Yashima Martial Arts and Japanese Culture Publication July 2020 by LÉO TAMAKI
Translation notes: I translated this, I am not a professional nor am I a native speaker of French or Japanese let alone an expert on either culture or martial arts. Any mistakes or misunderstandings in the translation are my own, and do not represent the publication, the interviewer or interviewee. So some things may be lost in translation, you want the direct message, then read it in French or speak to Kacem yourself.
Some things are very hard to translate especially when working between 2-3 different languages and cultures. I have added what I believe are alternative translations in brackets, the only time the brackets are not my added 2 cents are when it says (Laughs). I did this to help with understanding, but I might be wrong with my choice of words.
I have left the Japanese without explanation, if you dont know what it means ask your teacher. As for some of the English/French translation its difficult. For example, Adepte in French is Follower in English, I think practitioner or disciple etc might be a better translation, but I left it as follower. Martial Traditions might be better translated as Traditional/Classical Martial arts to distinguish it from modern sports styles for context, but I left it as Martial traditions. Why? because I dont want to lose the speakers voice. I could have changed some of the simple and often used words in this article to their Japanese equivalent that I know my teacher would use, but I left them as is to keep the article as authentic as possible.
Any questions please ask me at www.facebook.com/seichusendojo via Private Message.
Lastly, any mistakes are my own, there are probably a couple and not the publishers or people involved.
(Researcher and follower).
Few experts in the martial world have reached the highest level of both sides of bugei. Kacem Zoughari is one of them. Known throughout the world, he can be found teaching in a Japanese university as well as training special forces. He gives himself up as never before for Yashima and demystifies many urban legends of the martial microcosm. The secrets of Japanese martial traditions, with Kacem Zoughari.
-Today, the effectiveness of martial traditions is regularly questioned. What is your position on this issue?
I understand it. It is often the disappointed the koryū and budō people who are the most vocal. They have a right to be disappointed when you see the general level. I am a lover of martial traditions, but I often prefer to see the vestiges of them rather than their actual manifestations. However, to say that these practices are not effective is a sign that this world is only partially known. For there is no ineffective tradition, there are ineffective practitioners. We cannot make generalities because it depends on the master, the lineage, etc. People often form an opinion on a discipline according to the appreciation they have of a follower (practitioner or martial artist). This is a mistake because each one can only present his version, his understanding, his level.
-So you think that martial traditions can be effective today?
Absolutely. But for that, learning the curriculum is not enough. It is also necessary to understand it, interpret it, and discover its secrets. If this is done correctly, a tradition dating back several centuries will allow us to face the situations of the present. Their essence is flexible enough to adapt to face a boxer or a wrestler. If the adept (follower) can only demonstrate effectiveness in a particular context where he must be attacked in a specific way, he has not touched the foundation of martial practice. Of course, one must study current ways of doing things, understand what the parameters of attack of a boxer are, a karateka, etc., but one must be able to bring one's discipline (practice) to life today.
-There is a tendency (trend) today between those who believe in an efficient martial practice and those who prefer its educational aspect. What is your position on the subject?
This debate, like so many others, is not new. In 1730, observing training in a Yagyū dōjō, the famous Ogyū Sorai (荻生 徂徠) asked if it was a dance! He asked, where is the art of the Yagyū forged on the battlefields? But at the same time, some criticized followers who killed their opponent in one blow, saying that we are no longer in the 15th century. It is clear that the most pragmatic tendencies have always coexisted with the idealists, and so it is. Not to mention that nothing is exclusive, and that incredible followers such as Yagyū, Musashi or Yamaoka Tesshū are as famous for their prowess as for their spirituality. So, there is no reason to oppose anything.
-Can you give us a brief history of Japanese martial arts?
Japanese martial traditions have a very long history, and above all have been very well documented thanks to the many writings, vestiges and practices that have come down to us. Let's just go back to the 14th century. The heiho, the warrior way of this period, is the bugei jūhappan. The bugei jūhappan, these are 18 warrior arts that the samurai must know. We also talk about hachi gei or hakkei, the 8 arts. These are generic terms which do not correspond to a precise list, but which underline the fact that at this time the warrior must have a complete training. He must know how to swim, ride a horse, fight with a spear, a sword, draw a bow, but also how to read a terrain, and so on. The schools (ryu) that have their origins in the battlefields of this era are called classical. Then comes the Edo era, which is sometimes subdivided into Bakumatsu and Meiji. During these centuries, certain traditions will endure, and new ones will be born. Each of these schools will live a unique destiny! Some will become fixed, some will evolve, and others will present a showcase adapted to their time while preserving their original heart. Japan has changed enormously over the last six centuries. It is obvious that the practice of a warrior in 15th century armour cannot be the same as that of the samurai in 18th century kimono, and the soldier armed with a gun and bayonet of the 20th century. During this long history, at certain times the power has oriented martial practice towards education. But we must not forget that, until 1945, war and violence were concrete realities. That the initial motivation of the practitioners was martial efficiency.
-What do you think of the current evolution of martial traditions?
It's in the order of things. Times are changing and Japan yesterday and today are as different as the sun and the moon. If we add to that the transfer to another geographical and cultural context, we immediately understand that changes are inevitable, and even necessary. Here, things are often Francized (For English speakers anglicized/americanized/westernized) . This is natural. It's like the Japanese make tiramisu with matcha (green tea), which is very popular. You can change things, make them evolve, but it has to be done with humility. It's a long process that starts with a deep study. We must receive and work. And if one day the master recognises himself in us, then the time of interpretation begins... It is a very difficult task to build a bridge between yesterday's warriors, our masters, today's world and the expectations of the public. Unfortunately, many of the changes are incoherent and betray the original practice.
-Do you have an example?
Unfortunately, there are many. Let us take the case of Seiza. Today, in Japan itself, it corresponds to sitting on one's knees on the heels. Seiza can be written with different kanji. There is tadashiku suwaru, sitting correctly, and shizuka ni suwaru, sitting calmly. Both will be pronounced seiza. But none of these expressions imply that we are sitting on our knees! In feudal times, in general, a warrior would sit in agura (anza) or cross-legged, or hanza, with one knee raised. What is known today as seiza was most common among religious people and women. The master of the house rarely put himself in this position, for example only when there was a dignitary who was superior to him. And again, this developed especially in the Edo period. However, in Iaidō or Aikidō, it became a foundation of practice. At the expense of tradition, health... and logic.
Let's take the example of Iaidō. In the past we could sometimes find forms where we kneel with our toes raised. This reproduces situations where you take your shoes off, for example. But we were not in seiza, these were not fixed situations. These were in-between moments of vulnerability. The old schools teaching the samurai to be ready in all circumstances made sense. But a situation where one is in modern seiza with the sword at the belt did not correspond to any reality, it is the mark of a recent discipline where education has taken precedence over martiality. In the same way, whether one is sitting or standing, basing teaching on forms where one is already ready to draw did not make sense in the past. All the sophistication on the position of fingers, thumb, etc., is just a means of artificially creating a group of knowledge. A circle (group) of insider information that, in the context of the time, had no logic. Famous traditions are no stranger to this.
-To what extent?
It varies, of course, according to the situation of each school, but, on the one hand, in feudal times, challenges were a concrete possibility, and revealing one's secrets to the first person, even as a pupil, was not prudent. The schools therefore often introduced unnecessary detail and sophistication into the realization of the movements. The real secret then lies in their absence. At the same time, especially in the urban dōjōs that depended on outside students, this abundance of details kept practitioners motivated to collect these secrets. The result is that many of the hand movements that are the norm today are impossible when facing an experienced opponent. Often the sword is not even positioned correctly in the obi. This generates hip movements that are useless (Unnecessary) with (against) a correct position. The sageo was not the same, because a long sageo clearly betrayed a warrior's objective. In everyday life, it was a decoration that was not attached as it is practiced in modern styles. The real point of Iai is quite simple. It is the ability to draw when one is attacked by surprise, when one is not in an ideal position for combat.
-You specialize in ninjutsu. What does that term mean?
Ninjutsu refers to anything related to information, espionage, infiltration, exfiltration and assassination. It's a very broad field.
-When did we start talking about ninja?
(When and how did the word Ninja originate?)
The term ninja dates back to Edo. Before that, we used to talk about onmitsu, kage no mono, kage gatari, etc. These names often referred to a particular type of action. The first mention of a group specializing in infiltration dates back to the Nochi kagami, a chronicle of the bakufu of 1430, which mentions the Iga-shu, who were called to set fire to, sow discord among the troops, etc. The term ninja dates back to Edo period. Throughout history, more than sixty terms will be used to designate these specialized warriors present throughout Japan. Some will be free, as in Iga and Koga, whose clans sold themselves to the highest bidders as mercenaries, while others will be special contingents of regular armies. Among the latter, the most famous are the seppa, rappa and toppa of Takeda Shingen.
-How were the ninja clans born?
Ninja were often groups born of warriors who had experienced defeat. Knowing the vicissitudes (trials and tribulations) of war, these families fiercely defended their independence and favoured discretion over honours to survive the inevitable reversals of fortune.
-What motivated you to practice martial arts?
Like all children of the 70s, Bruce Lee of course, but also American comics. Back then there was Strange, Nova, Titan, etc. And there were always little Karate, Kung Fu. Most of all... there was Zorro! Zorro with his cape, mask and cave, he's the ancestor of Batman. But to the little boy I was, he was also the precocious ninja. So in a way, it is Guy Williams (the actor who played Zorro), protector of the widow and the orphan, who is at the origin of my journey. (Laughs) For me, as for many other children I think, there was both the dream of becoming someone else, and the desire to be strong. These are simple motivations but which I look back at with affection today. This desire to become a hero, to become stronger, is a builder (motivating factor).
-What has been your martial journey?
My father had done Karate with Master Kaze. As he was a worker, he was short of time, but he loved martial arts. So I started with Karate Shōtōkan when I was 7 years old, then I went through Full Contact with Daniel Renesson (Famous French full contact kickboxer). And that's when the ninja boom came. I had seen Shō Kosugi and I wanted to become a ninja! But they told me: "It's not possible, you have to be Japanese (laughs)! "In the Karate magazine, there were ads for dōjō. And there, ninjutsu at the Yamatsuki club in Charonne. I call and my questions are extremely simple. "Do we wear the hood? -Yes", "Do we use shuriken? -Yes", "Okay, I'm coming! " I was fourteen years old, and my life had just changed forever.
-How did your early days go?
Classes were from 8 to 10 pm and there were no young people, but I went to all the trainings, I came early, I went to seminars. So much so that I dropped out of school. My parents were going crazy and wondered if I was in some kind of cult. But, as a symbolic first step, at 16 I was awarded a black belt. However, as time went by, doubts had built up. The answers to my many questions were sometimes strange. And after getting Hatsumi's books, seeing videos of him in action, I saw important differences with the teaching I was receiving. It's normal, it's always like that at the beginning of a discipline. In the beginning, Henry Plée himself had learned Karate from books! Like many, the pioneers of ninjutsu simply presented the results of incomplete research. But I felt dissatisfaction.
-How did you react to these discoveries?
I had a crazy dream of going to Japan. But to spend two months there was something like 10 times my father's salary! But my parents supported me. They took out a loan, and at the same time I'm working at McDonald's. It took me three years to pay them back.
-How was your first contact with Japan?
When I get there, I think I'm good. I represented the discipline at Bercy (An entertainment district in Paris) and on TV and I'm a black belt. But at the first class of Ishizuka sensei, I'm taken back. I'm taken back nicely, but I feel like I'm being slapped! I feel like I've been cheated. There, forgetting all the ceremony, I take my black belt and throw it in the dōjō. But Ishizuka tells me: "If you concentrate on tsuki, uke and keri, you’ll be fine." I then spend two months to train daily with local students. I don't understand a word, but I remain silent, I listen. And that's when I decided to learn Japanese.
-How was your return to France?
There was a mixture of what had been studied during the early adopters /trail blazers stays, seen in books and videos, and of each person's past. There is no denying the good will (intent), but you have to admit that the result was... "personal" (not what he desired). After my stay in Japan, I therefore decided to continue practicing alone. In the end, I only knew two or three things. But it was of no importance. I was determined to work on them to the point where they would work regardless of the opponent.
-Is that when you learned Japanese?
Yes. First on my own with the Assimil method, then at the O-languages where I entered in 1993.
-When did you go back to Japan after that?
It was in 1994. Since my first trip, I had trained a lot, especially with a group that had formed around me, and I had invested myself in the study of the language. I arrived fully inflated. So I went back to the school (Ishizuka dojo), but nothing. Not a word about what I needed to improve, or what I had corrected. So I'm in doubt. Am I on the right track? Am I wrong? I knew I had made an effort, but was it in the right direction? Then I decide on the third evening that, since I am transparent, this would be my last lesson. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had become Ishizuka's partner to demonstrate the techniques, and I was detached, liberated by my decision. Long weapons are my favourite, and we worked on spear. At the end of the course, Ogawa, one of the seniors from the dōjō, said, "Kacem's movements have changed a lot. Sensei (Ishizuka) talked about it with me. "Shaken, I am a little later with Aida-san, one of Hatsumi and Ishizuka's closest (student), who helped me a lot during my first stay. I ask him then: "Am I worthy of the level of the dōjō?" He looked at me and nodded in a guttural tone. What a relief! It all sounds a bit melodramatic, but I was 23 years old, and it had been 10 years since I had invested my life in practice. I was waiting for validation, or at least a correction, and I'm glad I had the courage to ask for it when I needed it.
-How was your daily life in Japan?
Over the years, I got closer to Ishizuka sensei. He travelled a lot for his work and I met him every time he came to France. He would also generously come to teach my group of students. So I lived at his house in Noda and slept in his dōjō. It was unexpected, even if, without air conditioning, summer nights were difficult. Every morning I got up, cleaned the dōjō, did laundry, and then went to practice in the forest. Afterwards, I cleared the land that would be the site of the new dōjō. Then I went to attend classes with Master Hatsumi and Ishizuka Sensei, Noguchi and Someya. I followed them everywhere, in Tōkyō, etc. And when I managed to be free for a moment I would look for books on martial arts. Finally, in the evening, I accompanied Hatsumi sensei when he walked his dogs. Sometimes he spoke, sometimes he remained silent. But what was incomprehensible to me was that while he was walking... I had to run to keep up with him!
-How was Hatsumi Sensei?
Soft, poised, supple. At that time, he was about 65 years old, but he could easily do the splits. And when he moved, I couldn't understand. I couldn't discern, read his gestures, even though he moved quietly even when he was attacked with all our strength. And humanely, he has a great nobility of character. For example, I have never heard him speak ill of anyone. We all know that sometimes there is something to be said, but the worst I have heard Ishizuka or Hatsumi sensei say is: "Ah shiranai, kawaiskawaisōu, ah the unfortunate one, he doesn't know", and this is not a roundabout way of criticizing. One can sense that they sincerely pity ignorance. There is a great benevolence, a true nobility of character in them.
-What was Hatsumi Masaaki's background?
Hatsumi sensei started very early with Jūdō, and by the age of 20 he was 5th dan. He also did Karate and reached 6th or 7th dan. At the same time, he did Kendō, English boxing etc he even won a few titles and so on. So he very quickly gained a vast experience and an incredible physique. However, despite all this, while he was teaching Jūdō in an American military base, one day a soldier returning from the front line managed to throw him. And it deeply shocked him that the physical (strength/Body size) occupies such a place in the disciplines (arts) to which he devotes himself, that a less experienced practitioner can prevail with that (strength/size). He then meets Ueno Takashi, a martial researcher linked to famous adepts such as Satō Kinbei, Fujita Seiko, Nawa Yumio, etc., who were more or less at the origin of the Nihon Kobudō Kyokai. After having worked with him (Takashi) for a while, in comes Takamatsu Toshitsugu finally, one of the greatest adepts of the 20th century, that he will meet. Takamatsu, holder of nine martial traditions, is a legend.
-Can you introduce us to Takamatsu Sensei?
Takamatsu Toshitsugu is one of the generation of masters whose life was a thrilling adventure. Born into a well-to-do family, he was raised by his grandfather, who passed on the traditions of five schools to him, plus four more that he studied with two other masters. Living an adventurous life in tumultuous times, he had to fight on several occasions, many times risking his own life. Although he always sought to live discreetly, he was recognized by his peers as a major expert with encyclopedic knowledge.
- How did they meet for the first time?
(How was the meeting the first time?)
Hatsumi introduced himself, described his background, and Takamatsu said, "Attack me. "Hatsumi sensei does, and he's easily subdued. He's stunned. He describes that first encounter by saying when sitting in front of him (Takamatsu), he felt paralyzed. What he feels is what people who have had to kill can project... From then on, Hatsumi thanks his former teachers and devotes himself exclusively to the teachings of Takamatsu sensei. For fifteen years, he will devote all his time and energy to follow him and become his successor upon his death.
-in your meeting with Hatsumi sensei, or Hatsumi sensei with Takamatsu sensei, there is the notion not to understand what is passed...
This is at the heart of martial practice. There is a famous anecdote. Tokugawa Ieyasu, who unified Japan, was reputed to be the only daimyō to fight on the front lines. He was a true warrior, and that made him very popular with his men. Ten years before he became shōgun, he turned 50 and stayed in Kyōto. At the time, he had already practiced Shinkage-ryū, but never met its most famous master, Yagyū Sekishusai, and had him sent for. Sekishusai is 76 years old and comes accompanied by his son Munenori who is just 24 years old. The meeting is private, comprising only Tokugawa, a dozen of his warriors, and both Yagyū. After formal greetings, Ieyasu asks Sekishusai to kindly demonstrate his art. He performs it with his son. When he has finished, the future strongman (leader) of Japan declares: "This is a beautiful demonstration of filial piety (the younger Yagyu’s respect for his father). But what about the authentic (real) Practice? "To which Sekishusai replies with panache: "With you, it will be a great honour" (coaxing a personal experience/challenge) Tokugawa, delighted, answers that he didn't dare ask him. As he is about to take a bokuto, Sekishusai invites him to use a real sword. Once again, Ieyasu thanked him, saying that he did not dare propose it. And there the story goes: The old man, bending his knees, mutates like a monkey. When he was disarmed (Tokugawa), the lord collapsed, and taking the hand of Yagyū, declared himself defeated. Tokugawa's entourage then prepared to descend on Yagyū when the daimyō asked them to step back. Bowing to the old man, he apologized for not having had the mikiri (sharpness of perception) to detect his level behind his age (advanced). Recognizing his exceptional level, he asks to be accepted as a disciple and gives him a blade of the greatest value and a substantial sum. Sekishusai, invoking his age, apologized and asked Ieyasu to accept his son in his place. Neither here, nor in accounts of larger duels, is there a precise description (of what happened). For what is effective is not visible, demonstrable (not clearly seen or apparent).
-Yagyū Munenori became an instructor for the shōgun before the age of thirty. Likewise, many followers became famous at what appears to us to be a young age?
That's true. But it's hard to count that in years, because they didn't train an hour an a half, twice a week. If we consider that they practiced daily for several hours, it becomes immediately more understandable. Not to mention the context. Hatsumi sensei sometimes says, "You want to be good, shuraba ni ike. "Go where the carnage takes place..." Moreover, we can see that, without having to go to a battlefield, practitioners in less industrialized countries, where life is more difficult, are often harder to harm. Physical altercations are not uncommon there either, and the reality of violence is quite different. In France, even if there is a difference between neighbourhoods and beautiful areas, we are in a privileged environment.
-When do we consider these followers have reached their peak, in their youth or their maturity?
As shown by the example of Takamatsu sensei, who receives his first menkyo kaiden at the age of thirteen, the apprenticeship only takes a few years. In the early stages, physical qualities and aggressiveness can supplement experience. But true skill, deep understanding, takes time. There are degrees of mastery that can only be attained over the years. Ishizuka used to tell me all the time "Don't be in a hurry", and Hatsumi "Going slowly is good" (laughs) But when you're young you can't understand that. Slowness and gentleness are good things. You have to be fluid more than fast. Speed wastes physical energy. Fluid movement is thrifty. Finally, over time, the perception of the mind changes. This makes it possible to achieve victories very different from those of the younger years. This is why founders often reach the peak of their fame at around sixty years of age and carry out the fights that make them famous after sixty.
-How did your studies in Asian languages go?
I had great ambitions! I imagined that one day I could create a martial arts department (laughs). Everyone looked at me strangely when I talked about ninjutsu, but there was also a lot of goodwill and I persevered until I got a PhD. Above all, it was very helpful for me to correspond with Master Hatsumi. During those years, I exchanged more than 250 letters with him. I asked him questions about technique, spirit, etc., and he answered them. Hatsumi sensei collected denshō and was an inexhaustible well of knowledge. Every question had an answer and he always answered me patiently and in detail. But I often had to call upon the knowledge of my professors, some of whom were 5th or 6th dan from Kendō, Jūdō, etc. Even though I had learned to read cursive (Japanese handwriting), I was 20 years old and he was 60, and there were so many puns and references that escaped me! Books that I had read but that I was unable to understand on the same level as him. All this pushed me to work even harder, to read more, to take everything the university offered me, but to go even further.
-Is that when you started writing?
Yes. Of course, there was everything I needed to continue my studies, but I also started writing for magazines such as Traditional Martial Arts, directed by the late André Louka. He asked me to write about ninjutsu, but also any subject that interested me. It was a great opportunity, and since I love martial arts in its entirety, I talked about all schools and disciplines.
-What was the subject of your thesis?
The title is Tradition of Movement in Classical Schools of Japan. It's an 800-page thesis (laughs). It was a gigantic work in which I based myself on the study of original makimono, but it was fascinating. All that then led me to get the Lavoisier scholarship which allowed me to continue my research in Japan, and then to become a guest teacher at the Nichibunken of Kyōto. The thesis will now be published in English. If the facts don't change and the background remains the same, I've reworked it a bit to take away its cold, academic, academic side.
-In the end, does a department related to martial arts exist today in the languages ?
No. Like others, including Kenji Tokitsu before me, I came up against a wall and too many constraints when it came to integrating martial arts into a university curriculum. At the Nichibunken of Kyōto, I was asked if I was a jissensha, or a kenkyusha. A practitioner or a researcher. I said I was one or the other depending on the need. That these roles were not opposing but complementary. But it is this kind of absurd opposition that makes the creation of a martial arts curriculum difficult.
-What vision do academics have of martial arts practice?
Many were not practicing, of course, but everyone knew what budō was, and its place in Japanese culture. But, even if they knew that martial arts had been used in the Japanese nationalist apparatus, that these practices are not very well seen today, that not all warriors were literate, etc., there is among academics, in France as in Japan, a watered-down image of martial arts.
-To what do you attribute this fragmented view?
In Japan itself, research on this subject is recent and not very numerous. The views were thus built on popular culture, and that explains the incredible legends that exist with the ninja and the samurai. Average Japanese do not understand this side of their culture. But many Japanese masters themselves have simply developed a skill in their style, and have no martial culture! For example, when I was talking to a sword master who is well known in the martial community, he mentioned Yagyū Jubei. I then ask him what he thought of his treatise Tsuki no sho. He hadn't read the book. So I did some digging, and he hadn't read ANY of the classics of Japanese martial traditions. He told me embarrassed, that he had read Dostoyevsky (laughter) (Russian novelist, short story writer, essayist and journalist). The extent of his martial reading stopped at Bushido by Nitobe. A book written in English by a Japanese Christian who does not practice martial arts, intended for the West...
-What is the origin of the term Budō ?
The first use that comes to mind of the term budō was made by a Chinese poet, who wrote about the notion of bunbu ryōdō, the fact that martial traditions and literature are one. The term budō then arrives around the 7th century in Japan, but during the Kamakura, Muromachi, and even Edo eras, it is not used. I believe it is found once in the Genji Monogatari written by a nobleman, Murasaki Shikibu, and then it disappears, so to speak, before flourishing in the Meiji Era.
-What prompted its dissemination?
There are two problems in the Meiji Era, for the samurai and for the nation. On the one hand, the samurai no longer has any income. So those who have martial skill try to make a living teaching it. At the same time, the country has to forge a strong identity to face the Western powers and the threat of acculturation (assimilation to a different culture, typically the dominant one). The modification of the terms designating martial practice then brings elements of solution to the samurai as well as to the nation. It was at this time, before the invention of the discipline, that the term Kendō became popular. Until then, we didn't even talk about kenjutsu, but we used terms such as tōjutsu. The change from tōjutsu to kenjutsu or Kendō is not insignificant. The Ken is a two-edged sword, while To, katana, is a curved sword. What is actually used by the samurai is the katana (To), but the gods use a ken. By this change of term, one creates a link with the gods, one becomes attached to something noble and mysterious. At the individual level, it allows us to seduce new students so that the school and the teacher survive. At the country level, it strengthens the national feeling. It is in this context that budō makes its reappearance, and within a few years is found in a multitude of denshō. Previously, the transmission documents used the terms heihō, jutsu. But the dō is the addition of an ethic to a technique. While jutsu is of course self-sufficient in itself, it was not enough to seduce crowds.
-Has this change of term been accompanied by an ethical, technical evolution?
Initially, the majority of samurai had little education and the evolution of the bloodthirsty warrior into a scholarly practitioner took several centuries. It was under Oda Nobunaga, who popularized the tea ceremony, that the samurai began to polish their behaviour. A process of pacification that established the power in place, which continued under Hideyoshi, and reached its peak under the Tokugawa. But during all this time, the terms that designated martial practices were heihō or hyōhō, the military method, heijutsu, the military technique, and a little bujutsu, the warrior technique. The introduction of an ethic in martial practice therefore predates the name change. There is a myth of the passage of jutsu to dō. I understand it, because the idea is seductive to see a method sublimate (divert or modify (an instinctual impulse) into a culturally higher or socially more acceptable activity.) over time, in the same way that a man can evolve in his life, but it is a rationalization and a generalization. The truth is that there has never been a single vision. That at the time Musashi invested his life in martial arts, some people had already made a hobby of it. But the truth is also that our world gives birth to adepts such as Takamatsu or Hatsumi... If we magnify the line by summarizing jutsu to warrior efficiency, and dō to ethics, the preponderance of these elements in martial practices varies over time, but we cannot simplify things at the risk of being in error and denial. The koryū have evolved over time, more or less according to the schools, and have survived by integrating Buddhism, Neoconfucianism and Taoism. More seductive terms have been used to evoke them, including budō, the invention of a poet. But it should not be forgotten that even if they are used for education, all martial traditions are in essence bujutsu, heihō.
-What term do you use to talk about your practice?
It varies, but generally I avoid budō. I sometimes use bujutsu, but I prefer heiho. I also avoid ninjutsu because the term is overused, and martial art because it's too generic. Above all, I speak about Togakure-ryū, Gyokko-ryū, etc.
-What differences do you observe between budō and koryu?
If we talk about efficiency, the difference is clearly at the level of individuals, not what they practice. In fact, each tradition has its limitations. On the one hand, budō has often developed around a man's vision and has not had time to be refined. They have also often been marked by western traditions, both in the way they use the body and in the way they teach. On the other hand, the koryū have often been frozen, forgetting the adaptability that has allowed them to survive over the past centuries. In my opinion, budō and bujutsu feed off each other. Look, take the best and don't forget to look around. This openness is essential. I love everything and disdain nothing, but question everything. Now, there are still major differences in the technical repertoire.
- Can you elaborate on this point?
It is for example frequent in various budō, and in particular Aikidō, to come and grab the wrists. It's an exercise, it's interesting and some koryū use it, but in no way should it become preponderant (dominant part) in practice. In the koryū, even in jūjutsu, everything is related to the weapon. Being unarmed was a rare combat hazard, and the systems are clear on this point. Martially, seizures, if they were present, lasted only a fraction of a second to allow you to plant (stab), cut your opponent. Wrist attacks developed for female self-defense in the early 20th century. To be able to give women the basics and to respond to situations they might encounter in front of an aggressor. This is a far cry from an encounter between two seasoned warriors on a battlefield in the 16th century. Wrist seizures have become trademarks of jūjutsu that modernized less than a hundred years ago.
-Seizures are nevertheless at the heart of Daito-ryū, some branches of which claim to date back centuries?
This is obviously false. There are no documents attesting to the existence of the discipline before Takeda Sokaku, and it is unimaginable that fourteen centuries of a school's public or secret documents should have vanished into thin air. One school awarded documents that samurai presented to the lord in order to obtain a higher salary or status. The Yagyū school is a perfect example of this, being both the most secret and the most famous.
-So the tradition would not have been transmitted under the name of oshikiuchi either?
No. The oshikiuchi is just etiquette. The ban on getting up in case of an attack doesn't make sense. It's all a hoax.
- Can Daito ryu be considered koryu?
Absolutely not. First of all, because of its creation at the dawn of the 20th century. While the definition of koryū has a few variables, it is agreed that disciplines dating from the Meiji and later eras are not considered. Moreover, the ancient schools used to name techniques in a symbolic, rather than descriptive, manner. Often the name was only revealed at an advanced stage, and contained a higher level of interpretation of the technique. There could be Buddhist references, etc. Then the technical catalogue of a koryū is restricted. There are never 2 or 3,000 techniques (laughs) (Daito ryu has been said to have between 2000 to 3000 techniques in its curriculum). If its mastery lasts a lifetime, a koryū is meant to be studied quickly by warriors for whom the battlefield did not wait. Finally, there is a great transversality in the techniques. Thus a movement of the kote gaeshi (wrist lock) type is found in all martial traditions, through time and countries. But nowhere do we find fantasies with a practitioner having his hands under his buttocks or his foot behind his ear.
-How do you explain that the Daito-ryū is present at the Nihon Kobudō Kyokai?
This association was created by acquaintances of Hatsumi sensei. It is a group that, with a financial contribution, and on fairly flexible criteria, groups together a number of schools. Being a member doesn't give any legitimacy, and doesn't change the facts (laughs). Master Hatsumi, who participated in the first demonstration, is not a member, as are many schools. But in the eyes of a neophyte, it gives prestige and credibility. Several schools have thus been revived on the basis of denshō or a partial transmission, and are considered authentic by amateurs. It is a way to buy legitimacy.
-Was Takeda Sokaku a samurai?
The latest research seems to indicate that he wasn't. First of all, it is totally unlikely that a member of a samurai family could neither read nor write, in a country that already has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. He or she would also have learned Otome-ryū-( this is a term not a name) the martial tradition linked to his or her clan. Moreover, a son of a samurai would not have done Sumō. While it is true that some champions sometimes obtained a title, it was a practice considered vulgar and reserved for the strongest peasants. The confusion arose from the fact that at one time, these same peasants were used as substitutes during wars. But that era had ended three centuries before Takeda was born.
-What do you think is the origin of Daito-Ryu?
Unfortunately, we can only speculate on that. First of all, it turns out that Takeda had a warlike temperament. He loves to fight, and he's good at it. He's good at what he studies, but he's also good at what he sees. As for his background, he's going to learn Jiki Shinkage-ryū. And interestingly, close to his school is a dōjō of Araki-ryū kempo where they also teach Toda-ryū. And the fundamental techniques of Araki-ryū and Toda-ryū have many similarities with ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, etc. It's a lead.
-How do you explain that Takeda is at the origin of such a vast array of contemporary martial practices, from Daito-ryu to aikidō and hapkido?
It is obvious that Takeda Sokaku had a very good level. But like many others, probably not enough to be considered a giant. If (but) he also followed the teaching of the famous Sakakibara Kenkichi (14th soke of Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryū), no high level expert maintained links with him as it was however customary between great adepts, and no great one came to exchange or seek his teaching. Takeda is the prototype of the itinerant master, teaching the minimum, and moving constantly, mostly to remote places without competition. psychologist (not a therapist in this sense, but someone great at understanding the mindset and intention of others), he knew how to read his interlocutors, and played them, teaching little and changing places constantly. But without Ueshiba, the system he created would probably have disappeared as quickly as it was born. It was the efforts of researchers such as Stanley Pranin that allowed the Daito-ryū to survive.
-Do you have other examples of major differences between koryū and budō?
There are many. For example, there are no falls in koryū. On the one hand, the techniques are designed to prevent the opponent from running away. On the other hand, hanging out in the air as we often see for example in Aikidō is very long and makes us vulnerable. In a martial practice, we pick ourselves up, we slide, but we do not spread out and we do not hit the ground. There is also ground work. In the past, being on the ground was almost synonymous with being dead, it's as simple as that. So the warriors had not developed a set of techniques to fight like that. Again, in a fight to the death, especially if there is a weapon, it doesn't make sense. There are a few techniques from jūjutsu to control the time to deliver the coup de grâce, but no newaza. Neru is sleeping, lying down, and in Edo times, newaza refers to alcove techniques (laughs).
-Was the term aiki used by the samurai?
No. Aiki is a recent term that appears in Aiki no jutsu, Saki no jutsu. Its author, who did not practice martial arts, explains there, using the examples of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, that both had understood saki jutsu, the ability to feel, to foresee, and that this skill depended on aiki, the meeting of the two intentions. But in the past the terms aiki, haike, to utter, were more popular. Based on this interpretation, all martial traditions include aiki, from the moment the intentions meet to the moment the blades or hands cross.
-Here, ki is used to designate intention. Is this still the case in martial traditions?
The first mention of ki that I remember is in Heihō Kadensho, and it is always in the sense of intention, not energy, even though intention is a form of energy. On the other hand, all the ancient medical treatises speak of ki in the sense of vital energy. But in the field of combat, it is intention that is at issue.
-Like Master Hatsumi, you have been collecting denshō for many years. What do these documents bring you?
The scrolls contain technical and spiritual teachings. For martial traditions are not merely fighting techniques. Beyond their effectiveness, they also teach how to live, the attitude to adopt in the face of certain events. But the denshō, like any ancient text, must be contextualized, interpreted. A master will know how to understand their timeless message. In this sense, a valuable denshō also answers contemporary technical and spiritual questions, and its teachings are invaluable.
-How did you start teaching?
At first, I wasn't really interested in teaching and I just wanted to practice. As the eldest of a large family, I had to help, to be there, to set an example. I did my best, but I was in no hurry to do it again (laughs). But one day Ishizuka sensei told me: "Open a dōjō. "I then formalized things with the group of people who had gathered informally around me. Technically, I started by focusing on applicability and we worked on fundamental and practical things. But I found myself confronted with much broader issues. How do you teach something you don't master? What is the purpose of practice? What can it bring to people? To teach a foreign tradition, you have to understand the cultural specificities of its origin and adapt to the target audience. All this without simplifying or adding to it. It is necessary to understand the purpose of everything.
-How do you position yourself in relation to the impression (Example) of the (your) master?
It's a subtle balance. Finding it by yourself is important, and doing it according to your body is necessary. But you need a model at the base. Beyond this balance to be found, there is also the pitfall of the particularity of the model. An expert once told me that his master had asked them not to copy him. The latter had damaged his knee and had had to adapt his practice, but he did not want these adaptations to become the reference of the school. Some students copy the master even in his deformities of back, knee, etc. Beyond the caricatural aspect, it is even harmful to their health! This type of fundamentalist practitioner often also refuse to see what is being done elsewhere so as not to corrupt the image they have of their master. This is a serious mistake. It is a difficult path because many obstacles stand in the way of a follower. First there are the disappointments. The martial world, like any microcosm, contains many people of dubious morality. One must then have faith in the benefits of the practice to find the hindsight to tell oneself that the acts of an individual do not define the value of a discipline. There is also loneliness. The Way essentially follows itself alone. Of course, there are our fellow students, our masters, and we need others. But fundamentally a shugyōsha is alone. The paths separate, the masters die, and then only the memories remain. In these moments of loneliness, it is still trust in the value of practice that allows us to move forward.
-You teach a lot in workshops around the world. What are the difficulties you are facing?
There are students who don't attack, or who present a situation that doesn't correspond to the technique being studied. Those who idolize, those who seek to understand more than to do. For the latter, theory is everything, but they will remain forever limited. They don't understand that in martial practice, you have to do before you can understand... There are also those who come to support their opinion, those who come to test you while you teach. But fortunately, there are also those who come with open hearts and sincere minds. You have to face, with the same means, a very varied audience and reach everyone. It requires great humanity, but Ishizuka and Hatsumi sensei have been precious examples.
-It's nearly a priesthood?
Yes. Because when we teach we must be present, available. Because one must overcome one's particular affinities with this or that student. Here too, Hatsumi and Ishizuka sensei are models of integrity. Even tired, sick, I have always seen them present. Even in front of innumerable requests for calligraphy, sometimes inappropriate questions, an absence of propriety or even politeness, I have always seen them generous and even-tempered. They taught me by example that I must be present, available, and not let anything show. A follower, and even more so a teacher, works on their development to be at the service of others. Our actions are only valuable when they are useful to someone or to society. What could be more beautiful than giving someone the tools to become a better husband, a better son, a better friend? Above all, teaching also allows us to put ourselves in a broader perspective than just our own lives. The first key to the character ryū, found in Togakure-ryū, Shōtōkan-ryū, Katori Shintō-ryū, is that of water. It is the notion of continuity. And above it is the symbol of speech. The word that continues is transmission. The character that can also be read as nagare is the principle of flow, of continuity. The use of the term ryū places us in a broad perspective that goes beyond the individual. For if we know that our existence is limited, the objective of a ryū is to be a tool of transformation that crosses time.