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 ~

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Women and Japanese Calligraphy

Below is an excerpt from a very interesting article that appeared at CNN.Com regarding a unique style of calligraphy which was one practiced exclusively by women in old Japan and is being kept alive by one female calligrapher. The full post may be read here.

The Japanese calligrapher who keeps a forgotten female ancient script alive

As a teenager, Kaoru Akagawa couldn't read her Japanese grandmother's letters, but she put it down to her unclear handwriting.
Over a decade later, Kaoru realized her grandmother hadn't been a poor calligrapher. She had been one of the last generation to use a vanishing script shaped predominantly by and for women.
Legend has it that kana script, which translates to "woman's hand," was invented in the ninth century by Kukai, a priest and Sanskrit scholar, although some historians say it's hard to tell who exactly founded it and where, according to Akagawa.
What is apparent is that the kana characters -- which form the basis of kana shodo -- represent the different sounds that make up the Japanese language. It was shaped mainly by noble women, although both genders used it to write everything from assassination commands and love letters to poetry and diary entries.
With its undulating, cursive lines, kana shodo appears to stream down whatever surface it graces. According to Akagawa, women of the court competed with one another to invent their own signature designs for characters. Considered a language native to Japan, it was seen as a vehicle through which women could express themselves and document their observations of the world.
Kana calligraphy was even used to write the 11th century epic tale "The Tale of Genji," which is often called the world's first novel as it was one of the first major examples of long-form fiction, and was authored by a woman -- lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu.
Kana script was used right up until the 20th century, when the Japanese government standardized writing. Only 46 of the more than 300 kana characters were kept in modern written Japanese.
As fewer people pursue ancient Japanese calligraphy, Akagakawa -- now a master calligrapher -- has made it her mission to keep this fast disappearing women's script alive.

The 'female hand'

In ancient times, the Japanese did not have their own writing system. Kanji characters -- which now are the foundation of modern Japanese script -- originated from the Chinese script known as "hanzi," which some experts suggest entered Japan via the Korean Peninsula as far back as the third century.
And though kanji shodo is referred to as "Japanese calligraphy," in reality, it is "Chinese calligraphy practiced in Japan," according to Akagawa.
"It is crucial to understand that the text used as material in kanji shodo were always in Chinese language. Kanji shodo in ancient times was considered a foreign language," says Akagawa.
Back then, literacy in ancient Japan was not widespread and, for the most part, it was men from the ruling classes who learned kanji, known as "man's hand," for use in official letters and to read Buddhist sutras. 
It was considered improper for noble women to learn kanji as they didn't partake in official duties. There were, of course, exceptions. Murasaki Shikibu's father, for example, allowed her to be educated alongside her brother.
According to Akagawa, many noble women knew how to read kanji, but as they were not expected -- and sometimes not even allowed -- to use it, they fostered their own outlet.
Kana calligraphy was adapted from kanji calligraphy and another phonetic system called "manyougana" -- also adapted from Chinese script and considered the oldest native Japanese written script before it became obsolete. But manyougana was considered too complex, so noble women seized on kana, which was much more flexible and easier to write with.

Women used it to show their position as free-thinking, sexually-liberated intellectuals, within the constraints of 10th-century Japanese court life. They did this by publishing their literary works and openly using kana calligraphy to reflect their personalities in their diaries and the love letters they exchanged with noble men.
Not only was the content of kana and kanji different. The two writing systems looked distinct, too.
"Typically, in kanji shodo the characters are written in straight parallel lines without empty space. By contrary, kana shodo are typically written in slightly fluctuating lines often with empty space so that the lines are scattered in the composition," says Akagawa.
"Furthermore, the characters in kana shodo are interconnected with each other to make it look more feminine and fluid."
According to Akagawa, people discouraged men from using kana shodo. She gives the example of Ki no Tsurayuki, an aristocratic courtier who had to pretend he was a woman when it came to expressing himself in kana shodo in his diary. 
Men at the time were expected to write diary entries in kanji shodo using Chinese language -- which was considered a foreign language -- but Tsurayaki wanted to write his personal feelings in his own language of Japanese. He chose to write his diary from the year 935 -- now known as "Tosa Nikki" -- in kana shodo, pretending that he was a woman, says Akagawa.
"The famous first sentence in Tosa Nikki goes as follows: "I, a woman, would try writing a diary like men, too". The fact that he was not able to write it as a man depicts clearly that publishing personal literature in kana shodo was considered inappropriate for men in the 10th century," says Akagawa.


Sunday, December 27, 2020

A 90 Year Old Judoka

Below is a short interview with a 90 year old judoka. May we all live so long and well. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Monday, December 21, 2020

Martial Arts Business Success and Failure

The following is a guest-post by martial arts teacher and author, shifu Jonathan Bluestein. This article is a chapter taken from his book, ‘The Martial Arts Teacher 2’.

Opportunities Skip a Locked Garden
By Jonathan Bluestein

Why is it that some martial arts schools fail, and others succeed? People usually talk about business and money. But there is much more to it. In this article, I wish to present you with a point of view about martial arts business success and failure, which you would likely and read or hear about elsewhere.

The world is full of people who wonder: “Why is it that I never got my opportunities to do great things in my life and career?”. Honestly speaking, the answer is nearly always that such a person is himself to blame. How many people are in your neighbourhood? In your city? In your country? Even a tiny fraction of these people, associated with you as martial arts students or partners in business, could have made you rich, successful and perhaps even happier. But of these countless possibilities for action and interaction, one often manifests an amazingly small number of useful relationships. Why is that?    

Well theoretically, if you could appeal to more people, that would be a good start. This is where things get complicated. We want to remain authentic with our teachings, so there is only so much we are willing to change in who we are, in order to look and sound like what other people want. Indeed, at the extremes, those martial artists who sell their soul for a profit, are lowly and unworthy. But there is another way, a simpler way, to attract other people and opportunities. This can way can be pursued by means of changing one’s attitude, rather than one’s personality or behaviour. Changing our attitude can attract people to us on all walks of life. One proven technique for changing one’s attitude and attracting more people and possibilities, is adopting a mentality of abundance. Let us see how a good argument for this mentality of abundance was made in an ancient allegory, from the Book of Mencius.        

This scholar Mencius whom I mentioned just now, was a successor to Confucius, lived several generations after that great sage-scholar, and studied with his grandson. Like his forerunner, Mencius also traveled between the old Chinese kingdoms, and sought to teach and inspire morality among their rulers and citizens. His exploits and teachings are in part recorded in the Book of Mencius. The first two chapters of that book tell stories of the conversations Mencius had with various kings. In their conversations, the sovereigns look to make their kingdoms more efficient and profitable, and encounter novel and unusual suggestions from Mencius which they did not expect.

One king whose name is Xuan, is baffled as Mencius confirms to him, that another Ancient King by the name of Wen, had a park the size of 35 square kilometers. King Xuan finds something confusing about ancient King Wen’s garden. Mencius tells King Xuan, that albeit king Wen’s park being this large, no less than 35 square kilometers, the citizens of king Wen’s nation still thought of their king’s park as being ‘small’. King Xuan points out, that his own park is only 20 square kilometers, and still his people think it is ‘large’ – despite his park being smaller than that king Wen owned. King Xuan then inquires with Mencius, what could be the reason for this – that king Wen’s people considered their sovereign’s park as ‘small’ though it was large, while his (king Xuan’s) park was talked of as being ‘large’ while it was relatively smaller? After all, king Xuan would like his people to view him as a benevolent ruler, and not someone who lives too lavishly.   


Mencius has a simple and clear explanation for this. He tells king Xuan, that the park of king Wen was indeed large in size, but entry was allowed for those citizens who wanted to cut grass or gather fuel wood for their own use. Also hosted there openly were those who sought to catch pheasants and hares. Because king Wen willingly shared his park with the people, they thought of it as ‘small’ – as many were permitted entry and rights to its resources, or at least had the opportunity to claim such benefits.

But what about king Xuan’s park? When Mencius entered king Xuan’s kingdom, he was careful to find out what were the local customs, and what was forbidden. He learned that if someone was to hunt a deer in king Xuan’s park, that person would have been treated and punished like someone who had murdered a human being. Because king Xuan kept the park for himself, the people thought of it as ‘large’ – as it was reserved for the benefit of only a single individual and his family.

Thus far was the extended answer of Mencius to king Xuan. Now I shall elaborate more on this important message.

What King Xuan was lacking in, was the mentality of abundance. Instead of feeling that he had abundance, king Xuan suffered from a scarcity mindset. He felt as though, despite having this extensive green terrain under his control, that he did not possess enough, or that somehow by sharing the park he could lose it. He therefore acted like a miser with his resources. The result had been, that the people psychologically felt that his park was ‘large’, though it was physically smaller than that of a previous sovereign. It was also a lose-lose strategy, as he was left both anxious of the negative image of him this created among others, and unable to use the park he had for further growth. What is not stated but is hinted, is that this generated enemies and challenges for king Xuan, as the people must have been displeased by his miserly mannerisms. This is why he sought the advice of Mencius – for he knew that this was a sign of troubles to come. Further we should not neglect the observation, that had he shared his park in a similar fashion to king Wen, then not only that area would have been thought of as ‘small’, but the people also would naturally have been more inclined to wish that their King’s territory be expanded and for his power to grow, for it benefitted them as well.

As martial arts teachers and modern day individuals, we suffer from the exact same flaw which was the bane of king Xuan and others in his time, thousands of years ago. All too often, we feel we have to keep too much of our resources to ourselves. Here I wish for you to consider all of those things which are not material resources like money and real-estate, the latter perhaps more relevant for the wealthy. You have many other resources that you could share, like social connections, knowledge, love, food and ideas. You probably are a miser with these, too, compared with your potential for sharing. One of my most beneficial changes in life had come about, when I began to more openly share my social connections, knowledge and ideas with others, without fearing they may use them to undermine or supersede me.

Research has shown that among social mammals, the beta males constantly compete, while the alpha males are more generous and benevolent, on average and relative to the circumstances. Why? Because they have an abundance mentality. The majority of martial arts teachers whom I have encountered, who were both successful and worthy, displayed this alpha male quality of benevolence and generosity.   

A truly enlightened sovereign of his kingdom – one who has rulership not only in name but also in spirit, can find it in his power to allow others into his park, without fear of loss. When this is undertaken, and you are truly and genuinely set out to offer from your resources to the appropriate people in a thoughtful and appropriate manner, then suddenly the opportunities will present themselves. The right people will, in the process of months and years, discover that your park is open and inviting. Many of them will by these actions, appeal to you, and it would seem as if you have gone on an ever-growing ‘lucky streak’ in your life and career. But for this to happen, a park must be both cultivated, inviting and without unnecessary boundaries.


Jonathan Bluestein is best-selling author, martial arts teacher, and head of Blue Jade Martial Arts International. Check out his website for more information about his books and the martial arts taught by his organization:

You may also subscribe to Shifu Bluestein's youtube channel, which is regularly updated with rare and fascinating martial arts videos and lectures:

All rights of this article are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein © 2020. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Dao De Jing, #77: The Way of Heaven

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 #77: The Way of Heaven.

The Way of Heaven

Is like stretching a bow.

The top is pulled down,

The bottom is pulled up.

Excess string is removed

Where more is needed, it is added.

It is the Way of Heaven

To remove where there is excess

And add where there is lack.

The way of people is different:

They take away where there is need

And add where there is surplus.

Who can take his surplus and give it to the people?

Only one who possesses the Way.

Therefore the sage acts without expectation.

Does not abide in his accomplishments.

Does not want to show his virtue.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Advice from a Kendo Master

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kenshi 24/7. The full article may be read here.

About three years ago I translated part of a book and shared a bunch of pictures from various other books by Hotta Sutejiro (a mini bio can be read on the linked article). An interesting if somewhat mysterious character, he was a early and very prolific kendo author. Last weekend, in a rare couple of hours of free “George time,” I stumbled upon a reprint of his 1919 “Kendo Gokui.” At only 600 yen, I automatically bought it! 

I haven’t had time to read through the entire thing, but due to the current situation (=COVID-19) I’ve found myself somewhat free. Like his other books the illustrations are kind of interesting, so I picked one that I liked and (loosely) translated the associated section. 


Enticing the enemy

It is the nature of humans to feel doubt when something sudden or unexpected occurs. As such, through aggressively threatening to strike and by the movement and changes of our sword tip, we can (psychologically and physically) control the enemy. When this happens we can say that we have “caught” the enemy’s mind, that is, they are moving in accordance with our will not their own. 

As a test, try moving your shinai slowly up or down. If the enemy reacts to your movement then you already have control over them. Striking them in that very instant will lead to victory. 

Let me give a more detailed explanation. When the enemy steps in to attack, when they try to press down or slap your shinai, or when they threaten to strike, immediately strike them. 

This is called “striking at the very start of a movement” (okori, 起り). “Enticing” (tsurikomu, 釣り込む) or controlling the opponent is different. For example when you lower the shinai tip to threaten the enemy’s fists or raise it up to threaten their head, they will almost certainly respond by striking, thrusting, or defending. In that instant it is essential to counterattack and strike (引き出し, hikidashi)

In the case that the enemy attempts to defend, attack immediately. 

If the enemy attempts this on you be calm, utilise the distance wisely, don’t break your kamae, and be suspicious of their strategy. By acting in this manner you will be able to calmly wait and discern an opening to strike. 

When you start practising this strategy, however, it is easy to hesitate, so you should first cultivate the correct (calm) mindset, work on not breaking your kamae, and learn how to carefully read the enemy quickly. By paying careful attention to these points, and through self-experimentation, your techniques of attack and defence will improve. 

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Rank, Age and Respect

We tend to respect those of greater experience and rank than ourselves, but sometimes that respect is misplaced.

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kenshi24/7. The full post may be read here.

The following is a rough translation of a very small part of a much larger essay about REIGI (etiquette) that was published in the July 2013 edition of Kendo Nippon. The author is Iwatate Saburo sensei. The translated section in particular caught my eye so I thought i’d share it here and use it as the basis of a longer discussion.

“In the kendo community we have the dan-i and shogo system. Its fair to say that achievement of these grades/titles is one of the main aims behind many peoples practice. Whatever age you may become, having something to aim for/challenge at is a way to keep growing (as a person). Kendo-wise, even though the body starts to loose its strength around about the 50s or 60s we can – if we keiko properly – still attempt gradings. People in their 60s and 70s still pass 6th and 7th dan, and even kendo’s highest grade of 8th dan.

But there is one thing that I’d like you to keep in mind – you shouldn’t equate grade with peoples nature. There are some people with low kendo grades who have a high social standing, and many people that have are good people. If you forget this and simply value people on their grades then you are committing a terrible crime.”

Ideally speaking, we all start kendo when we are young and our grade steadily climbs as we grow older (see The Kendo Lifecycle). Work-wise as well, we enter our companies or institutions as young men or women and, over the years, promotion generally follows. In other words age usually, in some manner, equates with both grade and work or social status (a sweeping statement I admit).

Japan in the Edo period was a place with a rigid vertical class hierarchy with almost no chance of upward social mobility: birth decided your place in society. Within classes themselves there would be different groups with perhaps ranking between them. Individuals identity was based on being a member of a group. Within the group, relationships were both vertical and horizontal and an individuals standing within the group was a lot more flexible than within society at large. Age and gender, however, impacted this flexibility or lack thereof. Since the 19th century, in the beginning at the behest of Western Imperialism, society has seen itself change rapidly, sometimes causing traditional structures to implode and sometimes forming often uncomfortable fusions with Western ideas. Modern Japan is one such a society.

Compared to where I grew up (the highlands of Scotland) modern Japanese society is one where respect for older people is still strong. I think that this is almost certainly a good thing but I’ve also seen many occasions where older people have acted incredibly high-handed and self-centered at the expense of those around them. With the potential double-authority giving power of age and grade, many of these experiences have happened in the dojo.
K ‘sensei’ (I must admit I really don’t want to use the term sensei here) is 7dan and in his mid-50’s. 

When I first came to Osaka he was there at every keiko session. Naturally I went up to practise with him. Watching the people in front of me fence I realised that he was quite rough and pushed people about quite a lot. When it came to my turn I bowed, sonkyo-ed, and stood up. He immediately went to move in at me and I just stepped in and attempted men. It hit. I’m not sure who was more surprised, him or me, but immediately he went wild: pushing, shoving, shouting etc. After 2 minutes of this (he cut it short) he ended it. When I bowed at him he looked away, not bowing back. ‘Thats done it’ I thought.

The next time I saw him I said ‘konbanwa’ and he simply ignored me. Attempting to right any wrong I might have done I lined up for him at keiko. After waiting 10 minutes in the line he simply waved me away with his hand and went on to continue to fence the person after me. This continued for about 6 months when I just gave up. Luckily the dojo had fifteen 7dans so it really wasn’t a loss for me.

After about a year or so in the dojo I plucked up the courage to ask one of my sempai about him. K-sensei was deeply unpopular. Most of the serious kendoka never went to him for keiko, and all the other sensei ignored him. In fact, he only used to keiko with people who were adult beginners or, I increasingly noticed, women. In other words, people who (he assumed) he could dominate. After a while, those beginners and the women would see through this and attempt to escape doing keiko with him, but he would actually grab them and make them fight him. I heard stories from other kendo friends that he attended a couple of other dojo and did exactly the same thing. Eventually, as the kendoka he had been ignoring for years started grading up to 4th, 5th, and 6th dan, he disappeared.

My interaction with K taught me one thing: that age and grade don’t tell you much about the man himself. I started to pay attention to not only the ability of the teachers around me, but how they treated others (and more importantly, how others treated them), and thought about the perception I was giving off about myself through my keiko manner.

I realised, slowly at first, how people did or didn’t discriminate depending on the person in front of them. That is, some people did the same kendo against anyone that came along – i.e they judged the person solely on their ability, not on who they are or what type of person they may be – whereas others carefully changed the type of kendo they did to respond to the person in front of them. If kendo is a pursuit of knowledge and the dojo is a kind of microcosm of society, then it make sense that the latter approach is the more mature. Please note that I’m not talking about people ‘dumbing down’ their kendo, or somehow holding back, but more of a change in the ‘feeling’ of the keiko itself, rather than any physical modification (though with much older people, some physical modification is necessary).

To attempt to wind this rambling post up I’ll finish with an example. Within the kendo community police kendo teachers (preferably 8dan, but not necessary) are the top of the food chain – their position has the highest prestige and they are the most respected. But, when looking at Japanese society at a macro level, you realise that actually their job is not a particularly high status one… in fact, most people don’t even know that the profession exists. When compared with people their own age who entered a normal ‘salary man’ life, they are also not highly payed. Their technical preeminence, of course, is without question, but that doesn’t automatically equate with moral or some sort of spiritual authority. 


Sunday, December 06, 2020

The Aikido of Shirakawa Ryuji

Shirakawa Ryuji is an Aikikai 6th Dan in the lineage of the Kobayashi dojo. 

He moves as smoothly as glass. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Sorting Out Karate Philosophy

Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning. - Thoreau

In the study of martial arts, we get a lot of conflicting messages between spiritual enlightenment and "one punch, one kill." Below is an exerpt from an article that appeared at the Shotokan Times, which tries to sort out the roots and branches of martial arts philosophy, specifically that of Shotokan Karate.  The full post may be read here.

Have you ever found yourself in a deep discussion about Shotokan Karate Philosophy? Have you ever felt torn apart between different aspects of Shotokan like bushido on the one hand and the claim to “refrain from hot blooded behavior” (Dojo kun) on the other? Has Shotokan confused you every now and then?

Shotokan Karate Philosophy: The Roots of its Diversity

If you have found yourself in such situations, do not worry. It is not because of you. It is because Shotokan is coined by conflicting claims, purposes, and notions. Since its foundation, several important personalities and groups have attached their ideas about good and right Shotokan to the art. The result is a patchwork of approaches, philosophical orientations, convictions, and practices.

For grand master Funakoshi, for instance, the civilizing and physical-educative aspects of Shotokan were more important than self-defense. His son Gigo, on the other hand, sought to develop Shotokan into an efficient fighting system. Masatoshi Nakayama, who was close to Gigo, brought sports and tournaments into the style. After Nakayama passed away, the differentiation accelerated, and an abundance of Shotokan Karate associations was found. While they all share commonalities, every grand master has left their mark on Shotokan and pushed it to a specific direction.

The Coordinate System of Shotokan Karate Philosophy

To make this confusing situation a little bit more understandable we can develop a simple scheme. This scheme emerges when we reduce the diversity to four distinguishable and ideal typical dimensions of Shotokan. These are:

  • Martial art and self-defense
  • Way of thinking and lifestyle
  • Civilizing means and social philosophy
  • Physical Education and sports
Every dimension can be understood as one pole of Shotokan. If these poles are placed in opposite directions, they create a coordinate system in which every approach, notion, and idea of and about Shotokan can be localized. Some Shotokan-Ka understand their Karate, in the first place, as a means to gain and maintain mental balance and tranquility. They are in between the “civilizing/way of thinking”-pole. 

For others, self-defense and self-assertion is at the center of their Shotokan. They tend towards the “martial art and self-defense”-pole. Karateka with ambition to become successful competitors will tend towards the “physical education and sports”-pole. While all these groups belong to the field of Shotokan they have different locations within the field.

Good Diversity or Bad Confusing?

But is this situation of diversity good or bad? Is there not one specific “Do”? Is it better to have a unified approach and a coherent idea about Shotokan? Or is it better to welcome the diversity of notions and ways to practice Shotokan? Is it a pain or a blessing?
 Two answers to these questions exist. Both have different qualities and consequences.

  1. An orthodox approach, that understands the existence of different notions and approaches of Shotokan as a unsolvable and morally harmful quadrilemma;
  2. A heterodox approach, that values diversity as positive because a competition of ideas leads to new and better solutions.
The quadrilemma-approach judges the diversity as a painful situation. Ideal typically speaking: Shotokan can either be peaceful or a martial art. It can only be a sport or a superior way of life and thinking. Then, the desire to win over an opponent distorts humility and the perfection of character. Both cannot exist at the same time. The different poles will always undermine each other and stand in constant conflict. Thus, all other dimensions must be excluded in order to make one position logical coherent.

Shotokan Karate Philosophy is not Black and White

But is this a progressive and realistic solution? The quadrilemma-approach reduces the world to categories of black and white. Instead of solving the problem it retreats to one of the poles, usually to its favorite one. Reality, however, is mostly “grey”. Situations are seldom clear and human beings can be driven by several motives at the same time. One approach or dimension can also serve many purposes or have several effects.

Controlled fighting in a tournament, for instance, can be a very effective means to learn mental control and balance. To think about the civilizing aspects of Shotokan and how the martial arts could fit to them, can lead to the insight that fighting is sometimes necessary to protect other human beings and to maintain the public order. To learn how to fight can be justified through this higher purpose. In this specific case, fighting is not excluded by the other dimension. But its application is conditional and depends on the. Such an approach leads to a more realistic approach of Shotokan. But it also requires critical thinking. Because Shotokanka must learn to judge when to fight or to focus on sports, way of living, and social philosophy.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Toshishiro Obata and Shinkendo

Toshishiro Obata is a senior Japanese martial artist. A former uchi-deshi of Gozo Shioda of Yoshinkan Aikido, Obata has gone on to found his own style of swordsmanship, Shinkendo. Below is an excerpt of an article that appeared in Black Belt Magazine. The full article may be read here.

Japanese swordsmanship master Toshishiro Obata founded his art of shinkendo in response to the incompleteness he found in other samurai training. Learn how he set out to develop his own art rather than change those already in existence.

If you want to be a swordsman, you have your work cut out for you. For true samurai education, you must learn how to properly handle and maintain a real blade. You must master the basic body-sword mechanics and train safely and effectively in two-person and solo forms. You must study combat strategy, etiquette and the philosophy of the warrior — all elements of the samurai code of bushido.It's a tall order, to be sure. For guidance in this quest for samurai education, which is one of the most popular in the martial arts, Black Belt turned to Toshishiro Obata, a renowned master in samurai training who now heads the International Shinkendo Federation in Los Angeles. Before delving into the essence of samurai education and samurai training according to Toshishiro Obata, some background information will help put things in perspective.

Your path to meaningful samurai sword practice starts with this FREE download! Samurai Weapons Philosophy: How the Samurai Sword Can Enhance Life Rather Than Simply Take It

The Beginning of Toshishiro Obata's Samurai Education

In 1966 Toshishiro Obata left a small town in Gunma prefecture, Japan, and headed for Tokyo to begin a career in the martial arts. He found himself at Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo, the birthplace of aikido, where he became an uchi-deshi, or live-in student, under headmaster Gozo Shioda. Toshishiro Obata stayed there for seven years as a student and instructor, eventually teaching the Tokyo Metropolitan Riot Police course. During that time, his samurai education in Japanese swordsmanship began — specifically, when he observed several demonstrations by Taizaburo Nakamura, headmaster of nakamura-ryu.

Toshishiro Obata left the Yoshinkan in 1973 to pursue swordsmanship full time. He studied and achieved high rank in many other renowned Japanese schools, including ioriken battojutsu, toyama-ryu, yagyu shinkage-ryu, kashima shin-ryu and Ryukyu kobudo. He also joined the Tokyo Wakakoma, Japan's elite group of stuntmen and fight choreographers, and was responsible for the introduction and increasing popularity of aikido on Japanese television and in movies. During this time, he also won seven consecutive All-Japan Target-Cutting Championships.

A Samurai Education System of His Own

Throughout his studies, it became clear to Toshishiro Obata that although each sword school had its own strengths, none of them taught a complete, comprehensive system. In Japan, traditional schools aren't permitted to change or even expand on their original curriculum. Each art is considered a living, breathing historical treasure that must be preserved as faithfully and precisely as possible.

The inheritor of a traditional school is therefore duty-bound to teach techniques, training methods and ideals exactly as he learned them. To change anything would be seen as disrespectful to the art's founder. It was for this reason that Toshishiro Obata, having mastered many of the old schools, came to America in 1980 to start a comprehensive samurai education system known as shinkendo Japanese swordsmanship.

For this samurai education system, Toshishiro Obata chose the name “shinkendo" for a variety of reasons. The word can be translated in several ways, but perhaps the most important one is “way of the real sword." That doesn't just refer to practicing with a real sword; it also means studying real, complete swordsmanship — a vital element in one's overall samurai training.

In shinkendo, the major aspects of swordsmanship are broken down into five areas of study: suburi, goho battoho, tanren kata, tachiuchi and tameshigiri. These separate fields of samurai training are like five interlocking rings, each one relating to and providing context for the components of a student's samurai education. This provides a comprehensive foundation and allows students to view all the techniques from a bigger perspective.

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Samurai Training Methods: The First Ring of Shinkendo

Suburi, the first ring of study in this samurai education system, teaches basic sword and body exercises. These include proper posture, effective movement and balance, and basic sword swinging. These essential elements are the foundation on which the other rings of samurai training are based.

Without an effective stance, you can't generate power and you're easily knocked off-balance. Without knowing the essentials of gripping and swinging the sword, all movements become as meaningless as dance steps.

Suburi drills include assuming basic kamae (ready stances), making simple cuts and practicing hard stops, follow-through swings and transitions from one cut to another.

Yiquan Theory

 Below is a video of Paul Rogers explaining Yiquan's theory of Mind Boxing.