Kendo Places #1: Reigando 霊巌洞

I’d like to start the first in a series of short articles entitled “Kendo Places” by writing about a place that all kendo enthusiasts should visit at least once in their life and that is connected with one of the most famous swordsmen in Japanese history: REIGANDO.

Reigando (霊巌洞) is basically a small cave in the mountains close to Kumamoto city. It is on the grounds of the very old Unganzenji temple (雲巌禅寺), and it was here, in this cave, where Miyamoto Musashi was said to have written his treatise the Go Rin no Sho (五輪書) in the early 1640’s.

Myself, my friend, and my sempai and his family travelled there by car early one morning back in 2004. It was a cold morning and we were a bit hungover. I revisited the cave in 2013 and have added some pics from that visit here.

After a good 30 mins or so drive from Kumamoto we arrived at the area, only to be greeted by a big white Musashi statue. The year-long NHG Samurai-drama had been “Musashi” in 2003 and during that year there had been a Musashi-boom. Anywhere even remotely associated with Musashi got an overhaul and loads of new products flooded the market. This gleaming statue was evidence of that.

2007-reigando-05

Heading down from the carpark we arrived at Unganzenji temple. Its very small and had a tiny showcase area of Musashi-related treasure, such as clothes and bokuto said to be used by him.

Going through that there is what is the most impressive thing to be seen at the area: the Gohyakurakan (五百羅漢). This is a small hillside with 500 small jizo statues sitting in various postures (and in various states). Its quite eerie to look at, and it must be quite scary in the evenings!

Passing through there and you reach the steps to the cave itself. We all went up there and we hung around seeing if we could get some inspiration… perhaps our kendo would become better due to visiting the place? The flyer (pictured above) had an image of Musashi sitting on the big rock outside the cave contemplating… so we promptly did the same thing!!!!

2004-reigando-03

The popularity of Musashi inside and outside of Japan is undisputed. What we concretely know about his life is very little and subject to academic study and close scrutiny. Did Musashi even write the Gorinnosho is a question that cannot be answered. That he lived, and that parts of his tale did actually happen (though probably not the way they are said to have… the fight with Sasaki Kojiro at Ganryujima is an example of that) seem to be enough to fascinate people in this man. if you are interested in him and wish to tread in his steps, then I recommend that you pay a visit to Reigando. Its off the normal tourist routes and its a bit hard to get to, but if you are even slightly interested in studying a bit more about the history of kendo, I strongly recommend that you take the time out to visit this place.

After soaking in the atmosphere for a bit longer we headed back into Kumamoto and finished our Musashi-day with a trip to Kumamoto castle. All in all, a good day was had.


Gallery

Some snaps from my first visit in 2004 and another in 2013.


Information

Yahoo Map: here (Japanese)
Address: Kumamoto-ken, Kumamoto-shi, Matsuo-cho, Iwato 589
Phone number: 096-329-8854.
Access: There is very limited bus access, so please go by car (call for directions).
Times: 8am-5pm.
Cost: Parking is free, but it costs adult 200 yen, and children 100 yen to get in.

Links
* Flickr “reigando” tagged photos.
* Unganzenji and Reigando (Japanese)


Other places in the series will include Ganryujima, Yagyuzato, Kashima Jingu, etc etc. Watch this space. Contributions accepted.

How to pass hachidan

Here is the advice that was given to my favourite teacher just prior to him passing his hachidan on this 4th attempt at the age of 49 a few years ago. The advice was given to him by the shihan of my dojo, a kendo hanshi who was in the last class of 5 people to graduate Busen (the legendary Budo Senmon Gakko in Kyoto). He was told to:

気勢・剣勢・体勢をもって正しく打ち切る。気攻めで、相手の気と機をつかむ。それを自然と身体が覚える。

  • With a vigorous spirit and sword, and a good posture, be decisive (in your actions and cutting).
  • Apply pressure to your opponent by reading their intent and seizing his openings with a strong and confident spirit.
  • Do this until your body can react and move naturally.

Luckily he goes on to expand it point by point:

気勢:立合は、必死も大きな声を出し、懸かる気持ちをみせる。
剣勢:左手、右手の使用で剣先がおちる打ち。
体勢:右足の攻めと、左足の引き付け、打突後のさばき。
正しく打ち切る:色を掛けないで、打ち間から、捨て切る打ち。
気攻め:留めて留めて丹田から前に押し出し攻め。
気と機をつかむ:その攻めにより、相手の気剣体の動きと、心の動きを観、初太刀の攻防。

  • vigorous spirit: with a big kiai do your utmost to project your feeling of attack on your opponent;
  • vigorous sword: using both hands correctly cut decisively and strongly with the kensaki.;
  • posture: use your right foot to pressure the opponent, don’t forget to pull up your left foot always, and be careful of your movement after you strike;
  • cut decisively: without showing your intention to strike and from uchima, throw your whole body (sutemi) into the cut;
  • attacking with your spirit: hold the attack in your tanden until breaking point, whilst pressuring forwards;
  • Apply pressure to your opponent by reading their intent and seizing his openings: using your seme, study your opponents movements, both his kikentai and his heart. Pay particular attention to the attack/defence of the opening cut (shotachi).

On top of the advice he received, he then adds his own points:

基礎体力の充実:走り込み・腹筋・背筋・腕立て。
切り返し・打ち込み稽古:朝稽古での切り返し、打ち込み稽古の継続。地稽古の後、面の打ち込み稽古。
基本技の継続:機を熟しての打ち切る技の反復。

  • Train your body to become stronger: run, do sit-ups, back stretches, and pushups;
  • Kirikaeshi / Uchikomigeiko: continually practise kirikaeshi and uchimomigeiko. After jigeiko, practise basic men cutting;
  • Continuation of kihon-waza practise: repeatedly execute decisive strikes at opportune moments.

This is a lot to digest, but just reading it has taken us all one step closer to hachidan!

Secrets of Kuzushi (崩し大全)

Inspired by George’s recent translations, I decided to be bold (and possibly foolish!) and offer up one of my own. As most of us know, kuzushi (崩し) is a very important concept in Japanese budo (武道). Kuzushi goes beyond merely unbalancing an opponent; it drives to the heart of destroying the opponent’s mental and physical composure so that a telling blow can be struck.

The following is a translation of the April, 2007 issue of Kendo Jidai (剣道時代2007年4月) “Kuzushi Taizen”(崩し大全).


末野栄二, 八段
1. 恐怖心を与えて崩す
2. 剣先で相手のクセを察知する
3. 剣先の円運動で攻め崩す
4. 手首の使い分けを意識する

Sueno Eiji, 8 Dan

1) Frighten your opponent so that their balance is broken
2) Uncover your opponent’s habits with your kensen
3) Create a offense by using a circling movement with your kensen
4) Be aware of the different uses of the wrist

Continue reading Secrets of Kuzushi (崩し大全)

Seme #1: Furukawa Kazuo

一足一刀の間合よりやや遠い間合で構え、相手の竹刀に表・裏から付けたり、軽く押せたりして相手の「心」・「気」に触れてみる。そこから、さらに竹刀の表・裏を力強く、短く張って中心を抑えながら一足一刀の間合に入り、時に剣先をわずかに突き出したり、グッと下にしたりして強い攻めをみせ、相手の手元の動きを見る。この時、足の動きは含み足で行なう。含み足とは、足指の全てを使って這うようにして一寸きざみに間合を詰める動きである。この攻めを何回かくり返し、相手の気分と剣先の動きを見ながら、攻め方と技の組み立てを考える。

– 古川和男、剣道時代の「名選手、錬磨の日々」(1983ー84)からの抜粋です。「錬磨の日々」の本は1989発行。

Seme

Taking your kamae from a little bit outside issoku-itto-no-ma, lightly feel out your opponents shinai on both sides, all the time testing and looking at his KOKORO (心) and KI (気). From there, strongly press both sides of your opponents shinai and – whilst taking control of the center line – enter into issoku-itto-no-ma, pushing his shinai out of the way. In particular try slightly thrusting your kensaki or quickly adjusting moving your kamae down. Whilst moving in strongly, observe your opponents hands closely. During this time, use FUKUMI-ASHI (含み足). “Fukumi-ashi” is when you use the toes in your feet to slowly creep forward, slowly and bit-by-bit taking ground and moving into a good distance. SEME like this many times and – while continually observing your opponents feeling (気分) and kensaki – think about the method of SEME and what technique(s) you can use to defeat them.

– Furukawa Kazuo, from the Kendo Jidai article series called “Mei senshu, renma no hibi” that was originally published in 1983-84. The series was published in a two book format called “renma no hibi” in 1989.


This is the first in a serious of short translations about kendo concepts from renowned sensei. I am not an expert in Japanese nor in translation, so I have left the original Japanese in place for the Japanese readers out there. If you have comments on the translation, please get in touch.

It was 30 years ago today!

Osaka Grading

Not only when Seargent Pepper taught the band to play, but when I lived in Kansai doing pretty much the same kendo stuff as George is doing today. One of the real differences between then and now is that through the wonders of internet, email and skype etc., it is easy to let friends around the world share your experiences, whereas then, you were pretty much on your own. So it is a new experience for me to be able to dip into George’s blog and compare notes. Having moved back to the UK at the end of the 70’s, a lot of things have changed, but having visited fairly regularly for Kyoto Taikai and grading examinations, there are no real surprises.

Continue reading It was 30 years ago today!