“This is why I study what I study.”
My hakama was ripped to shreds on Friday and my dogi was torn today. As we approached the final hour of training under the senior European student of Unsui Sensei’s, the thought occurred to me that – this is it.
As Mario DeMol was was clearly detailing each step of the next kata, I peered around at what was in my Dojo. It was a blissful feeling that only a martial artist could understand. You could squeegee puddles of sweat on the floor – there was not a dry spot. Students from all over the US, drenched and attentively absorbing Mario Sensei’s lesson. Some had shredded knees from ground training and there were a few pulled muscles that would be tended to later. Joints were taped together, a few heads were bloodied up and everyone was panting for air in the butter-thick humidity of true keiko. In a sense it was horribly perfect.
Mario became a Dojo Cho (Instructor) under Unsui Sensei back when Sensei lived in Baltimore, prior to him moving back to Japan. That weekend, he conducted his first test as an instructor with students from our Dojo. Since that point forward, Mario Sensei has held an important place among the leadership at our Dojo in New York.
Friday evening began the first session of training at the Dojo with the study of the Takagi Yoshin Ryu Jutaijutsu Tai no Kata. These are thoroughly brutal techniques for throwing your training opponent to their end. But first, basics. Thorough training on striking, blocking, rolling and shikkou. The fundamentals of this Jujutsu tradition. There are no points or tapping, it is true combat with in every sense.
The following afternoon was spent training the Togakure Ryu Bikenjutsu, the sword techniques of the Togakure lineage, in Central Park. What a spectacle it must have been, to be on the pitching mound at one of the many ball fields in the park, only to peer over at 30 people swinging swords and screaming at each other. Well, I suppose there are more bizarre things to see in Central Park on a beautiful spring afternoon. Students from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts were among the attendees training alongside our New York members.
Our final day was spent studying the Koto Ryu Shoden Kata (Omote and Ura). The Dojo was crowded and hot…before we bowed in. Mario Sensei chose to warm the group up with several hundred cuts with suburito (heavy wood training sword), going through karatakewari, kihontoho and Raiko no Ken.
Following this, we progressed in the Jinen Ryu Iai, Shiho Giri. For many students, this was new material.
Shiho giri is a ritualistic set of sword cutting in four directions. Each particular movement is extremely specific, from the drawing of the weapon to the finishing bow. The name implies the feeling of cutting down the demons in all directions and the technique is a formality often demonstrated upon the opening of a new home or Dojo. It’s not a Kata that is Ryu-ha specific, but according to Unsui Sensei, it’s important for us all to be studying right now.
The last three hours were to be the most grueling. The Koto Ryu is a system of close quarter fist fighting, meant to break the bones and structural integrity of your opponent’s body. I know, it sounds brutal. Well…it is. Mario Sensei’s highly polished understanding of these techniques only magnified the effectiveness of each move and the pain that was creeping into the Dojo from the sun. Hit and hit hard.
Complain about the heat over a cool drink following training. You tear the muscle here, you break the temple here, break the rib here, the elbow will be damaged here, drop them with their neck this way.
It was one of those times where things get so good, you feel sad when it’s over and you feel bloody relieved that it’s over. The Dojo was pristine when we bowed in and within minutes the distinct flavor of keikogi sweat and Japanese incense could be tasted in the hot air.
As always, Mario DeMol’s teaching pushed everyone to their limits and then a bit further.