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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Thursday 23 September 2010

Iaido Training Session 25

Not a fantastically vigorous session tonight, a lack of a sensei and some required coaching for the upcoming Europeans kept me distracted from getting my ass in gear.

It did however allow us to look at the footwork of some of the seiteigata and I thought I would like to look at this, specifically with regard to sanpogiri.

In fact let's look at it, and I will say no more for a while...

Monday 20 September 2010

The Four Levels of Zanshin

Just thought I would record here the learning points from the Eindhoven summer seminar concerning zanshin from Ishido Sensei.

The explanation came up while Sensei was trying to get a better expression of zanshin in various parts of the kata when other people demonstrated. Two particular fine methods, both relating to the assumption of jodan no kamae, were explained. The first involved Ishido Sensei standing in chudan awase with the exponent, a position from which the student had to take jodan no kamae without allowing an opening. This created an incredibly sticky feeling in the movement and the student being extremely focused on the person in front of him. In the second instance and relating to Shihogiri (and could be adapted to Sanpogiri easily) he arranged four people around the exponent where the imaginary opponents would have fallen. Given the necessary close proximity of these opponents, this created a very congested area to move around in and more affected the finishing parts of taking jodan no kamae.

The diagram shown is the best I can do to summarise the ideal scenario for getting some practice in this with five other helpful dojo members. I must try it when there is a free and quiet moment.

To follow this explanation, Sensei went onto describe the various levels of zanshin affecting mind and body, they are as follows (in order of "depth"):

  1. Sekka no kurai - The body of a rock
  2. Tsuyu no kurai - The rain dripping from a leaf
  3. Bonsho no kurai - The echo of the ringing of the buddhist bell
  4. Hei no kurai - The fart that cannot be heard
The last of course raised quite a laff!

Anyway, back to work.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Iaido Training Session 24

Quite a lot of leg and chiburi work done tonight in order to sharpen ochiburi up a bit. I definately need to start initiating the standing before the sword starts on it's way.

Brought some cardboard box targets for Ukigumi, Yamaoroshi and Iwanami tonight as well which was interesting. It really shows a) how difficult it is to draw on these forms and b) how much initial distance you realistically have to take at the beginning for the form to make sense if you are tall (especially Yamaoroshi).

Sensei changed our Yukichigai 2nd cut timing a bit this evening as well. It certainly does stabilise things a bit but does take out some of the continuity.

Used Koranto a bit again to clean up some points as well as some hayanuki which I defo need to put into my training schedule to strengthen up my legs, improve stamina and kata quality while panting like an apoplexy victim.

Monday 13 September 2010

Iaido Training Session 23 - Using Koranto and Changes to Chiburi

This particular Wednesday gave me the chance of some good practice with only 3 other students there. I decided to leave them alone as much as possible, do some practice and get some scrutiny.

I started on some basics and worked at Shohatto for a while until starting to become a bit dissatisfied with it. I should be honest here and state that my love for Shohatto comes from the ability to really put some dynamic and decisive zip into the last cut. The synchronising of the body movement with a more natural furikaburi allows one to make this final cut appear well and truly, final. After a bit of a thrash though I wasn't feeling the zip was there anymore and I remembered what Ishido Sensei had said only a few weeks previously - "use Koranto when in a fix and in need to sort out problems".

I did this and could feel a much more pronounced looseness in my posture to the point where the tip would bounce and lose much of its sharpness. I tried to visualise what I was doing and "spotted" my head bouncing forwards with the cut, this meaning that my upper body was doing the same and so I worked on pressing my neck into my collar during the cut. Sure enough, this straightened my upper body, extended my spine and improved the stability of my cut. I tried this in Shohatto and it proved successful. I don't like to leave things simply fixed but thought about what had caused this, I concluded that too much upper body leading on the nukitsuke was being carried through into the kirioroshi. I needed to moderate this inclination in the early part of the kata too. Once again this led me to another link in the chain of cause and effect - my hand is too high in nukitsuke and I am peering down my shoulder. Well more work to do here and at least I know what to work on.

Around this point my sensei arrived and put me through some of my basic paces starting with chiburi. According to his instruction I was too used to bringing the sword to the side of my head and then lifting it over. I needed to use the elbow more proactively to bring the sword straight into position to perform ochiburi. I have summarised his teaching point below and I believe that a picture paints a thousand words so I won't try to explain it too much. The sequence on the left shows how I was doing it. It can be seen that the elbow starts moving down only to lift back up again. This causes the course of the sword (shown in red) to take several turns before going into chiburi. On the new way, the upper arm should stay in place until the forearm is virtually vertical. From thereon the elbow should be used thus straightening out the swords course. I have shown this on the right sequence below and the final image shows all the sequences overlaid to show the clearer course of the sword and arm.

This will take some time to get used to especially as I have done quite a lot to get the right amount of flexibility in the hand to make a good chiburi.

Sensei was then kind enough to video certain parts of my forms, starting with Yokogumo. The point of this was to show where the saya control was not so smooth. The nukitsuke was okay but noto shows a) a bit of a lack of sayabiki and b) too much effort returning the koiguchi over the sword (the saya judders a bit). For you dear reader who may be grading soon, please observe the amount of sayabiki on nukitsuke as this is how it should be...

I was quite pleased with my foot positioning on this form, I just hope the 6th dan grading panelists have got mirrors to watch my kata from the rear!

The next point was noto on standing forms such as Sanpogiri. See below:

From this I gleaned:
  1. First cut may need to be bigger by using tenouchi and wrist position with more concentration.
  2. Position of hands when walking needs to be lower (it looks like I'm about to grab).
  3. Lateral head position in Jodan kamae is too over to one side.
  4. Head elevation in Jodan kamae, looking down too much.
  5. The body is being used too much in noto instead of using the left hand more.
This last point was the reason for me being filmed. While I am able to moderate my right hand movement on noto I am using the body too much and not the left hand enough to do sayabiki. This needs some augmentation including lowering the right hand objective position as well as ensuring that the course is 45degs out to the right front instead of 25degs.

What else did I do?

Oh yes, a more smooth sword drawing in Seichuto and thus moving away from the basics slightly. Did some target practice on Ukigumo with a chair and my bag, I may well bring a cardboard box down next week to practice kata Chudan 4-6 on to make sure I am doing it right.

That's all folks!

Thursday 2 September 2010

2 Summer Seminars, Iaido Training Session 22, What I did last summer and The Living Tenouchi

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....