BUNBU RYOUDOU – Fond Memories of Ishido Sadataro Sensei

Collated by Andy Watson, Seishinkan Dojo

It is with sincere regret that 2006 saw the passing away of Ishido Sadataro sensei, 8th dan hanshi, Kancho of Shimbukan Ishido Dojo and father of Ishido Shizufumi sensei. I was only fortunate to meet Kancho the once while visiting Japan and at a time when he had stopped practicing. His reputation as one of the most knowledgeable iaidoka in Japan at his time preceded him. His incredible ability and knowledge in combination with being one of the most interesting characters has left an indelible memory in all who met him.

I am in no position to write anything about him and so I merely present to you a collection of fond memories…

Andy Watson

Vic Cook, Shimbukan Dojo

In response to your request on info concerning Ishido Sadataro sensei, I have enclosed a pic of him performing an embu at the Butokuden Circa 1980 when I first met him on a visit to Shin Bu Kan Kawasaki.

The first time I saw him practice was at the Butokuden Sensei Taikai in 1980, I thought at the time nobody of his great age should have the right to move so smoothly (incidentally I reached his age at that time last year myself) and where could you purchase the mini skate boards he must have attached to his knees. My enduring memory was on his first visit to England at the Summer Seminar held at Mares-field near Uckfield Sussex. That was when he undertook to teach Okuden Tachi waza to those of us who were fortunate to be in his care that day. His class consisted of us observing of course his demonstration of each technique and then insisting before we barely had time to practice the same, moving on to numerous kai waza that over the many years of his study he had learned.

By the time this particular class was over our heads were buzzing with the amount of information and technique he had attempted to transfer to us. Memory can of course play tricks on us all, but I seem to remember that we had actually practiced for about 25% of the time and had witnessed one of the longest embu in history. What was conveyed to me personally though was the passion and enthusiasm this formidable mans knowledge was, I was left in a sense of awe but inspired to at least try and imitate his example.

Apart from his Iai qualifications, he was an exponent of Ju-kendo (Hachidan Hanshi) I’m not sure of his exact grade in Kendo and Jodo but I’m sure he also held a respectable rank in Tanto-jitsu. He told me that he had studied Jikiden Ryu for 20 years before moving to Shinden Ryu also I was told that he held a menkyo for Munen Ryu Iai.

I was privileged to have been on rare occasions under his tutelage in my early years of study and to have witnessed several of his embu.

John Piper, Shimbukan Dojo

My memory will always be of the man rather than his Iai, his humanity if you like. At the end of a seminar and shinsa held at Southampton University many years ago Ishido sensei remained in a darkening and empty sports hall long after all other sensei had left in order to sign and hanko the licences of any of us ‘snotties’ who requested it. He knew how much his signature meant to us and was happy to oblige, a simple act but one I shall never forget.

Jock Hopson, Eishinkan Dojo

When I first entered the Shinbukan Dodo in Kawasaki as a raw beginner, Ishido Sensei Senior – Kancho Sensei – was always encouraging and immensely enthusiastic but was more often seen rushing back and forth photocopying lists, organising taikai and gradings than instructing in the dojo on a day to day basis.

It was not until Kancho Sensei visited the U.K. that I was able to see just how smooth, supple and powerful his Iaido was. His first teaching session was a revelation. No sooner had he shown us a new Koryu technique, along with several Kaewaza and the equivalents from most of the other major iaido ryu-ha as well, than he was onto the next, and the next, and the next. Such was his haste to impart as much knowledge in the limited time that we had available; we could do no more than try to follow along in breathless wonder as virtuoso performance continued at a breakneck pace.

When we had first approached Ishido Sensei a couple of months earlier about the possibility of his father visiting the UK he was very unsure about the whole idea , his father “was getting on a bit”, “was off his food”, “was slowing down these days” ; well , if he was slowing down, then I’d like to have been that “slow” on my best day ! Our first visit to an Indian restaurant was a bit of a gamble, “would he like it “, “could he eat it” , “ what would we do if he didn’t like spicy food“ etc. Well, we needn’t have worried, after the first mouthful he was off like there was no tomorrow. In a seven-day visit he gained nearly half a stone and was bouncing around like a twenty year old. He just loved to teach, and he loved an audience. Once in Japan I was watching his Iaido enbu when out of the blue he joined Koranto and Yukizure together, both on the advance and the retreat . When I asked him about it afterwards, he said that an enbu of just seven techniques was over far too quickly to show what he could do. When I asked him if it was OK to do that kind of thing, he told me with a smile that “when you are a Hanshi Hachidan people don’t tend to give you too much grief ”.

To get back to Kancho Sensei’s visit , one memorable evening we went as a group with Loi to a Chinese restaurant owned by her friend , a noted calligrapher. After the last bit of squid was eaten and the boiled rice polished off, the owner appeared with some paper, brushes and ink and he and Kancho Sensei began the “battle of the brushes”. Differences in Chinese and Japanese kanji were explored, kaisho led to sosho, until the table tops were covered in sheet after sheet of the most exquisite calligraphy, while in the background the rest of us , including the cooks and waiters, looked on in amazement.

My other abiding memory of Kancho Sensei was when Louis Vitalis and I were attending the Iaido seminar prior to our 6th dan grading in Osaka. The instructor in our group was waffling on and on . Louis and I were looking across with envy at the adjoining group who were cracking on with some training. Kancho Sensei was present in a V.I.P capacity wearing his lounge suit and a fancy rosette to show that he was one of the great and good. He watched our instructor with growing irritation until suddenly he disappeared; only to appear a couple of minutes later changed into keikogi and hakama and ready to go! Telling the instructor to join the group himself, Kancho Sensei then gave us the most scintillating and erudite Koryu lesson ever ! He explained the relationship and history of the Koryu styles , gave chapter and verse on the techniques , for all schools , and even went into the counters which could be applied to each technique . A complete history and practical session all in one !

That, I think, is a measure of Kancho Sensei’s greatness . He didn’t just practice Iaido, Jodo and Kendo, he studied them; and his enthusiasm and joy in passing on his knowledge made him a very special person .

Billy Smart, Shonenjiku Glasgow Dojo

I met Ishido sensei senior for the first time in 1992 at a summer seminar which was being organised by Tony Leon one of Ishido sensei’s originals. Tony was a member of Eishinkan dojo and made the long trip up to Glasgow to give us some well needed tuition in Iaido. Just before the seminar I had decided that I would leave Sam McKay‘s club and start my own club but had no name to give it. Tony came up with some names one of them being Shonenjiku which I was told was Hiroi sensei’s club name and the great thing was that he was teaching at the seminar and I could ask him if it was o.k. to adopt it as my own. The problem was that Hiroi sensei was a jodo teacher and the only time I had used a stick was when it was fixed to a brush head, some would say nothing has changed.

The day came when I stood, jo in hand, my club name accepted as Shonenjiku Glasgow and Hiroi sensei looking at me as though he was having second thoughts. I should not have worried as a request from Hiroi sensei for some assistance for the new member of Shonenjiku gave me my own seventh dan jodo teacher to cast a watchful eye over me, Ishido sensei senior. It has been one of the most enjoyable times I have spent in a dojo as Ishido sensei senior had the great natural ability to perform and teach with a smile on his face. We laughed so much at my failed attempts to pass a jo through my hands that I feared jodo was not for me. Even when he was resting his eyes at the other end of the dojo the second I made a mistake I was greeted with a knowing smile. l was not of a high enough grade in iaido to take part in his group but I remember standing mesmerised at his movement and listening to his seemingly endless knowledge of the sword styles and kata. I am sure he probably added a few of his own just for fun.

After the seminar we went up to the north of Scotland for a few days and did the sightseeing tour and even had a Japanese guide at the Glenfidich distillery. I had noticed that Ishido sensei senior was very interested in nature and plants so we took a trip to Elgin Cathedral where there is a very old tree. It is reputed that the Wolf of Badenoch sat on it as he watched the cathedral burn down after a disagreement with a bishop back in the thirteen hundreds but the history was lost as Ishido sensei senior moved underneath the tree and picked up the fallen leaves. The trees branches are supported by crutches and this also gave him great interest but soon we were back to a glint in the eye as we tried to explain the game of bowls. This became even more confusing as the people playing were blind. We stopped at Loch Ness and did the usual standing around looking for the monster but it was the landscape and the plant life that interested sensei most. Back in Glasgow we all finished the tour with an Indian curry which seemed to go down well and the added bonus of some lager to cool us was a welcome addition.

My memory of Ishido sensei senior was of a showman of great ability on the dojo floor who was ever ready to laugh with you rather than at you. Off the floor, for the short time I knew him, he seemed to have a love for nature and a willingness to smile.

René van Amersfoort

My name is René van Amersfoort from Holland. I am a student of Louis Vitalis sensei who is a student of Ishido sensei. In 1980 on the advice of Louis Vitalis I started with iaido and kendo, two years later followed by jodo. The 80’s were very good years, because during those ten years I was able to develop a reasonable knowledge of iaido and jodo as laid down in those years. Every other year a big delegation of Japanese professional teachers visited Holland to teach us. The years in between we could visit mostly the same teachers when they visited England. BKA and NKR worked together on this issue, because one common factor: the same Japanese delegation.

If I jump from 1980 to 2006 almost 2007, I can say of my own experience that without the help of those superb Japanese teachers we would never have arrived on the path we are now (still) following. So far for the start of this article. In this way we were lucky to have a teacher as Ishido sensei’s father! What an enormous library of theory and most of all superb practical experience of iaido. Because it was with iaido I met this Dai Sensei. I still remember his classes where he took us through the whole of Muso Shinden Ryu iaido. From shoden (omori ryu) through chuden (hasegawa eishin ryu) through okuden (suwari waza) and okuden (tachi waza) without any break! We had to do it correct (what is correct in that time, we were just practising so short in time) and without any unnatural force! KLING KLING, KLING KLING is what I remember of his teachings: keep your muscles relaxed, don’t use unnecessary power, body movement of techniques. Only necessary things like flow, smoothness and sharpness. But it has to be real fighting! Gambatte Kudasai was his credo. KLING KLING is when he relaxed his arms, he meant that you have to relax in such a way, that the bones in your arms were touching each other. And not too much thinking but renshu, renshu (train, train) and benkyo, benkyo (study, study). And we had to try to follow him during practise. We were not able to follow him, because we didn’t understood what he was saying. We didn’t understand this with our bodies. Our minds could follow, but our proficiency was still poor. Is it still poor nowadays? I think so, but there development has taken place, thanks to this great teacher who unfortunately left us. Thus is life. We all get old and at one point we will say goodbye to life, but hopefully we can continue in another life. And hopefully I will meet this great teacher in this other life. Through his son, Ishido sensei, his mind, body and technique will live for ever, because I will do – and as many of the modern students will do – my utmost to keep alive what was thought to us in this special way.

My first visit to Japan, was to Osaka and Tokyo in 1998. Together with my sensei Louis Vitalis we joined the 6th dan jodo examination. I never forget the drive towards Osaka with the mini bus. Upon arriving Osaka, Ishido (kancho) dai sensei was pointing out the slow and not good driving cars, and saying hidari, migi and to the driver his son gambatte kudasai. A moment of humour before the examination. After a successful examination, Louis and I were sitting down on the stairs in the sports hall. Suddenly behind us KANCHO, with a little present for both of us: a tie pin and around the box a paper wrap upon a writing from KANCHO in red where he congratulated us with the successful examination. Thanks to the Ishido family!

My last remembrance was January 2005 when Louis and I went for 7th dan jodo. When Louis arrived in the dojo, a small gathering took place. The wife of KANCHO was downstairs (who after my 6th jodo in 1998 gave me a big lesson in jodo kihon, which made me so small, realizing how little I knew and how much I have to study more!) with her son (our teacher Ishido) talking to Louis and I was just standing: listening and looking to this encounter of old friends / student and teacher(s). Then KANCHO came in from a walk / stroll through Kawasaki. His wife said to KANCHO upon entering the dojo. Look who is here: Louis! KANCHO put off his shoes and wanted to go upstairs. But again his wife said to him: look who is here: Louis! This time a little bit louder. At this moment he replied: yes I see its Louis, I am not deaf or blind yet! And this is how I also remember him: silently on the background overlooking the European students trying to develop their iaido; and when a question was asked – jetlag of no jetlag – KANCHO came immediately with the correct answer! He was a really great SENSEI and I think everybody will miss him, but I will keep him in mind and especially those rare moments we were able to follow his teachings. Keep this alive and our iaido will stream, flow, run, develop to a level reachable in your personal budo live. GAMBATTE KUDASAI. By the way: I learned to eat nato (delicious Japanese dish / in a pot / as sushi / or as breakfast) at Osaka after my 6th dan examination, because KANCHO let me eat all things he choose for me, testing me out. Unfortunately this Dutch man is well known about one fact: he eats everything! And trains everything! Especially those things thought by the Ishido family! Arigato gozaimasu. It was great that one of my dear iaido / jodo friends (Momiyama-san from Sweden) was able to send flowers from me to Japan for KANCHO’s funeral. My last honour to this great man who lived in the old times and in the modern times! And for us who could taste through this great professional teacher a bit of the past and modern times of our beloved iaido. May heaven above shelter him for ever!

Memories of a Master Swordsman by Chris Mansfield

I am writing this article in tribute to my Budo Sensei’s father who passed away peacefully on the 25th September 2006 at the age of 88 years.

Some of what has been written about Ishido Sadataro Sensei of the Shinbukan Dojo; Kawasaki, Japan has revealed the greatness in what was a truly remarkable human being. This man devoted his whole life to learning and teaching Japanese martial arts both in Japan and in his latter years overseas. During his lifetime he had come in contact with many leading exponents of the day and became to exemplify those who went before him.

I first met him in April 1980 when together with Jock Hopson and Vic Cook we made a visit to the Shinbukan Dojo in Kawasaki for a three week holiday training visit. Being new to this world (and my first time in Japan) everything was remarkable to say the least. From that time until the present which includes 11 years living in Japan from 1996 -2006 I had the privilege of associating with some of the finest people in my life not least of who Ishido Sadataro Sensei was a part of. Of course I have too many memories to write down here for the reader, but I would like to share a few of them just so people can understand how Budo influences and develops an individual’s life.

One of the most remarkable things about Ishido Sadataro Sensei was his ability to convey what I call the true nature of Iaido. On many occasions in the dojo he has been known to completely devastate students with his awesome array of knowledge and versatility of understanding in applying techniques and in recognizing the different styles from various teachers. One of the things I will best remember him for was his earnest yet serious teaching so much so that when he taught you, you felt that it would be impossible to do or even to remember what he had just said. When this became apparent on the student’s face, he would turn round and make light of the situation sometimes making a joke or trying to alleviate in some way the problems he had already given you. This combination of heavy then light was a strong characteristic in his make up and often students would find it very difficult to adapt to his style of teaching not knowing when he was being light and not serious and when the opposite. In later years I began to appreciate the true value of this method and later on saw it demonstrated on overseas students some of who still vividly remember his style and character. The passion he had for instilling knowledge and seeking the path of learning in Budo was exemplary.

On another occasion I fondly remember him sitting at the dignitaries table during a seminar seemingly asleep! Yet when a practitioner made a mistake which was so glaring he would suddenly appear wide awake and looking in their direction as if to say I saw that. Was this the state of Zanshin that we try to emulate in our practise of Budo? I was never sure and to this day still remain mystified. At other times during his annual demonstration in the Butokuden in Kyoto I remember being in awe of the various sensei and in particular when it came to his turn to demonstrate being thrilled sitting on the edge of my seat watching the ease of the fluidity in his movements whilst keeping the continual state of an unperturbed mind in motion.

During all this time I have never been disappointed in knowing the Ishido family and trying to live up to what Budo meant for them. This is strongly imbued in his son Ishido Shizufumi Sensei who to this day still continues to show the nature and benefits of studying Budo. I once had the rare privilege of living with the Ishido family for 6 months whilst looking for a suitable apartment during the beginning of 1996. I observed at close hand a traditional Budo family whose sense of correctness, equality and kindness was always upheld by the principles underlying Budo. This wonderful example has given me much encouragement over the years. Yet these are ordinary people. How can they be so “special”? The answer must lie within the qualities learnt from the practice and study of Budo.

Now I will relate to the reader the circumstances surrounding his passing away. It was on the night of Monday 25th September 2006 that when returning to my apartment from work I was startled to see a crowd gathered outside the dojo. Enquiring what the problem was I was told that O-Sensei (Kancho) had died earlier that day at around 4pm and that his body was laying in the dojo which was now closed for the rest of the week. At first I was in a state of shock even though I knew he had been in hospital for some time, but was later told that the end had been expected. I quickly entered the dojo to see my teacher and his family sitting quietly and mourning their loss with the body of Kancho lying on a futon just below the Shinzen at the far end. I was invited to pay my respects and knelt down beside his body and bowed respectfully. For most western people the customs of Japanese society are obscure and little understood, however I would ask the reader to bear with me in my descriptions as I believe they offer an insight into why Budo in Japan is so traditional and steeped in its history.

Death in many countries often has deep religious and sometimes superstitious connotations. In the Far East it is no different. The formalities surrounding old age and departure from this life are fixed and complicated and to the outsider totally remiss in their understanding.

It is therefore in this situation I find myself trying to cope with loss and the inevitable uncomfortable feeling of not being fully aware of the proper procedure and customs which one should follow. The traditional custom surrounding someone of importance or distinction that dies in Japan is to allow them to leave this life when the spirit is willing to, of course the body is dead but proper regard must be given to the remaining soul. It can be said that people of Budo generally have a strong presence in life and in death the superstition follows that they may still linger on not wanting to leave it. Because of this there is a ceremony to allow the spirit to remain in the home for a certain time after physical death. In Kancho’s case his body was left to reside in the dojo for two days then placed in a coffin awaiting preparation for the final ceremony before cremation the following Saturday. During this time many people who had come to respect him paid tributes by visiting the dojo offering their deep respect.

This was followed by two days of public recognition for funeral rites and for people to formally say goodbye to him. These took place on the Friday and Saturday 29th and 30th September in a shrine in Kawasaki town centre. To the best of my knowledge more than a thousand people attended not only from Budo but other walks of life. Taking part in the final ceremony on Saturday was an all day affair. I arrived at 9am with the Ishido family and performed some minor duties helping out with the general organization. There were two priests in attendance from the Ishido Temple in Chiba conducting funeral rites and overseeing the eventual transport of his body to the local crematorium. Before this was done there was an extremely poignant moment where all those present were handed white flowers to surround his body inside the coffin. It was difficult not to feel the great sorrow at his passing. Following this I was invited with a small group of others to journey to the crematorium and witness the ceremony (after the cremation) where people in the group and family members would place his last earthly remains in an urn which would in turn be returned to the dojo where it would stay for a period of 49 days.

I cannot find adequate enough words to describe the emotions present among those family members and close dojo students to whom their grief was very real yet was constrained to the point of respectful silence. Whilst Kancho’s body was being cremated everyone was invited to partake of light refreshments and to toast his life and passing. Many senior members of the dojo gave fitting tributes of their experiences and fond times of remembrance.

Finally we were all invited to the viewing gallery where his last remains would be brought to be placed in an urn. At this point I am sure many western readers may be puzzled to learn that when a body is cremated the bones are left for this purpose; obviously no ordinary cremation.

As this was my first close hand experience I was somewhat stunned and a little shocked. However coming to terms with this I prepared myself for what was to come. Kancho’s remains were quietly brought in by an attendant who then proceeded to invite family members to place a bone in the urn using chopsticks. The method was that two people each holding a special pair of metal chopsticks would pick up a bone together and place it in the urn. Upon enquiring why two people were needed to perform this act I was told the meaning lay in the significance that if one person were to do it, it could be construed as representing the act of eating. Finally after all the bones had been placed in the urn with the skull bone on top it was sealed and all those present departed to return to the shrine in Kawasaki where the priests conducted one more rite before allowing the urn to return home to the Ishido dojo.

At this stage of the all day proceedings I was quite exhausted and still finding it difficult to believe how important this ceremony was for not only the Ishido family but everyone present. Later I learnt that after the 49 day period the urn would be transported to the temple in Chiba to be placed in a marble tomb especially made as the final resting place.

As a close and long time student of the Ishido family I was also invited to attend this event together with a small group of close friends and family. This took place on Sunday 12th October 2006. There were the usual formalities and quite a long ceremony where scriptures were recited in accord with the family’s religious faith. Finally the urn was carried out by Ishido Shizufumi Sensei to the site of the tomb in the temple grounds.

It was a wonderful day and the weather was beautiful befitting someone who had finally been laid to rest. I will always be indebted to the Ishido family for allowing me to participate in this event as it gave me a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction that Kancho’s life had come to a great end.

Throughout his long life Ishido Sadataro Sensei contributed as much as he gained and for me was a noble example reflecting the path of Budo for others to follow. It is up those left behind to show this greatness of Budo and to share its benefits with all who come into contact with it.

Lastly I conclude this article with a few photographs remembering his memory and of his final resting place. He will be forever remembered by those who felt his teachings.

Written in commemoration of the first anniversary after Ishido Sadataro Sensei’s passing.

Chris Mansfield September 2007

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