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

Friday 31 December 2010

Iaido Training Session 39

Well, the final session for 2010.

I started the session with Harry taking some photographs for the illustrations for Chris Sensei's Shoden Manual.

I gave some thought to the session afterwards concerning the first 4 kata, Shohatto, Sato, Uto and Atarito. These are considered to be the basic kata for Muso Shinden Ryu and teach one to respond to an attack from any direction while still being able to react to various distances as per the requirement of Shohatto. I really like these forms as they all require a slightly different approach and becoming proficient in them is extremely useful to the performance of other iai forms. If one is able to draw almost directly from taito in any direction then this very conducive to being able to draw quickly and smoothly elsewhere.

When I have taught Shoden before I have asked the students to try drawing to various angles by shouting out a clock-time reference after learning this method from Ishido Sensei some time ago. Being able to do these forms well shows through when one can easily turn to any angle almost automatically and move the body into a strong cutting position.

The basic kihon for learners is to come up on the knees while only breaking the koiguchi before turning and moving the front foot into its objective position. As one improves one should avoid coming up on the knees first and try to turn raise and move the body in one smooth action. This action is now recommended for mid to high grades performing Seitei Ushiro.

Anyway, getting back to the session, after the shoot I returned to using the bokuto. I decided to do some work on cutting balance and practiced cutting from a feet together position with my eyes closed and alternated moving the left and right foot forwards and making a cut. At the end of each cut, with my eyes closed it was easier to determine where my centre of gravity was based and where any lacks of balance existed. This exercise tended to make me step my foot out to the side slightly but when I visually checked, my feet were exactly the right lateral distance apart.

I then worked through seitei. Sensei gave me some points about making better use of the body when preparing for thrusts as well as making other elementary movements smoother. I think that working naturally slower as I do with the bokuto is very good at moderating my overall speed of iaido. Hopefully this is one of the facets required for 6th dan.

So, I suppose for this final entry into the blog I ought to set out some short term objectives for 2011 (especially in case I fall off the roof tonight at the party):

  1. Firstly start doing some muscle development training to get some symmetry in my arm strength and thereby hopefully getting my injury sorted out.
  2. Do another Seitei video review and include my chosen koryu.
  3. Carry on working on my balance exercises.
  4. Continue with "Project Delta".
  5. Do a lot of work on Tozume, Ukenagashi and Oroshi.
Anyway, that's it for 2010. Happy New Year to all you have taken the time to read this blog and thanks again to those who have commented or provided other feedback.

Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu!

Friday 24 December 2010

Iaido Training Session 38 and some thoughts from 2010

Ah, some peace and quiet at last on Christmas Eve for me to catch up with some budo stuff. Last Wednesday was the last training session before the non-existant dojo break for Xmas and there was only a few of us down so it was a pleasant session.

I am working with Cezary to help develop his Okuden Tachiwaza which is going slowly and steadily. I started off using just the bokuto to continue to give my arm a rest but then felt a bit compelled to use my shinken again. I found that I had got used to the bokuto's length and had to have a few double takes at doing noto. Doing Okuden Tachiwaza doesn't have much in the way of horizontal nukitsuke or ochiburi so it wasn't too hard on my arm but I have decided to give in to just using the bokuto for the next few weeks. I will see how I feel at the Kangeiko on the 8th Jan...

I wanted to add something here, to say something to all the people who have given me feedback and advice from this blog since it's beginning. I have read everything you have written or said very carefully and while I sometimes cannot completely incorporate the feedback you have kindly provided, it has in some way influenced what I am doing and how I train in the future.

One of the quite common bits of feedback I have received (and this has been from about 3 people) is the surprise that I have put so much emphasis on physical technical correctness. I have written very little about feeling, mental state or emotional content and to this I should respond honestly. The extremely pendantic level of detail I am applying to my training is only part of the training itself that I am undergoing. Let me explain point by point:
  1. Firstly, no matter how I or anyone else justifies doing a more mental or "spiritual" approach to their training, it is the raw and visible technical correctness which will gain most attention on the day of the grading. No matter how alert, aware or intense ones' approach on the day, if they muck up technically, I strongly and assertively believe that they will fail their grading. I don't want to fail and so I am spending a lot of time and concentration on "perfecting" the physical side of the art given the time that I have allocated to training since 5th dan.
  2. One of my own personal objectives for my 6th dan is to drastically reduce and eradicate technical incorrectness. While I realise that technical development continues until death, I want the achievement of my 6th dan to put me in a place where I can work on other stuff rather than sheer technical correctness. Whatever one thinks, there is another side to physical training other than just getting it right (e.g. depth and fluidity of performance) and I want to use this training objective to get to that place.
  3. I do focus on other parts of the martial arts training however these are incredibly difficult to regurgitate into speech or type. The feeling I get when I do a taikai or an embu, the rush of excitement that I feel when I accelerate into Koranto, the natural pauses that occur in a form which seem to be dictated by something outside of oneself - these are all things which are very personal and though primarily this blog is for my own benefit, I am not yet ready to record these things. By analysing them and describing them I am probably misinterpreting them and would be doing them no justice by writing about them at the moment. I find it easier to talk about feeling and the training behind this when doing Jodo, for me Iaido is just a bit too personal to reveal at the moment.
  4. Spreadsheets and Iaido - WTF?!? Well, one uses the resources that are available to them at the time. Perhaps warriors of old took themselves into the mountains and trained for a year living on berries and nuts. I am not likely to be doing this anytime soon. What I do have at my disposal is a professional experience in statistical analysis and some knowledge and experience in coaching and learning styles. By doing this kind of analysis, provided the input data is accurate enough, I can focus my training on those things that really need it rather than "throcking" or focussing on something which actually is adequate for my level.
I will finish this section by quoting something which I will talk about again in the future. This relates to the broader areas of my training including those which will develop my character and my emotional bearing. I will not reveal them in any detail now but all the training that I am writing about is only one of three arms to my 6th dan preparation. Let's call this Project Delta (as it is a kind of triangle of development) for a laff and I can then refer to it again later. Certain things must take place though before I talk about them so there's no point prompting me on them, suffice to say, personally training myself is only one of the three bits of development.

Anyway, the main point of this emotional review is to say thank you to everyone who has given me any feedback on this blog, whether it's some advice or just a point of praise - every single bit of this feedback prompts me to carry on doing this.

30mins to Xmas day, I'm off. Have a good Xmas and I look forward to training with you in 2011.

Monday 20 December 2010

24th November 2010 Part 4

OK, final section...

Concerning the evaluation, I have scored everything according to the database I set up and posted at one of the earlier blogs. Some people fedback to say that it was too detailed and I considered this and set out to see what useful information I could get back by going to this level of detail.

Statistics, being a large part of my work, showed where areas of relative competence were in comparison to areas of needed concentration in practice. I averaged the overall kata scores and median'd the technical scores. Each was then given a red/amber/green status depending on whether it was the worst, below average/median or above average/median.

From the graphs of these scores it is easy to see how the RAG status applies:

Obviously from this one session it appears that Mae and Sanpogiri need a lot more general work.
Noto can clearly be seen to be a problem from the tech scores. Of course as more data are added then some anomolies will disappear (Mae being the first form would have been the most "cold").

So, yes it does take a bit of time to review the videos, score the performance and then analyse the data. I think though the last time I did this it became easier and easier to do as well as quicker.

What other news? Oh yes, I was advised by one of the readers (Mark) of this blog that a rest would be of much use especially if I was suffering an injury. The good news is that that is exactly what I have done and my arm is slowly recovering. I actually missed last Wednesday's practice as I was a bit knackered after Poland and work that day and I think that this is all helping, as well as Xmas, to recover. I must ensure that I start to build up strength in it again though with some gently weight training over the holiday (maybe lifting beers).

I was in Poland the weekend before last and ended up having to deliver an iaido seminar singlehanded (although with the higher grades help) which had simultaneously Shinden, Jikiden, Seitei and Suioryu going on. It was a very enjoyable event (for me anyway) and good to see everyone working so hard. It is easy to spot people improving in the durations that I don't get to see them train. For me it was also an opportunity to work on stuff while I was demonstrating and teaching. The thing that came through the most was using the left hand even more during nukitsuke to get an effect on the sword. This seemed to work very well with the kissaki moving out with what felt like natural ease. I also worked a bit on Ryuto in trying to get the thing to fit a larger body.

So to conclude this entry my to-do list includes:
  1. To reconstruct my noto so that my right hand doesn't fly up to shoulder height. I think this will be done through the obvious effort of keeping my right hand down, allowing the sword to go more to 45 degrees rather than forwards and of course to use a bit more left hand.
  2. To watch my shoulder on nukitsuke.
  3. To monitor my furikaburi in Mae and Ushiro and make sure I'm not breaking the "law".
  4. To get Sanpogiri sharpened up in term of timing and stability.
There! Four things to work on at the next few training sessions instead of a billion! It was worth doing the spreadsheet afterall....

24th November 2010 Part 3

A bit of editing error here, oops. From 7 - 9.

Easy to identify a problem with standing noto now.

Pretty pleased with Soetezuki though as this used to be my least favourite form.

Evaluation of embu on 24th November 2010 Part 2

Moving onto forms 5 - 6

Very easy to see especially using slo-mo:

- Good: timings of draw, hikinuki no kaburi, stability of cuts
- Bad: Noto left thumb opening and right hand way too high, yokochiburi right hand too high

Onto video 3...

Thursday 9 December 2010

Evaluation of embu on 24th November 2010 Part 1

Yay, big hairy embu evaluation time!!!

I call it an embu, it's not really, more of "a practice run for evaluation" and scoring.

Anyway, I've completed Seitei 1-4 on the attached film.

Using the progress log I designed I can tell that Mae is the worst than the rest and within the component techniques, kirioroshi is the worst (bouncing and cutting too low). Furikaburi and noto also have some habits of dropping below horizontal and opening the thumb respectively.

I think I can only post so much into one blog entry so I will move onto the next post.

Iaido Training Session 35, 36, 37 and one Koryu Seminar in Okehampton

Once again I have managed to get delayed in writing these blogs up. The last few weeks has seen my training progress downwards somewhat from folded steel to lumps of wood. How did this happen?

I started regular training on session 35 with my now regular warm up but as soon as I started kata practice my right arm started to bloom with pain. Harry suggested that I use a bokuto for this session and I took this piece of advice.

It is a funny thing to train with a bokuto at this level. I think one realises quite quickly that there is no point trying to use excess strength because the sword isn't heavy and it won't whistle much either. It does however make one concentrate on the body and the feet a lot more though.

I worked through the session like this and quite liked the after effects of not having a burning in my forearm for the next day.

That following weekend was Oshita Sensei's Koryu Iaido Seminar in Okehampton organised by Peter West. I was invited to go and translate which I was delighted to do as Oshita Sensei's advice is always a) very practical and b) very close, if not identical, to what Ishido Sensei teaches. Koryu aside, there are of course some stylistic differences but these are easy to classify into what is good advice generally, what is good advice for me now and what is good advice for another me in another time. I arrived Friday afternoon a little ahead of Oshita Sensei and Peter and thus used up the time doing some Jodo training Mike Reilly in preparation for his 4th dan.

Sensei arrived and we started with some seitei practice. Sensei went through some points of clarification which were presented to the 8th dans at the central seminar this year. What was very nice was the fact that he was able to specify whether these points where absolutely necessary for us to ponder over or whether we were already obeying them in some other format (difficult to describe this point).

On Saturday morning we continued with a bit of Seitei before starting koryu. Shoden Omori Ryu was practiced and I always enjoy learning these Jikiden versions as I have said before, it helps me to use other feelings and parts of the body in the iai when I have other models to emulate. I also led David Parker and Themis Woellwarth through the Shinden Shoden although to be fair most of the techniques are almost identical.

Sunday saw a continuation of the koryu into the Chuden and Okuden, all of which were equally enjoyable to try the Jikiden versions as well as practice the Shinden.

Throughout the whole seminar I continued to use a bokuto and plastic saya. It really helped me to work on effortless sword action, body movement and balance while not having to worry about the screaming pain in my arm. This, I consider, a bonus.

Sensei went onto discuss the requirements of leadership to the group while relaxing in the bar afterwards, it was very enlightening.

The following Wednesday I carried on with the bokuto working through the seated oku and trying to get my legs to work better. Chris Sensei showed me a slight change in the timing of Shohatto, something I am sure to struggle with in the forthcoming duration. We also all had a go at Sodesuregaeshi, experimenting with some kaewaza.

Last night's practice was a quiet one with only myself, Steffi and Eiko there. I thought I would use the time to simply go through all of the seitei and koryu kata and then do a bit of work on the forms with kaewaza. Some of this is in preparation for this weekend's Iaido Koryu Seminar in Poland which I am supposed to be teaching at.

I also helped Steffi with her learning Shoden and laid it on quite thickly about Junto. This form is of course quite different from others. My original teacher told me that it wasn't actually iaido in the clearest sense as it did not have a combatitive engagement to it traditionally. Instead, it was trained in in order that if a competent swordsman were to be called upon to carry out Kaishaku duties then they would be able to do so.

In my opinion I feel that the training of Junto/Kaishaku should be different from the other kata as well. For whatever "practical" purposes one has for training in iaido they might not apply or begot from this form. Instead, as this form has no real "practical" purpose i.e. we are unlikely to be called upon to cut off a friend's head while they disembowel themselves, we should use it in another aspect. For me, this is the training of "The One Cut". This means that in other forms, one is always carefully balancing the full committment to a cut against the necessity to defend oneself and possibly changing the technique or direction. This is something of an enigma how one can instill 100% seme and generate 100% tame but I guess this is the purpose of training. In Junto/Kaishaku however, this necessity is not present. All one need do is delivery the one perfect cut. It has to be perfect, there should be no second chances. This does not mean cutting as strongly as one can but merely that one's whole mental focus and emotional strength are coupled with a natural level of physical power to make this something like what a karateka feels when he has to break a very challenging piece of wood. So this is it, The One Cut. Just my opinion.

From last night I ascertained a few things:

1. Doing a long warmup and stretch and definately very beneficial to training. I noticed very few of the usual pains and I was able to move myself off my feet with a fraction of the effort I normally experience.
2. My legs are definately getting stronger and this is helping my iaido no end. Seated okuden in particular which requires getting up swiftly is far easier with responsive legs.

I'm just experimenting with Windows Movie Maker to chop up a video of one of my embu that I did a few weeks ago. I'll post it when it's finished.

Tally ho!

Tuesday 7 December 2010

The Four Levels of Zanshin Part 2

Peter's FB post reminded me that I hadn't properly explained a previous blog post concerning The Four Levels of Zanshin

To expand their meaning I have described how they relate to kirioroshi and would refer readers to Ogura Sensei's interview which can be googled to get even more detail:

1. Sekka no kurai - The body of a rock - This is a reference to a spark from rocks when they are struck together. This means that the actual delivery of cuts is instantaneous with no warning of its impending delivery.
2. Tsuyu no kurai - The rain dripping from a leaf - This describes how one builds up to the cut just as a drip of water will accumulate at the tip of a leaf very gradually and then gravity finally overcomes viscosity and the drop falls.
3. Bonsho no kurai - The echo of the ringing of the buddhist bell - This describes the after effect of the cut - no movement, no signs of action or intention, just the low, deep echo of the event.
4. Hei no kurai - The fart that cannot be heard - I would suggest that this means that without any warning or sign, people around you just fall over dead. While humerous this does I believe have some reason of rhyme to it. It almost captures the previous three as one who can dispatch all their opponents with no apparent movement or effort.

The first three (which are supposed to be the legitimate levels) are of course not in order of the event i.e. first their would be tsuyu in the preparation of the cut, then sekka as the cut is delivered and then bonsho as post-cut zanshin takes place. The order is I believe supposed to indicate levels of expertise in the order in which they would be naturally learned.

First one learns to cut quickly, using effort and speed but ultimately where good technique means that natural speed and power occur without undue effort. This is Sekka no Kurai.

One then learns how to develop the johakyu leading up to the cut such that an opponent is unable to defend, dodge or counterattack the oncoming cut. One's taisabaki, balance, ashisabaki, ma-ai and merihari are all instrumental in developing the "build up".

Finally, the unmoving, unfettered mind and body which exist after the cut can be felt only like the echo of a bell, slowly fading as the event of killing one's enemy slips into the past. This is what we understand by the word Zanshin.

Anyway, just some of my thoughts and interpretations of things that I have heard or read from more senior practitioners and teachers. I have tried to visualise these aspects into my kata of late to what I think is a positive result.