The following is the first article of Reader Week II. Every article published this week comes from submissions by IkigaiWay readers. Their experiences and backgrounds are diverse, providing a wide range of topics. Today’s author, Benjamin G. Bradak, is a veteran Airborne/Air Assault infantry CQC specialist with the US Army 101st Airborne Division, and has served in two branches of the US military. He currently holds a 3rd degree black belt in American Kenpo Karate and is an expert swordsman. He has co-authored the acclaimed Lessons on the English Longsword (Paladin Press) and forthcoming titles from the same. He is the co-founder and head instructor of the Dragons Tail School of Defense.
The Poem of the Pell
Greetings, readers. I’d like to introduce the “Poem of the Pell” and put something new on your plates that you may not be familiar with; traditional martial arts of Western origin. This piece, specifically, on swordsmanship. Actually, what I’m giving you here is my modern English rendition (something I have not before seen, and actually quite difficult to do) of the most complete version of the poem.
This poem is one of the few known surviving true martial arts instructional works from England prior to the fifteen-hundreds. It is anonymous, and seems that it was written in the 15th century, probably the early half. Given its context, I think it to be a reasonable theory that it could very well be a contemporary transcription of an earlier edition.
It is actually an extremely valuable instructional text on the use of the sword and shield in training against the static pile. It gives very pertinent information on techniques, exercise, the value of cuts vs. thrusts, focus and mindset, footwork, and other training insights.
In the modern era, this poem has been kicked about in varying circles since at least 1876, when it was published in The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, By Joseph Strutt & William Hone, which is still in print. Unfortunately, that book only contains a four-paragraph version.
The poem itself is simply a small excerpt from an anonymous medieval book on the Art of War entitled Knighthood and Battle, in the Cottonian library of England. This medieval book is actually a verse-form update of a book written by Flavius Vegetius Renatus (a 5th century Roman generally referred to as Vegetius) called De Re Militari.
Alas, were things otherwise, I had hoped to include this complete poem, translation, and explanations of its teachings in our book (Lessons on the English Longsword, via Paladin Press), though circumstances proved unfortunately problematic. Perhaps in the future, if all goes well, we can do something of the sort.
The title that this poem goes by is a modern one, given in lieu of anything else, as the original excerpt has no title per se. To tell the truth, I am not even sure where the exact term “pell” comes from. Though the device has had several names throughout history, I have found “pell” in no pre-modern literature, despite the ubiquity of the term now. In this poem, for example, they refer to it as a “pile,” which is still a term used and defined identically today: an upright beam or post in the ground.
With that in mind, here is the Poem of the Pell:
The discipline and exercise of the fight was this: To have a pile upright
Of a man’s height, thus the old and wise do write
With this a bachelor, or a young knight
Shall first be taught to stand, and learn to fight
And with a fan of double weight he takes as his shield
And a double-weight mace of wood to wield.
This fan and mace, either of which are of double weight
Of shield, swayed in conflict or battle,
Shall exercise swordsmen, as well as knights,
And no man, as they say, will be seen to prevail,
In the field, or in castle, though he assail,
Without the pile, being his first great exercise,
Thus write warriors old and wise.
Have each his pile up-fixed fast
And, as it were, upon his mortal foe:
With mightiness the weapon must be cast
To fight strong, that none may escape
On him with shield, and sword advised so,
That you be close, and press your foe to strike
Lest your own death you bring about.
Impeach his head, his face, have at his gorge
Bear at the breast, or spurn him on the side,
With knightly might press on as Saint George
Leap to your foe; observe if he dare abide;
Will he not flee? Wound him; make wounds wide
Hew off his hand, his leg, his thighs, his arms,
It is the Turk! Though he is slain, there is no harm.
And to thrust is better than to strike;
The striker is deluded many ways,
The sword may not through steel and bones bite,
The entrails are covered in steel and bones,
But with a thrust, anon your foe is forlorn;
Two inches pierced harm more
Than cut of edge, though it wounds sore.
In the cut, the right arm is open,
As well as the side; in the thrust, covered
Is side and arm, and though you be supposed
Ready to fight, the thrust is at his heart
Or elsewhere, a thrust is ever smart;
Thus it is better to thrust than to carve;
Though in time and space, either is to be observed.
Copyright July 2010, Benjamin “Casper” Bradak, revised June 2013
About the Author
Benjamin G. Bradak is a veteran Airborne/Air Assault infantry CQC specialist with the US Army 101st Airborne Division, has served in two branches of the US military. He currently holds a 3rd degree black belt in American Kenpo Karate and is an expert swordsman. He has co-authored the acclaimed Lessons on the English Longsword (Paladin Press) and forthcoming titles from the same. He is the co-founder and head instructor of the Dragons Tail School of Defense.
Images sourced from: http://www.thearma.org/essays/pell/pellhistory.htm
I recently attended a training seminar with two very well respected, highly skilled kenjutsu practitioners. Despite a taxing travel schedule they were both very giving with their instruction and I certainly took away a few things to think about.
The primary instructor of the seminar was Kishimoto Chihiro, Iaido Hachidan (8th degree black belt) and former Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Iaido Committee Chairman. He was joined and assisted by Kato Shozo, AUSKF Vice President of Education and Kendo Hachidan as well as Iaido Nanadan (7th degree black belt).
For a quick introduction to each instructor, view the short videos below:
|Kishimoto Chihiro Sensei||Kato Shozo Sensei|
The seminar itself was broken up into two major parts. The first consisted of Kishimoto Sensei sharing some of his philosophy on training as well as exploring connections between iaido and kendo. The second part involved Seitei Waza demonstration, instruction, and correction.
Kishimoto Sensei imparted many ideas of interest, one of which caught my attention in particular which I would like to share today. He described the three levels of visualization one can achieve during iaido training.
Exploring the Three Levels of Visualization
Visualization is extremely important in iaido. After all, the art consists of drawing and cutting in thin air (or at worst against rolled up tatami). Unlike kendo there is no fierce opponent screaming and leaping at you. It is up to the practitioner’s imagination to create an opponent upon which to execute technique. This may sound easy, but while striving for technical competence in iaido even getting started with visualization can be a daunting task. Kishimoto Sensei expressed visualization progression in the following manner*:
- Visualization Level 1 – A Weak Opponent Easily Defeated
- Visualization Level 2 – A Well Matched Opponent of Equal Skill
- Visualization Level 3 – A Stronger Opponent with Superior Technique
All practitioners start at level 1 when beginning training. I should say, once the iaidoka learns how not to fall down and hurt themselves, they then begin at level 1. A level 1 ‘opponent’ barely exists in the mind of the practitioner and only performs simple maneuvers. The imaginary antagonist will fail to preempt even the most sloppy and slow of draws. He/she will succumb to any wobbly strike and will be thoroughly blocked during any and all counter attack attempts. A level 1 opponent only attacks when our block is ready and moves conveniently into range for all strikes to land flush.
Once the basics of iaido waza are executed competently (which can take a long time) the practitioner is free to think more clearly about their opponent and their own body movement. It is at this time that ‘reality’ starts to kick in. The practitioner can begin to understand why their instructor has been making so many subtle corrections. Excessive movement can give away intention (just like in the video above with Kishimoto Sensei). Poor body posture can lead to weak cuts that wouldn’t slice through clothing let alone bone. Improper foot movement can leave the opponent out of optimal range. At level 2, the practitioner can instill concepts that they now understand into the opponent, and thus can make personal adjustments with educated intent. At this level an iaidoka will know when mistakes and flaws would have resulted in dueling failure.
Many years are spent exploring level 2, trying to execute waza with exacting precision and understanding. The ultimate goal is to arrive at level 3 wherein the iaidoka can create an imaginary opponent of superior strength. At level 3 the practitioner needs ultimate composure and zanshin. Full fighting spirit is required to even sit in the presence of such a powerful opponent. The enemy is faster, more skillful, and more patient. Only a perfect performance will result in victory, and the death of the enemy will be palpable.
Visualization Levels Applied Elsewhere
Kishimoto Sensei’s explanation of visualization levels stuck with me because I had heard similar ideas before. One question Bill Hayes of Shobayashi Ryu Karate likes to ask is: “what is the worst part about kata?” The answer he provides is simple: “we always win”.
Even the most raw beginner will survive their kata practice, landing every punch and blocking every counter attack. Of course, Hayes Sensei goes on to explain that the real value of kata training is when you can feel the intent from your imaginary opponent and can execute technique with the same intensity and focus as if you were in a life and death struggle.
I am always excited and intrigued when high level concepts appear in multiple places. I find it encouraging that no matter what particular martial route you or I find ourselves on, there are masterful teachers discovering and sharing as much as they can.
As a final note, from personal experience and teaching, try not to obsess or rank your visualization abilities. The mere act of patting yourself on the back, or judging yourself harshly, will only distract from the task at hand and slow down your progress. Besides, if you declare yourself a level 3 practitioner, what motivation will you have to continue refining and challenging yourself?
This is one of those little martial paradoxes – learn it, then forget, then contemplate it, then forget it, repeat…
The martial arts world has lost another luminary. Shimabukuro Masayuki, most well known for his strong leadership in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Swordsmanship, lost his battle for health and passed away in the month of September, 2012.
Shimabukuro Sensei will be missed by many. He was an influential instructor who produced many fine martial artists. He also affected a multitude of lives through his high quality books and DVDs. His martial arts experience was diverse and impressive yet he always held himself with an air of kindness and respect.
Shimabukuro Sensei's senior student, Carl Long, wrote this about Sensei's passing:
Dear friends and fellow martial artists,
It is with much regret that I extend to you all the tragic news of the passing of our honorable teacher Masayuki Shimabukuro, Hanshi. He was the 21st-generation master of the Masaoka line of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido and a founding member of the North American Japan Masters Association. Our mentor and teacher transitioned from his life here with us on September 7, 2012, following a prolonged battle for his good health. The news of his passing will have a profound effect throughout the budo world, but even more so in the world of his family members and friends.
The immediate family will conduct services with appropriate ceremony for a man of such inspiration and humility. On behalf of the Shimabukuro family and JKI/KNBK members around the world, we would like to express our gratitude to our budo colleagues who sent their condolences. We know how much our teacher has touched our lives, and we understand the impact he has had on all those who were in his life.
Mr. Shimabukuro’s eyes were always the brightest when he was in the company of his budo family and colleagues. Our hearts will carry on his spirit for as long as we maintain his sincerity within our lives. He touched us all.
May each of us find peace and solace in his words and teachings. I wish you each a quiet moment of reflection and communion with your memories of a great man and all that he has bequeathed to you during his exceptional lifetime.
With bowed head and heavy heart,
Kokusai Nippon Budo Kai/JKI
Shimabukuro Sensei's Martial Arts Experience
Miura Takeyuki Hidefusa was perhaps the biggest influence in Shimabukuro Sensei's martial arts life, but there were others who helped along the way. Shimabukuro achieved high rank and influence not just in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu but in Shito Ryu Karate and Shindo Muso Ryu Jojutsu as well, not to mention his high proficiency in kobudo and Judo.
Watch this short video highlighting some of Shimabukuro Sensei's journey (video developed during Black Belt Magazines's 2006 Weapons Instructor of the year award):
In His Own Words
We are fortunate in that Shimabakuro Sensei recorded many of his lessons in book and DVD format. As such, we have a lasting record of his methods and skill. Furthermore, he made a conscientious effort to help his senior students grow, many of whom continue to pass on his teachings all around the world.
The following is a brief interview with Shimabukuro Sensei wherein he explains some of his theories on kenjutsu training. He also provides insight into why he decided to dedicate his life to Muira Sensei's iaido:
Our Best Wishes to Students, Family, and Friends
To the family and friends of Shimabukuro Sensei we offer our sincerest condolensces. To Sensei's senior students we offer our support and encouragement in continuing the old ways of Budo. Losing an honorable figurehead is never easy, but the goal of the arts is to carry on and so it will.
As a final note, please watch Shimabukuro Sensei perform his forms with the precision, clarity, and grace he was well known for: