[Monthly column] Worldwide Koryu Dojo Report Vol.17 Suio-ryu Iai Kenpo in Finland
Juttu toiminnastamme Suomessa ja Jyväskylässä Budo Japan-julkaisussa: https://budojapan.com/kenjutsu/20220214kdr17/
Suiō-ryū iai kenpōn 15. sōke Katsuse Yoshimitsu Kagehiro vieraili Suomessa heinäkuussa 2013 mukanaan 10 hengen delegaatio Japanista. Delegaatio koostui opettajista ja harjoittelijoista päädojolta Hekiunkanilta sekä Fujiedasta, Numazusta ja Tokiosta. Kyseessä oli koulukunnan tähän mennessä suurin ulkomaille suuntautunut delegaatio.
Osittain kaikille kiinnostuneille avoin Suiō-ryū-kesäleiri järjestettiin Jyväskylässä neljän päivän mittaisena. Harjoituksia oli aamusta iltaan, ja niissä käytiin läpi koulun eri osa-alueita kuten iaita, jō-hōta, kenpōa ja naginataa. Leirillä Katsuse-sōke painotti oppilaiden kysymysten tärkeyttä, ja hän varasikin kysymyksille suuren osan leirin ajasta. Lopuksi sōke esitteli lyhyesti myös Suiō-ryūn Masaki-ryū Fukuhara-ha -kusarigamaa.
Vierailunsa aikana Katsuse-sōke perusti Suomen shibun, Suiō-ryūn virallisen haaran, ja nimitti Suomeen edustajikseen Jukka Helmisen, Taneli Takalan ja Jussi Jussilan. Vierailu sekä leiri onnistuivat hyvin ja koulukunnan jäsenet Suomessa saivat uutta intoa harjoitteluunsa suoraan Katsuse-sōken alaisuudessa. Katsuse-sōke on tulossa Suomeen uudelleen kesällä 2014 opettamaan tällä kertaa Helsingissä järjestettävällä leirillä.
Seuraavassa on kaksi Suiō-ryūta käsittelevää artikkelia. Ensimmäinen on sōke Katsuse Yoshimitsu Kagehiron kirjoittama ja Antony Cundyn englanniksi kääntämä Bu creates the Man. Toinen artikkeli on Antony Cundyn kirjoittama Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan: Part 6 – Suio Ryu.
Bu creates the Man
By Katsuse Yoshimitsu Kagehiro
If asked to relate one’s objective in Budo training, I think that people will offer many varied opinions. Personally, I always come back to the rather intangible conclusion that it is to attain an elevation of one’s humanity. This objective is commonly embraced before beginning training. However, in my case it was only after I had begun that I was able to discover it.
The founder of the Suio Ryu, Mima Yoichizaemon Kagenobu, stated that,
”Our swordsmanship comes from the mountain ascetics. The essence of our tradition, and the attainment of an unassailable position, comes from cutting down our opponents while the sword is still in the scabbard, stifling our opponent’s actions and achieving victory through not drawing the sword. While engaged in combat, detach yourself from all thoughts of winning or losing, achieve a pure and unfettered mind and reach unification with the gods.”
Drawing and fighting with the sword runs contrary to the teaching of the gods. The founder’s intention was to teach us to achieve harmony with the opponent and not for us to concern ourselves with winning. Through this kind of teaching the founder gathered many students and disciples.
I suspect that very few people since the founder’s time have been able to achieve what his teachings propound. Only those who have endured training that defies the imagination will have been able to obtain the inner most secrets of the founder’s teachings. I stated at the start of this essay that the elevation of humanity was an intangible objective. When thinking of the amount and quality of training in modern times I feel that this is truly not possible to obtain and therefore, at the same time, it has become my final goal.
The difference in degrees and quality of training has differed over the various generations. I wonder what we in the modern era can understand and gain from the amazing Budo that came from the world of the Warring States Period. It is not easy for the modern individual to understand the qualities that were displayed by the masters of a time when training was a matter of daily placing one’s life on the line. It is because of this that I believe one must turn back to this time and travel the most difficult path. It is without doubt the most difficult path to follow. By modernizing and making the arts easier we debase what our forebears developed. It is in the midst of the most difficult of training that the true form of Budo can be discerned. Turning this the other way around of course, this is the way in which everything becomes easier. However, realistically it is very difficult to devote this amount of time to ones training.
Our training is practice in realistic kata, always performed with an opponent. In combat, the ability to ascertain the opponent’s and their weapon’s movement is not easy, and it is true that in kata training both sides act in a pre-agreed manner and thus we cannot say that this is realistic. It is impossible to deal with an opponent desperately fighting for their life through training in kata alone. Thus the number of body movements and techniques that we can absorb wholly into ourselves becomes extremely important, because those movements and techniques are the ones that will protect us when we are faced with death.
Through the attainment of the techniques we are able to feel and comprehend the danger and fear that they contain. It is through this understanding that we can come to understand ’Winning over our opponent without fighting,’ and ’Avoiding conflict with others.’ Senseless conflict leads only to injury to others and inevitably to injury to oneself. The true responsibility and objective of a warrior is to gain control over themselves so as not to cause injury to oneself or others.
I do not however neglect solo training. Through attaining the form of kata we can understand the beauty of their structures and movements. I believe that the beauty of these forms permeate to our cores and work toward the elevation of our humanity. It is those movements that are natural, without extraneous strength or ostentatiousness, that are the purest, most beautiful and have the most strength. This is the true form of the classical Bushi.
I have always been attracted to the form and spirit of the classical Bushi. Therefore, I have always tried to seek them out in the midst of Kobudo practice. The force of spirit exhibited by the Bushi of the Warring States Period, who placed themselves in harm’s way and laid their lives on the line when facing an opponent, was indeed a most beautiful thing.
Japan’s Idiosyncratic Reigi
Many of Japan’s reigi (lit: etiquette/manners) have their origins in Budo. This reigi is strongly linked to the sense of worth of the individual. We place a great deal of emphasis on manners in Budo training. However, this is not something that should be forced or coerced. We should not believe because we are practicing Budo that we should think in such a rigid manner. Reigi is something that we obtain and exhibit through our daily lives and it is important that it should naturally flow as part of our lifestyle. Therefore, we should not become obsessed with the outward forms of reigi.
Thus we should not launch accusations at those who do not treat us courteously or with a greeting. Rather, we should look at ourselves first to understand why we did not receive the greeting. In particular this is the case with children. It is natural that they sometimes won’t or cannot do so. Forcing them to perform in such a manner is not the correct way of doing things.
A child’s greeting is a smile, which for them is the highest form of greeting. It is as they mature that they become aware of words and manners to go along with this.
We must allow courtesy and greetings to become enlivened through their personable spirit, based on mutual trust and recognition of one’s friends and others. This spirit holds the greatest value for those of us who study Budo, which lays such emphasis on courtesy.
There is no need for academic theorizing about Budo training. One obtains a theory from a natural understanding based on experiences gained in training. When I look about me, presently there are many who propound their own theories based on some piece of literature or from listening to their teachers, without experiencing it through their own flesh. This is not a correct understanding or theory. A theory can only be born through experience. It is this experiencing that is the true form of Budo training and the form of man. Personally, what I have learned through my body is everything. It is belief in this which marks my path in martial training.
The History of the Suio Ryu
Suio Ryu Iai Kenpo was created by Mima Yoichizaemon, a man of the Warring States period. He was born in the Dewa fiefdom to Mima Saigu, a shrine attendant at the Junisha Gongen Shrine in the 5th year of Tensho, 1577. From a young age he learnt martial arts from his father, as well as the kenjutsu of the Bokuden Ryu and a form of jojutsu practiced by the yamabushi. Later he learnt the basics of the Hayashizaki Ryu iai from Sakurai Goroemon. He vowed to produce his own tradition and spent his days practicing swordsmanship before a sacred tree and the evenings in contemplation before the shrine’s altar.
He did not confine himself to his home area. Instead, he also followed the practice of the yamabushi by making pilgrimages to sacred places throughout the country. While doing so he also polished his martial skills against other swordsmen. During his travels, Yoichizaemon met remnants of the monks from Mount Hiei from whom he learnt a form of battlefield naginata-jutsu, which they had devised.
On return to his home he continued his training. However, one evening he received a vision whilst in contemplation before the shrine’s altar. He envisaged a white gull floating on water, which caused his eyes to be opened and for him to achieve enlightenment.
From this enlightenment, and based on the number of the 28 constellations of Heaven and 36 birds of Earth, he created the 64 methods of iai, enpo, kogusoku, wakizashi, naginata and jojutsu which make up the martial curriculum of the Suio Ryu Iai Kenpo.
The founder of our tradition, Kagenobu, walked deeply the path of the ascetic as well as the warrior. We can see the influence of this even after he had founded his original tradition. He drew up a mandala which he called the Tenchi Mandala (lit: Heaven and Earth Mandala) placed it in his dojo and taught his students about the Universe. The mandala featured Ameterasu Okami in the center of a great circle, within which were depicted 12 deities, 28 constellations and 36 birds. These latter 64 expressed both the techniques of the tradition and a form of divination called the 64 kake.
The founder continued to tour the country, not just to practice his martial skills but also as form of Shinto training. I think that we can imagine that these trips were more about finding his path than about polishing his skills. For him the sword was an instrument of ablution, an act of opening himself to the deity Amitabha and a way of exploring the realm of nothingness that is the path of Zen. When facing other swordsmen he would not think of winning. Instead he took the form of ai-uchi (lit: mutual strike) and thereby gave those watching the appearance that his opponent had obtained victory.
I believe that Bu is the art of survival. I feel that you can see the true form of the martial strategist in the founder Kagenobu, who would retreat to save life. At the same time we should also remember and learn from the manner in which he lived his life, without the creation of enemies.
Kagenobu passed away in the 5th year of Kanbun, 1665, and was succeeded by his son Mima Yohachiro Kagenaga. At the present time, I, Katsuse Yoshimitsu, serve as the 15th Soke of the Suio Ryu.
The Curriculum of the Suio Ryu
Suio Ryu Iai consists of the following techniques
Goyo (5 Kata): A series for developing cutting and handling skills. Featuring, horizontal, diagonal, reverse diagonal and vertical cuts
Goin (5 Kata): All of these are receiving techniques. They are kata in which a counter follows a parry.
Kuyo (9 Kata): A series of highly realistic seated kata for those who have moved on from the Goyo and Goin kata.
Tachi Iai (9 Kata): A realistic series of standing techniques
Kage (18 Kata): A series of kata, which offer responses and counters to the Kuyo and Tachi Iai techniques.
Kumi Iai (9 Kata): A series of realistic kata performed against and opponent.
There are further techniques that cannot be made public, but which, to preserve the way of the founder, are transmitted to the successor of the tradition.
Recognition is made in the form of Shoden, Chuden, Okuden, Sho Mokuroku, Chu Mokuroku, Dai Mokuroku, So Menkyo and Inka. It should be noted that as the Suio Ryu is a comprehensive tradition, at the discretion of Soke those who have achieved excellence in other arts can be recognized with one of the previously noted awards.
In our tradition, once a certain degree of ability has been developed through solo practice all techniques are practiced with an opponent.
The katana is so sharp that even if the tip only lightly touches something it will cut. However, the first priority is to understand whether the opponent’s blade will touch us or not. And that is a very difficult problem. One’s opponent is not like a standing tree rooted to the spot. They will move around frantically trying to find a way in which to defeat us. To be able to defeat such an adversary we must engage in realistic training with an opponent.
Although kata are performed with the mutual understanding of predefined movements they are still extremely dangerous. One mistake could lead to an accident. I have personally been injured by many of my students. This is rather embarrassing, but illustrates my lack of maturity and offers food for thought regarding the future course of my training.
For me the essence of iai is simply ’not dying’. In terms of pure survival, we see that those who live on achieve the greatest victory. I often say to my disciples ’if one of your arms gets cut off, cut for the opponents jugular.’ I am always personally prepared to do this.
One reason for training in martial arts may be ’to prepare for death.’ Death is frightening for everyone, but when faced with an opponent out to take your life it is terrifying. Therefore, by taking ourselves over and over to the brink of death we come to an awareness of the abyss of death and it becomes just another everyday thing to us. At the same time we gain a real understanding of just how scary death is. It is these two states then, of recognizing and accepting death, that are the essence of true Budo. It is for me, who is in no way perfect, an endless theme.
The Masaki Ryu, taught in conjunction with the Suio Ryu
This kusarigama tradition has its roots in the techniques of manrikikusari developed by Masaki Taro Dayu. It was then passed down to the 9th Soke of the Suio Ryu, Fukuhara Shinzaemon Kagenori, who devised the art of kusarigama from the manrikigusari techniques. From this time the Masaki Ryu has been transmitted in conjunction with the Suio Ryu.
The body of the kusarigama is roughly 40cm in length with a chain of approximately 2.5 meters. The blade portion is 15 cm in length and is sharp on its 3 protruding edges.
The tradition contains a total of 16 kata in the Omote and Ura sections, all of which are performed in a highly realistic manner. A real kusarigama has a steel weight, which is swing by the chain, however for safety’s sake a less dangerous substitute is used in practice. The techniques include receiving the opponent’s blade with the chain portion, wrapping the opponent’s body and weapon, receiving the opponent’s blade with the body portion and then wrenching it away or stealing it. In particular, striking the opponent with the weight portion is deemed the most effective.
Through actually seeing the techniques of the tradition, not just the kusarigama, I think you will be able to understand everything. The simplicity of the techniques that you will see represent the characteristics of the Suio Ryu. This painful simplicity is the essence of the Suio Ryu and the essence of my path.
About the author:
Katsuse Yoshimitsu is the 15th Soke of the Suio Ryu Iai Kenpo and 12th Soke of the Masaki Ryu, succeeding his father Katsuse Mitsuyasu in 1982. He is the teaching master of the Suio Ryu headquarters, the Hekiunkan Dojo, and Chairman of the Shizuoka Prefecture Kendo Federation Technical Council.
Translated by Antony Cundy, September 2004
Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan: Part 6
Copyright 2008, by Antony Cundy.
The ability to quickly move a weapon from a neutral state into an aggressive or defense movement has always been of great interest to the warrior. Correspondingly, the arts of the fast draw, variously called Iaijutsu or Battojutsu, have held an important place in the curriculums of the comprehensive classical martial traditions of Japan.
The tradition that we focus on this time owes much of its fame and notoriety to the whim of an author of cartoon scripts, which have become famous the world over as the ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ series. And yet the actual tradition is a realistic, practical and refined system of combat for on and off the battlefield that holds at its core the practice of iaijutsu.
Suio Ryu Iai Kenpo, the tradition’s formal title, was founded by Mima Yoichizaemon Kagenobu (1577-1665) in around 1615. Yoichizaemon was born in the Dewa fiefdom to Mima Saigu a priest at the Junisha Gongen Shrine. Sadly, the actual sight of the shrine and the grave of the founder are no longer verifiable as they were both destroyed by landslide in the 18th century.
As a child Yoichizaemon studied the swordsmanship of the Bokuden Ryu, founded by Tsukuhara Bokuden, as well as a form of jojutsu practiced by Yamabushi, mountain warrior priests, called Kongo Jo Joho.
It was in the Spring of Yoichizaemon’s 18th year that he was to encounter a new and startling art, when his father’s friend Sakurai Goroemon Naomitsu came to visit the family. Being renowned in the local area for his martial skills Yoichizaemon asked Naomitsu for a friendly duel, which would be presided over by the former’s father, a challenge Naomitsu happily accepted.
At the appointed time Yoichizaemon faced his opponent in a chudan posture and Naomitsu in his yamabushi like attire, strangely with his sword thrust through his belt, placed his hand on the sword’s tsuka. Both competitors then advanced to the critical distance. Yoichizaemon, feeling suppressed by his opponents poise and unusual way of carrying the sword retreated one step to assume a jodan kamae. But, in that very moment Naomitsu loosed his blade sending it flying under Yoichizaemon’s guard and stopping it sharply in front of his face. ‘That’s enough,’ called Mima Saigu and the encounter was over. It was an exhibition of iaijutsu that would change Yoichizaemon’s life.
Naomitsu was actually a student of the iai innovator and founder of the Hayashizaki Ryu, Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu (1559-1604) and remained with the Mima family for the next 3 months in order to impart the outline of Hayashizaki’s teachings to the eager young Yoichizaemon. Having gained a degree of understanding of the art from Naomitsu, Yoichizaemon vowed to develop his own system of iai by searching the deepest levels of this martial discipline. It is said that he spent his days drawing
against a tree in the precincts of the shrine and in the evenings knelt before an altar and prayed for guidance from the deities.
To advance his studies further Yoichizaemon went on his first Musha Shugyo a traveling form of trial by combat in which warriors would voyage to different areas to test their martial skills against those of other traditions. He traveled to such places as Omine, Togakure, Ontake, Katsuragi and Tateyama. It was during this excursion that he met Sohei, warrior monks from Mt. Hiei who were fleeing the wrath of Oda Nobunaga, from whom Yoichizaemon learnt a system of battlefield naginata.
Twenty years had past since Yoichizaemon had sworn his oath to create a new system of iai, years in which he had polished himself by day and by night. It was in the middle of that twentieth night that Yoichizaemon gained enlightenment when, while kneeling in front of a shrine’s altar, he had a vision of a sphere in which were the forms of white gulls floating without conscious thought on water. He ran out into the shrine’s garden and grabbed a bokuto which he now found he could wield in any direction without fear or conscious thought.
Based on his vision Yoichizaemon created the traditions 64 core techniques, a figure taken from the 28 areas of heaven surrounded by 36 birds of earth represented in a mandala that Yoichizaemon drew immediately after his revelation. He named his tradition Suio Ryu Iai Kenpo, Suio utilizing the characters for water and gull, and placed within its teachings the arts of Iai, Kenpo (an alternate name for kenjutsu), Naginata, Kogusoku (a form of grappling) and jojutsu.
Even after achieving enlightenment and founding his own system Yoichizaemon continued to travel to test both his faith in the gods and his sword arm. It is believed though that this was not a voyage to gain victories and conquests, rather a test of his ability to achieve a state of selflessness. Yoichizaemon saw the practice of swordsmanship as a form of ablution to the gods and his own body as a vehicle to achieving a harmonization with the deities.
When he faced an opponent Yoichizaemon would never attempt to win by trickery or fancy techniques, rather he always aimed to perform aiuchi (lit: mutual strike), which would force his opponents to retire or face certain death.
Yoichizaemon stated that
“Our swordsmanship comes from the mountain ascetics. The essence of our tradition, and the attainment of an unassailable position, comes from cutting down our opponents while the sword is still in the scabbard, stifling our opponent’s actions and achieving victory through not drawing the sword. While engaged in combat, detach yourself from all thoughts of winning or losing, achieve a pure and unfettered mind and attain unification with the gods.”
Yoichizaemon used his spacious dojo to teach not only martial techniques but also taught of the universe through a Heaven and Earth Mandala that he had hung on its wall. At the age of 67 he retired from active teaching, passing responsibility to his son and heir Yohachiro, living out another twenty years before peacefully passing away at the age of 87.
Very little has been written of the Suio Ryu in literature, however there is one story that is often referred to regarding the founder. In the book entitled ‘Gekiken Sodan’ published in 1843 the following story is told.
‘From the Eastern provinces the swordsman Mima came to Tsuyama in Misa no Kuni and gathered students there to teach iai. At this time a rival teacher called Asada Kurobei was already teaching in the area and a match was soon arranged between the two. One of Asada’s students asked of him ‘How are you going to beat (Mima’s) Iai?’ To which Asada replied that to beat an iai exponent one must attack the man and not allow him to draw. Hearing of Asada’s reply Kagenobu realized his great skill and with only those words as his evidence realized the futility of a match and retired from the Tsuyama area’.
In all the records of the Suio Ryu, including those covering the periods of Yoichizaemon’s travels, there is no mention of his being in Tsuyama or of any proposed match with Asada. However it is admitted that Asada’s words strike right to the heart of iai and the story is often quoted by members of the tradition as proof of the founder’s existence.
Succeeding Yoichizaemon, his son Yohachiro Kagenaga added a further 10 techniques to the tradition which to this day represent the Shoden, or initiate level of technique. These are a set of 5 Yo, aggressive/positive techniques, and 5 In, passive/receiving techniques. Yohachiro believed that the techniques his father had created were too advanced for a beginner to comprehend and so added these ten techniques so that those less familiar with swordsmanship could develop their basic skills before attempting the more advanced central techniques.
The tradition passed down in relative obscurity until the time of the 9th Soke, Fukuhara Shinzaemon Kagenori. Shinzaemon was both a student of the 8th Soke of the Suio Ryu, Yoshino Yaichiro Sadatoshi, as well as a student of Yoshida Shigesaemon Sadatoshi, in turn a senior student of Masaki Taro Dayu Toshimitsu the founder of a system of manrikigusari (a chain with weights attached at both ends) called the Masaki Ryu.
Shinzaemon took what he had been taught of the Masaki Ryu weight and chain techniques and added a kama, or sickle, into the equation. He named his system Masaki Ryu Kusarigamajutsu and the system has been taught in conjunction with the Suio Ryu to this day, where it is more correctly referred to as Masaki Ryu Fukuhara Ha Kusarigamajutsu. The system itself contains 18 separate kata designed to be practiced on both sides of the body, i.e. alternating the chain swinging and sickle wielding hands. The shape of the sickle used in the system is unique in that it is shaped so that it is able to cut whether being pushed, pulled or used to strike.
The Suio Ryu was introduced into the Katsuse family by the 13th Soke Mizuma Hanbei Kagetsugu. Hanbei was staying at an inn in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, which was being run by the Katsuse family when the young Katsuse Mitsuyasu caught his eye and he remarked to Mitsuyasu’s father that his son had great potential as a martial artist. Hanbei spent his entire extended stay teaching Mitsuyasu the techniques of the tradition until he finally passed over the seals and scrolls of the tradition in 1930, recognizing Katsuse Mitsuyasu as the 14th Soke of the Suio Ryu.
Having moved to Tokyo to further his kendo training, Mitsuyasu enjoyed a strong relationship with Nakayama Hakudo, often referred to as ‘Showa no Kensei’ (lit: Divine Swordsman of the Showa Era) who provided the name and calligraphy for the dojo that Mitsuyasu created and which still acts as the headquarters of the Suio Ryu, the Hekiunkan (lit: Hall of the Blue Cloud). He also, interestingly, presented Mitsuyasu with a Menkyo license in Kendo. At his passing at the age of 88 in 1992, Katsuse Mitsuyasu Kagemasa held the 8th Dan Hanshi license in kendo and iaido, as well as a 7th Dan Kyoshi license in jodo.
The teachings of the Suio Ryu and its conjunctive systems have been passed down to the present day where the instruction and promulgation of its arts is overseen by the 15th Soke Katsuse Yoshimitsu Kagehiro. He is also recognized as the 12th Soke of the Masaki Ryu Fukuhara Ha.
The Suio Ryu has a daunting range and number of techniques in its curriculum, the techniques of which illustrate time and again the remarkable unification of its principles and movements across weapon types.
In the iai portion of the curriculum there are 10 techniques at the initiate level developed by the 2nd Soke Mima Yohachiro. 9 kata in the Tachiiai (lit: standing iai) and 9 techniques in the Kuyo kata, a series of forms that see the practitioner perform their techniques from seiza.
There are in addition a series of 18 Kage techniques, which were formerly taught only to the successor of the tradition but have recently been made available to all practitioners. These techniques offer counters and problem solving answers to the numerous variables that can be found in the practice of the Kuyo and Tachiai kata. Further, there are a series of passive and aggressive techniques outside of the main curriculum called the Yami series and further a set of 9 kumi iai (lit: paired iai) kata with a corresponding 9 kage variations. There is also a set of techniques that are only taught to the successor of the tradition which are supposed to represent the very essence of the Suio Ryu’s teachings.
In addition to this central iai portion of the system there are 9 techniques of Kogusoku, (grappling performed from standing), 12 Wakizashi techniques performed from seiza, 18 Kenpo kata, 16 Omote and Ura jo versus ken forms and a further 10 Oku kata, as well as a set of 6 highly advanced jo techniques called Muso Gaeshi. There are also 3 tanto-dori (lit: knife taking) kata, 5 tanjo (short staff) kata and 10 jo versus jo kata, 9 Omote and Ura naginata versus sword kata, 9 Omote and Ura naginata versus naginata kata and a series of 3 remarkable solo naginata sequences referred to as the Yasen Okubi Kata, encompassing techniques designed to unhorse opposing cavalry.
The first techniques of the Suio Ryu tradition that are taught from the founder’s original curriculum are the omote and ura techniques called Tatsunami, from the series of nine kata called the Kuyo. Tatsunami refers to a tidal wave that literally rises up before crashing down on the shore and this image is well represented in the movements of the kata. In fact many of the names of the tradition’s iai kata make reference to different types of waves giving clues to the manner of their performance. There are also some forms whose precise explanations for performance are reserved for only the most senior of students and are transmitted in poem form.
In the omote version of Tatsunami the shidachi sits with their sword placed by their left side, blade facing in and with the tsuba in line with the knees. The uchidachi is seated at the optimum range for both sides, i.e. a distance that means that one side is unreachable for any strike that is made from one party only, but that is the optimum range when both parties are moving forward.
Unlike some systems the Suio Ryu teaches that all techniques that are performed from seiza, apart from the Tatsunami techniques, are purely for the development of the practitioner’s carriage and cutting ability. It is felt that there would be no situation in which the warriors of the past would sit opposite each other in seiza with their long swords thrust through their belts. Practice of techniques is made from seiza precisely because of its difficulty. It is believed that if you are able to draw from this ‘dead’ position then you will certainly be able to draw from any other posture.
In performance the shidachi senses the opponent’s aggressive intentions and grabs their sword, chambering it in front of them and, using the end of the tsuka, strikes forward, aiming to hit the opponent in the middle of the face. The uchidachi ducks back out of the way and quickly counter attacks by sweeping their right arm across their body to grab for the offending handle. Seeing his first attack has been foiled the shidachi pulls back his front foot and the sword to leave himself raised on both knees with the sword, still sheaved, across their body, but now with their right hand in place on the handle. Having missed their grab attempt, the uchidachi draws their own blade in a single-handed cut that aims to strike to the top of shidachi’s head. The shidachi, who has been waiting for the opponent to initiate a counter, seizes the opportunity to jump forward into an upright crouch and simultaneously draws their blade at a rising angle from beneath the opponents arm, seriously damaging their striking limb.
Having finished the encounter the shidachi raises the sword overhead in a single-handed jodan kamae, while returning the loose scabbard to a position against the hip. The sword is then lowered into gedan and chiburi (lit: blood shake) is performed. The noto, or sheathing of the sword, is then executed and the forward right leg is retired. This action clears the practitioner’s body from the critical distance that the opponent may be able to utilize if still capable of any kind of action. The practitioner then reassumes seiza finishing the form.
The Ura version of Tatsunami sees the pair assume the same relative positions as in the omote version. The difference being in this case that the sword is placed on the right side of their bodies. It has been suggested that the difference in placing the sword on one side of the body over the other would depend on the circumstances of the meeting and the level of trust between the two principals. The lesser the trust the more likely the sword would be placed on the practitioners left side were it could be more easily brought into use.
As in the omote version the shidachi reads his opponents intentions and picks up his sword, although this time with his right hand. He then chambers and strikes with the butt to uchidachi’s face. Uchidachi again ducks back and attempts to grab the handle, which is quickly retracted by the shidachi. Unlike in the previously described version the shidachi does not wait for his opponent’s next attack but draws the sword with his left hand across his body, with the blade edge facing up, and thrusts the blade into his opponent’s solar plexus. The chiburi and the noto actions are the same as in the omote version except that they are performed using the opposite hands.
This technique develops strong physical coordination and dexterity while also training the practitioner in how to both observe and respond to his opponent’s movements and counters. It also teaches the practitioner how to bait the opponent into movement that draws them into a position where they are vulnerable.
Suio Ryu practitioners are always made strongly aware of the need to draw the opponent into cutting range through the use of trickery and feigned weakness. They also learn distancing through paired practice of all iai techniques from the central curriculum. However, practitioners are also constantly reminded of the simple truth that if they are able to reach their opponent with their blade then the opponent must be able to reach them.
Throughout the practice of techniques in the Suio Ryu, practitioners are made aware of the difference between practicing on level wooden floorboards and the reality of more natural ground. Thus when a cut is made the practitioner is expected to coincide their impact on the visualized opponent with the planting of the forward foot, ensuring body weight is driven through the target and so even if the foot were to slide this would only be after impact had been achieved. Similarly, the degree of lighting and available space for movement is also considered and the affect of these environmental factors practiced and experimented with for each technique.
The essence of training in the iai of the Suio Ryu has been stated by the 14th Soke as follows. They are words of interest and resonance for any practitioner of iai arts.
‘The essence of iai lies in the moment when the blade leaves the scabbard. If we err in the mechanism of the draw we will not be able to influence the moment in which life or death is decided. Speed, correctness of form and strength, these are the objectives of iai training. Having said this, for the initiate to begin with speed will cause their body’s form to be incorrect, their cutting lines to be unclean, their application of kiai will be mistimed and their iai form will not develop.
By firstly calmly and slowly drawing the blade and observing the form dictated by the tradition, polish your grip, cutting line, body posture and kiai. In this manner you will prepare the tradition’s structure, your own and other’s kiai will become clearer and speed will be added to your draw. At length you will also understand when to move with speed and when to move more slowly and through this understanding reach a state of universal movement.
Many iai practitioners of today go no further than the most basic practice form of slowly drawing the sword. This is not the way to achieve improvement. Believing this is truly a great misconception. To reach the highest level of understanding takes more than one day, it must take the form of endless practice of the basic techniques.
Iai that has not been fully explored and studied can only ever be a dance performed with a sword.’
The vibrancy and energy of the Suio Ryu under Katsuse Soke can be matched by few koryu traditions. A visit to the Hekiunkan dojo will see a remarkable number of young men and women practicing its varied arts. It is certainly a testament to the generations of Suio Ryu masters that so many young people can find meaning and inspiration in the teachings of a tradition whose patterns were first laid down in the early part of the 17th century.
As many traditions of iai in the present day fragment into opposing factions and in many cases lose their original martial intent the Suio Ryu stands as a stark example of the harsh reality and effectiveness of iaijutsu. It is this practical efficacy and the insistence on maintaining combative reality through harsh paired practice and experimentation that marks the Suio Ryu as a truly living martial tradition.
Special thanks are offered to Suio Ryu Iai Kenpo 15th Soke Katsuse Yoshimitsu Kagehiro and senior exponents of the tradition for their patient and generous support and cooperation in the development of this article and beyond.
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