View Full Version : On Rankings

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Kensho Furuya
09-09-2003, 01:12 PM
In another forum, someone was asking me about my ranks in Iaido and there was another inquiry about my ranks in Aikido. I can understand this kind of curiousity because I have been very quiet in my own dojo with a very busy teaching schedule and have really not gone out much in the last 20 years since I relocated to my present dojo in LIttle Tokyo, downtown Los Angeles in 1984 - about 19 years ago. I think that the older generation of Aikidoists all know me or heard of me very well, but perhaps the younger generation of Aikidoists within the last 20 years or so do not know me at all. Of course, it goes without saying that my rank in Aikido is from Hombu Dojo Aikikai - I never thought to be asked where it ever came from!

I posted an explanation of my Iaido ranks in that forum but then removed it after a while so perhaps the inquirer saw it hopefully while it was on. Otherwise, the question will remain not addressed. When I thought back to all of my promotions over the last 45 years or so, I realized that I have not kept very good track of them. This question really caused me to think back and I realized that I didn't even know the ranks of many of my Iaido teachers in the past. I think it was impolite to ask directly and I think it was not much of a concern for us then as ranks are now. I know I studied under many great teachers and even today I still respect and admire their skill and teachings although they are long gone and I still don't know what ranks they were exactly. I remember Takiguchi Yoshinobu Sensei was a 9th Dan in Kendo and an expert in Itto Ryu as well as Iaido. Coming to the US from the same village in Japan as my grandfather around the turn of the century, he gave me very special attention in my Kendo and Iaido training as a little kid.

There was Ebihara Sensei, who was perhaps the greatest of all of my Iaido teachers - I recall this must have been about 35 years ago or so when I was training. He had actual combat usage of Iaido during the war and because of those sad memories was very reluctant to teach us any Iaido at all. His Iaido left me breathless - he used a shorter sword because his Iaido was for actual battle. Regetably, I remember another Aikido teacher wanted to join our small group of three students. On his very first evening, he pushed the shoulder of Ebihara Sensei a little and said, "I don't think you are keeping your 'one point'." Ebihara Sensei just sat down and that was the last lesson anyone ever had, he did not say a word. This was the same as trying to ask for his rank and qualifications. This is how it was back in the old days! I still remember this incident very well in my head - such a great learning opportunity was lost due to unthinking rudeness. Mori Torao Sensei was a great genius in Kendo and his Iaido classes were always so exciting for me - none of us were capable of even remotely imitating what he could do with a sword. He studied several styles of Iaido - we just learned whatever he taught us. I don't remember what style he taught us - maybe Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Muso Shinden Ryu.

After I posted the explanation, I felt very bad inside of myself. If anyone misinterpreted that I was bragging about myself or boasting about my ranks, I could never forgive myself. I felt so ahamed about this and am relieved that this post is gone.

If someone wants to study under me, they should come to my dojo and meet me and begin training and of course, he should know my background and qualifications. I think he will soon know me from the training here in my dojo and from my students as he practices. If someone wants to know my ranks just out of curiousity and for more chit-chat with no intention of meeting me or ever training with me, I rather discuss something else.

I think attitudes are very different today and we are very rank conscious in these modern times. I think other "old-timers" like myself will understand and appreciate what I am saying. Maybe the younger generation of Aikidoists out there will think this conversation very strange and odd. This is another difference I see in students today. The older generation was very strict about modesty and humility and considered it a very important element of their practice.

My Zen master, the late Bishop Kenko Yamashita, practiced Kendo before the war in Japan. I never knew his rank until one day it just happened to come up in another conversation in the temple and he mentioned in passing that he was 5th Dan. I think 5th Dan in those days is equivalent to maybe 8th or 9th Dan today. But we were all surprised because he never talked about his Kendo days before. Although he was in his 80's at the time and never practiced for over 50 years, for us, he took a Japanese sword out of his closet in the office and instantly cut a thick telephone book into two very cleanly - we were all shocked! Even his own daughters did not know he could do this. He let me look at the sword right after this, I was shocked again to know that a famous modern swordsmith had made this sword especially for him on the occasion of his journey to America! It was inscribed on the tang of the blade. When I asked how he got this, he said, "Oh, Watanabe (the swordsmith) is an old acquaintance of mine." I was so shocked again. Talking a little more about his Kendo, I then discovered that he practiced everyday in the same dojo as Nakayama Hakudo Sensei, one of the first pioneers of modern Kendo and the "father" of modern Iaido. Again, I was totally shocked that he never ever mentioned this to anyone until now in such a casual conversation. My Zen master is about the same generation as O'Sensei and 2nd Doshu - I think all great teachers were like this in those days - so humble and modest, - now so long ago.

These are just a few memories from the past of my training and how it was many years ago. . . . . . I just thought to share them with you here. Thank you.

09-09-2003, 02:13 PM
I enjoyed this very much and would be very happy to see more like this post again. Thank you for your lesson in history and the common sense of humility and lineage. A true pleasure.

Larry Feldman
09-09-2003, 04:44 PM
Kensho Furuya's book, Kodo: Ancient Ways is on the recommended reading list I give to my students. I enjoyed it, a worthwhile read.