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BUSHI

The importance of practicing the military arts as a means for character formation and practicing in military arts with a malevolent heart is perceived to be destructive; a mindset referred to as ‘the killing sword’. Practicing with the proper attitude, aimed at quelling hostilities and finding peaceful solutions, is referred to as the ‘life-giving sword’. The process of ‘musha shugyō’ is directed here at the practitioner’s awakening to the concept of ‘the life-giving sword’ and his fulfillment as a human being. Practice is aimed at gaining unparalleled superiority and strength over the enemy. However, it is a kind of strength that must not be revealed on the surface.
Similar interpretations of ‘the killing sword’ and ‘the life-giving sword’ can be found in the philosophies of later military arts traditions. However, preaching the ‘life-giving sword’ and putting it into practice are two different things. For example, the ‘Shintō-ryū’ provides an example of a military arts tradition which not only taught, but also uncompromisingly adhered to the principles of the ‘life-giving sword’ for half a millennium. There may have been others, but they did not endure and have been lost to history.
On the other hand, schools preaching that the final goal of one’s practice in the military arts lies in achieving a virtuous character (expressed in the ‘life-giving sword’ and consciousness), such as the famous ‘Yagyū Shinkage-ryū’, ‘Jigen-ryū’, ‘Maniwa Nen-ryū’, or ‘Ittō-ryū’, have left behind an extensive track record of duels, participation in wars, and killings by the order of ‘daimyōs’ (warlords / governors). For example, Tōgō Shigekata (1561-1643), the founder of Jigen-ryū, is said to have killed over ten people by the order of the Satsuma ‘daimyō’ while serving as the supreme teacher of swordsmanship in the Satsuma domain. Numerous duels and other feats of arms of the Yagyū family, which taught swordsmanship to the Tokugawa ‘shōguns’ for many generations, provide abundant material for popular storytelling and fiction. It is also suspected that the family was involved in the assassination of Noda Hankei, the famous swordsmith of the early Tokugawa era.
Moreover, we can find swordsmen of the pre- and early Tokugawa eras who, on the contrary, pursued only “the killing sword,” casting aside any humaneness under the pretext of ‘musha shugyō’. Such was the famous founder of the ‘Niten Ichi-ryū’ tradition (which also may be referred to as ‘Nitō Ichi-ryū’, ‘Emmei-ryū’, and other names), Miyamoto Musashi (1582-1645). He allegedly wrote that, by mastering ‘the virtue of the sword’, one masters the peaceful and orderly governance of a nation. Yet simulataneously, he is said to have murdered all his opponents in over 60 duels in a quest for victory over others.
To the critical eye, Musashi’s reckless striving for duels may be seen as a form of almost psychotic addiction to violence. However, uncritical academic and non-academic writers have raised Musashi to the status of an icon of the ‘bushi’, revering him as a ‘great master of swordsmanship’, or even a ‘saint swordsman’ (‘kensei’). This is without attaching any importance to the fact that he did not choose a means to engage in what he perceived as the process of self-perfection. Some scholars maintains that the Japanese cultural phenomenon of ‘musha shugyō’ reached its apogee in the life and career of Musashi. And, even though its authenticity is questioned, both scholars and popular writers have been preoccupied for generations with Musashi’s ‘Gorin no Sho’ (The Book of Five Rings, 1644), as well as with his personality, when considering ‘bushi’ moral values. Some argue that Musashi embodied the “Way of the Japanese people,”, even maintaining that ‘Gorin no Sho’, which is actually a treatise on the art of killing human beings, contains an image of a man that should serve as a model for people of the 21st century.
The impetus for the Musashi boom in Japan, and later overseas, was Yoshikawa Eiji’s novel ‘Miyamoto Musashi’ which was published as a newspaper serialization from 1935 to 1939. This serialization became a book in 1939, and it was also used for numerous theater and radio plays, TV and cinema films. The fictionalized image of Musashi has, through the process of repetition, become a historical reality in its own right. But, as Yoshikawa himself admitted, “there are almost no records about Musashi that could be trusted as true historical facts. If we are to summarize the truth about Musashi, it will take no more than 60-70 lines of printed text.” Apparently, few people know this and Musashi continues to be one of the most recognizable warrior figures in popular culture. His treatise on the art of killing has even become a manual for doing successful business among modern businessmen. Musashi has also been an object of reverence and commemoration in one of his supposed homelands in Mimasaka city, Okayama prefecture, where one can find a major practice center bearing his name. In Japan, modern ‘kendō’ tournaments are sometimes held in commemoration of Musashi.
It is necessary to establish an objective historical fact: Musashi did not kill his opponents in the righteous cause of, for example, defending his land against foreign aggressors, or fighting for his lord’s interests on the battlefield. His obsession with bloodshed was revealed through ‘polishing’ his sword skills by challenging others for individual duels. Musashi’s distorted notion of ‘musha shugyō’, or ‘self-perfection’, brought nothing but misfortune to his victims and their families. During his life he received ‘guest swordsman’ (‘kyakubun’) treatment from several ‘daimyōs’. However, his stipend was always much lower than that of other swordsmen in a similar position. He apparently sought to affiliate himself with the ‘Bakufu’ central government, but without success. This can be viewed as a social rejection of Musashi’s cruelty, which was regarded as excessive even in the early Tokugawa-era.

 

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‘DŌJŌ KUN’ 道場訓, or ‘RULES OF THE DŌJŌ’ (Better thought of as ‘RYÛHA KYÔKUN’ 流派教訓 or ‘Moral Lessons Of The Traditions’)
by Shinryuken Masamitsu Toda
戸田真龍軒正光, 1830-1912

一、忍耐は、先ず一服の間とぞ知れ
1) Nintai Wa, Mazu Ippuku No Ma Tozo Shire (Know that patience begins with taking a moment’s pause.)
二、人の道は、正義也と知れ
2) Hito No Michi Wa, Seigi Nari To Shire (Know that the path of humanity is justice.)
三、大欲と楽と依怙の心を忘れよ
3) Taiyoku To Raku To Iko No Kokoro Wo Wasureyo (Forget feelings of deep desire, longing for comfort, and reliance.)
四、悲しみも恨みも自然の定めと思い、唯だ不動心の悟りを得可し
4) Kanashimi Mo Urami Mo Shizen No Sadame To Omoi, Tada Fudoshin No Satori Wo U Beshi (One must think of sorrow and malice as fates set by nature and strive only to inquire the enlightenment of imperturbability.)
五、心常に忠孝の道を離れず、深く文武に志す可し
5) Kokoro Tsune-ni Chuko No Michi Wo Hanarezu, Fukaku Bunbu Ni Kokorozasu Beshi (One’s heart never straying from loyalty and filial duty, one must deeply engage oneself in study and the martial arts.)

明治二十三年春 戸田真龍軒正光
Meiji-nijusan-nen Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu (Spring, 1890 – Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu)

SANKEN

SANKEN (三見), which translates literally as ‘the three glances’, is a term that was used by various highly-skilled swordsmen of the Yagyû clan in Japanese history. It indicates the three-fold action of vigilant and highly focused observation of the enemy’s mental state, physical posture, and method of initial engagement, the moment when weapons are crossed in battle. The way in which the enemy holds his weapon is one facet of this intense observation and gives immediate insight as to whether the opponent is nervous, composed, weakened, strong, highly skilled, or inexperienced. Thus, one gains an edge on the engagement and can therefore take the proper initiative and course of action in combat.

✧ KACEM ZOUGHARI

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SAMURAI

Aisû Ikôsai, founder of the Kage-ryû (陰流) tradition of sword fighting, was born into the prominent bushi (“warrior”) Aisû family in 1452, and lived from the middle to the late Muromachi Period (1392-1573). This was one of Japan’s most turbulent periods. Ikôsai’s original name was Aisû Tarozaemon Hisatada, but he later took the name, ‘Ikôsai’. The Aisû family was a branch of the Kii clan of Kumano in the province of Kii, a powerful family, based in the Ise peninsula, in the center of the Kumano Bay area. They had been put in command of five castle areas by Shogun Morinaga Shinno (1308-1335) in the Nanbokuchô (Southern Dynasty) Period and were related to the Kitabatake clan with close relations to guerrilla fighters in the Iga area.
It is not clear where or from whom Ikôsai originially learned heihô (martial ways), but he was living during a period of great activity in fighting arts. Iizasa Ienao’s Tenshin Shôden Katori Shintô-ryû was active in the Kanto area, and Chûjô Hyôgono Nagahide had been spreading his Chûjô-ryû in Mikawa-guni (present day Aichi-ken) more than a hundred years earlier. As well, it is thought that in the Kyoto-Nara area, a core group of Nen-ryû of disciples known as the ‘Six Men of the Capital’ were spreading their art at the beginning of the 15th century.
Aisû Ikôsai had gained attention among Chinese military authorities when he and his fleet had raided both the Chinese and Korean coasts during that period. Using very long swords (tachi) and unorthodox methods of movement and weapon usage, they decimated Chinese and Korean troops that attempted to board their vessels or halt their raids. Obviously, though, the military authorities were impressed with the swordsmanship of these Japanese fighters and for years were at a loss as to how to defeat these rogue warriors whenever they appeared.
The story of Ikosai’s ‘ken-no-satori’ (sword enlightenment) is that in 1488, at the age of 36, after surviving a shipwreck while returning home from a pirating raid, Ikôsai, who already had been refining his sword skills for many years, decided to visit the temple of Uto Gong. There he prayed for purification and enlightenment, while making a vow to give up piracy, since his life had been spared from the shipwreck. After 7 days of incessant practicing and praying, a monkey-shaped god appeared to him in a dream and revealed the secrets of swordsmanship.
Deciding to reveal this knowledge to selected students, Aisû Ikôsai named his style ‘Kage-ryû’ (‘Current of the Shade’). Later, Ikôsai’s student, the renowned warrior and swordsman, Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami Hidetsuna developed his Shinkage-ryû (“New Current of the Shade) based on the instruction he received from Ikôsai. Shinkage-ryû (新影流) thus includes the core techniques, such as Enpi, Enkai, Yamakage, etc., from Kage-ryû.
Aisû Ikôsai passed away in 1538 at the advanced age of 87 years old.

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STILL 4

Through the years many have questioned the validity of certain martial traditions, especially those related to the ninpō arts. When researched in depth, ‘walls’ are constantly hit when attempting to gather any viable information concerning events and solid historical facts on these ryū-ha and the men of their genealogy. Such abrupt ‘dead-ends’ of research efforts usually occur around the late Edo period of Japanese history (the mid to late 1800’s). This holds true also for any viable information on the past masters of these traditions. But why? When attempting such research, one must take into account the nature of the ryū-ha in question. Many traditions, especially those related to ninjutsu, survived due to an intense cloak of secrecy that was never compromised. This meant that the true name of the tradition was only known to the soke, or headmaster, and his eventual successor. Any name given to the public was a false name, used as a deceptive front and sometimes changed often. This still holds true today. Names such as Gikan-ryū, Togakure-ryū, & Shinden Fudo-ryū, for instance, are cover names used to hide the true title of the tradition. This explains why any research into the history of these given names ends up in utter futility on the part of the historian or researcher. This is also the case for past masters that are difficult to investigate. Names such as ‘Shinryuken Toda’ and even ‘Toshitsugu Takamatsu’ were ‘nom de plum’, or pen names, used to hide their true identity, past, and relations. Often, these men had several identities to help them maneuver quietly and undetected through dangerous times, such as the late Edo and early Meiji eras, for example. This protected not only the individual and the knowledge they held, but their families as well. Remember, these men were utter and true masters of illusion, disinformation, and psychological warfare. The proof of this is in the convincing of researchers or those of the ‘by the book’ mentality that the traditions and masters in question were either made-up or never truly existed, because no concrete evidence can be found to prove otherwise. Yet, as history has proven, just because evidence cannot be found does not mean that it does not exist. It simply is in the secretive hands of the headmaster of the tradition, kept safe from the hands of people of ill-intent, opportunists, deceptive con artists, and the public at large, and shown only in part to those who truly practice and sacrifice to help keep the tradition alive.

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