The Iaido Journal  May 2000

Gilham's Musha Shugyo

Iai Journal #1: A wonderful Start

Chris Gilham is a Canadian who has practiced iai in Tokyo for the past four years. He is now on a journey around Japan visiting different dojo and reporting on his trip. You can find more about his journeys at his website:  We will be publishing all of his iaido journals in The Iaido Journal.

Before starting this journal series I'd like to mention a couple of points to keep in mind when reading these entries. One-all ideas and viewpoints when not directly quoted are either my own or my version of what someone may have said. I don't plan on misrepresenting anyone and if I do it's not intentional. I also don't plan on making up imaginary experiences to entertain whoever may be reading these journals. Just the facts as I see them folks. Two-I am merely a beginner in all this iai stuff. At only three and half years of training my road is very, very, very (you get the point) LONG. So, if I put something in this journal that sounds like it's coming from a novice don't be surprised nor work yourselves up into a big fluff. Hey, it's my journal after all so things are going to come from my perspective. Thirdly, the tips I put in will be from teachers who have advised me or tips I have heard them give other people. Inevitably there will be lots of comparisons between the Iai I have learned in Tokyo under Yamamoto Shotaroo (7 dan ZNKR/MSR) of Koganei city Iaido renmei and the Iai I am learning on this 'mushya shugyoo'. Third and finally, with these three points in mind take all of my entries for what they are worth to you. For me this project is better than gold...

                                         Iai Journal #1

                              April 6th/10th, Okinawa Iaido Renmei, Naha city

Located ten minutes from Naha airport the Okinawa Budokan, like that of Tokyo, is a giant hunk of molded concrete and glass. With a steep domed body and arched flaring sides, the red spine like steel beams that run on top of the structure at it's midline gives the passerby the powerful impression of a dragon at ready. The inside is spacious with two main kendojo floors which, each time I paid 160 yen to use them, were largely devoid of other people. The simplicity and spaciousiousness of a dojo always strikes me as an excellent contrast to the 'tatekomu'-crowded buildings of major Japanese cities. In the small yet tightly packed three hundred thousand population of Naha the Budokan is indeed a place of mental rest and refuge from the outside world: It's open inner design and natural lighting a comfort for the practitioner of a martial way.

After contacting the Okinawan kendo association I was pleased to find that I could indeed join the iaido practice of April 6th. I later found out from the teachers present that night that since I am a member of the All Japan Kendo Association-Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei, I was permitted to join their group practice. A private dojo on the other hand can be a touchy bit of business usually requiring a letter of introduction from a teacher and more often than not, a lesson fee. On the other hand it seemed the ZNKR people were more than pleased to have me and I was surprised by not only the warmth of their reception but also by their directness with me when training. This last point needs a little expanding. You see many fellow iaido practitioner's in Tokyo warned me that I would not receive any instruction from other groups. Other teachers would merely watch and tell me my iai was good. I was also warned about asking questions and advised to simply listen and take what other teachers said without asking for 'reasons' or 'riai'. Also, many Tokyoites hinted that southern Japanese iai groups might receive me less than cordially and that I should be careful. Without jumping ahead of myself it is important to remember that this is my first experience with another Japanese iaido dojo outside of my own. As for the others I plan to visit the Tokyo advice may hold water. This Okinawa experience however has been of an opposite nature: Immediately received with smiles and polite conversation I was even more surprised to find that of the ten practitioner's present that night most of them spoke English quite proficiently and all were godan or higher in rank. The proficiency of their ranks showed: These people were excellent iaidoka. As a teacher is the needle and the students the thread so it has been with Nakaima sensei and his students. Nakaima sensei is one of those persons with whom you meet and 'feel' the intelligence and quality of character. With others you can feel pride bloating through, yet others are bright enough to cheer up any depression. Professor Kenji Nakaima (retired) however emitted 'class.' At 60 his face still holds a deep strong solid composure-handsome as they come with a depth in his eyes that marks of academia. Just recently retired, amidst farewell parties and a busy schedule Nakaima sensei was gracious enough to hold two practices-Thursday night's usual keiko and a special practice on a Monday morning for the foreigner from Tokyo.

Following introductions to the other iaidoka and teachers present we began practice with seitei iai. Once finished as a group he corrected my draw on kesa-giri. Telling me to draw the kashira straight towards the opponent's mid section instead of drawing it down towards the enemy's feet. "You must think aggressively" he emphasized. We then moved on to Muso Shinden Shoden or Omori ryu. There I found a plethora of differences between the MSR of Tokyo that I have learned and the MSR of Okinawa/Kagoshima. Nakaima sensei's first words of caution-"What you see may be different from your Tokyo MSR. It's not wrong nor right. Take what you see and remember it for reference. In the future when you see something different from what you have learned you may remember the different variations of MSR that you will have learned in your travels. At that time you will have the knowledge to differentiate between poor technique and good technique, your style of MSR and other styles of MSR."

His advice although not new re-emphasized my purposes for studying Iai as I travel. I am not surprised by differences within one ryu or style. This is bound to happen not only with time but through place, experience and teachers. My teacher has on numerous occassions reminded me of the difficulties in the transmission of a style that occur simply through the passage of time. Take for example Hakudo Nakayama: Throughout his career he taught Iai to many people. As his Iai changed with age so too did his teachings and thus with each passing set of students Muso Shinden Ryu itself has taken on numerous faces. Nakaima sensei's advise was to not merely watch and learn but to investigate and study. Among the faces of MSR there is much to be gained. In his case, as a theoretical teacher his explanations for the differences in techniques lacked nothing: The clarity of his reasoning was acute. He allowed me to question and hypothesize to which he responded carefully and clearly. After both practices I was left overfilled with new knowledge which has demanded memo taking. Coming from the 1985 All Japan Rokudan Champion Nakaima sensei's advice can only be viewed as priceless.

Shoden/Omori ryu and the pointers/differences

1 The move onto the training area and the position of one's sword is quite different from anything I have ever seen in Tokyo. The left hand grips the sword as usual in teito but before entering the training area one moves the sword across the body as in seitei iai starting reiho. Here the movement stops at the centre of the body. The right hand then comes up from under the hilt and is placed with the index and thumb separated from the middle and other fingers by the tsuba. In this position it looks as though one is cradling the saya, tsuba and tsuka with both hands together. With the sword in both hands at the centre of the body one may now enter the training area. Stopping for tachirei the sword is then directly transferred to the right hand and rei is performed. After rei the sword is moved back to the left hand as in teito shisei and zarei can commence. During the placement of the sword for zarei the right hand must continue to hold the sword as above, with the fingers separated by the tsuba.

2 They did not use a hard fumi komi which Nakaima sensei immediately noticed and told his students they must use. He later told me it was good to have me practice with them-it helped refresh everyone present.

3 The push up with the legs during chiburi must be powerful and based in the hips. This movement is very important to maintain one's superior position over the enemy and others that may approach. The following step up with the left foot must also be strong and solid giving the enemy the message that one is still ready to attack/defend. The step back with the right foot as well is strong. As Nakaima sensei put it "You are telling the enemy to come on and attack with this move back."

4 Turning (kaiten) as in atarito should be only one movement of the left foot. It should come over the right foot and placed in such a way that a pivot of both feet (with the right foot as main axis-jiku ashi) will result with both feet perfectly aligned facing ushiro. This is different from the two step turning method that I have been taught.

5 Draw the sword with the kashira directly to the centre of the opponent so as not to create suki. There are however variants on this within MSR.

6 The body must not bounce up and down on iinyooshintai. Leg strength is needed for this support.

7 Ryuto's placement of the left foot on uke is quite different. Okinawa MSR places the heel of the left foot directly in front of the right knee with the foot pointing 45 degrees to the front-right. Koganei MSR places the heel of the left foot parallel to and aligned with the right knee. The foot remains parallel with the right leg and knee. The cut should finish with the hips and body at the same angle as seitei iai kesa giri (about 25-30 degrees left of front). Okinawa MSR steps directly back from the cut without facing shomen (Koganei) and noto is performed on this angle as well as in seitei kesa giri.

8 Before assuming seiza for junto one must step half one's leg length to the right of the usual starting position. After standing a solid jodan kamae is assumed before one moves out with the right foot for a graceful natural swing without any power. As a ritual kata power is not needed because there is/are no enemies present and a powerful cut would send the head flying off. Instead the head must simply fall into the arms of the beheaded. In Koganei the right foot begins to move out for the cut first as jodan is then assumed and the cut takes place.

9 Gyakuto in Koganei makes use of uke at the start. Okinawa does not. Instead they pull the sword to the upper left rear (kissaki straight back), directly from nuku so as to avoid the enemy attack altogether. As this occurs the right foot in 'kariashi'-light footedness, slides back and then forward for the cut. Later the final chiburi like vertical two handed cutting movement of Koganei is replaced in Okinawa with a stabbing motion or 'sasu'.

10 Seichuutoo moves from the feet and not from a pivot on the left knee on the first cut. A pivot on the knee removes power from the hips. The move from the feet maintains momentum and centre of gravity in the hips for the cut. The draw also does not occur from the side but with correct timing and speed occurs on the forward range of motion towards shomen. The move in for the final cut uses tsugi ashi (half step, rear foot up to front then front forward again) so as to keep the distance with the enemy tight. Koganei uses this as basic and big ayumi ashi as advanced.

11 Koranto has completely different foot timing. Okinawa takes ma-oku from the start of the kata and as one moves towards nuku the LEFT foot slides out. As the right foot makes it's placement nuki tsuke finishes to be followed by another left right step finishing with kiri kudashi (otoshi). Koganei starts with the RIGHT foot and takes three casual ayumi ashi steps into nuki tsuke. The rest is the same.

12 Nuki uchi's final move back up during noto is not a simultaneous pulling in of the legs (Koganei) but a left-right draw up of each leg in turn(Okinawa). This applies to chuden/eishin's nukiuchi as well. Nakaima sensei claims that a simultaneous pulling in of the legs during noto makes a great suki as one is left with no moving options in this no main axis position.

Chuden/Eishin ryu and the pointers/differences

1 Hand position of Koganei follows that of Danzaki sensei. The hands sit palm up on the legs near the knees in iai hiza. Okinawa places the hands as in seitei iai tsuka ate.

2 Okinawa moves forward on nuki tsuke. Koganei slides back.

3 Ukigumo and Yamaoroshii are very similar except for some small differences in the foot movement. The position of the sword after moving from morote uchi (two handed slicing cut) across the body to the now fallen enemy are different. Koganei has the sword placed in front across the body to the right angled up and forward so that the chin is level with the bicep of the left arm. Okinawa has the kissaki across the body to the right side pointing back so that the chin and left bicep are the same but the left elbow is pointing forward.

4 Iwanami has Koganei sliding the left foot directly back from the right of shomen iai hiza position whereas Okinawa turns the body immediately to face the enemy and then slides the right foot back during nuki.

5 In general, the entire eishin set of kata as performed under Okinawa MSR should be a non power set of movements. All kata are designed for indoor use on a single tatami mat. Nakaima sensei points out that the eishin forms must flow from the body and not occur in chunks of power and stop start like movements.

TIN May 2000