reviewed by Ed Chart
The are a number of realities we as practitioners of martial traditions must accept. One of these is the fact that as living traditions, things must grow and change with the times. It is in this light that I have noticed the surge in interest in Mugai Ryu as this school of Iai makes itself known outside Japan. For many, Mugai ryu may be nothing new, but for me it is, and only in the last year have I had the opportunity to learn a little bit about this school.
Recently I had the opportunity to review two instructional videos and associated instructional text (in English) published by the NPO Hougyokukai, a Japanese martial arts organization which includes Mugai Ryu in its curriculum. These videos feature both Gyokusui Niina one of the four future Soke’s (16th) of Mugai Ryu and the current 15th Soke Shiokawa Houshou Terushige, who is head of Mugairyu Iaihyodo one of three main lines of Mugai Ryu: Edo, Tosa and Himeji. For a detailed history of Mugai Ryu please check (The History of the Mugai Ryû The Iaido Journal: April 2002 "http://ejmas.com/tin/tinart_laitinen_0402.htm”).
The Hougyokukai provided two colour coded video tapes which detailed two sets of the seiza and tachi waza kata respectivily. These sets obviously progress in difficulty and in the final tachi waza the “hashirigakari” the kata appear quite demanding. Two colour coded instructional manuals were provided in Japanese, however a English translation was also provided which was in the form of a plastic covered looseleaf folder.
This review will focus on the often overlooked elements of video production and text structure in the materials I reviewed. The quality of the video series is excellent, its refreshing in its strait forwardness, Soke Shiokawa demonstrates each kata at least once followed by Niina Sensei. Though I wish to refrain from assessing the Iai directly (as this is my first time seeing the Mugai Ryu kata) I have to say that based on my experience in other Iai styles the videos are simply wonderful to watch. Having seen my fill of poorly worded instructional tapes shot on cheap handicams, I think its clear from these tapes the difference quality can make. Good camera, good lighting, good background, and good demonstration. No fancy frills or silly music, these tapes show you the school straight up, take it or leave it.
The translated instructional manual follows on in the same vein as the videos, a very straight forward representation of the kata, with the name and the technique clearly explained and accompanied by photos. The mark of quality in these manuals is the level to which the techniques have been broken down and described the author. This is a straight and to the point technical manual, devoid of the overly philosophical filler that we in the west have come to expect in 90% of the martial arts books out there, and exactly what a student of Mugai Ryu needs to practice on their own. These are the kind of manuals that you will be referring back to in 20 years. That said, the only deficiency that I can possibly point to is the lack of any history and lineage chart. These I think are important components of a traditional living art, that students should understand and would have fit nicely in these manuals.
Overall, the tapes and manuals were a wonderfully enjoyable watch, and read. Which is something only a sword geek like me could say. For the readers reference, yes, I do plan on acquiring these tapes and the manual for my own reference.
More information on this Mugai-ryu organization and the video materials can be obtained at: http://www.npo-hougyoku-kai.jp/ or by emailing Renfield Kuroda at: Renfield.Kuroda@morganstanley.com
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