There’d be blood everywhere!

Last weekend I was at an aikido seminar where Mr. Kenneth Cottier was teaching. He's remarkable in the world of aikido because he is one of the few Englishmen (and, indeed, non-Japanese) to have trained at the hombu, or headquarters, dojo in Tokyo while the founder of aikido was still alive and teaching — in fact Mr. Cottier was there from the early 1960s. He currently holds the rank of 7th dan shihan from the Aikikai headquarters.

During the class, he addressed a common question. I'm quoting this as closely as I can recall to his actual words, although I didn't take written notes at the time.

I'm sometimes asked what would happen if a good karate-man attacked me with a decent roundhouse kick . . . What would happen? I'd be on the floor and there'd be blood everywhere! I'm 74! Why is he attacking me? Why?!"

Kenneth Cottier


European influence on Japanese sword

Miyamoto Musashi was probably the most famous swordsman in all of Japan, and he created the ni-to ryu, or two-swords, school of fighting. As readers of Fudebakudo know, there are several versions of the story of how this came about (the book mischievously contains two contradictory accounts), but one of the most enduring is that the secrets of this new, radical way of fighting were revealed to him by a mountain tengu. 

Tengu is usually translated as "goblin," which of course loses something cultural in the translation (see this Wikipedia entry on the topic for more detail). But generally it is accepted that the tengu were reclusive mountain goblins with big noses who had unsurpassed and alien skills in swordmanship.

Tengu in shrine

Tengu: Huge nose; bulgy round eyes; black, white, and red colouring; cartoony demeanour. Indisputable Western Fudebakudo influence.

The cheaty nature (fighting with two swords when everybody else was doing the decent thing following convention and using just the one, in the right hand), the big noses and — most subtle of all — the red and black colours that are frequently seen in contemporary woodcuts showing tengu, all point to the presence of European Fudebakudo. Rather than sacred goblins in mountain hideaways, might these not have been gaijin, Western devils teaching methods outside the box (or, as Fudebakudo scholars put it, "outside the lacquered box")? Could it be that, in this way, foreigners introduced underhand Fudebakudo tactics into hitherto honourable Japanese sword-fighting? They were reclusive because, as outsiders, they had no position in Japan's rigid social hierarchy. In fact, Japan actively rejected foreigners such as these when it adopted the sakoku policy of closing itself off from the world, which was instigated within Musashi's lifetime. It's possible that this was as a direct result of the samurai classes seeing (or suspecting) the influence such foreigners had had on him — he'd started beating them with these new strategies, after all.

Certainly it is known that Fudebakudo principles were at work in European fencing schools at the time (see this previous blog entry), and that a similar reintroduction of an Eastern military concept from the West had occurred just half a century earlier, when the Portugese began trading firearms with Japan's gunless rulers.

Of course, the truth is that we will probably never really know, because so few tengu survive today, and those that can be approached (such as the isolated captive specimens in the restricted-access area of Tokyo's Ueno Zoo) are invariably vague and elusive when questioned on the topic. So the reintroduction of Fudebakudo to Japan via European hideaways remains a controversial and perhaps taboo explanation of Musashi's brilliance and, in consequence, an overlooked influence on Japanese sword-fighting.

Starting young

The key to mastery in any martial art is to start young.

starting young 

This photograph, taken by an undercover journalist who had infiltrated a Fudebakudo Baby Camp deep in the cellars of a secret monastery in the Wutan foot-hills, shows the early stages of indoctrination. Presumably the parents paid handsomely for putting their offspring through such an elite, disciplined regime.

It makes you wonder just when the army of Fudebakudo toddler-warriors will be unleashed upon this unsuspecting world, swinging Fisher-Price battle-axes and hurling shuriken in primary colours with rounded corners.


The Penguin is Mightier than the Sword

I wanted to post this link to an interview with Berkeley Breathed on Salon for two reasons. Firstly, it has such a fantastic strap line (see myths if you are not familiar with Fudebakudo's "The Pen is Mightier . . ." motto). Secondly, I loved Breathed's Bloom County cartoon strip when it appeared in the 80s, and the interview is interesting if you're into cartooning (which of course I am). Although the Salon piece is actually from 2003 (yes, that's a long time ago already), My Comics Page recently started republishing Bloom County online to subscribers.

Fudebakudo's first exposure to the general public was in the now long-defunct UK paper The Cartoonist. In the interview, Breathed talks about how he was able to insist that he got a whole half-page space in the newspapers for his recent work Opus. The great thing about The Cartoonist was that, being a broadsheet devoted to the form, it was very generous with space, so those early Fudebakudo drawings were actually big enough to read at arm's length. I also know that some people kept them because I've met someone who showed me one of the early editions (with the Hokikoki Kata on the back page,  I think). 

If that was too much about cartooning and not enough about penguins, here is the almost obigatory link to penguins doing aikido.