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5 days in Japan – An Iaido journey

It has been some years now – first time was in ’96 – that Yuki and I go in Japan once or twice a year for Iaido, Family and tourism. But this time was the shortest journey we have ever had -> 5 days with only one thing in our mind IAIDO …

Day 0: Blowing the ashes cloud away
Few days before our Japan trip, I had to cancel a long awaited Iaido travel in Greece for the Greek Iaido Championship and it was not funny at all. Getting close to our departure the fear of a new viking ash cloud covering Europe was growing. We were watching the news everyday to see if all northern European airports were operational. D day arrived … Sky was crystal clear and our flight a breeze -> 13 hours from Brussels to Narita with a 30 min. transfer in Copenhagen. Now serious stuff started …

Day 1: 16 Hours travel and a shiai – What else …
Impatient to practice, Yuki and I pulverized the check out record of the Narita airport, the fastest check out we ever performed. Going out of the plane at 9:37 and in the shinkansen at 10:08 ! Surprisingly the airport was empty and we would have tough that the Japanese “Golden Week” would have crowded the place. Our first target was the Shizuoka prefecture Kendo Renmei dojo where our Shishō Oda sensei was expecting us. 2 hours and a hallf shinkansen with a transfer at Tokyo and a 10 minutes taxi drive brought us at the door of the “Yōkōkan” dojo near the Gogōku Jinja.

Group 1: Shinsa lead by Oda sensei Shizuoka prefecture dojo - Youkoukan Group 2: Mudan to Yondan lead by Godan

That day was the Shizuoka Kendo Renmei iaido training and 2 groups were already practicing as we were changing from our travel clothes to our iaido outfit. The first group listed around 15x 7th and 6th dan sensei dedicated specifically to shinpan training under the instruction of Oda Sensei. The second group gathered mudan to yondan while the godan were practicing in front. I was invited to join the godan leading and together we practiced each ZKR Iai katas in detail. During that time the Shinpan group were judging shiai.

As the seminar ended we were invited to do a final shiai. Yuki performed very well against the prefecture 4th dan woman champion and I was against all Japan last year N°3 godan champion Matsushita san. Oda sensei was very pleased with our performances and even if Yuki and I did not win our matches, we were more than happy of such a training opportunity allowing us to push our limit further and further. We ended the seminar with some social time, meeting some European friends present at this seminar: Robert Rodriguez from France and following Suio ryu and Ighor Zoriy living in Shizuoka.

Masaki san and I having a beer ... or two ... While Oda sensei had to join a Shizuoka Kendo Renmei administration meeting, it was time for us to relax from our long day. That night we were staying at Watanabe Masaki’s house, the son of Oda sensei’s best friend and a friend of us. The welcome was warmhearted and we were really impressed by the house he builded himself. After that, everything was a bless: a good bath, a tasty barbecue and some fresh beers.

Day 2: Wooow jeeez, that is a dojo !
We took the train at 8:00 with destination the “Musashi no Sato” Budokan 武道館 in Ohara – Mimasaka city, Okayama. After 4 hours train, a bunch of Oda sensei anecdotes and a few local lines transfer, we arrived at the “Musashi Budokan”. Two words came into our mind “Wooow jeeez” That is a dojo !!! The architecture is awesome, the roof has a musashi tsuba shape and the inside floor is made of sakura wood.

Musashi Budokan Musashi Budokan Musashi Budokan

As we were late there was no time for contemplation – “Change and get ready” – the Musashi Budokan was the new location holding the Bukodosokai seminar. The Bukodosokai is a group gathering high grade sensei and their students. As Oda sensei’s deshi we were admitted to join the seminar.

The seminar was composed of about 70 Iaidoka ranking from 3rd to 7th dan and as instructors : 12x 8th dan kyoshi and 6x hanshi. A small non Japanese delegation was present including Peter West, Bill Davison, William Teblin, 2 ladies from the US (Pam Parker & Debi Farmer) and John Green (living in Japan). There were 6 groups each leaded by two 8 dan kyoshi and 1 hanshi. Yuki was is group nr 6 and and I was in group nr 5 leaded by Oshita sensei and Katsumata sensei under Oda sensei supervision. No need to say that it was very instructive and that personal corrections were great. Oda sensei insisted on Kokyu (breathing) and demonstrating kiseme/zanshin while performing waza.

The groups session was then followed by a kendo no kata lesson where Yuki had the great opportunity to work the kodachi with Kusama sensei. I took many photos while listening with attention to Kusama sensei advises. It was very dynamic and in a very short time (1 hour) Yuki succeeded to perform and memorize the 3 kodashi kata.

Kusama sensei demonstrating kendo no kata Kusama sensei and Yuki Kusama sensei and Yuki

Training that day ended at 17:00 and the party started at 18:30. We took that time to go the local onsen complex and relax. The Bukodosokai party took place in the ryokan party hall and started with a tribute to Haga sensei. We were then all invited to perform a big “Kampai” and start the food hostility. The party was the perfect time for us to be introduced to the senseis we had not met yet as Monka of Oda sensei.

Night is falling on musashi no sato Bukodosokai party buffet Miyata & Kusama sensei

Day 3: 5:30 Wake up !!!
During that after party, it was proposed and decided to do asageiko the next morning : 6:00 – 7:30. A bit blurry in the fresh air but again full of wise advises of Kusama sensei and Oda sensei’s explanation about riai and kaso teki visualization importance and the link with the kan-kyu of the kata.

Time to wake up Musashi dojo Asageiko with Otsuka sensei

After a well deserved breakfast and luggage preparation the morning training session started. Around 14:00, all groups gave a demonstration of the twelve ZKR Iai kata and the seminar ended with some words of the Bukodosokai president, Nomasa sensei. The seminar ended a bit earlier than the other years due to the fact that the Musashi Budokan was distant of Kyoto. To allow people to reach Kyoto in time a coach was booked and filled with the seminar’s senseis. The coach was a bit intimidating if Yuki and I counted well there was more than 180 dan in it …

ZKR Iai demonstration ZKR Iai demonstration ZKR Iai demonstration

Arrived at Kyoto everybody splitted up to their respective hotel. After taking some time to rest, we had a refined dinner at Imobou ebi imo specialty restaurant with Oda sensei and some other sensei.

Arriving in Kyoto Imobou restaurant Ebi imo menu

Day 4: 106th Kyoto taikai embu

Once a year Kyoto become the most protected city of the country with more than 3000 martial artists carrying Katana, Yumi (bow), Naginata, Jo, shinai, bogu bags and heading to the Heian Jinja dojo, the Butokuden. We started our tour with the budo center next to the butokuden used for the occasion as a warming up Hall.

Budo center - Warming up Budo center - Warming up Budo center - Warming up

9:00 : Kobudo + Naginata + Jodo

11:30 : 6th dan Renshi

13:30 : 7th dan Renshi / Kyoshi

15:30 : 8th dan Kyoshi / Hanshi – Air was electrified …

16:15 : 9th dan Hanshi

Of course we had a walk around the Butokuden where shop were present displaying an insane amount of Iaido & Kendo goods

To celebrate such a day. Oda sensei, Yuki and I headed down to Pontocho near Gion to enjoy a delicious sushi moriawase accompanied of some beer and nihonshu. We were joined by Patrick – spending some tourism time in Kyoto – and drank some more beers.

Day 5: Kyoto taikai 8th dan grading
8th dan grading started at 10:00 with 149 participants. The first round under the eyes of 6 shinsa all 8th dan hanshi was a seven ZKR Iai kata serie composed of:
– 1 Mae
– 2 Ushiro
– 3 Ukenagashi
– 6 Morotetsuki
– 9 Soetetsuki
– 10 Shihogiri
– 11 Soogiri

After this first selection only 31 participants with an excellent first round of Chris Mansfield made it through. The second round is exclusively dedicated to Koryu and the serie of 7 kata must contains all the level: Shoden, Chuden and Okuden. The jury was composed of 12 jury and only 7 went through the second round and were awarded 8th dan. 4.7% passed this year compared to 3.4% in 2009.

You can check the results here: Kyoto taikai 8th dan exam results

8th dan grading results
Prefecture – name – age
Chiba – Kojima Hiroshi sensei – 48 (
Tokyo – Kaneda Kazuhisa sensei – 50
Gifu – Koumura Shigeru sensei – 61
Shimane – Miyamoto Terutaka sensei – 62
Koochi – Matsuda Tadao sensei – 64
Wakayama – Inoue Yoshimi sensei – 65
Fukuoka – Horie Masao sensei – 68

8th dan Hanshi
Prefecture – name – age
Oita – Higashi sensei – 62
Kagoshima – x – 60
Fukushima – Tanno sensei – 66
Osaka – Nakano sensei – 70

Examination ended and it was already time for us to leave for Narita. Our last purchase before packing up for departure were the newly edited book “Iaido shinsa no me” and the “Hakone taikai” compilation / 5 DVD set. Then 4 hours Nozomi super express shinkansen took us from Kyoto to Narita city where for more than 4 years now we always end our trip with a last dinner at Edokozushi, the best sushi restaurant we know except maybe “Sushi zanmai” at Tsukiji …

It was a short but so rewarding travel. Yuki and I will train harder than ever to be worthy of the received teachings. Corrections were not only technical/physical but also mental adding extra dimension to katas. More than anything else we were again impressed and touched by the passion and kindness of all the sensei we have met. Of course their technique is perfect, Iaigoshi so strong, nukitsuke and kirioroshi so sharp and their metsuke / kankyu give you shudder. But the point that sublimate everything was their kiseme. Kiseme is very hard to describe but believe us some embu were electrifying the air of the crowded Butokuden. Iaido is not dance, it is budo and when life (riai) is added to the waza and kasso teki projection is made visible to spectators nothing is more impressive and beautiful …

M & Y