By Jeremy Chevaux
From May 18 to 28, 2023, I had the chance to return to Japan for the third time in my life.
This trip will be different from the two previous ones because it is resolutely oriented towards the practice of martial arts. Over 10 days, 6 will be devoted to the study and practice of Naginata and Kendo.
After contacting the INF thanks to the support of David D’hose sensei, the door to Kimura sensei’s dojo in Tokyo opened to me, and my personal contact network allowed me to join the University of Health and sport of Osaka , in the small town of Kumatori, where I will study Kendo with Kanzaki sensei and Naginata under the guidance of Amakawa Sensei.
Quite a program, especially when you know that the students of the university are all preparing for the big Taikai to come in the next few days. So I was preparing to give my best and learn as many things as possible.
The road map established, all that remained was to leave Belgium, destination Tokyo.
My friend Jason, resident on Japanese soil for many years, hosted me in Tokyo, and I would like to thank him here for his warm welcome and his precious help. The mutual aid between budoka is one of our strength
As a warm-up, we climbed Mount Takao, a sacred mountain where the Yakunoin temple is located, where the Tengû, Yokai regularly associated with shugendo and sometimes the practice of martial arts, keep watch. After an ascent in a mystical atmosphere, with these strangely twisted roots that line the path, the mist that covers the mountain, we were able to enjoy a magnificent panorama of the surrounding mountain range. A beautiful image that prefaced the whole trip: efforts leading to a great reward.
After participating in the friendly Sanja Matsuri, attending a Maiko dance and a Taiko concert, it was time to hit the road aboard the iconic Shinkansen, the best train on the planet, to begin the real training in Osaka.
I will only detail in this article my practice of naginata, although that of kendo was just as intense and beneficial, I thank my Hosts Kanzaki Sensei 8th dan, Murakami Raita sensei 7th dan and vice champion of the 66th all japan kendo championship and Oishi Hiroshi, coach of the university team, without forgetting Tsuchiya Hironobu 7th dan, without you all this would not have been possible.
The Keiko in which I participated under the kind direction of Amakawa sensei (36th National Japan Naginata championship winner) took place in this form:
Engi – kata work
Each single waza (men/kote/sune/tsuki) *6 or *4
Everyone works in pairs on a technique that they announce to their aite *4
Shiai Keiko, all the students form a circle and two face each other in the center, the loser goes out and the winner stays until you get 3 wins
The students are between 19 and 22 years old, the work was very energetic but the emphasis was on a beautiful posture and a refined and efficient form.
During the fights in which I participated, I was able to measure the level gap between Japanese and European practitioners. Flexible and agile, the force occupies little place in the Japanese practice, the seme is a much better mastered concept and they leave less room for chance in their attacks, “winning before striking” has never been also true.
What also striked me was this strange feeling of bubbling calm which emanated particularly from Abe Mayu sempai, 3rd dan, I had the impression of being in front of a tiger calmly seeking the right moment to attack with astonishing precision. I will try to inspire myself in the future. A sharp and imperturbable mind, combined with a speed of execution only possible thanks to muscular flexibility, this is what constitutes true strength. Thank you for this great lesson.
I was very touched by the benevolent attitude of all the students, mostly female (we were two boys and 6 girls), with whom I will keep in touch. My knowledge of the Japanese language is quite low, but everyone did their best to make themselves understood, and I was able to easily follow the flow of the course. I hope that our paths lead us to see each other again soon, the conversations we had were very nice and I was a little sad not to have the chance to practice with them any longer.
A huge thank you to Amakawa sensei, who I hope will recover from her injuries very quickly. Her teachings will give me enough to increase my chances of taking the Shodan exam in September.
On May 26, I had the great honor of being welcomed by Kimura Sensei to discover Tendo ryu.
The course will focus for me on the first kata involving a naginata facing a ken, Ichimonji no midare, while the other practitioners will indulge in other sets of kata, in jo, nito and even Kusarigama!! How lucky to witness all this
I practiced a Koryu in the past, Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, and so I quickly made my mark, even if the naginata is wielded in an other way in this school, I know that the slightest gesture must be refined and that every detail counts. The requirement is placed high and I did my best to meet it, this first kata was not easy at all!! The maai is very important, and it’s easy to quickly get it wrong.
Everyone was extremely friendly once again and I enjoyed every moment. This class was a great opportunity to remember the ancient martial roots of our modern practice. The attitude and the mentality necessary for the practice of Tendo ryu were very inspiring.
I was able to measure my weaknesses during the last French championship and I believe that through this trip I was able to begin to correct them a little. I thank again each actor and actress of this journey, I learned a lot, met wonderful people and tasted delicious dishes both in Kanto and in Kansai. I miss Japan already! See you soon for new adventures ????
Bonus pictures: Martial exhibition (Yabusame, Kusajishi, iaijutsu of the school Arakiminusai jikiden ogawaryu oho)