Always a Question Ready to Go
My habit is never to meet a knowledgeable teacher without having a good question in mind, just in case I am given the opportunity to ask.
Rumiko and I traveled to the city of Tajimi municipal dojo for a demonstration of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu sword by Mouri Keisuke and his small group of students on the morning of September 11, 2011. As I walked in the dojo, my question that morning was, “Does anybody still teach old style tachi battlefield sword technique, or only stylized formal modern methods that make up sword training in Japan today?”
What I learned in the 1970s as old-time ninja combat methods and now teach in our dojo as To-Shin Do seems so different from what usually passes for Japanese swordsmanship. Somehow, on the 10th anniversary of the unexpected attack on New York City by suicide stealth agents in airliner flying bombs, the question of how old combat tactics evolve into valuable new lessons seemed appropriate. If we do not truly understand the old ways, how can we use their wisdom to build new effectiveness today?
Amazingly, before I could even ask my question, Mouri Keisuke’s demonstration and explanation started right in with old style tachi, something almost never seen anymore. His teaching plan for us began with the answer to my yet unspoken question.
Rumiko and I were impressed that he had put together a program and invited a newspaper reporter and significant business friends to make an event out of it. Rumiko and I even got private lessons from top teachers attending the seminar. So many times, masters of ancient methods are not very adept at promoting the value they offer the world, and too often languish in tiny training halls where few can find their treasures. Some call that “being traditionally reserved”. I often think of it as “being inept and unsophisticated”. Mouri Keisuke was clearly a different sort of traditionalist. How wonderful!
After training, ten of us walked to a soba noodle shop for lunch and conversation on a day of 90 degree heat and intense sun. Over lunch, the teacher asked me the probing question of why the usual Bujinkan kamae was so often pictured with the front leg extended too far out with the knee too straight. He was at ease enough with our relationship to comment that he felt it was too difficult to move quickly from such an over-wide stance.
I was very impressed that Mouri Sensei had apparently done on-line research as to what I teach and what my original ninja teacher and his students are teaching. I did my best to answer carefully, without criticizing some of my teacher’s students for either not knowing enough to teach well, or not caring enough and just letting students do what they wanted without forcing proper discipline on them. In the end, I gave a non-committal answer suggesting there was a wide range of quality when it came to my teacher’s students after my books had opened flood gates and his dojo had become a huge international training hall operation.
At any rate I was impressed that he asked a probing question. So many just sit in silence presuming to know things they actually do not know. Maybe sword master Mouri Keisuke holds the same view of always having a question ready as I do. An important lesson for all who would be masters some day, huh?