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.

Thirdly, some articles have been published on my dojo website if you would like to read them in an easier format

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7th dans achieved. Come and visit Ryoshinkan Iaido and Jodo Dojo Website at www.ryoshinkan.org

Thursday 18 March 2010

Iaido 6th Dan Training Session 11

Letting go.

Hard to do but exciting with iaido, easy to do but with a different kind of exciting with bowel control.

There's nothing like getting everyone else to partake in your practice for ensuring that you do some training yourself so given that I had the run of the dojo this evening with a bunch of mostly low grades (thank you London Transport) I decided to get everyone to go through the first few forms of Shoden.

I explained where the style came from and what the teaching purpose of Shoden was i.e. to develop basics, to understand distance, to get the body to move. After explaining and showing Shohatto we all went off and gave it a try. I first asked Cezary to film me doing Shohatto so I could see how I was doing. He filmed me from various angles so I could get a good perspective of the overall performance and he also pointed out that my noto was quite agressive and tending to turn my hips.

During the course of the evening we progressed through to Inyo Shintai. During one of the earlier forms I was asked about whether to stop at the end of nukitsuke and I responded by explaining the difference between tome and tame. The former means to stop and has a nuance or resting - something to be avoided in a kata. The latter means to accumulate or as Yuki added, to charge oneself up (which I thought was a brilliant translation) and is what should be happening at those moments of stillness in a kata where it seems that something is going on but it is difficult to perceive what it is. During this explanation I tried to demonstrate two variations of timing between nukitsuke and furikaburi - one by "stopping" (and by this I mean not resting but "tameru'ing") and one just carrying on moving. This was interesting for me as while I had seen my sensei doing it once or twice I had never done it myself. I did it and surprised myself how easy it was to carry on through from the nukitsuke into a seme action and then into kaburi and kirioroshi. I will have to ask at the right time if I should attempt to do this at the grading, I have certainly seen a few high graded Japanese do it at an embu (not that that should allow me license to do it myself I understand).

The lesson pretty much carried on like this until Sensei arrived and we wrapped up for the evening. On getting home I reviewed the videos and am still quite surprised as many of the problems I thought I might still have are gone and I have improved in areas that I wasn't paying much attention to.

Things that immediately grab my attention are:
  • The sword is springing up into a horizontal position just between sayabanare and nukitsuke.
  • The timing of my feet and my sword are pretty good.
  • My shoulder isn't too high and the grip looks quite strong.
  • The seme leading into the furikaburi seems adequate (maybe a bit short but I don't want it to drag).
  • The bringing forward of the saya is well timed with the furikaburi.
  • I am not overextending my arms or overcutting the sword in kirioroshi.
Things I need to be careful of though:
  • My head is a little bit too far forwards in nukitsuke.
  • There is a little bit of rocking going on with my body movement during the gaps in forward movement (like my body is settling back after braking hard).
  • My head is too far dipped when I am looking down.
  • The noto needs to be calmed and made smoother with no extraneous body movement.
Apart from that I am slightly filled with a bit of confidence although I have to go through the videos with a fine tooth comb (AKA VLC media player and slow-mo). The one video which did surprise me was the one taken from the front. Usually I hate my iai from this perspective as everything looks unbalanced and without much effect but this doesn't show up so much this time.

Anyway I am posting one or two of the videos on this blog for posterity, please excuse the funky wall decorations (and the appearance that I have a mohican...).

Monday 15 March 2010

Iaido 6th Dan Training Session 10

Session 10 which nicely coincides with 1000 hits on this blog (I have to assure you they weren't all mine). Saturday at Hilary's, I'm finding it a lot easier to get even minor improvements by only focussing on one or two kata per session. Thankfully Hilary wanted everyone to do shohatto today so that's what we all did for about an hour.

I'm finding that focussing on getting my feet under me earlier helps to get the posture right but tends to tip me a little bit too fast before the sword is ready now. I guess I need to be more active with the draw and try to get a little bit more merihari into the movement. I think I now am feeling the need to be filmed and do some detailed analysis of my kata, I'm sure I will see the roadblocks a bit easier if I do some visual critique.

Anyway, I'm re-finding the strength in the lower half of my body again and it's taking a lot of strain out of the upper half. Ochiburi feels more stable but I am still having to work on keeping my belly tucked in a bit and not leaning back.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Iaido 6th Dan Training Session 9

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...

Sunday 7 March 2010

Iaido 6th Dan Training Sessions 6,7 and 8

Ok, so I'm lazy!

I am combining this post with last Wednesday's training evening with this year's Iaido Spring Seminar which I have just got home from.

Wednesday night I thought would be nice to get stuck into some seated okuden with a few of the other highish grades from the dojo. This was because a) I wanted to explore the seated oku which I had tasked myself with training for my grading b) because we don't do it much and c) because I am getting a lazy fat arse which needs some more training.

I explained the "kotsu" of Kasumi, the first okuden suwariwaza and we worked on it for a bit. I swear this is a nice form and I hate it because it sooo bloody difficult to do with a large heavy sword. I think this form alone requires more than the usual amount of dedication and training to get right - where else do we do a right-to-left cut? It is however a fantastic kata for developing merihari, its sudden ebb and flow of speed is quite unique, I just have to learn how to do it without my tendons popping out of my arm in fear.

Working through the rest of the set really revealed some interesting facets of my iai, most notably that I am very much out of practice. I remember actually being quite flexible and agile with some of these forms but now feel a bit clunky and unbalanced especially with forms like Shihogiri/Yosumi. I realise that this can be fixed with some dedicated practice but I am a bit aware that I need to "catch up" with myself before challenging more to the kata in order to get it to "6th dan-ness".

Onto nicer things, Towaki and Tozume came out quite shiney. Both of these are potentially koryu forms for my grading. Towaki I think is becoming a favourite, Tozume is a little too much like Tsukaate to make it distinct for the grading although I feel quite able to pull a good one out of the hat, as it were. Towaki however allows a bit more challenge, personal interpretation and expression.

I'll jump forwards a bit now to this weekend's seminar because of its Towaki relevance. For the benefit of the readers of this blog, in case you don't know Towaki it begins in tatehiza facing the front. You draw and cut an opponent to the right front diagonal across kesa finishing with the sword outside of your right knee. You then move to the left front diagonal and perform kirioroshi.

During training today I was quite keen to give this a bit of a go when we had some peer-reviewing exercises with each other. At one point my sensei came over and suggested that I go for the Kanagawa version rather than the Tokyo version. The difference being that the former makes the second cut with the right knee forwards, the latter requiring a full step out with the left leg. My teacher explained that the former version was much more compact and looked a lot sharper. I gave this a try and sure enough it was indeed much easier to control especially the speed. I think I will continue to train with both version if anything just to try to get the second version sharper (I'm sure it will help all my iai anyway).

Harry had a look at my Shohatto and noted (as Chris Sensei had done previously) that I was leaning too far back and sticking my belly out a lot of the time and we worked on trying to create the right tension in the belly and chest. For me it means having a bit more tightness in the lateral part of the abs (in fact I can feel a bit of fatigue in them now) rather than pushing my belly out (which with me is easy to do ;-p). Ron Sandford from our dojo was also able to help me with this a bit.

I went onto ask Mathew Cook and David Green for their opinion on Towaki and both agreed that the Kanagawa version looked a lot better. For me, this kind of peer review is important, as well as getting technical feedback from my seniors it is also very nice to have people give feedback who don't have any more advice to offer other than that. The feedback is quite raw in that sense and sometimes that is just as reinforcing as more expert opinion.

At the end of the Koryu training session each group was asked to do an embu and so this was quite a nice opportunity to try some of my Koryu forms with a bit of pressure. I did Shohatto, Seichuto, Yamaoroshi, Towaki and Ukenagashi. The two shoden forms came out more or less how I expected they would. I would still like to feel more in control of the timing and slow parts of them down but there is a part of me that drags me through the form rather quicker than I would like. That might be quite a natural instinct and something best not fighting against so I will have to ask Chris Sensei a bit more about that. Yamaoroshi came out quite good and I was quite happy to do this with a bit of pounce and scarper. I have always admired the blinding speed that Ishido Sensei can do this at and he has often expressed that most of the chuden forms cannot be realistically executed unless done at a fairly rapid pace due to the close proximity of the enemy. At the same time however it is important not to get busy and I felt that I managed to just stay out of that saucepan.

Towaki was by far the best form, I will have to ask Tony Devine if he saw it and get some feedback as he is something of a specialist with these tight, sharp forms. Finally Ukenagashi (the seme and quick draw version) - I didn't get quite the right amount of "linger on the centre line" as I wanted but the cut came out good.

The rest of the seminar including the previous day was nice to get some long practice and I am grateful to Tony and Nobby for pushing us through the Chuden and standing Oku quite quickly.

To conclude this posting (and I think it would be a good idea to start drawing up conclusions after each session posting):
  • Towaki should be almost a certain koryu for me - it can be big, sharp, clearly visible and have the capacity for some merihari demonstration.
  • I need to keep my shohatto dynamic and not sit around after nukitsuke but at the same time keep everything definite.
  • Tummy exercises are a must and I have got to keep an eye on my posture development.l

That's all for now...