Summer 1999 Kogen Itto-ryu Gasshuku

by Zach Smith

The Kogenkai of the Kogen Itto-ryu held it's 22nd gasshuku on August 10th and 11th. A total of 15 people gathered for the 2-day event at the Ryogami Sanso in Ryogami Village in the Chichibu mountains in Saitama. Henmi Soke visited but did not instruct. Leading the gasshuku was, Yamazaki Sensei, one of the KIR shihanke. Because the gasshuku was on a Tuesday and Wednesday the turnout was lower than in past years. However, representatives from Hanno, Urawa, Ageo, Chichibu, Higashi Matsuyama (all in Saitama) took time from their busy schedules to attend.

Training on both days amounted to about six hours of grueling kata practice. On the first day training centered on the first two sets of kata: Goten and the Chinpin gumi. However, all sets were covered on both days, including the five kodachi kata. Not covered on either day, however, were the naginata kata. This is not surprising though as most of the participants while having seen them, have never done the naginata kata. The second day of training was a review of the first with emphasis put on quick, efficient execution of suri-age and bringing the kata to life. Special attention was also paid to the kodachi kata and as a "test" of our skills, Yamazaki Sensei had us wear both the odachi and kodachi and run through the whole syllabus. This was an enlightening and amusing exercise as inevitably, surprised laughter erupted as one's habitual movements clashed with the protruding kodachi.

After training most of the participants took a well-deserved dip in the onsen and then went home. However, Yamazaki Sensei, two others and I went to Henmi Soke's home and dojo. The old Kogen Itto-ryu dojo, the Yubukan, is located in Ozawaguchi (also sometimes pronounced Kosawa by the locals) in Ryogami Mura on the Henmi family's land. The Henmis are farmers and scattered around the grounds are farming implements, old and new, and on this day a big pile of gravel for the driveway. The dojo itself is quite a powerful place. The walls are the traditional Japanese beige plastered mud with high wooden slatted windows to prevent unwarranted watching of practice. The light inside is diffuse and at first one has to squint to see into the corners. Not very large, it could maybe accommodate 6 people training side by side at most. Under the shomen is a pole which has been well gouged by throat level thrusts. It exuded a sense of history and intensity. I wanted to break out my bokuto and train.

Henmi Soke and his wife were gracious hosts providing green tea, sembe and huge slices of delicious watermelon. We talked about many things including the "lost" iai kata of Kogen Itto-ryu. They are listed in the catalogue but have not been practiced for some time. Unfortunately, Henmi Soke shows little interest in trying to revive them.

From the house we walked down to the family ohaka, where we made offerings to the past soke, the founder, Henmi Tashiro Yoshitoshi, and to Sakurai Nagamasa, a master of Mizoguchi-ha Itto-ryu, who initially taught the founder, later becoming his student's disciple.

After saying our goodbyes to Henmi Soke and his gracious wife we went up into the Chichibu mountains where we visited the graves of two other famous Kogen practitioners. We ended the day with dinner at Yamazaki Sensei's family home deep in the mountains near the border of Saitama, Nagano and Yamanashi, original home of the Henmi clan before they split from the Takedas.

The next gasshuku will be held around the time of the Japanese New Year. It is special in that it is one of the few occasions at which Henmi Soke still teaches.

Zach Smith

Urawa, Saitama

Copyright ©1999 Zach Smith. All rights reserved.

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Classical Japanese Martial Arts