On Friday 2nd April too place the second awaited virtual meeting with Louis Vitalis sensei (Kyoshi 7th dan of kendo, Kyoshi 7th dan of Jodo and Kyoshi 7th dan of Iaido), who once again dedicated an hour of his time to reply to questions and doubts about the world of Budo, digging into the more cultural sides of the practice.
Here you can consult the summary of the first meeting.
In addition to the questions made by various participants through a Google form, this time Vitalis sensei has decided to include a topic chosen by himself. The topics discussed were the following:
- The relationship between Kendo, Iaido and Jodo (chosen by the sensei)
- REIHO and ZANSHIN
- Why do we use the side of the tsuka to strike in ZNKR
- SEI CHU DO
- The meaning of kata (and what he loves about Japan)
- Origin of ZNKR Seitei Iai and the relationship between senseis in Japan
- Making money from Budo
- Changes in Budo practice over the years
- KAN KYU KYO JAKU
- HAJA KEN SHO
- Samurai women
The very long list and the level of depth of the answers made the meeting exceed the expected duration, even if personally time seemed to fly by!
The relationship between Kendo, Iaido and Jodo
Vitalis sensei has decided to include this topic because, over the years, this has been at the center of several conversations with Ishido sensei.
The main difference between Kendo and Iaido, of course, lies in the presence of a physical opponent (Teki) in the first and the absence of it in the second. At the same time, while being an art centered around the sword, Kendo is practiced exclusively with the shinai. It is therefore clear how the practice of Iaido is complementary to that of Kendo and vice versa. Furthermore, for those who practice only Iaido it is very difficult to visualize and make the imaginary opponent “real”.
The practice of Jodo is even more complementary to Kendo and Iaido because it teaches to equally use the right and left side of the body and to attack from any direction.
Most Iaido Hachidan practice and have achieved at least 5th dan in Kendo and/or Jodo. So the advice is to practice at least 2 of these disciplines together, if time does not allow the practice of all 3.
Reiho and Zanshin
As discussed in the previous meeting, the Reiho of “modern” Budo was largely influenced by the Ogasawara Ryu school.
Although Reiho is an integral part of Iaido, Kendo and Jodo, only in Iaido we study different types of Rei (greeting), each for a different situation:
- Rei when entering the dojo
- Rei to the Kamigama (Shinto temple), to the Butsudan (Buddhist temple) to Shomen
- Rei to the sensei
- Rei to other practitioners
- Rei to the sword (Torei)
The goal and meaning of Reiho is to show respect for others, but also to keep a calm mind within the dojo.
Zanshin, on the other hand, contrary to what one might think, is a very concrete concept and is divided into 3 components:
- Migamae (body posture)
- Kigamae (concentration)
- Sonkey (respect)
Here too, there are some differences between Kendo, Iaido and Jodo: it is easy to understand if zanshin does not work in our Kendo, because we will soon be hit.
While on the other hand, in kata-based budo such as Iaido, this aspect is fundamental, and in fact it turns out to be one of the elements taken into consideration when judging a performance, whether it is competition or exam.
Why do you use the side of the tsuka to strike in ZNKR
The answer to this question reminded me of the one given by Kusama sensei at the 2018 EIC in Poland, when someone asked about the reason why the heels should be joined when the Rei to Shomen is made: “because it was decided so” 🙂
Vitalis sensei explained how ZNKR Iai is a set of techniques created to compose a complete Iaido curriculum, and that these techniques are present because the senseis who created it agreed it was the optimal combination.
There is no other specific or hidden reason for using the side of the tsuka in Shiogiri to strike the opponent.
Simply, once again, “because it was decided so” 🙂
Sei Chu Do
Jock Hopson sensei asked how to study and understand the concept of Sei Chu Do in the practice of Kendo and Iaido.
Sei means quiet
Chu means inside
Do means movement
The inside movement must be quiet
This concept is present in both Kendo and Iaido, but also in other forms of Budo such as Kyudo. It refers to the need to remain calm in front of a danger or an opponent but without lowering the focus and be ready to counterattack strongly at the right moment.
On the contrary, Do Chu Sei, means maintaining a calm and serene attitude even during strong actions, which allows the correct judgment of every circumstance.
Although in Kendo it is easier to apply, in Iaido it can be shown through the control of the “eyes”: if the eyes wander in space disconnected from the movements of the kata, then there is no Sei Chu Do.
The meaning of kata (and what he loves about Japan)
In this question it is asked if Vitalis sensei thinks that in the future there may be any modifications to the ZNKR kata to change some of the Riai, taking into consideration the possibility of being able to hit imaginary opponents with both the sharp side of the sword, and with the non-sharp side too, in order to only hurting them without killing them. In addition, it is asked if there are any kata in which non-lethal techniques are performed, giving the possibility to our opponent to run away.
Once again Vitalis sensei has drawn attention to the fact that ZNKR is a set of techniques created “ad-hoc” to increase the knowledge of the Japanese sword among Kendo-ka. Therefore, despite the various kata are originated from koryu techniques, they must be considered as a means of study for personal growth (Do) and not as techniques for real fighting (Jutsu).
A confirmation of this lies in the fact that all kata starting from seiza are somewhat unrealistic, in fact ancient schools such as Katori Shinto Ryu and the more modern Toyama Ryu do not have techniques brought by seiza in their curriculum. Specifically, in Toyama Ryu there are only standing techniques!
Finally, the author of the question asked Vitalis sensei what he loves the most about Japan: among the many experiences, the most pleasant thing remains being able to return to Japan and live as a “local” person. In fact, knowing the language very well and having worked in Japan for several years, he managed to live as a local (while still remaining a Gaijin) and to develop meaningful relationships with several sensei.
In this photo he remembers with pleasure how one evening, while he was at Iijima sensei’s house, the latter cooked him delicious Japanese pancakes 🙂
Origin of ZNKR Seitei Iai and the relationship between senseis in Japan
This question is actually divided into 3 parts: in the first, it is asked to talk about the origin of ZNKR; in the second, what are the relationships between the various sensei and their respective schools; and finally how the Japanese people view westerners practicing budo.
The original group that created ZNKR in 1968 was composed as follows:
- Masaoka Hanshi (Jikiden)
- Yamatsuta Hanshi (Shinden)
- Danzaki Hanshi (Shinden)
- Kamimoto Hanshi (Shinden)
- Nukata Hanshi (Shinden)
- Sawayama Kyoshi (Hoki)
Yamatsuta sensei (1887-1982) was a very important figure for the Kanagawa prefecture as he was the one who originated the Iaido groups still present today. He was Deshi of Nakayama Hakudo sensei, and also a friend of Ishido Sadataro sensei, the father of Ishido Shizufumi sensei.
As you can see, most of the senseis practiced Muso Shinden Ryu, with only 2 other schools represented: Jikiden and Hoki.
Even before formalizing the kata, they identified a series of fundamental techniques that had to be present in ZNKR:
- Horizontal cut (Nukitsuke)
- Vertical cut
- Diagonal cuts (Kesagiri)
- Returning sword (as in Ukenagashi)
- Strikes with the tsuka
Vitalis sensei also made it clear that it is impossible, especially for a non-Japanese, to imagine or predict which teacher will be included in the ZNKR commission the following year, as this decision is purely political.
Changing the topic, regarding the relationship between the various Japanese teachers and the various schools, Vitalis sensei states that these have improved a lot over the last few decades. In fact, Ishido sensei himself, when he began to hold seminars regularly in Europe, was joined by several other sensei from other schools, so to introduce them for the first time in Europe. If the personal relationships between the senseis had not been excellent, this would not have been possible.
As for how western budoka are seen in Japan, things have improved a lot here over the past few decades as well. If at first it was very hard to find some westerners in a Japanese dojo, today it is quite common, especially when it comes to famous dojos.
However, we are still seen as “foreigners”, and this sometimes leads to episodes of racism and discrimination.
Making money from Budo
Although this would have been a dream, unfortunately the harsh reality is that living from Budo alone would be very difficult due to the small number of practitioners. If one could make a quick calculation, there is certainly much more money spent on traveling to Japan and practicing around seminars throughout Europe (as well as for various equipment, bogu, iaito, etc.) than those earned through teaching. Unfortunately, living from Budo is difficult in Japan too.
Changes in Budo practice over the years
This question asks if Vitalis sensei has perceived any changes in the practice of Iaido, Kendo and Jodo over the years, and specifically whether the Japanese sensei’s approach has changed or not.
Clearly, there has been some change, mainly because the level of European practitioners has grown a lot over the decades: initially Kendo was studied over books, because there were no teachers available!
Furthermore, Vitalis sensei recalls that once the practice was much tougher, while today the focus is more on athleticism and speed.
An anecdote: after returning from Japan, he obviously brought with him the teaching methods of the Japanese dojo. After 6 months the dojo had emptied due to the intensity of the training 🙂
Even Iaido has evolved over time, as initially little attention was paid to the correct form, while today we try to adhere as much as possible to the teachings reported in the ZNKR book.
Kan Kyu Kyo Jaku
In this question Emanuele Covino, from Bari, asked how to apply Kan Kyu Kyo Jaku in Iaido and Jodo and the relationship with Merihari.
Kan means slow
Kyu means fast
Kyo means strong
Jaku means soft
A Iaido or Jodo kata must not be performed all slowly, or all quickly, or all strongly, or all softly. A balance must be found between these 4 elements, and this is called Merihari.
Haja Ken Sho
In this question Elaine sensei asked what is the true meaning of Haja Ken Sho, which literally means smashing the incorrect opinion and announcing the correct one, of which the Japanese sword is said to be the symbol.
Vitalis sensei does not agree very much with this statement, as this term is not a term purely related to Budo, but rather a Buddhist term that some schools of Budo have borrowed to describe the correct approach to practice.
Elaine sensei asked for some information on samurai women. In fact, there is not much information about them, if not some reference about famous figures such as Tomoe Gozen, Hangaku Gozen and Nakano Takeko. It is also asked how the role of women has evolved over time.
A complex and thorny topic, Vitalis sensei admits that he had to do some research to answer this question.
First of all, he dispels some myths: the figure of Tomoe Gozen, the most famous samurai woman, mentioned several times in ancient tales, most likely never existed! In fact, scholars have not found confirmation in official documents, but only in novels and short stories, and today this name is even associated with characters from Anime and Manga.
However, in some books it is reported that women during the Edo period were trained to defend their homes, especially with the Naginata. But shortly thereafter, with the long periods of peace, they lost interest in martial arts.
Unfortunately, historically the role of women has been very marginal in Japanese society. In fact, they had to live by the so-called Sanju no Oshie, 3 rules/teachings to which all women had to submit:
Obey your father
Obey your husband
Obey your children
It was only after the end of World War II, when the constitution was reformed by the Americans, that women acquired some rights and, above all, equality with men.
Even today, even in the world of Budo, although the number of female budoka has grown a lot, unfortunately there is still some disparity between male and female practitioners: just think that there are no women Kendo Hachidan, and in Iaido and Jodo they are still very few.
Once again we had the precious opportunity to ask questions to one of the most illustrious figures in the world of European Budo. Occasions such as these, especially in a historical situation such as the one we have been experiencing for more than a year, are a breath of fresh air. Thanks Vitalis sensei and thanks to all the organizers!
Next zoom meeting set for Friday 16th April, from 20:00 to 21:00!
What is written on this page derives from my interpretations and reflections on what Vitalis Sensei expressed during the webinar. Therefore I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies due to comprehension problems.