This is probably where I should add and confirm that the last year or so has seen a decrease in my iaido "fitness" due to lack of concerted practice. Having to get people through their grades and the unexpected fullness to the dojo had me put into a bit of a teaching position which is probably one of the best ways to lose ones physical build of the muscles required to do Iaido smoothly and in control.
The last few weeks of training since starting my 6th dan preparation in ernest has led to a noticeable strengthening of the legs and the reduction in tendonitis is, I'm sure, caused by a development of arm muscle (which is obviously much better at brakeing a cut than joints and tendons).
On this particular Wednesday night I was compelled to do a little embu before we started practice. I chose my star forms for the time being, Shohatto and Towaki, and had Ushiro, Tsukaate and Soetezuki assigned as Shiteiwaza. Rather than doing the reiho in the clipped military style I have been used to I decided to try and do it completely silently and as polite and smooth as possible. I could feel the seconds slipping away but was aware that my forms were quite short (except Shohatto which, and this may come as some surprise, has it's seitei version, Mae, as the second longest form in duration of all the seiteikata, beaten only by Ushiro). I tried to replicate the same feeling in the closing reiho and finished to find out I had gone to 6 minutes and 19 seconds! Oops.
This is quite rare for me as I am fairly used to taikai timings and making sure I don't go OT so I was less surprised and more disappointed that the allocated time didn't leave time to do a nice polite reiho. I was asked to repeat the reiho only once (which I got down to 39 seconds for each of the opening and closing sequences) and the katas only once (which was down to about 3 mins 45 secs). The fact that I could ramp it up to more optimum timing was no surprise but it still left me wondering about the validity of a 6min time limit for a kodansha grading. I can understand wanting to stop people from doing a full dance of the 50 swords for their grading but this feels a bit like the tail wagging the dog. Should grading-enforced time limits affect the nature of the iaido form? (That's a question for consideration rather than a prompt for an answer)
I then set about focussing on Shohatto and Towaki for the rest of the practice (of course while picking on those around me). My sensei indicated that my initial footwork on nukitsuke had to be more defined and in time with the sword (MSR having a kind of double step, a difference to MJER and Seitei). It was very difficult to do, almost elusive and I reaaaally had to slow everything down to work out where the sequence was going wrong. I eventually reached the realisation that my feet weren't getting under quickly enough when I kept finding myself skidding across the floor instead of stepping. I put a concerted effort into pushing down with the backs of my feet as I was rising to both propel me up as well as getting the toes under quicker. This seemed to get my feet ready a lot earlier. It still wasn't quite good enough for my sensei's approval but I think this is work in progress as I need to get the right foot moving forwards before my hips are at their maximum extension. I'm still bumping along the floor a bit too much during the kata but it is slightly coming together. I was informed that if I focussed on keeping my composure during noto then it would add a sharpness all of its own which I tried to a nod of approval. Gotta keep that one noted down!
Towaki training was a bit less complex timing wise but I was told that the first draw needed to be bigger and dare I say it, "cuttier". This is quite a bit different to the way that some of my contempories perform this nukitsuke with the first action being a bit of a flick followed up by a bellowing roar for kirioroshi. It is more obvious to me now that both cuts need to be equal in power and speed and this may mean ramping the power off the second cut and more focus in the first.
A little bit of Chuden at the end underlined the need once again to ensure my posture and composure was maintained as well as an alternative way of doing noto which I will not write about here but will give it a try and consign it to blog later.
That's all for now...