Translator’s Notes

Women in budō

Historically in Japan, and generally around the world, women have not been encouraged to fight on the battlefield . However, women of the Japanese ruling class, the Samurai, did use naginata (薙刀) to defend their castles when the army was away or for self-defence against swordsmen. Naginata are long staffs with a blade on the end, similar to a halberd. Women were also known to fashion home-made naginata by strapping katana to staffs. The long reach afforded the women an advantage against the much shorter sword. There is a reference to naginata as far back as 1146.

Naginata practice today is in a modernised form, which is organized into regional, national, and international federations that hold competitions and award ranks. As the International Naginata Federation was only formed in 1990, we can assume that organised competitions were few and far between prior to 1990. It is interesting to note that naginata jutsu is the only combat sport where women can compete against men, since the length of the naginata reduces any strength advantage the men may have.

jūdō was first included in the Olympic Games in 1964 in Japan, but only male jūdōka participated until 1988, when women’s jūdō featured as a demonstration sport. Women jūdōka were first awarded medals at the 1992 Olympic Games.

The International Kendō Federation is the international federation of national and regional kendō associations and the world governing body for its members. A world championship has been conducted every three years since their inception in 1970. The competition is divided into 4 divisions: Men’s Team, Women’s Team, Men’s Individual, Women’s Individual. So, we can see that kendō competition has been enjoyed by women internationally at least since 1970.

The first aikidō world championships was held in Japan in 1989. Women first competed in randori shiai in 1991.

Thus, we can see that women competing in kendō, naginata jutsu, jūdō and aikidō is a very recent phenomenon in historical terms.

Until the modern era, women were limited to “kata” practice and we know from the text that both Kanō Jigorō and Tomiki Kenji were insistent of the need for “randori” practice to breathe life into the techniques learnt in “kata”. After Tomiki Kenji’s death in 1976, his right-hand man, ōba Hideo, became the head of the Shōdōkan Honbu Dojo in Osaka. At that time, there was a large increase in the number of women taking part in training. ōba shihan developed the ko ryū kata ostensibly to give women more content to practise. Now that women compete alongside the men in both “kata” competition – “enbu” – and “randori” competition – “shiai” matches – the ko ryū kata have been reorganised into the goshin hō.

There is no doubt that, given equal opportunity, women can and do excel in their chosen combat sport. Japanese budō should be no exception.

Randori no kata

Kanō sensei called his most fundamental kata the randori no kata (乱取りの形), but in the case of jūdō it is divided into two categories; nage no kata and katame no kata. It is no coincidence that randori no kata is also the name Tomiki Kenji gave to his most fundamental kata. It is also referred to as the jūnanahon no kata (十七本の形) or kihon no kata (基本の形). The former simply means the kata of seventeen techniques, and the latter means the fundamental kata. Randori no kata means the group of techniques applicable to randori freeplay. It is the only kata that can be practised using all three training methods outlined below.

The randori no kata is not to be confused with the aikidō kyōgi course content, which has nineteen techniques. Tomiki logically investigated all possible attacks on the body using atemi waza and kansetsu waza and arrived at an absolute and conclusive nineteen possibilities:

Striking in front; in the same posture; the opposite posture, from below; and from behind. There are no other physical possibilities. Manipulating the elbow by pushing or pulling and fixating. Again, there can only be six possibilities. Manipulating the wrist by twisting inwards or outwards with a normal or reverse grip. Likewise, there are only 8 possibilities.

Group i is the atemi waza. Groups ii and iii are kansetsu waza.

The beauty and simplicity of this system means Shōdōkan aikidōka only have nineteen techniques to master, which can then be applied (ōyō, 応用) in any circumstance.

The randori no kata does not have a gyakute-dori kote hineri. It does have three uki waza that are applications of kote hineri and kote gaeshi: mae otoshi – junte dori kote gaeshi; sumi otoshi – junte dori kote hineri; and hiki otoshi – junte dori kote gaeshi.

Kakarigeiko, hikitategeiko and randorigeiko

There are three levels of training in the randori no kata before reaching shiai matches. They serve very different purposes and are, therefore, all equally indispensable.

kakarigeiko (係り稽古) is a kata practice method for the randori no kata, whereby uke, the person receiving the techniques, offers no resistance to tori’s attempts. The first character, (係) means the person in charge, in this case tori. However, it is important to stress that this does not mean that uke should be limp, passive or take ukemi on cue. Every technique applied by tori should be equivalent to an “ippon” score in shiai. That is to say, it is applied at the right moment (timing and tai sabaki) with the required and appropriate kuzushi (balance break) and movement (i dō ryoku) and the correct amount of force.

Uke, for their part, should offer fast, accurate and formal attacks to promote good timing and tai sabaki, and hold their weight so that tori’s techniques are sufficient to move them with kuzushi and to throw them with i dō ryoku. Tori should move around the attacks looking for the correct moment (timing) to apply technique. Uke should demonstrate the ability to safely break fall, ukemi, regardless of the technique applied. In this way, both players can greatly benefit from the exercise.

hikitategeiko (引き立て稽古) is the next kata practice method for the randori no kata. The first two characters (引き立て) mean a person who seeks to enhance another’s position, a foil or frontman. This relates to uke.

In this practice uke offers his services to aid tori in making good attempts at techniques and good decisions about when and how to change from one technique to another, “renzoku waza”. Tomiki Kenji introduced the principle of renzoku waza into the randori no kata in aigamae ate, gedan ate, ude gaeshi, ude hineri and kote gaeshi. In other words, tori changes technique according to uke’s defensive reaction to the first technique.

If the technique applied is not of “ippon” standard following the above criteria, uke may rebalance or move to avoid the technique. This will inevitably create other opportunities for tori to exploit, either through movement or kuzushi. This is the beginnings of randori, or disorganised, unpredictable practice. Generally, no more than three attempts at techniques are performed and uke should take the fall on the third attempt. More than three attempts is unrealistic in a real contest.

randorigeiko (乱取り稽古) is the final practice method before shiai. Here, tori and uke are equal, in that uke will not fall unless the above criteria for “ippon” apply. This does not mean uke will resist with all his might. In this case, they have ceased practising aikidō. In fact, tori would have to resort to injurious pressure given that level of resistance which serves neither party.

Randorigeiko is a tool that, when applied properly, greatly benefits both players in the principles of victory and defeat. Shiai should be no different to randorigeiko, except that it brings the added pressures of expectancy, reward or defeat and an audience, and the emotional detachment required to deal with them.

Tomiki Kenji’s calligraphy

Bushidō (武士道) was the moral code by which Samurai conducted themselves. Its ideas are encapsulated in the idea of “the pen is mightier than the sword”, a term introduced into the English language by the author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839. Miyamoto Musashi wrote the go rin no sho “The Book of Five Rings” in c. 1645, which was widely used in the 1980s to suggest business strategies analogous to military strategies.

From the Edo period onwards, during a time of peace, artistic pursuits were afforded the same rigorous investigation as bu jutsu, were given the suffix “dō” and generally adopted the dan ranking system.

Tomiki Kenji was an accomplished calligrapher (書道者) who calligraphed key principles that he had learnt from Kanō Jigorō, including those described here.

  • mu shin mu gamae (無心無構) is perhaps the best known of Tomiki’s calligraphy. The third character is not calligraphed the same way as the first character, although the meaning is identical. (It is a custom of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy that the same character is never represented the same way twice in a four-character piece.) The third character is written in cursive script called “so sho” (草書) and so looks completely different. The explanation of mu shin mu gamae is embedded in this text and in the glossary: it is a key concept of ko ryu jū jutsu. It is the highest tenet of bu jutsu and, contemporarily, budō. All budōka should strive to attain this state.

  • yōbushin (養武心) means to cultivate a “bu” mind, that is to say, a mind that strives to “cease” 止 “violence” (戈). Atemi waza and kansetsu waza were originally techniques that attacked weak points of the anatomy causing injury or death, but Tomiki sensei was able to construct a training method whereby these essential techniques could not only be preserved, but revitalised.

The Japanese and Chinese writing system of characters have their origins in pictographs, wherein each character tells a story. Each character when placed with another tells a new story. Calligraphy (書道) also allows the writer to assert their own personality into the script by the way in which they make their marks. This is a really important point. (書道) are not just nice pictures, they can convey powerful messages. Both of these calligraphies are on the wall of my dojo and are a constant reminder of why we do what we do. As an artist myself, I am particularly impressed and moved by the ability and sensitivity in Tomiki’s work. He was no doubt a powerful martial artist, but also capable of serene artistic sensibility.