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....