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A life spent with martial arts, more than forty years of practice, refereeing, teaching and active participation in Belgian federal life, Kyoshi seventh dan of Iaido and Renshi sixth dan of Jodo, accredited European representative of the Tamiya Ryu Iaido community and past through a devastating experience that led him to have to restart from scratch with a different attitude to everything. The strength, perseverance, thought and attention to others by Patrik Demuynck, another leading figure of European budo with whom we have the pleasure of being able to entertain ourselves in a friendly chat to learn more about his life in the name of art of the sword.
Demuynck sensei, we are really grateful to you for sharing some of your time with us, to allow us to deepen the history of European budo and to learn more on the key figures in the evolution of our iaido. So let’s start from the very beginning with a quick question in order to better position you in the historical context: when and where were you born?
I was born on May 24, 1956, in Heestert, Belgium.
I’m now a retired Sales Manager, married, with two sons and four grandchildren.
Your biographical notes suggest we will have a lot to talk and to discover about you, moreover you come from an european area that seems to be the very cradle of Iaido. So, if I’m not mistaken, you started with other martial arts: when and how did you start, and what grades did you get in your long career?
I started learning karate in the late 70s and I switched to Kendo, Iaido and Jodo in 1980. Actually, my interest was already aroused as an eight year old boy when I read a samurai comic and being fascinated by their katana and menpo.
I passed Iaido nanadan examination in 2006, now I’m Kyoshi, and Jodo rokudan examination in 2010, now being Renshi.
It all started after watching a Kendo and Iaido enbu in an adjacent municipality in the early 80s.
A very long time passed since then and I can easily imagine everything was pretty different to today. What was the Iaido dojo scenario when you started back in the Eighties?
In the 80s Iaido was not so widespread yet and there were very few dojo, but together with other people interested in it, I started a dojo for Kendo and Iaido, and later also Jodo.
To develop our iaido we traveled a lot to the Netherlands to study with Louis Vitalis sensei, then we also participated in international seminars wherever we could, alas there were not so many events in those days.
In 1993 the first European iaido championships were organized in the Netherlands, so Iaido steadily became more popular after around ten years.
It is always fascinating to learn about these pioneering phases, and to realized how it is much easier to practice these disciplines nowadays. But between practicing and teaching, and with the consolidation of your experience, when and how did you realised that it would have become a complete commitment?
I realised Iaido would have become a full commitment after meeting Yoda sensei and Machida sensei, two female Tamiya Ryu teachers, on those first European Championships in 1993, in Sittard, the Netherlands.
So that event is a true milestone of your passion and career: are they your sensei? Can you tell us more about how you got in contact with them and how you kept practicing Tamiya ryu?
Yes, my ryu is the Tamiya Ryu, the sword style of Yoda sensei and Machida sensei. It was so different, refreshing and pure, so genuine, yet decisive: a sword style full of respect, discipline and self-confidence. I immediately understood that this one would have surely become my way!
I continued to study Tamiya Ryu and things got even better after getting 6th dan in ZNKR iai in 2000, since the following year the two sensei introduced me to Fukui sensei from the Odawara (JP) branch of Tamiya Ryu.
Fukui sensei was then also the leader of Kanagawa prefecture and for many years he had been the faithful assistant of the Soke Tsumaki of the Tamiya Ryu.
After some time I was accepted as a member of the Tamiya Ryu community and I was subsequently formally assigned to Katsumata sensei as his student: from 2001 onwards I was able to develop Tamiya Ryu with his help.
Katsumata sensei came to Belgium on an annual basis and he always stayed at my home, as he found it much more enjoyable and enriching to be with me than to be alone in some anonymous hotel. At that time we were discussing the latest developments or insights sitting at the breakfast table in the morning, during green tea time, during dinner, etc. and thanks to these conversations I was able to deepen my understanding of the Japanese sword art and increase my understanding of the Tamiya style. I still remember with pleasure that on many occasions I had to rearrange the furniture inside the house while I was taught the iai techniques.
Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with your sensei? How did it start and evolve?
The relation between Katsumata sensei and me, his monjin, further developed and our bond grew stronger. We became a perfect team.
Gradually I also received more and more information, written in japanese language, and eventually I translated all this information of the four Tamiya volumes (Omote no maki, Okugishu, Koran no maki, Tachi tai) into four books in English language and thus made it available to the students of Tamiya Ryu around the world. So far, there had been no written information whatsoever and as a consequence these books proved to be very useful to everybody.
The international community of Tamiya Ryu expanded further and is now active in no less than eleven countries as Belgium, France, Hungary, Slovakia, Jordan, Guadeloupe, Romania, Russia, Greece, The Netherlands and Australia.
Tamiya Ryu is also very entwined with the culture in Japan. As you can see in this picture Katsumata sensei is performing a ritual during the annual and famous Hakone taikai in Japan: in performing this ritual, a location is purified and evil spirits are being chased away. This is also a technique of the Tamiya Ryu, called Akuma barai.
It’s so interesting learning that martials arts are also connected with everybody’s daily life in Japan, it really provides evidence that the deeper teaching we usually receive about what is learned in the dojo needs to be brought even outside it. And this leads us to talk about your Japanese experiences: when did you first travel to Japan? Do you still train in Japan, how did you feel about being a foreigner in their dojo?
My first visit to Japan was in 1991, it was more of a general trip. After that starting experience there was then a trip to Michigan, in the USA, in 1998 to study Tamiya Ryu with the soke Tsumaki Seirin, and after this I visited Japan several times in 1999 and 2001.
The most important milestone was the meeting and training during a longer period in Hakone with 86 years old Fukui sensei in 2006.
The last Tamiya Ryu meeting was hosted in Hadano in November 2019.
And then there was COVID-19, so hopefully at the end of 2022 I will be able to visit Katsumata sensei and the other members of the Odawa Tamiya Ryu Kai again, to practice together.
Practicing with your Japanese sensei seems a very consolidated practice, leading us to talk about the differences in teaching. What do you think is the difference, if there is any at all, between the Japanese method, for example your sensei’s towards you, and the Western one, as yours to your students?
I don’t think there is a real difference between Japanese and Western teaching, it is mainly a difference of mentality.
As long as you have a Japanese teacher, you should naturally adopt that way of thinking and practicing, and practicing as much as possible the original style of your sensei without designing your own style.
I am fortunate enough to have practitioners of different levels in my dojo, both men and women, which makes it easier to use their experience while teaching new students or specific groups.
When did you start thinking about teaching and when did you actually start teaching? Do you have any preference toward a specific class, their unique requirements, as kids, or competitors, grownups, etc, and about the teaching you are delivering?
It is hard to say when exactly I started to think about teaching. As one of the founders of a dojo in the early Eighties and while practicing Iaido myself, I saw more and more people joining the dojo: they all had to be instructed and it became another core part of my own development as well.
Many people started Iaido and Jodo but also many did not persevere. Who knows, maybe budo gets too boring or tedious after a while? A sure fact is, as Fukui sensei used to say, Iaido is a lifelong practice road. If one stops training the level will go down.
Dropping practice is not an uncommon fact during everybody’s lifelong activities, so many variables affect how we face our passions, a lot of changes also happen in everybody’s life: do you think also Iaido changed through the years and how?
Over the years iaido has certainly changed. In the past, the level and implementation of the techniques, etc. was not of such a high level as it is today.
And that can partly be attributed to the many Japanese teachers that have instructed us, and also the Westerner teachers who have committed themselves to spreading Kendo, Iaido and Jodo over the past fifty years.
Habits and changes are often two things needed to be discussed together, so after covering the changes, let’s talk about habits: can you describe your typical Iaido lesson?
A typical Iaido lesson usually follows the same pattern: stretching and warming up, then followed by kihon movements with a bokuto before taking up the sword.
The reiho remains an important part and after having “walked” through the techniques for a while, I pick out the techniques that demand the most attention at that moment.
However, each lesson may vary depending on the number of participants and the level shown: one time it can be ZNKR Seitei, another time it might be koryu.
Seitei, koryu, reiho, each brings along a different, but not less important aspect related to approach to Japanese culture: do you think non Japanese Iaidoka can truly understand the culture and “philosophy” behind Iaido?
A non Japanese iaidoka can understand, to some degree, the culture and “philosophy” behind Iaido. But that requires commitment and study.
I repeat, having one’s own Japanese teacher is highly recommended, as well as intensive practice.Think of the Japanese saying “bun bu ichi”: theory and practice go together.
This is definitely a good saying and as you reminded us with Fukui sensei words, practicing unequivocally leads to development and improvement also. May I ask what your thoughts are about the future of European Iaido?
I have no doubts about the future of European Iaido: it is steady and continuous developing.
So what would you say to a young and/or beginning iaidoka and what kind of budo teaching would you like to transmit?
A key and valuable message is to expect nothing, no wealth nor fame: simply train, practice and listen to your teacher. And sooner or later a click will happen, or maybe not.
Time will tell and even if you don’t continue on the budo path, you will always have had some positive experiences like discipline, respectful behavior, perseverance, etc.
Is there any funny Iaido anecdote of your life you like to remember?
Sure there are, and a lot.
A funny experience I remember is “San-ta-san”. I have already mentioned the first European Championship in Sittard in 1993. On that occasion several Japanese female teachers were part of the organization and because their names ended with “da”, as Ota (MSR), Machida (TR) and Ota (MSR), their colleagues made a funny pun around it calling them the San Ta San, the three “Ta” ladies.
Another, and heartwarming, experience came from the whole budo community when I was recovering from a brain tumor surgery in 2014 and I was unable to participate in the European Championships iaido: the support I received was truly tremendous.
And participating in the yearly Kyoto taikai is of course another unforgettable experience.