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
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
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
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
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
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.