Saturday, 5 March 2011

Ishikawa Idayuu - the unknown swordsman

Ishikawa Idayuu (1825-1894)
Occasionally a name or an incident will crop up that will make you want to stop and find out more. Names of people long dead continue to resonate, and some of these, though well-known  in their own day are all but forgotten now.

One such is Ishikawa Idayuu, a swordsman of the Shounai Domain, who was famous enough in his day to be known as one of the three notable masters of the domain (Shounai san meibutsu). The others were a jujutsu master of the Shibukawa-ryu called Akashi Jiemon, and Sagara Judayuu, master of the Mukyoku-ryu of sojutsu, both of whom lived a century or so before Ishikawa.

(The term meibutsu is nowadays used mainly for famous products with which each prefecture is associated – an early government marketing ploy to help local businesses and tourism. Typically, each prefecture has one meibutsu, many of which are taught to school children, who will be able to recite Ehime – mikan (tangerines), Aomori – apples… to name two of the most famous.

The style Ishikawa practised was the Shinkyu-ryu, (新九流) of which little is known nowadays. It was popular both in Shounai and neighboring Aizu, but as both were hold outs against the new Meiji government during the Boshin War, it is not surprising that many of the martial practices in the area would have been supressed. In fact, both Ishikawa and some of his students were active in that war, commanding military units of various sizes, and were afterwards removed from their official positions and subject to other punitive measures.

Ishikawa was born as the 3rd son and adopted as heir into another branch of the same family, who were the hereditary teachers of Shinkyu-ryu heihou. He excelled at this and eventually inherited the position both of head of the style and of the family.

I came across Ishikawa in Matsuura Seizan’s work Joseishi Kendan, where he is the subject of a rather interesting episode. Seizan is interesting as a swordsman in his own right, and as a one-time daimyo was able to travel comparatively freely. Although he does not say so, it seems most likely that he met Ishikawa in Edo – as the chief instructor for swordsmanship for the domain, it is not unlikely that he would have travelled to Edo with his lord, or on other han business and Seizan, too would have spent some time there. Shounai later became responsible for managing security for the city of Edo, and the Shinchogumi – the Edo version of the Shinsengumi – was under the control of Shounai. It was, incidentally, set up by Kiyokawa Hachirou, who was a ronin from Shounai.

The story is related as if Ishikawa is the senior, though in fact Seizan was both older and of higher social status. Seizan did, in fact, study widely, even after being awarded mastery in swordsmanship, and even quite late in life, so it seems he was happy to learn where he could, and from whom he could. He notes how although Ishikawa always talked about swordsmanship (and this was a day and age where it was soon to become, yet again, a very real survival skill), on one occasion he had become very drunk and was stumbling all over the place on his way home. Seizan, who was with him, was thinking to himself that surely Ishikawa was now in a pretty vulnerable condition. When they got back, Ishikawa, who had obviously been faking, said he knew what Seizan had been thinking, but he shouldn’t be too sure of his initial assessment. It was only when he had discovered what someone was hiding that he should be content.

Like many stories from this period, it gives us a glimpse of some of the concerns of swordsmen in those days, and shows us that their art and knowledge went beyond the use of the sword in the dojo. This was knowledge that was tested in the Bakumatsu period – as it happens Kiyokawa Hachiro, a skilled swordsman himself, was killed in the street after being heavily plied with food and drink. (Although he was from Shounai, he was not one of Ishikawa’s students).

Sakai Noritsuge
Sakai Noritsuge (1842-1876), son of an important domain official,  and nick-named ‘Oni-Genba’, was personally involved in the round up of the remnants of the Mito Tengu Insurrection, and there is an account of his skill in using a single sword thrust to bring down a sword wielding opponent. He was also well versed in chinese poetry and playing the flute. Later he became a batallion commander in the Boshin War, and was involved in some fierce fighting, as were both Ishikawa himself and another of Ishikawa’s students, Nakamura Shichiroemon (1843–1907), who became the next head of the Shinkyu-ryu. Lest you have the image of a totally outmoded army of swordsmen facing modern weapons, it must be noted that Nakamura commanded a rifle unit. Nakamura was actually connected to the Sakai family by marriage, and performed as kaishaku at the seppuku of Sakai Noritsuge’s uncle, Ukyou, a leader of han reformers, in 1867.

Ishikawa Shizumasa's portrait of Saigo
The connection with Saigo Takamori
Not 'The Last Samurai', perhaps, but there is an interesting connection with Saigo Takamori, who led the Imperial forces against Shounai and its allies in the Boshin War. After the war, Saigo settled very lenient terms with Shounai, and through this approach won the admiration of many former opponents. The official ‘Records of the Shounai Domain’ reflect this attitude with laudatory comments concerning Saigo’s magnaminity. Prior to this, one of the domain elders, Suge Sanehida, travelled to meet Saigo. He was accompanied by a painter, who later painted this portrait of Saigo. The painter was Ishikawa Shizumasa (1848-1925), the son of Ishikawa Idayuu.

The story of the fishermen
There is one other story of Ishikawa that bears repeating. As well as being famous as a swordsman, he was a famous for his yawara (or jujutsu) – probably as a part of the Shinkyu-ryu teachings. Three young fishermen came to him asking him to teach them yawara for protection in case they were attacked by robbers. Ishikawa accepted them as pupils and for six months had them running up and down the beach as basic training.  Eventually they asked him when he was going to teach them yawara.
“This is your yawara” he replied. “You have a very important job. If you start getting into yawara, you’ll neglect your fishing, which is crucial. So, if anyone attacks you, run! Escape! By losing, you win. Escaping is your victory!”

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