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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
David A. Hall, The Buddhist Goddess Marishiten: A Study of the Evolution and Impact of Her Cult on the Japanese Warrior
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.
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.
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.
is that the real reason? i don’t know. but i thinks it’s reasonable.
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.
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
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.
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.
The Courage to be Disliked from Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga is a Book I’ve read and it deeply impressed me. It impressed me so much that i want to note down the main points of the book and want to share them.
The “plot” of the book starts with a young man, unsatisfied with his own life, who is visiting a known philosopher. This philosopher claims that:
The worls is simple
Every human can change
Every human can find happiness
The young man can’t except these claims and wants to have a discussion with the philosopher about it. Which he gladly accepts, as he also wants to learn from the young. And so the book goes on in the form of a dialog between the young man and the philosopher.
The young man(YM) can’t accept that the world is simple. A simple world only exists for children. Children know no worries, they have no responsibility’s and don’t have to worry about money. Their parents and society protects them. When the child grows up, it’s world becomes a lot more complicated. There are personal relationships, work and money to be taken care of. In the past humans tried to please the gods and to follow religion. But nowadays religion has lost most of it’s power. People have to think for themselves. This makes the world complicated. There are a lot of contradictions in the world.
The philosopher(P) answers that yeah, what YM says is right. But still the world is simple. It is the human that makes the world complicated. Or more like, it’s the human who sees the world as such an complicated thing. Ones worldview is highly subjective. For example: Water in a fountain keeps relative constantly the temperature of 18° Celsius. But in the summer this is refreshing and in the winter quite warm. But the 18° is a objective fact. That fact doesn’t change. It is the view the humans have on it that changes. In the same way, if the world is complicated, then it’s the human that has to change and start to see the world how it really is. A person needs the bravery to see the world in the way it is. To make that change.
YM goes on to the other thesis. A person can’t change. He knows that, because he himself is unable to change. P says that he can understand that notion. He himself had it in his younger years. At that time he studied the ancient Greek classics. But then he started to study a new philosophy and everything changed for him.
He leads YM into his study and offers him coffee. He says it will be a long night. And in this way the introduction ends.
heiho wa heiho nari. This is a teaching of katori shinto ryu. Translated it means the arts of war are the arts of peace. An other possible translation can also be: the arts of war become the arts of peace. Katsujinken and setsuinto, the life giving and the taking sword are important teachings in yagyu shinkage ryu and many other ryuha. Karate ni sente nashi, in karate is no first aggression is one translation of shotokan ryu karatedo’s rules of Funakoshi Gichin. Jita Kyoei, meaning mutual care and benefit was one of Kano Jigoros aims. And aikido should be a world transcending martial art of love and peace in Ueshiba Moriheis imagination.
All these examples show that budo and bujutsu were understood as more than just simple fighting techniques since their conception. They always aimed to be ways of personal refinement. Many people say martial arts make you a better person. That you can find spiritual enlightenment through them. And many groups regard them in a far higher place then western sports. Especially far higher than combat sports. Such cliché got spread in the normal population through martial arts movies like The Karate Kid, Last Samurai Series like Kung Fu and many more. Where we find the archetype of the wise spiritual enlightened Sensei ans Sifu character.
But if we as budoka start to think about these thinks logically, we should be skeptic about them. And questions one has to ask are things like: What does it mean to be a better person? How do we define words like peace? How did the old Master of old understood these terms? And if we have these answers, do we even be a better person in this sense?
Because the reality of things after taking of the pink glasses of film romanticism is quite sobering. While training aikido I meet people who took quite some enjoyment from giving their partners some pain. And I also heard of people enjoying hurting their partners. Narcissists without and with elaborated titles can be found easily on Facebook and Instagram. And if you have a voyeuristic streak you can easily find message boards were people are washing dirty laundry of different sensei, ryuha, groups, and organizations.
Of course one could say: “ in the times of the old masters this wouldn’t have existed, these guys were from a different kind of wood!” But if we look at the history of different budo we have to realize that even the old masters were only human. And some people drop their jaw.
Iizasa Chozai Ienao was a warrior. That means it was his job to kill people in war. Yagyu Munenori, Fencing Teacher of the Tokugawa Clan, did cut down at least twenty people in an insurrection. The life giving sword of katsujinken could possibly mean to use the life taking sword to cut down ones enemys. Kill the few to save the large. The most basic interpretation of heiho wa heiho nari could mean that of course through a powerful military one could keep the peace in the country inside and outside through violence and fear tactics. Funakoshi Gichin was surely aware that his Son Yoshitaka and some of his other students demonstrated the effectiveness of his karate techniques on war prisoners at the Nakano military academy. Kano Jigoro as politician and pedagogue had to do a balance act to gain favor with the nationalistic government of the times and to keep at least a basic level of control and integrity over his judo. And Morihei Ueshiba keeped close contacts to far right ultra nationalistic groups and gave them shelter in his kobukan dojo were they would hold meetings and plan politically assassinations.
What do the people mean exactly when the say that budo does make you a better person? Is it just a empty ideal or just a lie?
I am thinking about this question for a long time. Especially because I am aware of the given facts. And I believe to have come to a satisfying conclusion for myself. That doesn’t mean of course that it is the only truth or that I won’t change my opinion in the future. But for the time being it’s good enough for me.
How does one become a better person through budo? Through learning to hurt others and to save oneself from violence. And that’s all you need to be a better person in this regard. Because only if you can actually hurt somebody, you can decide not to do it.
Being weak is no virtue. To avoid a fight if you have no other choice isn’t moral. In the best case it’s common sense. In the worst it is just cowardice. The real virtues act is if you’re sure to be able to take somebody easily down but to refrain from it for his sake.
But you have to be able to make that choice in the first place! And to make this choice possible is the meaning of budo. True pacifism is done from a position of strength. Everything else is cowardice costumed as moral virtue.
Cynics will surely say that in most dojo today budo isn’t even transmitted anymore in a way that self defense with it is possible. And this stance has possibly quite some truths today in it. But that would be another topic.
Every year the seminar with Yukihiro Sugino Sensei takes place in Leer, Germany. This means 6 days of training in Katori Shinto Ryu, while you have the opportunity to sleep and eat under one roof with Sensei and other members of the Ryuha. For me this is always the highlight of the year.
Last year Sugino Sensei gave a speech, an important one for me. All people at the seminar tried to train slowly and cleanly in order not to make any mistakes under Sensei’s watchful eyes. Too slow and silent like we should find out soon, when he asked us to gather. And he told us all how important it is to train “seriously”. After all, it’s not dancing that we train but a budo! Therefore one should train with the correct attitude of mind, so that we transmit our intention to hit to our partner. Not just going through the moves mindlessly. That is at least what I think I have understood.
What Sensei criticized here was the missing of Ki Ken Tai Ichi. A fundamental principle in Budo. Ichi stands for “as one” or “together”. Tai for body and Ken for sword. Ki, how many surely know is mostly translated as “energy”. And it stands for the power of life and breath that is available to every human being. In movies and comics this is often used described as a “mystical” energy. It helps the martial artist to accomplish superhuman things. Apart from such exaggerated portrayals, there is another translation of Ki that needs to be addressed. Namely those of “spirit”, “heart”, or “attitude of mind”.
Ki[気] is very often used in the Japanese language. Mood is in Japanese Kibun[気分], emotions, feelings and sensations are Kimochi[気持ち] and Sakki[殺気] is blood thirst and/or killing intention and there are still innumerable more such examples.
In this sense Kikentai-ichi[気剣体一] is to be understood as: “Sword, body and mind as one”. But what is the right spirit now? Now in my opinion it is to want to hit the partner. But even that is easier said than done. If we talk about training “seriously”, it doesn’t mean that you should suddenly flex your muscles and hit with the sword violently while screaming your lungs out of your throat (of which I all too often plead guilty to myself). But that you aim where you want to hit and “fire” your technique at this point. The intention must not only be to make “the technique”. But one must want to hit. Which in turn means the partner has to evade for real and there is and should be a controlled element of danger.
This kind of training, underlined by a powerful scream, is good Kiai in my opinion. To avoid misunderstandings: Nowadays Kiai is often synonymous with the word battle cry. But the scream itself is Kakegoe and only a symptom of Kiai. Kiai IS the right mental attitude. Well, of course not only, but that’s another topic.
One last point I would like to add: My own observation is that when I train with Kiai without concentrating on the mistakes of my partner (something I do all too often) and my partner also does his best, the training doesn’t exhaust me too much. It’s more like I’m getting energy back from training. And I think this is quite an interesting thing. Especially when you consider that Ki is energy as well as spirit.
Odd and the Frost Giants is a story written by Neil Gaiman in 2008 for the World Book Day. Gaiman is well known through the Amazon Prime series American Gods and Good Omens, which are based on his works. But he has also gained fame through the movies Stardust and Coraline based on his stories. I personally only became aware of him when I happened to get hold of his book on Nordic myths.
With only under 100 pages this book is a short story suitable for children. The edition was illustrated by illustrator Mark Buckinham. Even though this story is probably written for children, it also has its charm for adults. Gailman achieves this by making profound connections to Nordic myths and choosing timeless themes.
The story begins in a small Norwegian village during the Viking Age. The spring months have already begun, but there is still an unusually harsh winter. Odd has recently been half-orphaned, as his father was killed on a Viking journey. Therefore, to feed the family Odd’s mother decided to remarry. As many stepparents do, Odd is treated badly by his new stepfather and older stepbrothers and sisters. Unable to endure the verbal and physical violence, he takes off into the woods to his father’s hut, who was a mainly a forester and carpenter. There he meets three animal companions and together they get to the bottom of the origin of the continuous winter.
Gaiman has a deep knowledge of Nordic mythology which he proves in this story and has borrowed many characters from it. The plot is practically a continuation of several different myths. The whole cast of characters is extremely likeable, even the antagonist of the ice giant is not a blunt villain. And even if they give Odd a hand, his companions are no innocent. This gives them all a three-dimensional quality. However, the most interesting thing about Odd is that he is a disabled boy who bravely overcomes adventure not by brute force, but by his bright head.
And in my opinion, this underlines the most important theme of this book: It doesn’t matter what you are. It depends on what you make of it! And I consider this an important lesson. Therefore from me, absolute a reading recommendation!