Kendo lessons of Iwatate Saburo

Iwatate Saburo Kendo Lecture. Secrets of Shofukan 1: Reiho

06/24/2019
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Reiho (Etiquette)
In kendo there is reiho when struck, and reiho when striking

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Iwatate Saburo 8th dan Hanshi
Born in 1939 in Chiba Prefecture. After graduating from Chiba Prefecture Narita High School, he got a job at Chiba Prefecture Police. After retiring from the Tokuren, he served as a Kanto District Police School Instructor, and Chiba Prefectural Police Kendo Head Teacher. Starting in 1978 Iwatate began teaching at the kendojo Shofukan and a number of swordsmen from Japan as well as overseas have gathered to ask for the guidance of Noboru Iwadate.
Currently, he is the director of Shofukan Dojo, Shobi Gakuen University Kendo Head Teacher, the All-Japan Kendo Federation Councilor, All Japan Kendo Federation Vice-President, and the All Japan Senior-Kenyukai Chairman.

Teachings of his old teacher, 8th dan Hanshi Takiguchi Masayoshi
”In kendo, you shouldn’t flaunt your strikes more than necessary”

As you know, in kendo we say that it “starts with rei (etiquette) and ends with rei” and I also go into training and shiai while valuing this. My old teacher Takiguchi Masayoshi taught me about reigi once.

It was about 20 years ago at the Kyoto Taikai. The Kyoto Taikai is also known as th Budo Festival, and it has a warm and friendly atmosphere amidst serious combat. In that tachiai, I was able to hit an ippon that went exactly right for me. It was a strong ippon.

I hit men, passed through and when I turned around I shouted again, “it is men!”. It is an act of boasting and confidence. Takiguchi sensei, who saw it, told me in keiko after he returned from the Kyoto taikai.
“Iwatate, indeed you hit a great men at the Kyoto taikai. It was a splendid ippon which made the audience gasp. But after your strike you claimed “it is men!” in an urging manner. In kendo, this is not good. Remember this well.”

At that time, I had received 8th dan, and he respected that position, and allowed me to get reprimanded in the corner of the dojo where nobody would notice.
When I was pointed out by the teacher, I had a cold sweat. I wasn’t aware at all. Perhaps I was being self righteous, as they say. I have been particularly careful since I received this warning from my teacher. Strangely however, when humans feel self righteous they want to show it off. And in shiai they show off when their technique is lacking as if to supplement it. Reigi is “the lubricating oil of the heart”, and intended to avoid rudeness upon your opponent. When thinking about this, I will first say with self discipline that we must be very careful.

Reigi when striking and reigi when struck
The issue is whether you can remain rational when struck

In kendo we face each other and seek openings in offense and defense. It is a battle of taking yuko datotsu (valid strikes) from eachother. Nowadays, I am concerned about the attitude when struck.

There are more and more people who slap various parts of the body as if to say they were not struck even though it is clearly a valid strike. This concerns me very much.
There are sayings like “reflect when striking, be thankful when struck” as well as the words “there is reigi when striking and reigi when struck”. Isn’t it kendo to value these things?
Essentially, kendo is about doing your best against each other, and it is only when you fight in earnest that feelings of empathy and respect for the other will arise. It is not possible to convey your soul if you do your keiko with half effort.

In the joint practice of the All Japan Kendo Federation, you have the opportunity to meet many people and cross swords at the same time. When I try to get in sync with my opponent, sometimes it doesn’t go well. It is probably nothing but my lacking instruction, but there are also many people who I would continue the keiko with as long as I could. I think it is necessary to aim for such a content of keiko that you would want to repeat it regardless of being motodachi or kakarite. I would like to be a person who can honestly admit defeat with self discipline when I am struck.

It is rude to look down on your opponent in keiko
Synchronize to each other and strive for sincerity in spirit and will

When I receive keiko, I will not go there where the teacher’s weakness is. I will aim for his strength head on. If it is a teacher who never lets his men be struck by all means, I will try to take the initiative and strike men anyway. Instead of changing into do or hitting kote, I will try to get men in any case. I will not try anything cheesy. I will receive keiko through correct men strikes.

Nowadays, I have many opportunities to be motodachi and I try to practice according to the level of my opponent. I think that is the reigi of keiko. Some people use foot swipes or use mukae-tsuki (tsuki when they come at you) on a opponent without knowing their level. However, if you misinterpret the skill of the opponent you might get injured, so it is necessary to be careful.

Sometimes I also use foot payments. Especially when practicing with students, I use it to teach that tsubazeriai is not break time. This will make the students feel more alert.

There are uses for mukae-tsuki, but there are also teaching methods which are limited to techniques such as hitting debana, counter with do, or suriage. In kendo, kentai-icchi (懸待一致 – unification of offense and defense) is important so I think that it is the reigi of the motodachi towards the kakarite is to stand their ground by using such techniques.

I went to the Imperial Palace Police often in my tokuren era. The teacher at that time was Mr. Sato Sadao (hanshi 9th dan). Sato sensei recommended to strike by making big swings and use your feet well. I was twenty years old, and I was allowed to strike his men many times during uchikomi keiko.

Uchikomi keiko is a practice method where you strike the offered opening in a straightforward manner. Thinking about it now I believe he was encouraging me while adjusting to my skill level.

If you think about it now, teachers who have been trained before the war who have experienced the time when Kendo was banned may have taught Kendo hard to us who started Kendo after the war Hmm. If the former teachers are desperate and hard at work, we can only be seriously engaged.

Thinking about it now, perhaps the teachers who did kendo before the war when kendo was banned were doing all they could to teach us kendo, who started kendo after the war. If the teacher who is motodachi is giving everything and works hard, we who are being taight can only engage in a serious manner.

Dan grade and reigi
Evaluating people by dan grade causes problematic mistakes

Kendo has a title and rank system. There is no doubt that title and rank are goals for Kendo. Humans can continue to grow at any age if they have goals to challenge.
In kendo in particular, you can go up in rank even in the age of fifties and sixties if you still enjoy physical freedom and you practice proper keiko.

People in the sixties and seventies have passed the 6th, 7th, and 8th and highest dan ranks.
However, a point of notion here is that dan rank and individual virtue are not in proportion. There are many low dan rank people who have high societal status and brilliant personalities. If you forget about that and evaluate human beings only in dan rank, you will make a big mistake.

Oka Kenjiro (hanshi 8th dan) who taught me in later years strictly warned about rank and individual virtue. Oka sensei is an educator who has also served as the president of International Budo University. In Kendo, the title and rank are of course important, but I believe that the more you climb the ladder, the lower you have to bow your head. Isn’t this very important when you keep to do kendo for such a long time?

In kendo the title and rank are important goals, but dan rank and individual virtue are not in proportion

I have been in the police world for a long time and the police has a class system. It is not uncommon for kohai to be in a higher class. As a police officer and a kendo teacher, I used to teach such people. However, even though they are in a higher class, in the dojo they value us as kendo teachers. If you are higher up, you know the reigi.

September last year, I was invited to a lunch meeting of Keizai Doyukai (Economic Friendship Association) within my kendo circle. I was asked to talk about kendo at the lunch. The people gathered were those of high social status, such as chairmen and presidents of renowned companies.

I talked after I showed some videos of how I practice and perform the Japanese kendo kata at the WKC in Italy. It was titled “random thoughts on kendo”, but the main subject centered around eyeline.

It is important in kendo to have a consistent eyeline and face the opponent. It is not possible to observe him accurately by looking from the bottom to the top. By keeping your eyeline consistent as if you were to look behind the top of the head of your opponent, your posture will improve and you will be able to observe him. Kendo cherishes 観見の目付 (kanken no metsuke – the sight of expression). It is important to not only observe facts, but also how the mind changes.

I talked about such things to executives who have the responsibility for tens of thousands of employees. As it is a gathering of busy people, it seems that some of them usually leave halfway, but I was happy that everybody stayed and listened to the end when I did my talk.

In kendo we face each other one-on-one. Therefore I think that you should ignore the opponent’s intentions. I think that the keiko content can be brilliant if you can become one with your opponent and exchange attack and defense. I talked keeping that in mind, but in actual keiko this doesn’t happen very often. So there is no end to Kendo training, and we continue our search.

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