Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, 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 ~

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Sword is the Soul

At, there was an interview with a famous contemporary Japanese swordsmith, Miyairi Norihiro. The full interview may be read here, with follow up photos here. An excerpt is below.

For centuries, Japan’s warrior class revered the Japanese sword as the “soul of the samurai” and symbol of their dominant place in society. The Meiji Restoration of 1868, though, removed the samurai from power and the promulgation of the Sword Abolishment Edict (haitōrei) stripped them of their arms, bringing an end to the once-common sight of warriors strutting about with their swords at their waists.
Although many traditional arts associated with the samurai have disappeared, the production of Japanese swords has persevered. Today there are around 350 swordsmiths, and enthusiasts in Japan and around the world continue to admire Japanese swords as works of art and exemplars of an age-old tradition of craftsmanship. One of the best-known swordsmiths today is Miyairi Norihiro, a master whose commissions include ceremonial swords (goshinpō) used during Shintō ceremonies at Ise Shrine and exact replicas of historic swords for the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We recently sat down with Miyairi to learn about why the Japanese sword continues to exert such a powerful hold over people’s imaginations.
INTERVIEWER  You come from a long line of swordsmiths. How did you develop your unique approach to sword making?
MIYAIRI NORIHIRO There are several traditions of Japanese sword-making, each with its own distinct style. Famous examples include the Sōshu and Bizen traditions. My family all the way down to my grandfather and father belonged to the Sōshu school. But when I began my apprenticeship in my twenties I studied under Sumitani Masamine, a living national treasure who was a master Bizen swordsmith. He was a true artist who could create a distinctive clove-like hamon pattern on the blade. This pattern is now known as the Sumitani chōji [cloves] hamon in his honor. I was fascinated by his creativity, which far exceeded any other swordsmith. But the world of Japanese artisans is very conservative. Leaving a family tradition and apprenticing with a master from a different school was unheard of, and many people at the time regarded me as a kind of heretic for breaking the unspoken rules of conduct.
I studied for five years under Sumitani and for nine years with my father before establishing my own forge in the city of Tōmi in Nagano Prefecture. I received the mukansa qualification [meaning “exempt from examination,” it is the mark of a master craftsman] when I was 39, the youngest person at the time to do so. But as I entered my fifties, normally the prime of life for a swordsmith, I became seriously ill. I made up my mind that if I recovered I would not be shackled by traditions or schools.
My family has been making swords in the same tradition since the middle of the nineteenth century, but I broke away and become something of a lone wolf. My swords combine differing traditions with novel elements, and I think that fusion appeals to many of people.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mastering the Body in Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from an article that Nic Asher's website. The full post may be read here.

I grew up loving Arnold. I lifted weights as a kid, played sports and practiced martial arts. I’d devour books and movies, watching hours of Bruce lee films and practicing my one inch punch on reluctant friends.
Quickly jumping from one sport or discipline to another, some would criticize me for not focusing and sticking to one thing. Unknown to myself at the time, this was exactly what I should have been doing. In fact, the more time I spent exploring different systems of movement, health, and training the better I got. At everything.
Think of it like this. If you want to write a song, but know only five words, you’re going to be in trouble. I was broadening my knowledge, and creating a strong base that would serve me very well in the future.
By stepping back and looking at the big picture, you can give yourself more freedom and room to grow. The ceiling is truly limitless and it’s completely up to you where it stops.

You Have One Shot. One opportunity.

You, my dear reader are awesome. Not only that, but you’re the proud owner of the most complex ‘machine’ in the known universe. Let that sink in for a moment… No really. The human body is a highly adaptive organism with a seemingly unlimited capacity to learn, create and express itself.
But there’s a problem…It’s too easy to neglect the body. In fact, if you look around any street in the western world you won’t see a mass of athletic bodies, moving with vitality and effortlessness. Which, by the way is the natural state of a human body. (If you don’t believe me go and watch some footage of tribes untouched by globalization.)
The problem isn’t laziness. It’s our genetics and a lack of knowledge. Quite simply, we’re born to be lazy. The world is easy for us now. If I don’t want to move much or eat healthy, I don’t have to and I’ll probably live to a ripe old age. This means we have to fight against our natural instincts to not expand energy. Without good reasons to do this you’ll lose the battle to motivate yourself.
Look, I don’t need to tell you that your body is degrading every day. And that you only have one. And that if you don’t know how to care for and protect your body that it may end much, much worse than you’d planned for. I don’t need to tell you all this, but I did, and its worth reminding yourself every once in a while.
Who owns your body anyway?

You are fully responsible for your body. So the question you have to ask is do you want to start the journey of real ownership. Do you want to commit to mastery? Knowing you have one body, that will one day be gone. I mean, at the end of the day nothing really matters anyway, we all die. By the way this isn’t supposed to sound negative. If you think deeply about it, you may realize that this is the ultimate freedom. You can do anything, or nothing, and it’s all the same…it is completely your choice.
Reasons For Physical Mastery

  • More energy
  • Ability to protect yourself and others
  • Complete physical freedom
  • Understanding of human nature (discipline, fear, success, failure, emotions)
  • Unlimited potential for play and creativity High levels of awareness and intuition
  • Deeper appreciation for life
  • Impressive feats of strength and flexibility
  • Knowledge of anatomy, training, nutrition and meditation, massage, injuries
And so much more…
Your body is an incredible vehicle for self-mastery, discovery and growth. From overcoming ‘impossible’ challenges, to understanding and exploring fear, creativity, and play. This all sounds great…But what exactly does mastering the body mean? And how do we go about this process?
The Big Picture

We human beings have a deep connection to learning and play. They are the building blocks of survival. Kittens will play for long periods, learning to hunt by chasing string. And dolphins, with coral. Not only that but within play is the ability to express our uniqueness and to share our art, which I believe transcends mere survival, touching on something deeper.
But we need to keep ourselves engaged. How do we do this? In one word. Progression. Our attitude should be a striving yet sensitive approach to continual and never-ending improvement. Or as the Japanese would say, ‘Kaizen’. If we approach the body in this manner, we are on the path towards mastery.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Wu Yinghua and Wu Family Style Taijiquan

Below is a video of Wu Yinghua, the daughter of the founder of Wu family style of Taijiquan, Wu Jianquan, performing the long form.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Learning by Teaching

At Martial Views, the author had a very nice piece on how by filling the role of instructor, the serious student learns more himself. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

One day many years ago my sensei was giving a lesson when he got an emergency call to leave. Being the senior at the time, he asked me to finish leading the class, and off he went. I winged it, and I liked being in charge more than I could've imagined. Afterwards I came to the realization that doing and teaching something are worlds apart. I've never owned a school, but through the years I've taught and help prepare dozens of students for advancement that has equally benefited me. Give, and you will receive, goes the verse.

Learning is enhanced through teaching others; it sheds light on the subject matter from a different perspective. In one study, researchers tested the theory that learning by instructing others is viable because compels the teacher to retrieve what they’ve previously studied. In other words, they believe the learning benefit of teaching is simply another manifestation of the well-known “testing effect” – the way that bringing to mind what we’ve previously studied leads to deeper and longer-lasting acquisition of that information than more time spent passively re-studying.

In the martial arts, teachers and seniors are expected to be role models for ethical behavior. The behavior of both the instructor and higher ranking students in a school can be very revealing. Newbies tend to be diffident, but they notice things. In an article for Black Belt magazine (August 1995), Dave Lowry writes,

The senior must also remember that, just as he evaluates the juniors in class, they are watching him. They will notice whether a male senior rushes to help an attractive female junior while ignoring male beginners. They will be observant of the senior's attendance habits and will notice whether he is frequently absent. They will notice whether the senior shows respect for his instructor and his dojo. And they will notice whether the senior lives the precept of his art, and whether its values are translated into his actions, both in and out of the training hall.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Dao De Jing, #69, Strategists Have a Saying

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's great classics, it is one of the foundations of Philosophical Daoism. A free online version of the Dao De Jing may be found here. Today we have #69, Strategists Have a Saying.

用兵有言、吾不敢爲主而爲客、不敢進寸而退尺。是謂行無行、攘無臂、 扔 無敵、執無兵。禍莫大於輕敵。輕敵幾喪吾寶。故 抗兵相如、哀者勝矣。

Strategists have a saying:

I prefer to be able to move, rather than be in a fixed position

I prefer to retreat a foot rather than advancing an inch.

This is called progress without advancing;

Preparing without showing off;

Smashing where there is no defense;

Taking him without a fight.

There is no greater danger than under-estimating your opponent.

If I under-estimate my opponent

I will lose that which is most dear.


When opponents clash

The one who is sorry about it will be the winner.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Naming a Martial Arts School

Below is an excerpt from another great article from Kenshi 24/7. The full post may be read here.

One of the turning points in a budoka’s lifetime is when he or she is given teaching responsibilities. This is not a sudden thing of-course, and they are expected to continue study under their sensei (and sempai) for years to come. Eventually the budoka becomes a senior teacher and may either take over their sensei’s position or even leave to start a new group. This is of-course an orthodox/ideal path. Some people are suddenly found – for no reason other than chance – that they have to become a leader of a group, or – for more personal reasons – decide to start a group earlier than expected*.
When a new group is started one of the first things to decide is what you call yourselves. Unfortunately, in the Japanese budo community today (across many martial arts) there are some strange names in use. Usually this is through no fault of their own, but simply a lack of Japanese language skills. In the internet age it should be easier to do some research into whats-good-and-whats-strange, and with more people coming to Japan to study budo (and the language) I imagine group-naming will improve.
Personally I have been involved in inheriting a group suddenly, have created my own group, and have been involved in advising people on what to call their new groups over the past few years. Although I cannot tell you what to name your own group, hopefully this small article can help you choose a name – if you choose to use something Japanese – that won’t cause potential awkwardness in the future (believe me, I’ve seen it!).
Note that I’ve used ‘group’ throughout the introduction, the reason for which will become clear below.
Before we even start to talk about what to call your group, the easiest thing to determine is which SUFFIX you should use. Budo groups in Japan follow some pretty standard rules, so lets have a look at some good examples to explain what I mean:
Mid 19th century-pre-war schools:
tobuKAN (Ozawa Torakichi. Built 1874.)
shumpuKAN (Yamaoka Tesshu. Built 1882.)
museiDO (dai-yon kotogakko bujutsu dojo. Built 1887)
meishinKAN (Takano Sasaburo. Built 1890.)
Waseda daigaku gekkikenBU (Naito Takaharu. Founded 1897)
butokuDEN (Butokukai. Built 1899.)
shudogakuIN (Takano Sasaburo. Built 1918.)
Noma DOJO (Noma Seiji. Built 1925.)
Modern kendo/iaido/etc schools and spaces (I’ve used those that I am involved in):
yoseiKAI (Osaka)
eikenKAI (Osaka)
sumiyoshi budoKAN (Osaka)
nippon budoKAN (Tokyo)
edinburgh kendo CLUB (Edinburgh)
Suffixes are split into two types, depending on your relationship to your physical structure/keiko space:
1. Physical structures
The kanji 館 (kan) refers to a hall or building, usually of large size. Originally it referred to a guesthouse/eatery. KAN is used in everyday Japanese in words like bujitsuKAN/hakubutsuKAN (art/history museum), toshoKAN (library), bunkaKAN (cultural centre), etc etc.
Budo-wise, if you are using KAN then you should be referring to a solid, unmoving building, probably – but not necessarily – large. Inside this structure you could have a single keiko space, or many; multiple groups (with different names) could be using it.
The kanji 院 originally designated a larged fenced structure but has over time come to means something that is connected with the state (including schools and hospitals), and includes religion. In everyday Japanese you can see this in byoIN (hospital), daigakuIN (graduate university), and the names of scores of temples, e.g. byodoIN in Kyoto.
Budo-wise its similar to KAN above but has a more spiritual or educational sounding quality to it. Perhaps it is connected to a religious facility or/and also offers education classes of some sort.
Den 殿 and TO(DO) 堂 also refer to specific halls or structures, but nowhere as large as KAN or IN above. TO has basically no other meaning than “hall” but DEN can refer to military barracks.
Budo-wise these suffixes are the least used, especially nowadays.

Monday, November 12, 2018

One of the Last Great Samurai

I've posted about Tesshu Yamaoka a few times before. Below is an excerpt from another fine article about him. The full post may be read here.

Yamaoka was born in 1836 when Japan was in the final stages of 252 years of peace and isolation from the rest of the world, a time that most World historians would agree was the most amazing times in world history wherein there was relative peace in a country, at the time known as the Edo period. At the tender age of 9 he began to study the way of the sword. Remember during the Edo period the possession of real swords was outlawed and practitioners of the sword would work with either the wooden sword known as a Bokkuken or a bamboo sword known as a Shinai. When he was 17 he began to study the way of the spear under a teacher known as Yamaoka Seizan. When this master died Tesshu married one of his daughters and went on to carry the name of Yamaoka throughout his life. This was a practice that has continued until the present day although less common in Modern Japan.

Yamaoka was intensely focused on the sword and sword fighting throughout his life but along the way he was the subject of countless stories that border on the mythical in stature.

In his late 20s a senior member of his group announced when they were drinking that he was about to set off on a 1-day trip out to Narita and back. It was only Yamaoka who was brave enough (or foolish enough) to vow to go along on this 140 Kilometer adventure. When Yamaoka arrived at the senior`s house early in the morning he found he was too hungover to go and so Yamaoka steadfastly undertook the journey out and back in less than 24 hours on his own in a tremendous downpour, And in wooden Japanese clogs, or Geta (下駄)to boot (no pun intended).
Yamaoka when he was in his early 30s was defeated by a skilled swordsman named, Asari Yoshiaki
Yamaoka became his student and even though he was larger than his teacher standing around 182 centimeters which was gigantic at that time in Japan and was known by the nickname of the Demon Tesshu, he could not come close to dealing with his teacher`s greater mental skill. It is said that Asari would drive Yamaoka to the back of the Dojo, out onto the street and after knocking him down would slam the door shut.
For years Yamaoka thought about little else than sword fighting and immersed himself in sword skills, mental training and meditation. It wasn`t much later when he was 45 years old that while sitting in Zazen he attained enlightenment (悟り). Following this, when he went to the Dojo and stood in Tachiai with Asari, the teacher realized immediately that Yamaoka had become enlightened and could no longer defeat him and backed away from the fight. He told Yamaoka that he had arrived at his destination and that there was nothing more he could teach him. Yamaoka went on to open his own form of swordfighting known as “Mutou Ryuu” or, “The No-sword way”. That is 無刀流 and not 武藤 as in Ayami (武藤彩未).

Being an incredibly skilled and powerful warrior he became a tutor for Emperor Meiji when he was a teen.

Friday, November 09, 2018

One Kata, Three Styles; a Side by Side Comparison

The video below shows the Bassai Dai kata as performed by three different styles: Shotokan, Shito Ryu and Wado Ryu.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

A Traditional German Martial Art

Below is an excerpt from Kung Fu Tea. The full post may be read here.

Making Jiu-Jitsu German
Sarah Panzer, who recently finished her PhD in History at the University of Chicago, authored a chapter in J. M. Chao et al.’s edited volume Transnational Encounters between Germany and Japan (Palgrave, 2016).  I decided to skim the collection on the odd chance that it might have some discussion of the early history of the Asian martial arts in Europe, and it did not disappoint.  Readers will want to check out Panzer’s paper “When Jiu-Jitsu was German: Japanese Martial Arts in German Sport and Korperkultur, 1905-1933” (91-106).

The article is just as evocative as the title suggests.   While historically, rather than theoretically, oriented, it chronicles the initial introduction of the Japanese jiu-jitsu into Germany, and its steady rise in popularity through the middle of the 1930’s.   At first blush this success might not appear surprising.  Historians of sports and popular cultural have already commented on the global spread of jiu-jitsu during the early 20th century.  When you have Teddy Roosevelt literally promoting a Japanese fighting system from the Oval Office, it is not hard to understand why a variety of scholars would take note.

Yet Panzer notes that the German case suggests some unique paradoxes.  Rightly or wrongly, German society during the early 20th century had a reputation for being hostile to foreign sports.  Given that this was the great age of nationalism in Europe, that trait was not entirely unique.  In the period rhetoric that surrounded these discussions, great emphasis was often put on the local “rootedness” and cultural value of a given activity.

Given that context, it would be hard to think of any more exotic a physical practice than Japanese jiu-jitsu during the 1910’s.  One might suspect that this art would have enjoyed only a modest degree of success.  That was not the case.

Jiu-jitsu took off at a pace unmatched in most places in the West.  Indeed, the early success of the Japanese grappling arts in Germany seems to be an almost textbook case of cultural borrowing and acculturation.  Panzer notes that by 1937 Nazi leisure organizations could, with no sense of irony, advertise their jiu-jitsu programs as “typically German” types of recreation along with swimming, horseback riding and calisthenics.

German’s fascination (and later close political relationship) with Japan was a critical aspect of this story.  As in other places, Japan’s victory over Russia (1904-1905) set off a wave of admiration and questioning.  Germans were fascinated by the stories of the surprising strength, endurance and mental resilience of the Japanese troops in Manchuria.  In this environment certain individuals came to see the Japanese as ‘kindred spirits’ and perceived in them an alternate model of the link between hyper-masculinity and nationalism.

Jiu-jitsu came to be seen as the secret code that would allow the outsider to unravel the mysteries of Japan’s military strength, won in seeming defiance of the strict racial hierarchies of the day.  To those whose interest were broader, it was also taken as a key to the island nation’s success in rapid industrialization, a mirror revealing its perceived quality of spiritual equanimity, and even a clue to the excellence of Japan aesthetic sensibilities.  As always, the Asian martial arts seem to have thrived when they were accepted as the key to unlocking an entire range of values stretching from the realms of masculinity and militarism to culture and spirituality.

In this environment, it is no surprise that pioneers like Eric Rahn would begin to train themselves in these techniques, or that the demonstrations performed by Japanese sailors on a goodwill tour would win an elite audience and result in the art’s introduction to police and military academies.  Panzer notes that the first dedicated jiu-jitsu club opened in Berlin in 1906.  By 1923 there were no fewer than 13 established schools in the country.

Still, by the 1920s the first flush of “Jiu-Jitsu Fever” had cooled off in much of the rest of the West.  Jared Miracle has noted how the art’s introduction fit with changing notions of masculinity in North America.   Yet Wendy Rouse has argued that the critique of traditional masculinities which drove much of the initial enthusiasm for the art never quite fit with the overall trend of the progressive era in the US.  Thus one suspects that additional forces might help to explain the success that the art enjoyed in Germany.

Panzer notes some key differences in this process of acculturation.  At the most basic level German students did not simply take up ‘Japanese’ practices.  Rather, they sought to transform them in such a way that they could legitimately be understood as extensions of German, rather than Japanese, values.  Some thinkers went even further, formulating an argument that jiu-jitsu had, at heart, always been German, and may have emerged from the nation’s brutal medieval battlefields.  In that sense, there was nothing uniquely Japanese about the art at all.  It was simply another example of the knightly cultural traditions that were revered in so many other places within Western society.
Panzer states:
“Indeed, one of the first scholarly works on the discipline [of Ju-Jitsu] was an explicit attempt to redefine it as fundamentally German.  Martin Vogt, an instructor at the Theresien-Gymnasium in Munich. Published his own findings on the cultural heritage of jiu-jitsu under the title Dschiu-Dschitsu der Japaner—das alte deutsche Freiringen.  In this meticulously illustrated pamphlet Vogt juxtaposed images of standard jiu-jitsu holds and grips with woodcut images from medieval German texts on wrestling, including one illustrated by Albrecht Durer.  Vogt claimed that he had felt compelled to write the book in response to the growing visibility of jiu-jitsu in Germany following the Russo-Japanese War; his work was meant to be a response to the growing suspicion among Germans that the Japanese possessed some secret or special knowledge about combat and self-defence that made them especially formidable opponents. Vogt attempted to dispel any existing anxiety about jiu-jitsu by making it more immediately familiar and recognizable thereby effectively recovering it as a forgotten piece of German cultural inheritance.

In the text that accompanies his elaborate pictorial comparisons of jiu-jitsu and medieval German wrestling Vogt argued that jiu-jitsu was, quite simply, a system of practical techniques paralleling those used by medieval Germans, preserved and formalized in Japan.  He never went so far as to suggest that one evolved out of the other, but instead argued that any logical study of the human body and its weaknesses in hand-to-hand combat, unencumbered by the demands of chivalry or rules of combat, would have yielded similar and practical strategies.” (p. 95-96)

A uniquely German approach to jiu-jitsu emerged in more practical venues as well.  Panzer documents the shifts that occurred within the German umbrella organization as the “self-defense” aspects of the art (often those that would be of the most interest to law enforcement or military personnel) fell out of favor and were replaced with training regimes that placed much more emphasis on the basic movements that would be useful in competition.  Indeed, this debate on the value of competition defined the evolution of the art in the post-WWI period.

Given the success of the art’s sporting wing, one might be forgiven for assuming that judo, which also shed many of its militant techniques in favor of those that could be used in more sporting settings, would have been a great success.  This was not the case.  The cultural and moral aspects of the practice that Kano went to such great lengths to promote rubbed many of these early German practitioners the wrong way.  They sensed within them the inescapable presence of Japanese nationalism and identity.  In their view none of that was really essential to jiu-jitsu, which at its core was an expression of universal truths about human combat, and (under their guidance) had evolved into a uniquely German system of physical training and competition that did not closely resemble daily practice in the Kodokan.

Nor were they swayed by appeals to judo’s greater ‘internationalism.’ Defenders of the emerging discipline of German jiu-jitsu pointed out that none of these arts had developed as successfully in other Western countries as they had in Germany.  And in any case, it was the expression of uniquely German values transmitted through specifically developed bodily technologies that gave the practice its intrinsic values, not Japanese moralizing.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

The Reality of Budo

Strictly speaking, Budo is a method of self development using a Japanese martial art as a vehicle. I like to think that I learned something about Budo when I trained in aikido under Kushida Sensei

As I no longer practice a Japanese martial art, but strive for the same ends through distance running and Taijiquan, I call what I do "Budo with a small 'b'."

Over at The Budo Bum, there was a very good article about just exactly what Budo really is. An excerpt is below. The full post can be read here.

What we do in the dojo needs to be real. It’s budo, not sport or athletics or some kind of game. We are practicing the serious art of controlled violence. This an art where mistakes have consequences. As Ellis Amdur points out so well in his essay The Real Importance Of Reishiki In Koryu, even the little things are critical. Even in arts that don’t seem to have any direct application in the 21st century such as naginata or kenjutsu have to be treated as real or the true value and lessons that the art has to teach are lost. What does it mean though, for budo to be “real”?

For budo to remain real, and not devolve into rhythmic gymnastics, a mindless dance or a meaningless competition, we have to remember what it is we are training ourselves for; at the most basic level, real budo training treats life seriously.

Proper keiko constantly reminds you how serious it is, even in the little things. All  those nit-picky little requirements about how a bokken or other weapon is handled, about never stepping over weapons and how you interact with everyone in the dojo all reflect that seriousness. Weapons, whether they are shinken (live blades) or wooden practice pieces, are treated with full regard for the damage they can do. Wooden practice weapons are handled just like the real thing, because you don’t want to have sloppy or careless habits when handling the real thing.

Live blades are merciless. They don’t forgive mistakes anymore than a firearm does. For all the care I take, I’ve still cut myself a couple of times. Those were just shallow cuts that reminded me what I do is very serious, even when we’re not actively doing kata. Those nitpicky teachers insisting that there is only one proper way to handle your weapons and that even wooden swords should always be treated like they are live are not being pedantic. They know how much damage the weapons can do and do not want you to learn the hard way.

Humans are liable to distraction and hurry. If we always do something the same way, it becomes an unconscious habit and the way we do things even when we are distracted. If you start out with a bokken or iaito and always handle it like a shinken, then you will handle the shinken properly when your teacher hands it to you. When I started iai, I did so with an iaito.   A couple of years later we had a new student join the dojo who didn’t have his own iaito yet. While he was waiting for his iaito to arrive, Takada Sensei walked over to me one day, undid his sageo, took his shinken out of his obi, handed it to me and said “Give your iaito to him and you practice with this until his iaito arrives.” Sensei didn’t give me any special instruction about how to handle his shinken, he just handed it to me and went on teaching the new student. Sensei was confident that I had absorbed the lessons about proper weapons handling from training correctly with the iaito.

Takada Sensei was confident that his teaching had prepared me to handle a shinken without giving me any additional warnings. The kata teaching method works well. I handled Sensei’s shinken the same way I handled my iaito and didn’t have any issues with it. The proper technique was ingrained to the point of unconscious competence and came forth from my hands naturally and easily.

Even when it is not shinken shobu, budo must be treated with the seriousness of a shinken. We train seriously with wood and bamboo weapons so that when the moment comes and we find ourselves holding the real thing, when it’s not kata but life, the right things happen without conscious effort. The little things are the big things.