Yuji Matsuoi, a prominent master of martial arts, visited the Centre of Japanese Martial Arts “Kishintai” in Riga to provide training to local masters of the sword.

Sensei Matsuoi is well-versed in the secret ways of Taura Muso Ryu, an ancient samurai art that was until recently a treasured and well-guarded legacy of the Ikubo family. He shared with his students in Latvia some of this knowledge, accumulated over centuries, and agreed to give an exclusive interview to “Субботa”.

Legacy of the clan

Besides such classical Japanese martial arts as karate or aikido there are also secret schools developed by individual families. The knowledge thus created is passed from father to son for hundreds of years. Modern descendants of the samurai are well aware of this and jealously guard the secrets they have inherited.

Taura Muso Ryu was the secret art of the Ikubo clan since the 16 th century and was the reason behind its supremacy in wielding the sword, staff and some other weapons. A special technique was indispensable in order to survive a war and honourably serve the Emperor. Every generation of Ikubo men chose a Guardian of the School, the superior Sensei and the only person in full possession of all the clan’s secrets.

The final 16th Guardian of the School was Motomu Ikubo, an officer in the Japanese Self-Defense Force and an unmatched karate master. In 1987 he was diagnosed with cancer. Realising that the ancient art could die with him Sensei Motomu Ikubo decided to reveal the secrets of his family — first to chosen students, and then, through them, to the entire world.

Luckily, the warrior spirit of Ikubo overcame the disease. Sensei saw his miraculous recovery as a sign from above. Five years later he invited three of his best students and informed them that they held enough of the Ikubo school’s secrets to be able to bring this knowledge to the world.

As a result, Taura Muso Ryu is now practiced around the globe, although Ikubo Motomu prefers to spend his time in Sapporo and look after his garden. He keeps an eye on the practice session of his students, but almost never interferes. At this level, the very presence of the Guardian of the School is sufficient.

One of the three students Ikubo Motomu picked as his best is Yuji Matsuoi. He lives in Finland and teaches his art in many countries across Europe — to students in Ukraine, Russia, Italy, France and Latvia.

Sensei Matsuoi’s conversation skills are as sharp as his technique with samurai swords: every word is laden with meaning and no question receives a straight answer.

In Riga the graceful techniques of Taura Muso Ryo are taught by Matsuoi’s student Vladimir Yusupzanov, the president of the Latvian Iaido Federation and a teacher of aikido. During his latest visit in Latvia, the 51-year-old Yuji Matsuoi led a training session attended by twenty Taura Muso Ryu students from Riga and discussed the deeper meaning of this art form.

What is life

“As a system of combat skills Taura Muso Ryu goes far beyond just wielding a sword. It includes expertise on using spears, ropes, bamboo sticks — essentially anything that is at hand. Other useful inclusions are skills for binding and escorting opponents, as well as using firearms. The very foundation, however, is still practice with the classical sword.”

Since swordsmanship is of little practical use in our times, we were curious as to why so many people around the world still devote so much effort to study the intricacies of Taura Muso Ryu.

“People do not practice martial arts in order to learn how to fight,” says Sensei Matsuoi. “What they seek is an opportunity to change their life. How would an office worker, for instance, benefit from ancient martial arts? Be ready for an unlikely encounter with thugs? Definitely not. A teacher helps his students to develop a will to prevail. A regular person is often anxious about insignificant issues and fails to grasp the essence of things. The body and spirit have to be in harmony. But how can there be harmony if the body is weak and is not trained regularly? I am certain that a true teacher in any type of sport helps their students to reinforce spiritual qualities — peace of mind, composure, confidence, determination. Yet the overwhelming majority of sports is purely victory-focused and based on commercial interests.

Our knowledge emerged from ancient traditions and rituals. The interaction between Teacher and Student is much more than merely learning techniques. A teacher is a mentor to their students in every sense of the word. That does not mean, however, that a sensei just tells you how to live and what to do. A different philosophy is applied here. For example, if I go to Sensei Ikubo for a practice session and he says “The weather is not good today, let’s practice tomorrow.” — what does he mean by that? If a student is at a high enough level, he or she will definitely understand. After all, nature and humans do have a lot in common. A time will come when I will ask Vladimir Yusupzanov: “What is life?” And I do believe that after a few years he will understand my question and will give the right answer…

‘’Суббота’’, 2005 (Translation by Gatis Zvirbulis)