An Interview with Matsuo Haruna

Goyo Ohmi and Kim Taylor, 1994.

In 1990, Goyo Ohmi was invited to England to practice with Matsuo Haruna, a Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido instructor (sensei) who had been teaching regular seminars in that country for several years. As a result of that meeting, the University of Guelph Iaido club invited Haruna sensei to Canada the next year. 1994 marked the fourth visit of Haruna sensei to Canada and that year we took the opportunity to interview him.

Haruna sensei is a 7 dan Iaido Kyoshi who resides in Ohara village, Okayama prefecture. He is a retired Junior High School teacher, a member of the All Japan Kendo Federation, a director of the Okayama Prefecture Kendo Federation and chief instructor and director of the Musashi Dojo in Ohara. The Musashi Dojo is owned by the town and is situated beside the Musashi Museum.

For this interview all Japanese names are written in the western fashion, first then last name. Explanations are in square brackets.

KIM TAYLOR: I would like to thank you for coming this year to Canada, and for the last few years of instruction in Iaido. Haruna Sensei, I would like to start by asking you about your competitive achievements in Iaido, I know your career is quite impressive.

MATSUO HARUNA: I have participated in Provincial and National competitions and demonstrations 256 times. Of these, I lost completely 12 times, came in third 8 times and second 28 times. I was awarded "Best Fighting Spirit" 45 times and "Special Fighting Spirit" (an award higher than Best Fighting Spirit) 15 times. The rest I won. You can do the math yourself to see how many times that was, I am not sure.

I entered my first national competition in 1978 and placed second. Overall at national competitions I placed in the top eight twice, came third twice, second 5 times and in 1989 I won at the 7th dan level. This year I placed second again.

KT: Do you enjoy competing, sensei?

MH: Enjoy it? I can't answer whether I enjoy it or not, but shiai [competition] is practice.

KT: To test yourself, to have a challenge?

MH: No, I don't practice for shiai, the competitions are simply another practice day for me.

KT: So practice and shiai are the same, and you should have the same attitude during practice and during competition?

MH: Yes

KT: Where did you begin your Iaido practice?

MH: My first instructor was Yoshikazu Yamashibu, 8 dan Hanshi, who died last year. His teacher was Harusuke Yamamoto who studied under Masamichi Oe, the 17th headmaster of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido. I started practice in 1972 at 46 years of age.

KT: Was it difficult to start Iai at that age?

MH: No.

KT: Had you practiced other martial arts before starting Iaido?

MH: I started Kendo practice at the age of 16 in school.

KT: Do you still practice Kendo?

MH: Of course.

KT: I know you also practice Niten Ichi Ryu, did you begin that practice because of the association of Ohara with Miyamoto Musashi?

MH: No, not because I am director of Musashi Dojo. Twenty six years ago the 8th headmaster of Niten Ichi Ryu, Tesshin Aoki of Kumamoto province came to the Musashi Dojo in Ohara. Aoki sensei felt the headmastership should return to Musashi's home area and the Musashi Dojo, and so came to teach, I joined then. Although many people have suggested that the headmaster should be from Musashi Dojo, so far nobody in Ohara is ready yet for that position.

After Aoki sensei, Tadanao Kiyonaga became the ninth head but died after a few years. The current head is Masayuki Imai of Oita province in Kyushu. I visit Imai sensei every year to study Niten Ichi Ryu.

KT: I understand that there are two branches of Niten Ichi Ryu.

MH: Yes there is the Noda Ha Niten Ichi Ryu and there is the Hyo Ho Niten Ichi Ryu, which is headed by Imai sensei. This school is named the Santo Ha in an old book but the name is no longer used. The name Santo Ha came from one of the teachers in the lineage. Hyo Ho is written the same as Hei Ho but is properly pronounced as Hyo Ho.

KT: Where do you usually practice Niten Ichi Ryu?

MH: The Musashi Kenyu Club in Ohara. Kenyu Bu translates as "sword friendship club" and is one of several Niten clubs in the town. About 8 members in this club practice at the Musashi Dojo once a week.

KT: To point out how little information we in the west have about Niten Ichi Ryu, I have some comments and questions here which were asked on the Iaido-L computer mailing list. The first comment states that the questioner thought the Niten Ichi Ryu was no longer being practiced.

MH: The headmaster of Niten Ichi Ryu is Masayuki Imai and he owns the headquarters dojo. There are branch groups in Okayama, Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Saga, and Saitama prefectures. There are probably 120 to 130 people from these clubs practicing Niten Ichi Ryu in Japan Today. I don't know how many people practice under the Noda Ha.

KT: The second question concerns the content of the school.

MH: The Tachi Seiho set consists of practice with the long sword against the long sword, Kodachi Seiho is short sword against long and the Nito Seiho is long and short sword against long sword. These are the three sections of practice. There is also a Bojutsu or long staff set which is staff against long sword. I have not practiced the Bojutsu.

KT: I have seen a videotape of Imai sensei and his students demonstrating bojutsu. It is not at all the same style of bo we would see here, derived from Okinawan Karate.

MH: The Niten Ichi Ryu bo is a little bit longer than the Muso Ryu Jodo staff.

KT: It seems similar to Jodo.

MH: Yes, but the specific movements are quite different from Muso Ryu Jodo.

KT: How many kata in each of the three sword sets?

MH: Tachi Seiho has 12 kata altogether, and Kodachi Seiho has seven...

KT: That is the set we hope to learn from you tomorrow.

MH: That is not possible. It can't be learned in only a couple of days. Don't think so simply. (laughs)

KT: And Nito Seiho?

MH: Nito Seiho has 5 kata.

KT: Only five, are there any other Nito kata?

MH: There are 5 kata called the Setssusa (pronounced Sessa) and five kata called Aikuchi. Imai sensei does not teach Sessa and Aikuchi, Aoki sensei told Imai sensei that it is not necessary to practice these kata. For instance, I showed you Jinrai and Raiden in the demonstration today. These Iaido kata were created for practice only and are not part of the school. Sessa and Aikuchi were not created by Musashi but by later students after he died. Imai sensei said that it is not necessary to practice them so we do not. At least not often.

KT: A final question from the computer list concerns how people look at Musashi in Japan. In the west we sometimes get the impression he is a rather ambiguous figure, sort of like Billy the Kid.

MH: The Japanese don't think this way, he's not an outlaw or like Billy the Kid. Most people think of him as a philosopher. Budo people look to him as a philosopher, a writer, and are proud of him for his swordsmanship and for his artistry as a painter and sculptor. There are fictional accounts of his life but most people don't believe these stories.

KT: This confirms what I have heard. For instance the current headmaster of the Yagyu Shinkage Ryu referred to Musashi's book "Go Rin no Sho" when explaining the different types of seeing, during a lecture in New York City last year.

MH: Yes, he is respected for his whole life, as an artist and not just for his skill with a sword.

KT: Maybe we should get back to Iaido. Sensei, I have a whole series of technical questions written down here but you have just given us three days of explanations and I know you could speak for three days on these questions. Perhaps you could comment on what is most important for beginners to learn.

MH: Beginners should work on the angles of nuki tsuke [the one handed opening cut] and on footwork first. If they don't, they will pick up bad habits which are very difficult to fix. Real beginners should not learn kata first but work on the vertical cut only, and on noto [putting the blade away], not on the first technique. Even in Japan beginners go too fast, many learn the second, third, fourth techniques too soon and this causes trouble. In the old times they taught students the first technique only, for three years. In Kendo they also said to do kiri kaeshi [a basic cutting drill] for three years before putting on the bogu. If we do this today, nobody will stay in the class so we teach from one to ten as soon as possible. I believe that's why most people's Iai is very bad. If you do the first kata perfectly, master it completely, there won't be any problem going on to the next kata. Learn breathing, the vertical cut, and the other parts of the first technique fully before going on. The sooner you teach the rest of the techniques, the sooner the beginner gets into trouble. Teach the basics deeply.

KT: We've mentioned what to teach beginners, what does a senior in Iai do that makes him different from a beginner?

MH: We teach beginners simple movements. For instance (demonstrating), in footwork the teaching is very simple, move the turn. When it comes to a senior this is not good enough. The movements must be more refined, more subtle. Seniors must be taught the fine technical points of each movement. The movement is broken down into many more steps to teach it deeply.

KT: So beginners and seniors will perform the same kata, the same movements but the seniors must show much more refined, controlled movement. Juniors perform bigger, rougher moves.

Sensei what attitude must a student have competition, demonstration or testing?

MH: The attitude will be no different between these.

KT: What about everyday practice?

MH: It shouldn't be different. When you do keiko [practice] you should do it seriously. For instance, the students did a demonstration for me on the last day of the seminar. During practice, everyone was easygoing and relaxed, but during the last 15 minutes they thought "now sensei is watching me" so they preformed carefully. That feeling is wrong. You should do keiko the same as embu [demonstration].

KT: At one point in the seminar I believe you mentioned that we should practice as if our lives depended on it.

MH: Of course you should practice that way. Most people are doing practice without this attitude and that's why they're doing it wrong. They have no concentration during practice. Are you practicing seriously or not, that's the point. Most people are not serious. If you're not practicing seriously, just go to bed. This is what Tomigahara sensei [9 dan Hanshi, Muso Shinden Ryu] always taught me. In the demonstration the students all did "shinken shobu" [fight with a real sword, a serious attitude] but when practicing they were not serious. There should be no difference in the two feelings.

KT: Sensei do you think that students who have gained expertise in Iaido should practice other styles, for instance Kendo?

MH: Of course Iaido students should study Kendo as well. The International Kendo Federation has also stated that Kendo and Iaido should be practiced together. The two are the wheels of a cart. If one wheel is missing the cart falls over. Most budo experts have this opinion.

KT: Would other styles of kenjutsu, for instance Niten Ichi Ryu, help in practice.

MH: Yes, Niten Ichi Ryu helps Iaido a lot. Kendo helps Iai and Iai helps Kendo. Today one of the students told me that Iai practice helped her Chinese Tai Chi. It is all the same.

KT: So you believe that there is no danger of doing too many things, of knowing a little about a lot and not being good at any one thing?

MH: If you do Iaido, Kendo, or Jodo only, this is not good. You should do more than one of these. Other budo like Kyudo [archery] have the same "mind" but the techniques are very different. That much diversity is not necessary. I believe you should not learn that much budo.

KT: So the important thing is the mind?

MH: The mind is the same but the techniques are different. Iaido and Kendo's mind and technique is the same, if you do one you should do the other. Kyudo's concentration is the same as Iaido's concentration, the mind is the same but the skill, the movement is different. Sado, [tea ceremony], flower arrangement, all the do [michi or ways] have the same mind as budo. They all help the budo - that is Japanese culture.

KT: So the reason we do budo is to improve our mind, not to learn how to cut people in half with a sword?

MH: That is the most important part of budo. The technical part of cutting is not important. That is a good question. We must all learn "do", not only cutting. To go more deeply, the Iaido mind must be used in everyday life. From that will follow peace in the world.

KT: So, katsujin ken not satsujin ken.

MH: Just so, the sword that gives life, not the sword that takes life.

KT: Just to back up a little bit, your advice then, is to practice Iaido, Kendo and Jodo, their techniques are similar and they all work on the mind. Iaido and Kyudo on the other hand both work on the mind but the techniques are confusing, so don't practice them together?

MH: I believe you can't practice that many different things. If you are a samurai you must practice everything but today people have to make a living. If you do budo all day that's different, go ahead and learn Kyudo, Karate, Aikido, Judo. Today nobody can do everything. Stick to Kendo, Iaido and Jodo if you must also make a living.

KT: In Iai, who are the important figures we should know about? Should students learn about Masamichi Oe, Jinsuke Hayashizaki, ... which others?

MH: Jinsuke Hayashizaki is the originator of Iai techniques and we should know about him. Remember that our Iai and Jinsuke's Iai is not the same any more. Jinsuke's students created many different schools, and Jinsuke is the head of all of these. You mentioned Masamichi Oe, he is important for Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu but not for other styles or schools. So when talking about the history of Iaido, the most important is Jinsuke Hayashizaki, then students of each school should know the history of their own school.

KT: As students of budo, what other figures should we know about and study? Whose lives should we learn from?

MH: The number one figure would be Miyamoto Musashi and his book the Go Rin no Sho. This book contains everything, how to hold the sword, metsuke [gaze], posture. The book explains mind and spirit, how to face an enemy in a fight. Musashi wrote the book with reference to fighting but the writing is alive today. Company managers use it to understand how to manage people. The Go Rin no Sho explains how to live your life. It is not book on fighting.

KT: Are there any other books or lives we should study?

MH: The Go Rin no Sho is enough.

KT: What personal characteristics are required to make a good budoka?

MH: Your question is backward. If you practice budo, you develop a good character. Budo improves your character. A baseball coach may be able to say "this person should be good as a baseball player". A budo person will never say "this person shouldn't study budo". Everyone can practice budo and everyone can learn kokoro [mind/spirit] from budo.

KT: What do we learn from Budo?

MH: Kokoro (heart/mind/spirit/personality). This is difficult to explain. Top sensei often argue about the meaning of kokoro and one person said that trying to explain kokoro was like trying to tie up a young girl's messy hair. It keeps slipping away. One sensei said kokoro is "you", but where is it? In your arm? No. In your heart, your mind? Kokoro is the whole person.

KT: What is the relationship between student and sensei?

MH: Student and sensei are walking along together. I am here, that's why the student is there. The student is there, that's why I am here. If the sensei doesn't think that way, he's not good enough to be a sensei. A bossy, bullying person is only not a sensei. If students are polite to a teacher's face but talk about him behind his back because he's a bully, this shows he's not a good sensei. A good example is Tomigahara sensei. He's not bossy at all, he's very simple and humble in his actions and that's why I follow him. The sensei's humanity is most important, not his rank.

KT: Unfortunately I think rank is often the most important thing is the west. What is the relationship between student and organization then?

MH: A relationship between student and sensei makes sense, but a relationship between student and federation doesn't seem to match. What do you mean?

KT: For instance, what loyalty should a student give to a sensei and what loyalty to a federation.

MH: When a sensei is wrong, for instance if he splits from an organization and that split is wrong, the student has an obligation to tell his sensei that he's wrong and stay with the organization. On the other hand, if the sensei is right to leave the organization then the student should follow him. The decision of right or wrong lies with the student and the student must decide for himself what to do. A student can't give this decision to the sensei.

KT: I suppose my answer then is that a student has a relationship with a sensei but is merely a member of an organization. Sensei is it possible for a student from the west to understand budo or must one be Japanese to fully grasp it?

MH: I believe western students who practice budo can understand it... some of these students understand it. You don't have to be Japanese. Even the Japanese don't understand what budo is (laughs). Many Japanese, many Americans, many Europeans understand what budo is today.

KT: Sensei you have traveled to the west many times, do you enjoy these visits?

MH: Yes I really enjoy the visits and I wish for people to understand about budo so I'd to share all my knowledge about budo with as people as possible.

KT: How would you compare the skill level of the students in the west to those in Japan?

MH: The technical skill of the west is still quite low compared to Japan. Many Europeans understand the mind of budo but the technical skill is still lower than in Japan. For example your rank in Iaido is only fourth dan but your knowledge of budo is high. I have a high opinion of your knowledge of budo.

KT: I promise to practice harder sensei.

I would like to thank you very much for giving me your time like this. It was most kind of you to share your knowledge with us.

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