Journal of Japanese Sword Arts

A monthly magazine dealing with all aspects of Japanese sword study.

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Issue #86 Nov 1997

Journal of Japanese Sword Arts

A monthly journal concerning all aspects of the use of the Japanese Sword. Articles, news, reviews, technical tips.

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$48 overseas.


Kim Taylor, ed.

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Guelph Ontario

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Pasi Hellsten, Finland

Sato Kimimaro Sensei instructed the first Mugai ryu seminar in Finland in connection with the Helsinki Arctic Meeting of Hontai Yoshin ryu jujutsu in June 1997.

Sato Sensei was born in 1936 in Nishinomiya. He began his Mugai ryu training 31 years ago under the guidance of the 11th Soke of Mugai ryu. He has now the grade of kyoshi, 8th dan in iaido. He also practices and teaches Hontai Yoshin ryu jujutsu, in which he has the highest grade possible in the art, menkyo kaiden. He is considered to be a very skilled teacher of the use of the short sword, kodachi. In addition to this he used to practice judo, but no longer does. He has until recently taught judo to children, but even this activity he has now left to others.

Sato Sensei has a "civilian" job with Meirin, which is a large budo shop. They carry everything: old, new and practice swords, spears, naginata and also kendo equipment, especially in the branch where Sensei works. The shop is in a district called Umeda in central Osaka. In the beginning he had a kimono shop, but he has retired from that business and started a new line of work in the budo and sword shop.

Sato Sensei is also a collector of old swords and is known for his eye for the quality of a sword: which is a good and which a bad sword. Many people go to ask for his advice. He has several swords and blades from different eras. Each of his swords is an "entity", not a mere collector's piece.

In the Mugai ryu session of the Helsinki seminar we started with learning basic kamae, proper etiquette and so on. First Sensei explained the seiza position: There are people who wonder why we use seiza in iai, but there are historical reasons for that. In former times iai was taught to upper class samurai: daimyo, hatamoto and so on. Their practice was done inside the house, hidden from others. And inside you use seiza for sitting and suwariwaza for moving.

In the course of these two days we went through the whole set: eight renshu kata, five Go-yoo from seiza, five Hashirigagari from tachi-ai, five Go-ka from seiza and again from tachi-ai, the Go-oo. This was quite a handful for us, and I expect it was only ment as an introduction for Mugai ryu, because sensei knew there were many students from other ryuha or styles. Those who have trained Mugai ryu in Japan with Sato Sensei said they first study those eight renshu kata and then for a quite long time just the first Mugai ryu technique from the Go-yoo set, named Shin. This Shin is very important among all the techniques and should be studied properly and throughly said Sensei.

For me there was one interesting thing (among hundreds of other things, of course): when you cut kiriage, i.e. execute a rising oblique cut, the aim is to cut nerves and blood vessels in the armpit, not to cut the whole arm away. So you do not need to use extreme power for cutting. I got the impression that the Mugai ryu is simple, powerful and specializes in very effective rectilinear techniques. For me as a Muso Shinden ryu student, the Mugai ryu techniques are perhaps different enough from ours to allow me to train it besides my own school.

The following interview of Sato sensei was made on June 14th, 1997 with Mr. Kauko Uusoksa as the interpreter, and on June 15, 1997, with Mr. Yuji Matsuoi interpreting. You will also find some information about Sensei and the Mugai ryu from The Iaido Newsletter (JJSA) #81 (May 1997).

Nakagawa Soke:

Was Nakagawa Soke your first iaido sensei?

Yes, he was.

Is he still alive?

He died 13 years ago.

How long did he teach iaido?

He continued to teach nearly till his death: he stopped teaching about six months before he passed away.

What kind of a teacher was he?

In matters of training he was very strict, but in his private life he was kind and warm.

How did one start training iaido in those days? With a bokken or a sword?

I myself started with a shinken (a sharp, real sword). One does not practice iaido with a bokken, one must always use a sword or an iaito.

Where was Nakagawa Soke's dojo?

He taught in many places: Imazu, Amagazaki, Kishiwada, Kyushu; in Tokyo and Kamakura in the Kanto area; he also taught in Himeji. There was no honbu dojo. Instead, Sensei traveled around in these shibu dojos (branch dojo) and taught there.

Where on Kyushu?

On Kyushu Nakagawa Soke used to instruct in Shimonoseki.

Did Nakagawa Soke go regularly to the above mentioned places, and how often?

First there was the Amagazaki dojo, then came the Nishino- miya dojo. He used to teach twice a month at the main dojo, in addition to which he traveled around regularly four times per month to teach at the other dojo. Moreover, he taught at the Kishiwada dojo once a month or at least every other month. It was often Sato Sensei who took Soke to these dojo.

Nakagawa Soke went to Tokyo and Kamakura in Kanto. Does Sato Sensei know the Matsuo Kenpu Dojo (Matsuo Kenpu was our Muso Shinden ryu teacher's sensei)?

Yes, he knows of it. Sato Sensei did not himself travel in the Kanto district with Soke, but when Nakagawa Sensei made longer trips, he always took Soke to the railway station.

Our own teacher Takada Sensei has told us that Nakagawa Sensei also visited the Kenpu Dojo.

Sato Sensei has not heard that Nakagawa Soke had taught at the Matsuo Kenpu Dojo, but he must have visited the place. Nakagawa Soke was not in the habit of showing his own technique at strange dojos, so Sato Sensei is a bit doubtful at the thought of Nakagawa Soke instructing at the Kenpu Dojo.

A new Soke?

At present there is no Soke in Mugai ryu. When Nakagawa Soke (the 11th Soke of Mugai ryu) decided to give up his career, there were certain difficulties, and he did not name a new Soke. Instead, he decided to make a Kai (association) of the system.

The problems arose from the fact that there are also other Mugai ryu groups under various federations. When Soke let it be known that he was about to retire, the leaders of the groups in the various federations began to want to be Soke in Soke's place. There were too many aspirants for the honor. If Soke had chosen one of the hopeful, there would have been problems, divisions and other. There is still a chance that someone will be chosen to be Soke.


What kind of a grade system do you have?

There are no kyu/dan grades in Mugai ryu, just two instructor grades. When you have achieved a 6th dan in the Federation (Nippon Iaido Renmei), you will be given your first yurushi (= menkyo).

So there are no dan grades in Mugai ryu?

The dan grades are given by Nippon Iaido Renmei. A Federation 6th dan brings you the first Mugai ryu grade Men no maki (menkyo). After hanshi you will be given the grade of Kaiden no maki (kaiden). There are about thirty years of practice between these grades. This means that when you are given the 6th dan, you will automatically be granted menkyo. Not everyone wants these licenses, so this also depends on the wishes of the person in question. To have your own dojo you must be at least 6th dan.

Who is authorized to teach Mugai ryu?

You cannot teach if you have no menkyo license. This means that you have to be at least 6th dan.

Who grants the menkyo grades when there is no Soke?

There is a Mugai ryu association, Mugai-kai, within the Nippon Iaido Renmei. This Mugai association has a kaicho or chairman, and he has the right to grant the above mentioned menkyo grades.

What kind of membership fees are there in Mugai ryu in Japan?

At various dojos the admission, annual and training fees vary. The federation has its own fees: approx. yen 6000 per year. On top of that come the fees paid to the various shibu (branches).

Who is the Chairman of Mugai-kai?

Fujimoto Yoshio. He does not teach, but he has organizational skills and an ability to unite people.

There are Mugai ryu people in other federations. Do these groups have anything to do with each other?

It is true that there is Mugai ryu also in other federations: in Zen Nippon Iaido Renmei and Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei. Nakagawa Soke did not himself teach there, it was done by some of his students.

How many Mugai ryu students are there?

In Nippon Iaido Renmei there are about 130 Mugai ryu students. In the entire Nippon Iaido Renmei there are perhaps 300 members.

Nippon Iaido Renmei:

Who is the present chairman of Nippon Iaido Renmei?

Toshimizu Yukio Sensei. He is a 10th dan and hanshi in Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu. The Honbu Dojo is in Kagoshima.

When was Nippon Iaido Renmei established?

The year was Showa 50 (1975). The founding ryuha were Mugai ryu, Eishin ryu and Yagyu Shinkage ryu. Nakagawa Soke was the first chairman. Later a Muso Shinden ryu group joined the Renmei. The present leader of Muso Shinden ryu is Danzaki Tomoaki Sensei (previously of Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei).

Are there other schools in Nippon Iaido Renmei ?

The ryuha are Eishin ryu, Muso Shinden ryu, Yagyu ryu and Mugai ryu.

How many students are there among the other ryuha in Nippon Iaido Renmei?

Difficult to say. In the All Japan Taikai (demonstration and competition) in May there were about 240 competitors or performers, but this does not mean that all students were present. To get nearer the right number you should multiply the taikai parti- cipants by 1.5 or 2. There are fewer Shinden ryu people; the biggest group is Eishin ryu. There is not head teacher in Eishin ryu: each district (e.g. Osaka, Kyushu and Tokyo) has its own.

What kind of a kyu-dan system is there in Nippon Iaido Renmei?

Kyu grades are only for kids. The grown-ups start with dan grades. Up to 5th dan you take grade tests regionally e.g. in Osaka, Tokyo, Kyushu, Okinawa etc. From 6th dan up there is the Honbu Shinsa-in.

Once a year there is a Zen Koku Taikai in Okayama, where there are hanshi grade sensei judging and checking the performances. There are ten hanshi present in the technical test and one hanshi in the written test.

What techniques are shown in a grading test?

In Nippon Iaido Renmei there is a toho series of five techniques: two techniques from Mugai ryu and three from Eishin ryu. One toho technique is shown in the test and the rest are from one's own ryu. In the regional test the number of techniques shown depends on the grade one is trying for. This is true also in Zen Koku Taikai: from 6th dan up the number of techniques shown is dependent on the grade one is aspiring to.

There are Renmei grades from 1st to 10th dan. Above the 10th dan there is the grade of Meijin, which only one person can have at any time. Only when the previous master is dead, can this grade be bestowed on the next.

Does the Renmei have instructor grades?

Renshi, kyoshi and hanshi are grades granted by Nippon Iaido Renmei. First you take the dan test, then follows the corresponding title: e.g. first 6th dan, then renshi, next 7th dan followed by kyoshi, after that 8th dan followed by hanshi. When you have completed the elementary course, you can achieve 1st dan after a year of training. In all the grades from 1st dan to 5th dan the minimum time between grades is one year. Between 5th and 6th dan there are two years, to Renshi three years, to 7th dan four years.

Sato Sensei:

Does Sato Sensei practice other styles besides Mugai ryu iaido?

Only Mugai ryu.

Does Sensei teach at many dojos?

Nowadays only at the Imazu dojo in Nishinomiya.

What is the purpose of iaido?

Frankly, the aim in the old days used to be to kill somebody. Now, when the times have changed, the goal is to make/build the right kind of a good person: ningen keisei or make the trainee grow as a human being, to mold him/her into a right shape.

It is often thought that iai is closely bound to the Japanese sword and Japanese culture. Iaido is, however, much practiced in the West. Does Sensei see differences in the practice?

I am sorry to say but I think the manners have much degenerated in Japan. The students I have seen abroad are working hard at practice and doing it well and in the right spirit.

When a new student arrives at a dojo, how does one start to instruct him/her?

The first thing to be taught is Kihon no kata (renshu kata). Depending on the person this usually takes about six months, but even if one is a very "quick study", it takes at least three months. After that one is taught tachi waza techniques (standing techniques), because suwariwaza techniques (from the kneeling position) are difficult. Nukitsuke (drawing) and noto (returning the sword to the scabbard) are taught all the while: much time is given to these things.

There are eight renshu kata (practice kata mostly for learning cuts and movement). There are four series of honryu kata (proper kata), altogether 20 kata. When one achieves 6th dan and menkyo, three oku-iai kata are taught.

Do the kihon kata have names?

This depends on the dojo. The kihon kata are normally practice kata. At our dojo we use the names ipponme mae, nihonme ushiro, sanbonme hidari etc.

Is there any kumigata in Mugai ryu?

There is kumidachi: tachi no kata and wakizashi no kata. There are five difficult techniques in each series. The tachi no kata are taught first, kata by kata, and only then wakizashi techniques. The wakizashi techniques begin from seiza, because they are meant for use inside a house. These techniques also include yawara, i.e. jujutsu. Their instruction starts from 5th or 6th dan. The uchidachi (attacker/teacher) is always a jokyu or someone with a higher grade. They must be practiced at least once a week, but sometimes this is difficult if there are no sufficiently high grades present. If one practices tachi no kata three times a week, it is possible to move on to wakizashi techniques in a year.

What about okuden kata?

There are three okuden kata, and they are taught after one has achieved a 6th dan. The name of the series is Naiden. They come directly from the founder, Gettan. Here the sword is not used for cutting: the aim of the techniques is startling the opponent.

Do many people use shinken for practice?

Depends on the student. If one has a shinken, one can use it. Not many have one.

There is also tameshigiri (cutting practice) at the Nishinomiya dojo. What is its meaning?

In the times of the Samurai tameshigiri was used to test a new sword or check ones technique. Sometimes there was tsujigiri or trying a new sword on a passer-by.

Is the name of the Founder pronounced as Tsuji Gettan or Tsuji Getan?

Tsuji Gettan Sukemochi, the Gettan with a double T.

Many thanks for the interview, Domo arigatoo gozaimashita!

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Last Updated March 6, 1998 by Kim Taylor