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Famous Budoka of Japan: Kakuma Fukao of Seia-ryu

by Yoshinori Kono

Aikido Journal #113 (1998)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Brian Workman of the USA.

The article below was originally published in the Aikido Journal #113 which appeared in 1998.

The founder of Seia-ryu, Kakuma Fukao, was born Kiroku Shigeyoshi Kawada in 1631, the eldest son of Riemon Kawada. While originally born into the service of the Okayama domain, it came to pass that, through a conflict with a high-ranking retainer (hatamoto) close to the shogun, the lord of Okayama, Tadao Mitsunaka Ikeda, was ordered by the bakufu to exchange domains with the lord of Tottori, Shintaro Mitsumasa Ikeda, thereby making the infant Kakuma a retainer of the Tottori domain.

Kakuma’s father Riemon taught him the Tanseki-ryu swordsmanship he had learned in Okayama from Robuzaemon Shino. This style seems to have been a rough-and-tumble style of armored sword fighting from the Warring States period (1467-1568), an amalgamation of Togun-ryu, Shinkage-ryu and Toda-ryu formulated by an individual by the name of Tanseki Ibi.

Riemon’s teacher Shino learned from Tanseki’s son, Ichizaemon Ibi, making Riemon a fourth-generation practitioner. The young Kakuma also learned Kyosui-ryu, Togun-ryu, Bokuden-ryu, Hikita Shinkage-ryu, Toda-ryu, Taisha-ryu and others, and it was through a process of studying and comparing these that he eventually formulated his own style, Seia-ryu.

The name Seia is a curious one, being comprised of three Chinese characters meaning “however”, “water well”, and “frog.” One theory places the origin of this odd combination with a modest self-image on Kakuma’s part as being like the proverbial “frog in a well, knowing nothing of the greater world beyond.”

By capping these characters with the first, meaning “however,” Kakuma may have intended to suggest the more specific meaning “I am but a frog in a well, however, it is my earnest desire to discover the ‘greater waters’ beyond.” Some have interpreted it as a more prideful statement of Kakuma’s feelings about his domain: “Although I am in such a remote place as Tottori, I do know of the greater world!”

Curiously, the first character (the one meaning “however”) remains silent. Kakuma formally named the art Seia-ryu Heiho, incorporating the suffix heiho which usually means martial tactics. This in itself is nothing unusual, being the case with a number of other traditions, but what is unusual is that the character for “hei” in heiho is not the usual one meaning “martial” but one meaning “peace.”

While this usage is also found in the nomenclature of traditions like Nikaido-ryu and Heijo Muteki-ryu, it is thought that Kakuma was emulating its use in the formal name of Tanseki-ryu Heiho, the tradition which had the most influence on his development of Seia-ryu. It may also be construed as evidence of the feeling that the martial arts had already entered a new world in which peace, not warfare, would come to be the norm.

As already mentioned, Kakuma Fukao founded Seia-ryu based on his studies of several other schools. That the characteristics of each of these remained so strong suggests that Kakuma’s genius lay not so much in originality, but in synthesizing.

Kakuma had a strong sense of personal integrity and strictness, and was a solitary individual. According to the Seia Gokai, he was by nature reticent and taciturn, of small stature, and the type of martial artist who always admonished his pupils that a bushi must never neglect his guard, even for a moment, and should be prepared at all times to adapt to any situation.

As part of his own personal training, Kakuma always wore kimono with shortened sleeves and hakama to prevent his clothing from hindering movement. He also preferred his swords to be a little on the short side and more deeply curved than most. He made a point of always walking on the right side of the street, in contrast to the usual bushi custom of walking on the left to avoid clashing of scabbards, although his reason for doing so remains unclear.

When sitting indoors, he always kept his back to a column or wall, with the hilt of his short sword just under the curve of his knee, a position he would maintain even if the occasion necessitated sitting there all day.

Kakuma is also known to have greatly enjoyed cultivating peonies, an enthusiasm he liked to share with his students by inviting them after practice to take tea and sweets and view the flowers in the garden behind the dojo.

He succeeded in breeding a particularly bright crimson variety of the flower that came to be known as Fukao Reds. So spectacular were these that an important elder councilor by the name of Shima Arao was enchanted with them and entreated Kakuma to give him one. Kakuma refused on the grounds that such a gift might be construed by some as an attempt to curry favor.

But Kakuma found it more difficult to refuse a similar request from Shogun Ietsuna Tokugawa, and he reluctantly sent some of the splendid plants off to Edo. This sort of stubbornness would eventually be Kakuma’s undoing.

According to Inpuroku, Kakuma retired to a village called Yato-gun Hanabusa Koriya, where his daughter and Gonemon, the son of a local squire, became involved in a secret love affair, thereby causing Kakuma loss of face.

Confronting the young man and his father, Kakuma cut them both down, as well as a farmer who had become privy to the liaison. One account has it that Kakuma had grudgingly advanced a proposal for the two to be married in an attempt to smooth over the impropriety, but was refused, thereby doubling his loss of face and inciting him to murder.

Kakuma was summoned to the local castle and taken into custody of Lord Nui Kambe. Given his reputation as an expert swordsman and the founder of Seia-ryu, Kakuma was placed under a guard of ten soldiers in Kambe’s mansion, but he made no attempt to resist or escape. Instead, he spoke to his watchmen in a completely ordinary fashion, regaling them with tales of his travels to other domains.

He had just turned to the topic of sumo when Yahei Kitamura, acting as witness, arrived to inform him he was to atone for his crime by committing seppuku (formal ritual suicide). Kakuma turned to face Kitamura and, as if the message had been a completely ordinary one, thanked him courteously for having been so kind as to deliver it.

Then, returning to his seat, he said to his guardians, “Although I may deserve no better than simple execution for my actions, it seems that I will be permitted the opportunity to die honorably, by my own hand, in a way befitting a bushi, and for that I am thankful. Now, you have been guarding me from morning till night and I fear that this task must have become rather tedious. Rest assured, then, that you will soon be relieved of this wearisome duty.”

“In any case, I believe I was not quite finished with the sumo story I was just telling, and I would not feel quite right if I were to die without giving you the end of it. Perhaps you are tired of listening to my talk, but with your leave, I would like to finish what I have started before I embark on my journey into death.”

His listeners agreed they very much would like to hear the end of the story, and so Kakuma continued enthusiastically with his account of the sumo matches in great and engaging detail. It was not at all what one might expect from a man who had just been ordered to kill himself, and every one of his listeners had no doubt that, no matter how tough or martially skilled they were, they would not have been able to muster such coolheaded equanimity had they been in Kakuma’s situation.

Later, in delivering a salutation to Lord Nui, Kakuma said, “The other day you asked about the custom of the tea ceremony as we follow in our household, but I fear I have not yet replied. I would like to do so now.” Then, having an inkstone brought, he proceeded to write out the requested information, which he then handed to the lord.

When urged to take the customary bath to cleanse himself in preparation for his seppuku, he replied, “When I left home today, I had already resolved myself to commit seppuku and, therefore, have already taken the opportunity to cleanse myself. There is no need to do so again.”

Further, in order to ensure that he would be able to go to his death completely free of regrets, he did not forget to dig up and throw away the remaining stumps and roots of his cherished Fukao Reds, reasoning that he did not want anyone after his death to be able to use the flowers in any way whatsoever for bribery or any other sort of ill-gotten personal gain.

When the time came for Kakuma’s seppuku, he took from his pocket a paper upon which he had written the posthumous Buddhist name Seiyu Shogoin, which he had chosen for himself, and passing this to his second*, Shirobei Suzuki, he requested that the customary memorial service be held at Honjo Temple.

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