Gaijin Ryuha

I was 10 years old when i got my first Personal Computer. With twelve i had an internet connection. And soon i discovered chat-rooms and forums about a bunch of different Topics.

At the same time around i started to train in martial arts. And soon i would seek out forums exactly about this topic. Where i would go head to head with a lot of people who trained far longer than i was alive at that time. But if you are young and been hit by puberty, of course you know more than some smuck old dude. And so i went there to write down all of my huge knowledge and theories about martial arts, self defence and how stuff should work for the whole world to see. (on another note: yeah not much has changed today xD )

My head was regulary washed left and right in rigorous online Discussions there. You practically could say i grew up fighting with strangers on the internet! And there was only one aim. DESTROY YOUR OPPONENT IN AN ULTIMATE PWNAGE MOVE FATALITY!!!!

I learned a lot through online discussions. They helped me discover great sources in form of literature and or second hand anecdotes of far more expierenced people. And soon i would become one of the old dogs of the german internet Budo Community. A proper Internet Weekend Warrior and expert. Or how one of my Senpai told my: a fucking huge budo nerd.

There in these kind of Internet Communitys i would also get to know people who didn’t took the truth all to serious. People who claimed to be the last Grandmasters of ancient Martial Arts they had secretly learned from their japanese Teacher. The teachers name and his in most cases family art were huge secrets in the past, thats why nobody heard of them until the western Master decided to open up his school for the public. But when these kind of people where asked for sources and explanation they started to get annoyed and offended. They started to ramble and told new stories with so much details that soon would be proven to be nonsense.

I talk of course of Gaijin Ryu. Gaijin is the japanese Word for Westerner/Barbarian/Alien. Or in essence non-japanese. And a Gaijin Ryu is a term used for schools that try to emulate japanese Martial arts without any proper expierence by the “Master” of such Art. Most of the time these Masters are mentally ill and have just a basic training in some form of Karate or other Gendai Budo. But what they share is that they have a Story they tell themselves and their poor and ignorant students.

There was a time where i lived for humiliating and defeating these Scam Artists with Passion. How could they dare to tell such lies? How could they sleep in the Night? How could they disrespect my beloved Martial Arts so much?

I was disgusted by them. And i wanted to destroy them, forcing them to their knees apologizing in the dirt before me! I would spend hours with doing research. Analysing their different Statements. Stalking their trail on Social Networks and other creepy shit.

Until i noticed that these kinds of activities made myself vile and disgusting. How could i develope so much hate for a fellow human being? Well i have to confess: I was not satified with myself. I would leash out against them ( and as old habits die hard sometimes i still do today) and let out all my frustrations against them. It feeled so good to be on the “right” side of the argument.

And then i noticed sometimes i hurt people. Not everybody deserved all the dirt i would throw at them. And i burned bridges with other people because of my behaviour that could have been a fruitfull exchange somtime in the future. Just because i had to satisfy my own ego.

Today this behaviour Trait that sometimes still shows it’s ugly head is something i am quite ashamed of. That doesn’t mean that Scammers, Liers and other kind of Fakes shouldn’t be critized, they should! But … don’t use it as excuse to let out your own negative urges.

When you stare at the darkness, the darkness stares back into you.

Budo is hard

I want to be honest with y’all. I’ve cried in the Dojo multiple times in my years of Training. Nothing big, i thing most of my mates didn’t even noticed it when it happened. But… sometimes the training of Budo can be so difficult that you have to cry. No not because you had an accident. Not because you got hit. It’s when when you realize that you suck more than you thought you would. Sometimes Training can be so frustrating that you want to throw your Training dogu away and leave everything behind you. And still, the next Training you still show up at the dojo to suck a little bit less.

Budo Keiko is really hard. Even with a good teacher it is still hard. Your Body doesn’t move like you want it to move. And when you copy your Teacher and could swear that you did everything the way he did, you most of the time did it still wrong.

Sometimes it feel like you make progress at the speed of a tortoise. Or sometimes you feel like you are getting worse.

And this is the part that makes budo Training so valuable. Budo no Keiko is a form of Shugyo[修行]. It’s a journey of discipline to master onesself and to overcome ones own ego.

Showing up, and doing it again even if you feel frustration and dispair in overcoming hardships. And the if you feel like you actually made progress, it is quite sweet of a feeling. But this you only can expierence by standing up and showing up again.

Sometimes we cry, sometimes we smile. But we will always stand up again.

No, the Blackbelt doesn’t mean you are a Master

Many (normal) people are thinking that a Black Belt means you are a Master. This is not true. Originally the Black Belt meant that you have the basics down and you can start the real Training now.

A black belt

You receive your black belt when you reached the rank of first Dan, Shodan. This means roughly translated first step or beginner rank in japanese. Before that you would have gone through the kyu levels. Which can be translated as “classes”. Atleast in most western Dojo. In Japan many Dojo only bother to test Kids for Kyu levels, to keep them motivated. That’s also the original reason for the multiple belts in different colors.

This System, the dan-i System, got popularized by Kano Jigoro the founder of Judo. He himself adapted this type of System from the board games of Go and Shogi. There this System was used to determine how much of a handicap the better Player would have to overcome against a lower ranked player to keep it exiting and a challenge for both.

A board of shogi. A japanese type of chess-game

Kano didn’t implement this System because of shits and giggles of course. He had a quite solid reason. In most martial Arts dojo before the dawn of Judo the teacher would have known every single Student of his personally. He would know their skill level, strengths and weaknesses. There was no need for Rankings as the dojo and Ryuha were so small in Students that everybody very well knew everybody else quite well or atleast has heard of them when they were from another Branch.

But that changed dramaticly with the dawn of Judo. Judo with a lot of backing from political power behind it was implemented in most Schools and Universitys to install the values of Bushido into the japanese people from young age. Dojo, Study Groups, School and University Clubs popped up fast everywhere in Japan. Kano got so many new Students in such a short time with different expierence Levels that a new System was needed to evaluate them and to ensure a safe training enviroment.

He needed to discriminate between people who had the basics down and could already Fall safely after being thrown, these were the first Dan Rankers. And the people who could not and had to master simple basic techniques, the kyu grades. This was easily marked through a white Belt for Beginners and a Black Belt for people who could train safely without a lot of supervision. And over time this ranking System became more sophisticated. As similar as in the original Board Games your Dan Rank would mirror your fighting strength you would have proven in Randori practice and official shiai(matches). When a Shodan would throw enough people regulary that were ranked second Dan he soon would be promoted for example.

When you would open a Dojo in Japan, only holding the Rank of Shodan you wouldn’t attract many Students. More likely people would just laugh at you. Of course not in your face, i mean come on it is Japan. But behind your Back. In Japan roughly with a Sandan you would be considered as a kind of “Junior” Teacher. Most people would only dare to open their own Dojo with atleast the Rank of 5th Dan. And to be considered a real Master(Shihan or Hanshi) of your Martial Art you would need atleast a Rank beginning with 6th Dan and the approval of your organisation.

So… how did we end up in the West with this wrong understanding of the meaning of the Black Belt?

The american Soldiers after WW2 came back from Japan with some Training in Karate, Judo or any other Martial Art. As they were Training regulary they got promoted quite quickly and got their Black Belt.

Then, after coming back they would open their own Dojo with themselves as Masters. Far away from their original Teachers they with only the first or second Dan would have to be the Master. And with this the picture of the Blackbelt as sign of mastery was forged in the western mind and propagated by Movies and other form of popular media.

When you started your Training at this time in the West, Black Belts were rare. And those people with one in the Dojo would obviously teach. But in Japan this situation is quite different. There where even the modern Gendai Budo have a far longer History it is quite normal for people to see many Blackbelts, 3rd, 4th and even 5th and 6th Dans Training in their Dojo. The Senpai in those Dojo are not your typical Brown Belt, no they are probably 4th Dan. And the Black Belt for itself is nothing special.

Also while in the West most modern and “proper” Organisations will only give you a Black Belt after around 10 years of Training when you have shown enough maturity.

In Japan it is quite common to get the Shodan/first grade Black Belt already after 2 to 4 Years of regular Training. As it isn’t seen as a rank of Mastery, there is no big need to prove your maturity. Even kids can get a Shodan in Japan. And no, they don’t train in a McDojo.

So what is the truth behind the picture of the Blackbelt as the Rank of Mastery? Well this is just my opinion of course. But in my view it was simply because at the Beginning there were no real Masters of these Arts in the West. Of course with the Exception of Teachers who were send from Japan to the west especially with the reason to teach.

But these were rare. The first western Pioneers basicly were just a bunch of Amateurs who get the basics down, atleast when we view it in the big picture. This should not degrade their important work of course. And many followed the path further and developed into real Masters over time. But some others were not, and those were the ones who would put the black belt by itself as the sign of mastery and promote this misconception to blow up their own ego.

I got a new Iaito

I bought a new Iaito and I think it is pretty sweet. My old one was a Kurin Steel Iaito I bought from one of my Senpai. It was a little to big for me, but i trained with it for the last ten years. My new Iaito is a Tozando Seiryu Iaito with a Higo Koshirae and a Sakura Theme from Ninecircles. Who wants to see the offer from Ninecircles for it can see it here: Ninecircles: Tozando Seiryu Series, Higo Koshirae

Anyway, here are the pictures:

Your pants don’t come from undies

Fundoshi, the original japanese undies.

Yesterday i watched a short News Story about some budo training in the parks in germany. There was a teacher i respect quite much telling the reporter about his art and the equipment. And he made the statement that the Keikogi they were wearing was basicly an undergarment. Which isn’t exactly wrong. But could lead to wrong associations.

I talked since then with said teacher and he already was “corrected” by somebody else in his circle about it. But as this is a notion one can quite often find on the internet i thougt: well let’s write a post about it.

The Keikogi, meaning clothes for Budo Training, were developed by Jigoro Kano the founder of Judo.

Keikogi-Zubon

The Training trousers called zubon were derived from western pants intentionally to give Kano’s Judo a modern international feel to it. As the traditional martial Arts were generally seen as to archaic and inferior to western culture and weaponry. So Judo was marketed as all the good things of the japanese samurai spirit, improved through western teaching methods and Science. The missunderstanding that training pants come from undergarments then comes from the origin of the word zubon itself. It stems from the french jupon which literally means underskirt. This comes from the fact that clothes similar to western trousers were originally worn under the Hakama. But because this word got used for western trousers/pants in general the meaning of it broaded alot. So yeah, training zubon kinda are similar to classical Hakama undergarments but they are not undies! Samurai wore fundoshi for that.

a classical firemens jacket

Also it is theorized that the Uwagi or Training Jacket, be it from Kendo or Judo or other gendai budo was derived from the Jackets of japanese Fire Fighters. This jackets were designed to absorb as much moisture as possible, so the firefighters got soaked in water before running into action. This quality then was also wanted for the training jacket to absorb as much sweat as possible.

Marishitens Influence on Katori Shinto-ryu

This Blog is an older article from me, i believe from mid’2014. But i will probably re-edit it in the near future.

Katori Shinto-ryu is one of the oldest extant Martial Arts of this world. Her origin is tightly linked with the Katori Dai-Jingu[Great Shrine], one of the oldest and most important Shinto Shrines in Japan, only exceeded maybe by the Ise and Kashima Dai-Jingu.

Katori Dai Jingu

This three Great Shrines, or more accurate the kami associated with the shrines: Amaterasu no Mikoto(Ise), Takemikazuchi no Mikoto(Kashima) and Futsunushi no Mikoto(Katori), play an important part in origin mythology of Japan written down in the Nihonshoki and Kojiki.

Amaterasu is the japanese Goddess of the Sun and claimed Ancentress of the Japanese imperial House. She gave both Gods of War, Futsunushi and Takemikazushi the order to descend on Izumo to negotiate with Okuninushi no Mikoto about the surrender of the Land to Amaterasus Grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto.

After Okuninushi surrenderd, both Futsunushi and Takemikazuchi lingered on earth. Futsunushi marched to the East and fought Demons and other evil Kami who scourged the Land. This way he added new parts to the Kingdom and trough his martial skill lay foundation for a wealthy and secured country Japan.

Futsunushi no Mikoto

Takemikazuchi assisted Jimmu Tenno, descendent of Ninigi and founder of the imperial House to subjugate further Land in the East. [It must be noted that the Myths differ and maybe both, Futsunushi and Takemikazuchi could be names for one and the same Kami. But i will probably write more about this in another Blog.]

It’s transmitted in Katori Shinto-ryu that the founder Iizasa Choizai Ienao settled in proximity of the Katori Shrine at the age of 60, after becoming a buddhist Nyudo[Lay priest]. There at the shrine he devoted himself to martial, ascetic and spirituel exercises every day and night. After 1000 days he had a visionary dream. There he meet Futsunushi as a young boy, sitting on a plum tree. Futsunushi gave Choizai a scroll, the Mokuroku Heiho no Shinsho, and transmitted to him the heavenly secret Techniques of martial arts and Strategy. Through this heavenly wisdom he founded Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Heiho. The Tenshin Shoden part translates in „Heavens true and correct transmisson“. Meaning the transmission from Futsunushi to Choizai.

Iizasa Choizai Ienao

Most students of Katori Shinto-ryu know this of course. But many are not aware about the role of the buddhist Goddess Marishiten in the whole story.

Marishiten is a goddess of war and patroness of warriors. The deity is often shown as a woman with three heads or faces, eight arms and different weapons in the hands. She also a Deity of the Dawn and Dusk with power over Sun and Moon. She is driving with her heavenly carriage pulled by seven Boars on the heavens.

But sometimes she’s also portraited as Man, which shows she is incorpurating female and male aspects. She is granting the warriors who pray to her with incarnations and mudra help trough blending of their foes with bright light. This way her proteges become invisible to their enemies.

Marishiten

Next to Marishiten exist also other tantric warrior Deitys which get referred in different Ryuha[Styles/Traditions] like Bishamonten and Fudo-myoo to name a few.

Which special role Marishiten plays in Katori Shinto-ryu can be found in the Katori shinryo shinto-ryu kongensho [godly origins of the holy Swordtradition of the Katori Shrine] scroll:

„Through a divine vision, Marishiten taught Futsunushi no Mikoto that there are divine sword scenarios known as Itsutsu, Nanatsu, and Kasumi, and divine spear scenarios known as Hakka. Marishiten also brought one volume on strategy and displayed a sword called Ame no Totsukanomi Tsurugi“

p.214, D.Hall 2013, The Buddhist Goddess Marishiten

Which means the knowledge transmitted by Futsunushi has his origin by Marishiten The scroll further explains which meanings this Scenarios of Katori Shinto-ryu are holding:

„The spear techniques(Hakka) and sword techniques (Mitsu no tachi, Nanatsu no Tachi, and Itsutsu no Tachi) are all elements of the self-defense ritual matrix. The first element is the Purification of Body, Speech, and Mind […] . Collectively, the four elements are a single one of Body Armoring (Hikô goshin 被甲護身). “

p. 215, D.Hall 2013

Which shows that the techniques of esoteric tantric buddism weren’t only simply a part of the curriculum but the whole curriculum of the School was heavely linked to this rituals in the beginning next to the pure martial aspects of the Tradition.

Marishiten gets called trough use of Kujiho[Fingersigns] and Jujiho[drawing in the hands with ones finger] and an incarnation from japanized sankrit.

The point of this different rituals, which seem for most western people probaly nothing more like esoteric superstition, is to reach trough meditation a state of mind where one is fearless and literally believes to be invincible(because of the protection of Marishiten and Futsunushi) and to link it to the Finger and Handsigns of the Kuji- and Juji-ho. Thus this signs become anchors to instantly activate the wanted state of mind which should lead to a better performance in battle.

„Ôtake Ritsuke believes this to be the case, and feels that the performance of the Goshinpô and the Kuji no Daiji were much more efficient for battlefield preparation than the practice of zazen.“

p.216, D.Hall 2013

These rituals weren’t done and transmitted because of reasons of pure faith. But because they showed an effect at manipulating the warriors state of mind. Which, of course got amplified by a strong enough faith in the deity.

So the next time before a training session i bow not only in awareness to Choizai and Futsunushi, but also Marishiten.

Resources:

  • David A. Hall, The Buddhist Goddess Marishiten: A Study of the Evolution and Impact of Her Cult on the Japanese Warrior
  • Risuke Otake, Katori Shinto-ryu : Warrior Tradition

A Point about Katana and Tsurugi

traditional japanese fencing today gets mostly referred by the name of kenjutsu, written 剣術, meaning ‘sword technique’. the weapon which gets used in most such systems is the katana, written 刀.

so we should notice that there are different kinds of kanji to refer for ‘sword’. 剣 and 刀. but one important point is that both kanji originally mean different kinds of swords.

the first one is 剣, the kun-yomi(japanese reading) is ‘tsurugi’, the on-yomi(chinese reading) is ‘ken'(like we know from kenjutsu).

this kanji referred originally to straight double-edged swords. in chinese also referred as jian. which were also the first kind of swords used by the japanese people.

artists impression of the legendary sword kusanagi no tsurugi, the grass cutter.

the second is the already mentioned 刀, with the kun-yomi of ‘katana’ and ‘sori’ and the on-yomi ‘tô’.

this kanji refers directly to one-edged swords like classical chokutô[直刀] long one-edged straight swords and tachi[太刀], sabers for use in war which would later develope further in the uchigatana[打刀] the standardized sword which could be and got worn by warriors in civil everyday life.

Tachi, a long sword mostly used in times of war

so while we train with a katana, everybody today calls it ‘tsurugi-technique’. the natural reaction to that is obviosly to ask why?

the question gets even more important if we realize that different traditions of bujutsu traditionally have different ways to name their sword-work. in tatsumi-ryû for example it is very direct and plain: tôjutsu[刀術].

in the tradition of katori shintô-ryû it is tachijutsu[太刀術] like referred in the budô kyôhan of sugino yoshio and ito kikue sensei.

one theory for the reason i like is that budô/bujutsu and especially fencing and everything that has to do with swords(as a social symbol of political and military power) is said to be a gift from the kami[神]. And the kanji used for the swords used by the gods and demi-gods written in the mythical texts of japan, the nihônshoki and the kojiki was tsurugi not katana(because at the time the texts were written there were no katana).

so the use of the name kenjutsu(and also kendô) for fencing with sabers could be interpreted as direct reference to the mythical origin of japanese fencing, as an art transmitted by the gods.

Susanoo slaying Yamata no Orochi.

is that the real reason? i don’t know. but i thinks it’s reasonable.

Bunkai and Katori Shinto Ryu

Katori Shinto Ryu as a martial art has a very interesting characteristic. In contrast to some other sword arts of Kata-Bujutsu all exercises end in a stand-off situation. Ukedachi evades at the last second and Kirikomi doesn’t have to stop his technique unnecessarily. This is often quite different with other traditions. There Ukedachi often pauses and Kirikomi/Shidachi stops his technique in the last moment. So we can state that the Kata of the Katori Shinto Ryu are designed in such a way that if both partners do everything right, they can train in full seriousness together without the risk of serious injuries.

This side of the Katori Shinto Ryu can be seen as katsujinken. Katsujinken[活人剣 ] is the life-giving sword. But since Katori Shinto Ryu also has a practical application it is also important to pay attention to the other side: satsujinken[殺人剣 ], the killing sword.

The applications of the Katori Shinto Ryu are shown nowadays mostly to the more advanced students. And often they reveal themselves in the process of long practice. However, there are sometimes people who teach Shinto Ryu more or less legitimately and who advertise to teach the “Bunkai” of Katori Shinto Ryu. Or to show them on self-produced DVDs which they sell on the internet.

I honestly think such characters are ridiculous. Why will you ask yourself now? Well, that is quite simple. With the use of the Japanese word Bunkai to describe the applications of the Katori Shinto Ryu these wannabe samurai surely want to make a big impression. However, they only show that they have no idea of the Japanese language and no deep knowledge within the Katori Shinto Ryu.

Bunkai is a word that is often used in the modern karate world for the applications of kata. However, Bunkai does not mean application. Bunkai[分解] means to analyze and disassemble the kata. If you show a new student a short movement sequence from the kata, which he should practice, then it is already Bunkai, even without any reference to the practical application of these movements. The actual applications are called oyo[応用] in Japanese.

And as already indicated, while both terms are well known in the budo world through their origin in karate, they are not used in the Katori Shinto Ryu. The Katori Shinto Ryu has its own terminology here. The term used for the Shinto Ryu applications is: kuzushi. Wait a minute, you will say for sure. I know Kuzushi from Judo and Aikido! That means to break the balance! And of course you are absolutely right. But as is so often the case in Japanese, words have several translation possibilities. Kuzushi or the basic form kuzusu[崩す] can be translated as ‘destroy’ or generally as ‘break’. And while in the unarmed martial arts this means breaking the balance, in Shinto Ryu it means breaking the kata. And so Katsujinken transforms into Satsujinken. For the sake of completeness: I would also like to mention that for example Sugino Yoshio osensei often simply spoke of shiai-waza, i.e. fighting techniques.

I hope I was able to give you a little bit of interesting information with this article and explain to you in a comprehensible way why you should avoid the claims of people to teach the Bunkai, of the Katori Shinto Ryu. On the other hand, I am perhaps only a real nitpicker.

References:

  • Katori Shinto Ryu Warrior Tradition by Risuke Otake
  • Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu Budo Kyohan by Yoshio Sugino and Kikue Ito
  • Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial Arts by David A. Hall

What means tradition in traditional martial arts?

There is budo and there is traditional budo. What is the difference? Traditional budo dojo often say they do their stuff “old school” or they teach the old methods and try to upheld the old “original” values of their martial art. Through that they effectively try to say: “we’re doing the real original stuff! Everybody else is doing the watered down modern sport version!”

So we have to note that traditional is a modern marketing buzzword for the most part today. But as there are real living old traditions or koryu the word shouldn’t be useless.

Tradition means: something that developed over generations and was given to you. It doesn’t mean unchanged. But it describes customs that are given over multiple Generations, which if we allow generations to mean “relationship between teacher and student” would mean that of course even modern budo like Judo, Karate and Aikido can be considered traditional. The Japanese equivalent of tradition is dento[伝統] which gets written with the kanji that can be read as: “transmitted relationship”. Furthering the view that we can see it as a sequence of student and teacher relationships.

Martial Arts are taught by teachers. And even the Founders of a Martial Art had teachers of their own. Be it a father or brother who showed them how to use weapons, or an enemy they had defeated and learned through real experience, or a master who taught them an older style of martial arts. So one could say every martial art by definition is a tradition.

So what is the meaning of the word “traditional” in the martial arts now really? Of course i can only give the i consider as true. Which is:

Saying you train in a traditional martial art is a claim of truth. When you make such a claim you should be able to show proof of it. The simplest way should be to know ones own lineage!

For example: I am a student of tenshin shoden katori shinto ryu heiho. Which is a traditional martial arts from the muromachi period of japan. I know my teachers come from the lineage of Sugino Yoshio, who got taught by Shiina Ichizo, who himself got taught by Iizasa Morisada the 18th Successor of the Founder Iizasa Choizai Ienao.

So, if somebody claims to train in a martial art, he should know the basic lineage of his tradition (well or at least you should be in a easy position to look it up). If not, he is using the word like a buzzword or is simply a fraud. Training a traditional martial art, you don’t get to not know the teacher of your teacher.

Ni rei, ni hakushu, ippai

Recently I attended a seminar for Katori Shinto Ryu in Prague. The people who hosted the seminar also belonged to the Sugino Dojo and were following the French Federation for Katori Shinto Ryu.

The seminar was very interesting and we did some exercises, which I recognized by the techniques, but which I had never seen before in this form. Also the Kumi-Iai forms of the Yoseikan Shinto Ryu created by Minoru Mochizuki, his synthesis of Kendo, Iaido and Katori Shinto Ryu, which are still practiced in the French Federation, I found impressive.

But something I noticed was that the etiquette at the beginning of the training was completely different. As I know it from Sugino Sensei and my teachers, they bow to the Kamidana twice, then they clap twice and finally they bow one last time. But in Prague this part was left out. Also the position of the sword was different. While I know it in such a way that one puts down the sword normally on the left ready for use, the sword was put down in Prague in a peaceful spirit on the right.

Unfortunately I had not asked the reason for this. But I thought that this had to do with the religious connotations of the ritual. But when I discussed this difference with someone I realized that many people are not aware of what the ritual we normally do actually means.

Katori Shinto Ryu as a martial art is very closely linked to Japanese Shintoism. As close as it is in the name: Katori Shinto Ryu.

Here is a video of a normal Shinto prayer:

Does anyone recognize that?

Our etiquette at the beginning and end of training is a Shinto ritual. The small talisman at the Kamidana or often the calligraphy of Katori Shrine serves as a spiritual connection to Katori and the Kami Futsunushi no Mikoto, who according to legend introduced the founder, Iizasa Choizai, to the deepest secrets of the art of war.

The ritual, as far as I have understood it, has the following meaning: The first bow serves to announce yourself to the Kami. The second bow is a way of paying respect to the kami. The clapping serves to awaken the kami and to gain his attention. Then one pauses briefly to ask/pray for something. Like for example a safe training. And the last bow to it is to politely underline this request.

Does that mean that you have to believe in Futsunushi no Mikoto in our martial art? No, Shintoism is a form of faith without dogma. Especially since “believe” has to be defined more precisely.

Each person has to decide for himself whether he can connect/accept this ritual with his own religious views or not. But of course one would first have to know what this ritual means to make a informed decision.