Disclaimer and Stuff

Firstly I would like to say that all of the material contained within this blog is of my own opinion and any inaccuracies in technical content or other's personal quotations are completely my own.

Secondly I would like to thank everyone in advance where I have used photos of you or photos you have taken. I have quite a library of digital photos and virtually no record of who took them so I hope you will take this general thanks as adequate gratitude. If there are any photos of you or taken by you that you would like removed please let me know.

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7th dan iaido grading due in

Friday, 31 December 2010

Iaido Training Session 39

Well, the final session for 2010.

I started the session with Harry taking some photographs for the illustrations for Chris Sensei's Shoden Manual.

I gave some thought to the session afterwards concerning the first 4 kata, Shohatto, Sato, Uto and Atarito. These are considered to be the basic kata for Muso Shinden Ryu and teach one to respond to an attack from any direction while still being able to react to various distances as per the requirement of Shohatto. I really like these forms as they all require a slightly different approach and becoming proficient in them is extremely useful to the performance of other iai forms. If one is able to draw almost directly from taito in any direction then this very conducive to being able to draw quickly and smoothly elsewhere.

When I have taught Shoden before I have asked the students to try drawing to various angles by shouting out a clock-time reference after learning this method from Ishido Sensei some time ago. Being able to do these forms well shows through when one can easily turn to any angle almost automatically and move the body into a strong cutting position.

The basic kihon for learners is to come up on the knees while only breaking the koiguchi before turning and moving the front foot into its objective position. As one improves one should avoid coming up on the knees first and try to turn raise and move the body in one smooth action. This action is now recommended for mid to high grades performing Seitei Ushiro.

Anyway, getting back to the session, after the shoot I returned to using the bokuto. I decided to do some work on cutting balance and practiced cutting from a feet together position with my eyes closed and alternated moving the left and right foot forwards and making a cut. At the end of each cut, with my eyes closed it was easier to determine where my centre of gravity was based and where any lacks of balance existed. This exercise tended to make me step my foot out to the side slightly but when I visually checked, my feet were exactly the right lateral distance apart.

I then worked through seitei. Sensei gave me some points about making better use of the body when preparing for thrusts as well as making other elementary movements smoother. I think that working naturally slower as I do with the bokuto is very good at moderating my overall speed of iaido. Hopefully this is one of the facets required for 6th dan.

So, I suppose for this final entry into the blog I ought to set out some short term objectives for 2011 (especially in case I fall off the roof tonight at the party):

  1. Firstly start doing some muscle development training to get some symmetry in my arm strength and thereby hopefully getting my injury sorted out.
  2. Do another Seitei video review and include my chosen koryu.
  3. Carry on working on my balance exercises.
  4. Continue with "Project Delta".
  5. Do a lot of work on Tozume, Ukenagashi and Oroshi.
Anyway, that's it for 2010. Happy New Year to all you have taken the time to read this blog and thanks again to those who have commented or provided other feedback.

Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Iaido Training Session 38 and some thoughts from 2010

Ah, some peace and quiet at last on Christmas Eve for me to catch up with some budo stuff. Last Wednesday was the last training session before the non-existant dojo break for Xmas and there was only a few of us down so it was a pleasant session.

I am working with Cezary to help develop his Okuden Tachiwaza which is going slowly and steadily. I started off using just the bokuto to continue to give my arm a rest but then felt a bit compelled to use my shinken again. I found that I had got used to the bokuto's length and had to have a few double takes at doing noto. Doing Okuden Tachiwaza doesn't have much in the way of horizontal nukitsuke or ochiburi so it wasn't too hard on my arm but I have decided to give in to just using the bokuto for the next few weeks. I will see how I feel at the Kangeiko on the 8th Jan...

I wanted to add something here, to say something to all the people who have given me feedback and advice from this blog since it's beginning. I have read everything you have written or said very carefully and while I sometimes cannot completely incorporate the feedback you have kindly provided, it has in some way influenced what I am doing and how I train in the future.

One of the quite common bits of feedback I have received (and this has been from about 3 people) is the surprise that I have put so much emphasis on physical technical correctness. I have written very little about feeling, mental state or emotional content and to this I should respond honestly. The extremely pendantic level of detail I am applying to my training is only part of the training itself that I am undergoing. Let me explain point by point:
  1. Firstly, no matter how I or anyone else justifies doing a more mental or "spiritual" approach to their training, it is the raw and visible technical correctness which will gain most attention on the day of the grading. No matter how alert, aware or intense ones' approach on the day, if they muck up technically, I strongly and assertively believe that they will fail their grading. I don't want to fail and so I am spending a lot of time and concentration on "perfecting" the physical side of the art given the time that I have allocated to training since 5th dan.
  2. One of my own personal objectives for my 6th dan is to drastically reduce and eradicate technical incorrectness. While I realise that technical development continues until death, I want the achievement of my 6th dan to put me in a place where I can work on other stuff rather than sheer technical correctness. Whatever one thinks, there is another side to physical training other than just getting it right (e.g. depth and fluidity of performance) and I want to use this training objective to get to that place.
  3. I do focus on other parts of the martial arts training however these are incredibly difficult to regurgitate into speech or type. The feeling I get when I do a taikai or an embu, the rush of excitement that I feel when I accelerate into Koranto, the natural pauses that occur in a form which seem to be dictated by something outside of oneself - these are all things which are very personal and though primarily this blog is for my own benefit, I am not yet ready to record these things. By analysing them and describing them I am probably misinterpreting them and would be doing them no justice by writing about them at the moment. I find it easier to talk about feeling and the training behind this when doing Jodo, for me Iaido is just a bit too personal to reveal at the moment.
  4. Spreadsheets and Iaido - WTF?!? Well, one uses the resources that are available to them at the time. Perhaps warriors of old took themselves into the mountains and trained for a year living on berries and nuts. I am not likely to be doing this anytime soon. What I do have at my disposal is a professional experience in statistical analysis and some knowledge and experience in coaching and learning styles. By doing this kind of analysis, provided the input data is accurate enough, I can focus my training on those things that really need it rather than "throcking" or focussing on something which actually is adequate for my level.
I will finish this section by quoting something which I will talk about again in the future. This relates to the broader areas of my training including those which will develop my character and my emotional bearing. I will not reveal them in any detail now but all the training that I am writing about is only one of three arms to my 6th dan preparation. Let's call this Project Delta (as it is a kind of triangle of development) for a laff and I can then refer to it again later. Certain things must take place though before I talk about them so there's no point prompting me on them, suffice to say, personally training myself is only one of the three bits of development.

Anyway, the main point of this emotional review is to say thank you to everyone who has given me any feedback on this blog, whether it's some advice or just a point of praise - every single bit of this feedback prompts me to carry on doing this.

30mins to Xmas day, I'm off. Have a good Xmas and I look forward to training with you in 2011.

Monday, 20 December 2010

24th November 2010 Part 4

OK, final section...


Concerning the evaluation, I have scored everything according to the database I set up and posted at one of the earlier blogs. Some people fedback to say that it was too detailed and I considered this and set out to see what useful information I could get back by going to this level of detail.

Statistics, being a large part of my work, showed where areas of relative competence were in comparison to areas of needed concentration in practice. I averaged the overall kata scores and median'd the technical scores. Each was then given a red/amber/green status depending on whether it was the worst, below average/median or above average/median.

From the graphs of these scores it is easy to see how the RAG status applies:

Obviously from this one session it appears that Mae and Sanpogiri need a lot more general work.
Noto can clearly be seen to be a problem from the tech scores. Of course as more data are added then some anomolies will disappear (Mae being the first form would have been the most "cold").

So, yes it does take a bit of time to review the videos, score the performance and then analyse the data. I think though the last time I did this it became easier and easier to do as well as quicker.

What other news? Oh yes, I was advised by one of the readers (Mark) of this blog that a rest would be of much use especially if I was suffering an injury. The good news is that that is exactly what I have done and my arm is slowly recovering. I actually missed last Wednesday's practice as I was a bit knackered after Poland and work that day and I think that this is all helping, as well as Xmas, to recover. I must ensure that I start to build up strength in it again though with some gently weight training over the holiday (maybe lifting beers).

I was in Poland the weekend before last and ended up having to deliver an iaido seminar singlehanded (although with the higher grades help) which had simultaneously Shinden, Jikiden, Seitei and Suioryu going on. It was a very enjoyable event (for me anyway) and good to see everyone working so hard. It is easy to spot people improving in the durations that I don't get to see them train. For me it was also an opportunity to work on stuff while I was demonstrating and teaching. The thing that came through the most was using the left hand even more during nukitsuke to get an effect on the sword. This seemed to work very well with the kissaki moving out with what felt like natural ease. I also worked a bit on Ryuto in trying to get the thing to fit a larger body.

So to conclude this entry my to-do list includes:
  1. To reconstruct my noto so that my right hand doesn't fly up to shoulder height. I think this will be done through the obvious effort of keeping my right hand down, allowing the sword to go more to 45 degrees rather than forwards and of course to use a bit more left hand.
  2. To watch my shoulder on nukitsuke.
  3. To monitor my furikaburi in Mae and Ushiro and make sure I'm not breaking the "law".
  4. To get Sanpogiri sharpened up in term of timing and stability.
There! Four things to work on at the next few training sessions instead of a billion! It was worth doing the spreadsheet afterall....

24th November 2010 Part 3

A bit of editing error here, oops. From 7 - 9.


Easy to identify a problem with standing noto now.

Pretty pleased with Soetezuki though as this used to be my least favourite form.

Evaluation of embu on 24th November 2010 Part 2

Moving onto forms 5 - 6


Very easy to see especially using slo-mo:

- Good: timings of draw, hikinuki no kaburi, stability of cuts
- Bad: Noto left thumb opening and right hand way too high, yokochiburi right hand too high

Onto video 3...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Evaluation of embu on 24th November 2010 Part 1

Yay, big hairy embu evaluation time!!!

I call it an embu, it's not really, more of "a practice run for evaluation" and scoring.

Anyway, I've completed Seitei 1-4 on the attached film.

Using the progress log I designed I can tell that Mae is the worst than the rest and within the component techniques, kirioroshi is the worst (bouncing and cutting too low). Furikaburi and noto also have some habits of dropping below horizontal and opening the thumb respectively.


I think I can only post so much into one blog entry so I will move onto the next post.

Iaido Training Session 35, 36, 37 and one Koryu Seminar in Okehampton

Once again I have managed to get delayed in writing these blogs up. The last few weeks has seen my training progress downwards somewhat from folded steel to lumps of wood. How did this happen?

I started regular training on session 35 with my now regular warm up but as soon as I started kata practice my right arm started to bloom with pain. Harry suggested that I use a bokuto for this session and I took this piece of advice.

It is a funny thing to train with a bokuto at this level. I think one realises quite quickly that there is no point trying to use excess strength because the sword isn't heavy and it won't whistle much either. It does however make one concentrate on the body and the feet a lot more though.

I worked through the session like this and quite liked the after effects of not having a burning in my forearm for the next day.

That following weekend was Oshita Sensei's Koryu Iaido Seminar in Okehampton organised by Peter West. I was invited to go and translate which I was delighted to do as Oshita Sensei's advice is always a) very practical and b) very close, if not identical, to what Ishido Sensei teaches. Koryu aside, there are of course some stylistic differences but these are easy to classify into what is good advice generally, what is good advice for me now and what is good advice for another me in another time. I arrived Friday afternoon a little ahead of Oshita Sensei and Peter and thus used up the time doing some Jodo training Mike Reilly in preparation for his 4th dan.

Sensei arrived and we started with some seitei practice. Sensei went through some points of clarification which were presented to the 8th dans at the central seminar this year. What was very nice was the fact that he was able to specify whether these points where absolutely necessary for us to ponder over or whether we were already obeying them in some other format (difficult to describe this point).

On Saturday morning we continued with a bit of Seitei before starting koryu. Shoden Omori Ryu was practiced and I always enjoy learning these Jikiden versions as I have said before, it helps me to use other feelings and parts of the body in the iai when I have other models to emulate. I also led David Parker and Themis Woellwarth through the Shinden Shoden although to be fair most of the techniques are almost identical.

Sunday saw a continuation of the koryu into the Chuden and Okuden, all of which were equally enjoyable to try the Jikiden versions as well as practice the Shinden.

Throughout the whole seminar I continued to use a bokuto and plastic saya. It really helped me to work on effortless sword action, body movement and balance while not having to worry about the screaming pain in my arm. This, I consider, a bonus.

Sensei went onto discuss the requirements of leadership to the group while relaxing in the bar afterwards, it was very enlightening.

The following Wednesday I carried on with the bokuto working through the seated oku and trying to get my legs to work better. Chris Sensei showed me a slight change in the timing of Shohatto, something I am sure to struggle with in the forthcoming duration. We also all had a go at Sodesuregaeshi, experimenting with some kaewaza.

Last night's practice was a quiet one with only myself, Steffi and Eiko there. I thought I would use the time to simply go through all of the seitei and koryu kata and then do a bit of work on the forms with kaewaza. Some of this is in preparation for this weekend's Iaido Koryu Seminar in Poland which I am supposed to be teaching at.

I also helped Steffi with her learning Shoden and laid it on quite thickly about Junto. This form is of course quite different from others. My original teacher told me that it wasn't actually iaido in the clearest sense as it did not have a combatitive engagement to it traditionally. Instead, it was trained in in order that if a competent swordsman were to be called upon to carry out Kaishaku duties then they would be able to do so.

In my opinion I feel that the training of Junto/Kaishaku should be different from the other kata as well. For whatever "practical" purposes one has for training in iaido they might not apply or begot from this form. Instead, as this form has no real "practical" purpose i.e. we are unlikely to be called upon to cut off a friend's head while they disembowel themselves, we should use it in another aspect. For me, this is the training of "The One Cut". This means that in other forms, one is always carefully balancing the full committment to a cut against the necessity to defend oneself and possibly changing the technique or direction. This is something of an enigma how one can instill 100% seme and generate 100% tame but I guess this is the purpose of training. In Junto/Kaishaku however, this necessity is not present. All one need do is delivery the one perfect cut. It has to be perfect, there should be no second chances. This does not mean cutting as strongly as one can but merely that one's whole mental focus and emotional strength are coupled with a natural level of physical power to make this something like what a karateka feels when he has to break a very challenging piece of wood. So this is it, The One Cut. Just my opinion.

From last night I ascertained a few things:

1. Doing a long warmup and stretch and definately very beneficial to training. I noticed very few of the usual pains and I was able to move myself off my feet with a fraction of the effort I normally experience.
2. My legs are definately getting stronger and this is helping my iaido no end. Seated okuden in particular which requires getting up swiftly is far easier with responsive legs.

I'm just experimenting with Windows Movie Maker to chop up a video of one of my embu that I did a few weeks ago. I'll post it when it's finished.

Tally ho!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Four Levels of Zanshin Part 2

Peter's FB post reminded me that I hadn't properly explained a previous blog post concerning The Four Levels of Zanshin

To expand their meaning I have described how they relate to kirioroshi and would refer readers to Ogura Sensei's interview which can be googled to get even more detail:

1. Sekka no kurai - The body of a rock - This is a reference to a spark from rocks when they are struck together. This means that the actual delivery of cuts is instantaneous with no warning of its impending delivery.
2. Tsuyu no kurai - The rain dripping from a leaf - This describes how one builds up to the cut just as a drip of water will accumulate at the tip of a leaf very gradually and then gravity finally overcomes viscosity and the drop falls.
3. Bonsho no kurai - The echo of the ringing of the buddhist bell - This describes the after effect of the cut - no movement, no signs of action or intention, just the low, deep echo of the event.
4. Hei no kurai - The fart that cannot be heard - I would suggest that this means that without any warning or sign, people around you just fall over dead. While humerous this does I believe have some reason of rhyme to it. It almost captures the previous three as one who can dispatch all their opponents with no apparent movement or effort.

The first three (which are supposed to be the legitimate levels) are of course not in order of the event i.e. first their would be tsuyu in the preparation of the cut, then sekka as the cut is delivered and then bonsho as post-cut zanshin takes place. The order is I believe supposed to indicate levels of expertise in the order in which they would be naturally learned.

First one learns to cut quickly, using effort and speed but ultimately where good technique means that natural speed and power occur without undue effort. This is Sekka no Kurai.

One then learns how to develop the johakyu leading up to the cut such that an opponent is unable to defend, dodge or counterattack the oncoming cut. One's taisabaki, balance, ashisabaki, ma-ai and merihari are all instrumental in developing the "build up".

Finally, the unmoving, unfettered mind and body which exist after the cut can be felt only like the echo of a bell, slowly fading as the event of killing one's enemy slips into the past. This is what we understand by the word Zanshin.

Anyway, just some of my thoughts and interpretations of things that I have heard or read from more senior practitioners and teachers. I have tried to visualise these aspects into my kata of late to what I think is a positive result.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Iaido Training Session 34

And so we continue on the yearlong slope down towards the grading. I have in the last week or so conversed with many people about the European Iaido Championships especially concerning the grading. Those of you in the know will know that it was something of a massacre with only one 6th dan candidate passing out of all the 5th, 6th and 7th dans. I certainly thought there were at least a few who were worth their salt in this grading including my good friend Henry Schubert whose mental image I use for how people do Jikiden (this isn't to say that there aren't other people more experience than Henry, only that I have worked more with him than any other Jikiden person in koryu).

The results of this examination have crystalisd my drive though, I now realise that I cannot at any rate, take my foot off the accelerator in training myself for my 6th dan. Too much training may not be enough.

Anyway, on this particular Wednesday 17th, no sensei and so we all had a party. Not really, but we did all work on koryu. Even given the drive I am feeling to train more, my right arm was then and is still feeling the effects of last week's overenthused ochiburi's and I wasn't in the mood for lots of training. I spend some time with Raj and now have him up to Tsukikage! He's doing very well and is very enthusiastic to learn and train new forms.

I spent a bit of time "testing" my balance at end of cuts and think I will work on this next week with a bit of sayu ashi giri training. George filmed me doing an embu but can't download it yet to evaluate it. I am wondering if there is a budo training app for the iTouch.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Iaido Training Session 29 to 33 and everything else

Should I have shaved on the morning of the European Taikai?

Well it has been a busy period, I have missed posting onto my blog several times but the sheer number of events both martial artistic and work related have kept me away from cold evenings huddled around my computer screen.

Since my last training blog post thingy I have:
  • Taught at an Iaido and Jodo referees seminar in Warsaw
  • Co-delivered the Jodo seminar and grading in Darlington
  • Been to the European Iaido Championships
Obviously it is impossible for a person with as shabby memory as my own to recall each and every details of my training recently so I will stick with the highlights...

In the Dojo

Training has been fairly quiet recently, without Lucy and Aurelien there the atmosphere has been a bit calm and staid and sometimes difficult to motivate myself to doing pre-taikai training without the whole representation of our dojo there. I have been working a lot on koryu lately mainly to try to strengthen my legs and make it look somewhere close to the same level as my seitei. As usual, Chuden has been my choice of forms in the main and I have learned quite a bit about Iwanami especially in terms of how to turn and do the driving cut. Weight distribution seems to be key with this form and it cannot be performed properly if this weight control is lazy. Trying to get the right balance of large and small technique is also interesting with the first three forms and I think this is something I need to personally research.

Raj has also compelled me to think about Jikiden quite a bit to the point of asking one of the Polish guys to show me some of his Omori Ryu to remind me of the finer points. It is quite an interesting feeling to do a different ryuha even one as close to Shinden as Jikiden is. There seems to be a more obvious contrast of large and small movements in the techniques and I guess a lot of this is from me emulating Henry Schubert's expansive way of doing the kata.

I think I now want to start doing the videoing process of tracking my technical progress and have asked George to bring his camera to the dojo. Guess it's time to break out the spreadsheet...

In Poland

Jock Hopson Sensei, Harry and me were invited along with Robert Rodrigues Sensei to deliver an Iaido and Jodo referees seminar in Warsaw. It was a very pleasant experience, not much to say on the Iaido development front though only that the event reminded me how much a skill like judging and examining requires soooo much experience. Jock saw things that I hadn't even noticed during both events of the taikai and the shinsa.

At the European Iaido Championships

The event this year was held in Paris and the BKA team was fully prepped through a 10-hour coach ride from Waterloo, through a wormhole in the Paris orbital and deposited somewhere in Albania.

The event was preceeded with a one-and-a-half-day technical seminar and then a half day referees seminar. I don't want to dwell on this event too much and you will have to ask me personally on my opinion of that event - it wasn't pretty! Suffice to say, it is always an expectation that seitei will change slightly through time, I am however surprised though when it changes from being practical to utterly impractical and actually impossible to demonstrate rationally. Perhaps I should forget it for now.

The taikai event was interesting though. I won my pool and went through the tournament to be beaten in the final by Michael Simonini from Belgium. He has lovely expansive technique but manages to keep it very much under control by not being overly tall but well built. You can see his depth of practice by the sheer control he maintains over his body and sword. The event also allowed me to pit myself against Claudio Zanoni from Italy, my good friend. I have had to change my Iaido in the last few years to beat Claudio by removing the heaviness as much as possible. Claudio is light and sharp and able to maintain a strong posture and I have had to try to do the same. I also went up against Matti Pajaujis from Sweden who only entered into the 5th dan category from last year's grading. Matti is more compact and robust and his cuts are very sharp. Both Michael and Matti were, I think, the only ones to pass their 5th dans when they took it in their group.

So what did I learn?

From Kishimoto Sensei:
  1. At 5th dan don't start the embu by standing up and sitting in a different pose such as tatehiza. Start a kata from seiza, this is much more preferable to the judges and examiners.
  2. When performing Chuden forms with a one-handed oblique draw, the sharpness of the cut relies upon keeping the yokote of the sword in the saya and then using the hips and chest to get the sharpness of the movement. This is different to Shoden which uses a more regular balance of sayabiki and sayabanare to create johakyu.
  3. Try to use breathing to generate the timing of drawing and cutting especially the tension created by squeezing the breath.
From Rene Sensei:
  1. Try to turn the hips more to face the body forwards in the stepping cuts.
  2. Be careful not to use your right arm as a rifle scope on nukitsuke.
  3. Regulate Shihogiri timing more to avoid jumping from one cut to the other.
From Momi Sensei:
  1. Watch the footwork on Ukenagashi to create the proper "i" position and not stepping the left foot to far forwards.
  2. Avoid stepping off the centreline too much in Sanpogiri.

Doing some pre-taikai training with Aurelien and Daniel also was a bit enlightening when Dan was having problems with the "new" footwork with Ushiro. He was finding himself off balance and I rationalised, tested and proved that keeping the back stock straight was essential in being able to do this rotation quickly. The period also reminded me that young 3rd and 4th dans are liable to rush through furikaburi and not be able to create the right merihari.

Having examined the fight on film and listening to things people have been saying as well as watching performances, I have concluded I need to work on the following items as well as regular kata training:

  1. Improving my cutting technique to ensure that my balance is absolutely perfect at the end of the cuts.
  2. Continue improving nukitsuke to keep my sword down and thus my shoulder (an action that Peter West Sensei keeps reminding me to work on, thanks Peter.)
  3. Ensuring that the raising of the hips with Ochiburi is absolutely synchronised and sharp.
  4. Ukenagashi footwork and timing.
  5. Ukenagashi footwork and timing.
  6. Ukenagashi footwork and timing.
  7. Make sure that the first draw in Sanpogiri doesn't take a shortcut in front of the face but actually passes over the head (see video above - it's very obvious on both of us).
  8. Maintain flexibility overall but carry on working on lower body and core strength - this makes iaido much easier.
  9. Start to rebuild strength in right forearm to avoid injury - throwing painkiller-numbed chiburi's around is leaving me a message right now.

Well lots to work on again, I have also noted that although the dates for the EIC 2011 are different to this year, I have now done my penultimate EIC at 5th dan and there is a dizzy slope down (or up) towards my grading. The clock is ticking.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Iaido Training Session 28

A really excellent session this afternoon at Hilary's dojo in SW London. We started with some usual warm up cutting exercises which naturally knackered my right arm during nukitsuke. We next were able to go through each Seitei form 3 times spending our attention on control and making sure each element of each kata was balanced and significant. It was a really good opportunity to do some technical tweaking.

After this was a session of free practice and I managed to get a couple of embu practices in. I am still finding a combination of three koryu plus either all the odds or all the evens of the Seitei makes a nice long but concentrated duration.

We finished with a grading practice and I did Towaki exactly how I wanted to, enough tame to control the form and give it some meaning and enough seme to drive the form at the right okuden speed. It was a bit weird at the end of the form as it kind of went automatically and I wasn't aware exactly of doing the form. Strange.

Anyway, a nice session.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Iaido Training Session 27

Why does Chuden make so many references to clouds? Because I've discovered that you need to climb mountains into the clouds to get your legs strong enough to do the bloody forms!

Prior to this training session I had spent the weekend hiking and scrambling up a few Welsh peaks with some friends. Though I missed a Jodo training session having this nice time away it does have the effect of strengthening up my legs and hips, or more likely, reminding me how pudgey I am becoming sitting at a desk.

This Wednesday in question, we were visited by Aram from NY who is an absolute gentleman and it is always great to have him train with us.

We started going through the seitei in front and back sequence as before and I do find this order to be of benefit in waking up the brain a bit. Each kata starts to become an individual challenge rather than just another step in the sequence.

I noticed that Aram's cutting, while quite powerful, tended to bounce at the bottom of the cut thus inclining his body forwards in a slightly jerky motion so I spent some time with him getting him to put the power into the right place (i.e. at the commencement of the cut) and avoid forcing it through the vertical stroke. The use of tenouchi to motivate the cut, to focus the cut and to brake the cut is so important and I am finding it more difficult to teach these points as it starts to become second nature. I realise that there is a slight difference in emphasis between Ishido Sensei (who I learned this tenouchi from) and Oshita Sensei, however both use a graduated tenouchi to control the sword and I think that this is something vitally missed by lots of people. There is a lot of talk of using tenouchi and shibori at the point of the sword hitting the opponent's head but this kind of misses the point.

(Note, images will enlarge if clicked)

Tenouchi is a continuous action of adding energy to the sword (and I mean the literal physics-based energy, not the woo-woo) starting by moving the sword, accelerating the sword, focussing the power of the sword and braking the sword. These are all smooth transitions and can be easily emulated in "normal life" - try:

a) shaking an umbrella
b) hammering in a nail

If you are confident and competent in both these activities then you will spot the parts of tenouchi being used to certain degrees. When I learned how to do kirioshi from Ishido Sensei it became very obvious that the arms (and by that I really mean the shoulders) do less and less work and rely more on the inertia of the sword being driven by the tenouchi than by rotational kinetics.

It's an interesting movement to study as the whole framework is dynamic: your grip is accelerating the sword, the sword is accelerating your arms, your arms are accelerating the point of grip, the grip further accelerates the sword etc. I think it is this mechanism of positive feedback which really accelerates the kissaki at an exponential rate and marks the difference between Joe public swinging the sword and someone who does iai. It also underlines the important of tenouchi. Have I already said this?

Anyway, this coaching session went on for nearly 30 minutes and I found various things that Aram was doing which was causing problems, one being pulling the rear foot up with too much effort.

I interspursed this with working on my Chuden which felt much smoother with my legs feeling a bit stronger. I hope to continue some kind of regular exercise to keep this muscle firmanent in place. My sensei pointed out that my left hand wasn't being used properly in Yokochiburi and I have to train this tomorrow at the Saturday class. Not enough to simply place the left hand on the hip: it has to utilise as much energy as the right hand.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Iaido Training Session 26

An early arrival at the dojo on this evening allowed me to spend a bit of time doing embu practice. My typical sequence at the moment is two kata from each koryu set and then either the odd or the even numbers of the seitei. If I can do this as "one movement" without anything being too bad then I am pretty pleased with myself - it certainly takes a lot of concentration.

As the others arrived and I started the class I could think of nothing more mind numbing that just allowing people to do free practice (= 50% standing around thinking about stuff) or everyone doing seitei 1-12. Instead I thought I would keep people's concentration a bit alive by starting with 1 and then going to 12, back to 2, then 11, then 3, then 10 etc. This seemed to make the thing feel a bit less like "7 kata down, 5 to go..." kind of practice.

As we went into free training I decided to work on the first three okuden suwari waza. The first two offer some specific difficulties for me. Kasumi is a bugger to do with a long sword (although I am the proud owner of the "kotsu" or bones of the form) and Sunegakoi is a bugger to do with long legs especially as you should end up at the same height at the point of the block as if you had one knee down.

I then spent some time working on Shihogiri and its myriads of kaewaza. I find this form so interesting in the pressures that the exponent is supposed to deal with, I really think that getting this one sorted would really move ones understanding of iai to another level. Ahh well, still quite a way to go...

Anyway, I then decided to spend some time helping Raj Jeer, one of our new visitors from the Midlands and with a Jikiden original background. He is always working so hard on his seitei and I saw him go through it a few times and asked him if he knew any koryu. On the basis that he didn't I thought I would put all that Oshita-sensei-translating time to some use and taught him the first 6 Omori ryu kata. I found this very enjoyable actually to have to spend some mental bandwidth remembering exactly what I was supposed to do. Raj picked it up well.

I would like to close on a mention of warming up. I have now put myself in the habit of spending about 20 minutes on warming up and stretching if I arrive early enough at each section. I try to do this systematically and stretch further than I would have to do in actually doing a kata. I am hoping that this will build up some core strength, improve flexibility, reduce wear and tear a bit and it definately makes me work better and for longer. I simply don't feel so fatigued towards the end of a class or the next day. I heartily recommend it.

Right I'm off to march up mountains in Wales...

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Iaido Training Session 25

Not a fantastically vigorous session tonight, a lack of a sensei and some required coaching for the upcoming Europeans kept me distracted from getting my ass in gear.

It did however allow us to look at the footwork of some of the seiteigata and I thought I would like to look at this, specifically with regard to sanpogiri.

In fact let's look at it, and I will say no more for a while...

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Four Levels of Zanshin

Just thought I would record here the learning points from the Eindhoven summer seminar concerning zanshin from Ishido Sensei.

The explanation came up while Sensei was trying to get a better expression of zanshin in various parts of the kata when other people demonstrated. Two particular fine methods, both relating to the assumption of jodan no kamae, were explained. The first involved Ishido Sensei standing in chudan awase with the exponent, a position from which the student had to take jodan no kamae without allowing an opening. This created an incredibly sticky feeling in the movement and the student being extremely focused on the person in front of him. In the second instance and relating to Shihogiri (and could be adapted to Sanpogiri easily) he arranged four people around the exponent where the imaginary opponents would have fallen. Given the necessary close proximity of these opponents, this created a very congested area to move around in and more affected the finishing parts of taking jodan no kamae.

The diagram shown is the best I can do to summarise the ideal scenario for getting some practice in this with five other helpful dojo members. I must try it when there is a free and quiet moment.

To follow this explanation, Sensei went onto describe the various levels of zanshin affecting mind and body, they are as follows (in order of "depth"):

  1. Sekka no kurai - The body of a rock
  2. Tsuyu no kurai - The rain dripping from a leaf
  3. Bonsho no kurai - The echo of the ringing of the buddhist bell
  4. Hei no kurai - The fart that cannot be heard
The last of course raised quite a laff!

Anyway, back to work.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Iaido Training Session 24

Quite a lot of leg and chiburi work done tonight in order to sharpen ochiburi up a bit. I definately need to start initiating the standing before the sword starts on it's way.

Brought some cardboard box targets for Ukigumi, Yamaoroshi and Iwanami tonight as well which was interesting. It really shows a) how difficult it is to draw on these forms and b) how much initial distance you realistically have to take at the beginning for the form to make sense if you are tall (especially Yamaoroshi).

Sensei changed our Yukichigai 2nd cut timing a bit this evening as well. It certainly does stabilise things a bit but does take out some of the continuity.

Used Koranto a bit again to clean up some points as well as some hayanuki which I defo need to put into my training schedule to strengthen up my legs, improve stamina and kata quality while panting like an apoplexy victim.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Iaido Training Session 23 - Using Koranto and Changes to Chiburi

This particular Wednesday gave me the chance of some good practice with only 3 other students there. I decided to leave them alone as much as possible, do some practice and get some scrutiny.

I started on some basics and worked at Shohatto for a while until starting to become a bit dissatisfied with it. I should be honest here and state that my love for Shohatto comes from the ability to really put some dynamic and decisive zip into the last cut. The synchronising of the body movement with a more natural furikaburi allows one to make this final cut appear well and truly, final. After a bit of a thrash though I wasn't feeling the zip was there anymore and I remembered what Ishido Sensei had said only a few weeks previously - "use Koranto when in a fix and in need to sort out problems".

I did this and could feel a much more pronounced looseness in my posture to the point where the tip would bounce and lose much of its sharpness. I tried to visualise what I was doing and "spotted" my head bouncing forwards with the cut, this meaning that my upper body was doing the same and so I worked on pressing my neck into my collar during the cut. Sure enough, this straightened my upper body, extended my spine and improved the stability of my cut. I tried this in Shohatto and it proved successful. I don't like to leave things simply fixed but thought about what had caused this, I concluded that too much upper body leading on the nukitsuke was being carried through into the kirioroshi. I needed to moderate this inclination in the early part of the kata too. Once again this led me to another link in the chain of cause and effect - my hand is too high in nukitsuke and I am peering down my shoulder. Well more work to do here and at least I know what to work on.

Around this point my sensei arrived and put me through some of my basic paces starting with chiburi. According to his instruction I was too used to bringing the sword to the side of my head and then lifting it over. I needed to use the elbow more proactively to bring the sword straight into position to perform ochiburi. I have summarised his teaching point below and I believe that a picture paints a thousand words so I won't try to explain it too much. The sequence on the left shows how I was doing it. It can be seen that the elbow starts moving down only to lift back up again. This causes the course of the sword (shown in red) to take several turns before going into chiburi. On the new way, the upper arm should stay in place until the forearm is virtually vertical. From thereon the elbow should be used thus straightening out the swords course. I have shown this on the right sequence below and the final image shows all the sequences overlaid to show the clearer course of the sword and arm.

This will take some time to get used to especially as I have done quite a lot to get the right amount of flexibility in the hand to make a good chiburi.

Sensei was then kind enough to video certain parts of my forms, starting with Yokogumo. The point of this was to show where the saya control was not so smooth. The nukitsuke was okay but noto shows a) a bit of a lack of sayabiki and b) too much effort returning the koiguchi over the sword (the saya judders a bit). For you dear reader who may be grading soon, please observe the amount of sayabiki on nukitsuke as this is how it should be...

videoI was quite pleased with my foot positioning on this form, I just hope the 6th dan grading panelists have got mirrors to watch my kata from the rear!

The next point was noto on standing forms such as Sanpogiri. See below:


From this I gleaned:
  1. First cut may need to be bigger by using tenouchi and wrist position with more concentration.
  2. Position of hands when walking needs to be lower (it looks like I'm about to grab).
  3. Lateral head position in Jodan kamae is too over to one side.
  4. Head elevation in Jodan kamae, looking down too much.
  5. The body is being used too much in noto instead of using the left hand more.
This last point was the reason for me being filmed. While I am able to moderate my right hand movement on noto I am using the body too much and not the left hand enough to do sayabiki. This needs some augmentation including lowering the right hand objective position as well as ensuring that the course is 45degs out to the right front instead of 25degs.

What else did I do?

Oh yes, a more smooth sword drawing in Seichuto and thus moving away from the basics slightly. Did some target practice on Ukigumo with a chair and my bag, I may well bring a cardboard box down next week to practice kata Chudan 4-6 on to make sure I am doing it right.

That's all folks!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

2 Summer Seminars, Iaido Training Session 22, What I did last summer and The Living Tenouchi

Well here I sit, the other side of two summer seminars, lots of things I should write but a memory relatively devoid of smart comments or suggestions. I made some notes which I would like to post for the benefit of those reading this blog but otherwise I think I will emphasise the subjective conclusions after this sequence of events.

The Iaido seminar in Eindhoven with Ishido Sensei was in my opinion one of the best I can remember. I found it personally very useful and relevant, maybe this is due to me being more attentive to taught detail or maybe it just really was better than before. I picked up so much stuff that I hadn't known before and made a real special effort to absorb as much koryu information as I could.

The emphasis of the seminar seemed to be about "Jiri Ichi" (lit. fact and theory as one) which refers to ensuring that one's logical understanding of the kata is practical and is delivered practically as the theory dictates. It's a bit of a recipricol relationship between the "ji" (fact) and "ri" (theory) - both can be either right or wrong. Ishido Sensei also noted the importance on concentrating and training on what you are told and taught and not doing hard training of the wrong thing. This sounds obvious but looking around throughout the training it was even more obvious that people hadn't picked this up and were training really hard but incorrectly. There seemed to be much more emphasis this time on doing it slowly but connecting all the component bits together smoothly.

As the seminar progressed so understanding began to unfold. Things that had just been done during the kata because of command became justified and real. A really good example was the way in which people take jodan no kamae in Sanpogiri and Shihogiri. When four opponents are spaced around the exponent it makes their assumption of the kamae completely different, it was quite enlightening to watch.

Changes to the seitei forms were few although I was surprised to see a rapid transition in Ushiro: we now have to get our feet under quicker and smoother at all levels. Two years ago it was stated that this was a wise option for high grades; it now seems that everyone should be aiming to do this. Ah well, a small practical change isn't a bad thing.

Ishido Sensei also made it quite clear as to why someone would be seated in seiza wearing a daito, this being that historically it wouldn't happen but in order to train the exponent to use the sword efficiently from a physically restrictive position, seated iaido was created.

I made some notes of individual koryu kata here, I would recommend that these aren't taken as verbatim or carved in stone, I have known teachings to change on a yearly basis and so these should be considered snapshots only:


1. Shohatto to Atarito: these katas are basic forms teaching one how to move in any direction and any distance. They aren't meant to signify that there are only four directions from which you are attacked, simply that it builds flexibility in the student's movements to move in any direction. By changing the elevation in the sword angle on the draw, one creates Seichuto. By standing up, one creates Koranto.
2. Inyoshintai: From nukitsuke, the elevation of the body is a straight upward slope and does not come up and then drop down into the cut. It is also paramount to keep the back straight on the second nukitsuke to avoid an opponent's cut.
3. Ryuto: after drawing the sword, all the weight should be on the knees with the body inclined (even slightly crouched) forwards. The body twists and rises while raising the sword into hane ageru (beating the sword upwards). Flap the right foot out at the same time the left foot rotates to point at the opponent. The angle of cut is determined by the imagined inclination of the enemy and can thus vary. A flat horizontal cut determines an almost upright oppontent.
4. Gyakuto: raise the hips and put the hands on at the same time. The left foot can step back on the ukenagashi but this of course adds time. The first cut is to the uto followed by a small left foot step and large right foot step (this is a general trend for iaido).
5. Koranto: basic form is left, right, left right. The kata should contain clean and whole techniques and is good to train in when a plateau is hit in one's progress as this kata contains all the basics without the difficulty of working from seiza.
6. Gyakute Inyoshintai: same as honwaza, use the centre of the blade as the fulcrum. The block is to protect the knee so there is no great need for the kissaki to scrape the floor.
7. Batto: offers the question, can you draw in a restricted space? The knees must be spread in such a way to centralise the cut.

There were sessions in Okuden as well but I will keep these to myself for now, I may publish them later.

I think overall, the main difference in this seminar was the visual clarity that all techniques were demonstrated with. Very little was left to personal interpretation and this was reflected in the fact that very few questions were asked.

I took as much time as I could actually joining in with the training and spent some good time with Yoshimura Sensei and his group. We worked through a lot of the tachiwaza from Okuden and I think it was very useful. Sensei also had a look at some of my grading forms and I received some very useful feedback about Towaki.

Zipping forwards now to the BKA summer seminar which was patronized by Oshita Sensei and Morita Sensei. Again the explanations were very clear and after the demos I was assigned to be with Morita Sensei who got the 7th dans and me to set a pace at the front of the dojo for everyone to follow. This meant about two hours of solid seitei practice which was very useful for me as I could take no breaks. I instead found myself realising that I wouldn't be able to keep up the same intensity throughout as I began to run out of steam towards the end. Instead I backed off the power and tried to get the sword to run itself a bit which seemed to work quite nicely.

Over the next day I worked with the koryu group with Oshita Sensei and made the most of re-learning some Jikiden Ryu. I find this study very useful for my own iaido as it shows what may be a more original version of the kata. I don't like to think that I am learning a new style when I do this and I also don't like teaching what I have learned about Jikiden to others as it makes me feel like a fake. I just find that it tells you a lot about your own system which you might otherwise take a lot longer to discover...

The koryu taikai was a lot of fun, it was nice to do some koryu embu and not think about seitei at all. This gave me a chance to work on my grading forms and I did a combination of shohatto, Yamaoroshi and Towaki. The final with Dougie I was quite tense with as I knew that he could make his techniques very large and bold but I think I did my best and smoothest against Harry's in the semifinals. Anyway, I won.

I love Oshita Sensei's approach to technical composition and he has a great way of showing how to make cuts and draws using minimal effort. His teaching of where to put effort into the cut is subtly different to Ishido Sensei (who doesn't seem to worry too much about that particular aspect, his cuts just happen) and is very useful to the student. It was with this in mind that I subtitled this post, the Living Tenouchi. During this evening's practice I tried to physically examine how both tenouchi's worked and reached what I think is for me a satisfactory conclusion. Whether tenouchi is used to begin to move the sword (as per Ishido Sensei) or used later to add focus to the cut (as per Oshita Sensei) I don't think it too critical concerning whether to do one or the other. What is important is that tenouchi shouldn't be a blind, open-loop process. The one and only time that I have performed a kirioroshi as perfectly as I would believe to be satisfactory was when I was trying to feel the mass and impetus of my own sword. I now believe that the secret of good tenouchi is that it doesn't only put power and speed into the cut, it is used as a gauge of position, momentum/impetus, velocity, angle etc. I'm supposing that maybe, the power focus of tenouchi can happen whenever you choose to put it in but the feedback function of tenouchi telling you what state the sword is in is of absolutely prime importance in indicating where and when to engage the power of the cut.

Anyway, after so much training over the last month or so, I found my arms quite naturally doing good cuts this evening although my feet are hurting a bit especially in tatehiza. This could be well down to overeating as well.

Anyway, it's getting late and I have to work a bit tomorrow so I will close but must think about getting a cardboard box down to the dojo to practice Chuden forms on soon....

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Iaido Training Session 21

It's getting a bit tricky to keep on top of this blog at the moment what with work picking up and the fact that I am organising 2-3 events for the BKA at the same time. This, I hope, is actually a positive reflection as it means a) I'm getting my ever fattening ass off my chair more frequently and b) I'm doing more budo stuff generally rather than just regular practice. In fact I had a look at my calendar recently and found that the 15th August will be the first regular Sunday morning Jodo practice that I will have been to in 10 weeks! I realise that a) holidays are fun and b) doing taikai and seminars is of course brilliant practice but I do miss normal regular training in the dojo. I think there is something very special and different about training in your own dojo. Even being at a seminar with your favourite Japanese sensei is probably not as "embedding" as regular training.

Anyway, spent a bit of time last night getting some photos done for my teacher's Shoden Iaido Manual which meant me holding rediculous, mid-move poses for a while although it is quite a good thing to make sure that the techniques are correct. I also discovered some bits about some of the faster moves that I hadn't realised before. For example it never occured to me what the drawing action in Batto (MSR) actually required in terms of movement and direction of the sword. When I saw it on camera it made me think about all sorts of ways to improve my movement (using the left hand more of course being one of them).

I spent most of the rest of the lesson coaching Ray, one of our ikkyu's and resident photographer, for his koryu taikai and 1st dan grading in Brighton. At the end of the session we all took turns to do embu's in groups. I feel quite at home with Shohatto and Yamaoroshi for now but Towaki definately needs some practice. The second cut is easy enough but I am for certain out of control on the first draw. I watched Morishima-sensei's embu of this and it looked brilliant - really direct, simple and devastating. I am a loooooong way from that. I think I would probably fall over if I actually hit something with my sword at the moment. I guess next week might be a good opportunity to get some feedback from Ishido Sensei in Eindhoven.

Monday, 12 July 2010

BKA Nationals 2010

The Cold Fire...

Not much to report on last Wednesday's practice to be honest so I will focus on our National Taikai which took place last Saturday for Iaido and Sunday for Jodo. The theme for this blog entry is what you gain out of losing and I can certainly say that it is significant at this point.

This year gave the 5th dans the opportunity to do one koryu for their individual's and then follow up with no.2 and no.6. Throughout the early part of the competition I varied my koryu to get the feel of what was working but then settled on Oroshi as things started to get serious. In the end I finalled with Harry and knew that this was going to be difficult. I knew that Harry could be very smooth so I aimed for sharpness and tried to make the forms look like a real fight. Everything seemed to go smoothly and then...I lost 3-0.

I was a bit surprised as I came off as was Harry and we asked if either of us did anything wrong. Nothing seemed to come to light.

As we went into the team event again I lost a flag once and was a bit perplexed. The forms felt quite vigorous. I started to suspect that this vigour was getting the better of me and maybe was too fast for some judges' taste. In the final we were up against our same dojo with Harry as the last player as was I. We were even when Harry and I went on and I thought about how to get this shiai.

I cooled, I calmed...I did the kata. It went smoothly again. I don't think I went any slower to be honest. I won 2-1 (I wasn't surprised to drop that one flag).

There was something different though and I think I have sensed it in doing Jodo Kage before, a certain coolness and quietness to the performance which gives it a fire of its own. Maybe it's tame, maybe it's something else. It seemed to work and felt very nice.

First day back home after the event so might write more on this later.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Iaido Training Session 19 and 20

I have discovered (not the first person, I’m sure) one of the best methods of training and improving Seiteigata – teach it to beginners. I spent a good half of the lesson just trying to instil a bit more understanding of Seitei to our lower grades including a member of the Monday-night beginners’ class.

By carefully explaining both the rationale and the methodology I found it can really remind you how and what to do. It sometimes feels like a wakening up after having spent so much time improving “performance” and somehow putting to the back of your mind what the basic movements are.

I handed over to Harry about half way through and set my sights on tackling one of the most challenging kata for me – Sunegakoi! This kata which for those whose memory of Okuden might fail them is similar to Toraissoku but requires one to move groin-scrapingly close to the floor to block the shin before swiftly forwards and delivering the coup-de-grace.

This is, for someone as lanky as me, quite difficult. I find that getting my toes under quickly enough to be the first stumbling block and then remaining balanced as the leg moves back to be the next. Then, just when I think that that’s the easy bit done with, I have to move an overly long sword into a blocking position that seems to defy the laws of biology. The moving in and cutting is the easy bit but the fact that one should remain at the same height more or less for the duration of the kata is of course quite a struggle.

Anyway I asked my teacher for some help and looked at how he moved the image I have memorised seems reasonable enough, I think I just need to get my legs strengthened up (surprise surprise). Actually not surprising is the fact that I used to be able to do this with relative ease and it is only through lack of practice and perhaps a widening of the waistline that is causing the problems I am now facing. In my personal opinion this kata warrants a lot of practice on my part as I feel it is the one in seated Okuden that I have most problem with purely from a flexibility and strength perspective.

At the end of this session our teacher commanded us through the Seitei, Shoden and Chuden which I found quite invigorating. I think I need to get the endorphins running some time to get my iaido really working.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Iaido 6th Dan Training Session 18

Not much to say about tonight as there was quite a lot of talking going on. Shame really, last week was so active at the seminar that I was hoping to keep the inertia going. I was chastised a bit for my hips not being stable during noto so this is something to work on I suppose. Apart from that I spent the session working on Shoden. Ah, just remembered, I must combine the preparation for the tsuki on Gyakuto into the forward movement to make it a bit more cohesive.

At the end of the practice we were made to do Koranto with ever decreasing number of steps and I thought I would make it more challenging by throwing in a double kiritsuke at the end. It was surprising how easy it was once I had forgotten what the feet were doing.

Right arm is feeling a bit painful today probably due to the rather large amount of ochiburi's I had to do. That particular part of the technique is feeling better I think largely due to following:
  1. Making sure there is a small rotation of the sword in the hand prior to lifting it. The most reliable time to do this is just after kirioroshi. It is much more fluid to do this while lifting the sword but also much more likely to get the angle slightly wrong (a tiny bit seems to be enough to throw off the whole movement).
  2. Really allowing the hands to relax as the sword approaches the top of the head so that the chiburi action can be initiated by a squeezing of the grip rather than a flinging of the arms.
Anyway, that's it for now, might throw in some more memories of Villingen soon.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Villingen Seminar 2010 - The Hikinuki Armistice

Well having returned recently from this most excellent seminar I thought I would put finger to key and try and record some of the stuff that was conveyed.

I think the thing that most bothers me at the moment is how much people have got themselves into a flap about hikinuki/ukenagashi ni kaburi. The first thing to consider is that this isn't by any means all that new. Ishido Sensei first conveyed this small change to us at the Hagakure Iaido Seminar back in 2006 (I wrote an article on the seminar which can be found at http://www.daedalusdesign.co.uk/hosted/iaidojodo/articles/articles-hagakure06.htm). At that time it was clearly explained that it was absolutely necessary for the tsukagashira to be leading the upward movement into furikaburi and there was no necessity to keep the tip up during this process.

This principle still exists for all those movements where it is necessary to bring the sword up by going through ukenagashi (i.e. last cut of Morotezuki, cuts 2 & 3 of Sanpogiri, 2nd cut of Shihogiri).

Within one or at most two years, the principle of hikinuki was formalised into the Seitei system. This basically meant that a small drawing-out motion was necessary while bringing the sword up. It was pointed out quite clearly by Ishido Sensei that this drawing out was delivered by turning motions of the body along with a gently contraction of the arms. It has best been demonstrated with one person holding a saya in which the exponent's sword was inserted. From there on a movement, once again through ukenagashi, would lead into furikaburi.

I once asked the question, why go through ukenagashi, and both sensei's Ishido and Kishimoto both explained that it was the most efficient way of moving the sword. As an engineer I find this response to be reasonable and logical. Furthermore we have been urged to keep the sword as close and as aligned with the centre line as possible. Again this makes complete sense in keeping unnecessary movements to a minimum.

So what constitutes going through ukenagashi? Simply put, ensuring that the sword is slanting down from the tsukagashira means that this can be called ukenagashi ni kaburi. The amount of slant is a matter of taste and physical specifics but obviously too vertical would mean a lack of control over the sword, over horizontal and it is no longer ukenagashi.

Why am I posting this? I think perhaps due to the number of people that have thanked me for this blog during the Villingen seminar I thought I would try to give something back which was useful. I sincerely don't think that this ukenagashi/hikinuki thing is something which people need lose sleep about. If one tries to move the sword naturally, succumbing to it's natural inertia, the sword moves exactly as we are told to.

Anyway, perhaps it would be good to clarify these movements in their respective kata:

1. Tsukaate - after the rear thrust, the hikinuki is made naturally by turning back to face the front. By allowing the tsukagashira to be the leading part of the sword, hikinuki and ukenagashi is naturally performed.
2. Morotezuki - after the front thrust, the hands are slightly withdrawn towards the body as the turn is made. From thereon, leading with the tsukagashira produces the desired movement. After the first cut, the turn is made and the sword brought naturally above the head using the tsukagashira to lead the sword up.
3. Sanpogiri - After the first cut, as the body turns the sword is naturally rotated up once again using the tsukagashira as a lead. As the sword reaches its apex above the head, the te-no-uchi action can bring the kissaki up and over in a smooth motion to continue into the cut. The third cut is delivered again by moving the tsukagashira up as you move under and through the sword.
4. Ganmenate - After the rear thrust, use a similar motion to Morotezuki by gradually retracting the arm as it lifts the tsukagashira up over the head to cut (not forgetting to actuate the whole body one body width to the left).
5. Shihogiri - Like Tsukaate, the thrusted sword is gently retracted by both the hands and the turn of the body as the tsukagashira leads the sword above the head into the first cut. The second cut is performed the same way as the last cut in Sanpogiri.

I hope that more or less makes it clear. Again I don't think these aspects were introduced to trip people up; they are merely there to represent the most natural, efficient, smooth and realistic action of the sword.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Iaido 6th Dan Training Session 17

Flexibility, stability and mobility.

All wise aspects of iaido teaching or merely rants from tonight's posting.

Mostly both.

To be sure, these are aspects which I believe are the key physical benefits from practising martial arts. Because they are output benefits means that they are aspects which are exercise during training and thus the performance of the art is greatly improved if these factors are well developed in a person.

...sadly these are factors which I am finding not up to scratch in my own iaido. I have quite nicely settled into a good training regime. I turn up, I warm up a bit and I then slowly work through, one at a time, each koryu kata. I rarely repeat a kata unless it is one of the sticky ones like Ryuto or Ukigumo (in which case I stick to doing it about 3-4 times only). I don't believe that my current shortfall is either a lack of understanding on the construction of the kata or a lack of ability to demonstrate the unique points of certain kata. My problems lie in the execution of basic movements in the kata.

For instance:
  • the angle of inclination of my sword in nukitsuke is often too "down"
  • I am frequently in a state of uncertainty just before I start to draw - I think this is born out of a lack of confidence around timing of the foot and sword.
  • My yokochiburi is inconsistent - often jerky, too large or too small or based on hand movement rather than sword movement.
  • Noto is a constant pain in getting the balance of spontanaeity without losing control
Aside from those points, I can walk okay.

My training regime is focussed on just exercising and improving those basic points in the various scenario in different kata, therefore I don't spend too much time on any kata.

I completed Shoden and Chuden tonight (it's amazing how little gets done in two hours when you practice slowly and methodically) and worked on a few seated koryu. Doing so much Chuden is showing where my lack of flexibility, mobility and stability is most prevalent. I think that just doing repeated training is the best thing for this - I need to build up more lower body and core strength. I am enjoying working on these by doing a bit of slow training of Urokogaeshi and Namigaeshi. Both are quite challenging in those three factors as rising and turning in tatehiza is quite rare in the koryu.

I have also added Shihogiri from Okuden Surawiwaza to my list of koryu to focus on, I think it's a very good stability developer and will also hopefully go onto building natural cutting speed.

Well at least I hope so.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Iaido 6th Dan Training Session 15 and 16

Thankfully due to the now, more focussed, approach to my training I can remember what I have done for the last couple of weeks.

During last week's practice everybody wanted to go through both okuden sets so we started with suwariwaza and then finished with tachiwaza. The sheer number of kaewaza reminded me of a friend's interpretation of what Oshita Sensei had recently told his students - "focus on the hon-waza; when you have got that right then do the kae-waza". I wanted to share this with our dojo members but at the same time make them aware of the various kaewaza (not that I know them all, far from it). It is tempting to indulge in kaewaza practice but it sometimes reminds me of people who run off and do various styles in order to deepen or broaden their iaido experience while not realising that they are just thinning it. While these two activities are separate, they are not so far apart. Kaewaza exist as representatives of regional differences which are grown from local senior sensei spreading their interpretation amoung their dojo members and possibly visitors from other dojo. I have seen such variations not just in the execution of technique but in the order, naming and assignment of technique as well. Influences from Jikiden and Jushin also sometimes prevail.

Bringing the focus into last night's session, with the return of my sensei from Japan, I decided to work through each koryu form, once each only, in order to a) refocus on honwaza and b) improve individual aspects through varying kata. I decided to not give myself second chances, I would do each kata only once and if I didn't do it to my satisfaction then tough - move on.

I actually found myself making more progress than normal. I think the "one kata only" introduces a certain urgency to technical detail rather than throcking technique. Legs are feeling a bit odd today having done only suwari waza last night (and quite a lot of seiza/listening practice) but it was good to focus only on my own training for a change.

I am still set on trying to lift all my koryu up to some semblence of 6th-dan'ness although will eventually give more priority to my chosen few koryu for presentation.

I also considered my upcoming schedule today, I am going to Villingen, Eindhoven and Brighton so about 3 weeks of intense practice (and some scrutiny I hope).

Thursday, 29 April 2010

The last couple of weeks

Well, here I am, the other side of the BKA Iaido and Jodo Referees Seminar. I have since my last blog actually been to the dojo to do iaido 3 times but the last seminar took something out of me and I haven't had the time or inclination to write.

I think possibly some of this has been caused by the rather grounding effect that Ishido Sensei has on people. I spent nearly one and a half weeks with him, training at different dojo and of course absorbing nearly everything that he has said to nearly everyone during this time. If nothing else, my Japanese has improved.

I have found that the majority of his advice to me has been about getting the basics right (surprise) and it has, as I have said, been quite a grounding experience.

I have for the last couple of weeks found myself standing in the dojo unsure what to actually practice. This hasn't been overall a difficult period; it has caused me to view what others are doing and try and appraise my own iaido through comparison with others. I sincerely think this is a good thing. It has caused a bit of a hiatus in the physical side of my training and last night's practice made me realise how quickly leg muscle tone can say bye-bye.

Just after my last blog I also spent a weekend in Poland teaching koryu. I found this to be quite an enlightening experience as well - there's nothing like forcing yourself to do things correctly when showing them to other people.

Anyway, down to the technical side of things, I will try to summarise all the things that Ishido Sensei has instructed me in the last couple of weeks, some of which are "new"ish, some I knew but just had started to fail to do them properly, some I was doing okay with them....

  1. Preparation in mae and shohatto is much more critical than it seems. The gathering of the grip, the realignment of the tsukagashira, the closing of the knees...these all need to be deeply embedded before the sword is drawn and much before the hips are raised.
  2. The correct level of the sword and the arm in nukitsuke is far lower than is normally presented. One should clearly be able to see the upper flat of the sword.
  3. Sayabiki needs to not only clear the sword out but also add to the cut in nukitsuke.
  4. 99% of people don't do the prescribed furikaburi in mae and ushiro.
  5. The build up to the cut in kirioroshi must be sharp - not hard, or fast but sharp.
  6. Kirioroshi is generated by a gripping action of the hands.
  7. The front foot must take position first both in nukitsuke and kiritsuke - this closing but not overlapping of the gap has been a major challenge for years for me.
  8. The right hand position after ochiburi is of course the same for yokochiburi and the forward sword angle is about the same as well - no need for the kissaki to aim inside so much.
  9. Noto needs to project the sword out to 45 degrees - no more, no less (this makes it considerably easier).
  10. One shouldn't load the weight onto the bending knee when lowering the body during noto.
  11. Ukenagashi - don't get me started!
  12. Okay then, the deflection must occur as part of the body rising (hane-ageru).
  13. People's sword position is often correct, it is the body position which is often wrong. It should be the same as kesagiri but about 15 degrees to the left of the centreline.
  14. Tsukaate opponents are REALLY close and the rear thrust can allow the right hand to go past the left elbow.
  15. Morotezuki - hikinuki is performed with only a slight pulling caused by the turning of the hips - after that the lifting of the sword is more or less the same as ukenashi ni kaburu.
  16. This kaburi is meant to represent the most efficient way of moving the sword and should keep the sword as close to the centreline as possible.
  17. At the end of each cut in Sogiri, there must be a feeling of seme rather than just setting up a rhythm.
  18. The cuts need to have a sense of urgency.
  19. Ukigumo needs the same intensity of practice to get right as Ukenagashi (10 of these to every other kata).
Jodo had lots of learning points as well but I think that is the kind of information that requires people to buy me boxes of chocolates or boxes of money for me to reveal....

Anyway, I think that's enough for now. I will try to get back into the habit of doing this blog but other duties are always calling....