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 ~

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Combat Swimming

Japan is not only an island nation, it is very mountainous, which means there are numerous streams, rivers and ponds. The Japanese warriors developed methods of fighting in water as this could be a very real possibility.

Below is a post that appeared at Ellis Amdur's excellent blog, Kogen Budo on this topic. The full post may be read here.

What most people practice as swimming then is the offspring of a completely unnatural environment, devoid of current, waves, salt, lack of visibility, unsure depth and wildlife (the writer himself having had a narrow scrape with a protective swan whilst swimming in London’s Hyde Park). The Japanese classical swimming arts are the polar opposite–they are highly practical strokes and strategies, systematically designed to give the practitioner mastery of the natural element. In essence, to give the individual the same confidence they have on land, in the water. It is no coincidence that the final award given to a master of the Kobori-ryu is the Bosui (忘水) scroll, which literally means ‘to have forgotten that one is in the water.’

What we describe now as Nihon Eiho, has been referred to by various names through the ages: suijutsu, suiren, tosuijutsu, yueijutsu, yueiho and simply oyogi. References for swimming in Japan go back to the times of the Emperor Jimmu (circa 660 BCE), and the tales of the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, but it is the navy, in particular the Mishima Suigun (active in the early part of the 16th century), that is thought most likely to be the origin of focused attention on swimming techniques. However, no contemporary records exist of the actual techniques taught–as with most koryu arts, it took the relative peace of the Edo period to allow these methods to blossom into traditions with solid curricula.

The majority of these swimming traditions were formulated in the warmer southern regions of Japan, particularly Kyushu and the Wakayama area, and flourished in clans that were strongly martial, often with daimyo with personal interests in the martial arts. Many daimyo were practitioners, and shogun themselves, such as Tokugawa Ieyasu and Iemitsu, were also known to be avid swimmers.

Thirteen traditions have made it down to the modern day:  Shinto-ryu, Suinin-ryu, Kobori-ryu, Suifu-ryu, Mukai-ryu, Suifu-ryu Ohta-ha, Yamauchi-ryu, Kankai-ryu, Shinden-ryu, Koike-ryu, Iwakura-ryu, Nojima-ryu, and Shume Shinden-ryu (the latter of which was only recognized as being different enough from Shinden-ryu in 2014). All of these ryuha are recognized, supported and promoted by the Nihon Eiho Committee, which is in turn part of the Japan Amateur Swimming Association. A simple comparison for which can easily be made with the All Japan Iaido Federation, part of the All Japan Kendo Federation.

Each tradition maintains their own forms of recognition, often in the form of menjo and menkyo as per kenjutsu traditions, while practitioners also take exams under the auspices of the committee. However, there are no seitei (synthesized) forms in the latter, in the manner of some other martial arts organizations, that have created such forms to be used  as a shared set of movements. Each practitioner performs only techniques from their own curriculum to receive recognition, putting a considerable degree of pressure on the judges who must be familiar with disparate techniques from each ryuha.

The Nihon Eiho committee oversees two major events a year, the Nihon Eiho Kenkyukai, this year celebrating its 66th gathering and the Nihon Eiho Taikai, holding its 63rd event. The former takes one of the extant traditions, in turn, as its theme and provides a platform for the traditions to present the latest research into their origins and curriculum, both academically and physically.

The Nihon Eiho Taikai features time trials, individual and team performance competitions, as well as recognition in the form of four levels of ranking. Specifically, these are yushi 游士 (recognized swimmer), renshi 練士 (trained swimmer), kyoshi 教士 (instructor) and hanshi 範士 (model). In 2104, due to the large numbers of aged practitioners who found it difficult to reach the physical requirements of these ranks, a different system to recognize their efforts was created. Specifically, these stages of recognition are called, shusui 修水 (trained in the water), wasui 和水 (harmonized with the water, nyosui 如水 (Understanding the essence of water).

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