International Budo Seminar in Katsuura
copyright © 2007 Jeff Broderick, all rights reserved
Flying into Tokyo on February 4th, I happened to get a copy of the
Japan Times from the stewardess. I noticed an ad inside the front page
about the Budokan seminar, which I went to in 2001 and 2002, but for
some reason, remembered as being held in the fall. Anyway, it was good
luck since I had absolutely no idea it was on again. The deadline for
application was a couple days later, and I managed to get my money and
application in on time.
It was held this past weekend in Katsuura, a couple hours from Tokyo. I
had to work Friday morning (but took Friday afternoon off without pay)
so I got to Katsuura about 3:30, which was well into the start of the
first seminar on the development of kenjutsu. The seminar was by a
Professor Uozomi, who is a (the?) leading authority on Miyamoto Musashi
and Edo-period martial arts. He talked a bit about the difficulty of
understanding Musashi's writings. For example, many translations don't
comment on Musashi's phrase (I may be getting this wrong...) "Makura wo
osae" which is literally translated as "Holding down the pillow".
Obviously, this is a rather cryptic reference, but what does it mean?
It refers to having such an unassailable kamae and outward appearance
that you can keep your opponent at bay, suppressing his very urge to
attack you. I don't know if there is some archaic metaphor at work
there, or strange turn of speech, but if you think of it in almost
literal terms, it does evoke the idea of smothering someone with a
pillow ... the only problem, I suppose, is that "makura" might also
refer to the little wooden benches Japanese people used to rest their
heads on. (shrug)
Anyway, interesting lecture. After that, another good lecture on Zen
and Budo, and the influence Zen had on the martial arts of the Edo
period. Kind of an interesting tie-in, as it talked more about how
martial arts developed and shifted their emphasis during that period.
After the lecture, it was cool to catch up with people I hadn't seen in
a long time, (Trevor, Alex, Ted, Brent, Bruce, Greg, Anna...) and to
meet some new people (Serge, Gunli, Dave)... We had a welcome banquet,
and after dinner, some really keen folks took off to the gym and had
some free practice. The rule is that you can't practice if you've been
drinking (I had) so I gawked a little bit. Of course, the kendo nuts
were at it full tilt. Some guys were doing iaido off in the far corner;
they were also doing a koryu style I didn't recognize, which turned out
to be Tamiya Ryu. Very interesting looking kata! I talked to them quite
a bit over the weekend and, time allowing, I will visit their dojo over
in Yokohama I think, and meet their teacher. Very cool guys too: one
Englishman and one Icelander. (Am I making that word up?)
People who play kendo are crazy.
Accommodations at the Budokan training center are dormitory-style, and
we were four Canadians in one room. (I think they bunked people
according to nationality.) All my roommates were cool guys, as well:
Paul, a karateka from BC; James, a judoka from Ontario; and Steven, a
kendoka from Alberta. I was worried that I was going to snore all
night, so I took the precaution of buying everybody earplugs at the 100
Yen store, but I don't think they were necessary. The cool Katsuura air
was good for my nostrils, somehow.
The next day we had more lectures, this time about the attraction of
Budo (two sensei shared their personal experiences, and it was really
very inspiring, for me at least) and after that, a scientific
presentation about the effects of Inverse Abdominal Breathing (which is
what you do in Zen, I gather) on brainwave activity. Kind of cool. I
think it's good to scientifically test claims made by Zen and other
arts, where possible... the (not surprising) result is that IAB
increases your "calm" brainwaves and decreases your "sleepy"
brainwaves. I think.
After that, we saw some demonstrations by the Sensei. This is always a
highlight, and so I took a load of pictures...
Why I don't do Kyudo: people get to see your
"Not the face, not the face!"
"Not the face! Not the face!"
Kendo kata ... (couldn't think of anything
And suddenly, there was mat.
Sumo is probably the toughest martial art in
You don't get this flexible laying around eating bonbons, trust me.
Then it was off to "Experience a New Budo". I did Kyudo the last couple
times I came, so I thought I would see if I could remember anything. My
first couple shots were lousy, but I hit the bullseye on two shots,
which felt wonderful. (I know, I know, it's not about hitting the
bullseye... whatever! As it happened, I also had perfect form and
reached a state of complete no-mind, so there!) I had a bit of a
problem with my release, so I was practicing the draw, and then I
figured, what the heck, I'll try a release (with no arrow, of
course)... thwack! The string hit my wrist and cut the skin quite
painfully, giving me a nice raised welt to boot. Sensei immediately
said, "Don't ever release a bow without an arrow!" At first I thought
that might be because it will tend to cut into your wrist, but then I
figured out that it is probably very bad for the bow -- without the
mass of the arrow there, the bow must snap back dangerously fast. Not
good. Anyway, Kyudo was really fun and the teachers were also excellent.
Next up was "Practical Training" which is where you (the experienced
budoka) practice your art with a high-ranking teacher. In previous
years, Kaneda Sensei was available for iaido training, but this year,
there was nobody, so I thought we would practice on our own.
Unfortunately, this wasn't allowed, and so I went off and tried Jukendo
a little bit. It was really fun, so I decided I would try it again the
next day, too.
At dinner, I had a nice talk with a bunch of people about all kinds of
stuff... everything from fairly serious conversations about martial
arts, to an absolutely hilarious (and unprintable) discussion of
buttons we'd love to see (and some we hope never to find) on those
high-tech "Washlet" toilets. Use your imagination; we kind of imagined
the conversation might go something like, "Hey man, do you mind if I
use your toilet?" "Not at all, but you'll have to sign this waiver
I did a bit of iai after dinner with Dave and Gunli, and then came back
for beers. I stayed up a bit late (midnight or so?) but nothing
outrageous. The next day, Sunday, we again shipped off to the lecture
hall and talked about the future of martial arts. The issue basically
boiled down to two things (which may or may not be essentially at odds
with each other): the preservation of martial arts in Japan, and the
promotion of martial arts internationally. At some point, the
conversation got around to the issue of competition, and how it is bad
for Budo. A very stern Kendo teacher, Fukumoto Sensei, took the
microphone and brought everyone down a peg or two with the very
memorable statement: "People often ask me, 'Sensei, how many times a
week to you practice?' What a stupid question! The question should be,
'How many times a day?' That's the level I'm at! Anything less than
that and it's not budo, it's just playing around! And competition is
just another part of practice. It's how you test yourself and see what
you need to do to improve. All this talk about using budo to make a
better society is just silly. You practice budo because of what it does
for YOU!" Something to think about, certainly. Some people clapped when
he said that, but I just felt ashamed at how little I've been
In the afternoon, I did Jukendo again (they wear even more armour than
kendo players!) and after that, Naginata. Naginata seems to have a lot
in common with jodo, at least superficially. One thing that sticks out
is the symmetry of both jodo and naginata - in both arts, you switch
hands and attack from either side. As a physical activity, (and for
your coordination) I think that's probably better than kendo where you
are always right-side-forward. But anyway, even with jodo, it was
tough. It's really nice to feel like a beginner again, though... (which
is something entirely different than thinking, "I've been doing this
for fifteen years, so why do I still suck at this movement?")
Sunday night was the farewell reception. I stuck around just long
enough to eat, and then headed back to Katsuura station. (I had to work
on Monday.) It meant that I missed the Monday morning Kobudo practice,
which was Negishi-ryu shurikenjutsu. I really wanted to try that, but
alas, no dice.
So, for anybody I met in Katsuura who might be reading this: it was
great seeing you and training with you; good luck with your practice
and stay in touch. If I forgot to mention anybody, it's just because
I'm incredibly absent-minded and I apologize.