Eight gates

The cornerstone of any type of budo is keiko or training. Training itself is both a means to develop proper skill, understanding and attitude as it is a way of expressing these aspects.

It’s important to do keiko, not only when all conditions are optimal but also when feeling tired; when your favorite trainingpartner can’t come, when your day was busy; when you are perhaps not in optimal health.

Even when sick or injured one should go to the dojo for mitori keiko (training by observing).

When the teacher is not present, but the dojo is available, one should go and do jibun-geiko (self training).

Keiko cannot be substituted by anything else and studying an art or ryuha without keiko is meaningless.

Training by yourself is an important part of budo, but instruction and guidance by a teacher can never be omitted. Koryu-bujutsu is very complex. Since there is no way to test and improve your skill by yourself, there is always a great need for a proper instruction.

Illusions of skill are frequent and abundant when training yourself. A teacher is needed to point out the weaknesses in ones skill to further improve.

In koryu-bujutsu, a teacher is not someone who merely imparts knowledge to a group. It’s someone who will take the responsibility to open doors and navigate a student on his or her martial path.

A personal teacher-student relationship should be present.

Most western (but also Japanese) koryu-bujutsu practitioners are not familiar with the historical, social and martial underpinnings of their art. So study is critical to establishing a sound martial practice.

Bodily understanding can be acquired through training. There is however a large volume of theory and understanding to be acquired through study.

Not only ones own ryuha and art should be studied, but also other ryuha and other arts to better understand ones own art and its position in the martial world.

Book-study and study through looking at keiko and embu of other arts is a vital means to deepen the understanding of koryu bujutsu.

Making visible the invisible, Reiho (ettiquette) brings into awareness the shared experience of a group.

Once used as a social tool to keep a highly weaponised society from chaos, now reiho reaffirms our relationship with our tools, the group, the tradition and the teacher and seniors.

When understood completely its emphasis is on realizing our true nature, or the nature of the self and the intimacy between the self and the ten thousand things.

It could easily be said that budo without reiho is empty.

Though kata are not the same as the reality they describe, when used skillfully, they can act as a medium for the understanding of actual combat.

The ryuhas teachings on tactical combat , body conditioning and cultivation of the martial mindset are codified in the kata. Ensuring the ryuha will survive in this timecapsule of kata.

It’s the responisbility of the soke of each ryuha to maintain this codification and change them when he/she sees fit.

Kata-geiko (kata training) is essential for koryu-bujutsu and makes up the larger part of the training.

In koryu-bujutsu an art (such as swordsmanship) is never seperate from the tradition (or ryuha) it is taught in.

The origin of the school, geografical location, history of the school and the activities of the students in the school in the past have all played a signifiant role in the forming of the school and the art.

Historical study and study of books/texts written by previous headmasters and practitioners is an important of being part a a ryuha and training its arts.

The physical body is one of the two vehicles to train, experience and express the school and its arts.

  • kokyu (breath)
  • shisei (posture)
  • kihon (basics)
  • kamae (codified martial positions)
  • taisabaki (body movement)
  • sen (timing)
  • maai (distance)
  • newari (strong soft connection)

… are all elements that are trained by training the body. There is no other possibility available to train and come to understand these principles.

In past times the body was also the vehicle to survival and possibly victory over ones opponent. A strong body is needed to apply the school and its arts to a combat situation.

Although most of us will never engage in weaponised lethal combat, this is the art we are training and a conditioned body to endure these trials should be cultivated as well.

Much like the physical body, the mind is also one of the two vehicles to study, experience and express the school and its arts.

  • Isshin (single point focus)
  • Zanshin (remaining mind)
  • Junanshin (flexible mind)
  • Fudoshin (unmovable mind)
  • Shoshin (beginners mind)
  • Mushin (non fixed mind)

…are names of states of mind needed in training or the application of koryu-bujutsu arts.

Training to realise these states of mind can be done through regular keiko (training), mokuso (silent reflexion) and (optionally) zazen/shikentaza (seated meditation) as long as there is a resolve to cultivate the mind.

In past times a strong and cultivated mind was needed to survive combat, but a cultivated and realised mind was also needed to return to a relatively peacefull society after the conflict.

In these days training of the mind can be a focal point for some in koryu-bujutsu, for others it’s merely a vehicle to improve their art. In any approach the cultivation of the mind is indispensable for any practitioner.

This article is part of a series of articles covering the personal views of Arjan Fusō. The purpose of these articles is to provide students of budō and in particular students of Kochōkai a point of view to think about, discuss and use to form their own views. These are not necessarily the views of all students and friends of Kochōkai.