By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
There was a sharp snap as two swords slammed into one another in perfect precision.
With Elliott Bay as their backdrop, a small gathering of invited guests at the Japanese Consulate on Queen Anne Hill had the rare opportunity to witness an ancient form of Japanese swordsmanship. Iwami Sohke, headmaster of the hyoho niten ichi-ryu martial arts form, traveled from Japan to share his craft.
The “embu” or demonstration performed by Sohke and two of his dojo members was the culmination of a successful trip which included an appearance at the annual Aki Matsuri (“Fall Festival”) held on Sept. 6 and 7 at Bellevue Community College.
Performing prior to sunset in the outdoor garden, Sohke and his dojo members, dressed in traditional Japanese attire, gave the onlookers a glimpse into an ancient art. The moves were short, quick and precise as Sohke sparred with each individual dojo member with a long wooden sword. They then utilized both a long and short sword in displaying the various forms of hyoho niten ichi-ryu.
Sohke has been practicing this particular form of martial art swordplay for 30 years. He first became aware of hyoho niten ichi-ryu because a dojo was next to a cafe he frequented in Japan. In 2003, he became only the 11th headmaster. He spends much of his time traveling throughout the world promoting hyoho niten ichi-ryu through demonstrations and lectures.
According to Sohke, the teachings of the hyoho niten ichi-ryu are as important as the physical practice. In addressing the consulate gathering prior to the demonstration, Sohke stated through his interpreter that he teaches others to practice with an honest heart and to progress forward in life with honesty.
“The most rewarding part of the practice is the technique (being) passed on the way it was taught,” Sohke said.
Hyoho niten ichi-ryu, loosely translated as “the school of strategy of two heavens as one,” was founded by the famed Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, 400 years ago. Musashi was a famous samurai warrior in Japan known for his distinctive fighting style and duels. Aside from the use of one sword, this particular artform includes a unique two-sword technique. The swordsman uses both a large sword and a shorter sword, holding one in each hand. The smaller sword is used to parry and neutralize the weapon of the enemy while the longer sword is used to strike the opponent.
In practice, wooden swords are used instead of real swords. “Real swords are not used so that the chi (“energy”) of the practice can be performed without harm,” stated Sohke.
The event at the Consulate of Japan included remarks by Mitsunori Namba, Seattle’s consular general for Japan. Namba welcomed Sohke and praised the volunteers of the Aki Matsuri for the great turnout at the weekend festival. As a token of his appreciation for his host, Sohke presented Namba with traditional hyoho niten ichi-ryu wooden swords from Japan.
Sohke’s appearance at the Japanese Consulate was the culmination of ongoing efforts to bring cultural awareness from Japan to Seattle by the Eastside Nihon Matsuri Association (ENMA). The appearance of Sohke was due in part to the efforts of ENMA’s president, Tom Brooke.
The process for Sohke’s appearance at Aki Matsuri began three years ago as Brooke and his wife visited family and friends in Japan. While on a train ride, Brooke read an article about Sohke and his martial art practice. The idea of bringing Sohke to Aki Matsuri was very compelling, and Brooke began attempts to contact Sohke when he got back to the United States.
Brooke obtained a breakthrough when he discovered that Tacoma is the sister city of Kitakyushu, the same city in which Sohke resides. After meeting with representatives from Kitakyushu, Sohke was contacted about the possibility of appearing at Aki Matsuri. Sohke obliged without hesitation.
Brooke acknowledges the irony that in its 11th Annual Aki Matsuri, the festival had the 11th headmaster of hyoho niten ichi-ryu as its featured guest. “Aki Matsuri is a celebration of a rich cultural (Japanese) heritage,” Brooke stated. In speaking about the goals of ENMA for the fall festival, Brooke said, “The purpose of the festival is to continue to build on the festival year after year.” By participation alone, this year’s Aki Matsuri was the biggest of all. It included over 70 fine arts exhibits, 17 martial arts groups and 15 performing arts. ♦
ENMA is comprised of volunteers interested in preserving and furthering the arts and crafts of Japan for the enjoyment of all. For more information, please visit its Web site at www.enma.org.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.