Interview with Dan Fujikawa-Greig of New Zealand Mugai Ryu Iai Hyodo Dojo
Property Type: Multiple Styles
1. Who is the dojo’s founder and what prompted him/her to build the school? Is there any rich history behind its making?
I founded the dojo after coming back from living in Japan for 6 years in 2006. Before coming back to New Zealand I started to look for a good Iaido dojo and found none in Christchurch and only one other good dojo in the whole of the South Island. After several months of long e-mails back and forth to the New Zealand Kendo Renmei, I realised that if I were to train as we train in Japan and as I have been taught from my sensei, then I would have to set up a dojo myself. My sensei supported me setting up my own dojo and I had lots of advice from them, which helped a lot.
Iaido is not so common in New Zealand and the good Iaido that we have is split between ZNKR [Seitei] and individual koryu overseen by those ryuha’s Soke. I thought it was very important to train as I trained in Japan and there were no other ZNKR affiliated people training like that at the time, so I started up the New Zealand Mugai Ryu Iai Hyodo Dojo.
2. What forms of Japanese martial arts do you teach in your school? Can you please share with us the history behind them?
We do the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei’s Seitei Iaido kata and Mugai Ryu Iaido and Kumitachi kata. Seitei Iaido is 12 forms of kata taken from various koryu and adapted into a set of standardised kata after WWII. The Seitei kata are used for gradings and being standard all over the world allow for reasonable comparison and understanding of a persons level of Iaido. Seitei is also very straight and strict about body positions, katana heights and angles, so it is very good for training your body to do what you want it to do. Mugai Ryu is more free flowing so it’s easier to propagate bad habits. I like to teach Seitei first as it is a kind of “Iaido de-flavouriser” as such, if you can do Seitei well then you can often do Koryu Iai well too.
Our Koryu is Mugai ryu. Mugai-ryu was founded by Tsuji Gettan Sukemochi in the late 1600’s. Tsuji Gettan was born in Koga, Omi no kuni [present day Shiga-ken] in 1649. When he was 13 he went to study Yamaguchi-ryu kenjutsu in Kyoto with Yamaguchi Bokushinsai. When he was 26, he moved to Edo and opened up his own dojo. At the same time he studied Zen at Azabu Kyukoji temple under master Sekitan Zenshi, and achieved satori.
After founding his Mugai-ryu, Tsuji Gettan found that his dojo became more and more popular. By the time he was 60, his students included several Daimyo and hundreds of samurai of various rank and position. The name of Tsuji Gettan and of Mugai-ryu was very famous throughout Japan at the time.
The lineage of Mugai-ryu has continued from Soke to Soke starting from Tsuji Gettan himself. Because, at the time Mugai-ryu was in such high demand from Daimyo all over Japan wanting to train their Samurai in this most effective style of kenjutsu, Tsuji Gettan was getting on in age, so he sent his best deshi [higher students] in his place to teach. As such, in modern day Japan now there are at least 4 different branches of Mugai-ryu and some other small groups who are on their own according to the various politics surrounding them… True to the spirit of Zen, each group is taking the basic teachings, principles, spirit and framework of the kata and adapting according to their own experiences, interpretation, etc.
Seitei Iaido was put together by the ZNKR after the war as a way to be able to do Iaido in an era when all martial arts were strictly controlled by the Allied occupying forces government. Seitei was put together in a way that makes it clear that it is not training for martial skill, but instead training to be a better human being, and as such it was permitted to be practiced in post war Japan . The Seitei kata are all modified kata taken from various Koryu such as Muso Shinden ryu, Hoki ryu , Mugai ryu, etc.
3. What are the principles and concepts that you uphold and try to instill in your students?
I try to train and teach exactly as I trained and was taught when I lived in Japan. So of course etiquette is very important and I strive to get my students to actually understand it and follow the Budo etiquette of their own volition, not because they are forced to. I think it is important to want to follow the correct etiquette and feel that it is correct otherwise your whole training is fake. I know everyone has various pre conceptions and reasons for starting Iaido, but if they are to do Iaido and Kendo properly then they should embrace the whole thing not just swing a sword around.
In the same theme I like my students to behave in a serious manner and not fool around with swords. Iaido has changed from a kenjutsu art to a zen art in many respects but the sword technique part of Iaido which is the kihon, should be done properly and seriously. I like to think about the reasons and realism of why you move or cut in this way or that way, and once students have got a reasonable grasp of the basics I encourage them to think about it also.
I think the next biggest thing after etiquette and being a good person is understanding that Iaido is not a self defence nor a killing art and however much you try you won’t become Tom Cruise in last Samurai. This is a concept that some people find hard to grasp, but in general Iaido is its own natural filter because people who have unrealistic fantasies of Highlander or Star Wars kind of thing generally don’t continue with Iaido very long.
4. Why do you think it is important for people to learn martial arts?
I don’t know if it is important per se, but it’s a good way to improve yourself as a human being.
5. What difficulties and obstacles have you encountered so far with regards to teaching martial arts and how did you overcome them?
The most difficult part of teaching proper Budo is Reigi (etiquette) Westerners often feel self conscious about Kiai and about the whole ‘tokenistic’ aspect of Japanese Budo. In Japan there is a strong aspect of “katachi shugi” (Tokenism) or “showing” your respect and feelings by loud or obvious gestures and responses rather than letting them be understood by your actions and willingness to follow instruction. As such, a loud voice, proper Japanese Reigi words such as “Onegai shimasu, Arigato gozaimashita, Hai”, etc is very important, but not easily assimilated.
The other difficult thing about teaching Iaido is that it is hard for a lot of people to understand that you need speed rather than power when you cut, and you need to be relaxed and slower when you’re moving. Most people imagine the ‘red mist’ coming down over their eyes as their sword is a blur of steel right throughout the kata. They want to be jumping over enemies, doing cartwheels, etc, etc. Iaido and Kendo is not like Star Wars or Kill Bill, but luckily the people who expect it to be so, usually quit after a couple of trainings.
There is a kind of misconception though about how to cut. People imagine you need a huge amount of power and torque, which is probably some of the reason for the ridiculously long tsuka on some non-Japanese made swords. It is very hard to teach some people to relax their shoulders when cutting and to cut with good technique rather than huge power.
6. What advice and/or insights can you share with our readers who want to pursue their interest in the Japanese form of martial arts?
Find a good dojo and good sensei if you can.
Learn about Reigi (etiquette) before learning anything else. Understanding and having good reigi is the key to becoming good at Iaido and Kendo.
Authentic kenjutsu is much less flashy than you imagine.
7. Can you give a short biography of your instructor(s)?
My dojo has one instructor, me. I have done Kendo for about 13 years and have done Iaido for about 11 years. I lived in Japan for 6 years and have 2-dan in Iaido. I have won the Wakayama-ken Iaido Taikai [regional championships] twice in a row in my division and have been selected to represent Wakayama-ken in larger taikai in Japan as well. While I was in Japan , I also taught kendo at a local junior high school on my day off. My sensei saw fit to give me permission to teach Iaido and Mugai-ryu, in my own dojo in New Zealand .
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