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

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Iaido Training Session 58

Glimmers in the Dark

Some things in life, especially experiences, are almost ephemeral in nature. Take, for example, trying to nail jelly to a wall. The more you try, the harder it seems. Or howabout the act of not thinking about elephants - not a difficult task in concept but actually nearly impossible when attempted. It is the act of attempting something that can render it seemingly impossible.

If you practice iaido I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about.

My self-appointed mission to achieve a 6th dan grade that I believe should be worth the work put into it has driven me to research, train and improve those things that I already do and know. It has also compelled me to work at things that I think most people don't even consider to be part of dan grading preparation (I won't go into that now). Finally I have been hoping to uncover a "secret" of the art. Something revelationary, even approaching transcendence. Perhaps a lot of other iaido practioners are like this too - wanting to discover something quite unlike those material things that avail themselves in life's normal activities.

Yesterday evening showed a glimmer of this, albeit a faint one. It was a strange glimmer, almost like believing that the answer to life, the universe and everything is the number 3, only to discover that it is the one true Three. What do I mean by this? I mean there are some beliefs that are supported by logical and rational thinking. Some of these beliefs are further bolstered by something of a "faith" that one is correct as it seems in harmony with the nature of others who are more advanced in teaching the thing that we focus on. Ultimately all beliefs are made concrete through an experience whether it is eye witness, aural or kinaesthetic.

I arrived slightly later than normal and joined the training as Sensei started working people in kihon prep with some cutting practice with us being made more aware of the timing of moving the sword first and then moving the body and sword as one into the cut. We worked through nukitsuke, chiburi and noto, all the while I tried to ensure that I was relaxed during these movements as this has been something that a) I have been wanting to develop anyway and b) had shown some improvements in my form.

We then went into 5-form embu practice with us reporting back at the end of each cycle how we felt about our performance. For me, as usual, my lack of lower body strength was causing me problems. The dojo was very crowded with some 12 people training and I made sure I confined myself to Shohatto and then Chuden or seated Oku forms. As we went into the second set I decided that I would work on the more basic Chuden forms in order that my lower body was exercised.

I was soon called over to do my embu practice in front of sensei and I decided to focus on Shohatto, Yokogumo, Inazuma, Urokogaeshi and Tozume. Nothing flash or complicated but all requiring good lower body movement.

I was drilled to go through Shohatto a few times and it was in this kata that this slight revelation took place. Sensei told me that I was too focussed on the movement of the arms in nukitsuke and not thinking of the movement of the sword. Furthermore I wasn't accelerating my left hand to do sayabiki anywhere quickly enough. I also knew that he wouldn't be very sympathetic to any grinding noises as the sword came out of the scabbard so I opted to ensuring that my arm and hand work was as relaxed as possible. Then in one of the few draws I did, it happened. The sword seemed to move effortlessly, sharply, in time with the body and accurately. That was it. It just happened.

As I moved into Chuden I attempted to incorporate the same thing into Noto. Once or twice it worked well. Very well in fact. The sword went in silently without the obvious appearance of effort. This was in fact key to the movement. Sensei told me not use my right arm to pull the sword in but to use the body's tension to resheath the sword. I think I could see what he meant, I relaxed the arm and at the point of full extension, as my body moved back the tension brought the sword in smoothly and effortlessly.

As alluded to at the beginning of my article, as I tried to repeat the feeling more so it moved further away. After a few modifications of my Tozume, Sensei was happy and let me go and practice again. I knew that it wouldn't come back for a while so I decided to help out and work on Project Delta a bit.

One can smile knowingly and think "yes, of course, relaxation is key" but it's never as simple as that. Iai feels like it needs effort, it often responds positively to effort, it seems natural to apply effort. These I think are all true. The only thing I can say is that there seems to be a stage when the effort made to sculpt the movements needs to be put down and the movements themselves to appear and to live. A painter doesn't need a brush in his hand to admire the beauty of art. A car mechanic doesn't need a spanner to drive a car.

And you don't need a hammer to nail jelly to the wall, your head will do just nicely. Better still, just eat it with ice cream....

Monday, 23 May 2011

Iaido Training Session 57

Oops, I let this one go by a bit too long, 5 days is a long time to remember what one did in a few hours.

Chris Sensei got there at normal time and got everyone to do continuous five-form embu. I started by going through seitei 1-5 and then only progressed the other kata if I was generally satisfied with the katas in the set. If not then I would include them in the next set. It took quite a long time to reach even no.10. I included Mae and Ukenagashi each time these being probably the most useful and most difficult respectively.

Sensei worked on my footwork on Ukenagashi quite a lot, this has become a bit of an institution and I wonder how long it will last. I am referring to the need to plant the left foot somewhere along the shin of the right let rather than at the right knee. To me it seems a little academic that one should try to rise almost completely vertical. I realise the need to not get thrown out to the right but seriously, if someone is coming in like a fighter jet I don't really think they are going to have time to be impressed with your ability to stand like a pole dancer.

Still I carried on working on it and it did reveal some interesting points about feet preparation.

I have also been working on noto especially regarding kojiri control as mine tends to flick in random directions at the point of saya-iri. I find if I concentrate on all the positions and vectors of the left hand then it tends to improve as well as slowing it down enough.

Been really working on using the right parts of the foot on Sanpogiri and it is improving it nicely. The final turn and step especially work better when the ball of the foot is engaged.

Sogiri was a bit of a pain tonight and I revealed to myself that I really don't like the first kizeme bit. Sensei told me to execute it as I would in Somakuri and that seemed to "real" it up a bit.

I had to leave a bit early so not much more done than that.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Iaido Training Session 56

Well not such a useful session last night. Did quite a comprehensive warm up and stretch and then went through Seitei. The balance of high grades to low grades is quite skewed down at the moment so we spend a lot of time going over very basic points, not much to even stimulate me into thinking about stuff (ya know, stuff).

Did a bit of work on Project Delta which is good although one side of it sometimes is a bit resistant to change. The other side of it responds quite well although this is largely down to most of the input being new. Still the effects of the more resistant side are showing when they do change.

Can't say much more than that really, I spent most of the evening teaching the lower grades how to walk without falling over or digging trenches into the floor.

This is all a bit of a reminder that I need to set up some separate training sessions as it is nigh on impossible at the moment with out limited space to devote time to my own practice.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Squad Training May 2011

I decided to use this opportunity to skip Jodo for a change and just focus on Iai. As Greg and Jock were there I was allowed to be left alone most of the time to practice with everyone else and got the one or two bits of feedback which were really useful.

Northampton is also a nice big dojo with a smooth floor although it does have the propensity to rip the feet up a bit. We worked gradually through Seitei and concentrated on:

  1. My footwork.
  2. Body balance.
  3. Relaxing Ochiburi so that it didn't kill my right arm
To be honest it's been a long time since I trained so hard as even at the summer seminars I tend to end up translating and sometimes doing a bit of teaching. Jock gave me some useful feedback especially about my noto and how high my right hand was going. In discussion with him I resolved to make my objective direction closer to 45 degrees to the side rather than focussing at the front (which a lot of people actually do). It's simply impossible with my length of sword to maintain that forward seme without having my right hand come up to shoulder height. That or my arms are shrinking.

I am also discovering something of a hidden beauty in Ushiro. Where previously we "stood" the feet up and turned, the instant turn which is now required creates its own Jo-Ha-Kyu. It is impossible to start that turn quickly without getting into a twist. In the previous method one could spin around on the knee once the feet were standing and I often thought that this detracted from the kata somewhat especially when considering the importance of a gradual build up of speed on the first 5 kata of Shoden Omori Ryu.

I was warned not to push the sword down on Kesagiri (naughty me although I can trace the source of that error). I also consciously affirmed that a slightly stronger angle away from vertical on the first draw of Morotezuki did wonders for the stability of that cut although I now have to be careful about footwork on the thrust preparation. I was told to just focus on squaring the body up and this would be enough foot movement to do the tsuki prep.

The rear thrust on Ganmenate was coming up too high and I am going to have to work on that as I have been doing it that way forever!

As I reached Shihogiri both my arms were starting to hurt and I was allowed to give it a rest and help the others. It was really good turn out for iai as there were a lot of new people all of them showing some good promise.

While I'm on here, I was asked by Peter West to translate the individual terms for Kan-Kyu-Kyo-Jaku and I have pasted them below:

  • Kan (yuru, yurumeru etc) means to go slow, to slacken and to loosen. It has a feeling of slackness or leisure.
  • Kyu (isogu) means to rush, hurry up. It has a feeling of urgency or haste.
  • Kyo (tsuyoi) means strong, mighty powerful and robust.
  • Jaku (yowai) means weak, feeble, fragile and faint.
At the end of the day we did some Koryu and I was given the beginners group to look after. Suddenly I had a mix of Shinden, Jikiden and someone who couldn't do seiza. And there began my tri-mix delivery of koryu teaching. It was quite funny as I had to show both versions and then do some standing Oku and I began to feel like a walking internet terminal. We got everyone up to Ryuto/Ukenagashi so I am now waiting for the shrapnel as Jikiden teachers throughout the UK ask these students "who the hell taught you to do it that way?"

Anyway, I'm glad now that I have done all those seminars with Oshita Sensei, I hope it was useful to them.

Iaido training tonight so another entry later or tomorrow.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Iaido Training Session 55

The feet have it...

My first night back after a very welcome 2 week holiday. The holiday did wonders for my arms, I couldn't feel any residual stiffness or pain in them. Although I arrived early I decided not to go hell for leather on the first session back and did some Jodo to warm up with the others.

As the session started properly, I handed the session over to Harry for her to teach us some body and feet moving exercises. I won't go into too much detail but these revolved around removing the arms from the equation and focussing on moving either with one foot continually forwards or by stepping. At the end of each step we checked our leg and feet positions, aligned the hips and made sure we weren't sticking our budo bellies out. This obviated many problems in people's posture. For myself I found it a good exercise to work on the straightness of my back and I have a tendency to curve it. We then tried Mae and Ushiro doing just the feet and it was quite hard work but really showed up where and when we were using the hips.

We went through Seitei as usual (in the real order for a change) and tried to incorporate as much as we could from the moving exercises as possible. I am certain it really helped.

For the free practice I went through Shoden and then went around to help the others. Project Delta had some attention and I turned up the strictness on this this evening as I didn't want to appear to be soft with this particular activity.

We finished with George, Alex and Yuki doing a grading prep embu.

Watching the movies that Aurelien took while at the Kyoto taikai was very thought provoking. Most of all perhaps for me was watching Morishima Sensei especially his demonstration of Moniri given what we had been practising on this evening. His swordwork on this form is quite good although I wouldn't say it is far beyond what a lot of people do now. What makes him stand out is his body movement. He makes an impressive amount of movement without visible effort and without his body swaying or losing balance. I have extracted this clip out to demonstrate what I mean...
It is easy to see that his upper body sits steadily, without swaying, on top of his hips. His hips themselves are clearly the centre and focus of his movement and at the end of each cut his feet are properly engaged with the floor - not sliding, not twitching to gain balance but perfectly poised. If I can get a larger element of his style of moving into my standing forms I will be quite a bit more happy about my 6th dan grading...