Message from the Head Instructor
As we welcome the year 2009 (Ushi-doshi: the Year of the Ox), it has always been my custom to look both backward as well as forward. Forward to the new challenges, lessons and adventures that await all of us in 2009, and backward at the events in 2008 that have shaped and affected our lives both in and out of the Dojo environment. With that idea in mind, I would like to take a look back at 2008 and share with you what I believe to be some of the significant changes and milestones for United States Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu (USTRI) that occurred during that year. I will then take a brief look ahead at 2009 and what I envision to be a new focus for USTRI as an organization, and for its members. In 2008 the parent organization of USTRI in Japan, known as the Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Genwakai, achieved its final form as an organization with the establishment of a set of Regulations (Kaisoku) that serve to govern all of its aspects and functions and assure its continuity as a viable, well-structured school for future generations. With 15th Soshi Tsumaki Kazuo (Genwa) Sensei at its head as President (Kaichou), an Executive Branch consisting of a Vice-President, a Director of Operations and a Soshi Assistant was established. It is the purpose of the Executive Branch of the Genwakai to see that this set of Regulations is adhered to by all Branches of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu for the good of the organization and its members.
A Board of Directors (Riji), comprised of the Branch Managers (Honbuchou) of the 14 Branches of the Genwakai, was also established so that each Branch could have a voice at meetings where issues of the highest importance to the Genwakai are entertained and discussed. One of the milestones for USTRI in 2008 was the Genwakai’s inclusion of its General Manager and Head Instructor as one of the members of the Board of Directors…a step that had not taken place during the tenure of 14th Headmaster Tsumaki Seirin (Genshin).
With this well-regulated and organized structure in place, the Genwakai Executive Branch embarked upon their first major task: the standardization of the techniques of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu for future generations. Begun in the early months of 2008, this project reached its culmination at a formal lecture (Koushuukai) held by Soshi Sensei on June 22 at the Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Ota Branch in Tokyo where these standardized techniques were introduced for the first time to the Japanese members of the Genwakai.
Shortly after this event took place, USTRI received from Soshi Sensei the text of his lecture as well as the accompanying video material so that they could pursue this new path of learning alongside their Japanese counterparts, albeit an ocean apart from each other. The diligence and hard work of the members of USTRI with regard to the incorporation of these standardized techniques into their practice of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu became evident at what I believe is one of the great milestones of 2008 for both the Genwakai and USTRI.
On Monday, November 24, 2008, 11 members of USTRI participated in the 2nd Annual Genwakai Taikai that was held in Isehara City, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Six members of USTRI took their formal gradings (Shinsa) during the morning session alongside their fellow Japanese Deshi, and all members took part in the US Michigan Welcome Enbukai during the afternoon session. The significance of this joint effort of both the Michigan and Japanese members of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu to test, perform and later, to socialize together cannot be underestimated, for this is part of the new chapter in the history of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu that Soshi Sensei has envisioned…people from two different cultures united by their practice of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu in the spirit of harmony, cooperation and cultural exchange.
2008 also witnessed a milestone for the Clarkston, Michigan Branch of USTRI. In the fall of 2008, Branch Manager Brent Eastman Sensei relocated the Clarkston Branch base of operations from its original location to the city of Birmingham, Michigan, at which time the Clarkston Branch was re-named the USTRI Southeast Michigan Branch. This was a very astute move on Eastman Sensei’s part, as the city of Birmingham affords much more opportunity for growth and expansion of their membership base than had been possible in Clarkston, Michigan. Of further benefit is the chance to schedule more than one class during the week, something that had not been possible at their previous location. To commemorate this event, the USTRI New Year’s Practice and Reflection Time (Shinnen Keiko and Kagami Biraki) will be held at the Southeast Michigan Branch Dojo on Saturday, January 10, 2009. We are all very excited about this new direction for the SE Michigan Branch and see endless possibilities ahead for it in 2009!
Looking forward to 2009, USTRI will be sponsoring a visit to Michigan by Soshi Sensei and Soshi Assistant Endou Tsuyako (Gentei) Sensei during July to conduct three days of activities with the members of USTRI. Included will be a full-day Kenbu Seminar, a day of formal testing in the morning followed by an afternoon lecture by Soshi Sensei (Shinsakai and Koushuukai) and an all-day training session for members who are 3rd Dan and above. Preparations are already underway for their visit, which promises to be one of the major events for USTRI in 2009.
I would like to close this message with some brief thoughts about what I see as a new focus for USTRI in the year 2009. Some of what is said here will be expanded upon in my article found in the Reflecting Pool section of this website, but I would like to offer several of its main points for your consideration at this time.
First, we need to be passionate about our practice of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu. It is very easy to distinguish those people who are passionate about their pursuit of a given path in their life and who are not. Those who are passionate about their involvement in Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu radiate that passion both in the Dojo and in their daily lives through their adherence to the code of Bushido and their desire to see the organization grow and perpetuate into the future. As the guardians of the art of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu in North America, all of us, both beginning student and Instructor alike, must be deeply passionate about our study and practice of this art so that others can see what a positive and profound effect it has on our lives. Complacency and self-satisfaction have no place in this scenario and are extremely counter-productive.
Second, we need to maintain our current level of development and not be afraid to “raise the bar” to the next level. When a ‘benchmark’ is set, it is up to all of us to keep it there and not perform below its requirements. To be satisfied when a certain level is reached is truly the beginning of the end, for as we all know training in the traditional Japanese martial arts is a cyclical process…one which never ends and which always demands that newer and higher goals be set.
Finally, we need to have a clear understanding of the essence of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Kata. How we perform Kata, why we perform Kata and the goal of performing Kata…all three must combine for such clarity of understanding to take place. Therefore, it will be the responsibility of the USTRI Instructional Staff to develop and nurture such clarity within each Deshi they instruct. In closing, I would first like to thank Brent Eastman Sensei for all of his hard work and diligent efforts to bring this new version of the USTRI website to fruition. I would also like to express by deepest appreciation to all of the members of USTRI for their hard work and dedication to their studies during 2008. 2009 is a year of great potential for us all, so let us work together to make our vision for the future of USTRI come that much closer to fulfillment!
Michael Alexanian (Gennan)
General Manager (Sokatsu Shibucho) and Head Instructor (Shihan)
United States Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu
Michigan Honbu Dojo