Made by: Pasi Hellstén Suomi, and Neil Kemp Scotland
I first met Iwata Sensei in England in August 2000. I found him to be a very interesting teacher with a strong personality. He is very knowledgeable in iaido and it’s history, and is a strict sensei. I therefore wanted to do an interview to get some basic background information about this strong teacher. My friend Mr. Neil Kemp, from Britain, has trained under Iwata Sensei for years and has visited and trained in Japan many times with other senior students. He was going to Japan in November 2001 to once again learn from Iwata Sensei so I sent my questions to him and he kindly asked my questions and even expanded on them. In May 2002 Neil again visited Japan and asked some additional questions as I wished to focus further on some parts. So we got a long story, but I think you will be interested in it.
We would like to give our thanks to Iwata Sensei, and to our interpreter Mrs. Yuriko Terao, who made this interview possible. So here it is as I got it from Neil: Iwata Sensei was delighted to answer our questions during the Eikoku Roshu Kai seminar in Ozu, Ehime province, Shikoku in November 2001 and May 2002, and further clarified in England in August 2002.
First we would like to learn something about Sensei’s background:
What is Sensei’s full name?
My name is Iwata Norikazu, but some people call me Iwata Kenichi because of the way the kanji in my name can be read. When I was young, I was not very healthy, so my family called me Shohei. Later when I was stronger they called me Norikazu. This was when I was about 20 years old.
How old are you now?
I was born in Kagawa ken on the 16th of September in 1913 (Taisho 2), so I am actually 89 years old, however, by the old Japanese system I am in my 90th year, and I hope I will go on being able to practice and teach iaido. Since I was able, I went to England to teach again in August 2002. I entered a former junior high school in 1927, and started learning kendo. I got my 3rd dan in August 1933, and I taught kendo as an assistant teacher for 4 months at the junior high school. In December 1933 I joined the army in Manchuria. I became a military policeman in 1935, and started to educate military policemen in April 1936. I kept teaching until August 1945. Since Japan was the defeated nation of the Pacific War, I became a prisoner in Russia in 1945. I only came back to Japan in December 1949. Initially, before joining the army, I learnt only Seiza No Bu iaido. I started practicing iaido very hard in 1957 when I was 43 years old.
Are you a professional budo teacher or do you have a “civil occupation”?
I am now retired, but I study iaido full time. So in essence I now concentrate on budo and calligraphy, but I would not say I am a professional budo teacher. I will tell you a little later about my time in the army and the war. Early in my career I was secretary of a company making agricultural machinery. Later in life I was the secretary to the Prime Minister of Japan
What style of iai is Sensei teaching?
Now I teach only Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu as I was initially taught in Kochi. I no longer teach anyone the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Seitei Gata Iaido.
Your present rank in iai?
I am Hanshi Hachidan as specified by the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei. I achieved Hachidan in 1976 and gained Hanshi status in 1983. The other ranks you will be aware of are Kyoshi Nanadan, and Renshi Rokudan. There are no additional examinations for these teaching titles but there are certain requirements, characteristics, e.g. good standing in the community, well respected within iaido, no criminal record etc.
Your dojo name, where is it (are they)?
My dojo name is Hounan Juku, my address is 2469-6, Oaza Okamoto, Toyonaka Cho, Mitoyo Gun, Kagawa Ken, Japan.
What is the average number of members in your dojo?
I cannot give an average number. I have had many students over the years, more than 200 – 300 from Japan and also some students from England and Canada. I have some long-standing students that come to my dojo on a regular basis and some local students from Kagawa. I also get requests from people of different schools across Japan that have read my articles in the Nippon Kendo magazine, or have seen the videos I have made on Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu for the same magazine, or have read my books. I also teach all over Japan at locations where there are students that belong to Roshu Kai and other places where people are interested in learning traditional iaido/iaijutsu.
How often do you have trainings in your dojo?
When people come I teach them. There are no fixed times, I can be flexible to meet other people’s needs if it fits with my other commitments
Do you have any special seminars (in weekends)?
Yes we have Japanese Roshu Kai seminars and for the last 4-5 years I have been teaching students from England that come to Japan to learn directly from me. These seminars can run for long weekends for Japanese students, or 7 to 10 days for the English students. I have to think very carefully about what I want to teach at these seminars, especially the long seminars for the English students. They have to travel a long way and have so much to learn that they need this extended period.
Organization where your dojo belongs? (Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei, Zen Nippon Iaido Renmei?)
Most of the dojos and people in Roshu Kai belong to the ZNKR. I do not take much interest in this anymore, I am happy to teach anyone who is serious about learning traditional iaido. I can accept people from any groups.
When and where did Sensei start his study of iai?
I initially learnt Seiza no Bu iaido locally in Kagawa in the 1940’s. However, I started to learn seriously in 1957 in Kochi. It took the Kochi Senseis – Fukui Harumasa Sensei, who was the 19th Soke of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, Yamamoto Takuji Sensei and Shimazaki Teruyuki san three months to reply to my request to learn. I was very pleased when they confirmed that I could learn. They were very strict with me initially, and tried to put me off in the beginning, but I worked hard and they gradually accepted me. I used to travel by train from Kagawa to Kochi each Sunday, a journey of about 4 hours, and practiced for several hours with only very little breaks. It was very hard work but very rewarding. After a few years they said they had taught me enough and I could go, but I said I wanted to learn more (I was not going to let them off so lightly) so they agreed to continue to teach me. This training was a solid foundation for my iaido and I thank my senseis very much for all their help and their teaching.
When was Fukui Harumasa chosen to be the 19th Soke? When one of the menkyo kaiden students is chosen Soke, is there a special ceremony?
If you look in my book, you will see the dates for all the Soke. Yes, there is a special ceremony in front of the Shinzen and the next Soke usually gets a sword the same day.
What led Sensei to study the martial arts?
When I was young, I was not too healthy, so I studied and practiced martial arts to build up my strength and character. I believe this is quite a common reason for starting martial arts. My father was a judo teacher (with a menkyo kaiden) but he didn’t think I was strong enough then to learn judo, so he told me I should take up kendo. I did and I have never regretted it, it has been an important element in my life.
Sensei’s father was a judoka. Are there other members of the family who practice budo arts?
No, only my father and myself.
Was Sensei’s father menkyo kaiden in judo or some old school of jujutsu? I thought there were no more makimono in judo?
My father’s school was Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu. At that time there were still menkyo kaiden in judo.
What other arts has Sensei trained in?
I have also studied kendo and jukendo (rifle/bayonet). In the beginning kendo was my main interest.
What is Sensei’s rank in kendo?
I am Kyoshi Nanadan.
How do these other budo arts fit in with your iai practice?
Kendo complements iaido, the form is different but the spirit is the same. The body movements are also slightly different but can help with each other.
Is it advisable for iaido students to learn kendo or Koryu Kenjutsu in order to get a better understanding of Japanese sword arts?
Yes, this is very much the case. The partner work will help the iaido waza to develop further and better, and vice versa.
Who was Sensei’s first budo teacher?
My junior high school teacher Seo Hikosaburo was very good, excellent in fact. Because of him I learnt a lot and I am very thankful to him for what he taught me.
What was the name of your school?
It was called Kagawa Kenritsu Miyoshi Junior High School.
Who was Sensei’s first iai teacher?
Soon after coming back to Japan in 1949, I started practicing kendo again. I heard there was a very traditional Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu in Kochi and there was Soke there and I wanted to learn iaido too. I knew Koda Morio Sensei, who had just came back from Taiwan. I started to practice kendo and learn iaido under him. Koda Sensei graduated from a special budo school (Kyoto Budo Senmongakko), and took part in a 7-day iaido seminar by Oe sensei. One day I asked Koda sensei about waza, then he said, “I learned from Oe sensei, but just for seven days and that was a long time ago, so I forgot. The parts I forgot are my own style.” Then I asked him, “May I go to Kochi to learn iaido?” He said, “yes”. So I decided to go. But we kept practicing together after that, for about 20 years. He corrected his own style silently. He was a very upright and good teacher.
In May 1957 I attended the Kyoto Taikai (organised by the ZNKR). On my way home, I met by chance Fukui Harumasa Sensei (the 19th Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Soke) Yamamoto Takuji Sensei and Taoka Tsutau (also called Taoka Den) Sensei.
Soon after I met them, I asked Yamamoto Sensei to teach me and I started to visit Kochi in August 1957. I was 43 years old then. I learnt all the waza and all the things about the old and new Kochi iaido by asking them. I studied iaido there for 5 1 years.
Then I studied under Mori Shigeki sensei until he passed away in 1988. Mori Sensei started to learn under Oe Sensei when he was a junior high school student, and kept learning till Oe Sensei passed away in 1927.
Was Iwata Sensei Yamamoto Sensei’s private student or were there lots of students?
Yes I was a private student of Yamamoto Takuji Sensei, but he also had lots of other students.
In what year did Iwata Sensei start iaido under Mori Sensei?
I started to learn separately with Mori Shigeki Sensei in 1972.
Who were the most influential teachers for Iwata Sensei’s iai and budo career?
I would have to say that it was the three teachers I mentioned above. I have met many fine budoka and teachers in my life, including Morihei Ueshiba Sensei who was very powerful, but these three teachers are still the most important to me.
I met Ueshiba Sensei at Military Police school, where he was giving lessons. I was there for two months just before the war broke. The training was meant to be for a year but war broke out after two months and it stopped. Ueshiba Sensei was a very special person. No one could reach him, he moved so well and his spirit was so strong. Even when ten people tried to attack him at the same time they were not able to catch him. But when he caught hold of your hand you had to move where he wanted you to move or your arm would break.
Are these teachers still teaching, where?
Unfortunately all of these teachers are now dead. This is the natural way of things but their memory and their teaching is still with me. The Menkyo Kaidens I have from both Yamamoto Takuji Sensei and Mori Shigeki Sensei help to remind me of their teaching and in this respect they are very useful. We also have some film footage of these teachers, which is also useful, but you have to look closely at what they are doing, and know what was common at the time, to understand these films. Again, my students in Eikoku Roshu Kai have copies of these and if they haven’t already given you a copy I am sure they would be pleased to.
How was your instruction carried out? What teaching methods did your teachers use?
Initially the teaching was strict. The Senseis would demonstrate the waza, then I would imitate them and afterwards they would correct. So the teachers did more iaido, again and again they would demonstrate good waza and I would follow.
A) Yamamoto Takuji sensei’s iaido.
He learnt iaido under Oe Sensei for about 6 years before Oe Sensei passed away. Yamamoto Takuji Sensei was not so young when he learnt Oe Sensei’s iaido. He acquired Oe sensei’s last iaido thoroughly.
B) How I learnt under Yamamoto Takuji sensei.
For the first 3 months he didn’t explain at all. He demonstrated the 11 Seiza No Bu waza, then I did them. We did this in turns. I learnt his iaido without asking. Three months later, he explained the reasons briefly. He taught me Seiza No Bu for 1 year. Then I could learn Tate Hiza No Bu. I visited Kochi every Sunday. I arrived at the Kochi dojo (Chidokan) at around 9:30 in the morning. I left Kochi after 3 o’clock in the afternoon by train. I practiced for 5 or 6 hours each time.
While I was practicing under Yamamoto Takuji Sensei, Fukui Harumasa Sensei, Taoka Tsutau Sensei, and Shimazaki Teruyuki san gathered around and watched my practice smiling. Shimazaki san owned a martial arts shop. He was always with Oe Sensei until Oe Sensei passed away. While Yamamoto Takuji Sensei was taking a break, they called me aside and gave me additional lessons. I remember I had little break.
I learnt all the 45 waza during these 3 years, and my teacher said, “You don’t need to come any more. You have finished.” However, I asked him to teach me more. I went to Kochi for 2 years and 6 months more. We did all the 45 waza for about 1 hour and each time I listened to all the traditional Kochi iaido stories they knew. Later this helped me a lot. I feel the long years of practice were really good.
Yamamoto Takuji Sensei passed away in 1977. He was 92 years old.
C) How I learnt under Mori Shigeki sensei.
After learning in Kochi, I started to visit Mori Sensei in Matsuyama to get his comments and guidance once every 2 months. Maybe he liked my iaido attitude, for he sometimes visited me. He also came to Kanonji, and taught my comrades and me. Mori Sensei respected Yamamoto Takuji Sensei’s teachings. He said repeatedly “You have learnt the most dynamic Tosa (Kochi) gihou (technique). You have attained the dynamic iaido sufficiently well. However, Oe Sensei’s iaido was half-dynamic and half-graceful.” I remember he encouraged me. He didn’t correct what I was doing, he only added his iaido to mine. Later he became disabled and moved to his child’s house in Nagoya. I made it a point to visit him once in every 2 or 3 months and talked on various topics all day long. He was very pleased with this. He passed away on 29 May 1988. He was 97 years old. My teachers were long-lived.
Mori Sensei learnt with Oe Sensei for 20 years. Yamamoto Sensei learnt from Oe Sensei for the last 6 years. So both had direct teaching from Oe Sensei. Mori Sensei also learnt from Hokiyama Namio Sensei, the 18th Soke. Hokiyama Sensei and Mori Sensei were high school classmates.
I learnt a lot from Mori Sensei, especially in the conversations about Oe Sensei’s life and iaido. Also Mori Sensei saw Fukui Harumasa Sensei for the last time just 2 hours before he died. So all the teachers were very close.
At that time there was no conflict between people practicing Tanimura Ha and Shimomura Ha. In Kochi you could go to both. Kochi people were very friendly and you could train as you liked, so I was able to learn both ha of the ryu. People outside Kochi then, and now, sometimes say differently but they are not correct.
I was very happy and lucky to have such great teachers, they were always pleased to teach me more when I asked.
When was Hokiyama Sensei born and when did he die? Was his successor already known?
You can find the dates for Hokiyama Sensei in my book. No, his successor was not known right away. Fukui sensei was Hokiyama sensei’s close friend. They used to drink together. So soon after Hokiyama sensei died, his wife gave his sword to Fukui sensei without the ceremony. After that, for a few years, no one said anything, because the people were having a hard time. He died in 1935 – it was before the Second World War. But people started to object. Fukui sensei said, “I will choose 21st Soke from Kochi”. The old teachers in Kochi quelled the dispute.
Did Oe Sensei leave any written material about iaido or budo?
Unfortunately Oe Sensei did not leave any books or written material. His students collated all the information.
Can Sensei describe his teachers? What kind of teachers and human beings were they?
All the teachers in Kochi were Igosso (strong characters). Igosso is Kochi dialect.
Yamamoto Takuji sensei’s iaido was very dynamic. He took the dynamic part mainly from Oe sensei. I was strongly influenced by Takuji sensei, so my iaido is 80% dynamic and 20% graceful. Harumasa sensei was calm, mild and warm-hearted. Mori sensei was very precise. He respected Kochi teachers, so he didn’t correct me. But he used to say Oe sensei’s iaido was 50% dynamic and 50% graceful. He added his iaido to my iaido. He said, “Your iaido is very dynamic. You don’t need to change your iaido. Do your iaido”. I tried to take the best points from all the Sensei, but it was Takuji sensei that influenced me the most.
Can Sensei tell some anecdotes about his teachers which describe their characters etc.?
Yamamoto Sensei was a very independent man. Even when he was hurt or cut he would treat himself, he did not go to see a doctor.
Harumasa Sensei was married but he had no children, so he died alone. He was very calm with people, he was very kind to people from outside Kochi (he treated them like guests). However, Harumasa Sensei was a ‘devil’ when he taught, he was very strict.
Takeshima Sensei of Kochi was taught by Harumasa Sensei. Kochi people tended to protect each other so they trained very hard and seriously together. Takeshima Sensei has many of the characteristics of Harumasa Sensei. He doesn’t generally teach people from outside Kochi, so the students from England should feel very honoured, and I am sure they do.
Maybe I was the first person from outside Kochi to be taught like this by the Kochi Sensei. All three got together to decide if they would teach me. After 3 months Harumasa Sensei said yes but people had to teach me harshly so I would give up and go away. They failed, although they taught me for 5 1 hours at a time without a break, I kept going to Kochi for more tuition. The hard work was very good for me and I think in the end they respected me for my effort.
Mori Sensei was a very intelligent man, and did very beautiful and precise calligraphy. As I said he and Hokiyama Sensei were classmates, and they promised each other to make a very precise book about Oe Sensei’s iaido. However, Hokiyama Sensei was a very heavy drinker and died at only 40 (he had very high blood pressure), therefore Mori Sensei could not write the book. He thought that if he wrote the book with Hokiyama Sensei as the Soke people would respect it. If he published on his own it wouldn’t be respected. When I published my first book, Mori Sensei was very happy and I asked him to write the foreword for the book.
When did Yamamoto Harusuke Sensei live and in which part of Shikoku?
Again you will find the dates for when Yamamoto Sensei lived in my book. He lived in a part of Kochi.
Can Sensei tell me something more about his research into iaido and the books/articles he has written?
Since I learnt Tosa iaido under Yamamoto Takuji Sensei, Fukui Harumasa Sensei, Taoka Tsutau Sensei, and Shimazaki Teruyuki san I thought I should write an outline of wazamae that I learnt in Kochi so as not to forget in the future. That was the beginning of my book writing. I named it SHI DEN KAI KO – Tosa NO EISHIN RYU (also known as The Red Book), and started to write the articles. It was necessary to study Koryu enough to write a book. So I started to trace the origin of Koryu.
I started to study books by Kono Hyakuren Sensei. He was taught by Hokiyama Namio Sensei (18th Soke) especially, and after Hokiyama sensei passed away, he was taught by Fukui Harumasa Sensei (19th Soke). He had enough practical training and studied the reasons very much. He redoubled his efforts to study Koryu and became the 20th Soke. One of his books is an explanation of the 45 hon practice, another one is a study of Koryu. In his last years he deplored the wrong ideas people had of iaido: waza were done incorrectly and even changed, and so he wrote a book called TAN I ROKU. He published several excellent books. He did his best to teach the iaido people at that time (Showa). I read these books and practiced every day. That helped me a lot to finish Kochi practice. I was very much enlightened by them. I felt I started to gain firm confidence from the lessons by Yamamoto Sensei and the study of Kono sensei’s books.
I could not publish my Red Book when I initially wrote it as I was only 50 and I didn’t think it would be very well accepted.
Around this time Nippon Budo Shinbun was still publishing in Kyoto. Many ideas about budo and the present budo situation appeared in the newspapers. There were various kinds of individual opinions among them. I thought of contributing articles. I thought someone would answer my questions and teach me. I started to contribute every month for 4 years from 1963. My article appeared almost every month. However, I was disappointed in my expectations. I did not get any answers. On the contrary I had a bad reputation, “an impertinent fellow”, so I stopped.
I was around 50 years old then. I was thinking of reasonable iaido day and night and wrote freely without reserve. It was very useful for me to write books. I published these as an at-random commentary iaido book, TANBO KAIKO (the cover is dark blue.)
I finally published Shi Den Kai Ko – Tosa No Eishin Ryu when I was 70, and by then I was respected and most people accepted the book. I re-wrote the book 5 times over the 20 years as I learnt more, so perhaps the delay was a good thing.
A) Soda Torahiko Sensei (the 16th, Shimomura Ha)
Soda Torahiko Sensei learnt under Yukimune Sadayoshi sensei (the 15th Soke, Shimomura Ha.) He was a Shimomura Ha expert and had copies of the reference material Yukimune Sensei had. He was an excellent Shimomura Ha teacher. I heard his son lived in Tokyo. I asked him about the copy of the reference material on iaido. He kindly gave me the copies he had. There were very valuable documents, such as Oe Sensei’s students’ articles and Shimomura Ha and Tanimura Ha teachers’ articles that were contributed to Nippon budo Shinbun in 1926. Moreover, there were copies of Yukimune Sensei’s writings about Shimomura Ha Koden, commonly called Muso Shinden Shigenobu Ryu Record. Soda Sensei copied them. They were really useful and I could study a lot. There were Nakanishi Sensei’s articles and a man who was from Kochi contributed from Manchuria.
The reference material helped me to learn about the Kochi iaido teachers’ activities and facilitated much my study of iaido in Kochi. I appreciated these precious copies and I put some of them in my book, TANBO KAIKO.
B) Research into the old traditional books.
1) Research into the book, KENDO SYUUGI.
KENDO SYUUGI was written by Yamada Jirokichi Sensei, a kendo teacher at the Tokyo Commercial University. I knew the book had many useful old writings when I was contributing to Nippon budo Shinbun. I asked my friend to buy one for me. He graduated from the Tokyo Commercial University.
I started to research into the book. There were a lot of explanations about budo ryu ha (budo schools), a lot of Kubota Sugane Sensei’s writings, GORIN NO SHO, and so on. There were many original texts in the book. I researched into the book and extracted the parts useful for iai and published them in a book form. I named the book iaido SHUUGI, the third book I published (the cover is light green).
Kubota Sensei was a teacher at KOUBUSHO, a kind of school, in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate. There were a lot of useful explanations about the old traditional kendo and iaido techniques and how to teach. His book was very helpful to my study of these techniques.
2) Research into GORIN NO SHO.
I found GORIN NO SHO explained by Kobayashi Ichiro in a second-hand bookstore in Kyoto in 1988. I studied it with all my heart. He explained the book as one of the old traditional books. However, the explanations are like ones by a martial artist. I have never read such a good book as this. I keenly realized we should study and practice kendo and iaido aiming at GORIN NO SHO as our objective/goal. I often reread it even now.
3) Research by reading various books.
You can learn MUSO JIKIDEN EISHIN RYU techniques well enough, if you study the books by Kono Hyakuren Sensei very hard. However, you can’t learn mentality well enough, even if you study iaido writings very much. Yamaoka Tesshu Sensei, a famous swordsman and statesman, finally completed his kendo by zen.
After learning in Kochi, I thought of mental training. I tried to find good books. I read the books on zen by Suzuki Taisetsu Sensei. I read KEN AND ZEN, YUMI AND ZEN, and so on. Mental explanations are very useful to improve techniques. However, there weren’t so many good books to help techniques. I read a book about Noh play (drama) and I was impressed. Noh has been keeping strictly to its old tradition and the people have been putting old things into practice. They have warned against changes in the body movement. They have kept the admonition in mind.
4) Study techniques and reasons by adopting ideas from newspapers and magazines.
We can find the articles about the people who succeeded technically by making efforts. Their mental processes through their efforts are very similar to ours. When we read about their achievements, we can adopt their experience to improve our iaido. I always look for this kind of articles. I try to keep useful things in my mind. Of course I can’t keep all of them, but I do try to keep them in my mind. I also enjoy reading the books. I often go to the bookstore. I was impressed most by Mr. Matsushita Konosuke, the first (Matsushita) Panasonic president. By his achievement and words and deeds, we can learn a lot. He studied by himself, not at schools. His words, deeds and mentality are very useful to us.