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The iris is more than just a nice plant with beautiful flowers

Choshu Hagi no ju Inoue Michitaka saku 長州萩住井上通高作 from the MFA Boston  











The iris plant or shoubu (菖蒲) is a popular motif in Japanese art.  The word for iris is shoubu but when the same word is written with different kanji it can mean victory (勝負) or militarism or martial spirit (尚武).  The Japanese like this kind of play on words called  goro awase.

This tsuba above was created by Choshu Hagi no ju Inoue Michitaka saku 長州萩住井上通高作 in the mid 18th century.

The iris plant known in Japan as kakitsubata is supposed to represent strength and health and is said to ward off evil spirits so it was a often used motif in samurai accouterments like tsubas and armor.   Kakitsubata is also a name of a famous Noh play based on a passage from the Tale of Ise.  The plant itself is a nice symbol with a lot of hidden meaning other than the clever word-play.

iris 2iris stage












From the photo of an ikebana arrangement, we can see that the leaves stand up and are long, straight and pointed which look like swords. Within one plant it looks like many swords standing up, but with many rows of plants (see painting above) it looks like an army staging before a big battle hence this idea of militarism.  Another nice symbolism is that the flower or true inner beauty only comes out once the leaves have grown tall which gives us this idea that growth and experience can bring out one's true inner beauty.



Shoki the Demon Queller

shoki tsuba copyWarriors would sometimes adorn themselves with symbols that acted like talismans to protect themselves from harm or prayer for victory.  The tsuba or sword guard was a favorite item for the samurai to personalize with these symbols. One such symbol of protection was Shoki or "Demon Queller."  Shoki (鍾馗) is a Taoist deity who was a popular art motif around the Edo period and is supposed to protect against evil.

As the story goes, Shoki was a promising young physician who dreamed of being a physician at the imperial palace.  He took the government service examination and scored 1st place.  When he was presented to the court to receive his award, the Emperor rejected him because of his extreme ugliness.  After being cast out, Shoki committed suicide.  Upon hearing about Shoki taking his own life, the Emperor overcome with guilt posthumously awarded him the title of Doctor of Zhongnanshan which is supposed to be the birthplace of Taosim and ordered him buried in imperial green.  Shoki's spirit, in appreciation, vowed to protect the Emperor from evil and thus became canonized as Shoki the Great Spiritual Chaser of Demons.  He is usually depicted wearing boots, a large scholars hat, wearing a green robe and carrying a sword while he is either stabbing or trampling on demons.

In Japan, Shoki is usually associated with Boys day and is supposed to watch over children and protect them from evil and illness.  Shoki is also a very popular symbol in Kyoto where he is used to protect buildings, temples and even protect against fire.



Tomorrow at 9:00 am will be Furuya Sensei's memorial service

tsubaTomorrow the dojo will host Furuya Sensei's ninth meinichi or memorial service.  One of the three marks of existence in Buddhism is that of impermanence.  Warriors of old not only knew but embraced the fact that at some point their lives would end.  Rather than withdraw, sulk or fear this inevitability, they embraced it and thus were able to live their lives more fully.  Japanese warriors of old were fond of adorning themselves with subtle reminders of the values and beliefs that mattered most to them.  Japanese tsubas or sword guards were a favorite item to decorate with these symbols.  Below, Sensei explains this tsuba and how it figures into the transiency of life. I know everyone's lives are busy and that time has away of creating a sense of distance from things, but we are martial artist and martial artist are honorable people.  But, what is honor?  What does it mean for someone to have honor?  I know a lot of people talk about having honor.  Haven't you ever noticed that every martial arts movie is about honor?  The martial artists in these movies have to do something that they really don't want to do but they have to do it anyways regardless of the difficulty, odds or outcome.  That is honor.  Japanese Director Kinji Fukasaku said, "Honor is the last thing in the world you want to do, but you must do it."  Our duty as Sensei's students is to honor his memory - we owe him that much.

I hope that if you can,  you will come and remember Sensei tomorrow with us.  If you cannot, I hope that you will spend some time honoring him in your own way.

9:00 am: Memorial Service at the dojo 10:15 am: Grave site visit 11:45 am: Lunch at Golden Dragon (960 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012) Everyone is welcome to attend!

Sensei posted this to his Daily Message on September 1, 2006.  True Spirit of the Samurai:

Wonderful iron tsuba of the early 1700's.

Within the context of the sturdy folded iron with see the simple openwork designs which capture the true heart of the Samurai warrior. The design is of a cherry blossom, a snow flake, tansatsu (long stiff paper on which poetry is written). To the left, the double circle, "wa-chigai," represents the family crest of some proud and noble warrior family.

The cherry blossom is considered the symbol of the Samurai warrior - as it blossoms in its great beauty, the gentle breeze scatters the petals as they fall. The snowflake also represents the transiency of Life - it's momentary existence is expressed in its great beauty and delicacy.

With the feeling of the transiency of life, the warrior also pursues a life of culture and learning - the tansatsu represents the warrior's skill to express his feelings in poetry.

Nowadays, we only think of martial arts as punching and kicking and throwing people to the ground. So sad!


Crab tsuba

Iron Sukashi Tsuba This is a nice Sukashi tsuba of the Owari school with a crab.

Sensei wrote a comment about crabs in reference to the martial arts in an earlier Daily Message on November 17, 2004.

There is another type of crab that comes onto the beach with the tide and quickly burrows into the sand. Japanese love to eat these crabs but they are hard to find in the sand and it is a lot of work to dig them up because they are very small and very quick. The way they catch them is to take a pencil and start poking the sand. The poking effect seems to resemble the effect of the tide rushing onto the beach so the crabs will poke their head up out of the sand so the water will carry them back into the sea. When the crabs pole their heads up, they are grabbed by the hungry fisherman.

Anyways, we can be caught very easily - when the opponent understands how we act.