Newsletter Online Sample Articles
Welcome to the first issue of the International Shinkendo Newsletter! This heralds a new era in our organization and one in which I hope will help to unite all Shinkendo students from around the world. This newsletter is designed to be a forum for our organization, helping to communicate news, goals, ideas, history and philosophy.
I am very happy that the Shinkendo newsletter is out. In Japan I studied with the Yoshinkan and Wakakoma for seven years, In America I have been involved with martial arts and the movies for seven years plus seven years making it fourteen years. Battodo has now evolved into my own art of Shinkendo with ten branches worldwide, with each school advancing in techniques. This newsletter is the next phase in our growth as a professional Swordmanship organization. Please read this newsletter and share it with others.
Shinkendo, easily explaining, is to have a serious life. For example, human beings have five senses and if the senses are polished and used, then like glass when it is clean, it is easy to see the other side but if the five senses are not used, then like glass, they become foggy and useless.
Like the five senses, one has Go-ju-ryu-ki-rei, if described using the body anatomy, go is bone, jyu is the meat or flesh, ryu is blood or liquid, ki is energy and rei is everything else given to you by your parents and ancestors. The things that are visible, like go, jyu and ryu can be trained physically with activities such as push-ups, but ki and rei, the mental aspects have to be trained by polishing the five senses.
Everything has a positive and a negative. If one emphasizes the positive results from any action, the benefit will be much better.
Nihonto-The Japanese Sword (part 1),
The Japanese sword, the traditional weapon of the martial hierarchy of Japan, is rightfully called the "soul of the Samurai". The Samurai, or warrior class, has literally carved the nation's history with the sword. Made by well-known and highly regarded masters, the sword was a family's treasure, passed from father to son. A divine symbol, a manly weapon, a badge of honor which signified the Samurai's noble ancestry - this is the japanese sword.
In legend and history, the sword is connected to the Samurai's heritage and the warrior would do anything to preserve his weapon. Mottos like the following were often engraved on warrior's swords:
There is nothing between heaven and earth that man need fear who carries at his side this magnificent blade. One's fate is in the hands of heaven, but a skillful fighter does not meet with death. In the last days, one's sword becomes the wealth of one's posterity.
The Samurai carried the daisho (two swords), one long and one short. The earliest swords were straight, but later the curved blade was developed. Few changes have been made in sword for more than 1,000 years. The dimensions of the sword varied with individual tasts. Generally, blades were slightly more than two feet in length for the long blades (tachi or katana) and between one foot and two feet in length for the sword (wakizashi).
The long blade was the Samurai's most important weapon, the shorter one a secondary, or back-up. The traditional sword is always single edged. The curved blade allows it to be drawn quickly. The tachi was designed to be carried slung from the warrior's left hip, cutting edge down, dangling in its scabbard. The katana and the wakizashi are worn thrust through the warrior's obi (belt) on the left side of his body, with the cutting edge turned up.
Throughout the centuries, the manufacture of the Japanese sword has attained an exceptional degree of perfection. It is founded on the traditional elements: iron, clay, water, fire and wood, as well as man. The sword rises from the combination and quality of the six elements, making each swordsmith himself unique along with the sword. For a swordsmith to be successful, he must cleanse himself and his work area of evil spirits and evoke the help of deities in forging the blade. These rites lend a sort of sacredness to the making of the sword. It becomes an object with a personality of its own, having a "soul". It is therefore handled with great respect.
It is only natural that the long history of the sword begins with a legend, since the sword plays such an important part in mythology, folklore and history. The story comes from around 100 B.C. Sasa no wo no Mikoto, the nephew of the sun goddess Amaterasu, slew the eight headed dragon and in its tail found the sword which became on of the three sacred treasures of Japan (the other two being the jewel and the mirror).
Couch Sensei is a collector of Japanese swords and organizes the annual International Japanese Sword Collector's show, held in Birmingham, Alabama. Couch Sensei is an instructor of Shinkendo and Karate in Birmingham AL as well as in Atlanta, Georgia.
Nihonto-The Japanese Sword (part 2),
In my previous articles, the sword was described as "the living soul of the Samurai". It is the pride of the warriors and the theme of poets. Next to honor, the Samurai, or warrior class was the group of persons legally allowed to carry two swords. The pair, or daisho, consisted of a long sword, the katana, and the shorter one, the wakizashi. The katana measured at least 24 inches along the cutting edge, sometimes reaching a length of more than 30 inches. The wakizashi measured from 12 inches to 24 inches. Both were worn on the left side thrust through the obi, cutting edge up. The katana was the warrior's main battle weapon and the wakizashi an additional weapon which was also the sword with which the act of seppuku, or harakiri (ritual suicide) could be carried out if need be. The katana was not generally worn inside the house. The wakizashi never left the warrior's side, but the katana was left in a place reserved for it at the host's front door. This was correct etiquette and at the same time the wakizashi gave the warrior a sense of security and protection in any event. Prior to the early 1400's, a long sword called a tachi was carried slung from the waist, cutting edge downward.
New methods in warfare brought about a changeover to the katana since the tachi was difficult to draw except while on horseback. However, the tachi remained as a ceremonial piece to be worn in the old fashion way by noblemen and high-ranking Samurai when at the emperor's court or at the Shogun's castle or at other occasions where it was demanded by protocol. For over one thousand years, schools or kaji (swordmakers) devoted their best work to the making of this superb weapon. Besides its extraordinary effectiveness as a weapon, far surpassing that of the weapons of other nations, the Japanese sword was regarded as the emblem of the warrior's virtue, courage and strength. It guarded his and his ancestors' name and fame from any unworthy deeds.
The five elements-earth, metal, fire, water and wood-are all a part of making the sword, the blade containing the purity and self restraint of the metal with the energy and zest from the fire which helped forge it. The swordsmith ranked socially among the highest in the artisan class along with metal workers who made the sword fittings. The swordsmith was held in high respect; even Samurai and court nobles and emperors undertook the forging of a sword blade. The Emperor GoToba (1183-98) declard the making of swords to be an occupation worthy of princes, and a few of his blades are still preserved in Japan. The swordsmith was a religious person, often a priest or lay priest. Making of a sword was undertaken in the light of a religious ceremony.
The steel or combinations of iron and steel which composes the blade was obtained from native magnetic ore and ferruginous sand. Beginning in the 17th century, imported foreign iron and steel were sometimes used. From the smelted ore the swordsmith heated and pounded a billet of steel into the desired shape for the sword. Often several grades of steel were hammered together to form the blade. A swordsmith had specially trained hammer men to do part of this welding process under his watchful eye. The folding and heating and pounding with heavy hammers forged the blade tightly and eliminated all impurities. The idea was to have a strong but flexible blade that would not break under strain but which had a hard edge that was to be sharpened later by the polisher. The blade was tempered in water with an exacting combination of heated metal and the right temperature of water. When polished, the tempered edge took on a milky-white or frosted appearence in various patterns. The beatiful woodgrain effect on the surface of the blade was caused by the numerous folding and forging of the metal. An average of twenty times folded produced over one-half million layers. The polisher who undertook to sharpen and otherwise put the finishing touches on the blade did so with such skill and expertise that the entire blade became a thing of beauty to behold. A smith would not let a blade go out of his forge if it had flaws or imperfections, he only sent it to the polisher after he determined its quality. The polisher used a series of nine grades of polishing stones to achieve the final shape and texture of the metal, taking as much as two months to polish one blade properly. The bare blade was then housed in a wooden scabbard fitted with handle and hand guard. The artist making these fittings was also held in high regard for his work.
At the beginning of the 16th century it became increasingly popular for the swordsmith to engrave his name or mei on the tang or nakago of the sword. He was not required to sign every one he made, nor did he do it for any reason except pride in his work. The signature might be accompanied by other information such as a date, place of residence, etc. Soon the lesser known swordsmiths realized that if a popular smith's name were affixed to a blade it would increase the value. Forgeries then occured which cause confusion and problems for modern days collectors who must study known, authenticated examples and the very characteristics of each individual swordsmith's work in order to determine if the signature is correct or not. Often the sword was shortened by cutting off the butt end, thus losing the part which might have held the signature. They were shortened because of personal preference sometimes and also because the law at the time might require the lenght of a sword to be shorter.
Swordsmiths flourished in most parts of Japan but made swords in one of five main styles or go-kaden. These five styles or schools were named after provinces where they riginated. They are Yamashiro-den, Yamato-den, Bizen-den, Soshu-den and Mino-den. They differed only in characteristics particular to the original school such as some with wider blades, some with more tempered edge, some with more curvature, etc. There were many famous swordsmiths throughout the history of Japan and thousands of outstanding, lesser known swordsmiths. Japan's history is dominated by civil wars, warring families and provincial lords. The swordmaker was in great demand during these times. I will discuss some of the more notable ones in forth-coming issues of this newsletter. Please feel free to write or call me if you have a Japanese sword that you would like information about.
Paul Couch, 507 Kenilworth Drive, Birmingham, AL 35209, (205) 879-2606, Phone & FAX
Safety in Training: Iaito Blades and Sword Training,
Most people think that Iaito blades are safe. They believe that since they are not sharp that they are safer than Shinken (real swords). My premise is the exact opposite. I think Iaito blades are inherently more dangerous than swords for a number of reasons.
There are many types of Iaito blades available on the market today. Some are considered cheap "wall decorations" while other higher quality Iaito blades from Japan can cost over $1,000 dollars. Others are imitation blades made from 440C stainless steel and imported from Spain while others are sold as "collector" items through such places as the Franklin Mint. Why are these type of swords more dangerous than real swords? Lets examine Iaito blades and their usage in detail.
The first and foremost reason why Iaito blades are not safe is that they are not well made. The blades are made out of alloys or steel such as 440C stainless steel as mentioned above. The blades do not have the laminations or heat treatment that would make them structurally stronger, plus many are made out of some type of alloy. When a sword is swung repeatedly, it is subject to forces that can result in metal fatigue and stress cracks. This normally occurs underneath the habaki, the metal sleeve in front of the sword guard that locks the sword in the scabbard. If you were to examine the metal underneath the habaki, chances are you would not see any cracks. This is because stress cracks are micro-cracks and are invisible to the naked eye. Techniques such as dye penetrant inspection or magnaflux inspections are required to see these types of fatigue cracks. Magnaflux inspection requires that a fluid be placed on the area to be inspected and then passed through a magnetic force field that causes the magnetic properties of the fluid to align themselves along the cracked area. Dye penetrant inspection also uses a fluid to penetrate the metal and it is then passed under a blacklight which highlights the fluorescent qualities of the fluid that accumulate in the crack. The difference is that magnaflux is used to inspect steel and dye penetrant is used for any non-steel metal. Because our sword cuts in Shinkendo are very strong, this is an area of particular concern. I have seen a high quality Iaito blade that was made in Japan snap in half during a diagonal cut. Luckily, no one was injured.
Another myth concerning Iaito blades is that since they are not sharp they are therefore safe. The end of an Iaito blade is indeed sharp and could be very injurious if thrust into or through a person. The edge of an Iaito is not sharpened, but it can cut easily and effectively. Think of it this way, an Iaito blade is a strong piece of metal that is moving through the air at a very fast rate. If it contacts someone accidently, they could be seriously injured. My Iaito blade is a top quality from Japan that has been in continuous use for over nine years. I have had it dye penetrant inspected and no structual cracks were found. Recently, I conducted test cutting with my Iaito blade (yes, you read that correctly, see photo). I started by cutting dowel rods beginning with a 1/8 inch rod and worked my way up to a 5/8 inch dowel rod. That is over a half an inch in diameter piece of wood or about the size of an average index finger. By the way, there was no damage to the Iaito blade. So you can imagine, that if an Iaito blade can cut through a piece of wood that thick, what it would do to someone's body.
Another overlooked area of concern is the handle of Iaito blades. If they were made in Japan then more than likely the handles were made out of wood. Wood handles also need to be inspected for cracks. If a crack is found, then sometimes wood glue can be forced into the crack and the handle then clamped. Other Iaito blades have handles of plastic. These types of swords are the wall decoration type of sword and should not be used for practice. For additional safety, the handle should have a second mekugi ana (peg hole) and mekugi (peg) added. The purpose of the peg is to hold the sword in the handle. There have been accidents where a peg broke and the sword shot out of the handle injuring people. If you have only one peg, you start out with the peg being 100% strong and after continual use the percentage starts to derease. If you have two pegs, then you start out at 200% strength. Obviously, this is much safer. The size of the peg and what the peg is made out of is also important. Many people use bamboo from chopsticks to fashion new pegs. Chopsticks are made from new bamboo which is not the strongest. The peg should be made out of the base of a stronger type of bamboo such as madake.
Another consideration to think about is, how will the Iaito blade be used? If it is a style of Iaido that does not emphasize strong and effective cutting movements then perhaps a good quality Iaito blade well hold up well. On the other hand, if the style emphasizes strong, realistic cutting movements then consider these safety factors carefully.
In addition, the psychology of handling an Iaito blade vs. that of handling a real sword is worth mentioning. Practicing with an Iaito blade, although closer to being more real than a bokken, is still very different. Watch a student who has been practicing with and Iaito blade pick up a real blade and start to practice. The focus, concentration and intensity of the student changes. The sword student now knows there is no margin for error in his or her movements.
Some Shinkendo students have asked about my previous training in different schools of swordsmanship, so I would like to explain about one school in which I hold Menkyo Kaiden (Master Swordsman) rank. Ioriken Battojutsu is a sword style dating from the Sengoku era (Sengoku Jidai, period of continuous warfare in Japan from about 1482-1573). The ryu is presided over by 85 year old Teshinsai Uchida Sensei. Master Uchida is of Samurai descent and learned this art from his father who was also a Master of Ioriken Battojutsu. The Ioriken Battojutsu dojo is located in Kanagawa-ken, which is southwest of Tokyo.
About 18 years ago, a relationship developed between Toyama Ryu Battojutsu and Ioriken Ryu Battojutsu and that is how I became associated with this school. The style encompasses suburi (solo practice), kata (forms), and tamashigiri (test cutting). All sword techniques use two hands, and this ryu never gives out honorable dan rankings; all ranks are given in consideration of skill levels. I entered test cutting competitions in Ioriken Battojutsu and competed against one hundred to one hundred and fifty participants. The tournaments included ranking tests for first, second and third dans in which participants were required to cut ten standing straw bundle targets in quick succession. To qualify for third dan, a total of thrity cuts had to be executed over three consecutive rounds. All the cuts had to be perfect, no mistakes were allowed or you didn't pass. My times of 6.4, 6.4 and 6.7 seconds set a record. At that competition, only three other people were successful in cuttin 30 cuts cleanly.
Other testing methods included cutting to the front and then turning and quickly cutting to the back. In this case, the targets were stalks of bamboo only 6 inches tall with the target area only 1 and 1/2 inces tall.
I was pleased to be asked to do an article on my swords for the Shinkendo newsletter. However, the first thing that will become obvious is: I am a swordmaker, not a writer. I shall try to share some of the technical information about my blades, my experience in testing them as well as client experience, and some of spiritual aura of the swords.
I am not Japanese, therefore I do not make a traditional Japanese sword. I make my version of the old style blades. I studied the old blades for many years and made knives before I attempted making swords. There was a great deal to learn about their edged weaponry. Nothing was done by accident; each facet of the blade was by design, and so it is with my blades.
The steel in the old blades was developed through much trial and error and, in some instances, blades of amazing strength and sharpness were created. However, every blade was not a creation, every swordmaker was not a great artisan! This holds true even today.
Modern technology has given us advances in steel far beyond what was available in the past. After a great deal of study and trials of different steels (and heat treating methods), I find A2 tool steel to be the best for strength and edge holding ability. since tool steel is what they use to make tools and dies to cut other steels, it is obviously a superior steel. Proper heat treating, that is the key to all metals.
I begin with a bar of 1/4" tool steel and profile and handgrind each blade. My blades are edge-hardened blades. The hamon (soft milky line on the cutting edge) is done in the heat treating of the sword, not in the layering. There is much misconception about layering, this process of folding and hammering was done originally to create a stronger steel. Edges on my blades are 60-61 on the "C" scale (a hardness scale), the remainder of the blade being 58-59. They are stress relieved times so as not to be brittle. Flexibility in a sword is a must, so I have approximately a 15 degree flex with memory (coming back to straight) in my swords. Obata Sensei saw this demonstrated in my shop. A blade without flexibility can be very dangerous, as it can break.
No apprentice works on my blades - to insure the quality and spirit of the blade, I do everything from start to finish myself. I always test every blade that I make; my technique (or lack of it) resembles that of a golf swing with a five iron. However, I have cut a double rolled mat (target) that was mounted on a cutting stand, that was so clean that the top cut-off portion didn't fall down. This demonstrates that the proper sword works almost by itself. My aim is to make a sword with which anyone can cut - this gives the novice more confidence and the master serenity and peace of mind.
One of the most difficult targets to cut (because of the lack of resistance) is a solid, rolled up newspaper. This is a good (as well as economical) practice target. Obata Sensei has cut through bokkens and 2x4's in a single stroke using the Katana I made for him. That same sword, after two years of that kind of cutting, will still cut cleanly the single rolled paper target. A blade that is sharp for only a few cuts is of no value. Edge holding ability is a key factor in a proper sword.
Any kind of competition brings out the warrior spirit in us. It is my feeling that a superior swordsman, with a superior sword, puts eveyone else at a disadvantage. This is exactly where you want them
I have reviewed a video of the international tameshigiri contest in Japan. I also attended a swordsmanship demonstration in 1990 of the Zen Nippon Battodo Federation. Twenty members performed tameshigiri and the swords used were the same in both events: very wide to give strength and very thin to aid in cutting. I am not qualified to judge technique, but I do know when the sword in not working! They were having trouble cutting! Perhaps that is the reason Obata Sensei founded Shinkendo. There are many technicians, but few masters, and this is true in swordmaking and all disciplines. My goal has always been to make the strongest, sharpest sword available for the serious user. I make each blade with that in mind. When I deliver a sword to a client, I remind them that alot of my spirit has gone into the blade. As time passes, the sword will assume the owners spirit too. It will always have it's own spirit as well. When you combine these three elements - you must treat the blade with respect!
There are no two blades alike. Each sword is very unique and a personal experience for me. The question I am most frequently asked is, "how long does it take to make a sword?" The answer: "until it is finished."
Phill Hartsfield has been making since the age of 11 years old. Although he makes many syles of blades, he is best known for his Japanese style knives and swords. Many years of study of the traditional blades have led him to his own expression of this art form. "The steel of the old blades was absolutely magical for that time, but I feel to ignore the advances of modern technology would be a compromise in producing the best possible blade." For a catalog, contact Mr. Hartsfield at his mailing address: P.O. Box 1637, Newport Beach, CA 92663 (714) 722-9792; or at his shop, "A Cut Above Knife Shop" 13095 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, CA 92643 (714) 636-7633.
The International Shinkendo Federation,
As I look forward to the New Year and all that it may bring, I am pleasantly surprised at the many positive things that have happened to the Shinkendo Federation as well as those that are planned for this year.
This is an important and exciting new year as our organization continues to grow and expand. There are many foreign students coming to the Honbu to train, and so Shinkendo will now expand to Europe. Shinkendo is also growing in the United States; as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I am scheduled to go to New Zealand, France, Alabama, Mississippi, Illinois and Arizona already in the first half of this year. Articles about Shinkendo will be published in both European and American magazines this year and long-range plans include a book on Shinkendo as well as several video tapes.
Shinkendo has grown and flourished and has gained a reputation for being a strong and professional organization. The goal of the International Shinkendo Federation is to lift the instruction of Japanese Swordmanship to its highest level. Instructors have a great responsibility to make that happen and students have a greater responsibility to learn and uphold that level to the best of their ability.
Please continue to train hard to improve both yourself and the Federation.
The Dynamics of Shinkendo Effecting Body Energy,
Shinkendo is a relatively new martial art that employs ancient samurai techniques which are continually evolving and being perfected by the founder, Toshishiro Obata sensei. One can analyze the various sword techniques involved in Shinkendo training, such as kesa, kiriage, and Yoko suburi from several perspectives.
One analysis could be the aspect of the actual physical exercising and conditioning that stimulates various muscle groups throughout the body. A regular student will often experience an increase in muscle size with the upper body and arms. The forearm muscle, particularly the brachial-radialis, will develop and grow in regular training. An instructor can apply digital pressure on the brachial-radialis area just below the elbow joint, and monitor a student's practice regularity by the apprising of local muscle development. The stimulation and physical development of the student's body will help the individual in other health aspects of their lives.
From a cardiovascular point of view, Shinkendo activity helps the heart by the stimulation of total blood flow circulating throughout the body's vascular system. The raising of the arms above the level of the shoulders, which is required when performing suburi, actually provides excellent stimulation to the heart and upper extremities. Jogging, for example, is a good stimulation for the heart and lower extremities, but does not have a direct effect of the upper extremities that the performance of suburi stimulates in the upper extremities. Many medical authorities feel that exercise that requires the arms to rise above the shoulder level is a key to maintaining a healthy heart and cardiovascular system.
From a psychological stand point, Shinkendo is an excellent vehicle to relieve stress created from everyday living. Our busy life styles can often cause an individual hyperness and mental stress that can have an impact on ones health. The physical demands of practice helps neutralize this Yang or strong feeling of stress from our daily activities. If an individual does not neutralize this stress feeling , they are likely candidates for future digestive problems, including ulcers. The psychologists refer to the term, sublimation, which is substituting a socially accepted physical activity to relieve stress and negative energy. The physical demand of Shinkendo, is a perfect activity to help provide an individual an avenue for this psychological release.
From an acupuncture consideration, the body is controlled and operated by our Ki, Chi, or natural healing body energy. The participation in physical activities, especially the martial arts, can help keep body's Ki in balance. By keeping the body's energy balanced, the person can maintain a natural higher resistance to sickness and stress. Exercise is one of the Five Laws of Health that are emphasized in a healthy life style that employs acupuncture management of an individual. The Five Laws of Health will be covered in future articles of the International Shinkendo Federation newsletter.
Obata Sensei visits Northern California for seminars,
Once again we pulled together Obata Sensei's annual seminar. We had the happy dilemma of needing a larger location to accommodate all the folks attending. We searched high and low engaging the help of all students and associates. Finally, we found another space thanks to Jim Alvarez Sensei. He spoke to Sunny Skys Sensei about our need for mat space and he graciously offered full use of his dojo, in Freemont. All we had to do now was start the PR work.
As ready as we ever would be, we all collectively took a big breath and picked up Sensei and Tony-San from the airport. We tried a new approach and had him arrive early. We arranged for our student Josh Silvers to cook for Sensei while he was here. Josh is a chef extradordinaire who makes the most excellent food. Sensei had only good things to say about Josh and his cooking, and joked that he would love to have Josh travel with him as a personal uke and chef. So, after a leisurely lunch, we showed Sensei and Tony-san to their hotel while we checked for any last minute problems.
Friday's schedule consisted of a quick session with the kids class to sign autographs and have pictures taken (kids love this!). Then our private class with Sensei. This is a good for our students to get to know Sensei and for him to see how our school is coming along. After a good workout, we went to a local and popular vietnamese restaurant. Mike Sensei, a well known vegan (vegetarian, non-dairy eater), partook of some shrimp while we were dining. A few hours afterwards, he realized his grave error in judgement. If you've ever experienced shellfish poisoning, you'll understand. I drove Mike Sensei to the hospital where experienced doctors and nurses could be sure he would be OK, and we didnt come back to the dojo until Sensei was there for breakfast. Its a good thing we have an uchi-deshi program as Brent Sensei, Jorin, Greg and I were all clued in and ready to pick up the slack. Mike Sensei was to be confined to bed indefinitely. Somehow, we pulled it all together! Josh once again cooked a fabulous breakfast, and then suddenly it was time for the teacher's seminar. This year, our teacher's seminars were arranged slightly differently. So as to have two Shinkendo classes, we cut the Aikido out (oops! bad pun). We had a beginning teacher's seminar, and one for teachers who have been practicing and training in Shinkendo regularly. After a few hours, we relocated to Fremont at the Aiki Zenshin dojo, a beautiful, large dojo perfect for Shinkendo. Sensei taught both Aikido and Shinkendo with Tony-san being his primary uke. Sensei split the class so as to continue the advanced students in kumite and and have appropriate techniques for the beginners.
On sunday, Mike Sensei woke up saying he felt much better, so he cautiously joined us for breakfast with Sensei and Tony-san. We then had our second morning of the teacher's seminars. We really got to nail down Sensei's exciting new kumites: Ryu Sui and Isonami. We then had enough time to do tameshigiri. Everyone cut well under Sensei's supervision.
After lunch, we were back at it in Fremont again. The weather turned against us, hitting the triple digits. So, battling the heat with fans turned high and doors propped wide open, we ran our seminar at full capacity. Despite crowded conditions, the energy was high-thanks to Sensei's example. You can be sure we drained the dojo's coolers dry! At the end, Sensei presented everyone with certificates, some for participating and some with rank - including almost a dozen teaching certificates. After such a hot seminar, it was a relief to close up the dojo and end with a quiet, relaxed, and air conditioned dinner at a nearby Japanese restaurant. Sensei regaled us with his tales of travels to Europe-including an amusing analogy comparing French cuisine to a panda's face. We then took Obata Sensei and Tony-san to Oakland Airport.
Once again we thank Obata Sensei for his time and energy in providing us with an educational and exciting weekend.
Book Review - "The Sword of No Sword",
I recently read John Stevens' book The Sword of No-Sword, a biography of Ono Tetsutaro (Also known as Tesshu), the founder of the Muto Ryu School of swordmanship. Tesshu was born in Edo in 1836 and lived until 1888. The Muto Ryu School was founded in 1880, and was known for the severity of its' training regimen and spiritual intensity. Muto Ryu means "no-sword style". Essentially, this refers to the concept that "outside the mind there is no sword. 'no-sword' means 'no mind'". No-mind is a mind that is calm and flexible, so that thoughts do not intervene between intention and action. The swordsman who attains no-mind does not think of victory or defeat and is therefore invicible.
Stevens Sensei's amusing biography of Tesshu is, he admits, spurious on some accounts, but nonetheless forms an impressive compilation of extant stories about Tesshu. By all accounts, however, Tesshu was a remarkable swordsman who's dedication to training, calligraphy, and Zen resulted in true mastery of those arts. An important figure in Japanese history whose public life spanned from the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate to the Meiji restoration, his intense focus on developing the spirit was inspirational.
I recommend this book to anyone who hasn't read it - particulary the last chapter, which is a collection of Tesshu's writings on Swordmanship, training, and other subjects:
For years I forged my Spirit through the study of Swordsmanship,
Yamoaka Tesshu; June 1880
Sword Crafts: Tsukamaki for Beginners,
Have you noticed that the wrapping on your favorite shinken or iaito is becoming frayed or loose? Perhaps you or someone at your dojo has had an opportunity to purchase a nice sword, but had to pass because the deteriorated condition of the tsuka would make the sword unsafe, or replacing it and other vital parts of the sword's mounting would be too costly? If so, then you have a couple of great reasons to begin learning tsukamaki, or handle wrapping.
With Shinkendo growing as it is, new students at your dojo and around the world will be acquiring shinken for cutting and iaitos for practice. As these swords and their mountings are subjected to the stresses of daily use, they will naturally begin to get loose and sloppy wrappings and pins. The salt and body oils from your hands and the twisting forces of proper tenuchi (grip) will eventually cause some loosening of the tsukaito on the sword handle. This is not conducive to a good grip, nor is it very attractive!
Here at the Moline dojo, I have had good luck in learning to recondition sword handles. Having completely rebuilt and rewrapped about twenty handles in the last three years, I've learned the in's and out's of tsukamaki. While my methods may not be entirely traditional, the results have been durable, attractive, traditional in appearance and, best of all, 110% safe!! If you have your sword handle made or reworked by someone else, you have no control over the results. If you do it yourself, you can save a bunch of money and make it as safe as possible.
Teaching you how to do tsukamaki is beyond the scope of this article. It would take and entire manual to do this. But I can give you a quick overview of the process and point you in the right direction. The information and materials are out there; you only need to know where to look.
Video cassettes are a great way to learn. A good basic video on tsukamaki can be purchased from:
Token Konno, P.O. Box 68462, Seattle, WA 98168
I suggest you call first at (206) 823-1666 and ask if the video is still available. I purchased one of these tapes about two years ago and have not regretted it. The tape will show you the basic wrap idea, how to make those cool little paper forms that go under the ito to hold the diamond shape nice and crisp, and most importantly, how to tie those very special knots at the end. This tape will give you the basic idea how to wrap a handle. As you get better at it (practice, practice) you will want to modify your technique a bit. For practice I suggest cutting the handle off of that old cracked and chipped kumite bokken you have laying around. Plane the sides of the handle flat, get yourself some long (72" or so) shoelaces and go to town.
You can learn a lot about handle wrapping by being observant when you unwrap the old tsukaito. Notice how each wrap is folded over or under the ito from the other side. This process not only creates the traditional diamond shape where the same, (ray skin) shows through, but also "locks down" the ito under it. In this way, no section of ito travels more than half way around the handle before it is held down by another section of ito placed over it. The guys who invented this system were clever.
Consider using some types of adhesive under the wrapping to prevent slipping. I have and will continue to do so. Some traditionalists and collectors have coronaries when they discover this! If the proper glue is applied to the proper place in the proper way, it is virtually unnoticeable and give tremendous strength and durability to the handle. I recently completed a cord wrapped handle and soaked the wrapping with acrylic resin. It gives an excellent gripping surface and strengthens the entire handle. Sort of like the weather proofing on Paul Champagne's handles except I used a dyed cotton cord instead of traditional silk. The guys at the dojo liked this handle very much, so I'm doing another one at the time of this writing. Experiment with modern or untraditional materials. Try to find something that works for you. Remember, practice, practice. Oh yeah, it's probably not a good idea, when just getting started, to borrow that prized 16th century katana from your best friends collection in hopes of "surprising" him with a beautiful, freshly wrapped handle on his birthday. He'll be surprised all right! Start with stuff that's basically junk already. Something you can't make any worse. Get good at working on your own sword before you solicit work from others.
Take notes and measurements. Notice the position of the menuki (ornaments) under the tsukaito. Notice and note form which side the wrapping starts. Be observant. All learning processes in life begin this way. First, we observe and emulate. We allow ourselves to be taught because we're naturally curious. We want to know. After a while we learn to teach ourselves. Then, finally, we teach someone else in hopes that they can exceed our best efforts and take the art to an even higher level. Some food for thought, here. You can compromise tradition by using non-traditional methods in order to gain durability. You can compromise durability to get closer to a traditional or accurate historical context. But never, ever, compromise safety. Never transfer a sword you know to be in an unsafe condition to an uninformed person. You are responsible. Your honor is at stake here. Accidents must never happen.
Another great source of information is the Fred Lohman Company. Fred not only offers a catalog featuring top notch fuchi, kashira, menuki and tsuba reproductions, but can also be coaxed out of tons of "how to" information. I order all or my same, and silk tsukaito from him. In the past, this gentleman has helped me tremendously. "Same, has a grain you know. You must orient it on the handle in the right direction so that it prevents the ito from sliding down the handle. It's rough in one direction, smoother in the other." Thanks, Fred, I know now! His catalog has become, for me, a swordsman's wish book of sorts. He also offers sword polishing, handle wrapping and scabbard restoration. Send $5.00 to:
Fred Lohman Company, 3405 N.E. Broadway, Portland, OR 97232-1818, or call him at (503) 282-4567.
Geoff Hicks Sensei at our dojo has a handle he made and wrapped himself. It has hardware that he purchased from Fred Lohman; beautiful stuff and a very nice handle. Mr. Hicks will tell you, if he can do tsukamaki, you can as well! By this time I hope your appetite has been stimulated for sword crafting as well as sword arts. I wish there was space to give you a detailed "how to" course in tsukamaki. If you are truly interested in pursuing this and need more information or encouragement, send me a postcard at:
Brian VanSpeybroeck, P.O. Box 456, Bettendorf, IA 52722.
Please include a phone number. I'm not good about writing, but I'll help if I can. You can also contact me through the Moline Eagle Shinkendo Dojo. The address is listed in the dojo directory in this newsletter. (and online)
Train hard in Shinkendo and remember, anything worth doing is worth doing "shin".
River Junction Dojo,
We began our Shinkendo school here in Iowa May 25, 1996. Our dojo is built in the back of a renovated general store and post office that had started as a trading post in the early 1840's. While it seems as if it has taken a long time, each week I observe more improvements that are accomplished.
We have already begun sharing books on Samurai history, dress customs, and fighting strategy. One of our members has made fighting armor. As we each find our talents, we will also see our dojo and ourselves grow in body, mind and spirit. Already, we have seen in the process of our training a growing spirit of wanting to be the best in what we do on all levels. We plan to video tape some of our sessions to check our form. The dojo now has a six by eight foot mirror to help us. This immediate feedback is a helpful and cruel taskmaster.
In connection with an annual Hog Roast and picnic that we put on for our friends and patients of our clinic we had our first public demonstration. Shihan Birdsell led twelve of us in the demonstration where we showed suburi, kata, kumite and tameshigiri techniques. After the Shinkendo demonstration there was a Kendo and Kumdo demonstration by Birdsell Shihan and Sensei Outterson. There were about 75 people there to watch even though it was early in the party. We then enjoyed playing volleyball, listening to music as well as socializing. We finished the evening with our annual fireworks display.
We are so thankful that Moline Eagles club has supported our early efforts here and hope to have a rich future together in this area. In the fall, we will sponsor Sensei Obata's trip here for the "SSW" seminar. Plans are well under way for this event and we are looking forward to his visit. We welcome any of you to come join us and will be glad to help find lodging etc. For any of you traveling through the Midwest, please come visit.
Our address and phone number are listed in the Shinkendo directory (and online). We are honored to be a part of this growing family.
Among the philosophies Obata Soke has incorporated into Shinkendo class, the way of "Ikki Hyakuwa" stands out in my mind:
...A seed falls to the ground. As the tree begins to grow, it experiences many hardships, and during the summer season the sun scorches the earth and brings drought to the land. After weeks of receiving very little water, someone comes across the tree and provides for it. As fall approaches, rains wash away the soil from the tree's roots, and again the same person comes along to cover the tree's exposed roots. With enough care, this tree grows up to become not only healthy, but strong enough to stand up to the elements on it's own. Because of this the tree prospers and is now able to produce sapplings that will some day become trees themselves.
Another tree begins it's life the same as the first - going through droughts in the summer and heavy rains in the fall. While this tree endures the same hardships as the previous tree, it has no one to cultivate and protect it through these difficult times. This tree will eventually be overcome by its enviornment, weaken, and eventually die.
The relationship between the tree and it's care-taker is not unlike the relationship between a Shinkendo-ka and their Sensei. A teacher will put a great deal of time and effort into his students to make them stronger, healthier people (mentally, physically and spiritually). In addition, the Sensei will be passing on his positive energy to his students as well. However, despite the teachers efforts, some students are unreceptive to the efforts they put forth. A student must hunger for the help and knowledge. Although they may not necessarily become weaker from a lack of hunger, or drive, they will not become stronger either. It can easily be seen how this type of situation would not benefit the individual, other students or the teacher, and may in fact only waste the dojo's time and effort. If you are not serious in your endeavor, you can not gain its rewards - and it can not benefit from you either.
When training someone to become an Instructor, a tremendous amount of time and care is put forth. Eventually, this student will evolve to a point where they are able to care for and teach their own students. And just as their Instructor had nurtured them to a higher level, so the new Instructor will expend time and energy into their future teachers. The nature of this teaching is to encourage the exponential growth and healing of others throughout the world.
Ikki Hyakuwa literally means to raise one tree, you must cultivate the land one hundred times.
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