Nitta Suzuō (新田寿々雄)

Nitta Suzuō with the Kagitsuki Naginata


From Meik Skoss:

Nitta Suzuyo was born in 1923. Nitta sensei’s birth name was Katatae.  Her family came from Kyushu, somewhere  near Nagasaki – I think the Ryuzanji area.  Her father was an accountant, working as a career finance officer in the Imperial Army.

Sensei was an adopted child in the Nitta family.  This family has roots all the way back to the Nitta Genji, one of the aristocratic warrior lineages.  This branch of the family became very prominent as photographers in the Meiji and Taisho era.  The Nitta’s were childless, and as it happened,  sensei’s older sister’s husband was made a yoshi, adopted into the family to carry on the family name.  However, they, too, could not have children, so Nitta sensei was given up for adoption to her older sister, and raised as a Nitta.

Her life span was during one of the most dramatic and terrible periods of Japanese history, through the build-up and entry into the Second World War.  Sensei remembers the 2-2-6 Incident (the Army Mutiny), when the streets were cleared due to a curfew after the Imperial Guards mutinied at the Imperial Palace. Her family was living in the Kyobashi area, and she could look right down the street to the Imperial Palace, the barricades and a lot of soldiers getting ready to shoot each other. She said it was “rather frightening,” a pretty good understatement if I ever heard one.

Sensei began training in Toda-ha Buko-ryu while attending a jo gakko, a finishing school for young women (implying that her family was of “good” quality). Her school’s principal, a man, was her first actual instructor. She may have  met/trained a bit under Murakami Sensei, but the principal (whose name I have forgotten) and Kobayashi sensei were her primary instructors. Kobayashi sensei really worked the most with her, starting during WWII. (Sensei also told me there was tremendous pressure for them to teach the kokumin tairen version of naginata instead of Buko-ryu, a sort of militarized seiteigata to prepare the young ladies to resist the Allied invasion of Japan. Neither she nor Kobayashi Sensei wanted to do this, but they really had no choice, so they did so, albeit desultorily).

Sensei also said that, when the B-29s fire bombed Tokyo in March 1945, she had to walk all the way from Kyobashi out to Mitaka, where some of her Katatae brothers and sisters were living. She was wearing mompei and waraji (she wore out several pairs during the trek, apparently). She put a family heirloom tanto in her obi, gathered what clothing and food she could carry, and followed the Chuo and Sobu railway lines out of town, past Nakano and on out to Mitaka. She said that experience was “really frightening.” An even better example of understatement!

From Ellis Amdur

After the end of the 2nd World War, martial arts were suppressed by the Allies for a number of years.  When Kobayashi sensei returned to teaching in the 1950’s, Toda-ha Buko-ryu was a shadow of its former self.  Kobayashi sensei maintained the ryu with a small number of loyal students, among them Nitta sensei.  Kobayashi sensei was eventually felled by a stroke, and she made Nitta sensei her successor.  Although Toda-ha Buko-ryu has not been transmitted intra-familia since the days of the Suneya’s, we refer to the successor as soke.  The soke, a single figure, embodies the core values of the ryu, maintaining its existence like the sun in the center of a planetary system.

Remarkably, Nitta sensei had only practiced the shitachi side of the Toda-ha Buko-ryu kata, as Kobayashi sensei had always taken the uketachi role.  It is fair to say, however, that facing her own teacher in that role, for decades, allowed her to absorb the teaching side of the kata by a kind of osmosis.

Nitta sensei was remarkable for her ability to draw very strong students.  Toda-ha Buko-ryu has a cadre of senior students, shihan  (fully licensed instructors), all of whom are non-Japanese.  Sensei recognized people for their skill as well as their loyalty and value to the ryu.  It is fair to say that her fully teaching and recognizing non-Japanese caused some level of offense among some of the more reactionary individuals in the koryu world.  Sensei’s response was two-fold: as far as we were concerned, she dealt with us in humanity, not sectored off by nationality; and to other ryu, she simply indicated, with dignity, that the affairs of Toda-ha Buko-ryu were the ryu’s business and no one else’s.  This she indicated with such steely dignity that no one could gainsay her.

Sadly, Nitta sensei passed away on June 1st, 2008, after a long illness.  She appointed Nakamura Yoichi sensei as her successor, some years before, ensuring that the ryu would live on in trusted hands.