Dojo Name: Jigen-ryu Center for Swordsmanship
Arts Practiced: Jigen-ryu Hyōhō 示現流兵法 (koryu kenjutsu 古流剣術)
Location: Kagoshima City, Kagoshima-ken, Japan
Current Headmaster: Togo Shigenori 東郷 重徳
Summary: A famous four centuries old swordsmanship school with an earthen floor dojo and striking poles
During a trip to Kagoshima City, I visited the “Jigen Ryu Center for Swordsmanship”, which actually appears on the English language tourist maps. I was able to visit the museum and take pictures in the dojo. Established in 1604 by Togo Bizen no Kami Chui (東郷藤兵衛肥前守重位), Jigen-ryu has a long history of secrecy. Until relatively recently, even family members of practitioners were not permitted in the dojo, though this has changed and the school now welcomes visitors. Nevertheless, many things still remain well guarded. While the ryuha politely turned down my request for more information on the building, they were kind enough to allow me to post about the dojo. Much of the background information presented here are largely taken from sources already available to those outside the ryuha.
One could easily walk past the Jigen-ryu Center for Swordsmanship and not think anything particular resides inside. In fact, a coin car park occupies a significant portion of the front of the site. I could not get an answer as to whether this is part of the property but it looks like it is. On their own website there is a computer rendering showing the car park, which leads me to believe that it was part of the planning of the center. The building, completed in May Heisei 9/平成9年 (1997), appears to be principally of reinforced concrete. While it probably would not win any international design awards, there are some architectural considerations in the design and detailing. The window intervals for example are coherent with the subdivision of the in-situ (site cast) fair faced concrete walls.
The center welcomes visitors to a small museum about the school’s tradition. Artifacts on display include training equipment, blades, sword furnishings and scrolls. A short video showing some of the training is also presented. Above the museum is another floor, the function of which I could not ascertain.
The dojo is in the southeast wing of the center. In terms of construction, this part of the edifice is basically a single story shed. The structure is a steel frame with a pitched roof. Some of the main structural connections are welded, which probably contributes to the apparent lack of cross bracing necessary for lateral stability. The external envelop seems to be mainly of prefabricated panels. The exception is the southwest wall which is fair faced concrete with coherent window and door intervals (that is they line up to an imaginary grid). The clerestory ribbon window along the top edge of the wall before the roof indicates the module. On the northeastern end of the hall is a butai (舞台), within which is a tokonoma (床の間). This area seems to serve as the shomen (正面). A long bench lines the southwestern wall. Above this is a shelf holding various training equipment. Florescent tube lights provide artificial illumination.
The most striking element of the dojo is the hard packed earth floor, upon which trainees practice barefoot. The rest of the building has normal flooring. Entering the building at the reception, one must remove one’s shoes and change to slippers. Then again, upon entering the dojo, guest change into another set of slippers only used on the earthen floor. Presumably, practitioners would go barefoot at this point. There is a wash basin near the entrance, which is likely for washing one’s feet before exiting the dojo.
My guess is that there is an underfloor beneath the earth, though I could not get this confirmed. Without an underfloor, which basically would serve as a tray for containing the earth, weather would have a potentially great affect on floor conditions. Then again, perhaps that would be something desirable if dealing with different conditions is part of training. I doubt this is the case though.
Trainees practice barefoot on this floor while wearing everyday clothes as Jigen-ryu’s view is that one should be ready to fight at any given time. Also unusually for a Japanese martial art, Jigen-Ryu only advocates rei (礼) or bowing to the dojo and to the training weapons. Trainees are told to treat other trainees as the enemy so no rei is afforded to training partners. I am not sure if the same rule applies between student and teacher.
If Jigen-ryu is famous for anything, it is for its powerful first strike. In this ryuha’s view, a second strike is not even to be considered. It’s either kill or be killed. The ryuha claims to not have any defensive techniques nor uke-waza (受け技), techniques for baiting an opponent. Despite this apparent simplicity however, it takes ten to twenty years of hard practice to reach shodan (初段/first dan). In Jigen-ryu, there are two intermediary grades before shodan: shodo (初度) and ryodo (両度). After shodan there are nidan (二段/second dan), sandan (三段/third dan) and yondan (四段/fourth dan). Yondan is menkyo kaiden (免許皆伝).
In order to develop Jigen-ryu’s famous strike, training centers on tategi-uchi (立木打), strikes against a wood post embedded into the ground. At the time of my visit, four of these posts, roughly one at each corner of the training area, are found in the dojo. These are taken from the yusu (ユス) tree. Jigen-ryu bokuto is also from yusu. I imagine that with the dojo floor composed of earth that the configuration of the posts are changed from time to time.
The basic cut in Jigen-ryu is from tombo-gamae (蜻蛉構) or dragonfly stance, a high variation of hasso-kamae (八相構). From this stance a kesagiri (袈裟切り) cut, or diagonal cut across the torso from shoulder to hip, is made. The kiai made during these strikes is a ear splitting “Ei!” Trainees are instructed to perform strikes “3000 times in the morning, 8000 times at night.” It is said that one can smell burning wood when vigorous tategi-uchi is performed.
The ryuha also has paired kata (形). The English language visitor’s pamphlet describes the first kata as such:
“Kata, or pattern practice is also a key method of training in Jigen Ryu. The first kata studied is called empi (swallow’s flight). Empi contains all of the fundamental movements of Jigen Ryu. The two roles in Empi are called dashi and tsuke. Dashi is based on movements found in the Taisha Ryu school of swordsmanship, and is generally preformed by the more experienced practitioner.”
According to the pamphlet, Togo Chui received full license in Taisha-ryu (タイ捨流) at age 20. He subsequently traveled to Kyoto to learn goldsmithing and lacquer work. In Kyoto he learned Tenshinsho Jigen-ryu (天真正自顕流) from a Buddhist monk named Zenkichi, who was residing at Tenneiji Soto Zen temple at the time. Following this training period, Togo Chui reportedly spent three years practicing strikes against kaki or persimmon trees with a bokuto. Eventually, Jigen-ryu came to be the standard sword style of Satsuma-han and was given its current name by a monk from Kagoshima’s Dairyuji temple. The name retained the same phonetics as Jigen from Tenshinsho Jigen-ryu but uses kanji related to Buddhist sutra; meaning “manifestation” or “reveal.”
The pamphlet further gives the Rules of the Dojo as thus.
Practice in everyday clothes
Bow when entering and leaving the dojo
Bow when taking and returning weapons
You should not bow to your opponent
Always turn left”
This last rule leaves me wondering how “always turn left” is practiced and how this affects the layout of the dojo. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to observe a practice to get an idea of this.
Further reading about Jigen-ryu can be found at www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/columns/0005/lens236.htm