Being Old School: An Interview with Ellis Amdur on the Classical Martial Arts of Japan

In excellent interview with an excellent practitioner!

The Freelancer

Alphabet - Ellis Amdur has pursued the study of East Asian martial traditions since the late 1960s. He is a licensed instructor in two koryū (classical Japanese martial traditions), the Araki-ryu Torite-Kogusoku and the Toda-ha Buko-ryu. The Araki-ryu is a rugged system that specializes in close combat. It could be termed, “grappling with weapons.” The Toda-ha Buko-ryu specializes in the use of the naginata, a long pole-arm with a curved blade against a variety of weapons. Details about this school, including dojo locations and entry requirements can be found at the Toda-ha Buko-ryu website. Over the years, he has trained in a number of other martial systems, most notably Aikido, Judo, Brazilian jiujitsu.and xingyi chu’an (studying varying lengths of time with Su Dong Chen, Chris Bates and Zhang Yun).  Aside from his ongoing koryū training, Amdur has most recently been training in two new areas: the basics of Arrestling, under the instruction…

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Terms in Koto-Ryu 虎倒流

It has been shown that the content of Koto ryu consists of three densho (booklets) and four Makimono (scrolls). The content that has been published to the public, shows that it contains knowledge about the great sword carried on ones back (nodachi; 野太刀), the spear (Yari; 槍),  halberds (naginata; 薙刀), weighted chain (kusarifundo; 鎖分銅), drawing the swords (Iai; 居合), the use of metal plates for missile and melee application (Teppan; 鉄盤) and eda Koppo (枝骨法) among many other things.

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The name of the Koto Ryu was not used until the mid-1500s, although the tradition’s roots hundreds of years further back in time. A common way to name the school at that time was taking its innermost essence (gokui; 極意) or the most advanced principles for the name. For example, Takenouchi Ryu, a well-known martial arts tradition in Japan and whose name translates to “the inside of bamboo”, takes its name from the fact that bamboo is easy just because it is hollow. Nen Ryu – the idea / Intention tradition – received its name because it is to check and see through the enemy’s intentions and avoid his attacks. Koto Ryu is usually translated as “tiger knockdown tradition” where the tiger was a code word for the insidious enemies, but because this school was part of ninja warriors’ tradition had also a hidden interpretation only explained to the initiates. By replacing the characters in the name of “Ko to Ryu (虎と竜)” you can translate it into “Tiger and Dragon” which has the same symbolic value as “yin and yang”, ie the softness related to the hard and vice versa.

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Koto Ryu is mainly known today for its koppojutsu (techniques based on the “bone / bone methods) but in its densho also mentioned kosshijutsu (science of he tips of the fingers) and dakentaijutsu (blows to the body’s weak points). Other old names used before koppojutsu was “goho” (強法) – hard methods, but also “Tode” (唐手) has occurred (signs for Tode could also be pronounced as karate and means “Tang Chinese hand” (Tang is a dynasty in China which lasted from 618-907)). The basic concept of this tradition was to use the skeleton to provide power for punches and kicks, and the knowledge of which parts of the enemy skeletons they would attack. Because some of the goals were hard to reach, this included a method of how to dynamically reshape the fist depending where you hit (referred to as “Shiten Hakkō no Issen” 四天八光の一閃).

Illustrations of kamae from Koto-ryu

The techniques and methods were not invented immediately. The first generation likely used a concept that had helped them to survive in battle, and the second generation took over this knowledge, developed it and handed it to the third generation and so on. The methods that did not work died out with its inventor. Hatsumi Sensei is currently the 18th generation of the head (Soke) Koto Ryu. The development of these old schools can not compare with modern methods that are often paper products of a single person, with simple techniques recorded in a graduation compendium. The old ways are not rigid and it is Hatsumi sensei’s responsibility to develop Koto Ryu for handing on to future generations.

The naming of the techniques and methods, that is what we call “kata” follows the same principles as the naming of a tradition. The entire Japanese society and its culture is steeped in kata, which translates to shape, model, or pattern. Shi-kata is an important concept in the Japanese language, it means “how to do things”, focusing on form and execution. They talk about yomi kata (reading), Tabe-kata (to eat), kaki-kata (to write), iki kata (thinking) and dozens of other kata that influence behavior in Japan. So kata is very common in Japan, and are therefore included as partner exercises in all the ancient Japanese martial arts (kobujutsu), unlike many modern species which perform a kata alone. Kata was used because it lacked any other way to describe the knowledge you wanted to transfer to the next generation. For it is not about rigid and mechanical movements. It’s about an inner understanding of the key movements arise, applied and connected with the next key motion. So Keri kata (kicking) Tsuki kata (thrusting/punching) and uke kata (to receive) is not simple techniques of kicking, punching or blocking. There is a depth in this that can not be explained in the text.

Source: https://iwato1810.wordpress.com/2017/05/21/termer-i-koto-ryu-%E8%99%8E%E5%80%92%E6%B5%81/

Translated by Luke Crocker

 

The life of Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto no Shigenobu

I humbly consider that this article is currently the most detailed and accurate account of his life in the English language, condensed into one article, with the majority of anomalies and inaccuracies removed.

Jūshinden

His sword became one with the god’s; the most supreme Battōjutsu, which would shine throughout history was born.

During the Muromachi period lived a man who would go on to change the art of swordsmanship forever. The legacy he left survived nearly half a millennium, a legacy larger than that of any martial artist in his wake.

On the 12th of January 1542, a boy known as Asano Tamijimaru was born into a warrior family in Hayashizaki village, Tateyama, Dewa no Kuni (Modern day Yamagata Prefecture, Murayama City).
His father was Asano Kazuma no Minamoto Shigenari. A retainer to the Mogami family branch who were in charge of the South Eastern part of Dewa, he served Mogami Inaba no Kami Mitsuhide, the sixth Mogami Lord and overall fifteenth Lord of Tateoka Castle, in the Kitamurayama District of Tateoka City. (Modern Yamagata Pref. Murayama City, Tateoka). Asano was known as a…

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Ishiki: Awareness

It has been my observation that I can’t live in an overly comfortable environment; soft carpets, fluffy couches, and generally lulling spaces make me uneasy.

Though I understand that this comes from a complex upbringing that makes me feel that I don’t belong in such an environment, this article by Arnaud presents to me a somewhat different perspective of the dangers of comfort!

Shiro Kuma

ishiki1

I wrote many times about Japan being the country where one makes mistakes.
I arrived Thursday in Japan and made the first one on arrival. That made me think about Ishiki, awareness. (1)
Before I go further on the philosophical lesson learned, let me tell you the story.

Landing in Narita in the afternoon, I was happy to be there. After buying the yen, getting a wifi router, and a bus ticket to Kashiwa, I went for a smoke (yes, I know it’s terrible, but that is not the point here).

With my suitcase in tow and my small backpack, I went to the designated smoking area located outside the building. I let my luggage outside and went into the booth. A few emails needed my attention, and I answered them. Having finished, I went for a coffee.

Fifteen minutes later I felt that something was missing. My suitcase was…

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Munen Muso 無念夢想

Often ‘Shugyôsha’ (修行者), or those engaged in an intensive physical or mental practice, often refer to the phrase ‘munen musô’ (無念無想). The idea of ‘munen musô’ is to make oneself free of worldly thoughts and desires. However, the term ‘munen musô’ is not what describes a correct state of mental unity. The reason is that within ‘munen musô’ is a concept known as ‘Boga no Kyo’, or a state of forgetting the self.

In other words, ‘munen musô’ is exactly the meaning of the four ‘kanji’ that make up the phrase. They are: 無 No – 念 Desire – 無- No – 想 Thought. Further, unification of the mind by eliminating the myriad and unending onslaught of ideas and thoughts as taught in various doctrines of religion and cultural programming is nothing like the unity of mind and spirit found in a true ‘Heihôsha’ (兵法者), or one engaged in the intensive practice of the subtle methods of combat and military strategy. True unity of mind and spirit is the state of utter selflessness and intensive singular focus.

 

Sourced from HERE

Did Sensei Give The Theme For 2018?

Shiro Kuma

Hatsumi_Arnaud_cousergue_Bujinkan

Is Mutō Dori the first step to knighthood?

Is it possible to become a knight in the modern times (Jidai), or was it only possible in the past (Jidai)? (1)

Here is an occidental Knight’s oath that reminded me of the Mutō Dori theme:

Be without fear in the face of your enemies.

Stand brave and upright.

Speak the truth always, even if it means your death.

Protect the helpless and do no wrong.

When you read this oath from the past, you see similarities with what Hatsumi sensei is teaching at the Honbu dōjō. The Mutō Dori of 2017 is to move towards the opponent with no fear even if you might die. And this whether you have a weapon or not. Ethics and values will keep us brave and upright. But this requires physical courage and high values.

How many Bujinkan Shihan and practitioners understand that today?

Sunday…

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Kiichi Hogen

Translated from Pertti Ruha’s Blog HERE.

In the mythology of the schools of the Bujinkan, there exist a person called Kiichi Hogen [鬼一法眼] (also sometimes romanized as Kiitsu Hogan) as mentioned in Takagi Yoshin Ryu’s Ryuko no maki. He is a legendary figure, who we do not know much about. Hogan lived in the 1100s in the areas around Kyoto.

He is said to have been skilled in onmyojutsu  (陰陽道)  a form of Japanese Taoism — and was a famous strategist.

kiichi-hogen
Kiichi Hogen

Among the documents that are left behind after the “Kyoto’s eight schools,” Kyo Hachi Ryu, mentioned him as a prominent figure, whose teachings have been embraced among many of the martial arts schools that came from western Japan. Among other things, he must have left behind the piece of text included in Ryuko no maki;

“If the opponent comes, welcome it; if he goes so send him away. Add five to five and to receive ten; add two to eight, and to receive ten. How to create harmony.
Assess the situation, see through the intention; the large larger one ten square feet; the little penetrates the smallest things.

It can get hectic, but when you face whatever is in front of you, keep a cool head. “

According to a book from the early Edo period this was most like Chujo ryu. The tachi used was short and a characteristic technique was to squeeze close to the opponent.

The brief description of the sword he used is similar to our Togakure ryu sword and the  techniques of Kasumi, Fuma and Aranami with movements that oshi kiri and Raikou ken etc., are extremely similar.

A temporal link with the Togakure Ryu is also a legend that Hogan was Minamoto Yoshitsune’s sword teachers, the same Minamoto Daisuke Nishima fought before he was forced to flee into Iga mountains.

If this connection is true, then one can also speculate that Chujo ryu, a famous but now extinct school, could have links to Togakure ryu and Gyokko ryu.

Kiraku-ryu and the Toda Family

Kiraku-ryu (氣樂流) is a composite tradition including the use of the sword, grappling, chained-sickle, and more. Some of its secret teachings involve the Kuji, various mantra, accupressure, kanashibari spells, and so on.

According to the Menjo (diploma; 免状) of the school (my source is written sometime between 1862 – 1870), the founder was Toda Echigo no Kami, though there has been research that suggests that this is not accurate: possibly Watanabe Mokuemon (according to Serge Mol (2001: 209)) or Izuka Garyusai Okiyoshi (according to Watatani and Yamada (1978: 233). The Menjo simply lists these individuals in it’s list of past soke, or reputable practitioners, along with short biographies of each.

It is interesting to note that under the heading for Izuka Garyusai Okiyoshi it is stated that Kiryaku-ryu and Toda-ryu are one and the same and both founded by Toda Echigo.

Similarly, there are a number of other members of the Toda family found in this listing including Toda Naiki Yoshinori (戸田内記義則) and Toda Hayato Yoshitoshi (戸田隼人義敏). Though not likely to be expressly related, for those following Sean Askew‘s work on the Toda family, I have added the passages regarding these two Toda’s (Some of the other headings discuss parts of the Toda family, but they are seemingly further off topic).

toda-echigo-o-kami-shigenori
The biography of Toda Echigo no kami Shigenori as found in the Kiraku-ryu Menjo (1862 – 1870)

Toda Echigo Morinobu no Kami (戸田越後守信)

“As for the the Toda family line, its ancestors also possibly called themselves the Tomida family (富田派) line originally; being the clan of the family of Gōshū Sasaki, many living in the generation of the family of the ranked official Asakura. They themselves, afterwards, were acting as public master instructors of swordsmanship under Toyotomi Hidetsugu (1568-1595), with the resignation of 70 years teaching in various provinces on the forefront of the field. With 400 households, they presided over swordsmanship with three blossoms: the tradition of the unrivaled Muteki-ryū spearmanship, the Tomida-ryū family tradition of jūjutsu and Toda-ryū family tradition. Mastering three traditions of inner technique, they went about serving in battle out of the province in Echizen /  tsuzen with the family of Lord Maeda Toshiie, during which they faced 138 famous unequaled rivals. Later to defeat other first class parties and obtain the title of a Chief  family with seven classes, due to having a myriad of battlefield deeds, the Toda family was honored with Sanzengoku, becoming known as the ‘Protectors of Echigo’. Being the aforementioned founder of Toda-ryū jūjutsu at the time, he was 70 years old when he passed away.”

Toda Naiki Yoshinori (戸田内記義則)

“Regarding the Toda family line, its original name was Yamada / Kumada family line at  Shiro / Jo province, natives of Fushimi, with Lord Yodo appointed as an official after his wanderings with Shindo Uunsai. Therein refining his character by diligence, the product of the merits of his actions, he, in the end, evolved into a topnotch master of the secrets and founder, venturing deep to the source of Toda-ryū. In both modern and ancient  times, the advantage of such personas, wandering alone unequaled in good name throughout the country, is the notable trace they leave. This master died at age 72 years.”

Toda Hayato Yoshitoshi (戸田隼人義敏)

toda-naiki-yoshinori-hayato-yoshitoshi-kiraku-ryu
Biography of Toda Naiki Yoshinori and Toda Hayato Yoshitoshi found in the Kiraku-ryu Menjo (1862 – 1870).

“Regarding Yoshitoshi, he was a legitimate son of Toda Naiki / Uchiki, wearing his father’s badge upon his leather garments, engaging in intense active practice himself, unceasingly in the house of (?) Koemoto (?). He was a person of recreational diversions, his name carried near and far, but he was repeatedly emotionally volatile. Yet in service to Lord Yodo, he was chief instructor, who, before long, increased that family’s  prosperity. This master died at age 82 years in Yodo’s feudal domain.”

Pushing the space

bujinkanquebec

On my last trip to Japan in February, Hatsumi sensei spoke of a somewhat obscure principle: pushing space or emptiness on the opponent as he attacks us. How can we interpret that?

In the mid-1980s, I graduated in hypnotherapy. If there is one thing that hypnotherapists know well, it is surely the unconscious fears. Those that come to haunt us from our dark side of the brain. What is the relationship between this and the concept taught us by Hatsumi sensei? Understanding the mechanisms of the subconscious.

When I give seminars and even on occasion with new students, I make a small game that demonstrates these two facets of our personality. At a distance from my arm, I explain to the student that I am going to hit him with a slap on the top of the forehead and that he will have to block my arm without retreating. The…

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