Traditional Japanese Swordsmanship
Exclusively for Adults
Castle Rock, Colorado, USA
The Evolution of a Killing Art to a Spiritual Discipline
Two of the technical characteristics of the Muso Shinden Ryu method of sword-drawing indicate that its exponents introduced combatively inane mannerisms. The first of these characteristics shows that the Muso Shinden Ryu teachings included techniques of drawing the sword that were not suited to the battlefield. Seiza, a starting posture for many of the techniques of the ryu, was for the classical bushi of pre-Edo times, a position from which he rarely expected to draw his sword. From the point of view of attacking, seiza is a “dead” posture, as is tate-hiza, in which the swordsman sits on his left foot, which is tucked under his buttocks, and raises his right knee. The pre-Edo warrior much preferred iai-goshi, a low-crouching posture in which right knee was raised; this kept him off damp or soiled surfaces and afforded him instant mobility and great speed in drawing his sword to meet an emergency. But seiza is well-suited to an urban, peaceful way of life, and in the Edo period the warrior, as well as other citizens, frequently used that posture. Thus Hayashizaki Jinsuke’s original teachings led to the establishment of the zashiki (seated etiquette) sword-drawing technique, the produce of a peaceful age.
Related to the seiza posture is the second of the technical characteristics of the Muso Shinden Ryu that indicate that its teachings were primarily intended as a spiritual discipline rather than as an effectual combative form. All exponents of this ryu disregard the fact that even the Edo-period warriors, serving in peacetime, wore the daisho. When seated, the manner of wearing the sword in the Muso Shinden Ryu requires that the odachi (long sword) be positioned in the sash with the cutting edge upward, so that the tsuba, or handguard, is in front of the centerline of the body at the height of the navel; the normal manner of inserting the kodachi (short sword) in the same sash, also cutting edge upward, is thus made impossible. Even if it is considered that the odachi had been removed, as was required of warriors when entering or occupying certain structores, the Muso Shinden Ryu is curious, for it does not train the exponent in the use of his kodachi; in reality, even when the odachi was removed a warrior always retained his kodachi.
In the standing posture adopted by exponents of this ryu, again only the odachi is worn; this too does not conform to the warriors’ custom of wearing the daisho. But even if this breach of custom is admitted, the position of the odachi, when the wearer assumes a standing posture, quickly leads to an unpardonable breach of etiquette. Because the wearer’s scabbard (saya) just abruptly outward behind him as his left side it will inevitably cause saya-ate, the knocking of the scabbard against some person or object as the swordsman moves. Inadvertently committed saya-ate was a dangerous breach of etiquette and was to be scrupulously avoided. For when say-ate occurred, the warriors code of ethics regarded it as an insult answerable by recourse to the blade. Even before the sound of the saya-ate died away the offended man might draw his sword and cut down the offender from the rear. In the fully combative tactics of the Shinkage Ryu (Bishu yagyu) the technique called “saya-ate” was deliberate act that provided the swordsman with the calculated chance to be “insulted” and to cut down his “offender” with a swift and well-directed stroked of the sword.
These and still other technical weaknesses, from the point of view of combat appear in many of the ryu founded during the Edo period. They are in some measure due to the martial ineptitude of the Edo-period warriors, and also to the great influx of commoners who participated in sword-drawing techniques but knew nothing of the technical aspect of wearing and using the daisho. Thus, whatever the original sword-drawing techniques of Hayashizaki Jinsuke may have been, over the course of years the teachings of the Muso Shinden Ryu and many other ryu became truly only spiritual disciplines. The Muso Shinden Ryu summarizes this kind of discipline as “the attainment of a way through which to cultivate a tranquil mind that will serve the possessor under all circumstances.” The Muso Shinden Ryu teaches one to have no enemy in mind when training and to discipline oneself daily so that a new level of mental acuity can be achieved. Spiritual training is first and foremost; this is followed by training for general improvement of the body. The teachings of this ryu are an exemplary classical budo discipline and serve to indicate clearly the differences that separate a -jutsu from a -do form.
Published with permission of Iwakabe, Hideki Sensei
In the hands of Hayashizaki Jinsuke’s successors the Muso Shinden Ryu underwent both technical and philosophical changes to a degree that greatly reduced its original combat effectiveness. These changes are further evidence of the social forces working in the daily lives of Edo-period citizens. These forces were reshaping the role of the warrior in that society, and in fact were challenging his very special social position. With this, the Edo-period warrior was reduced to being a warrior in little more than name.
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