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In feudal times the core aspect of any Japanese warrior's martial education was that of swordsmanship. Shinkendo is a comprehensive reunification of what the Samurai once used and relied upon for survival, and can be classified as a combination of the founder's own technical and structural innovations and an amalgamation of several traditions of Japanese swordsmanship that have been forced to evolve and splinter over time. Unified, Shinkendo is a historically accurate and comprehensive style of Japanese Swordsmanship.

The Shinkendo school emphasizes very traditional and effective swordsmanship, which with serious training, leads to both practical ability as well as an understanding of classical martial arts. Shinkendo is steeped in the traditions of the samurai, in such ways as Heiho (strategy), Reiho (proper Bushido etiquette) and philosophy. Toshishiro Obata Kaiso is the founder, director and chief instructor of The Kokusai Shinkendo Renmei (International Shinkendo Federation), an organization dedicated to teaching authentic Japanese swordsmanship.

Goho Gorin Gogyo

Training in Shinkendo is balanced between five different streams of practice. These streams, called the Goho Gorin Gogyo, include:

  1. Suburi (sword swinging drills),
  2. Tanrengata (solo forms),
  3. Battoho (combative drawing and cutting methods),
  4. Tachiuchi (sparring) and,
  5. Tameshigiri (cutting straw and bamboo targets).

Students always train using a Bokuto (wooden sword), and later advance to training with Iaito (non-sharpened sword) and finally Shinken, or 'live blade'. At more advanced levels, the student begins to test their acquired skills through test cutting practice on tatami omote makiwara (rolled up tatami mats, previously soaked in water), and eventually Take (Japanese or Chinese bamboo).

The goal of Shinkendo is to develop and harmonize the mind and body. Proficiency in swordsmanship and spiritual development are not sequential achievements; they are interactive and interdependent developments. The serious practitioner should devote themselves to tireless practice of the techniques of the Goho Gorin Gogyo and embodiment of the principles and philosophy of Jinsei Shinkendo (life is Shinkendo). This is not to imply that one should become a senseless devotee of the art but rather that the concepts learned through Shinkendo should be used to improve and balance all areas of a practitioner's life. More succinctly one should seek to integrate the teachings and philosophy of the Kuyo Junikun (12 precepts of the nine planets stratagem) and the 8 ways of the Hachido into their daily lives.

Kuyo Junikun

While Shinkendo requires rigorous physical training, depth of coordination, and intense focus, one of the most important aspects of Shinkendo is the emphasis on spiritual forging, which inspires Bushi Damashii (the Samurai/ warrior spirit), a quality that is as relevant now as it was hundreds of years ago. Proper practice of Shinkendo should provide one with not only a strong body and mind, but also a calm, clear and focused spirit. It is this aspect of the training which can be carried into any part of one's life and thus makes Shinkendo as relevant now as it was a thousand years ago.

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The Kokusai Toyama Ryu Renmei (KTRR, AKA International Toyama Ryu Federation) is headed and founded by Obata Toshishiro, Honbucho. Obata Sensei originally came to America in 1980, licensed with the positions and responsibilities of Beikoku Honbucho (American Headquarters) for Toyama ryu, Nakamura ryu and Battodo, and is continuing in his efforts now under the KTRR.

Originally a small sub-system of sword drawing techniques created for officers of the Japanese Imperial Army, Toyama ryu is now represented in various forms throughout the world as an independent sword art.

The Toyama ryu "gunto soho" (military sword methodology) was created and standardized (seitei) in 1925 in response to concern that officers would not be able to effectively draw and employ their sword (gunto) should the need arise while operating in hostile environments. After WWII, the Japanese Imperial Army was disbanded, and three major lines of Toyama ryu were adapted and taught independently - Morinaga style, Yamaguchi style, and Nakamura style. Nakamura Taizaburo Sensei was one of Obata Sensei's main sword instructors. In view of Obata Sensei's skill and dedication, the art of Toyama ryu was charged to him upon his relocation to America as the Chief Instructor of America.

Since that time, Toyama ryu has been completely subsumed into the Shinkendo curriculum and embellished as follows:

  • Toyama ryu kihon kata (the eight basic kata as transmitted through the Nakamura line)
  • Toyama ryu jokyu kata (advanced variations on the eight basic kata)
  • Toyama ryu henka (advanced applied variations)
  • Toyama ryu hensen (the study of the original methods and their technical evolution to the present time; Gunto soho, Battojutsu and Battodo/Iaido periods.

Toyama ryu is categorized in Shinkendo as "gaiden waza" (borrowed techniques). Though ranks are awarded separately for Toyama ryu, these limited methods are taught as part of the overall Shinkendo curriculum, and as such cannot be taught independent of the art of Shinkendo. The KTRR does not participate in form (engi) or cutting (tameshigiri) competitions, and is not affiliated with any other line or organization.

Our line of Toyama ryu emphasizes accurate, powerful and rapid deployment of the sword, combined with a strong expression of kiai. This spirit of training was how the art was originally taught to the students of the Imperial Japanese Army Rikugun Toyama Gakko. Though elements of Iai arts were used in the formation of the Toyama ryu curriculum originally, the context and intent of Toyama ryu and modern Iaido are totally different, and were not intended to be practiced in the same way.

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Aikibujutsu & Aikidō

The fundamental idea of Aikibujutsu is the same as that of Aikidō, which is to blend with and control an opponent’s energy in order to subdue him/or her with minimal effort, force, and injury. Hence the essence of the Aiki arts is quite different from many modern competitive arts where competitions or displays of strength are the central idea. Nevertheless, since Aikibujutsu is a form of Japanese budō, the technique involved must be effective and realistic. In modern times an aggressor will attack with punches, kicks, grappling, or use weapons such as knives, or wooden bats, therefore Aikibujutsu training includes both attacking and blocking methods that are practical to modern situations.

The most important aspect of Aikibujutsu training is safety. Initially, the student learns the basics of Aikidō, which includes ukemi (falling and receiving techniques), osae waza (control techniques) and nage waza (throwing techniques). The focus is first on soft and flowing techniques, so that students can learn to harmonize with their opponents and practice taking safe ukemi. It’s important to understand that at this level of training these techniques are not practical for self defense. Once students can take safe ukemi and have sufficient stamina, they proceed to learning Aikibujutsu, which incorporates aikijūjutsu and Edo torimonojutsu (samurai arresting techniques), which are more realistic and effective systems of goshin (self-defense). As students advance, they must thoroughly understand and practice the theories embodied in the basics in order to use henka (variations) of techniques, which can be adapted and applied to various real situations. By applying these different variations and adjusting to the opponent’s attack, the technique will take shape as true goshin (self-defense). In this way, Aikibujutsu is very practical and strong as goshin jutsu (self-defense technique) and taihō jutsu (arresting technique).

The Areas of Study of Aikibujutsu

1. Kōbō (attacking/blocking)

Attacking - Aikibujutsu incorporates basic striking such as tsuki (punches) and keri (kicks), in addition to the more traditional tegatana (“hand-sword”) strikes. Unlike some arts, Aikibujutsu does not condone methods of bare-handed disarms against a swordsman, as these encourage the practice of extremely dangerous strategies or techniques that are unlikely to succeed against the versatility of sword technique.

Blocking - Shutō uke (sword-hand block) - When an opponent attacks with a tsuki or a strike one must block. Aikibujutsu incorporates various shutō uke techniques from jōdan (high), chūdan (middle), and gedan (low) level which seamlessly transition into techniques of throwing, controlling, and pinning the opponent.

2. Temochi waza & Tehodoki (techniques and escapes against hand grabs)

When an opponent grabs one’s hand, one must escape the grasp and then moves into a technique. The six basic hand positions for tehodoki are kagami (mirror), tekagami (hand-mirror), ten (heaven), chi (earth), jun (obverse) and gyaku (reverse). After tehodoki, the technique progresses into throwing, controlling, or pinning the opponent. For example, there are tehodoki movements that transition from konohagaeshi to ikkajō, and from gyaku konohagaeshi to ikkajō, and from aikiage to ikkajō, and so on.

3. Tedori waza & Torite

Torite refers to a technique or approach that is applied before the opponent attacks in order to make him/or her easier to subdue, and is utilized by police officers and guardsmen as part of effective arresting methods. In taihōjutsu, the goal is to defeat the aggressor while minimizing the damage inflicted. Even during a lawful arrest or in self-defense if one injures the aggressor by kicking or punching this use of force can easily become excessive or unnecessary. To show consideration for the aggressor and limit the injuries inflicted is considered the ideal execution of taihōjutsu. Since it’s best to control an aggressor by restricting movement, kicks and punches should only be used if necessary to supplement a submission technique.

4. Renzoku nagewaza (continuous throwing techniques)

Through combining different throwing techniques in renzoku nagewaza, the student gains stamina, learns to breathe correctly, and attains the natural movements of ashisabaki (footwork) and taisabaki (body movement).

5. Kaeshiwaza (reversal techniques)

When the opponent attacks and the defender reverses the technique and applies a technique of their own this is referred to as kaeshiwaza. These methods are taught to advanced students.

6. Bukiwaza (weapon techniques)

In addition to empty-handed techniques, one learns tantōjutsu (knife technique), bokutō waza (wooden sword technique), shumoku jutsu (stick technique), jōjutsu (medium staff technique), and other weapons.

7. Children’s Aikido

The approach to teaching Aikido to children must be individualized and based on their physical ability since their joints are weaker and more flexible than adults. The focus is to develop a foundation of safe Taiso such as front roll, back roll, and cartwheel, followed by Tesabaki, and Ashisabaki. Once a level of proficiency has been achieved then basic throwing and control techniques can be introduced. To accomplish this level of individualized teaching the Aikido instructor must constantly adjust to the child’s level.

8. Seishin shugyō (spirit training)

Equal in importance to the training of physical technique is the development of the mind and spirit. In Shinkendo, Aikibujutsu, and Bōjutsu Tanrendō, students study the philosophies of Kuyō Junikun, Hachidō, Goiku, and Meitō no Yōsō in order to cultivate and train the mind and spirit. Seishin shugyō is explained further in Modern Bushido (Obata, 2011).