By Jeff Broderick
The 34th Nippon Kobudo Embu Taikai was held at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, on February 6th, 2011. Taking place annually, this event always attracts a large crowd of history buffs and martial arts enthusiasts. This year in particular, perhaps due to a recent surge of interest in all things samurai-related, the crowd seemed even larger than usual. 35 different martial ryuha from across Japan gathered to demonstrate their varied techniques to the crowd – everything from empty-hand arts such as jujutsu, karate, and aikijujutsu, to weapon arts like iaido, sojutsu (spearmanship), archery, kenjutsu, and even gunnery were on display.Before the demonstrations, a special ceremony was held in which Sasamori Sensei of Ono-ha Itto-Ryu Kenjutsu, and Takeuchi Sensei of Takenouchi-Ryu Jujutsu received special awards from the Nihon Kobudo Kyokai, recognizing their ongoing efforts to maintain and spread classical martial arts.
Some of the day’s highlights:Bokuden Ryu kenjutsu was founded by the legendary swordsman Tsukahara Bokuden (1489 – 1571). Bokuden studied Katori Shinto Ryu, and also founded the Kashima Shinto Ryu style of fencing; interestingly, Bokuden Ryu does not particularly resemble either. Its techniques are short and direct, and characteristically feature shidachi moving inside uchidachi’s range with full commitment and then attacking upwards from a low position.
Hailing from Hiroshima prefecture, Saburi Ryu Sojutsu (spearmanship) is currently headed by the 12th headmaster Kawase Kazumichi, seen here demonstrating Shin Sou no Kata. Saburi Ryu also performs techniques in full armour, reflecting its origins as a battlefield art.
Suio-Ryu Iai Kempo is a comprehensive art featuring iai, kenjutsu, jo, naginata, and other weapons. It also has an associated, but separate, school of sickle-and-chain techniques, Masaki-ryu Kusarigama-jutsu. 15th generation Soke Katsuse Sensei is seen here performing a kusarigama technique, having wrapped the weighted chain around his opponent’s neck.
Shojitsu Kenri Kataichi-Ryu Kacchu Battojutsu is essentially iai performed in full armour. Its techniques appear quite simple and practical. Here, having avoided a cut to the lower leg, a practitioner cuts deeply while balanced on the other foot.
Owari Kan-ryu Sojutsu was propagated in the Owari domain (present day Aichi prefecture). The demonstration showcased the wide range of techniques practiced in the tradition, including o-dachi (enormous katana with blades approximately 1.5 metres long), techniques for spears of various lengths, and even free-sparring in bogu, using blunted practice-spears.
Yoshin-ryu Naginatajutsu is remarkable not only for the fact that its female practitioners wear colorful kimono, but also for the intricacy of its techniques. Female practitioners have to face the additional challenge of running and even jumping in the kimono, which can be very restrictive to movement.
Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu is a comprehensive art with iai, kenjutsu, naginatajutsu, and other weapons in its curriculum. Always notable for the speed, power, and precision of its movements, this year’s demonstration was no exception.
The Kobudo Embu Taikai usually ends with a demonstration of gunnery. Only a handful of these schools remain alive in Japan; one of them is Morishige Ryu Houjutsu, founded in 1758 and now practiced in Chiba Prefecture.
For more information about these arts, or for information regarding demonstrations, check www.nihonkobudokyoukai.org (in Japanese)