A Primer on Jinen Ryu Bikenjutsu

Seigan no KamaeAt its inception, the Jinenkan possessed the teachings of two separate traditional swordsmanship lineages: the Kukishin Ryu and the Togakure Ryu. However, only the kata had been passed down from antiquity- any fundamentals and a method of teaching real cutting were lacking. Manaka Sensei realized new students would have to undergo the laborious trial-and-error process he himself had endured to learn how to cut properly for combat. With this in mind, and an eye to emphasizing the natural principles (the movements of air and water, the suddenness of storms and lightning) at the heart of his teachings, he created Jinen Ryu Bikenjutsu. By carefully practicing Biken (as it is also called), students gain awareness of the cultural significance and practical reality of swordsmanship. This primer will aid students outline the structure and important points of the ryu.

Despite almost disappearing from the public eye, swords and swordsmanship still exert a powerful cultural fascination. Their impact on language and society are very deep- we can describe intellectual debate as being like “a fencing match”, or say that a person has “a rapier wit”; and while the firearm is definitely a symbol of power, it is a symbol used by both the police officer and the thug, whereas the sword is still the mark of a gentleman. Furthermore, the sword attracts that part of us which values dedication and long practice, and which views training as honing the wielder’s body and character.

In practical martial arts training, the sword is far from obsolete. Within the past few years, there have been notable cases of assaults with machetes, or even with live-blade swords. It is surprising how readily and inexpensively one can purchase either of the above. A cutting blade isn’t even necessary- any kind of stabbing point is lethal enough. Furthermore, many other common weapons- baseball bats, pipes, sticks, axes, long knives- share similar characteristics with swords. Considering this, martial arts students deeply require opportunities to familiarize and acclimatize themselves to these ancient but ever-present weapons.

Jinen Ryu Biken itself reflects some very traditional aspects of Japanese martial arts. It contains an ordered series of kata, divided into scrolls; each scroll devotes itself to a certain theme. Students learn the techniques and scrolls in order. Each kata is a short two-person (or more) sequence designed to teach a specific kind of movement or concept. It is critical to know the meaning of the name and the important points, or the lesson of the kata is lost.

Jinen Ryu means “House of Nature”- the goal is to learn swordsmanship of “a splendid and nimble nature”, which is in accord with natural movement. Manaka Sensei patterned the system’s structure after Miyamoto Musashi’s famous “Go Rin no Sho”- the Book of Five Rings. There are five scrolls: Chi no Maki (Earth Scroll), Sui no Maki (Water Scroll), Hi no Maki (Fire Scroll), Fu no Maki (Wind Scroll), and Ku no Maki (Void, or Emptiness, Scroll). Despite the impressive names, the scrolls are direct and pragmatic, rather than esoteric in nature. Musashi himself never wrote about actual techniques, only generalities the warrior had to understand- anything more specifically described could be stolen and used against him. By contrast, Manaka Sensei needed to create a practical course in sword technique for his students, and a way to guide and order their training.

The first scroll is the Chi no Maki, or Earth Scroll. As befits the name, it presents the material that is the foundation of all other technique. The first part of this scroll is kamae, or stances. As with the scrolls, there are five kamae for Jinen Ryu, which cover the major avenues of attack. Each kamae has a specific meaning and feeling- if one has perfect physical form but does not concentrate on having this feeling, the kamae is incorrect. The other part of the Chi no Maki is called Kihon Toho- literally “Basic Sword Way”. This is a sequence of the seven fundamental cuts. Though there are other attacks with the sword, they are almost all variations of these seven. If students practice Kihon Toho, using the whole body instead of only the arms to generate power, they will develop the ability to cut straight through, instead of merely making surface or jagged cuts.

The next scroll is the Sui no Maki, or Water Scroll. The central teaching is called Ryufu no Tachi, which means to be yielding and unresisting, like the water willow tree which bends in the wind, instead of bluntly resisting. These techniques are called uke tachi, or “the receiving sword”- they are techniques for receiving and countering attacks: specifically, the attacks from the Hi no Maki. These should not be thought of as “defense” per se; they are not merely passively escaping the attack, but for actively seeking openings and pressing home a counterattack. Footwork is extremely important.

The following scroll is the Hi no Maki, or Fire Scroll. It contains techniques of attack, called uchi tachi, or “the striking sword”. These techniques demonstrate attacking from the kamae of Jinen Ryu. Again, the central principle is Raiko no Tachi- to develop attacks that are fast like a lightning bolt, attacking both an enemy’s body and balance. Fire comes after water in traditional Japanese symbology, and the order of scrolls respects this. However, these techniques must really be taught before or alongside those of the Sui no Maki.

The fourth scroll is the Fu no Maki, the Wind Scroll. The main teaching of this longest scroll is Hayate no Tachi, which means to be flexible and changeable. Having mastered the single attacks and counters from earlier, here the student learns to handle more complex situations, and opponents armed with swords or other weapons. Footwork and timing are more important than ever before. The attacks are also less predictable, so the student must learn to watch carefully and then move all at once, without holding back.

The last scroll is the Ku no Maki, or Void Scroll. The main point of this scroll is called Mugen no Tachi, which means entering a state of mu, or emptiness. The kata here are for dealing with situations where you confront multiple opponents. These are considered the most dangerous circumstances. The descriptions of these kata are brief- they do not teach precise movements, but rather a single idea for prevailing in each situation. The student should already have mastered the basic skills and movement, and be able to enter a state of mu and apply their technique in a fluid and natural way, seeing the weak points in the enemy group and exploiting them without thought.

Jinen Ryu Biken is not especially long, but it is compact and thorough. Mastering these skills will take years. However, the rewards of constant practice in practical swordsmanship are immensely and immediately satisfying.

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