Introduction and Overview
In the medieval period of Japan (until 1868) there were hundreds of independent martial traditions (called ryu) maintaining practices of swordsmanship, archery, spear, and grappling; each with different organizing principles and distinct curricula. A small number of these traditions dating from the medieval period have survived to the current day, including Kashima-shinden Jiki Shinkage-ryu Heiho ( 鹿島神傳直心影流 兵法 ), which focuses on the combative use of the Japanese long sword (tachi) and short sword (kodachi).
Often called Jiki Shinkage-ryu in brief, the tradition is said to have been founded by Matsumoto Bizen no Kami (松本備前守正元, 1467–1524), who was an early student of Kamiizumi Ise no Kami, the creator of Shinkage-ryu. Ogasawara Genshinsai Minamoto no Nagaharu (小笠原源信斎源長冶, 1574–1644), was the 4th generation headmaster of the art. He spent 20 years in Beijing in the early 17th century, practicing Chinese martial arts. Jiki Shinkage-ryu looks quite different from other surviving lines of Shinkage-ryu, and his period of exposure to contemporary Chinese martial traditions may explain some of those differences. Sakakibara Kenkichi (榊原鍵吉, 1830–1894) 14th headmaster of Jiki Shinkage-ryu, was bodyguard of the last Shogun, and keeper of Edo castle.
The Jiki Shinkage-ryu practiced at Lonin is part of the line passed down from Namiki Yasushi, 18th generation headmaster. Mark Raugas studied Jiki Shinkage-ryu under Dr. David Hall, who trained under Namiki Yasushi in Tokyo. Mark now leads a small study group of this art in Seattle, Washington.
Jiki Shinkage-ryu maintains a curriculum of long sword (tachi) and short sword (kodachi), taught in five sections. Each section of arranged practices, or kata, are practiced with another person, and introduce either a fundamental teaching of the art in terms of its body organization and the mental demeanor the teachers of the art felt were important to achieve a high level of skill in swordsmanship, or a tactical component that taught an idea or principle of use in armored or unarmored combat. In Jiki Shinkage-ryu, foundational practices of suburi (cutting drills) and unpo (walking practice) allow practitioners to begin to develop the posture, alignment, and breath required of the art. A substantial amount of time is spend on these core practices before proceeding to the formal kata of the tradition. Jiki Shinkage-ryu contains a profound training regimen focused around the development of kiai (気合) using Taoist Five Element theory. It places emphasis on posture, breath, and focusing the mind and spirit. Its kata have a very austere character, and are very strenuous to perform.
Hōjō: The first set of kata in Jiki Shinkage-ryu are the Hōjō no Kata (法定之形) or “Four Seasons” kata. They provide the practitioner with a crucible that develops posture, distance, timing, spirit, and power, and sets the stage for being able to learn the strategy and tactics of the system. A heavy wooden sword (bokuto) is used that is approximately the same dimensions and weight as a Japanese sword (nihonto). Different types of breathing and combative vocalizations (kiai) are taught. The practice of Hōjō was said by Yamaoka Tesshu to be as valid a meditative practice as zazen. There are five kata in the set, four apparent (omote) and one hidden (ura), corresponding to the five elements of Taoism.
To No Kata: Once the body and spirit are developed sufficiently, the strategy and tactics of the art are taught as part of fourteen To No Kata, typically performed with leather wrapped bamboo swords (fukuro shinai) that allow for full power practice within combative range. After these kata are mastered, henka waza (variations) that explore each kata fully are practiced, and the students can be introduced to free sparring, called gekken.
Kodachi: At higher levels of practice, a very aggressive set of six kata with the short sword are taught. Timing, distance, power, and balance are stressed, and the notion of kuzushi (off-balancing). This practice, in henka waza, can lead into a study of kogusoku, the practice of close-range grappling with weapons in armor.
Habiki: Eventually, students are introduced to a formalized paired practice with metal swords called Habiki, that further develops precision, awareness, concentration, and internal principles in the practitioner. The practice of Habiki is considered the inner or hidden (ura) counterpart to the introductory Hojo no kata.
Marobashi: The last set of kata in Jiki Shinkage-ryu are called Marobashi, which is also an essential teaching (gokui) of other lines of Shinkage-ryu as well. In our group, we begin to explore teachings from other surviving lines of Shinkage-ryu to develop a complete sense of the tactics and strategy exemplified by the art.
Through a deep exploration of these practices, a person can come to develop as close an understanding of classical Japanese swordsmanship as is possible in the modern age.
Learning koryu kenjutsu is a slow and deliberate process. The curriculum of arts such as Jiki Shinkage-ryu have been formalized over several centuries by their teachers and inheritors, and are living traditions that should be approached earnestly and with serious intent. Students are expected to take the time to become familiar with concepts from traditional martial arts and culture. Basic fitness and a sound character is a prerequisite for training, as the teachings, if misapplied or performed carelessly, can be very dangerous. Prospective students begin by watching a training session (keiko) to get a sense of whether they have an affinity for the art. If it is of interest, they must then obtain a Jiki Shinkage-ryu bokuto (wooden sword) to use in their practice, be committed to regular attendance when classes are taught, and dedicate time to solo practice in between training sessions.
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