Kumamoto Budokan Demonstration
Rumiko and I went to the annual Kumamoto Budokan kobudo martial arts demonstration for the day. A substantial list of martial arts masters from the Kumamoto area performed demonstrations of their swordsmanship, archery, bojutsu, jujutsu, and shurikenjutsu for the small crowd. The Kumamoto Budokan is a wonderfully traditional structure with a wide-open wooden floor, high ceilings, and an ancient wooden kamiza shrine larger than a refrigerator in size. The place radiated 1800s martial dignity and fierce warrior resolve.
We were a bit surprised at the small crowd of people there for event. With hesitant amusement, we had to acknowledge the undeniable truth that the martial arts seem to be a much more popular commodity in the United States than in their homeland of Japan . In the West, the martial arts are “cool”. In Japan, martial arts seem to be regarded as something for the old men and but a small group of odd younger ones. Soccer is “cool”. Swords are something from the past for granddad.
It was especially interesting to see the shuriken blade throwing exhibition. Blades were thrown at a standing tatami mat target, and then in immediate follow-up to the shuriken distraction, swords were drawn from scabbards as the thrower then charged the target for a final killing cut. Samurai shuriken were almost always bo-shuriken spikes thrown to buy precious seconds to allow a warrior to get the drop on his enemy. On the other hand, ninja shuriken were spikes and also sha-ken star plates, and were more often than not hurled at an attacker as a means of facilitating escape.
It was announced that a group would perform a demonstration of yabusame samurai horseback archery, and we wondered how that would take place inside the dojo. A group of older men in 14th Century warrior formal garb, now recognized as Shinto priest clothing, came onto the floor with two (surprisingly) young men and a woman in archer garb. Following that group came a set of assistants pulling and pushing onto the floor a crudely built wooden horse on which was a traditional samurai bridle and saddle.
At first glance this was amusing, and the sight of that creaky wooden horse reminded me of toys on which I rode as a child cowboy-wannabe. I chuckled in amusement. What are they going to do, push it real fast past the target and shoot?
The first archer mounted the wooden horse. To my surprise, the handlers then spun the mount around in a rapid and dizzying spiral, and the archer worked to keep equilibrium and focus as the target flew into sight and then was gone. Three times the horse spun around and three times the archer let loose with a powerful set of arrow shots.
I was highly impressed. What looked like a toy turned out to be an intensely demanding practice of finding and hitting the target under extreme pressure. At the close of the demonstration the spokesperson noted that their dojo members practiced on horseback (real galloping hard breathing animals) once per month as well as using the wooden apparatus.