Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Passing Along the Family Martial Tradition

Below is an excerpt from an interview which was conducted by The subject is Kiyomoto Ogasawara, who teaches his family's 850 year old art of yabusame (Japanese mounted archery). His father is the 35th generation head master of the art.

The full interview may be read here.

INTERVIEWER You’re an instructor in a long line of teachers. How far back does it go?

OGASAWARA KIYOMOTO We have a tradition of over 850 years. My ancestor Ogasawara Nagakiyo founded the Ogasawara-ryū school in 1187. He instructed Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shōgun of Japan, in etiquette, archery, and mounted archery, arts known as kyūhō. The school’s first display of yabusame mounted archery was given at Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shrine in Kamakura, and you can still see this performed today every September. My father Kiyotada is the thirty-first-generation head of our tradition.

INTERVIEWER What are the origins of yabusame?

OGASAWARA The tradition began as a samurai discipline for fighting and was called kisha or horseback archery. But only one ritualistic form of this can be called yabusame.

INTERVIEWER How was your family able to preserve this through the upheavals of Japanese history?

OGASAWARA When the shōgun system ended in the nineteenth century, other families commercialized their arts to support themselves, but we decided to preserve ours while working regular jobs. Kiyokane, the twenty-eighth head of the household, opened the Ogasawara-ryū school to the public in Tokyo’s Kanda while also teaching etiquette at schools. To maintain the purity of our tradition, it’s our rule not to make a full-time living from instruction.
INTERVIEWER What do you do to support yourself?

OGASAWARA I’m a researcher in a Japanese pharmaceutical company during the daytime. In the evenings and on weekends, I practice the disciplines of etiquette, archery, and yabusame.

INTERVIEWER Please describe the Ogasawara school’s activities today.

OGASAWARA We teach the arts of archery, yabusame, and reihō, or etiquette. In our practice, we teach the essence of etiquette, not simply what to do in a given situation. For these disciplines, students learn a variety of forms including standing, bowing, and walking, as well as drawing the bow and mounting the mokuba wooden horse for yabusame. We hold a training camp two or three times a year; it involves real horses and lasts several days.

We also organize training sessions on the day before and the day of yabusame festivals. We participate in approximately ten festivals across Japan, including those at Kamakura’s Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shrine, Kyoto’s Shimogamo Shrine, Nikkō’s Tōshōgū Shrine, and Sumida Park in Tokyo’s Asakusa. We even teach the art of tying knots used for samurai armor, horsemanship, boxes, wrapping objects, and other situations.

INTERVIEWER Yabusame festivals certainly draw crowds, but how popular is the art in terms of studying?

OGASAWARA Right now we have roughly 700 students, of which about ten are foreigners from place like the United States, France, and Poland. Those from overseas are particularly interested in yabusame and the art of the bow.

The Fine Art of Samurai Manners

INTERVIEWER How would you describe your approach to teaching etiquette?

OGASAWARA It’s important to practice with a focus on how to use one’s body and practice mindfulness, the art of being aware of what one is doing at any given moment, and to use that for one’s approach to modern life while staying in harmony with one’s environment.

A tradition that lasts more than 800 years does not change. It’s not a question of changing the main teachings of the tradition which is the essence; we only change the minor details according to the times. The essence of our tradition is two texts, the Shūshinron and Taiyōron, compiled by my ancestors Sadamune and Tsuneoki. The former outlines how to govern the heart and mind, while the latter concerns the body. Preserving this essence for posterity is very important.
INTERVIEWER What would the samurai of old think of Japanese today and how they use their modern tools―smartphones instead of swords?

OGASAWARA The greatest difference is in how people think. For instance, the Bushidō virtues of justice, loyalty, and piety were strictly upheld in the past, unlike now. The concept of chūgi, or obedience, and kōkō or filial piety, were woven into the fabric of everyday life. But if we uphold those virtues, then people of yesteryear would be fine in today’s world even though all the nonessential tools of life, such as smartphones, have changed.

INTERVIEWER In terms of etiquette, foreigners generally see Japan as a polite society, full of time-honored customs like bowing. But what you teach goes far beyond that, doesn’t it?

OGASAWARA Etiquette in Japan today is taught according to the social situation: when you express appreciation or an apology to someone, for instance, you should bow deeply. This does not go into the essence, however, and that is the focus of our practice. We believe students should think about what to do in a given situation based on their knowledge of this essence.

The Ogasawara-ryū forms of etiquette were for the shōgun and those who met him. But moving one’s body according to one’s position in the social hierarchy also served as a means of defense against attack. After all, the higher one was in the hierarchy, the greater the chance of attack. For instance, through hand movements, one could easily observe the possibility of a sword being drawn and take precautions. That’s why they would, in observance of etiquette, naturally position their hands in such a manner that it would be impossible to quickly draw a sword, thereby assuring others they had no ill intent. But at the same time, they would assume a posture that would eliminate any delay in their response in the unlikely event that they would be attacked.

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