The 37th Kobudō Embu Taikai
By Jeff Broderick
The Nihon Kobudō Kyōkai is an organization established to recognise, research, protect, and promote legitimate koryū (“old style”) martial arts in Japan. The organisation holds several demonstrations throughout the year, one of the largest being the Kobudō Embu Taikai. On February 9, 2014, following the heaviest snowfall the Tokyo area had seen in 40 years, the 37th Taikai was held at the Nippon Budokan, near the Imperial Palace in the centre of Tokyo. Despite the cancelled flights, delayed trains, and general transportation chaos the snow wreaked on Tokyo (a city not well accustomed to harsh winters) there were no cancellations among the many groups travelling to the capital from all corners of Japan.
Immediately following the opening ceremonies, special awards were handed out to recognize outstanding sensei who have made a special contribution to the advancement of the Kobudō Kyōkai and the preservation of koryū arts. This year, Sonobe (Masami?)-sensei, 18th Soke of Jikishinkage-ryū Naginata, and Ogasawara (Kiyotada?)-sensei, 31st Soke of Ogasawara-ryū Kyūbajutsu (mounted archery) were honoured by the association.
Then it was time for the demonstrations to begin!
Ogasawara-ryū dates back to the Kamakura period, and has a lineage spanning 31 generations. The ryū teaches mounted and dismounted archery, and is also a school of etiquette. Many of the rituals and manners of the samurai – even basics such as how to walk, how to bow, and how to sit – were codified within Ogasawara-ryū. Here, an archer prepares to shoot a humming-bulb arrow. The bulb at the tip allows air to flow through it as it flies, creating an eerie whistling noise that is said to frighten away evil spirits.
Niten Ichi-ryū is one of several schools founded by Miyamoto Musashi at various points in his life. Musashi was renowned for his use of two swords, and Niten Ichi-ryū preserves these techniques, which are simple and to the point but demand an unswerving commitment from shidachi.
Much of Okinawan kobudō involves the use of innocuous farming implements, which were covertly practised as weapons. Here, a practitioner of Kingai-ryū karate wields a kuwa, a type of hoe with a sharp blade.
Hozoin-ryū sōjutsu (spearmanship) originated from the studies of Hozoin Kakuzenbo In’ei at the Kofuku-ji temple in Nara, Japan. Tradition has it that In’ei, viewing the moon’s reflection in a pond, received a vision of a spear with a crosspiece allowing the wielder to push down and control the opponent’s spear.
Kanemaki-ryū battojutsu (sword drawing; another term for iai) was founded by Kanemaki Jisai, a master of Toda-ryū. One of Kanemaki’s students brought the school to Sendai where it flourished under the patronage of Date Masamune. Here, a practitioner shows the solid stance of the school while wearing karusan-bakama, a style of hakama originating in the Sengoku period.
The exact origin of Nitō Shinkage-ryū kusarigama-jutsu is somewhat unclear, but the school seems to have a connection to Miyamoto Musashi through his student, Terao Kyumanosuke. In any case, its dual-wielded sickles bear a resemblance to Musashi’s two-sword style. In this style, one sickle has a chain with a weight attached while the other has a spear-point. This gives the practitioner a variety of possible attacks and defences at different ranges.
Unko-ryū (which means “spreading clouds”) is a strikingly simple style of kenjutsu. Rather than a long series of attacks, parries, blocks and counterattacks, Unko-ryū techniques see the shidachi decisively avoid or neutralize uchidachi‘s attack just before immediately moving in for the kill.
Araki-ryū Gunyou Kogusoku is a comprehensive martial art which includes many weapons, but here the shihan demonstrates the iai of the school. Besides carrying a longsword, practitioners also carry a short sword, which is used simultaneously in some kata.
The koryū techniques of Shindo Muso-ryū jōjutsu form the basis for the jodo practiced worldwide and within the All Japan Kendo Federation. Having avoided a sword strike, a practitioner enters inside the swordsman’s fighting range in preparation to lock down his weapon.
Modern kendo developed out of many styles of kenjutsu. Here, practitioners of Yagyū Shinkage-ryū Heihō wield fukuro-shinai, precursors to the shinai used in kendo. They also demonstrate a characteristic stamping lunge which is suggestive of fumikomi in kendo.
Daito-ryū Aikijujutsu is widely known because of the profound influence it had on Morihei Ueshiba’s development of aikido. Daito-ryū makes extensive use of joint-locks which are used to disable, unbalance, or restrain an opponent. In some cased, the helpless opponent is literally tied in knots formed from his own tangled limbs.
Enshin-ryū Iai Suemono-giri Kenpō is a school of iai with an emphasis on tameshigiri, or test cutting. At this demonstration, practitioners cut straw bundles and free-standing bamboo stalks. At one point, a 20-cm long piece of cut bamboo clattered across the floor and came to a stop at my feet, leaving me with a souvenir bearing testimony to the razor-sharpness of the wielder’s sword.
Owari Kan-ryū sōjutsu (spearmanship) propagated in the Owari-han region (present-day Nagoya) and continues there now. A characteristic of the school is the use of a short tube (visible in the practitioner’s left hand) which allows the spear to be thrust and withdrawn freely. Kan-ryū also includes longsword techniques and free sparring in bogu.
Tenshin Shoden Katori Shintō-ryu is one of the oldest and most influential schools of swordsmanship in Japan. Throughout its more than 500-year history since its founding by Iizasa Ienao around 1450, the school has remained under the leadership of the Iizasa family. Here, shihandai Kyoso Shigetoshi demonstrates a leaping iaijutsu technique.
Morishige-ryū hōjutsu preserves the battlefield gunnery techniques of the late 18th century. Practitioners demonstrated firing from seated and standing positions, as well as firing in formation. The loud blasts of the guns delighted the crowd, scared a few babies, and signalled the end of another successful Kobudō Embu Taikai.