Interview of Kuroda Tetsuzan, inheriting tradition - Kishinkai
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Interview of Kuroda Tetsuzan, inheriting tradition

Interview of Kuroda Tetsuzan, inheriting tradition

 

Interview of Kuroda Tetsuzan, inheriting tradition – by Leo Tamaki

 

Kuroda Tetsuzan is one of the greatest current martial art masters. When he was 20 years old, he became the youngest practitioner ever to receive the title of Hanshi Hachidan (8th dan) of Kobudo from the Dai Nippon Butokutai. Outstanding practitioner, he is also an exceptional theorist who exposed the principles regulating the use of the body in traditional martial ways.

 

Kuroda Tetsuzan

 

Sensei, when did you start practising martial arts?

When we asked this question, I usually answer that I seriously started training when I was 5 years old. But in truth, I do not remember starting at a particular moment.

I was hearing the sound of bokkens[1], shinais[2] and kiais in my mother’s womb. I was born and raised in this world. The dojo was separated from the house only by a partition; I grew up with the sound of practice. As far as my conscious memories go back, I have always been training with adults.

 

Your childhood must have been quite different from most children.

I was not doing a special training. I was raised according to the classical way in a particular surrounding.

I do not remember, but I have been told that, as a child, I sat down on my father’s laps and he would let me roll a newspaper and hit him with it. A kind of spontaneous ludic training. (Laughs)

 

Did you enjoy practising, or was it more like a chore?

 I only remember being told “It’s training”. I was working on the katas[3], then someone would put the suit of armour on me for the exercises. These are the memories I have.

But at my grandfather’s funerals, one of the sempai[4] who was roughly ten years older than me told me “Tetchan[5] you really did not listen at all. You were running away, crying and running everywhere! Several adults were needed to control you and put your armour on.”

I have no memories of this, but it is probably hard for a child to have to wear a suit of armour. It seems to me that is what happened when I was little, but I don’t remember.

 

On your website, there are some pictures of you, as a kid, during a demonstration. Were you practising reluctantly at the time?

 I think I was in 5th grade, primary school. I was around 11 years old. It is not that I went to the dojo by my own because I loved it. It was just something natural, part of my daily life.

 

Do you have brothers and sisters?

I have a younger sister. But she never trained. Adult, she wanted to practise Iai[6]. I told her she could start and my grand-father arrived at the dojo. He talked to her as he would have with any other student. “What is that? That’s incorrect.” And she stopped as suddenly as she started. (Laughs)

 

Kuroda Yasuji, the grandfather of Kuroda Tetsuzan, practising Jujutsu

 

When did you become Soke[7]?

 There was no denjushiki[8], or anything particular. My grandfather always took me with him to Kyoto’s embukai[9]. In the end, when he was no longer able to go following a stroke, he sent me with the disciples.

When he died, my father simply told me that he had told him that I was to be his successor. Things happened like this, very naturally.

 

 Did you receive the school’s edenshos at your grandfather’s death?

While alive, my grandfather gave me the ryu’s edenshos[10] step by step. Once I asked him if there were Iai’s edenshos and he answered no.

One day he came to see me and told me “Here you are.” Giving me Iaijutsu’s edenshos. He had a precise idea about when to reveal edenshos. (Laughs)

 

What kind of person was your grandfather?

 He was a kind grandfather. When he took the train to go to an embukai, he would smile to a baby the whole way. He had a really handsome face with his shaved head, like a monk. He looked like a jizo[11]! (Laughs)

 

Kuroda Yasuji practising Iaijutsu

 

How was he during training?

 I don’t know because he was not staying at the dojo during classes. When I started to practise on my own, he would then come and look at me smiling. Being observed while practising really annoyed me. (Laughs)

First he told me all the time that my saya[12] was late, that my left hand was too slow. He would look at me for one hour then go back to his room. But whether he was in the dojo or not, he saw the same way: he knew what was happening there.

He had the imposing presence of someone who has mastery.

 

How did your teacher’s beginnings go?

 I started teaching after university. I started with four or five students, some adults and a few children. Step by step, the word that it was a serious dojo spread and students began to come.

 

Did your father or grandfather teach you katas?

 I learned the katas from my grandfather. I have been practising katas since childhood, but whenever I forgot a bit I asked one of the sempais close to my grandfather. He is the one who told me the anecdote at my grandfather’s funerals.

My grandfather wanted to adopt him because he was gifted and training seriously.

 

We hear a lot of stories about your grandfather. In particular, I heard that he fought against four yakuzas[13].

 I think the story took place in Omiya, on the Hikasando. But they were not four. They were seven or eight. I did not witness the scene, but several people that lived in the neighbourhood told it to me.

My grandfather was walking in getas[14] and found himself surrounded by a group of yakuzas armed with aikuchis[15]. My grandfather then took a geta in each hand and hit all of them on the head while insulting them of stupid. They all ran away! He cleaned his getas and started walking again.

He hurt no one; he was that kind of person.

 

Kuroda Yasuji practising Kenjutsu

 

I also read several stories where he demonstrates an incredible ability to cut.

There are a few anecdotes.

One happened at Toyama’s military academia, during the war. He had been asked to come and teach soldiers how to cut. At the time, training consisted to cut bamboos stuck into the ground.

My grandfather told them: “You are militaries and will not face opponents simply waiting seated or standing. Train yourselves to cut while running!”.

The instructor answered it was much easier said than done, and asked for a demonstration. My grandfather then took a military sword and cut all the bamboos while running.

What is important is not that he cut all the bamboos, but the way he did it. He did not stop to ground himself and to cut diagonally. He cut them all horizontally while running, and just with a little movement of the wrist!

The instructor then told him: “You can cut like this, but it is impossible for soldiers to do so.” My grandfather then left. (Laughs)

There is another story that happened during the war. At the time, there were meetings to encourage the soldiers leaving for the front. Servicemen were doing demonstrations, and one of them tried to cut three bamboos filled with sand, wrapped in a tatami mat. He cut with strength and managed to cut halfway through.

He then offered to the present kendo master to try to cut, but as they were not used to this kind of exercise they declined one after the other.

My grandfather accepted the offer but said: “As this is my job, there is nothing interesting in cutting with a sharp sword.” He took a sword not sharpened from the dojo’s wall and cut them all back and forth in kesagiri[16] in one instantaneous motion.

It is also the people living nearby that told me this story. They were all astonished. Everyone was proud and surprised of having such a master in Omiya.

 

It seems that your grandfather had reached a considering level.

 My grandfather had the power of a warrior, the ability to apply things in a real situation. The kind of ability he demonstrated by fighting off the yakuzas. He had worked as much on form as on combat.

His movements were magnificent. He was holding the sword so lightly. Not in an ostensible way, but with a real lightness.

He settled in Omiya at 25 years old. Until there he had been able to completely immerse himself into his practice and rapidly received the school’s heritage. But from this time on, he focused on training his disciples and did not have the leisure to really train any longer.

Since I left university, it has been 30 years during which I could train myself more than my grandfather. If he had had this possibility, he would probably have reached the level of Meijin[17], the greatest masters in history.

 

The Shinbukan[18] is made of five schools. Have these traditions been brought together because they share the same principles, or did they get “transformed” when they got united?

 The Shinbukan was founded by Kuroda Yahei Masayoshi, and it is at that time that these five traditions got united. Several people asked me the same question and I was even told that if they are practised by the same person, all the schools become similar and lose their specificity.

The question is to know what a ryu’s[19] specificity is. I am not sure to understand what people mean. Is it, as in Karate for example, the height of the fist in guard like Shuri-te or Naha-te that matters? Or is it the way to use the body?

If it’s the way to use the body, it is something else. All the bodies are similar. Whether someone raises the arm or lowers it, it’s the same thing. After, you have to see if the movement is correct. Not the form.

 

Master Kuroda demonstrating the use of the chest in a cut.
“Raising or lowering the arm does not matter, it is the same thing. The movement has to be right. Not the form.”

 

A school’s specificity is a very complex topic that has been debated since the Edo period. Numerous writings can be found on the subject.

Ryugis and ryuhas[20] present differences in terms of forms and guards, this is natural. But being able to recognise someone’s affiliation to a school just by seeing him move is a fault or a bad habit. It is not the kind of things we can bet our lives on.

The movements have to be mushu mushoku, odourless and colourless.

 

There is therefore no school’s specificity?

There are some in the katas, the positions, the guards, the weapons used (ken[21], bo[22], jutte[23], etc.). These are not the problematic elements. How to move from this situation, this position?

Everything linked with the “ambiance” in the way of moving is a “tic”, a bad habit because the movements are “visible”.

One of the schools is named Tsubaki Kotengu-ryu Bojutsu[24]. We can then imagine that, in a school founded by a Tengu[25], we have to move as a Tengu. (Laughs) I then admit my incompetence.

 

Jutte-jutsu from the Komagawa Kaishin ryu

 

Does it mean that practitioners from old times moved like you are?

I cannot tell how they moved. But my grandfather’s students that reached mokuroku[26] before war moved exactly like him. There was nothing. Just pure movements without mannerism.

At the Shinbukan, there was a kyu[27] system, but no dan. After the first kyu, we received the transmission, the mokuroku.

Up to the 5th or 4th kyu, there were still some tics. The practitioner could be strong in combats, but that is something else.

From the 3rd kyu, the kata was identical, whoever was doing it. We could therefore learn it from any of them. This is a level I haven’t yet brought my students up to.

 

Is this the reason why no one except you is entitled to teach at the Shinbukan?

 Yes. I want the transmission to be unaltered. Because the goal is for the students to copy exactly what I do. When I teach, people don’t see, they don’t understand. In the advanced class, I teach in details: from the walk to the bow or the sword’s grip, etc. Some of them acquired the walk. But it is forbidden for them to teach.

During the educative exercises they can make their partner feel when strength is used, when it blocks. They can explain what is researched or the theory behind the movement, but they are not allowed to show the kata.

It is forbidden because otherwise the kata would become this person’s copy.

Let’s imagine that you receive a kata through a master’s teachings. You look but you don’t see. You then ask a sempai to show you what you did not understand. The sempai then shows the kata, and things become clearer. You see and you understand. You then start practising, and in fact you learned the sempai’s kata. Everything making the study interesting and rich disappeared. The invisible movements became visible.

In the past, whoever taught you the kata, the form was intact. But today, there are no more students of that level. If you learn the kata with A or B, your movements will directly become A’s or B’s. Because you see their movements, it is easy to copy them. You only learn the wrong side of a school’s specificity and miss its essence. You have to learn odourless and colourless movements. These are the only ones that will allow you not to be cut.

 

 

You don’t use kyu’s system anymore?

I don’t use the kyu’s system that defines what one has to learn by level. This system creates a pyramid with a really large base that shrinks very quickly as only the ones that are able to correctly learn the forms are able to discover what lies behind them.

I try to make sure that everyone practises and progresses together, that everyone enjoys practising the gokuis[28] in the katas or the asobi geiko[29].

The training that everyone currently follows, even if it may be katas omote[30], is not at the level of katas omote. It’s a practice of a really high level. At the Shinbukan, everyone works on the superior principles right from the start (musoku[31], ukimi[32], etc.).

If I had to define the criteria for such or such kyu, everyone would work only in this direction. In a modern world of Budos and Bujutsus, it might be the specificity of our school.

This way of doing is sometimes poorly considered by the traditionalists ryus, as it is a very modern vision of teaching. Similarly, the asobi geiko practised in a relaxed atmosphere are often poorly understood. (Laughs)

 

Kuroda Tetsuzan at the Night of the Traditional Martial Arts 2007 (picture by Sebastien Chaventon)

 

There were no educative exercises in the past?

No, we only worked on the katas, then we put on our combat gear. Practice was essentially half repetitions of katas, half combats.

 

When did you start asobi geiko?

 I started using the term in writing seven or eight years ago. But the asobi geiko started much before. It came out of several meetings.

My exchanges with Kono Yoshinori, and others, have lead me to reconsider my practice and the inheritance of the Shinbukan. The fact that I cannot yet efficiently use such or such part of a kata made me work again and again on this or that movement. This is how the asobi geiko were created.

It is not something I thought about creating, but it came to life very simply. During a class, we would only focus on a movement in a specific kata, exploring each tiny detail. By doing so, I could entirely rediscover my whole practice. Why was no unbalance created by doing the movement this way, which use of the body made the technique efficient…

 

Asobi geiko

 

Nowadays, there is no more armoured practice. Is it because it’s useless?

There are two main reasons. First, there is the lack of time. But there is mostly the fact that after having worked on movements with extreme sensitivity, everything disappears whenever the armour is put on. If we train for three hours to practise without strength, everything disappears after the first strike and the three hours of training just vanish! By working like that one would never be able to modify the way of using the body.

People smiling or happy when they are hit are rare. (Laughs) And even if we tell people to work softly, often they are not aware they use strength. People change under an armour. The same way that they do behind the wheel of a car. We can ask them not to hit near the ears or not to put some strength, but the instructions are not respected. It is a problem that I know well, and I don’t want to waste any time like that.

Moreover, combat is used to measure technical abilities, but first you need a technique to measure before putting the armour on. (Laughs)

 

When you fought armoured, where you practising with the modern Kendo’s postures?

No, we practised the Komagawa Kaishin-ryu, the hips low, the kissaki[33] high. At the Budokai’s times we still fought with kendokas and they were always surprised by the height of our sword. The kamae[34] was totally different.

 

Komagawa Kaishin ryu Kenjutsu (picture by Pierre Sivisay)

 

Are ukimi, musoku and the other theories old okudens[35] or discoveries you have made?

These are things I have developed by myself when I re-examined my practice, from suburis[36] to katas.

Obviously, concepts such as making short things long, using long things as short ones, existed. For example, we practised the suburis near the shojis[37] to be able to use the sword in a limited place without touching the walls or the ceiling. These were the kind of concrete things.

By doing this, we understood that the sword must not turn. If it doesn’t turn we cannot use momentum, whipping or throwing motion like a baseball bat. If we cut by whipping or with momentum, we need power to have speed, which increases with the length of the object.

In the basic suburi, wa no tachi, we are confronted with a fundamental principle of the school that is made of cutting without momentum, whipping or making a circle. These are theories I have rediscovered and formalised.

 

Based on the example you mentioned, can a weapon then be used the same way whether it’s long or short?

Of course. There is a renown Iai technique that consists of stopping a tanto attack with the sword at a distance of 9sun 5bun, which means less than 30cm, with a katana. If practice does not allow the execution of such things, it is useless. If we unsheathe with an amplitude, we finish impaled before the sword was out. How would one bet his life on such a limited technique?!

There are many stories about Iai great masters that illustrate this principle, but it is obviously not the essence of Iai. Only one of the things we must be able to perform.

 

 

When you formalised your theories, did you get the inspiration from other schools?

I sometimes speak about the Alexander method, because I realised by reading a book that it is similar to what we do. One of the principles described is that we must not move just with the idea of the movement, but by being fully conscious about what we are doing. But I have not studied it and did not get inspired by it, or by other schools by the way.

 

Have you ever seen other schools or masters using the same principles as you?

I have never met any, but I never looked for them either. It is entirely possible that other schools have similar principles. However, there are schools that use similar terms such as seichusen[38] or musoku, but that do not cover the same work or the same concept.

 

You often explain that those who cannot see don’t see. What do you mean by that?

In every domain, an exercised eye will perceive things most people can’t. It is not measurable things that are easy to see and can be counterfeited, but the essence of things. It is the sight that goes beyond often misleading appearances, that is able to recognise a treasure even when covered in mud.

In the field of martial arts, it is not necessary, for example, to be a practitioner to recognise such things. Nishioka sensei, the Shodo[39] master, sees perfectly the seichusen when it is completely invisible to the common of people, even practitioners.

After watching the video where I use a bo, he told me: “I was seeing something weird when watching it, but without managing to discover what it was. Until I saw that your whole body was constantly hidden by the bo.”

The technique indeed consists in being all the time protected by the bo. But it is not about being really behind the bo, which diameter of course cannot hide the width of a body, even from the side. But he saw and understood the technique. If we discuss this matter with someone without this ability to see, he would just answer: “Obviously we can see you!”

 

Shinbukan Kuroda ryugi

 

In Shinbukan, we always practise with softness, without going through a work in strength that is often the basis or a necessary transition in other schools or disciplines. What is the reason?

It is a question of level. We practise Jujutsu[40] and it’s an art that relies on softness. Whenever my grandfather saw people practising with strength, we would say: “This is Gojustsu[41], not Jujutsu”.

 

At the Shinbukan, the practice of weapons also takes place without violent clashes and impacts. Why is that?

It is also a question of level.

 

Can or should beginners then practise with strength and power?

In absolute terms, it is not really a problem that they practise like this. But by doing so, it is very difficult to evolve and progress to another practice. In an era where we have less and less time, and where we can only allocate a few hours per week or month, it is impossible to enter another dimension of practice by training like that.

This is why I teach the superior principles to my students, from the beginning. I also require them to absolutely practise without using strength. If we use strength, we are directly in a very limited work. By receiving these teachings from the beginning, it is normal to put them straight into application.

Some say that we should not imitate elderly people when we are young, that we should use our body as much as possible. It is not that we should not use our body’s resources.

When we look at my grandfather’s body, or his brother’s we are impressed. But it is a body they have developed and acquired by training days and nights since their youngest age, using the principle of not using strength.

They did not develop it by lifting rocks, climbing mountains or carrying branches. (Laughs) It is by relentlessly practising without strength that they developed such thick arms. And this is a truly remarkable work.

Developing such a body without using strength requires unbelievable amount of training. It’s generally something developed only by intensive practice started very early in life. Being born in a martial arts masters’ house, they practised all day while students came and went. At the time, after a day of training without using strength it occurred that my grandfather could not hold his chopsticks any more and needed someone to wrap his fingers around.

This was really a terrifying level. You have to imagine mokurokus’ training occurred at an unbelievable speed.

 

Shishin Takuma ryu Jujutsu

 

At that time, as people spent more time practising, was it normal to let them practise with strength until they understood naturally?

No, such students were not accepted as only the one able to present the suburi correctly after three years were accepted. Even practitioners with kyu’s level had a high level, even if they were not yet at mokurokus’ level.

That was true training.

 

You speak about practice stages, what do you mean?

Nowadays, students practise similarly during their whole life. An 8th dan will do the same thing, but better, than a 1st dan. But the essence of their practice is identical.

Practice has to evolve, and the steps lead us to use our bodies differently. This is what I call entering another world.

 

When you were studying, did you receive explanations?

No. I learned the katas so young that I don’t remember it. There were no explanations.

 

Is it necessary to explain, or is teaching without explanations preferable?

Ideally, there is no need of words and authentic transmission occurs “i shin den shin[42]”.

Nowadays, if people want to study higher theories it is necessary to explain them. The problem is not really about knowing the mode of transmission.

In the current situation, the student needs to start by understanding the theories with his head. Then, when he starts moving, I tell him he’s using strength, his pushing into the ground. From there, the corrective work can start.

Without explanations, it’s possible to imitate the form, but not to understand the mechanisms of use of the body. I explain and demonstrate by making students feel the muscles I am using. But for the same movement, the muscles I solicit are completely different from the ones they use. If I did not give any explanations and only said: “This is how it is.” after a demonstration, the students would keep using the same muscles and the same way. There would be no evolution.

On the other side, it is evident that words only allow a superficial perception of things, and do not transmit the essence.

 

I explain and demonstrate by making the students feel the muscles I am using. However, the muscles I use for the same movement are completely different from theirs.

 

Do your movements still evolve?

I think so. I feel subtle changes still occurring, at least I hope so! (Laughs)

 

There are five schools in the Shinbukan. Wouldn’t one school be enough to learn the correct use of the body?

We say it is easier to climb stairs when the steps are not too distant. It is easier to understand things when we can see them under different lights.

People’s bodies do not move as they want. Once this awareness acquired, it is easier to improve by practising a wide variety of different movements.

As we mentioned earlier concerning the specificity of a ryuha, of its flavour, some think there is not enough time to master several schools. Here, the theories underlying the schools are the same and we aim to apply the theories, make our movements disappear with every school.

It is sometimes said of someone that he’s good in combats but not in katas. It is pointless. It is by becoming good at katas’ practice that we develop a true technical ability.

Obviously, the importance of katas and their intact transmission is only my personal opinion, and there are many people with different opinions. It is only the way of thinking underlying the tradition I have inherited.

However, only saying that katas are important is not enough. They are not to be conserved as ancient relics or museum pieces. Katas are tools that allow transformation of the body, a revolution in its use.

It’s totally different from a sport that usually develops the body in a general use. Speaking of which, I have always been bad at sports. The spirit did not suit me, but mainly I did not have a body adapted for this kind of practice. Moreover, I had no abilities to use a ball. (Laughs)

The first time I threw a shuriken I perfectly understood. I could easily throw a shuriken, but not a ball. I used my wrist in juntai[43] and without any whipping motion. Hence I never appreciated base-ball or this kind of things.

When I was young, I thought that physical abilities and speed declined with age. I was not conscious of the existence of a state where this law does not apply. These are movements I am now able to do.

 

Kuroda Tetsuzan and his son Yasumasa (picture by Sebastien Chaventon)

 

Are working out, running or stretching useless practices in your opinion?

Bujutsu wise, yes. But concerning health, it is different. Stretching in the morning can be beneficial for people, such as me, with a stiff body. When I became 40, I realised that my muscles were quite tense after the classes. I then started to regularly stretch. At first it does not go far. (Laughs) But it gets better.

There are around 300 katas in the Shinbukan. Does each contain a specific teaching?

No. Katas transmit the theories. But there are different levels of katas. Beginners’ katas have more movements. Then, by progressing the katas become simpler and simpler.

But simpler is not the right word, as their apparent simplicity hides a much greater difficulty. It is clear in Jujutsu or Kenjutsu where the first katas are made of several sequences and the superior katas are often made of only one movement.

In modern disciplines we often start by teaching simple techniques with a few movements. Bujutsus do the opposite.

The number of movements can appear as difficult, but it is all about doing one movement after the other. In superior katas, the principles have to be understood. You have to feel if the movement is effective or not, if the partner is taken or not. But for someone who does not have the capacity to see, this kind of work is useless. We can explain it however we want, if the person cannot see it, he will not understand it.

It is not that we react to a strike or a cut. But you must be able to seize what is invisible. Someone with a sharp look will see all the things happening, even when there is no movement. Whereas a non-educated eye will only see a frozen situation. People that only see the external form cannot understand. They imagine that such movement corresponds to such reaction, and that without movement nothing happens. They are blind.

There lies the true difficulty with the katas that appear very simple.

Beginners’ katas seem difficult due to their large number of sequences that train the body and teach how to move. In reality, they are easier to execute.

 

“Katas transmit theories”

 

Nowadays, only a few people in Japan are interested in the traditional ways, whereas combat sports are very popular. A recurrent argument is that katas are not techniques really applicable in combat. What do you think about it?

People who are good at fighting, are generally naturally good at it even if they do not train. Training in combat sports only allow them to develop these aptitudes.

Katas impregnate the body with theories, and transform it. Normal people’s movements are visible and can be stopped by another person. We practise so that our movement cannot be stopped, or seen and develop the ability to seize the moment when the partner has the intention to move.

It is not about developing the ability to break bricks. Our practice requires time. It is better that people who want to use what they have learned in brawls do not come to the Shinbukan. They will never be ready in time. It’s better for them to go and do push-ups, develop their muscles and endurance. This will probably be helpful quicker. But this has nothing to do with Bujutsu.

It is impossible to dodge a fast attack if we do not have the speed of a mongoose. We need animal-like abilities to dodge these kinds of attacks.

When two people fight in combat sports they oppose their physical qualities. We strive to develop a sensitivity that allows us to perceive an attack before it develops. We train to make the opponent attack where we want. This is the kind of training that seems meaningful to me.

But before fighting it is important to master your own body. For this, we first need to realize that we do not control our bodies even for movements as simple as raising the arm. We study to develop a body that moves freely.

I would like to bring the students, even a little bit, closer to the essence of the world of ken.

 

We practise to reach a movement that cannot be stopped, to make our movements invisible and to develop the ability to seize the moment when the partner has the intention to move.

 

What are the differences between Japanese, Chinese or western martial ways?

The main differences are cultural. In Japan, Bun (the culture) and Bu (the martial technique) are put on the same level. However, in China culture is considered as superior to martial practice, as it was reserved to mercenaries, guards, etc…

The relation to objects in practice is also different. Weapons were considered as training tools, nothing more.

In Japan, there is also the culture coming from the samurais. The katana was considered as the bushi’s[44] soul. It was, more than a simple fighting technique, a way to educate a man with moral values. Bushido is a gentleman’s education.

 

Have you met any masters that impressed you?

When I was young, my eyes were not seeing and I only looked at my grandfather movements that I found superb. The other senseis had undoubtedly magnificent techniques, but I was not able to be moved by them.

Recently something very surprising occurred to me. I was invited to Aiki expo[45] and I saw a demonstration by Ellis Amdur of Toda-ha buko ryu with his disciple. While watching, tears came to my eyes, and I wondered what was happening.

I kept thinking about it once back at the hotel, and finally understood what moved me. He was preserving the kata with all his strength. It was not the technical level that impressed me, but the fact that he preserved the kata so devotedly. In this situation, there is no distinction between a Japanese, an American or anyone else.

It is not that his movements were close to our school or that he used the same theories, but his kokoromochi[46] during the embukai deeply moved me.

Many probably considered katas important, but only Ellis Amdur moved me. The heart he put in preserving the kata deeply moved me, and I could not stop the tears from coming.

It’s because I put my whole heart in conserving the katas of my tradition that seeing such thing made me cry. I am truly grateful for taking part in this Embukai.

I would have loved to tell him by myself, but I could not say a word. During the end ceremony, I wanted to see him and tell him what I felt, but just by remembering the scene my voice struck in my throat. It is something that moved me deeply. It was amazing.

 

“I have put my whole heart in preserving the katas of my tradition.”

 

What is, for you, the goal of training nowadays?

This is what we mentioned earlier. The pleasure to be able to change our way of using the body, to see what is invisible; that is probably the most important.

If we go further, we reach a point where we ask ourselves what kind of life we live, we who are not able to stand up or walk. From the Bujutsu’s point of view, we do not have more abilities than a new born.

We aim to develop a body that has integrated the movements of past samurais. We aim to really use the body our parents have given us.

Shinbukan is not a school to become strong at brawling and destroy the opponent. The ability has to be there, but is not to be used. Bujutsu’s goal is not to cut off people’s head.

The world has become a place with much violence. But the goal of practice is not at all to learn how to hurt or kill. The other must not be able to accomplish his move. Ending a fight before it starts.

 

This is Bujutsu’s real aim. Resolve a conflict before it develops.

 

Kuroda sensei (picture by Sebastien Chaventon)

 

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Original interview by Leo Tamaki “Interview Kuroda Tetsuzan, la tradition en héritage”, published on 09/05/2010. Link: http://www.leotamaki.com/article-interview-kuroda-tetsuzan-la-tradition-en-heritage-50011591.html

Open translation by Nathan Augeard, with permission.

 

 

[1] Bokken: wooden sword

[2] Shinai: practice sword in bamboo

[3] Kata: pattern of movements teaching the principles of a school via specific forms.

[4] A sempai is an elder, an ancient of the school in this case.

[5] Tetchan is an affective nickname for Tetsuzan.

[6] Iai: art of unsheathing the sword.

[7] Soke: headmaster.

[8] Denjushiki: traditional ceremony where someone receives a license in Japanese traditional ways.

[9] Embukai: traditional demonstration of martial arts.

[10] Edenshos are parchments where the ryu’s (school) techniques are drawn.

[11] Jizo: a Bodhisattva protector of children.

[12] Saya: sword sheath.

[13] Yakuza: Japanese Mafioso.

[14] Getas: wooden sandals.

[15] Aikuchis: variety of tanto (knife) without guard, Japanese daggers.

[16] Kesagiri: diagonal cut.

[17] Meijin: practitioner with a great level and distinguished accomplishments.

[18] Shinbukan Kuroda Dojo: traditional martial art school coming from the time of the samurais.

[19] A ryu is a traditional school of martial techniques.

[20] Ryugis and ryhuas are martial traditions and styles.

[21] Ken: sabre.

[22] Bo: staff. In the Tsubaki Kotengu-ryu Bojutsu, the staff is similar to the one used in Aikido.

[23] Jutte: steel baton with a hook.

[24] Tsubaki Kotengu-ryu Bojutsu: the school of little tengu Tsubaki’s staff technique.

[25] Tengus are mythical Japanese creatures, a sort of imps who are masters in martial arts.

[26] Mokuroku is a diploma certifying a school’s transmission.

[27] Kyus and dans are grades used in martial arts.

[28] Gokuis: secret, superior principles of a school.

[29] Asobi geiko: educative exercise allowing to work on one or more principles in specific movements.

[30] Omote means what is visible, it is the case of the first teachings received.

[31] Musoku: theory that aims of not pushing into the ground.

[32] Ukimi: theory of the “floating body”.

[33] Kissaki: the sword’s point

[34] Kamae: guard.

[35] Okuden: secret, internal teachings.

[36] Suburi: repetitive cutting movement of sword.

[37] Shoji: Japanese sliding door, made of paper and wood.

[38] Seichusen: central line, axis.

[39] Shodo: the art of calligraphy.

[40] Jujutsu: ju means soft, justsu means technique.

[41] Gojutsu: go means strength.

[42] I shin den shin: from soul to soul.

[43] Juntai: theory of the Shinbukan that consists of using the body with less movements possible.

[44] Bushi: warrior.

[45] Aiki expo: seminar taking place in the US gathering Aikido and martial art masters.

[46] Kokoromochi: attitude, emotion.

 

2 Comments
  • Jeff Roberts
    Posted at 20:42h, 28 November Reply

    Fantastic interview. Thank you very much indeed.

    • Nathan Augeard
      Posted at 21:56h, 28 November Reply

      Hi Jeff,

      Thank you for reading the translation. I am glad that you enjoyed it.

      Kind regards,
      Nathan

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