It’s a not uncommon sight on sword-related forums these days. An aspiring student of the Japanese sword arts, left-handed, joins the forum and asks about studying ken (be it kendo, iaido, or aiki-ken) with a left-handed grip. He is quickly informed that no, Japanese swordsmanship is a right-handed affair, that all Japanese swordsman were right-handed, saya were worn on the right and saya-ate avoided at all costs, and trying to learn it left-handed would be weird at best, uncouth and disrespectful at worst. Veteran lefties give him “Ganbare! I’ve been there, too!” encouragement. Righties tell him about all the things he’ll find easier because he’s lefty. Sometimes the lefty responds with resignation, and sometimes he rages against the system. The left-handed grip is natural for them! This adherence to right-handed grip only is outmoded, discriminatory, and stupid! This, predictably, turns just about everyone against him, lefty and righty alike. Continue reading Sinister Swordsmanship
After three years in Japan, I went back to the States and back to school, doing a BA in Psychology, particularly focusing on social and cultural psychology. I was quite fascinated at the idea of Japanese and other East Asian cultures thinking and even perceiving the world differently. Returning to Japan in 2005, I had a vague idea of wanting to get insight into that way of thinking, take what I could from it, and integrate it with my own Western way of thinking. The best of both worlds. But I had no idea how to really do that, other than living in Japan and picking it up via osmosis.
Not long after I joined Shinkage Ryu, one highly respected senior showed me a book, and suggested I read it. The book was by Professor Shimizu Hiroshi, and the title was (translating from the Japanese): The Theory of Ba (Place) As Life-Knowledge: the how of co-creation as seen through Yagyu Shinkage Ryu. Continue reading The How of Co-creation
On May 1st, 2007, I walked into the No. 2 Arena of the Tempaku Sports Center, in Nagoya, Japan. An elder gentlemen in a kendo-gi and hakama noticed me, politely smiled, bowed, and indicated the spectator seating with his hand. I sat down and observed Mr. Yagyu Koichi and another gentleman practice Sangaku En-no-Tachi, the quintessential form of (Yagyu) Shinkage Ryu. It was my first time to see Shinkage Ryu kata, and it was absolutely unlike anything I was expecting. I was especially impressed when the elder gentleman who greeted me practiced with Yagyu Sensei. Their zanshin, their intensity was amazing. They seemed ready to strike at any time. I was hooked, and after talking Yagyu Sensei and a few other long time practitioners, I resolved to join the Yagyukai, intending to attend the next practice on the 6th.
That practice never happened. On May 4th, 2007, Yagyu Nobuharu, the 21st soke of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, passed away. I have the dubious distinction of being the first deshi after his death.
It didn’t have to be that way.