Saturday, 25 March 2017

Shindo Yoshin Ryu and Shinto

While Threadgill sensei was over in New Zealand recently he spoke at some length about the importance of Shinto in our practice. Placing an importance on Shinto was one way Takamura sensei was trying to keep the martial art uniquely Japanese while being practised outside of Japan.
Shinto is embedded in Takamura-ha Shindo Yoshin Ryu. Therefore there is an expectation that students of the ryu will learn and participate in various dojo rituals and practices associated with Shinto. At certain levels of study students are taught prayers and rites that function as initiation into higher learning.  

The TSYR Student Handbook mentions that Shinto is an integral part of the school's legacy because it functions as the foundation upon which the school's ethos resides. It is fundamental to capturing the cultural essence of the ryu.

So it goes without saying that deshi of this ryu must become familiar with Shinto and what it is all about. This does not mean you have to become a follower of Shinto, you are free to embrace any religion or form of spirituality that you choose. However, if your beliefs compromise the spiritual traditions of the art then you must ask yourself if Shindo Yoshin Ryu is really for you.

So what does this mean for my day-to-day practice?
In both the Hamilton dojo and my own private dojo there is a shelf holding a kamidana (spirit house) along with associated accessories such as a mirror and porcelain furniture. Before every training lesson we bow towards this kamidana. Often a short prayer in Japanese is said as well.

TSYR members in front of the kamidana at the Hamilton Dojo, 2017.

 The remainder of training is similar to many modern Japanese martial arts with people bowing to one another before trying a technique or form and then bowing at the end to thank each other for the practice. 
There are rules concerning how weapons are placed and carried in the dojo with the kamidana present. 
Purity and cleanliness are paramount in Shinto. Even in modern dojo this can be seen when students sweep and mop floors after training. Corruption of a person or object is something to be avoided if possible and there are various rituals and prayers that are used to purify a place, object or person. 
For many students this may be as much as they are exposed to concerning Shinto.

Of course there is much more to it than this. I am only relatively new to the kai and after sensei spoke recently it is obvious that there is so much more to learn. 

Takamura-ha Shindo Yoshin Ryu honours four Shinto kami, seeking their protection and guidance. Ofuda (talismans) representing each kami are kept in the kamidana of the TSYR hombu dojo as well as some branch dojo. 
The most important Shinto kami is Amaterasu Omikami. She is the sun goddess and rules over the Heavenly Plain. 
Sarutahiko Okami is a guardian kami and leader of the earthly kami. He is seen as a symbol of strength and guidance and one of the patron kami of the martial arts.
Ame no Uzume no Mikoto is the kami of dawn, sensuality and revelry and she is the patron of actors, performers and negotiators.
Takemikazuchi no Mikoto is the fourth and final kami. He is  associated with sword work and is a patron of martial arts.

I am also aware of annual Shinto rituals that are observed. There are six mentioned in the handbook. Maintaining a traditional dojo that observes all of the above practises is quite a commitment but does allow the practitioner to get an understanding of the mindset of those who have gone before. This facet of TSYR is yet another reason why I enjoy pursuing this art. There is always more to learn beyond the physical techniques.

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