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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.

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7th dan iaido grading due in

Thursday, 10 May 2012

An Ukenagashi study

I got to the dojo in plenty of time last night to do a thorough warm up, stretch, do some cutting exercises and generally try to get some enthusiasm to train.

I had been feeling a bit poor about my Sogiri from the last couple of sessions and so thought to just hack through some of these. I must have done about twenty or so and varied the speed, direction within the dojo and eventually practiced doing the kata while turning a 90 degree curve, sometimes to the left and sometimes to the right - it's surprising how disruptive it can be to the cuts. I felt a lot better after doing this and Sogiri felt like it had tightened up somewhat.

I decided to then do some deeper practice into Ukenagashi and this, dear reader, is what I will devote the rest of this posting to...

Ukenagashi - The Basics

Let's first look at the grading points from the ZNKR manual:

  1.  When the parry is made does it protect the upper body well?
  2. Is the left foot brought back behind the right foot and the cut made along the kesa line?
  3. After the cut has been made, is the left hand in front of the navel and the sword tip a little below horizontal?

And also from the ZNKR Central Seminar Iaido Special Points Document:

    1. The left foot should be driven to a position inside the right knee with the toes pointing outwards slightly.
    2. At the point indicated above, the toes of the left foot should be aligned with the right kneecap.
    3. When the parry is made, the feet should more or less form an /| (Japanese katakana “i” shape).
    4. From the deflection into the cutting of the kesa, the flow of the form should ensure that the deflection is properly made, the kensen is not swung around, and the cut is made in one continuous flowing motion without stopping at the apex of kaburi.
    5. The drawing up of the sword (nukiage) is actually before the kensaki leaves the koiguchi
    6. The above means that the actual deflecting movement takes place just as the kissaki leaves the koiguchi and the right foot moves inside the left foot to form a Japanese “i” shape.
    7. At this point of deflection the body is facing the to the left of the shomen*.
*This last point seems to go through the greatest number of annual revisions.
It was also pointed out to us last night from Chris Sensei that the right foot does not have to butt up inside the left foot completely but should be in the right zone to roughly create the "i" shape.

The positioning of the feet and the lateral position change of the head has been the cause of much discussion in the last few years, in Japan as well as Europe. I try to follow my own lineage of teachers although it is always useful and interesting to listen to others. There are a few points which seem to be common to all opinions at the moment:

  • The head shouldn't move significantly from it's original position when seated (note that it is impossible to not move the head as one's hips raise - it's probably best to have the notion that the head is going to remain on the original cutting line throughout the kata; it's not going to happen!)
  • To facilitate the above, the positioning of the left foot should be that the body doesn't "walk" to the right as the kata progresses
Regarding that first point, I have personally had quite a few discussions with people about what the opponent is doing during the kata - do they aim for the head and then change the direction of cut or are they aligned with the knees and aiming for where the head is moving towards? I think the best answer I observed was from Yamazaki Sensei (from Shizuoka) who back in 1999 in Brighton demonstrated with Ishido Sensei as the uchidachi, how this form really works. Ishido Sensei came piling in with a full speed cut, Yamazaki Sensei stood up in an instant deflected and cut. It was some of the most dynamic iai I had seen. What was noticeable was that there wasn't the time for the uchidachi to re-establish targets and change direction, everything was over in a second.

Ishido Sensei always talks about rotating upwards as if changing a light bulb above one's head. This also helps to create the image of one trying to remain as centralised as possible. 
My personal opinion to base my own training is that I will endeavour to remain on my original line as much as possible but only in as much that it does not incapacitate my ability to stand up. I have quite strong legs for my bodyweight and if the form is slowing me down then I think that something in the basic shape is wrong.

Anyway, I asked Cezary to film me doing Ukenagashi, first four times with me just doing a natural Ukenagashi. I then slowed down and tried two times to limit my rightward movement.

Here are the first four:


And then the final two with me taking a bit more care about left foot positioning:


It is possible to see from the last kata on the final movie, the one which I consider subjectively to be the most compliant with the foot position rules, that some lateral head movement is unavoidable.

The residual frames and arrowed line demonstrates the course of the movement.

I believe there is a way of keeping the head at the same point but unfortunately it requires yoga-like movement and positioning the left foot actually next to the right. This requires a substantial amount of time and more than is required if the opponent is sitting a minimum distance from you i.e. within one sword + one arm length away.

I did notice from my embu's that one thing that I am not doing is allowing the sword to come up from the deflection to a position above the right shoulder. Instead I am letting the kensen swing behind me and am cutting from there.

I have in the last few weeks been trying to change that so that it cuts from approximately the same position from the upper point in Kesagiri. Still work in progress by the looks of things.

Anyway, as is my style of learning I scored and tracked my performance throughout using the main basic criteria set above. I changed the order of the criteria so that they more or less fall in the order of techniques in the form.

Gradually some improvements appear as I work through the kata but I really have to work on getting the kissaki up after the deflection. I was quite hard on myself as while I managed to keep the sword moving in a flowing movement I am always moaning at my other dojo members for cutting with the sword behind them.

I also noted some good points that I was attempting to keep to and I note them here:

  1. The right hand should move directly up and not outwards only to come back again.
  2. The right hand should make the deflection while over the right shoulder.
  3. All of the fingers of the right hand should remain in contact with the side of the tsuka throughout the movement.
  4. The sword should turn in the right hand when finishing noto so that the right hand finishes in a proper reverse grip of the tsuka.

Well that's quite a bit of work done on the blog, I'm off for a holiday (not really).

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