I first met Iwata Sensei in England in August 2000. I found him to be a very interesting teacher with a strong personality. He is very knowledgeable in iaido and it's history, and is a strict sensei. I therefore wanted to do an interview to get some basic background information about this strong teacher. My friend Mr. Neil Kemp, from Britain, has trained under Iwata Sensei for years and has visited and trained in Japan many times with other senior students. He was going to Japan in November 2001 to once again learn from Iwata Sensei so I sent my questions to him and he kindly asked my questions and even expanded on them. In May 2002 Neil again visited Japan and asked some additional questions as I wished to focus further on some parts. So we got a long story, but I think you will be interested in it.
We would like to give our thanks to Iwata Sensei, and to our interpreter Mrs. Yuriko Terao, who made this interview possible. So here it is as I got it from Neil:
"Iwata Sensei was delighted to answer our questions during the Eikoku Roshu Kai seminar in Ozu, Ehime province, Shikoku in November 2001 and May 2002, and further clarified in England in August 2002."
Questions for Sensei
First we would like to learn something about Sensei's background:
Q1. What is Sensei's full name?
Iwata Sensei: My name is Iwata Norikazu, but some people call me Iwata Kenichi because of the way the kanji in my name can be read. When I was young, I was not very healthy, so my family called me Shohei. Later when I was stronger they called me Norikazu. This was when I was about 20 years old.
Q2. How old are you now?
I.S.: I was born in Kagawa ken on the 16th of September in 1913 (Taisho 2), so I am actually 89 years old, however, by the old Japanese system I am in my 90th year, and I hope I will go on being able to practice and teach iaido. Since I was able, I went to England to teach again in August 2002.
I entered a former junior high school in 1927, and started learning kendo. I got my 3rd dan in August 1933, and I taught kendo as an assistant teacher for 4 months at the junior high school. In December 1933 I joined the army in Manchuria. I became a military policeman in 1935, and started to educate military policemen in April 1936. I kept teaching until August 1945. Since Japan was the defeated nation of the Pacific War, I became a prisoner in Russia in 1945. I only came back to Japan in December 1949.
Initially, before joining the army, I learnt only Seiza No Bu iaido. I started practicing iaido very hard in 1957 when I was 43 years old.
Q3. Are you a professional budo teacher or
do you have a "civil occupation"?
I.S: I am now retired, but I study iaido full time. So in essence I now concentrate on budo and calligraphy, but I would not say I am a professional budo teacher. I will tell you a little later about my time in the army and the war. Early in my career I was secretary of a company making agricultural machinery. Later in life I was the secretary to the Prime Minister of Japan
Q4. What style of iai is Sensei teaching?
I.S.: Now I teach only Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu as I was initially taught in Kochi. I no longer teach anyone the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Seitei Gata Iaido.
Q5. Your present rank in iai?
I.S.: I am Hanshi Hachidan as specified by the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei. I achieved Hachidan in 1976 and gained Hanshi status in 1983. The other ranks you will be aware of are Kyoshi Nanadan, and Renshi Rokudan. There are no additional examinations for these teaching titles but there are certain requirements, characteristics, e.g. good standing in the community, well respected within iaido, no criminal record etc.
Q6. Your dojo name, where is it (are they)?
I.S.: My dojo name is Hounan Juku, my address is 2469-6, Oaza Okamoto, Toyonaka Cho, Mitoyo Gun, Kagawa Ken, Japan.
Q7. What is the average number of members in
I.S.: I cannot give an average number. I have had many students over the years, more than 200 -
300 from Japan and also some students from England and Canada. I have some long-standing students that come to my dojo on a regular basis and some local students from Kagawa. I also get requests from people of different schools across Japan that have read my articles in the Nippon Kendo magazine, or have seen the videos I have made on Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu for the same magazine, or have read my books. I also teach all over Japan at locations where there are students that belong to Roshu Kai and other places where people are interested in learning traditional iaido/iaijutsu.
Q8. How often do you have trainings in your
I.S.: When people come I teach them. There are no fixed times, I can be flexible to meet other people’s needs if it fits with my other commitments
Q9. Do you have any special seminars (in weekends)?
I.S.: Yes we have Japanese Roshu Kai seminars and for the last 4-5 years I have been teaching students from England that come to Japan to learn directly from me. These seminars can run for long weekends for Japanese students, or 7 to 10 days for the English students. I have to think very carefully about what I want to teach at these seminars, especially the long seminars for the English students. They have to travel a long way and have so much to learn that they need this extended period.
Q10. Organization where your dojo belongs?
(Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei, Zen Nippon Iaido Renmei?)
I.S.: Most of the dojos and people in Roshu Kai belong to the ZNKR. I do not take much interest in this anymore, I am happy to teach anyone who is serious about learning traditional iaido. I can accept people from any groups.
Q11. When and where did Sensei start his study
IS.: I initially learnt Seiza no Bu iaido locally in Kagawa in the 1940’s. However, I started to learn seriously in 1957 in Kochi. It took the Kochi Senseis - Fukui Harumasa Sensei, who was the 19th Soke of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, Yamamoto Takuji Sensei and Shimazaki Teruyuki san three months to reply to my request to learn. I was very pleased when they confirmed that I could learn. They were very strict with me initially, and tried to put me off in the beginning, but I worked hard and they gradually accepted me. I used to travel by train from Kagawa to Kochi each Sunday, a journey of about 4 hours, and practiced for several hours with only very little breaks. It was very hard work but very rewarding. After a few years they said they had taught me enough and I could go, but I said I wanted to learn more (I was not going to let them off so lightly) so they agreed to continue to teach me. This training was a solid foundation for my iaido and I thank my senseis very much for all their help and their teaching.
Q11b When was Fukui Harumasa chosen to be the
19th Soke? When one of the menkyo kaiden students is chosen Soke,
is there a special ceremony?
IS.: If you look in my book, you will see the dates for all the Soke. Yes, there is a special ceremony in front of the Shinzen and the next Soke usually gets a sword the same day.
Q12. What led Sensei to study the martial arts?
I.S.: When I was young, I was not too healthy, so I studied and practiced martial arts to build up my strength and character. I believe this is quite a common reason for starting martial arts. My father was a judo teacher (with a menkyo kaiden) but he didn’t think I was strong enough then to learn judo, so he told me I should take up kendo. I did and I have never regretted it, it has been an important element in my life.
Q12b Sensei’s father was a judoka. Are there
other members of the family who practice budo arts?
IS.: No, only my father and myself.
Q12c Was Sensei’s father menkyo kaiden in judo
or some old school of jujutsu? I thought there were no more makimono
IS.: My father’s school was Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu. At that time there were still menkyo kaiden in judo.
Q13. What other arts has Sensei trained in?
IS.: I have also studied kendo and jukendo (rifle/bayonet). In the beginning kendo was my main interest.
Q13b What is Sensei’s rank in kendo?
IS.: I am Kyoshi Nanadan.
Q14. How do these other budo arts fit in with
your iai practice?
IS.: Kendo complements iaido, the form is different but the spirit is the same. The body movements are also slightly different but can help with each other.
Q14b Is it advisable for iaido students to
learn kendo or Koryu Kenjutsu in order to get a better understanding of
Japanese sword arts?
IS.: Yes, this is very much the case. The partner work will help the iaido waza to develop further and better, and vice versa.
Q15. Who was Sensei's first budo teacher?
IS.: My junior high school teacher Seo Hikosaburo was very good, excellent in fact. Because of him I learnt a lot and I am very thankful to him for what he taught me.
Q15b What was the name of your school?
IS.: It was called Kagawa Kenritsu Miyoshi Junior High School.
Q16. Who was Sensei's first iai teacher?
IS.: Soon after coming back to Japan in 1949, I started practicing kendo again. I heard there was a very traditional Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu in Kochi and there was Soke there and I wanted to learn iaido too. I knew Koda Morio Sensei, who had just came back from Taiwan. I started to practice kendo and learn iaido under him. Koda Sensei graduated from a special budo school (Kyoto Budo Senmongakko), and took part in a 7-day iaido seminar by Oe sensei. One day I asked Koda sensei about waza, then he said, "I learned from Oe sensei, but just for seven days and that was a long time ago, so I forgot. The parts I forgot are my own style." Then I asked him, "May I go to Kochi to learn iaido?" He said, "yes". So I decided to go. But we kept practicing together after that, for about 20 years. He corrected his own style silently. He was a very upright and good teacher.
In May 1957 I attended the Kyoto Taikai (organised by the ZNKR). On my way home, I met by chance Fukui Harumasa Sensei (the 19th Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Soke) Yamamoto Takuji Sensei and Taoka Tsutau (also called Taoka Den) Sensei.
Soon after I met them, I asked Yamamoto Sensei to teach me and I started to visit Kochi in August 1957. I was 43 years old then. I learnt all the waza and all the things about the old and new Kochi iaido by asking them. I studied iaido there for 5 ½ years.
Then I studied under Mori Shigeki sensei until he passed away in 1988. Mori Sensei started to learn under Oe Sensei when he was a junior high school student, and kept learning till Oe Sensei passed away in 1927.
Q16b Was Iwata Sensei Yamamoto Sensei’s private
student or were there lots of students?
IS.: Yes I was a private student of Yamamoto Takuji Sensei, but he also had lots of other students.
Q16c In what year did Iwata Sensei start iaido
under Mori Sensei?
IS.: I started to learn separately with Mori Shigeki Sensei in 1972.
Q17. Who were the most influential teachers
for Iwata Sensei's iai and budo career?
IS.: I would have to say that it was the three teachers I mentioned above. I have met many fine budoka and teachers in my life, including Morihei Ueshiba Sensei who was very powerful, but these three teachers are still the most important to me.
I met Ueshiba Sensei at Military Police school, where he was giving lessons. I was there for two months just before the war broke. The training was meant to be for a year but war broke out after two months and it stopped. Ueshiba Sensei was a very special person. No one could reach him, he moved so well and his spirit was so strong. Even when ten people tried to attack him at the same time they were not able to catch him. But when he caught hold of your hand you had to move where he wanted you to move or your arm would break.
Q18. Are these teachers still teaching, where?
IS.: Unfortunately all of these teachers are now dead. This is the natural way of things but their memory and their teaching is still with me. The Menkyo Kaidens I have from both Yamamoto Takuji Sensei and Mori Shigeki Sensei help to remind me of their teaching and in this respect they are very useful. We also have some film footage of these teachers, which is also useful, but you have to look closely at what they are doing, and know what was common at the time, to understand these films. Again, my students in Eikoku Roshu Kai have copies of these and if they haven’t already given you a copy I am sure they would be pleased to.
Q19. How was your instruction carried out?
What teaching methods did your teachers use?
IS.: Initially the teaching was strict. The Senseis would demonstrate the waza, then I would imitate them and afterwards they would correct. So the teachers did more iaido, again and again they would demonstrate good waza and I would follow.
A) Yamamoto Takuji sensei's iaido.
He learnt iaido under Oe Sensei for about 6 years before Oe Sensei passed away. Yamamoto Takuji Sensei was not so young when he learnt Oe Sensei's iaido. He acquired Oe sensei's last iaido thoroughly.
How I learnt under Yamamoto Takuji sensei.
For the first 3 months he didn't explain at all. He demonstrated the 11 Seiza No Bu waza, then I did them. We did this in turns. I learnt his iaido without asking. Three months later, he explained the reasons briefly. He taught me Seiza No Bu for 1 year. Then I could learn Tate Hiza No Bu. I visited Kochi every Sunday. I arrived at the Kochi dojo (Chidokan) at around 9:30 in the morning. I left Kochi after 3 o'clock in the afternoon by train. I practiced for 5 or 6 hours each time.
While I was practicing under Yamamoto Takuji Sensei, Fukui Harumasa Sensei, Taoka Tsutau Sensei, and Shimazaki Teruyuki san gathered around and watched my practice smiling. Shimazaki san owned a martial arts shop. He was always with Oe Sensei until Oe Sensei passed away. While Yamamoto Takuji Sensei was taking a break, they called me aside and gave me additional lessons. I remember I had little break.
I learnt all the 45 waza during these 3 years, and my teacher said, "You don't need to come any more. You have finished." However, I asked him to teach me more. I went to Kochi for 2 years and 6 months more. We did all the 45 waza for about 1 hour and each time I listened to all the traditional Kochi iaido stories they knew. Later this helped me a lot. I feel the long years of practice were really good.
Yamamoto Takuji Sensei passed away in 1977. He was 92 years old.
C) How I learnt under Mori Shigeki sensei.
After learning in Kochi, I started to visit Mori Sensei in Matsuyama to get his comments and guidance once every 2 months. Maybe he liked my iaido attitude, for he sometimes visited me. He also came to Kanonji, and taught my comrades and me. Mori Sensei respected Yamamoto Takuji Sensei's teachings. He said repeatedly "You have learnt the most dynamic Tosa (Kochi) gihou (technique). You have attained the dynamic iaido sufficiently well. However, Oe Sensei's iaido was half-dynamic and half-graceful." I remember he encouraged me. He didn't correct what I was doing, he only added his iaido to mine. Later he became disabled and moved to his child's house in Nagoya. I made it a point to visit him once in every 2 or 3 months and talked on various topics all day long. He was very pleased with this. He passed away on 29 May 1988. He was 97 years old. My teachers were long-lived.
Mori Sensei learnt with Oe Sensei for 20 years. Yamamoto Sensei learnt from Oe Sensei for the last 6 years. So both had direct teaching from Oe Sensei. Mori Sensei also learnt from Hokiyama Namio Sensei, the 18th Soke. Hokiyama Sensei and Mori Sensei were high school classmates.
I learnt a lot from Mori Sensei, especially in the conversations about Oe Sensei’s life and iaido. Also Mori Sensei saw Fukui Harumasa Sensei for the last time just 2 hours before he died. So all the teachers were very close.
At that time there was no conflict between people practicing Tanimura Ha and Shimomura Ha. In Kochi you could go to both. Kochi people were very friendly and you could train as you liked, so I was able to learn both ha of the ryu. People outside Kochi then, and now, sometimes say differently but they are not correct.
I was very happy and lucky to have such great teachers, they were always pleased to teach me more when I asked.
Q19a When was Hokiyama Sensei born and when
did he die? Was his successor already known?
IS.: You can find the dates for Hokiyama Sensei in my book. No, his successor was not known right away. Fukui sensei was Hokiyama sensei's close friend. They used to drink together. So soon after Hokiyama sensei died, his wife gave his sword to Fukui sensei without the ceremony. After that, for a few years, no one said anything, because the people were having a hard time. He died in 1935 - it was before the Second World War. But people started to object. Fukui sensei said, "I will choose 21st Soke from Kochi". The old teachers in Kochi quelled the dispute.
Q19b Did Oe Sensei leave any written material
about iaido or budo?
IS.: Unfortunately Oe Sensei did not leave any books or written material. His students collated all the information.
Q20. Can Sensei describe his teachers? What
kind of teachers and human
beings were they?
IS.: All the teachers in Kochi were Igosso (strong characters). Igosso is Kochi dialect.
Yamamoto Takuji sensei's iaido was very dynamic. He took the dynamic part mainly from Oe sensei. I was strongly influenced by Takuji sensei, so my iaido is 80% dynamic and 20% graceful. Harumasa sensei was calm, mild and warm-hearted. Mori sensei was very precise. He respected Kochi teachers, so he didn't correct me. But he used to say Oe sensei's iaido was 50% dynamic and 50% graceful. He added his iaido to my iaido. He said, "Your iaido is very dynamic. You don't need to change your iaido. Do your iaido". I tried to take the best points from all the Sensei, but it was Takuji sensei that influenced me the most.
Q21. Can Sensei tell some anecdotes about his
teachers which describe their characters etc.?
IS.: Yamamoto Sensei was a very independent man. Even when he was hurt or cut he would treat himself, he did not go to see a doctor.
Harumasa Sensei was married but he had no children, so he died alone. He was very calm with people, he was very kind to people from outside Kochi (he treated them like guests). However, Harumasa Sensei was a “devil” when he taught, he was very strict.
Takeshima Sensei of Kochi was taught by Harumasa Sensei. Kochi people tended to protect each other so they trained very hard and seriously together. Takeshima Sensei has many of the characteristics of Harumasa Sensei. He doesn’t generally teach people from outside Kochi, so the students from England should feel very honoured, and I am sure they do.
Maybe I was the first person from outside Kochi to be taught like this by the Kochi Sensei. All three got together to decide if they would teach me. After 3 months Harumasa Sensei said yes but people had to teach me harshly so I would give up and go away. They failed, although they taught me for 5 ½ hours at a time without a break, I kept going to Kochi for more tuition. The hard work was very good for me and I think in the end they respected me for my effort.
Mori Sensei was a very intelligent man, and did very beautiful and precise calligraphy. As I said he and Hokiyama Sensei were classmates, and they promised each other to make a very precise book about Oe Sensei’s iaido. However, Hokiyama Sensei was a very heavy drinker and died at only 40 (he had very high blood pressure), therefore Mori Sensei could not write the book. He thought that if he wrote the book with Hokiyama Sensei as the Soke people would respect it. If he published on his own it wouldn’t be respected. When I published my first book, Mori Sensei was very happy and I asked him to write the foreword for the book.
Q21b When did Yamamoto Harusuke Sensei live
and in which part of Shikoku?
IS.: Again you will find the dates for when Yamamoto Sensei lived in my book. He lived in a part of Kochi.
Q22 Can Sensei tell me something more about
his research into iaido and the books/articles he has written?
IS.: Since I learnt Tosa iaido under Yamamoto Takuji Sensei, Fukui Harumasa Sensei, Taoka Tsutau Sensei, and Shimazaki Teruyuki san I thought I should write an outline of wazamae that I learnt in Kochi so as not to forget in the future. That was the beginning of my book writing. I named it SHI DEN KAI KO - TOSA NO EISHIN RYU (also known as The Red Book), and started to write the articles. It was necessary to study Koryu enough to write a book. So I started to trace the origin of Koryu.
I started to study books by Kono Hyakuren Sensei. He was taught by Hokiyama Namio Sensei (18th Soke) especially, and after Hokiyama sensei passed away, he was taught by Fukui Harumasa Sensei (19th Soke). He had enough practical training and studied the reasons very much. He redoubled his efforts to study Koryu and became the 20th Soke. One of his books is an explanation of the 45 hon practice, another one is a study of Koryu. In his last years he deplored the wrong ideas people had of iaido: waza were done incorrectly and even changed, and so he wrote a book called TAN I ROKU. He published several excellent books. He did his best to teach the iaido people at that time (Showa). I read these books and practiced every day. That helped me a lot to finish Kochi practice. I was very much enlightened by them. I felt I started to gain firm confidence from the lessons by Yamamoto Sensei and the study of Kono sensei's books.
I could not publish my Red Book when I initially wrote it as I was only 50 and I didn’t think it would be very well accepted.
Around this time Nippon Budo Shinbun was still publishing in Kyoto. Many ideas about budo and the present budo situation appeared in the newspapers. There were various kinds of individual opinions among them. I thought of contributing articles. I thought someone would answer my questions and teach me. I started to contribute every month for 4 years from 1963. My article appeared almost every month. However, I was disappointed in my expectations. I did not get any answers. On the contrary I had a bad reputation, "an impertinent fellow", so I stopped.
I was around 50 years old then. I was thinking of reasonable iaido day and night and wrote freely without reserve. It was very useful for me to write books. I published these as an at-random commentary iaido book, TANBO KAIKO (the cover is dark blue.)
I finally published Shi Den Kai Ko - Tosa No Eishin Ryu when I was 70, and by then I was respected and most people accepted the book. I re-wrote the book 5 times over the 20 years as I learnt more, so perhaps the delay was a good thing.
A) Soda Torahiko Sensei (the 16th, Shimomura Ha)
Soda Torahiko Sensei learnt under Yukimune Sadayoshi sensei (the 15th Soke, Shimomura Ha.) He was a Shimomura Ha expert and had copies of the reference material Yukimune Sensei had. He was an excellent Shimomura Ha teacher. I heard his son lived in Tokyo. I asked him about the copy of the reference material on iaido. He kindly gave me the copies he had. There were very valuable documents, such as Oe Sensei's students' articles and Shimomura Ha and Tanimura Ha teachers' articles that were contributed to Nippon Budo Shinbun in 1926. Moreover, there were copies of Yukimune Sensei's writings about Shimomura Ha Koden, commonly called Muso Shinden Shigenobu Ryu Record. Soda Sensei copied them. They were really useful and I could study a lot. There were Nakanishi Sensei's articles and a man who was from Kochi contributed from Manchuria.
The reference material helped me to learn about the Kochi iaido teachers' activities and facilitated much my study of iaido in Kochi. I appreciated these precious copies and I put some of them in my book, TANBO KAIKO.
B) Research into the old traditional books.
1) Research into the book, KENDO SYUUGI.
KENDO SYUUGI was written by Yamada Jirokichi Sensei, a kendo teacher at the Tokyo Commercial University. I knew the book had many useful old writings when I was contributing to Nippon Budo Shinbun. I asked my friend to buy one for me. He graduated from the Tokyo Commercial University.
I started to research into the book. There were a lot of explanations about budo ryu ha (budo schools), a lot of Kubota Sugane Sensei's writings, GORIN NO SHO, and so on. There were many original texts in the book. I researched into the book and extracted the parts useful for iai and published them in a book form. I named the book IAIDO SHUUGI, the third book I published (the cover is light green).
Kubota Sensei was a teacher at KOUBUSHO, a kind of school, in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate. There were a lot of useful explanations about the old traditional kendo and iaido techniques and how to teach. His book was very helpful to my study of these techniques.
2) Research into GORIN NO SHO.
I found GORIN NO SHO explained by Kobayashi Ichiro in a second-hand bookstore in Kyoto in 1988. I studied it with all my heart. He explained the book as one of the old traditional books. However, the explanations are like ones by a martial artist. I have never read such a good book as this. I keenly realized we should study and practice kendo and iaido aiming at GORIN NO SHO as our objective/goal. I often reread it even now.
3) Research by reading various books.
You can learn MUSO JIKIDEN EISHIN RYU techniques well enough, if you study the books by Kono Hyakuren Sensei very hard. However, you can't learn mentality well enough, even if you study iaido writings very much. Yamaoka Tesshu Sensei, a famous swordsman and statesman, finally completed his kendo by zen.
After learning in Kochi, I thought of mental training. I tried to find good books. I read the books on zen by Suzuki Taisetsu Sensei. I read KEN AND ZEN, YUMI AND ZEN, and so on. Mental explanations are very useful to improve techniques. However, there weren't so many good books to help techniques. I read a book about Noh play (drama) and I was impressed. Noh has been keeping strictly to its old tradition and the people have been putting old things into practice. They have warned against changes in the body movement. They have kept the admonition in mind.
4) Study techniques and reasons by adopting ideas
from newspapers and magazines.
We can find the articles about the people who succeeded technically by making efforts. Their mental processes through their efforts are very similar to ours. When we read about their achievements, we can adopt their experience to improve our iaido. I always look for this kind of articles. I try to keep useful things in my mind. Of course I can't keep all of them, but I do try to keep them in my mind. I also enjoy reading the books. I often go to the bookstore. I was impressed most by Mr. Matsushita Konosuke, the first (Matsushita) Panasonic president. By his achievement and words and deeds, we can learn a lot. He studied by himself, not at schools. His words, deeds and mentality are very useful to us.
Q22b Was Shimazaki san a budo teacher?
IS.: No he was not a budo teacher. He loved iaido very much and was especially interested in Oe Sensei’s iaido.
Q22c When did Kono Sensei take over as the
IS.: Kono Sensei became the 20th Soke before Fukui Sensei died, so for a few years (maybe as many as 10) both the 19th and 20th Soke were alive.
Q22d Where was Kono Sensei from?
IS.: Kono Sensei was a native of Oita in Kyushu.
Q22e Sensei mentioned Nakanishi Sensei, who
was he, was he from Shimomura-ha?
IS.: Nakanishi Iwaki sensei was one of Oe Sensei’s deshi and he practiced Tanimura-ha.
Q22f Kendo Syuugi - is it an old book?
IS.: Yes, it is an old book. It is mentioned in the back of my light green book.
ABOUT THE TECHNICAL SIDE OF SWORD PRACTICE
QA1. What are the basics of the sword and how
do you teach these?
IS.: The Nihon-to is an elegant weapon with a flowing curve and strong physical properties. It was developed over many hundreds of years, changing at times to meet the needs of the warriors of that time. So now we see many different styles and shapes. Some of the shapes and styles of swords are more difficult to use in iaido than others. Now, however, we see a more general shape that is good for iaido and so we can concentrate on using this style of sword.
At the start we must advise the beginner on how to choose a sword that suits their physical shape and make-up. It must be well balanced and not too heavy. If these are right, the beginner will feel more comfortable and hence will learn quicker.
In the beginning people need to concentrate on how to sit properly in seiza and how to move out of seiza to do ichimonji nukitsuke (the horizontal cut). This is vitally important. They must then learn how to move the sword from nukitsuke to above their head (furikaburi) in preparation for the main vertical cut, kirioroshi/kiritsuke. It is important here that they learn how to achieve furikaburi keeping the pressure on the enemy and not obscuring the vision. When doing kirioroshi they must learn how to grip the tsuka properly to achieve a good cut. Next they must learn how to do a proper, large chiburui to simulate removing blood from the sword. Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu has a very distinctive chiburui that has a very practical meaning and movement. Having done all these steps the student needs to learn how to sheath the sword again properly, that is how to do osame or noutou.
So the basics for beginners are nukitsuke, kirioroshi, chiburui and noutou, and how to move their body and how to grip the sword. Later they will learn how to move better, how to use the hara and spirit (ki) and be able to use and demonstrate zanshin in their waza. Initially, however, they should concentrate on practicing the basics as their teacher shows them. Repetition of the basics is most important.
I have done an outline of how I was going to teach some Eikoku Roshu Kai students in November 2001. This will be very useful to you so please ask them to give you a copy, I am sure they will happily do this. (This was published in their magazine, "Obi".)
QA2. Can Sensei say a few words about tenouchi?
IS.: This is a very complex subject, it is a little hard to write about in a concise manner. I will send you a separate article on tenouchi. As a simple explanation I can outline the following.
One of the important basics for our school is how to use the tenouchi of the tsukate (grip on the tsuka). You need some space in tenouchi when you grip. You wield the sword to sharpen the sword power by using the space. You grip easily (softly) and make some space. The space becomes the source of increasing the power of the sword. The space is important. Hold the sword by hara power. The hands are just supporting the tsuka. The tsuka should be free in tenouchi. You make use of the free movement of tsuka and swing the kissaki vigorously, in a circle, then you will cut well by utilizing this natural process. You have to learn how to use the space to cut well.
Necessary conditions for tameshigiri.
Use the space of tenouchi well.
Make a suitable approach, i.e. approach until you feel too close.
Cut using hara and koshi power. You can't cut well just using the fingers.
Cut with the correct hasuji (cutting edge/angle of the sword).
QA3. What is (are) the most important thing(s)
for a beginner to concentrate on?
IS.: Again I have written something on this for the students in Eikoku Roshu Kai. I am sure that if you ask them they will send you a copy.
However, fundamentally beginners should concentrate on learning the Seiza no Bu waza correctly. They must learn the basics well and follow traditional iaido practice, this is extremely important.
QA4. What are the first things taught to beginners?
Are there some beginner’s exercises
to start with?
IS.: Beginners must learn how to hold the sword properly and how to wield the sword properly. They need only to be concerned with learning to use their hands, arms and shoulders to be able to do a basic cut. Later they will learn how to use their whole body and spirit, but first they must learn the basics.
I have been teaching the English students some basic suburi that beginners and seniors should practice, they can show you the practice. Initially, they must learn to cut to shomen with just the left hand. The left hand is the important one in iaido. After this the right hand can be used, with very very little power, simply holding and guiding. Only after they have got the hang of this should they try to use the proper tenouchi. Initially this will only be done by the right hand. It should be done lightly by pushing the right thumb to the right index finger. It will take some time to learn to do this properly but it is Kihon and everyone should practice. After this stage students should learn to apply tenouchi with both hands cutting to shomen, only after this will they be able to practice proper horizontal cut using “full” power.
If you can come to England again in August 2002 for the Eikoku Roshu Kai seminar I will teach you these basics. This is better than trying to explain, then you can show your students.
QA5. What about more advanced students?
IS.: Once students have learnt the basics well they must then learn how to use the body well. They have to learn about the koshi and hara and how to apply them in all waza, and sections of the waza. This is a difficult stage and it takes a long time to get to this level, it requires hard work and dedication to pass through this stage. Later I teach the advanced students how to use their Ki/Spirit in the waza - this takes even longer. At this point you should be past concerning yourself with the detail of the waza and be concentrating on spirit and intention. This is the most difficult stage and requires a good teacher to lead you through, but in the end only you can do it.
QA5b What is the meaning of Kumigata to advanced
students/at what stage (grade) do they start to learn it?
IS.: We do not really teach Kumigata today, we teach Tachi Uchi No Kurai. There are no rules about when students should learn these waza, it is up to the teacher when he thinks the student is ready, or if he can teach the waza.
QA6. What set do you teach first? Why is that?
IS.: The first set of waza of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu are the 11 forms of Seiza no Bu. These are fundamental waza that teach people how to hold a sword and wield it and how to move their bodies in a simple way. They must learn these basics well before moving on to the more complex waza. It is good, and essential, for senior students and teachers to return to practicing the Seiza no Bu waza as well, basics (Kihon) are important for everyone.
QA7. What is the progression of sets of katas
to the end of learning your style? Does teaching the next step depend on
the students achieving a certain rank?
IS.: After Seiza no Bu come the 10 waza of TateHiza no Bu, the 8 waza of the Iwaza section of Oku den, the 10 Tachi waza and 3 Seiza waza of Oku dan, the 3 waza of Bangai and finally the 10 TateHiza waza of Haya Nuki. Eventually, when students are ready, they learn the 10 waza of Hasegawa Eishin Ryu Koden Tachi Uchi no Kurai and 11 waza of Tsume Ai no Kurai. They can also learn the 7 waza of Tachi Uchi no Kata developed by Oe Masamichi sensei.
QA8. Is it useful for a student to learn other
style of iai or other arts?
I.S.: No, not really in the beginning, only after you have mastered your iaido. However, it is natural for less experienced students to want to look at, and perhaps practice other schools of iaido. This can, however, lead to serious confusion and mixing of one school’s practices with their own. This is not good. People should wait until they have learnt their own school well before looking outside. I see a lot of this with people of Godan and Rokudan rank. Eventually, when they are good Nanadans or Hachidan they realize there is no need for this. Everything they need to know is in the school. Once they learn this then they can start to understand other schools.
QA9. Once the various motions of the kata have
been learnt, what things must a student then begin to work on?
IS.: I have covered these above, students must learn to use their body (koshi and hara) well, then learn to use their spirit. This is real iaido, not the mechanics of the individual waza.
QA10. Could you say some word about Shisei
(posture), Ki (energy, vital power), Reiho (etiquette), Jo-ha-kyu, Shuhari?
IS.: These are all very important aspects of iaido and any martial art.
Shisei - This is very important, it should be beautiful. Bad posture makes iaido look ugly. However, you have to be careful when you look at old videos and films about iaido. You have to understand the reasons for the iaido at the time. In those days iaido was still based on more practical iaijutsu so the posture was not so beautiful to some people (especially modern iaidoka), it was much more purposeful and practical. You had to be much more aware of a real opponent much closer to you. We should not forget this in modern iaido as we should understand the basis of our art.
Shu - keep to the rules, follow your teacher
Ha - move away a little and experiment with new ideas and concepts (this is where there will be a temptation to look at other arts or ha);
Ri - leave your teacher and develop your own iaido.
Shu Ha Ri is a very important concept and students should know about it, therefore it was a good question to ask.
Jo Ha Kyu - This applies from the basics to Oku iaido and in all aspects of each waza. It means the acceleration from a static position into a cut and other elements of the waza (i.e. furikaburi, chiburui and noutou). More advanced students should study this well if they want their iaido to progress.
Reiho - This is vitally important, people must learn to do the Reiho properly and for this they need to understand the reasons and feeling behind each Reiho so that they do not make blunders. They must learn the correct Reiho for the Kami Za, sword and opponent, and show respect to them all. I will teach you these if you can come to the Eikoku Roshu Kai seminar in England in August 2002.
Ki (Spirit) - This is the highest level of iaido as I explained earlier. It is too complex to discuss in this simple article. You must train hard and long to achieve any feeling and use of Ki (Spirit) to give the strong feeling to cut down the enemy. When you achieve this other people will know.
QB1. What are the lessons we should learn from
IS.: You should think about the following:
1) Protect yourself and each other. Learn Ki Ken Tai Ichi (Spirit, Sword and Body as one), that is learn to use the sword and body with true spirit.
2) We need to strive to preserve the traditional techniques and put them into practice. Good tradition should be handed down to future generations. We should be profoundly conscious of how our iaido and other budo were developed by our ancestors hundreds of years ago. They built budo to survive - they were protecting their lifes. Iaido is one of the best Japanese traditions. High-level students should have ideas like this.
3) To be righteous is very important to improving techniques. Iaido is one of DO. We should be righteous and keep practicing. I tried to train in this way and adopted anything useful. I worked for 9 years in the office of the late Prime Minister Ohira Masayoshi. I watched him always doing the right thing. I learnt a lot from his personality. He learnt old humanitarianism from the books of Yasuoka Masahiro Sensei. I, too, have read these books. It is very important to be righteous to learn iaido or any other budo, and to pass it down, and to devote ourselves to the art. We become righteous and pray to God. We should be righteous, too, when we learn iaido.
The above statement is an outline of my beliefs and the way I learnt iaido. That is my long iaido Way. Improving techniques is the same as developing humanity. Namely, improving techniques means seeking self-realization. When I look back over my Way, I feel gratitude to many people. I am moved by various memories. I really pray our iaido will pass down correctly from generation to generation.
QB2. What personal characteristics are required to make a good budoka?
IS.: You must be very serious and honest, pursuing the truth. You must make sure you do not become conceited as you start to learn more.
QB2b How can a beginner recognize a good teacher?
IS.: Unfortunately a beginner cannot tell if a teacher is good or bad.
QB3. What kind of a relationship should there
be between a student and his sensei?
IS.: This is an extremely fundamental relationship. I am writing an article on this for the Eikoku Roshu Kai students and I am sure they will share it with you. I told the students last November a little about this. In the end there is a far stronger link between a student and his Sensei if it develops correctly. Trust is very important, they should trust each other. I always wanted to make sure my Sensei was pleased with my iaido even if I had to demonstrate in front of very high-ranking “civil” people. My Sensei’s opinion was far more important to me that anyone else's, even if they were higher ranking than him.
QB4. Is it possible for a student from the
west to understand iai or budo?
IS.: Yes, of course, they are just the same. It is important that they have a good teacher and they must practice seriously and hard if they truly want to learn, AND they must ask lots of questions.
C About the Muso Shinden Jûshin ryû
QC1. Can you tell more about your Muso Shinden
Yushin ryu's history?
IS.: Yushin or Jushin is the same as Jushin Shigenobu ( the founders real name). The people who learnt iai before Oe Sensei used this name. I cannot comment on their iaido.
QC2. In this ryu, who were some of the more
important figures that we should know about?
IS.: Nakayama Hakudo Sensei named his school Jushin Shinden Ryu. Before Oe Sensei the old Menkyo Kaiden used the name Jushin Ryu but Nakayama Sensei re-named it.
QC3. Nakayama Hakudo?
IS.: Nakayama Sensei was well known for his kendo and iaido. He taught many high ranking people, but I cannot say if this was for any particular reason. He asked Oe Sensei if he would teach him Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu but Oe Sensei would only let him watch to learn, then practice on his own.
QC3 Did Iwata Sensei meet Hakudo Sensei?
What kind of man was he? What was his technique like? Does Sensei
have any opinion about Muso Shinden Ryu? Is the original Shimomura-ha
taught anymore in Shikoku?
IS.: Yes, I did meet Hakudo Sensei. He was a small, slender man. His technique was so-so when he was young, but much better when he was older. It is wrong to try and judge and say whether another school is good or bad, so I would not like to state any opinion on Muso Shinden Ryu. Shimomura-ha still exists in Shikoku, but it is a little different from that taught when I was young.
QC4. How many Muso Shinden Jushin ryu (MSJR)
dojos there are in Japan?
IS.: I do not know if there are any MSJR schools, Muso Shinden Ryu schools are the most popular. Jushin Ryu is not so popular.
More on Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu
QC8. Do you use dan-grades or the old menkyo
IS.: There are no Dan Grades in Roshu Kai. Most people have their Dan Grades through the ZNKR. Even if I could give Dan Grades, the next generation could not. If you study traditional iaido Dan Grades have no meaning.
QC8b Does Iwata Sensei give makimono (Menkyo
IS.: Yes I do give menkyo. They should be treated as private, something between the teacher and the student. While the teacher is alive it used to be that someone with a menkyo kaiden never mentioned it to others, only years after the sensei died would a student perhaps show that he did have such a certificate. There might be only one who gets menkyo, or sometimes more. Menkyo kaiden means one has learnt everything. Character is very important at attaining menkyo.
QC9. Are there paired practice sets, kumigata
in your style? How many?
IS.: Yes, I mentioned this earlier, there are three main sets still taught within Roshu Kai. These are Hasegawa Eishin Ryu Koden Tachi Uchi no Kurai. These are the traditional 11 waza. There are also 7 Tachi Uchi No Kata waza developed by Oe Sensei from the original waza. He thought that some of the original waza were rather risky, so he modified them. Now we sometimes see a mixture of the original 11 Tachi Uchi No Kurai waza and the 7 Tachi Uchi No Kata. However, if you want to study the most traditional Tachi Uchi No Kurai you should go to Takeshima Sensei in Kochi.
The third and highest level Kumigata is Hasegawa Eishin Ryu Tsume Ai No Kurai. This is more complex than Tachi Uchi no Kurai and again, if you wish to learn it properly you should go to Kochi.
QC9b Is the Daisho Tsume Kumigata set from
Tanimura-ha or the original Eishin Ryu?
IS.: Unfortunately I do not think anyone really knows the complete answer to this question. Daisho Tsume waza still exist and are still taught in some areas, but it is hard to say exactly, where they come from.
QC10. What are the characteristic features
of your ryu?
IS.: We have discussed this before. Essentially it is transmitted directly from teacher to pupil. It is in three level Shoden, Chuden and Okuden. It covers Seiza no Bu, Tate Hiza no Bu and Tachi waza as well as Kumigata. Students must first learn to use their hands, arms and shoulders to swing the sword properly and they must learn to grip the sword properly so that the cuts are real. Then they must learn to use their whole body (koshi and hara) and finally their Ki (Spirit). It is a never- ending way and people who wish to learn properly must practice their whole life.
QC11. Is there any written material about your
IS.: I personally have written three books, there is a new book out in 2002 and I have also done some videos. There are also the other books I mentioned above, plus others by other Sensei. Students should read as much as they can and make up their own mind.
QD1 Do most budo teachers have a full-time
occupation while they are teaching budo?
IS.: Yes, these days most budo teachers also have an ordinary job as well as teaching budo. This was not uncommon even when I was young.
QD2 Can Sensei tell us something about Roshu
IS.: I set up Roshu Kai once I had stopped learning at Kochi about 45-46 years ago. I first set it up in Kagawa, and it was called “Kagawa Roshu Kai”, but now there are many people across Japan and in Canada and England that are members of Roshu Kai. Now I have named it “Zenkoku Roshu Kai”. I am pleased that it is expanding, provided students learn correct waza and are true to it, as it is important to me that the old waza are retained and passed on to the next generation. It is my purpose to ensure that this happens, and I do it out of love for iaido and my teachers.
Iwata Sensei, thank you very much for giving this interview to our associations.
Iwata Sensei: "Thank you for this interview, the
questions were quite good and I would welcome more."
© Finnish Iaido Federation (Finland) & Eikoku Roshukai (England)