My wife and I spent our first wedding anniversary shopping at Don Qui Hote (a chain of unusual department stores in Japan) in Hiroshima and then eating crisps in a converted brothel. I am assuming I have your attention 🙂 read on…
As a member of the Kokura branch of the Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu I was often called upon to participate in demonstrations. These demonstrations usually took place at castles, shrines or other areas of beauty, either natural or man made.
One of the highlights of my initial stay had been taking part in the Nihon Kobudo Embu Taikai at Itskushima shrine in Hiroshima.
With Iwami sensei and members of the Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu circa 2009. Note the floating shrine in the background
The demonstration area is directly opposite Miyajima, the iconic floating shrine. It is one of the symbols of Japan and often featured in travel brochures and so on. It really is an impressive and beautiful sight.
I have always tried to keep my feet on the ground with regards all the wonderful experiences I encountered in Japan. However this one was a bit special and really hit home to me how fortunate I had been not just to travel and study in Japan, but more importantly just how lucky I had been in meeting the right people for me. I would say I have been extremely fortunate, Takakura sensei, Yoshino sensei, Kanari sensei…the list goes on. In addition to meeting and forming lasting relationships with many Japanese teachers, I also had the great pleasure of making friends with a number of talented and genuine western budoka.
In Kitakyushu I had met Thierry Comont, my senior at the Niten dojo and a great help to me both inside and outside practice. I found Ken jutsu very demanding and Thierry support and encouragement had helped me get to the point where I had been invited to participate in this event.
The first time I had taken part I was probably too nervous to take everything in. I was so concerned with doing an at least acceptable job!
My second time to demonstrate at Itskushima was a little different.
During my month long stay last summer, the majority of my karate practice was in the evening, this gave me time in the afternoon to Iwami sensei’s private home dojo and study there. As I have noted earlier this was a fantastic learning experience and the intensity of the study was very beneficial to me. I was aware that there was another demonstration coming up as Thierry had mentioned that Iwami sensei may ask me to join, however for the first few weeks of my say there was no mention of the event. A few days before the event, I was sitting with Iwami sensei in the entrance area of his dojo looking at the nearby mountains and drinking tea, a nice time of reflection. It was at this point sensei told me that I would be demonstrating Ito waza, long sword techniques at the upcoming event. A great honour and good news, however there was a snag.
Our first wedding anniversary was on the Friday and we had arrived to travel to Tokyo. The demonstration was on Saturday and I needed to be at the shrine at 8:30 am. I wasn’t going to be able to make it in time.
At that time I mentioned this to sense as politely and delicately as I could manage in my rough Japanese, his reply “no problem, bring your wife along, she will enjoy it”. With that I was reminded that I needed to catch a bus and was sent packing down the hill, through the rice fields to the bus stop.
My wife was as always understanding, she knew how important something like this was to me and she quickly rearranged travel plans. We decided that we would spend the night of our anniversary in a Ryokan in Hiroshima. One hurdle cleared.
There was another small issue, my left ankle and foot had mysteriously become really swollen. It was so large I couldn’t get a shoe on. Ice helped a lot, but as soon as I walked for a few minutes the swelling and pain returned.
The demonstration was only a few minutes in length, I would show three techniques, then wait in seiza while Thierry demonstrated the use of Kodachi, the short sword and Iwami sensei gave his presentation of Nito, the double sword technique which the ryu ha is most well know for. With my wife being so supportive and my desire to take part there was no way I was going to miss it, so it was going to a case of grit my teeth and get on with it.
We arrived in Hiroshima late on Friday evening. The charming ryokan turned out be a little bit further away from the station than we had bargained for. It was however clean and tidy and the owner was a very friendly older man. He seemed very interested in me and gave me a quick tour of the place, whispering to me that this was a former brothel and the surrounding area was still an ‘interesting’ place to visit.
My foot was really swollen now. The tabi I had intended to wear, wouldn’t fit, neither would shoes. I had been wearing beach flip flops but didn’t really feel comfortable turning up at the demonstration dressed in those. My wife suggested that I buy some geta, traditional sandals. Good idea, but where are you going to get hold of a pair of those at 12:00 am?
My wife had noticed that there was a Donki as it is known, just down there road. They pretty much sell everything and are open till 4:00 am. So off we went. I eventually found a pair hidden away behind the multi coloured tracksuits and baseball hats that these stores seem to stock and we were soon back in our room, eating a hearty supper of wasabi crisps.
The morning came and along with it torrential rain, being Welsh I am no stranger to damp weather. This however was typhoon level. We needed to take a taxi to the station and even doing that left us soaking. After a short train ride and an even shorter ferry ride we were on the island and needed to walk the 15 minutes or so to the shrine.
We actually reached the meeting point before sensei and my friends from Kokura. I was changed and ready to go when they arrived. The good news was we would be the third group to demonstrate. No time to practice, meant I could rest my foot and then just get on with it.
Iwami sensei and our group after the event – sasen without a sword!
Our turn came and I managed to get through the event with no problems. In fact my biggest difficulty was maintaining seiza while my sempai and sensei demonstrated. For the record I demonstrated; Sasen, Haso Hidari and Moji Gamae. Sensei seemed pleased with the demonstration and I was glad that I could overcome my injury. Perhaps at home I would have rested, but here the sense of occasion and the realisation that I may not get the opportunity to take part in such event for some time spurred me on.
Some photos of the event. Here I demonstrate Moji Gamae, Comont san shows Sasen with Kodachi and Iwami sensei shows Nito
There were lots of other ryu ha demonstrating that day and it was a fantastic environment in which to enjoy meeting other budoka and experience other forms of training. I was once again very impressed with a group of young ladies who demonstrated koryu naginata tecnique while wearing traditional dress.
I had of course aggravated my injury and I wasn’t able to practice properly for my last few days in Japan. With hindsight I think I made the right choice, I needed to seize the chance I was given. The flight home was a little painful but within a few days of being home my foot and ankle had returned to normal.
A fascinating demonstration of the use of jo
It was a great way to end a wonderful summer of training and learning. Thanks again to my wife for her continued support and infinite patience!