On my five-hour drive home, including a snowstorm in Bavaria, I had a lot of time to contemplate my experiences I made over the last two days.
The past weekend I have stayed again at the Chiba-Dōjō (Honbu) of the Hokushin Ittō-Ryū Hyōhō for a private Kaichō seminar with the 7th Sōke of the school, Ōtsuka Ryūnosuke.
This time we focused almost exclusively on the Yoroi syllabus of our school. First, it all started of course with the correct way of putting on the suit of armour. In fact, this is less complicated than most people might think and it is even possible to put it on by oneself without assistance. For this, of course, some routine is required. Ryūnosuke-Sōke explained all parts of the Yoroi in great detail.
For me, the most intriguing part of the full Yoroi is the Menpō as it completely blocks the facial expressions and therefore emotions of the wearer. Obviously, the eyes are visible but also partly disguised by the Mae-zashi (front brim of the Kabuto). Therefore it is almost impossible to “read” the enemy as in the midst of battle there is no way to get a deep look into the eyes of the adversary. This makes the teaching of the 1st of the Jūni-Kajō, Futatsu no Metsuke no Koto (two points of viewing the enemy), very important. All in all a very enthralling experience to stand against an individual wearing full Yoroi …
A full set of armour weights around 20 kgs, depending on the design and version. This is also the approximate weight of the Yoroi we were wearing.
Interestingly, after a few minutes of moving around in it, it felt really good to wear the Yoroi and nothing obstructed me whatsoever. Certainly, this has a lot to do with the precise way you buckle on the armour. It is essential that it is worn on the Koshi (hip).
Now we worked through the main Gogyō-no-kata of the Hokushin Ittō-Ryū Hyōhō and Ryūnosuke-Sōke prompted me to pay close attention to the correct angles of attack and counter-attack.
And there it was… all pieces fell into place! If the kata are done correctly and powerful as instructed since years, an experienced Hokushin Ittō-Ryū swordsman will automatically get to the weak points of the Yoroi. And keep in mind: All this with the straight Ashiwaza and Kamae of our school.
Just a few examples:
– Jōdan-no-kamae works as usual (note the Maedate on my Kabuto) without any alteration. So do all other Kamae.
– Suri-ashi gives enough stability and I do not see the need of having a low posture in order to balance the weight of the Yoroi as one wears it on the Koshi which makes it light to wear. Of course, the condition of the ground needs to be taken into account but this is only natural.
The Gogyō-no-kata are really the ideal part of our curriculum to work on when starting in full Yoroi as it gives you instant insight in what’s happening.
Later we switched to Naginatajutu and again Ryūnosuke-Sōke gave valuable input and explained a lot of details concerning the application of the weapon in relation to the Yoroi.
Here again, I observed that all goes hand in hand and it is a joy to use it!
Beforehand, I was really curious (not skeptical, of course 🙂 ) if everything I have learned in the past few years would indeed work and being applicable in full Yoroi like it was always taught in theory.
After the experience I can wholeheartedly affirm that this is the case!
But, and that’s the crux of the matter, it is an unconditional obligation to follow the teachings and instructions of your teacher correctly from the beginning. For example, all the Yoroi applications of the Hokushin Ittō-Ryū Hyōhō are already an integral component in the basic Gogyō-no-kata.
In my opinion there is no such thing as Katchū-bujutsu (combat in armour) and Suhada-bujutsu (combat in civilian clothes) as a distinction between different schools.
No classic Ryūha ever had the luxury of only focusing on one of them and discard the other. All techniques have to work either way. Many swordsmen of a lot of schools during the Bakumatsu period wore Yoroi and fought in it. And all depends on nothing but the integrity of the teachings.
Now I am looking forward to the next session in Yoroi!