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Setting 'Fourth' History

“I feel elated…and…and inspired! I’m ready to do anything! I’m ready to take on the world man! I’m going to do it, ‘kay?” 

Stephen Milton

Enthusiastic Dublin Kendo Kobukai Jodo Shodan

Learn more about Jodo

Shuffling. Hard skin over polished wood. A fluttering swish or cotton suddenly shifted forwards or back. A clack of oak against oak. A piercing scream as a warrior asserts an attack. Silence, broken by a droplet of soft sweat hitting a hard floor. 

And throughout, a tension. Anxiety. Fear. Communion. But above all Joy. 

Warriors seasoned and tested as the hardened oak weapons they wield, yet soft and flexible as a branch, mixed among a selection of intermediates and some complete beginners. Fresh saplings bedding down strong and healthy roots. 

5 years today the day, Ireland's most senior Jodoka were two of those fresh saplings. And today they would be tested like never before to see how strong their roots were. 

After a 3 year delay due to an international pandemic, the British Kendo Association would host the Jodo Summer Seminar in Cambridge again. This was a history-making seminar. The largest delegation in Irish Jodo history, led by John Kennedy Sensei, would attend and challenge for rank in the Way of the Japanese Stick. A significant moment for Ireland, adding a page to the history of Jodō in Ireland, and to the spread of Jodō from Japan. And that history begins with a man named Musō Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi (夢想 權之助 勝吉) and the art that he developed over 400 years ago...Shintō Musō-ryū (Shindō Musō-ryū 神道夢想流). 

Facing the Legend

Legend tells us that of a time when Musō Gonnosuke challenged the legendary Miyamoto Musashi to a duel. At the time Gonnosuke was a mekyo (licensed) in two of the most dominant martial arts of the day; Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū (天真正伝香取神道流) and the Kashima Shinryū (鹿島神流) (or possibly Kashima Jikishinkage-ryu depending on who relates the story).

Sometimes the fight between the two great undefeated warriors took place in a garden, sometimes on a roadside, with Musashi carving a child’s bow from a willow branch when Gunnosuke challenged him. Other times Musashi had a six-foot staff, a bokken (wooden sword) or two bokken. No matter the differences there is one thing on which they all agree, Gunnosuke was lost. 

Wayne Muromoto translates the earliest description of the fight, found in the Kaijo Monogatari of 1629 as follows: 

"There was a heihosha (martial artist) named Miyamoto Musashi. He engaged in duels from the age of 16 and was in about 60 matches. In the sixth month, in Akashi, Harima province, he met Muso Gonnosuke, who was a six foot tall strapping warrior. Gonnosuke was armed with an odachi (a long sword), a two layer overcoat with sleeves, and a haori with a large hi no maru (rising sun). On his lapels were written: "The best martial artist in the land" (heiho tenka ichi), and "Nihon Kaizan Muso Gonnosuke."

...Gonnosuke was surrounded by about six deshi followers who accompanied him on a journey to Kyushu. He boasted to Musashi that no one was his equal. In his travels, he had apparently encountered Musashi's father, Shinmen Munisai, a master of the jutte (truncheon).

"I have seen your father's techniques, but I haven't seen yours," he said, goading Musashi.

(Shinmen) Miyamoto Genshin Musashi was irritated. He was in the middle of carving a willow branch and replied, "If you saw my father's techniques, I am no different."

Gonnosuke pressed the issue, badgering Musashi to show his martial arts off for the benefit of Gonnosuke's students.

"My heiho is not for display," Musashi snapped. "No matter how you attack me, I'll stop it. That's all there is to my heiho. Do what you will, with any technique."

Gonnosuke pulled out a four-shaku (a shaku is roughly equivalent to an English foot) wooden sword from a brocade bag. (To draw a comparison, the usual practice sword is but a little longer than two shaku.) He attacked Musashi without any formalities. Musashi stood up from his crouch. With what seemed to be very little effort, he forced Gonnosuke back across the tatami mat room with his willow branch and, pressing him against a wall, struck him lightly between the eyebrows”.

Author Dave Lowry recounts the version from the Niten Ki, 

Musashi was sitting in a garden working on a bow he was making from a length of mulberry wood. Without warning, Gonnosuke approached and, dispensing with an introduction or even a bow, he shouted a challenge at Musashi, immediately swinging his bo in a potentially lethal attack. Without so much as rising from his seat, Musashi countered, avoiding the bo and striking Gonnosuke smartly with the unfinished piece of wood in his hand”.

A warrior such as Gunnosuke, previously without loss or equal, required great reflection. So he journeyed to Mount Hôman in Chikuzen (modern Fukuoka). Praying, meditating he stayed for 37 days in austere practice with the Buddhists. After one of his regular and exhausting purification and training sessions, he collapsed from fatigue whereupon he reputedly had a vision of a kami (divine being) in the form of a child,  who said to him;

 "maruki o motte, suigetsu o shire" 

("holding a round stick, know the suigetsu")

From this insight, Musō Gonnosuke developed the art that would become known as toda as Jodō. 

Following this Gonnosuke fashioned a new version of the jo (stick) making it deliberately longer than the average katana of the day, 128 cm, as opposed to the sword's total length of approx. 100 cm, and use that length to his advantage in a fight. With this jō weapon he devised a system of combat (circa 1605) that he felt was sure to defeat Musashi.

Gonnosuke eventually became the martial arts instructor for the Kuroda clan of northern Kyūshū, where jōjutsu remained an exclusive art of the clan until the early 1900s. At this point the art form was taught to the general public, however we have three men, Takayama Kiroku, Shimizu Takaji (1876-1978) and Otofuji Ichizo most to thank for its development and spread not just through Japan but to the rest of the world. 

The Modern Age of Jo

Shimizu Takaji began training in jo with Shiraishi Hanjiro in 1913 at the age of 17. After five years of hard training he received his mokuroku and two years after that his menkyo certificate, meaning he was considered a master teacher of the style. In 1927, through an introduction by Nakayama Hakudo, (the man responsible for the development of Kendo in Japan and internationally and to a large extent Iaido), Shimizu demonstrated jo to the Tokyo police. 

In 1931 he began teaching jo at the Kodokan judo dojo in Tokyo as well as to the Sea Scouts and to the Metro Police. In 1933 a special police unit was formed which included the jo in its equipment - this more than anything would be crucial to the survival of Jo. 

In 1940 Shimizu changed the name from jojutsu to jodo and formed the Dai Nihon Jodōkai (All Japan Jodō Association).  With the end of World War 2, many martial arts were banned in Japan, however jodo training was exempt from this as it was a police related discipline. As such many of the police kendo instructors trained in jo through this period and this led to unbroken teaching and the continuation of the style.

In 1964 Otofuji Ichizo visited Shimizu Sensei in Tokyo and discussed Shimizu's proposal to the ZNKR (the Zen Nihon Kendō Renmei 全日本剣道連盟- All Japan Kendo Federation, the governing body for Kendo and Iaido) for a standardised curriculum (Seitei) for teaching, ranking and disseminating Jodō. 4 years later, in 1968, Shimizu Takaji and Nakajima Asakichi demonstrated the seitei jodo kata as developed and proposed by the research committee to the Chair of the ZNKR. The seitei jo kata were approved and in 1969 they were presented to the public by Shimizu (tachi) and Otofuji (jo). 

And it would be these kata that would determine the future of Irish Jodo. Kennedy Sensei put forward two students for shodan (First Dan/Black Belt) Sercan Tokdemir and Stephen Milton, and one student, two-time European Jodo Championship Fighting Spirit award winner, Gavin O'Reilly for Nidan (Second Dan/Black Belt). Dublin Kendo Jodoka David Leonard also attended to support the club and experience the seminar.  Of course, Kennedy Sensei himself, and his training partner Batman O'Brien were also challenging for 4th Dan. 

A Modern Seminar

The event began with a 2-day intensive seminar led by the exemplary Budoka, Luis Vitalis Sensei (7th Dan Kyoshi). Each day began with individual solo practice called tandoku dosa. The Tandoku dosa teaches 12-14 basic movements of the jo including a variety of strikes, thrusts, blocks, pins, parries, disarms and counters. From this the student learns the primary methods of handling the jo in the later kata. The Sotai dosa, meanwhile, teaches the student distance, timing and subtle movements of the jo, along with swordsmanship skills as the student uses the staff against an attacking sword. 

  1. Honte uchi (本手打 main strike)
  2. Gyakute uchi (逆手打 reverse-grip strike)
  3. Hiki Otoshi uchi (引落打 downward-pulling strike)
  4. Kaeshi tsuki (返突 counter thrust)
  5. Gyakute tsuki (逆手突 reverse-grip thrust)
  6. Maki otoshi (巻落 downward twist)
  7. Kuri tsuke (繰付 spin and attach)
  8. Kuri hanashi (繰放 spin and release)
  9. Tai atari (体当 body strike)
  10. Tsuki hazushi uchi (突外打 thrust, release, strike)
  11. Dō barai uchi (胴払打 body-reaping strike)
  12. Tai hazushi uchi migi (体外打右 body-releasing strike, right side); tai hazushi uchi hidari (体外打左 body-releasing strike, left side)

Vitalis Sensei then introduced a unique training method of Kendo, Mawarigeiko. This type of training doesn’t happen in regular Jodo training but provides incredible benefits. Essentially Vitalis Sensei organized 2 rows of tachi vs jo. Each pairing would practice a given kata twice, change weapons and repeat the same kata 2 more times, switch weapons again, and then, step to their right-hand side. 

In doing so the students were constantly challenged by opponents of different levels of technical experience, age, ability, height, width, speed etc. This required students to find a deeper level of connection with their partners quickly. It also kept the training pace high energy with each participant able to perform hundreds of kata over the course of the 3-day event. 

Detailed instruction in each kata was provided by Vitalis Sensei with Andy Watson Sensei, Stojanka Vidinic Sensei, and Elena West Sensei providing the primary demonstrations for the teaching points. The instruction was magnificent and heklped each student find the higher points of the kata. 

The Gradings

On the last day, the final session of the seminar, the attendees were divided into different rank challenge categories to prepare for the gradings. 

Each of the Irish challengers had to demonstrate both the jo (stick side) and tachi (sword side) for 5 kata, totaling 10 in all. Sercan and Stephen had the good fortune to be paired together and the depth of their practice together bore out. Both showed great spirit with crisp technique and made Ireland and Dublin Kendo Kobuki proud, and both men took Shodan. 

Catching up with Sercan after the grading I asked him how he felt and what the experience meant: 

“It feels amazing and great. I’m very proud, thanks to my sempai {seniors} Batman and John”. 

Sercan Tokdemir Shodan

Dublin Kendo

Shortly afterward two-time European Jodo Championships Fighting Spirit award winner Gavin O’Reilly took to the floor and demonstrated incredible presence of mind and composure as the only challenger taking Nidan. And despite a strong showing a passing the grade, somberly reflected on his victory simply stating, “I feel I’ve still got a lot to learn”. 

Meanwhile, over in the other grading zone being judged by a panel of five 7th Dan Sensei, Batman O’Brien and John Kennedy took to the floor. Dealing with a last-minute change, O’Brien and Kennedy put on a strong performance, showing solid technique and a strong spirit. Both men passed and in so doing, became the highest ranked Jodoka in Irish history. 

I got the chance to ask O'Brien how he felt about the event....

“We have Elena West Sensei to thank for it. Had we not had the intensive with her a few weeks ago , I think the outcome today would have been a very different story. But I think we made a strong showing and did her proud. And I am happiest that all of the Irish students grading passed too. 🙂 2 new Shodan, 1 new Nidan!”. 

Batman O'Brien Yondan, 

Dublin Kendo

However, I think it is Stephen Milton, who passed his Shodan, who summed up the joy of the experience best….

Take on the World!

“I feel elated…and…and inspired! I’m ready to do anything! I’m ready to take on the world man! I’m going to do it, ‘kay?” 

Stephen Milton

Enthusiastic Dublin Kendo Kobukai Jodo Shodan

Check out some our Dojo Jodo Videos!

The following are some recent clips from our seminars and public demonstrations. 

Dublin Kendo at Shurikon 2020

A short fun video showing the members of Dublin Kendo Demonstrating Iaido, Jodo and Kendo. And some general fun behind the scenes moments as we enjoyed the 'con. 🙂

Ueda Kayoko Sensei performing embu at Butokuden on May 2th, 2014

Ueda Sensei is centre, right holding the jo. This embu (demonstration) was filmed the day after she passed her 8th dan examination. 

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