A POETIC EXPRESSION FOR THE SPIRIT OF IAIJUTSU*
Interpreted by Robert W. Montgomery
Student of Komei Juku Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaijutsu under
Sekiguchi Komei, 21st Grandmaster

Within the Chuden makimono given in 1974 to Sekiguchi Komei Sensei by 19th Headmaster Kono Kanemitsu and 20th Headmaster Onoe Masamitsu there is a nine-couplet poem. The first line of each couplet describes a natural phenomenon and the following line makes the point for the first line’s statement. This poem is not haiku but has a similar structure that sets a scene and follows with an allusion to an iaijutsu waza. The placement of the poem after the listed description of the Chuden wazas in the makimono suggests that it is not intended to be descriptions of or technical advice about the Chuden wazas. Rather the poem’s purpose seems to be to communicate the spirit and attitude that the practice of iaijutsu should develop. Therefore the poem should lead to understanding the spirit of iaijutsu.

Because the poem is written in classical Japanese and because, in places, there is dual meaning for the kanji, the following is my attempt to express the couplet’s meaning.

Take time to contemplate and re-examine the poems’ words to arrive at your own interpretation. Over time you will probably find your interpretation of the poem changes as your experience, mindset, attitudes or search for direction changes.

You also might try picturing the poetic scenes while you practice the wazas.

There must be a storm blowing in the deep mountains,
Miyoshino’s flowers appear like swirling mist or clouds trailing in the sky.

YOKO GUMO translates to “long trailing clouds”. If we picture the mountain mist mixing and moving with the clouds in the high mountain replicated in the fore ground foot hills by a field of flowers swaying in the wind, we find it difficult to distinguish between these movements. This picture may characterize the swordsman’s strategy to mask his intentions to his opponent.

The wild tiger’s thousand-mile journey (steps) seems not far,
Since his returning is faster than his going.

TORA NO ISSOKU translates to “tiger’s step”. The monotony of a long journey may cause the swordsman to lose awareness of what is happening around him. The interruptions to the journey or his daily life can only be dealt with decisively and quickly if he stays alert to his situation and surroundings.

We all (see and) know the lightning,
But who can know the rumbling of the thunder, which follows the lightning’s flash?

Lightning is called INAZUMA. The quick drawing and striking with the sword, nuki to, can be compared to the lightning. The short pause before the assessment of the resulting devastation can be compared to the silence before the thunder. While the lightning and thunder are equally dramatic and related they are totally different in character. The pause after the stick and before the assessment of the resulting destruction can be more dramatic and charged with energy then either the lightning or the thunder.

The drifting clouds that billow up from the foothills,
Raise up to envelope the peaks all around.

UKI GUMO translates to drifting clouds. To defeat his enemy (the peaks) that surrounds him the swordsman moves among his enemy, remaining calm, blending and absorbing them like the clouds do the peaks.

When the wind that blows down from the mountain is strong,
Snow cannot pile up on the branches of the trees.

The OROSHI kanji means, “wind descending” (from the mountains). If the swordsman moves with the spirit of the strong wind he will sweep away his opponents who are trying to conquer (cover) him.

The helmsman steers his course skillfully (in the surf),
Least the boat is dashed against the rocks.

IWA kanji is” rock”. NAMI kanji is “a wave”. When in close quarters the skillful swordsman moves out, in and around his opponent to gain the advantage just as the boatman rides the surf taking advantage of it’s flow away from the rocky shoreline and then safely rides the returning wave that crashes on to and smothers the rocks (the opponent).

The carp uses his scales to swim upstream against the waterfall’s torrent,
Even this gushing spray cannot dislodge him.

UROKO GAESHI can be read as the ”scales turned back. The kaeshi is used in a phrase for “killing with the returned blow of the katana”. Classic Oriental literature often depicts the carp climbing upstream against a waterfall. The carp symbolists masculine strength and persistence. Picture the carp swimming up the waterfall at a speed that matches the speed of the falling water. Assisted by his scales lying flat and smooth against his body he gains sufficient speed to jump forward in the air to gain a forward position. As he re-enters the falling water he opens his scales away from his body, which resist him from being pushed backward by the rushing water therefore assisting him to maintain his new position in the falling water. He is persistent in repeating the process until he gains the still water in the pool at the head of the waterfall. This picture reflects the swordsman who blends with the cut delivered by his opponent so he can return a more devastating cut.

The waves which pound the shores at Akashi,
Cover the rocks and crags.

NAMI GAESHI translates to ”the retuning wave” or “returning sea”. Akashi Kaikyo is the straights between Akashi City on Honshu and the island of Awaji commands the entrance to the Inland Sea where strong currents make navigation difficult. Akashi (red rock), the city on the Inland Sea near Kobe, is known for huge waves and surf. The swordsman’s mindset provides him the opportunity to repeatedly attack with great energy, offering no quarter, overwhelmingly smothering his strong opponent.

When a waterfall cascades from a great height,
Even the rocks do not resist it.

TAKI OTOSHI translates to “cascading waterfall”. We picture a dramatic waterfall cascading down from a great height, its energy gouging out a deep calm pool at its base that is clear of rocks and debris. We can then equate this to the tremendous energy in the iaijutsu spirit of the swordsman raising up to sweep away his opponent, replacing them with an air of calmness and tranquility.

I thankfully acknowledge the translation by Charles Marshall, Tokyo Japan, the assistance of Naoko Vitarrelli and Anne Miyashiro. I would also like to thank Sekiguchi Takaaki (Komei), 21st Grandmaster of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaijutsu for allowing me to copy the private and personal makimono given to him by his Sensei.


If you have questions or comments please contact Robert Montogmery Sensei.