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 ~

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Kiai Training

Below is an excerpt from a post at Ichijoji about a severe form of training that took place in an old school of swordsmanship in Japan. The full post may be read here.

Some time ago I wrote about the hard training methods that developed in or were promulgated from the Meiji period (1868- ) onwards. Whether these were an authentic continuation or re-creation of the experience of bugeisha in the past is a moot point. The information I could find pointed to a strong influence from sources outside the martial tradition. 

One of the traditions I described, popularised by the Ichikukai (One-nine Society) and labelled in a general way as misogi, seems to have developed from a Shinto base and developed a fierce, Zen inspired overlay (with nods to the teaching style of Yamaoka Tesshu), involved continuous ringing of a hand bell while chanting, and which lasted for a period of several days. Tohei Koichi, the famous aikido teacher engaged in this training.

A variant, or at least, a very similar style of training is described by veteran budo practitioner Roald Knutsen in his book Rediscovering Budo from a Swordsman’s Perspective. Knutsen, whose personal experience tends to pre-date many of the current crop of writers on these kinds of things, sees this kind of training relating to Shingon mikkyo, and suggests connections through to the roots of bugei, likely renewed by individual practitioners in their personal travels and connections with esoteric teachings such as those of the yamabushi.
   Early on the first morning the students knelt in formal line with a few domestic dojo members behind forming the second row. Each visiting student was handed a small handbell, or ‘kane’, to hold in his left hand. they were required to throw out their arm to sound the bell and shout a loud kiai – ‘Ei – the movement timed by the slow beat of the large dojo drum. This exercise was repeated endlessly at the same measured tempo for two hours before the practise ended. That first day they had two more sessions, a total of six hours. Needless to say, their arms became very heavy and tired; their voices, too.
   The fifth morning came and most felt better for their rest although somewhat stiff. They assembled in the dojo and put on their kendo armour before continuing with the usual kiai training, but this only lasted for an hour. Then, facing them on the senior side were a number of tough-looking senior yudansha. A violent practice followed in which there was no way in their present condition they could hope to hold their own. Each of the seniors seemed to be harder than the one before … and the practices were interminable, but at last the drum called a halt. The dojo master now announced that they would all be required later to fight one-point matches, success or failure depending on the result. They were then dismissed.

Both my Kendo informants recalled the prospect of these matches as daunting and, in each case, their respective opponents looked uncompromising and hard. With little or no reserves left within them, this situation was close to facing a deadly enemy on the battlefield; desperate in the extreme. While each steadied himself for what was to come, the senpai reminded them of the teaching:
‘Don’t look with your eyes; see with your mind!’

All three masters recalled that they took standing ‘rei’ towards their opponent, they followed it with a great kiai – and the senpai at once struck the drum to signal the match was at an end! 

No comments: