THE ARTS OF WAR AND PEACE
THE ARTS OF WAR AND PEACE
WHY WE TRAIN
There are undoubtedly a myriad of reasons for training in any art. But perhaps the first question should be: why a martial art rather than say music or painting, or dancing? One might suggest that whereas a painter is fascinated with the dynamic of line and color, a dancer perhaps with the dynamic of music and movement, or a musician with tone and rhythm, the martial artist is fascinated with the dynamic of physical conflict. And just as any artist will try to use their chosen medium to create order out of chaos, the martial artist seeks to make order out that most chaotic and primordial of human experience: physical conflict.
Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū is an incredibly beautiful art, both to practice and to observe. It can also be a consummate way to pursue personal excellence. The founder of the Modern Technique of the Pistol, Jeff Cooper, once said, "most good marksman are good people." He probably meant to imply a connection between the specific discipline and fine control it takes to shoot well under attack, with a disciplined and moral character. While Cooper's tenet may not be universally valid, it is hard to lie to oneself about how proficient one is with a firearm. Not impossible surely, but difficult. The evidence is right there before you on the target. Likewise, to excel in Katori Shintō-ryū, to hone one's understanding of its myriad of weapons, principles, and techniques, is to hone one's spirit and discipline, with feedback provided every time a weapon is drawn.
But lest one think that Katori Shintō-ryū is merely an "art" that has lost its connection to its "martial" roots, let's be clear: the techniques and principles of Katori Shintō-ryū have as their first purpose, victory in war. They were developed during the most tumultuous periods of Japanese history, and their survival to present day over many epochs of conflict speaks to the effectiveness of the techniques and principles. (And to the survival of its practitioners).
However, what appears to be a simple purpose belies a much deeper pedagogy. Katori Shintō-ryū's core principles are woven into an ever more complex tapestry of techniques using a broad assortment of weapons. One progresses from the simple, to the complex, and finally back to a stark simplicity. It is a marvelous metaphor for living the examined life.
And so, Katori Shintō-ryū, this art of war, simultaneously exists as an art of peace. This dual nature, the core of Katori Shintō-ryū, is perhaps what draws us back to the dojo, to training, to Katori, again and again.
WHAT WE TRAIN
Katori Shintō-ryū is primary a school of swordsmanship (kenjutsu), but its practitioners also study the staff (bojutsu), halberd (naginata-jutsu), and spear (so-jutsu). Swordsmanship consists of study of techniques against armored and unarmored opponents, techniques with one sword and two swords, and techniques with both the full sword (tachi) and short sword (kodachi), as well as sword drawing techniques (iaijutsu).
Unlike other arts, where kata (training exercises) tend to be short, Katori kata tend to be long, both to condition the mind and body and to train a practitioner for battlefield conditions, where one may face multiple opponents in succession.
The movements of Katori take into account that a practitioner would be wearing armor weighing around 60 pounds, and fighting on uneven terrain. These factors tend to keep the wearer's feet firmly and flat on the ground, and slow down mobility considerably.
The techniques and tactics of Katori also exploit the design of classical Japanese armor, which, although protecting the wearer well, had many suki (openings).
The signature sword strike of Katori, makiuchi-jodan, was created by its Founder because the practitioner could not raise the sword above the head, due to the obstruction of his helmet, and secondly, notwithstanding that restriction, still required a very powerful 'chopping' blow from above to penetrate an opponent armor when openings did not present themselves.
HOW WE TRAIN
Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū training is, in a word, invigorating. The focus is on kata, whether by oneself (in the case of iaijutsu) or with a training partner (the remaining jutsu). Katori is practiced at speed, the two-person exercises are quite long, and can be very physically demanding.
Classes are lead by a teacher (kyoshi) who may demonstrate techniques, explain principles, and make individual corrections. But primarily, teaching and learning is accomplished through kata training. Put simply, Katori Shintō-ryū is a transmitted art, and its means of transmission is by the crossing of weapons between teacher and student.
Classes begin with iaijutsu training, then proceed from basic kata to more advanced kata. Students learn at their own pace, being taught new kata only once they have demonstrated proficiency and understanding of the kata they have been shown.
Katori Shintō-ryū has no belts, there are no rankings, and free sparring is not a part of the curriculum. The measure of a Katori student's skill and progress is not worn around his or her waist nor hanging framed on the wall nor sitting a mantle. Rather, it is demonstrated every time the student enters the dojo.
Lastly, but most importantly, Katori training is a communal activity. The dojo is not a place, but a community of students. There is much sharing in the dojo: of knowledge, of experience, of energy, of effort, of passion. By choosing to study Katori, one gets to meet and train with some very extraordinary people, and make some very dear friends.
WHEN WE TRAIN
Formal Katori practice is held twice weekly at Capital Aikikai:
WHERE WE TRAIN
We train in parks, we train at home, and we train in out of the way places while at work. But for our regular scheduled classes we train at:
WHO WE TRAIN
We train anyone who is serious about studying without regard to race, creed, or nationality. As a default we do ask that you be over 18; but we have made exceptions in the past where a parent also trains in Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū. Katori is a complex art, and requires a solid and sustained commitment to master. While we will do our utmost to give you the best tuition possible, the responsibility for that commitment lies with you.
Katori Shintō-ryū requires training and self study outside of class practice. Class is where a student goes to learn, but training outside of class and self study is the only way to understand Katori Shintō-ryū.