Whitehorse’s Rob Ingram recently set foot in the Iwashimizu Hachimangu shrine atop Mount Otokoyama in Kyoto, Japan.
He was not there as a tourist or a worshipper. Ingram was there to put his skills to the test, and he passed.
Ingram earned his sixth degree, or rokudan, in the Japanese martial art of iaido, the art of mastering the Japanese sword, the katana.
“It was all pretty amazing, actually,” said Ingram. “In our iaido organization, when you’re going for sixth degree or above, you have to take your ranking in Japan … So everyone, from all over the world, was coming to do their testing at the same time.”
The atmosphere was thick with Japanese culture. Not only was Ingram testing at an ancient shrine founded in 859, he was there during Golden Week, a celebration with six public holidays beginning with the
Emperor’s Birthday on April 29 and ending with Children’s Day on May 5.
“There are martial arts events all over the place, all over the city,” said Ingram. “Every day people wear traditional outfits at that time of year in particular.”
Ingram, too, wore traditional garb, as required for the test. He created a clan emblem featuring fireweed, the floral emblem of Yukon, to wear during the testing, which was attended by a member of the royal family.
“This will surprise a lot of people: we have to do a written exam,” said Ingram.
Following the written segment, Ingram was judged on three “kata” or standard forms consistent with all styles iaido. He then performed three from his specific style of iaido, Muso Jikiden Eishen Ryu Iaido.
The next day Ingram made Golden Week a little more golden for himself. He out-performed 16 other rokudan hopefuls, from around the world, to win gold in a competition.
“I was having a good day and it was even a full moon. I don’t normally do very well when there’s a full moon, but everything went smoothly. I didn’t even get very nervous,” said Ingram.
It wasn’t until after the competition Ingram learned his testing the previous day was successful. As the gold medal winner, he was required to perform a demonstration and give a speech at a banquet, which he did with some help of a translator.
Believe it or not, his sixth degree in iaido isn’t Ingram’s first belt of that grade. He also has a sixth degree black belt in Shotokan karate and a third degree in kobudo, another weapons-based martial art.
Ingram teaches all three disciplines at his Whitehorse karate club Kita Kaze, which means North Wind. It has been in operation for over 20 years and currently has 25 students with seven instructors.
Ingram, 62, has been studying karate for over 40 years. He took it up while studying at the University of Toronto. The Winnipeg native, who moved to Whitehorse in 1979, began studying iaido 15 years ago.
“Karate, by definition, is ‘empty hand’ – that’s what it means in Japanese,” said Ingram. “(But) karate has its roots in weaponry. And almost all the Japanese martial arts have their basis in sword. This is why I started weaponry and sword – that’s the root of the martial arts I’ve been studying…
“It really helps round out your karate because a lot of the forms of defence are based on defence of a weapon, the bo (staff) in particular. So if you understand how the weapon works, you understand your karate much better.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org