Kenjutsu study in France

<strong>Kenjutsu study in France</strong>

by Connie Borden

I travelled to France in early November 2023. HF Ito and Nicole Beauvois me for the first 5 days to enjoy their new house in Cuy France. The second half of the trip was to Limoges France to study Kenjutsu with Shintaido General Instructors and Yondan Kenjutsu Instructors Pierre Quettier and Mieko Hirano.

Cuy France is 90 minutes from Paris and near Sens and Troyes. We explored the Farmers Market in Sens and visited the majestic Cathedral. One day was spent exploring the historical section of Troyes France to see the architecture and have a splendid lunch at a French restaurant. I was fortunate to have a private lesson with Ito Sensei on Kenjutsu. Thursday afternoon, we did a Taimyo Keiko in honor of Brad Larson who recently unexpectedly died. Brad was a SOA Instructor and SOA Board Treasurer. The visit concluded with a dinner with friends of Nicole and Ito. 

Limoges France, about 4 hours from Paris, was the site for the Kenjutsu workshop. During the past 2021 and 2022 workshops, they explored Shoden no kata and Chuden no kata. This year, our study was Okuden no kata, the third in the trilogy. Eighteen people attended this workshop. Pierre and Mieko hoped for attendees to “cultivate their garden of practice with complete peace of mind.” Practicing in person after time apart allowed us to do Kumitachi with a variety of partners while also sharing a little of the Shintaido « breath of eternity », as Pierre stated.

This year, in order to optimize the practice time on site, they offered preparation beforehand. I met with Pierre and Mieko by ZOOM to review my study of Kenjutsu. As a result, my homework for the 5 weeks before the workshop was to learn and study Goho Batto-ho, the 5 drawing techniques. I thank Robert Gaston and Sarah Baker for their time and guidance during these 5 weeks. Ito Sensei during my private lesson gave many instructions to refine my techniques with the focus to “keep your blade active”. 

Pierre presented a website to support our personal practices and serve as support for the goreĂŻ of Kenjutsu teachers. Pierre offers this website as a resource: Shintaido Kenjutsu Cyberdojo.

The workshop started Friday November 10th with a collegial keiko and meal. During our practice we studied Goho Batto-ho, known as 5 drawing techniques either with Bokken or Shin Ken. Saturday, November 11 there were two keiko. We divided into 3 groups based on level of practice. Mieko Hirano instructed Group A on Chuden no Kata and the first two Jissen Kumitachi. Alain Chevet assisted Pierre in teaching Group B and Pierre guided the practice Group C. We systematically studied the movements of Okuden no kata, often doing kumitachi applications of the movements. The repeated practice brought the kata alive to give a glimmer of it’s meaning. We then set a goal to study #1 to #11 of the Jissen Kumitachi, however for most of us we achieved practicing the first five kumitachi. 

In the evening we met to discuss the Kenjutsu curriculum. Pierre distributed his comprehensive documents on the Hagakure – the Trilogy of three kata (Shoden no kata, Chuden no kata, and Okuden no kata). We discussed teaching Kenjutsu, especially to the new students. The group of 18 people included Ula Chambers and Charles Burns from the UK, me from North America and students from across France. Many report the advantage of teaching Kenjutsu to reach new audiences. 

Sunday, November 12 was keiko 3. We continued with Jissen Kumitachi, now attempting to review #12 to #22!  The last part of our morning, we combined into one group so all could practice Dotoh and Ryuhi Kumitachi. Pierre led our group to demonstrate Okuden no Kata to Mieko’s group, then the full group did Shoden no kata and Chuden no kata multiple times to bring our movements and breath into synchrony.  After a meal, and the typical Shintaido goodbyes of hugs and kisses, we departed around 2 p.m.

I am grateful to Pierre, Mieko and Alain for their teaching and dedication to Shintaido Kenjutsu. I enjoyed the opportunity for kumitachi or partner practice in this focused workshop. While the workshop was located in France, our Shintaido study is the same art. The facility in Limoges provided comfortable lodging along with excellent French cuisine.