The Way of the Warrior: a modern samurai

The view of the martial arts is very vast and the disciplines that an enthusiast can practice are many. There are those who look for a spirituality that they cannot find in traditional western religions and those looking for a material counterpart to a hypertrophic ego and so super train the body. Others just want to be comfortable in health adding a little of physical activity with the ability, real or imaginary, to defend themselves from an attacker. Many others like the sporty look of which the world of martial art is increasingly wrapping, losing in this way its original warrior connotation.

The Way of the Warrior consist in death, wrote the old samurai Tsunetomo at the end of his life. The year was 1710 and the samurai warrior class began to be heavily corroded by the decadence of the time of peace, in the unified  Japan from a little over than a hundred years. If even then people had the problem of what the martial warrior was, let's figure now in the times, peaceful but far from clear, in which we live.

I recently met my countryman Lorenzo Tussardi and I discovered that he is a master of Japanese martial arts for a long time. Sensei Tussardi is unique in the world of Japanese martial arts because, as you will read, he was a direct student of three great masters: the master Taiji Kase, tenth dan in Shotokan karate, Master Minoru Mochizuki, tenth dan Aikijujutsu Yoseikan and the master Otake Risuke current leader of the oldest school of Japanese sword, the Katori Shinto Ryu. Two of them, the masters Kase and Otake, were declared a Living National Treasures by the Government of Japan. Sensei Tussardi is 52 years old and almost 35 is dedicated to the world of Japanese warriors. And since the martial art for him is not a hobby or a second job but, as he himself acknowledges, is rather a way of life became profession, it seemed natural to talk together and get him some questions

What follows is my interview to a modern-day Italian samurai.

Q) Can you say something about you to our readers? At what age did you start to practice, why, with such teachers?

A) I was born in 1963 and therefore I'm 52 years. I started practicing at 18 years. I was going to pursue a career as a professional football player for a national team, Juventus, but my family was opposed and did not let me leave for Turin. So I became interested in martial arts together with a friend of mine, without being very feast of the thing, at least initially. I turned to the gyms of Padua trying different disciplines: karate, judo, aikido. The years between the end of the '70s and' 80s were particular: there were very few Japanese masters in Italy and many Italians masters were only improvised. So it was easy to take blunders. I remember one thing that gave me immediately annoyance was that many teachers gave themselves airs of holy men and I wanted real speeches because I came from competitive football. It was thanks to Yoseikan Budo of Hiroo Mochizuki that started my real practice in martial arts. A year later the first turning point: I met the master Shoji Sugiyama who was then the first assistant of Minoru Mochizuki, Hiroo's father. The skill of master Sugiyama was so clear that I decided to follow his teachings first and then those of his own master, Minoru. In my own research I started practicing Shotokan karate and I entered the JKA, the Japan Karate Association. Here I met master Yahara that I began to follow around Europe and the results were not long in coming. Just he, to my surprise, one day stated publicly that I would become better than him. It was a moment of great personal satisfaction! At 32 I concluded my competitive sports with national and European awards. At the same time, however, I had the feeling of being at a standstill so I decided to try again: I met Taiji Kase who was then a true living legend of karate. I was convinced to be good practitioner and to know what karate was but the master Kase showed me the opposite from the first moment that I saw him doing a technique. So it was that I became his student until his death in Paris in 2004.

Q) What you practice now in particular? And what do you teach?

A) I continue to enjoy the style of master Kase, I met about every three months. It's a very hard style of Shotokan, traditional, which does not provide any form of competitive spirit but only the study of empty hand combat, to defend themselves and their loved ones. As for the sword, whose study is closely linked to that of karate, I am following master Otake in Japan, of the Katori Shinto school, which I addressed after the master Mochizuki death. In my classes I teach master Kase's karate and the school of sword Katori Shinto under the supervision of master Otake.

Q) How was the teacher-pupil relationship with teachers you have had or you have even now? And with your students?

A) I I've always looked for a relationship of a special kind: I stood when I found otherwise I left. That with my teachers has always been a relationship that went beyond the simple technical, close in terms of human and as between father and son. Sugiyama, Kase and now Otake are the masters with whom I have had this relationship of benevolence branch, perhaps motivated by the fact that they saw in me the samurai really motivated to go all the way, over the fatigue and the physical effort. It is thus created the only real relationship between teacher and pupil, the one in which the transmission of knowledge takes place, as Japanese people say, ishin denshin: heart to heart. It's something far from common and certainly not happen in a stage with hundreds of participants and almost never even in the dojo. It happened often that Japanese masters told me that I was more Japanese than them, having never found anyone in the West who manifested an interest and love for Japan as it happened to me. With my own students I try to establish a relationship that goes beyond the technical aspect, empathetic rather than close because this [where we are now - author's note] is not just a gym or a place where you only train and nothing all.

Q) Let's try to do a bit of history ... what people meant for Martial Art in the old days of old Japan?

A) Until the seventeenth century Japan was a giant battlefield that saw long periods of war alternated with brief periods of peace. It was at this time that the prototype of the warrior for excellence was born, the bushi, and never more was reached a similar efficiency in the techniques of fighting with bare hands or with weapons. No coincidence that people talk of kakuto bugei: authentic arts of war, tried them on the battlefield. In those years the Samurai were men very hard, even rude, whose code of honor was simple and sometimes betrayed. There were, however, some military leaders with exceptional qualities and they were true leaders of men.

Q) But at some point something changed...

A) Yes. At the beginning of '600 fighting ended and Japan finds itself unified under the leadership of the Tokugawa family who got the win by massively employing weapons rejected by the enemy because they do not conform to tradition: muskets and cannons! Obviously, swords, bows and arrows, spears could not anything against those weapons. Social peace following the victory and the closing of national borders prevented the samurai to fight wars. It was officially adopted the Confucian doctrine and began to dominate the bunbu ryō dō, literally "the way of war and literature." The samurai, until then even illiterate, began to manifest increasing traits of refinement and elegance and even carry swords as decoration, without perhaps knowing how to use.

Q) ... And it has begun to distinguish between Jutsu and dō?

A) It was after the unification though certainly not immediately. The research on the effectiveness of the technique (jutsu) was joined by a practice that would lead to the spiritual and moral enrichment of the practitioner using a language typical of martial arts () but at the cost of emptying the warriors quality. This process speeded up with the opening of Japan to the rest of the world, towards the end of the nineteenth century. The suffix to the names of the ancient disciplines indicates precisely the transformation of something born with a warrior valence into something else, more spiritual: the most dangerous techniques were removed and ritualized those who remained. Not to say that was completely lost their effectiveness in combat, at least against a certain type of opponent, but we are no longer at the levels of the ancient tradition. This state of things persists even today.

Q) As a last question I want to ask you this: why practicing a martial art today?

A) There is a contradiction in dō. Some techniques from the warrior tradition are borrowed, these techniques are cloaked by a moral teaching and a discipline that promises to improve practitioner's body and spirit are created. However, those who approach the martial art does to learn to fight, to become effective in a fight. But what is actually proposed is different: a kind of yoga wrapped by the gestures of the martial art. The master of generally does not inform the student of this fact and as a result, at a certain point, this leads many practitioners to feel disenchantment towards the practice of traditional arts. The student does not practice the shugyō, the "severe training", and will not learn to fight that is the purpose of teaching of a master of jutsu. I teach jutsu, that is to fight. Not to simply "defend themselves": to fight. Coming to the question, who trained with me is put in a position to fight against anyone. Who practice at someone else ... well ... it's a problem of someone else ... In general, the answer must come from the practitioner himself, based on what he actually want. It is not wrong to practice jutsu or or even a sport-type martial art but you must have clear what you want and that those are different fields, with different goals.

We thank sensei Tussardi for sharing with us part of his experience and for answering our questions with patience.

Costantino Ceoldo

Pravda.Ru freelancer


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey