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 ~

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Tendo Ryu Naginata Do

At Kogen Budo, Ellis Amdur published an interview he conducted with Abe Toyoko, a senior sensei in the Tendo Ryu of Naginata. Below is an excerpt. The full interview may be read here.

In the early late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Kini Collins and I began a project to write a book on naginata (many portions of which later became the basis of my book, Old School). We interviewed many wonderful instructors of various ryu, and among them was this one Kini did with Abe sensei, which she first published by Valerie Eads, PhD., in “Fighting Woman News.”
 Kini and I had previously gone to Kyoto to observe a yearly national practice of Tendo-ryu, and among the many powerful women was one who stood out, Abe Toyoko sensei. Her technique had a different quality, both precise, but really powerful.  Even more striking, however, was her manner.  She obviously could not accept anything less than exemplary budo.  She was blunt spoken, even harsh, but never unkind.  She simply stated how she believed Tendo-ryu must be executed, and implicit in every word was the confidence that if one disagreed, she could demonstrate physically why her way was better.
Q: When I first saw you at the school in Osaka, well, I am not well acquainted with the Tendo Ryu students, but you moved and looked so different…

A: Well, there is a reason for that. I got started in Kyoto, with the mother of the present head teacher. She was the 15th generation headmistress, Mitamura Chiyo sensei. I was living near the Heian Shrine.[i] Just by rounding the southeast corner and walking dead straight for about 2 miles, well there it was. Every year in May, there is a big festival, even today. They had everything – judo, kendo, kyudo – everything. Not like today: now they only have that modern, noisy kendo! You used to have to wear formal clothes to even get in. And even with that, the place was jammed. Sometimes you couldn’t even get in the doors. So different from now! It’s like going to the movies or a baseball game now. You used to be able to drink in the tension and quietness. That is where I first saw my teachers. That was all I needed. There have been really bad times in all those years, mostly dealing with the other people involved. I thought about quitting many times, but in the end, it was that first demonstration I saw, knowing it was and can be so good, so good. That impression helped me stick with it. That is what I want, have always wanted to pass on, something to help people stick. I’m not interested in sitting at demonstrations, judging matches or even being well known. My questions are different:  What is the meaning of the basic techniques? How can they be done with this partner? What is the timing? I think about these things. Why it happens the way it does.
This new stuff. One, up with the stick. Two, down with it. Three, put it away. Well, that’s one way of teaching, but there is something else, I only know it as kokoro (heart, spirit, will). Pull it in on one, out on two, lift on three, well, you try it! If you do it only with an awareness of moving and no concept of kokoro you are so wide open it isn’t even funny. This is what I want to teach: how to react when your partner doesn’t respond in form in the way you are used to. This is what it hasn’t got, the new naginata. There is no thought outside the form; there isn’t even any path for this kind of thinking.

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