United States Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Gennankai


Reflecting Pool

2008 Japan Trip Reflections

USTRI Deshi, 2008-12-01

As the leader of the 2008 USTRI Japan Excursion and as a person who has both lived in Japan and visited there many times, it never ceases to amaze me that profound experiences abound and can always happen when you least expect them. Such an experience occurred during the Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Genwakai Taikai that we all attended on November 24, 2008. When I came out to perform my solo Enbu (formal demonstration) and began the formal etiquette sequence that begins every Enbu of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu, the air was suddenly filled with the sound of traditional Japanese music. That music accompanied my performance until the end and seemed to become an integral part of the Kata that I presented…so much so that all else around me fell away, and all that remained was an intertwining of music and movement that was inextricably linked together.

Michael Alexanian (Gennan)
Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Nanadan

Although this was my fourth time visiting Japan, each time is different and unique. I have two truly memorable moments from this most recent trip (Fall 2008). The first is more of a reflection: being able to watch four of my students test in Japan was a very profound moment for me. It is interesting to watch a student grow from the beginning, nurturing them, watching them progress through the years, to being able to watch them perform in Japan in front of our Japanese counterparts and senior members, and do well. The second very profound moment for me was being able to lead a short meditation in a private temple on the slopes of Mt. Hiei. The temple itself was beautiful, but the rustic surroundings, the fall colors, the sound of the rain on the roof, the waterfall in the distance, all really made for a nice atmosphere. I am very happy and thankful to have had the opportunity to have that experience!

Brent Eastman
Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Godan

I have to restrain myself when writing about the moment that impacted me the most during the trip to Japan. The trip was full of such moments that will stay with me the rest of my life. However, for the sake of brevity I shall share just one of them with you. Between my ability to speak a modest amount of Japanese and being the highest-ranking student on the trip, it was requested that I assist the inheritor of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu, Tsumaki-Soshi himself, in leading the majority of students to the training hall for the Taikai (the training/testing session that was the main event of the trip). After navigating the Japanese railway system for forty-five minutes, we dutifully followed Soshi onto a minibus that was to take us the rest of the way. The bus had enough room for approximately sixteen people. Tsumaki-Soshi, often preferring to be amongst his students instead of segregated from them, sat about a third of the way back in the bus. I took a seat directly behind him so that I could translate any of his comments or instructions for the rest of the American group. The other eight American students filed in behind us and filled about half of the bus. Shortly thereafter, the bus filled to capacity with Japanese practitioners. The majority of whom were in their mid-forties to mid-fifties; all of whom were dressed in either business attire or traditional Japanese gi-top and hakama adding to their extremely distinguished and dedicated appearance. As the bus departed the station and began its twenty-minute commute to the training hall, I realized that I was at the head of a truly extraordinary event. Mingling throughout the entire bus was a smattering of Japanese and Americans. We were an entire team of foreign ambassadors. Furthermore, I knew that any communications that would take place would almost inevitability go through me because of my role as translator. Physically and metaphorically I was a bridge for two separate cultures, two completely different groups of people united by their single love of a beautiful, revered tradition. I had a singular moment; a revelation - all of my years of studying diligently at the dojo and all of my years of language study at Michigan State University had culminated in this moment. I was representing my own character, my group’s validity, and my country. My training wasn’t the only support I had in facing this trial. I was among a group of students who are incredibly tactful, skillful, and with unwavering dedication. I was honored to lead them, to follow them, and to be among them. My second revelation was that this opportunity would never have been available to me except through the United States Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu organization.

Joshua D. Hayes
Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Sandan

During our visit I was repeatedly impressed with the organization and efficiency of the Japanese society. Even during the peak times when the outstanding volume of people would create an atmosphere for confusion, they remained organized and efficient. This was evident from the trains always being on schedule, the processing of travelers through the airport, and even in the restaurants. All areas open to the public were kept well and showed pride in every aspect. The Japanese people also impressed me with the effective use their space, whether it was used for living, working or agriculture.

Douglas Jarrett
Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Sandan

I had heard stories of practicing Iaijutsu in a small Japanese hotel room, but I never really understood the concept until I experienced it for myself. The training session took place in a hotel room, which just happened to be the hotel room I was sharing with Josh-san. The hotel rooms at the Hotel Orange are varied in floor layout. Our room happened to have a small sitting area roughly eight feet deep, narrowing from about six and a half feet near the beds to about five feet up against a wall. The rest of our small room was taken up by two twin sized beds. We carefully arranged our three chairs so that they backed up against one of the beds and faced into our small training space. The seats were meant for Tsumaki Soshi, Endo Sensei, and Alexanian Sensei. We took our personal belongings and placed them inside a small walk-in closet. Just before 1 PM, all ten deshi gathered into the small hotel room. Tsumaki Soshi and Alexanian Sensei showed up at 1 o’clock, Endo Sensei arrived a short time later. The purpose of our training session was for Soshi to get one final look at our technique before the Taikai the next day. We individually went through opening and closing etiquette as well as several Kata. Soshi make corrections as we went along. Due to the restrictions on ceiling height we used just the saya of a saya-bokuto for Kata practice. This proved to be a somewhat awkward experience, but goes to show how you need to be prepared for whatever environment or equipment you have at your disposal. A small room filled with 13 people can get a little warm and stuffy. We opened the windows to let in the cool air. Once the windows were opened, we were greeted with instrumental sounds of Christmas music being piped through the public speakers of Odawara. It took about three and a half hours for all of us to get a little one on one training time with Soshi. The reason this experience stands out for me is that it was created by the location and people involved. You can go do Japan and visit historical sites, but those places will likely always be there. It is not very often you can get one on one instruction from the headmaster inside a cramped hotel room.

Scott Sier
Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Sandan

My most profound moment in Japan was our visit to Sengaku-ji. I had, of course, heard the story told several times of the loyal ronin and their dedication to the principles of Bushido, but to visit the Temple was something I was not prepared for. I learned several details of the story I had not known before, like the use of the firefighter’s uniforms as a means of getting into the compound. Being able to see several artifacts from the actual event itself was also awe-inspiring. The little details of the Temple, such as the water pond with the silver peg that represented the formation the 47 traveled in on their walk to Edo to report their crime, really underscores how revered these men are to the Japanese people. Finally the cemetery itself, walking through the gateway that was moved from Asano’s lands, was an awesome site to behold. We went on a wonderful day with the sunlight shining brightly illuminating the smoke from the incense we laid at the graves. To be there and offer incense at the graves of the ronin was something I’ll never forget. I sometimes find it difficult to describe to friends and family why this event means so much to me because people who are unfamiliar with Japanese culture do not really understand. The act of seppuku in particular is difficult for them to grasp. To be there with 10 friends who also get it made it a truly memorable moment.

Daniel Mordan
Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Sandan

I have a very keen interest in Japanese history. There have been numerous Japanese history books which I have read. In addition, I enjoy watching movies and NHK television shows on the subject. My most profound experience in Japan was to see, in person, the many castles, shrines and temples that were referenced in the books and movies that I have enjoyed.

Thomas Hufnagel
Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Nidan

While there were many profound moments I experienced in Japan, from simply walking to Kirindo, to Enryakuji, Odawara-jo, to training in a cramped hotel room, I kept going back to the day we spent at the Ise Shrine. The whole site was incredible. I was stuck by the fact that I was experiencing something that has connections to very ancient times and yet did not seem out of place. Moss was growing on every surface; it made it feel like the shrine was a part of the surroundings. At Naiku, after crossing the Uji bridge, I was particular impressed with the garden leading to the main shrine. The surrounding mountains were beautiful and the flag of Japan was blowing in the wind. Overall the Jingu was a very moving experience. I’ve wanted to travel to Japan for years but, before starting the study of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu, I was not sure if I would ever be able to do so. To actually travel to Japan and visit one of the most Japanese sites in Japan, was simply amazing.

James Russell
Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Nidan

While in Japan as part of the 2008 delegation, I had several absolutely amazing and unforgettable experiences. My most memorable experience was having dinner with Tsumaki Soshi. Josh Hayes-san (TRI Sandan) and I are both students of the Japanese language and aspiring to become fluent. Both of us were seeking out as many opportunities to practice the language and on this night, we were able to practice with the headmaster of our art. We had conversations about previous martial art experiences and Tsumaki Soshi taught us how to interact in a restaurant setting, told us what we were eating, and accommodating us with ordering food and drinks. There are VERY few martial arts where the students ever have an opportunity to speak with the headmaster, let alone, go out and interact in a social setting and get to know each other on a personal level. This, by far, was my best experience while in Japan.

Jason Kilgore
Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Shodan