Editor’s note: The following is the text of a paper Katsuse Yoshimitsu wrote for the 8th International Seminar of Budo Culture, held in March of 1996. It was translated into English by Antony Cundy, and is presented here with permission.
Bu creates the Man
By Katsuse Yoshimitsu
If asked to relate one’s objective in Budo training, I think that people will offer many varied opinions. Personally, I always come back to the rather intangible conclusion that it is to attain an elevation of one’s humanity. This objective is commonly embraced before beginning training. However, in my case it was only after I had begun that I was able to discover it.The founder of the Suio Ryu, Mima Yoichizaemon Kagenobu, stated that,
„Our swordsmanship comes from the mountain ascetics. The essence of our tradition, and the attainment of an unassailable position, comes from cutting down our opponents while the sword is still in the scabbard, stifling our opponent’s actions and achieving victory through not drawing the sword. While engaged in combat, detach yourself from all thoughts of winning or losing, achieve a pure and unfettered mind and reach unification with the gods.”
Drawing and fighting with the sword runs contrary to the teaching of the gods. The founder’s intention was to teach us to achieve harmony with the opponent and not for us to concern ourselves with winning. Through this kind of teaching the founder gathered many students and disciples.
I suspect that very few people since the founder’s time have been able to achieve what his teachings propound. Only those who have endured training that defies the imagination will have been able to obtain the inner most secrets of the founder’s teachings. I stated at the start of this essay that the elevation of humanity was an intangible objective. When thinking of the amount and quality of training in modern times I feel that this is truly not possible to obtain and therefore, at the same time, it has become my final goal.
The difference in degrees and quality of training has differed over the various generations. I wonder what we in the modern era can understand and gain from the amazing Budo that came from the world of the Warring States Period. It is not easy for the modern individual to understand the qualities that were displayed by the masters of a time when training was a matter of daily placing one’s life on the line. It is because of this that I believe one must turn back to this time and travel the most difficult path. It is without doubt the most difficult path to follow. By modernizing and making the arts easier we debase what our forebears developed. It is in the midst of the most difficult of training that the true form of Budo can be discerned. Turning this the other way around of course, this is the way in which everything becomes easier. However, realistically it is very difficult to devote this amount of time to ones training.
Our training is practice in realistic kata, always performed with an opponent. In combat, the ability to ascertain the opponent’s and their weapon’s movement is not easy, and it is true that in kata training both sides act in a pre-agreed manner and thus we cannot say that this is realistic. It is impossible to deal with an opponent desperately fighting for their life through training in kata alone. Thus the number of body movements and techniques that we can absorb wholly into ourselves becomes extremely important, because those movements and techniques are the ones that will protect us when we are faced with death.
Through the attainment of the techniques we are able to feel and comprehend the danger and fear that they contain. It is through this understanding that we can come to understand ‚Winning over our opponent without fighting,’ and ‚Avoiding conflict with others.’ Senseless conflict leads only to injury to others and inevitably to injury to oneself. The true responsibility and objective of a warrior is to gain control over themselves so as not to cause injury to oneself or others.
I do not however neglect solo training. Through attaining the form of kata we can understand the beauty of their structures and movements. I believe that the beauty of these forms permeate to our cores and work toward the elevation of our humanity. It is those movements that are natural, without extraneous strength or ostentatiousness, that are the purest, most beautiful and have the most strength. This is the true form of the classical Bushi.
I have always been attracted to the form and spirit of the classical Bushi. Therefore, I have always tried to seek them out in the midst of Kobudo practice. The force of spirit exhibited by the Bushi of the Warring States Period, who placed themselves in harm’s way and laid their lives on the line when facing an opponent, was indeed a most beautiful thing.
Japan’s Idiosyncratic Reigi
Many of Japan’s reigi (lit: etiquette/manners) have their origins in Budo. This reigi is strongly linked to the sense of worth of the individual. We place a great deal of emphasis on manners in Budo training. However, this is not something that should be forced or coerced. We should not believe because we are practicing Budo that we should think in such a rigid manner. Reigi is something that we obtain and exhibit through our daily lives and it is important that it should naturally flow as part of our lifestyle. Therefore, we should not become obsessed with the outward forms of reigi.Thus we should not launch accusations at those who do not treat us courteously or with a greeting. Rather, we should look at ourselves first to understand why we did not receive the greeting. In particular this is the case with children. It is natural that they sometimes won’t or cannot do so. Forcing them to perform in such a manner is not the correct way of doing things.
A child’s greeting is a smile, which for them is the highest form of greeting. It is as they mature that they become aware of words and manners to go along with this.
We must allow courtesy and greetings to become enlivened through their personable spirit, based on mutual trust and recognition of one’s friends and others. This spirit holds the greatest value for those of us who study Budo, which lays such emphasis on courtesy.
There is no need for academic theorizing about Budo training. One obtains a theory from a natural understanding based on experiences gained in training. When I look about me, presently there are many who propound their own theories based on some piece of literature or from listening to their teachers, without experiencing it through their own flesh. This is not a correct understanding or theory. A theory can only be born through experience. It is this experiencing that is the true form of Budo training and the form of man. Personally, what I have learned through my body is everything. It is belief in this which marks my path in martial training.
The History of the Suio Ryu
Suio Ryu Iai Kenpo was created by Mima Yoichizaemon, a man of the Warring States period. He was born in the Dewa fiefdom to Mima Saigu, a shrine attendant at the Junisha Gongen Shrine in the 5th year of Tensho, 1577. From a young age he learnt martial arts from his father, as well as the kenjutsu of the Bokuden Ryu and a form of jojutsu practiced by the yamabushi. Later he learnt the basics of the Hayashizaki Ryu iai from Sakurai Goroemon. He vowed to produce his own tradition and spent his days practicing swordsmanship before a sacred tree and the evenings in contemplation before the shrine’s altar.
He did not confine himself to his home area. Instead, he also followed the practice of the yamabushi by making pilgrimages to sacred places throughout the country. While doing so he also polished his martial skills against other swordsmen. During his travels, Yoichizaemon met remnants of the monks from Mount Hiei from whom he learnt a form of battlefield naginata-jutsu, which they had devised.
On return to his home he continued his training. However, one evening he received a vision whilst in contemplation before the shrine’s altar. He envisaged a white gull floating on water, which caused his eyes to be opened and for him to achieve enlightenment.
From this enlightenment, and based on the number of the 28 constellations of Heaven and 36 birds of Earth, he created the 64 methods of iai, enpo, kogusoku, wakizashi, naginata and jojutsu which make up the martial curriculum of the Suio Ryu Iai Kenpo.
The founder of our tradition, Kagenobu, walked deeply the path of the ascetic as well as the warrior. We can see the influence of this even after he had founded his original tradition. He drew up a mandala which he called the Tenchi Mandala (lit: Heaven and Earth Mandala) placed it in his dojo and taught his students about the Universe. The mandala featured Ameterasu Okami in the center of a great circle, within which were depicted 12 deities, 28 constellations and 36 birds. These latter 64 expressed both the techniques of the tradition and a form of divination called the 64 kake.
The founder continued to tour the country, not just to practice his martial skills but also as form of Shinto training. I think that we can imagine that these trips were more about finding his path than about polishing his skills. For him the sword was an instrument of ablution, an act of opening himself to the deity Amitabha and a way of exploring the realm of nothingness that is the path of Zen. When facing other swordsmen he would not think of winning. Instead he took the form of ai-uchi (lit: mutual strike) and thereby gave those watching the appearance that his opponent had obtained victory.
I believe that Bu is the art of survival. I feel that you can see the true form of the martial strategist in the founder Kagenobu, who would retreat to save life. At the same time we should also remember and learn from the manner in which he lived his life, without the creation of enemies.
Kagenobu passed away in the 5th year of Kanbun, 1665, and was succeeded by his son Mima Yohachiro Kagenaga. At the present time, I, Katsuse Yoshimitsu, serve as the 15th Soke of the Suio Ryu.
The Curriculum of the Suio Ryu
Suio Ryu Iai consists of the following techniques
- Goyo (5 Kata): A series for developing cutting and handling skills. Featuring, horizontal, diagonal, reverse diagonal and vertical cuts
- Goin (5 Kata): All of these are receiving techniques. They are kata in which a counter follows a parry.
- Kuyo (9 Kata): A series of highly realistic seated kata for those who have moved on from the Goyo and Goin kata.
- Tachi Iai (9 Kata): A realistic series of standing techniques
- Kage (18 Kata): A series of kata, which offer responses and counters to the Kuyo and Tachi Iai techniques.
- Kumi Iai (9 Kata): A series of realistic kata performed against and opponent.
There are further techniques that cannot be made public, but which, to preserve the way of the founder, are transmitted to the successor of the tradition.Recognition is made in the form of Shoden, Chuden, Okuden, Sho Mokuroku, Chu Mokuroku, Dai Mokuroku, So Menkyo and Inka. It should be noted that as the Suio Ryu is a comprehensive tradition, at the discretion of Soke those who have achieved excellence in other arts can be recognized with one of the previously noted awards.
In our tradition, once a certain degree of ability has been developed through solo practice all techniques are practiced with an opponent.
The katana is so sharp that even if the tip only lightly touches something it will cut. However, the first priority is to understand whether the opponent’s blade will touch us or not. And that is a very difficult problem. One’s opponent is not like a standing tree rooted to the spot. They will move around frantically trying to find a way in which to defeat us. To be able to defeat such an adversary we must engage in realistic training with an opponent.
Although kata are performed with the mutual understanding of predefined movements they are still extremely dangerous. One mistake could lead to an accident. I have personally been injured by many of my students. This is rather embarrassing, but illustrates my lack of maturity and offers food for thought regarding the future course of my training.
For me the essence of iai is simply ‚not dying’. In terms of pure survival, we see that those who live on achieve the greatest victory. I often say to my disciples ‚if one of your arms gets cut off, cut for the opponents jugular.’ I am always personally prepared to do this.
One reason for training in martial arts may be ‚to prepare for death.’ Death is frightening for everyone, but when faced with an opponent out to take your life it is terrifying. Therefore, by taking ourselves over and over to the brink of death we come to an awareness of the abyss of death and it becomes just another everyday thing to us. At the same time we gain a real understanding of just how scary death is. It is these two states then, of recognizing and accepting death, that are the essence of true Budo. It is for me, who is in no way perfect, an endless theme.
The Masaki Ryu, taught in conjunction with the Suio Ryu
This kusarigama tradition has its roots in the techniques of manrikikusari developed by Masaki Taro Dayu. It was then passed down to the 9th Soke of the Suio Ryu, Fukuhara Shinzaemon Kagenori, who devised the art of kusarigama from the manrikigusari techniques. From this time the Masaki Ryu has been transmitted in conjunction with the Suio Ryu.
The body of the kusarigama is roughly 40cm in length with a chain of approximately 2.5 meters. The blade portion is 15 cm in length and is sharp on its 3 protruding edges.
The tradition contains a total of 16 kata in the Omote and Ura sections, all of which are performed in a highly realistic manner. A real kusarigama has a steel weight, which is swing by the chain, however for safety’s sake a less dangerous substitute is used in practice. The techniques include receiving the opponent’s blade with the chain portion, wrapping the opponent’s body and weapon, receiving the opponent’s blade with the body portion and then wrenching it away or stealing it. In particular, striking the opponent with the weight portion is deemed the most effective.
Through actually seeing the techniques of the tradition, not just the kusarigama, I think you will be able to understand everything. The simplicity of the techniques that you will see represent the characteristics of the Suio Ryu. This painful simplicity is the essence of the Suio Ryu and the essence of my path.
About the author:
Katsuse Yoshimitsu is the 15th Soke of the Suio Ryu Iai Kenpo and 12th Soke of the Masaki Ryu, succeeding his father Katsuse Mitsuyasu in 1982. He is the teaching master of the Suio Ryu headquarters, the Hekiunkan Dojo, and Chairman of the Shizuoka Prefecture Kendo Federation Technical Council.
Translated by Antony Cundy, September 2004