in instructing us. We have a long way to go, up that budo mountain, but it is an interesting and fun journey. We are definitely looking forward to his next visit, and the next installment in this fascinating adventure.
Daniel brought up some great points.
1. “… in Sensei's own words, in the dojo there is no such thing as Teacher and Students,”
Kajitsuka Sensei had said this in an interview I had with him in 2008. Please read the interview: One on One with Kajitsuka Sensei - Part 3
2. “…he just said that it is not really for him to receive the praise for his knowledge, but for us for asking good questions.”
As a little bit of background, Kajitsuka Sensei is very open (i.e., forthcoming) and also open-minded. He encouraged the group to ask questions: about technique, about the style, about the history of the style, etc… Consequently, we asked many questions. The seminar actually turned out to be a lot richer than I had anticipated as we delved deeply into the philosophy of the style. Philosophy drives everything and as I have said before, philosophy drives technique. Learning the movements of the body and the various techniques of how to wield the sword are empty if you do not understand the philosophy and the core principles and ideas that drive the style.
Kajitsuka Sensei explaining the philosophy behind “mutō” (the concept and technique of “no-sword”)
Also, regarding the asking of questions, this brings up an interesting anecdote from my graduate school days. One day, I was sitting down with my professor who also was my M.Ed. Thesis Advisor. I was talking with her about my future, about whether I should pursue a Ph.D. She asked me very pointedly, “Do you like doing research?” The question took me a little by surprise. She then explained to me that a Ph.D. doesn’t mean that you are smarter than everyone else. It means that you are better at doing research than others, that you are good at doing research, and enjoy doing research. She then proceeded to tell me that having a Ph.D. also doesn’t mean that you have all the answers. On the contrary, you get better at asking better questions. Questions are what drive the research process. Without questions, research dies and hence the field of study becomes a dead issue, a closed book if you will. The book becomes forgotten on the shelf, left there to collect dust, an archaic relic that holds no value. Therefore, the aim of any good researcher is to elicit more questions. This is precisely because the more questions you ask, the more avenues open up in the examination and exploration of a topic. Like what I talked about before, namely about getting closer and closer to finding a solution to a problem through a series of successive approximations (see: Evolution ).
One of many group discussions we had
The enthusiasm of the students and their interest in the style were evidenced by the good questions that they posed to Kajitsuka Sensei. What emerged from the questions were explorations of the thinking and philosophy of the style. Why does Yagyu Shinkage Ryu do this or think this way? In this way, the weekend turned out to be a richer and more meaningful experience than simply learning a collection of movements.
Yagyu Shinkage Ryu Seminar Group 2013
Mr. Tong’s group can be found at: www.tokumeikan.org