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, 23 December 2011

The koryu marathon.....not.

Okay I should point out now that this wasn't a marathon, I just set myself the target last Wednesday of doing each shoden form once, chuden twice and seated okuden three times. Not actually that many kata considering what some people put themselves through but I was trying to work on quality rather than quantity.

So WTF does that mean exactly?

Well, my expectations of myself are that I shouldn't have to do shoden forms lots of times before I feel satisfied in any session that I have done one well. That may sound a bit arrogant, I don't mean it to be and I don't claim to have mastered shoden or anything high sounding like that. What I mean is that I try to challenge myself to do shoden forms to the best of my ability with one strike only and not gradually working myself up to pulling a rabbit out of the hat. It's actually quite a nice kind of training, one slows down, one focusses and one's rhythm feels a bit more meaningful....almost like doing an embu but with no one actually watching.

I don't claim to have the same experience in chuden or okuden which is why I give myself 2 and 3 times each kata respectively but I do still have the expectation that the kata should feel fairly stable by the time I get to the final go at each form.

My more recent focus in terms of curriculum has been hayanuki and seated okuden. For those of you who are newish to this iaido malarky, hayanuki is an exercise of going through all the chuden forms continuously. The sequence tends to be specific to different teachers although our dojo (and I think Ishido Sensei as well although I have heard him recite a different order once) is 1, 2, 3, 6, 5, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10 and as one comes back into iai hiza at the end of one form so this should transition into the beginning of the next.

Many people go through this almost as a kind of athletic exercise and I also do this sometimes if I think I have been physically lazy in any session....but to be honest I don't find it very satisfying to do this kind of throcking other than the satisfaction of making you puffed out. What I much prefer is to do hayanuki with a perceptable ebb and flow so that each form is done just to the same ability as doing them individually but with a kind of critical connection between each one. Practitioners of Gohon no Midare might understand what I am trying to get at here. What I think I mean (although I'm not sure I am explaining it well) is that the quietness of the connection between each form should amplify the action within the form just as the Kan- (of Kankyukyojaku fame) elements of the kata (such as furikaburi and iaigoshi) contrast the -kyu- elements (such as kirioroshi).

I have also become something of a fan of doing hayanuki one handed (err...that is the right hand) as it does force one to become even more sensitive to the course and position of the sword. My sensei commented on Wednesday that my noto was much better when I did hayanuki one handed than with two and I guess the reason for this might be that the left hand has an even more positive grip of the saya than it normally would.

Anyway, that's my chuden practice at the moment, on to seated okuden.

I used to kind of push seated okuden to the back row of my mind, to me they consisted of:

  • Three nice opening kata
  • Two interesting diagonal kata
  • A stupidity sandwich of two ridiculous kata with a good one in between

Plus they were in tatehiza.....again! Just when you though chuden was going to knacker your knees and feet up, here comes okuden! Some of you will shrug and say

"what's the problem?"

but I'm sure more than 50% of people would say

"ugh, I hate it when my toe knuckles are bleeding at seminars"


"what is that funny lump growing on the top of my foot?"

These are all valid statements and questions (i.e. I have also suffered them) but I guess I now want to find what is there in okuden which is worth training for. I think I am starting to find that special thing but I first want to share something which has been going through my mind in the last few months which is.......do the inner and primary principles of MSR/MJER iai echo through the various teachings? That is, are there parallels in raw technique between the forms in one set to the other? I don't think it is something that I will be able to answer anytime soon and my money would be on Richard Stonell finding the answer first. But let me demonstrate what I mean by the following simple diagram:

You can probably see what I mean. Let's put standing okuden to one side for a moment but you can see that the first kata of each set is a basic maegiri (front cut) as I would think would be the same for nearly all koryu iai. Rotation followed by a nukitsuke and kirioroshi is common to both shoden and chuden and a block to a cut to the lower leg is common at all three levels. I mentioned this at the Koryu Seminar in Poland recently and tried to show where the commonalities lie. I'm not sure why I am interested in this, it just seems elegant, as a scientist would say. I think it's elegant because it shows possible evidence of a gradual evoluation of the kata. Furthermore (and I know that some people are mad about this but I don't know why) it shows how some kata work as counterattacks for other katas or at least how some katas are counterattacks to the counterattacks to earlier katas (yes, you read that right).

Kasumi, as an easy example, shows clearly what to do if the enemy dodges the nukitsuke in Yokogumo (or Shohatto for that matter). What happens if the enemy does a devastatingly strong cut in Toranoissoku? Then get lower and use the higher point on the sword to block as in Sunegakoi.....it goes on.

Anyway, that's just a diversion but it helps me to keep interested in okuden when my toes are screaming in pain not to be bent back any further.

"It's in the interest of academic study!" I scream back to them.

"Come down here and say that!" they scream back.

I have already developed a keen liking of Tozume, enough for me to pick it as one of my koryu forms for my 6th dan grading and from that anchor point I have worked on the others.

Kasumi I really like and for years haven't been able to do it with any sharpness, due largely to the length of my sword and lack of training of course. Something must have clicked recently and the double cut has become quite sharp. I like the way that this form can be upgraded to reflect one's proficiency which I will explain here:

  1. In the elementary stages one performs Yokogumo, rotates the sword and draws the left knee forwards to perform the returning cut. The right foot then moves forwards as furikaburi and kirioroshi are delivered.
  2. In the next stage, the sword is almost fully drawn before rising up. At the last moment the body rises into nukitsuke and continues the rest of the form as above.
  3. In the later stages, one does it like Ishido Sensei after some 60 years of training.....well anyway, dreams aside, the initial draw and returning cut are all performed within the raising up of the body and the kirioroshi is just poked in with a final shift forwards of the body. Gahhh...

Since the Gothenburg seminar this year where Ishido Sensei taught our group the seated okuden, the other kata have become more interesting and more challenging as the final objectives were revealed. I won't go into them now but will save them for another blog soon and will continue my exploration of the other forms shortly.

In the meantime I wish everyone a very enjoyable Xmas and look forward to seeing and training with you in 2012 (the Chinese year of the chicken kebab!)

Friday, 16 December 2011

Getting back to it

When is it a good time to come back to this? Maybe I should ask myself why I stopped posting.

Many of you I am sure are aware of the situation in Europe regarding the grading and some of you will know about the repercussions from the last European Iaido Championships. I like to hope that some good will come from the bad but hoping isn't the only thing to do.

I wanted to take some time away from the post and in fact away from the focus on my 6th dan preparation. I think in the last couple of months I have tried to drop myself into what I guess is a typical iaido training situation. I have done some helping and developing of our own dojo members, I have been doing some koryu exploration for myself and I have been teaching some in Poland for which I am very grateful. Not forgetting also that I have been painfully busy with work and in developing internal processes and strategy in the BKA, something that has eaten into not a small amount of actual training session time.

My own sensei has said nothing about my 6th dan preparation since the grading, something I am grateful for as I am sure he understands that what I don't need is any post-event debriefing, reconcilliation or citation. What I needed, and what I got, was space. And time.

So, what's brought me back? I think if I was going to name one thing it would be the very sad loss of Christopher Hitchens. I won't spend more than a paragraph in this blog trying to explain who he was, his reputation precedes him but he was, in his own words, a contrarian. He was to others a humanitarian, a sceptic, an atheist but to most, a formidable debator. His writings and his spectrum of live debates are a testament to his clear thinking, wit and ability to communicate. I admired him intensely and doubt there will ever be more than one person in anyone's lifetime like him.

I don't pretend to be anything like him although I try to see things as he saw them. To a degree it changed who I am. His death reminded me that his way wasn't to sit back in depression when things were bad but to take action, even if that action was just to communicate your feelings and thoughts.

And so I found myself this evening, having read his obituaries, starting to kick myself that I wasn't communicating anything when this blog appeared to have gained a little bit of interest to people. So here it is.

Where is it going?

I'm not going to mope about my failure at the grading, I am going to use this next duration of time to make myself even more ready to take the grading than I was before. And my hope is that I am going to do it with a little more clarity of thought than I had before.

Let us begin, by going backwards.

I like koryu. I like the fact that it offers a bit of freedom of taste and personal interpretation to the art. I like the fact that a lot of the original form or meaning is lost in time and we sometimes have to interpret it for ourselves. I like the fact that there are some forms which I find devilishly hard to do and that some people who are junior to me can do them with a whole lot more ease, style and sharpness. It is something of a leveller and I like that idea.

I like taikai. They prove nothing. They test everything. They are a context where we sometimes show a little bit of what is going on inside of us. At other times they are opportunities for us to pour on decoration and pretence and in fact hide everything that we are inside. For me, when I do win, I have about five seconds of the joy of victory and then I only feel gratitude and warmth to those people who have been able to come to the taikai and put in the same effort that I have. Sometimes it doesn't matter if the judges are watching or not - the taikai is a conversation with the other player and is unique in that regard with a solo-kata martial art. Taikai will push, pull, stretch and squeeze you. It will sometimes make you do iai in a way that you have been told to not do but in the heat of the moment, a little bit of rule breaking is the only thing that will see you through. For me they are not competitions with anyone but yourself. I am careful to try and display my trophies and not store them away. Not to display them for anyone else, I don't have any need or purpose to communicate how I have done in taikai to anyone, but to remind me that if you start something then you might as well do it to your very best ability and effort.

I like gradings. I like having an objective and I think it is useful to most people. Most of all though, I like the idea of transition. I like the idea of a person taking a discrete period of time and using it to change themselves entirely. Call it shugyo, call it a moment on the road to Damascus, we have an image of what we should be like for a particular grade and then we push ourselves to become like that image. Only when we get there do we realise that our initial image wasn't completely accurate - or maybe we see that the image has changed because our perspective has changed. Some things are subjective and relativistic but that doesn't stop them from being real or useful to us.

Despite the kind words and feedback that I got from the grading, I'm not a 6th dan yet but I am going to make myself one.

Let us begin...

Monday, 10 October 2011

6th Dan Grading

Well, I didn't pass. And neither did anyone from 5th dan to 7th dan, some 23 people approximately in total. It was something of a whitewash.

Just got home so more later. Prepare your sense of humor in the meantime...

Monday, 3 October 2011


Just as one likes to afix theme music to events, I have decided I would pick something nice, 80's and with distant stares...


Iaido Training Session 75 and 76 - the final tying of the straps...

Well, I had my last training session at the dojo last Wednesday. I managed to spend a bit of time doing my warm-ups and stretches and found the following training a hell of a lot easier. Sensei had me slow down the approach in Kesagiri and it certainly showed a better contrast of Kankyukyojaku that way.

I spent the rest of the evening going over my 8 form sets (4 koryu + 4 successive seitei) and got some work done on Project Delta. I realise (and I'm slightly glad of it) that this is going to be a more long-term thing.

We had a mini-taikai practice at the end and gave each other some feedback. I need to keep my ochiburi in a bit more at the end as it has the propensity to go wide.

On Saturday I went to Hilary's and spent about another 90 minutes doing my 8 form sets. I am quite liking Tozume now. The key is definately getting the hand and hasuji angles right as one prepares to draw.

So, only the pre-event seminar, the European Championships and some drinking stand between me and the grading some 5 days and 23 hours away. I think I have done all I can for the time being to prepare and there will of course be lots of training time in Andorra (not too much sitting around listening I hope). I have had to think about and answer some questions in the last few months, the biggest one being, what if I don't pass?

I am quite stoic about this actually. I realise that three factors determine if I pass:

1. The opinion of the examiners: the level they determine is appropriate, what they perceive on the day, how they are feeling, what they think about me.
2. The decision from on high about whether anyone will be allowed to pass.
3. My long term preparation and the performance I display as well as my short term condition (i.e. how hungover I am).

I really have control over only one of those with a small influence on the others. The main thing I can do is train, it serves the means and it serves the end. I will do the best I can do and I that's all I can do. I don't know if I have trained enough yet but I have trained. It just remains to be seen if it is enough.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to all those who have wished me luck on this examination and supported me in all kinds of other ways. It reminds me that while Iaido is mainly a solo martial art, it isn't one that you do alone.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Iaido Training Session 72, 73, 74 and 74a

I wonder again, am I unable to get much writing on this blog done because I am so busy with work and martial arts foolery or am I using that as an excuse? I think it would be interesting to have a read through my past posts and see if a trend underlies it as I am pretty sure that my preparations have gone through a few phases and I am now in the quiet and hardworking one.

I haven't had anywhere near the same frequency of "revelations" in the last few sessions; I have been trying to build up kata mileage and consolidate my technique. As Peter commented to me, my focus is now on how the training feels rather than what conscious concepts I can pull out of it. This I think is important.

Session 72 was the evening before the European Jodo Championships and I remember us working into the iai time with some jodo preparation so not much done there. The championships were an effort in themselves in mental juggling and emotional control, I'm sure they were good for me somewhere although I wouldn't be surprised if I have reduced my life expectancy by a few days (insert smiley tongue-out emoticon here).

The Wednesday after the EJC (session 73) we were visited by members of the Austrian Jodo Squad who came to do a bit of Jodo and then join the Iaido class. They are very nice people and it is easy to see the hard efforts they have put into their training. We ran through seitei in a variety of ways as there were something like 15 people in a 9-people space. I didn't pay particular attention to my training that evening but I was happy to be getting some in. My feet are still particularly stiff and I am having to spend a good 20 minutes at the beginning of a session in warming them up and stretching the toes.

I joined Hilary's class on the Saturday (session 74) and asked to be left to do just iai. After a long stretching session I started working through the katas doing Seitei first and then combinations of my 4 koryu plus 3 seitei, making 4 combination sets. Tried to focus on centreline management as well which was good in that dojo which has lines all over the place. Daniel Silk had kindly arranged a squash court for the two of us to do another hour after the normal two hour session which I found very useful. I was able to calm myself a bit and work on composure within the form. I do find any kind of time restraints on an embu practice to be quite destructive at the moment. I guess it is personal taste (and maybe a liking for pouting and scowling through my eyebrows) but I feel the essence of iaido is in the zanshin and any feeling of a clock ticking completely wipes away that ethereal mist and it becomes a mechanical tempo exercise instead of an emotional expression. This is something I think I would like to discuss further with other high grades and get their feelings on it.

I also noticed that towards the end of a three hour session, my legs and feet were finally starting to warm up and do their work and the whole performance became easier and sharper. I have to keep this in mind for my grading and ensure I am training right up to the examination and keeping warm while others are on. Whoever is around me, don't let me sit and watch, get me doing exercises at the back!

On Sunday after Jodo practice I did another two hour iaido session, I can't say much more than that.

So where am I with stuff...

  1. Shohatto - not too bad although I have to be careful not to stall after nukitsuke. My toes are making it a little difficult to move into the kirioroshi but I hope through stretching and ibroprofen that that can be worked out.
  2. Oroshi - once I can sit in tate hiza not too bad. I have to learn to lean in slightly into the nukitsuke and not let the sayabiki pull me back.
  3. Tozume - once the legs are working I have managed to arrange the hasuji to work the nukitsuke properly. This is such a critical failure point if done incorrectly. Maybe I should work on this and Oroshi tonight...
  4. Ukenagashi - Again not bad to need to push the seme a bit more before leaping away to the right.
  5. Mae - good, if my feet and toes are working.
  6. Ushiro - see above, I want to slow the draw down a bit and engage my hips forwards into the nukitsuke a bit more as I was able to do a few months ago.
  7. Ukenagashi - not too ragged. Starting slowly and building the tempo up makes a nice kata.
  8. Tsukaate - actually going faster than maybe it should. Not sure if I should slow it down, it might seem instinctive to do so but I believe this form is about certain and direct delivery, not posing.
  9. Kesagiri - again, nice done slowly.
  10. Morotezuki - I need to work on this, the feeling this kata used to have isn't so obvious to me now.
  11. Sanpogiri - I also need to work on this. I understand the important points in each component movement but haven't yet pieced them all together.
  12. Ganmenate - no complaints from me.
  13. Soetezuki - I want to practice this a bit more and get the flow back.
  14. Shihogiri - not too worried about this.
  15. Sogiri - need to get the buttocks working here!
  16. Nukiuchi - happy that I haven't yet cut off my left arm.
Only 11 days, 3 hours, 17 minutes and 29 seconds to go. I received a nice good luck message from Dougie Evans the other day. I have also received lots of votes of confidence from other people as well as some disbelief that I am cramming as much training in as I can at the moment. I want to stress that for me the importance is in changing my iaido in light of the grading rather than passing 6th dan itself; the grading is a means to an end not an end unto itself. I don't mind if I don't pass (well, at least after a good cry and a beer I won't), I have trained for it, that is the most important thing and for me at least, here is the evidence of that.

Well, back to work. It's my last official iaido training session this evening before the European Iaido Championships and the grading. Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittttt!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Iaido Training Session 71

Things don't always go so well...

Arf! It's funny how sometimes it's hard to disbelieve in biorhythms and rubbish like that and how they might affect you. Tonight was an ideal opportunity to get some consolidatory practice done, there were a few people in the dojo, enough high grades to supervise and some space for me to swing me steel. I wanted to work on Ushiro for a bit for a couple of reasons, a) to see why David Mc was having problems with this one at the weekend and b) to even up the hole in the knees of my hakama.

For some reason it just wasn't feeling good. Something of this I suspect is down to the fact that my feet are quite painful at the moment. The joints of the big toes and balls of the feet are all a bit swollen making seiza and tate-hiza quite painful. Not so much that I can't sit down but I can't do it in the relative comfort I normally have. Some might say I'm getting old, to that I say "shut up and stop talking in my head - GAAAHHHHHHHHGGG!!!"

Anyway, Harry observed me for a bit and said that Ukenagashi wasn't bad. I noticed that I am getting fairly good at not swinging the sword over my should before the cut (unlike some others in the dojo - ahem!)

I went onto the standing forms to see what kind of mess I could make of those. Kesagiri isn't too bad now especially as I have discovered the secret "special way of doing it"....you want to know what it is? It's a secret....



oh, okay then. It's this. Most people, in an effort to make sure that the upper cut is at a diagonal don't rotate the sword enough. The result is a) the grip isn't strong, b) the hasuji isn't correct, c) it becomes difficult to arrest and reverse the movement at the apex of the cut. Turning the sword so that it is near enough vertically cutting downwards gets rid of all that. One will still find that the cut is inclined enough to hit all the targets and it becomes incredibly easy to reverse the cutting angle at the top.

....however chiburi while gripping the koiguchi is still bloody hard. I'm hoping that the montsuki sorts all that out as I'm convinced that some of it is down to how my uwagi fits.

Sensei worked me on Morotezuki and Sanpogiri quite a bit which was interesting but I now have to reconstruct the latter quite a bit...I hope I have time before the grading...

We all did an embu at the end, I went up on my own. I didn't feel very good, even nervous. When I had finished, Sensei said that the quality was quite low and I didn't look confident. It was true. Some days are better than others....


Thursday, 1 September 2011

Iaido Training Session 69 and 70

Making the most of efficiency here and squeezing two sessions into one post. I test-drove my montsuki and hakama in the last two Wednesday sessions to see how they might affect my iai. The answer - they do. A bit.

First the bad bits. Ukenagashi was comical in that the arm movement tends to make the left sleeve slap you in the face. I had to slightly modify the speed to stop this from happen.

Other than that....not much really.

The good bits, it fits nicely, the hakama is very light moves nicely. Apart from that not much to report.

My sensei gave me some very good feedback on the last two sessions concerning lower body preparation for Mae and Shohatto. My left leg is not quite as active as the right and there is more tension on the entire right side. I worked on trying to get a balance of tension on both sides by rising up and getting both sides with an even feeling. This is a good way of getting the body moving and having a feeling of pressing forwards by pressing inwards.

Did some embu training last night and found I need to:
  1. Shorten my forward movement in Shohatto to join up furikaburi with the taisabaki.
  2. Speeding up the Tozume link between the two opponents.
  3. Lower my arms in the Chinugui position in Ukenagashi.
  4. Introducing some merihari into Morotezuki.
  5. Sharpening up Sogiri without going into koryu timing.
More later.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Life on board the Marie Celeste

Those of you that follow the blog frequently will realise that I have recently been kidnapped by aliens and am currently being taken to their planet for experiments. I am trying to negotiate my release but the fact that they communicate only through the medium of tap dance and farting is making the whole process quite tricky. This is the best excuse I can come up with to explain my lack of recent posts (other than my dog ate my laptop which none of you would believe in light of the alien abduction story).

Anyway to the truth. I have been busy. Really busy. Even now I am just finishing off some work before I go out for a drink with one of my best friends who I haven't seen for over half a year and only lives about 3 miles away. My last post was an attempt to write about the Swedish Summer Seminar which I got half way through before "the summer happened". Since that time my work has exploded somewhat (which being self-employed is a really good thing) and budo training has similarly taken an upward curve. I guess it's better to be training for my 6th dan rather than writing about it but the guilt has still lain like an iron cross strapped across my shoulders....well perhaps not that bad, more like a hangnail.

I don't want to go into too much detail about the last few weeks so I will summarise it below instead and try to pull out the developments at the end (if I get that far)...

Swedish Summer Seminar

Brilliant as mentioned in the previous post. Lots of clarification on seitei. I spent the koryu doing okuden with Momiyama Sensei which was fabulous and Ishido Sensei spent quite a lot of time with us. I loved the three versions of Ryozume which I will have to consign to keyboard soon before I forget. I also won the embu taikai which was a bit of a joke as I don't even remember what I did. It reminded me that I hate embu taikai but read more in the BKA summer seminar.

At the Dojo - Iaido Training Sessions 63 and 64

Yup, went to the dojo, did some training, helped some students, got ready for the Nationals...

BKA Iaido Nationals

Won the 5th dan individuals meeting Harry in the finals which was very nice. I really tried to calm everything down and I think I was quite successful. I went with my 3-man team into the knockouts and then got the proverbial but it was also nice to be with two other people who were giving their everything to win even when we were against really strong teams.

At the Dojo - Iaido Training Sessions 65 and 66

Well despite the fact that the entire world was exploding (i.e. the BKA summer seminar was coming up which I was in the middle of the organisation of) I managed to make it to the dojo and get some training in.

BKA Summer Iaido Seminar

Didn't get in as much training as I would have liked to as my hands were full translating (not using sign I should add), organising, lunching, drinking and generally running around like a headless chicken. I think for me this was academically very rewarding as in the space of one month I had listened, translated and regurgitated everything Ishido Sensei had to say about seiteigata. We had an embu taikai and I was determined to do something different. I focussed on calmness, quietness and a change of timing. I won the knockout and the final and it actually felt good. I wasn't nervous anymore. I took haste and effort out of the kata and it all snapped together quite nicely without my interference, thank you very much. I think this experience itself started to show me the difference between renshu and keiko. If I had spent the embu concentrating on making sure that my foot timing was correct then I think it would have fallen apart to busyness but I just let it all go. The previous renshu had made sure that the keiko was at least technically acceptable and I could focus on other things such as visualisation, johakyu, metsuke etc.

At the Dojo - Iaido Training Sessions 67

Saw the sensei's off and then zipped off to the dojo. Did the usual practice and I think, if my memory serves me right, I tried to get the lower grades to do some more koryu.

Polish Summer Seminar

This was nicely preceeded with some walking in the Karpacz mountains with my Polish friends. I had somehow ended up being the sole deliverer of the seminar which was at once very liberating but also incredibly tiring. Everyone was wonderful, really enthusiastic and patient as I wanted to ensure that as much new information was transmitted as possible. I spent quite a bit of time pulling bones out of the Japanese version of the ZNKR Iaido manual, which as I explained at the seminar, had a lot of information in it that had not been translated as it would have significantly delayed the delivery of the English version. Furthermore a lot of the info might have been taken a bit too literally and set up as dojo rules (especially those points concerning dojo "architecture"). The seitei part of the seminar I made sure focussed on grading points and special considerations on how to deliver the kata. I tried to make sure that I put in as many points as I could remember from Ishido Sensei. It was nice to see people coming from Slovakia and Czech who also gave me immense mental support (they are very experienced and enthusiastic iaidoka). We had a small taikai and a grading which went very well and I was inspired by a father and son who had been training for only about 6 weeks who took part and tried some koryu. The son won fighting spirit, he well deserved it. We did some MSR on the last day and I tried to draw together the closeness of Jikiden by showing how different branches of Shinden looked (some Shinden is closer to Tosa Jikiden than to other branches of Shinden). The notion I was trying to convey was the fact that the styles are all trying to embody the same thing, the harmony of sword, body and mind.

I would right now like to thank everyone who came to the seminar (especially those that came from other countries), was involved in the organisation and gave their utmost to train.

At the Dojo - Iaido Training Sessions 68

After initial seitei run through we did some embu and review sessions on katas 1, 5 and 9 which was very useful.

And so...

Where am I now? Still on board the ship but a few things have happened over the last 2-3 months:

  1. My right arm seems to have completely recovered. I think this is due to a change in my ochiburi and a reduction of shock doing nukitsuke through relaxation and gradual tension.
  2. The resultant ochiburi and nukitsuke are much smoother and sharper.
  3. My left toes are now painful instead, I think through overstretching them when my toes aren't all that bendy. Going to have to ensure they are properly warmed and stretched (with hands) in future.
  4. I feel a lot calmer in my iai now and giving myself thinking space in the kata.
  5. I am losing weight, albeit slowly, my target is to reach 80kg by the time of the EIC.
I now want to focus the next few weeks on only practice and embedding good stuff. I don't want to do much analysis or pulling apart. I am going to organise a few separate training sessions and hope that the last year of research and study can be implemented and made solid in my performance.

Ah well, I'm just looking at my alien hosts, they are standing waiting with what looks like fire hose. I wonder what they want....

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Gothenburg Iaido Seminar

Right, I was putting off writing this as I was so busy and realised there was looooot of information to capture. It was an absolutely excellent seminar as these smaller ones tend to be. I think a lot of people have sensed that Ishido Sensei tends to toe the line when he is with a big delegation but offers fantastic personal experiences when there is only one or two other teachers with him. I will cut through all the timetable stuff: we spent day one doing seitei and day two doing koryu with a taikai and a grading.

I grabbed sensei to the side during one of the breaks to ask him about the 'feeling' of the kissaki when sayabanare takes place during nukitsuke. On a previous post I had noted that the three options that I had played with were:
  1. To begin tensing the tsuka so that the kissaki leapt out of the koiguchi.
  2. To keep the right hand relaxed and gradually accelerate the kissaki on sayabanare
  3. To keep the mune slightly pressed against the base of the saya and bring the sword level before the kissaki advances.
The answer I got was so simple I should have anticipated being surprised (which is logically the most stupid thing to write): the feeling should be to make the kissaki move forwards. Making it travel out sideways to conclude with a sideways cutting action is not correct. The sword must make a forward cutting action.

I am kicking myself a bit because I have translated numerous times his explanation on how and why sayabiki works which captures this forward movement quite elegantly. Still it now leaves me to work on creating this forward movement in the most relaxed fashion.

Now to go through the kata one by one:

  1. Mae - nothing much to say here. The kata is so intricately described that just doing it right is a rewarding thing.
  2. Ushiro - the option of rotating while the feet stand is applicable for nidan's and above. Sensei explained and demonstrated how the kata could be done with someone a) completely obstructing the clockwise direction and b) partially blocking the anti-clockwise direction. The effect of course was an action made similarly to Atarito where the majority of the draw happens in a rearward direction. It was also emphasised how important it was to maintain one's new centreline once turned and moving into furikaburi. Using Lukasz as a foot model he also showed how lifting the heel was important in moving forwards in furikaburi adequately.
  3. Ukenagashi - here is where the fun started. I should add that I am unsure how much of this following explanation is Ishido Sensei (and his dojo's) own interpretation of Ukenagashi and how much comes from on high. Anyway, the process of movement was now a) to prepare by placing the hands and looking up to the left, b) to raise the hips and position the feet simultaneously with elevating the sword up to the chest with the minimum of sayabiki, c) to stand and draw the last 75% of the sword in one action. This has an interesting effect of making the vital part of the form happen naturally very quickly. It is also very easy to make it busy and I spent quite a lot of time constructing the kata in slow bite-sized portions (it tasted of chicken).
  4. Tsukaate - again not much to say

Gaaahhh....just been kidnapped by Munchkins - call the wizard!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Iaido Training Session 62 - Isle of Widget

I am calling this a standard Iaido Training Session as within 1 1/4 hrs of being left alone in Vic Cook's home dojo I managed to do more training than I normally do in 2 hrs in our dojo.

Harry and me were visiting Vic and Terri for a few days to primarily help Vic with his 6th dan Jodo prep. On the last evening there we asked Vic if we could use the dojo to do some free practice and for him to come and have a look after an hour and give some feedback.

His dojo is amazing. One can only get about 4-6 people doing Iaido at the same time and maybe 2 pairs doing Jodo but the floor is great, the dojo looks fantastic and there is a delightful smell of fresh wood. I only remember that smell being actually inside a building while in temples in Japan.

Anyway, Harry and I went through Seitei then I went into Omote, trying to work on technical correctness and body movement throughout the forms. Towards the end I did a hayanuki run-through to get my beats up a bit.

It was while on the Island that I had what I can only call a moment of epiphany while watching a falconry display. One of the birds demonstrated was the peregrine falcon which, to my surprise, turns out to the fastest animal on the planet (and not the swift). It was explained that they carry no fat, they are pure muscle unlike other birds of prey like the bald eagle.

Above: The peregrine falcon - all muscle; Below: The bald eagle - a lard arse of a bird.

Anyway, seeing the falcon in action just made me realise that part of my challenge to myself for 6th dan must be about losing more weight and getting fitter. I'm not planning to be able to fly at 250mph but I do notice that there aren't many fat 8th dan hanshi's in iaido. And so begins my 1,940 calories per day diet to get me down to 80kg...

Anyway, back to the dojo. I asked Vic to watch an embu of me doing five koryu and three seitei including my target forms. At the end he gave me some very useful feedback saying:

  1. My iaido was sometimes so fast that it wasn't telling the story and I had to make greater contrast in my timing.
  2. That my nukitsuke also tended to stall a bit at sayabanare.
  3. That my outer technical side was very good but my sense of timing within had to be more evident.

Anyway it was a really good opportunity to do some personal training (one small box ticked) and get some feedback so well worth it.

Now onto the Gothenburg seminar writing marathon...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Iaido Training Session 61

Sweat, Tenouchi and Feedback

I find it slightly useful to have some engineering background knowledge as well as a working understanding of physics in the study of iaido. I'm not suggesting that one should spend every training minute pondering on the physical dynamics of a movement but it has it's benefits now and again. One of those engineering aspects that became a bit more obvious this evening was that of closed-loop control which I will explain later.

Anyway, this evening was a great session. With no sensei and a decision to not teach (too much, thanks to Harry who took over teaching responsibilities) I spent a good three hours just training. I started at about seven o'clock and spent the first hour or so working on Shohatto as planned. My main focus was on ensuring that the footwork was energetic enough and in balance with the cuts which I think is getting there slowly. I also experimented with a few kinds of feeling with the nukitsuke. I also tried something that Peter West explained to me concerning trying to get the body to go between the left and right hand while doing nukitsuke. This certainly has the effect of ensuring the left hand doesn't linger during sayabiki. The three feelings I tried were:
  1. To keep a certain amount of tension in the grip while doing nukitsuke so that the kissaki flew out the saya a bit during sayabanare. This does cause a bit of a jerking action though which is something I am trying to eliminate as it detracts from the final cutting action of the draw as well as sometime flicking the kissaki up above the cutting arc.
  2. To keep the right hand relaxed at sayabanare and slowly build up tension so that the kissaki smoothly reaches the correct angle and height.
  3. To reverse the tension of the right grip so that the mune of the sword pushes against the bottom of the saya until sayabanare is completely achieved. This has the effect of bringing the kissaki up to the right height directly before beginning it's horizontal path.
I asked Harry to look at the three of them and while she couldn't tell the outward difference between 1 and 2, 3 seemed contrived. I decided to abandon that method for now (I suspect it is a Jushin Ryu thing anyway) and keep to method 2. I have to be careful to make sure that it doesn't become lacklustre and I think as I described in a previous post, the timing of sayabanare is very tricky.

Anyway I worked on the rest of the elements of Shohatto and then started working through the rest of the koryu, settling for one form each unless I came across a particularly challenging form. I stuck with Ryuto for about 10 times to try and get this feeling a bit more natural. Again this is a form that has so much content although it looks quite simple in its construction. The final cut is a bit of an enigma as it is supposed to be done mainly one handed and one shouldn't try to reach up with the left hand to reinforce the cut until the sword is well on the way (at least, I think). In any case this last cut has always been a bit unsatisfying for me so I tried varying the size of the cutting arc. Natually, too small and it caused the body to tighten up, too large and it delayed the timing. There was a nice medium that I think I found which was a bit larger than what I normally do and embedded itself nicely with a grounding of the final posture. Speed isn't something I have much of a problem with this form now but try to keep the movement fairly linear instead of flailing around can be difficult. I think that's why it needs so much practice at a medium to slow speed - it's far too easy for the form to become busy.

I carried on through, working through Gyakuto's kaewaza and to the end. I commenced Chuden by doing a quick jump through hayanuki (although it wasn't particularly "haya"). One thing that has taken me recently is the way that Ishido Sensei manages to get his sword out while the body is still quite far back. By making sure that the final forward body movement into nukitsuke is fast he ensures that the cutting portion of nukitsuke is done with the feet in the correct place. If you watch Kasumi you will see this even more. I have been dripping this into Chuden a bit recently, more as a way to challenge myself to get my ass moving.

This reminds me of the importance of the difference between seiza and tatehiza. While I expect most people prefer to sit in seiza given how much more painful tatehiza can be, the practical benefits of tatehiza are huge. Why is this? I think simply because that you are much closer to that very maneuverable position that I will for arguments sake call "iai hiza" with the toes of the left foot engaged with the floor and the right foot placed properly on the floor so that one is propped up and ready to move (similary to the ready position in Gyakuto as the sword is drawn downwards/forwards before evading). From this position it is possible to:
  • Move forwards as in Yokogumo (and backwards in a kaewaza or regional difference)
  • Move forwards and up as in Inazuma
  • Move backwards and up as in Toranoissoku
  • Step back and anticlockwise as in Takiotoshi
  • Turn left as in Urokogaeshi and Namigaeshi
  • Stand straight up to walk as in Torabashiri
  • etc...
From seiza it is possible to:
  • Move forwards
  • Drink tea
Of course I'm joking here, the first four basic forms of Shoden Omori Ryu are there to develop one's ability to turn and cut but you may notice how the majority of the kata from seiza have a forward moving dynamic. From the feet under position, moving forwards and standing up by placing a foot in place under the body is possible but creates an extra movement that is otherwise absent in tate-hiza. As painful as the sitting position can be, it's versatility is the heart of iaido (I believe).

Anyway, over to feedback and control. There is an engineering function known as PID control which forms the basis of complete system control. It is, if set up correctly, the perfect way to control a system. Closed loop control means that the output of a system is used to feedback into the control. A good example is the cruise control of a car; the speed of the car feeds back to the controller and if it is less than the set speed then the controller increases the gas to the engine, if it is greater then the gas is reduced. In fact, the act of a human driving a car has exactly the same set of processes but we tend to ignore the human interaction as it is a) complex b) subject to human decision and c) requirement of someone to sit there controlling it. PID control prevents a) the car spending hours reaching 70mph and b) constantly jumping the speed up and down about the set speed. PID stands for Proportional, Integral and Derivative. Maths geeks will know most of this but for those that actually have a life:
  • Proportional means that the input signal is multiplied or divided by a set constant (as speed in rpm isn't the same as accelerator pedal pressure).
  • Integral means the longer the delay between there being a difference between the set point and the output value, the greater the output signal becomes (if the car takes a long time accelerating up to the desired speed then the accelerator pedal is pressed down more).
  • Differential means that the rate of change between desired output and set ouput determines the next output signal (if the car suddenly shoots off from standstill to 50mph in 4 seconds then the pressure comes off the pedal to stop the speed overshooting 70mph).
The total function of PID is that you get a control system that doesn't overshoot, oscillate or take forever to reach its desired output.

...and what the hell does this have to do with iaido? Well, it's this - doing any kind of movement by a normally functioning human requires careful coordination between input signals, desired outputs and objectives around how fast one wishes to achieve the desired output. Just like picking up a sausage, doing iaido requires this further coordination. Is being aware of this control mechanism beneficial to actually doing the desired operation? Dunno. But perhaps being more aware of how our control control systems are tuned can help us understand how and why some people perform better and worse depending on the person, the time and the environment.

How so? If you have ever trained in iaido in either a small room or close to a wall you may notice how wonderful your beautiful sword sounds as it cuts through the air. You may also notice how your overall form feels better, sharper, better coordinated. Is this just because it sounds better? Maybe not, it's very possible that this very instant feedback is being used by some of the conscious and subconscious processes in your grey matter to improve things like timing and applied power.

I certainly have had the experience of training in a massive hall where the sound of the tachikaze was dissipated almost completely and it felt like the hardest and most overpowered training I had done. In that situation it becomes necessary to rely on other sensory input routes other than aural. Kinaesthetic would seem like a good replacement.

Ok, this posting is becoming a bit long and I will have a "training at Vic's dojo" and "training with Ishido Sensei" article coming up shortly so I'm going to post this and continue this topic as and when I can. Sorry for the delay, been busy with work...

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Iaido Training Session 59 and 60

A week goes by with a whoosh if one forgets to keep on top of their blog. Anyway, the last two sessions have been fairly good training fodder times where I have spent most of the lesson on Chuden and Okuden in order to improve my tatehiza. I have done some token work on Seitei but have tried to focus on using Koryu to improve my posture, the naturalness of noto and basically get my legs to carry my fat arse a bit more dextrously.

I rather like the way my Shohatto is going but I am feeling that there is more and more to work on. Chiburi hasn't caused me much arm pain now that I have worked out where the right points are of relaxation and tension in the movement. At the other end of my koryu targets, Tozume has revealed it's difficulties and I am aiming to work on them. For me, the key difficulties are:
  1. Getting my rear foot under and engaged early enough so that I can use it to drive me forwards into the first cut.
  2. Turning the sword properly so that the first draw is secure, cuts the right angle and remains large enough without going below horizontal.
In between, Chuden remains a good training ground for my legs and Yamaoroshi in particular is moving ahead well.

I have a lot of work cut out in incorporating a slightly newer way of doing koryu noto which I think I have written about before in using the residual tension of the extended right arm to be the thing which actually moves the sword instead of an active effort to ram it in.

I have this Wednesday night of relatively undisturbed training time to work on:

  1. Doing about 30 mins of Shohatto.
  2. To carry on through the rest of the Koryu kata.
  3. Doing about 30 mins of Tozume.
  4. To check all technical points of Seitei.
  5. To have 5 mins rest.
  6. To have myself video'd so I can do a quality check.

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...

Friday, 15 April 2011

Iaido Training Session 54

A special early arrival at the dojo this evening to ensure some personal training. I did a full stretch and then went into my Kusawari no Shohatto training with an emphasis on smooth feet movement and softening the ochiburi. I had about 40mins of just doing this (which is quite a long time in our dojo to train without interruption).

The iai class started after some jodo thwacking and we worked through Seitei with the normal abstract order and with relaxed and focused practice. Space was at something of a premium so after this we divided into groups and I worked the higher grades into ironing the creases out of their first 5 shoden waza. No time to go into great detail now but I thought that the mere fact that someone does koryu does not mean that all seitei-instilled attention to detail is lost. We then worked on a few standing okuden before finishing.

Did a bit more progress on Project Delta this evening which was good although a bit restricted by certain factors at the moment.

Not much more to write about on this occasion, I think the pre-session practice is paying off and I will be booking some extra training after my forthcoming holiday.

Poland Open Iaido Taikai 2011

I wanted to do a cover of this event as for me it was one of the most significant development experiences I have had for quite a while in iaido. This year the event was organised by Tenshinkan in Warsaw and received competitors from Poland (of course, there were 3 of them), Slovakia, Czech and Hungary. The invited teachers were Robert Rodriguez 7th dan renshi, Henry Schubert 5th dan, Harry Jones 5th dan, Jose Abraca 5th dan and me. This was the second time that Harry and me had worked with Robert and it was an honour and a delight to do so. Robert and Jose are both Suioryu exponents and with Henry being Jikiden we had virtually all the koryu covered for those at the event.

After arrival we had a delicious lunch/dinner in a restaurant in town where I had the most wonderful calves liver I have ever eaten, in fact it might have been the best meat I have ever eaten. On return to the sports centre we then started an iaido seminar from 5pm to 10pm! Quite a change from daylight training.

Henry, Harry and me started on the lower grades in the main hall. Henry demonstrated a very useful exercise with a swordbag to get people to use metsuke properly. I talked a bit about minimising and simplifying the kata's movements to make it as smooth as possible. Actually in the end all three of us gave them all quite a comprehensive briefing on various parts.

All too soon it was break time and Harry and me were asked to look after the high grades upstairs. We focussed quite a lot on Mae and Ushiro in order that they seized that moment of sayabanare and used their hips in both the nukitsuke and kiritsuke. I won't go too much into it now but I have been trying to ensure that a forward hip movement is used in these parts of the kata recently. It's quite difficult to do, especially in Ushiro, but I believe it is absolutely necessary otherwise fumikomi doesn't take place. We then wiped through Sogiri and tried to get them to understand how seme occurs between cuts. It is my strong belief that this happens when one moderates cutting power and relaxes at the ends of the cut so that it is clearly visible that the next cut is primed and ready to go. Posture, metsuke and sword position are all critical in making sure this is manifest. I also believe that the only way to train in this is to "clear one's desk" and get rid of all unnecessary strength and movement.

The end of the seminar arrived and we went downstairs to do the final rei.

On Saturday was the individual championships and after the usual explanations we began. It was very surprising to see the how the level has changed in this area of Europe. Lower grades are much more capable if one looks at their duration of training and some of the halcyon members of Poland I am sure now have problems defending their titles.

Judging is also becoming a more and more useful experience for me although I do sometimes find myself going into monitor mode where one sits back and relaxes and waits for an impression to be formed of the competitors. At other times, especially when the match is going to be close among people you know, one has to literally count the ongoing score between the competitors during that shiai.

Our sayonara party was held in the same restaurant we had lunch in on the first day, no liver unfortunately.

On the Sunday we began with the team event and it was great to see Slovakia take the victory. Just before the grading, the 4th, 5th and 7th dans were invited to perform an embu. I did:
  1. Shohatto
  2. Ryuto
  3. Yamaoroshi
  4. Tozume
  5. Ukenagashi
and was sat right at the front end which was actually quite nice for not being distracted by other people. I could hear Henry behind me though doing similar kata to me (maybe).

This was the point that made it for me, for the first time I started to feel the 6th dan within some sort of reach. I was able to relax during the embu but maintained my concentration, performed without rushing and did what I thought were good kata. I'm sure some videos were taken so I hope I can review my performance at a later time.

I could write for ages about the whole event really but time is a bit tight this week (I still have to write about last Wednesday) so I will summarise how I am feeling about things at the moment in my preparation:

  1. I think that I am starting to discover/uncover stuff that was never really explained and I guess that that was intentional. The use of the hips, feet and upper body in Mae/Shohatto is something that I have had outlined to me but I am finding I am starting to fill the gaps a bit.
  2. My arm injuries are recovering well, partly due to changing ochiburi.
  3. I can feel my iaido slowing down a bit. I think this might be a good thing as I am now trying to balance quite a lot of stuff (even newly found stuff) into short moments.
  4. Overall I am feeling a lot less lost that I did about a year ago where my main challenges were working out what the problems were.
  5. I definately can feel an overall improvement by relaxing and extracting power from my technique.

Anyway, to finish, a sincere thanks to my Polish friends for everything.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Iaido Training Session 53

I managed to get to the dojo extra early this evening with a view of doing some solo iai practice - perhaps the only way I can do it without either wearing blinkers in the dojo or training somewhere else. I was glad to see the return of Cezary Wozniak to our dojo looking healthy and fit.

While I got the others doing some pre-iai jo training I went to the end of the dojo and did some preparatory work which I haven't done for a few years now. I call it Kusawari no Shohatto (Shohatto of splitting grass) and it is basically a repetition of shohatto but instead of using the dojo as a linear reference of direction, I start looking at whatever vertical line is in front of me, in this instance the double doors' split. Each shohatto must focus the whole kata on that line, the nukitsuke, especially the kirioroshi and then the rest of the kata keeping that line in front. Once one kata is finished I then look to either the left (or right depending on the evening) for the next structural vertical line and then do a kata to this line. I keep working my way around until I have just exceeded 90 degrees. It is surprising how many vertical lines there are in a building. In the diagram below I have shown 16 directions but I think I actually did about shohatto about 25 times this evening.

Why do I do this training? Firstly it greatly reduces the monotony of solo kata practice. Secondly, it is surprising how difficult it is to remain aligned when you're not relying on 3 walls in your vision. Thirdly, the vertical line does wonders for focus, accuracy and relaxing the cut. If you cut too hard then accuracy is greatly reduced.

Once this was over and we started the session, we did the blind cutting balance exercise before going through seitei in an abstract order as usual.

We entered into free practice and I started working through Shoden, again trying to only do one form of each so that I could maximise focus. Chris Sensei gave me some useful chiburi advice again, actually quite similar to that which I detailed a few posts ago but with also focus on relaxing the hand and then using the grip to generate the cut. Doing this and focussing on the timing of the body rising adds tremendously to the sharpness of this movement. It's annoying that I am sure I was doing this right years ago and I think my arm injury changed the way I did it for the worse.

I also quizzed him on how tall people should do Yamaoroshi considering the proximity of the enemy. It was nice to see how he did it without compromising his posture, I need to work on this soon as it was a much sharper action.

Anyway, that'll do for now...

Friday, 1 April 2011

Iaido Training Session 52 - The mewling pussycat

The dojo is gradually filling up again as people remember that the Xmas holidays are over. We ran through Seitei once each form tonight after doing the blind cutting practice. A bit too busy to do much training myself so I started working on George for his 4th dan.

We did some coaching rotation so I got to do a bit of training on my achilles heel - Toranoissoku. I am gradually getting used to the action of the sword but being quite tall (and too heavy for my skinny little legs) I often lose balance stepping back. I worked at ensuring my foot went straight back on Wednesday by trying to feel my foot pushing out. Inevitably it is the angle of the hips which has so much effect. I'll explain more.

While this form seems to rely on a strong sweeping action of the sword, if the left hand and side of the body isn't used adequately then the sweep loses kime and tends to swing. I have been shown how using strong sayabiki, the sword itself gains stability and focus. However, overturning and thereby rotating the hips has the tendency to point the rear foot back towards the centreline of the body thus creating a narrow and unstable posture. See below.

However, if sayabiki is inadequate then the whole sweeping action loses it. A simple concept is to keep the hips square while turning the shoulders. This seemed to do the trick. In fact relative to the hips, this created an even stronger sayabiki than turning the hips (of course).

When I had done this bit a few times and got the feet and hip position right, it showed obvious improvement in the sword control.

The next bit also causes problems. While I believe that a quiet return leading to a devastating cut concludes Inazuma quite appropriately, Toranoissoku requires a rapid return and cut. The opponent hasn't been cut themselves at this point, only their sword has been balked and a quick counterstrike is necessary.

I refer readers to Richard Stonell's brilliant article on Eishin Ryu at this point. Well worth a read through and a study to get the right taste to these forms...


My teacher tried to get me to do this, fast and light, using the downward action of the body to augment the upward lift of the sword. That also sounds easier than it is as often the sword will get into place first and park itself while the body gets seated. I managed to get it right a couple of times and I could feel when it was working and when it wasn't (with a typical ratio of 1:100). I fully believe that the overall success of this form relies on having strong legs and hips and so it is certainly work in progress.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Bideford Spring Iaido Seminar

Technically speaking I was teaching on this seminar so the notion that I might learn something through experience deserves me to be strung up and pelted with potato peelings. Anyhow, it was an enjoyable weekend and I did learn some stuff, from watching what people were doing, talking to them about it and also sharing some of Martin Clark's thoughts and experiences. He is a very good teacher when allowed to spread his wings at these events as he otherwise keeps a low profile when other high grades are around (to his credit).

We started the first day trying to improve our balance during nukitsuke and kirioroshi by swapping our legs out during the furikaburi. I found this very useful as it forced one to slow down the furikaburi in order to fit the leg movement in...and this is where things go wrong.

Furikaburi is quite a tricky action in Seitei. It is described in the following sequence:

With a feeling of thrusting behind one's left ear, lift the kissaki up in a parrying action ensuring that the kissaki does not drop below horizontal.

Sounds easy doesn't it? And yet there are a few more conditions which have to be considered and are taught orally:

  1. The right hand must not cross the centreline. It may join with the centreline on the sword's ascent to above the head but the hand and arm must not obscure the vision of the exponent.
  2. The sword therefore must pass in front of the exponent to execute the guarding/parrying action of the furikaburi.
  3. The sword must cut at the apex of the movement.
  4. The apex is defined by the tsukagashira being above the hairline.
These all tend to make this movement more complex that it seems. I have tried to show this on the diagrams below:

What is a bit more obvious to see from the diagrams is that:
a) The right hand remains quite static in it's position throughout a lot of angular movement of the sword.
b) This movement should be done keeping the edge of the sword pointed at the opponent.
c) The upward inclination of the sword is gradual and once it is started, the sword does not disincline again (i.e. the upward angle of the sword is maintained).

Many people (myself included when I am not concentrating do a number of the following things:

a) Bring the sword across the body and let the edge drop.
b) Bring the kissaki and tsubamoto straight up onto the centreline in too steep an angle.

It's a bit difficult to write about these things but very easy to see them. I urged the people at the seminar to slow down and make sure this movement was correct especially checking that the sword was thrusting past the left ear.

The image shown of Ishido Sensei is actually him doing furikaburi (check out the left hand). You can see how flat the sword is while the right hand is hardly moving.

The rest of the day was spent going through seitei. One bit of advice which I gave the others which I intend to use more for myself was to stop using all forms of power. This only has the effect of making the kata "lumpy" but by trying not to use power then it created something of a "tabula rasa" or I like to think of it as a clean workbench to work from. From there one can start to add contrasts of feeling, timing, speed and power but one first has to ensure that one's technique is pretty much correct first. With training this should be easy to achieve once one stops trying to throttle their sword.

I'm just trying to remember the points that me or Martin made, here are some of them:

  1. That at the moment that nukitsuke is made, the hips must be moving forwards. This is combined with the upper body twisting into the cut.
  2. That the feet should remain apart during iaigoshi.
  3. The importance of driving the body forwards with the foot doing fumikomi in Ushiro.
  4. The importance of not crabbing sideways during furikaburi on Ushiro (so easy to do).
  5. Ukenagashi remaining relatively contained.
  6. Using the hips to make the thrust on Tsukaate.
  7. Securing the feet well to make the static kirioroshi on Tsukaate.
  8. Getting the timing of the sword and front foot synchronised on Kesagiri.
  9. Softening the hands during chiburi of Kesagiri.
  10. Making a large draw using the tsukashira as the pivot on Morotezuki.
  11. Ensuring the feet don't come too close together before the thrust on Morotezuki.
  12. How to make the very subtle distinction of hikinuki and ukenagashi ni furikaburi on Morotezuki (i.e. don't lose sleep about it).
  13. Using the body and large cutting action on Sanpogiri.
  14. The importance of changing ones position related to the centreline on Ganmenate.
  15. How to change and select your own timing on Ganmenate including making contrasts of timing and speed.
  16. Making a direct draw on Soetezuki.
  17. Getting the movement active to make the thrust on Soetezuki.
  18. How to avoid rediculous positions of chiburi on Soetezuki while still following the ZNKR seitei directive.
  19. Contrasting the distance and timing of each cut on Shihogiri.
  20. Letting the caterpiller reverse into the marshmallow a.k.a. assuming gedan no kamae
  21. Creating seme at the end of each cut of Sogiri but keeping the cuts soft so that the successive cut is easy to initiate (and must be visibly so).
  22. Filling the time available in Nukiuchi and making full proper movements.
I sat on the grading panel in the afternoon to examine the ikkyus, shodans and nidans. Luckily Tony Devine was sitting next to me and I could seek advice from him. I consider myself to be an utter novice in gradings despite writing the Examiner Mentoring Programme. It is very difficult to maintain concentration and not miss obvious mistakes. After a while though I believe that one develops a bit of a gut instinct for seeing the good parts of people's performance. I saw that a lot especially from the more senior-in-age candidates. Where they were unable to do things fast or sharp I could sometimes see calmness and maturity.

Anyway, a great weekend (for all I hope) and a good chance for me to draw seitei points to my own attention for training (tonight).


Friday, 25 March 2011

Iaido Training Session 51 Part B

Ok, had some time to think and now some time to write....

Shohatto: Not feeling too bad providing I don't race. Nukitsuke needs a little more time (and some training) to get the tempo right.
Sato: In contrast to the above feels quite good.
Uto: As above
Atarito: Footwork needs some work.
Inyoshintai: Yokochiburi needs some work.
Ryuto: Not bad for a big guy
Junto: He's dead
Gyakuto: Ok
Seichuto: Ok
Koranto: Ok
Gyakute Inyoshintai: Deflection needs some work
Batto: Better now left hand is working more actively

Yokogumo: No problems although noto needs some change.
Toraissoku: Balance issues on block.
Inazuma: I like!
Ukigumo: Forever work in progress but feeling quite good about it.
Yamaoroshi: Feels like I've been working on it but need to check about tall person's nukitsuke.
Iwanami: Ramping off the kirioroshi seems to work.
Urokogaeshi: Ok
Namigaeshi: Need to work on hip strength.
Takiotoshi: Thrust needs some work.
Nukiuchi: As batto

Kasumi: Getting better
Sunegakoi: Difficult at my height
Shihogiri: Improving speed
Tozume: Responding to training nicely especially with a more diagonal draw.
Towaki: Working on the Ishido Sensei tempo...
Tanashita: Push/pull working better...who's ever gonna do this anyway?
Ryozume: Ok
Torabashiri: Starting to like this one

Yukizure: Ok
Rentatsu: Work in progress on draw.
Somakuri: Work in progress on all
Sodome: Getting more flow'ey
Sodesuregaeshi: Yah, no problem
Mon'iri: Not sure about the flow of this one.
Jinchu: Becoming strangely stable at the mo.
Ukenagashi v1: Not bad
Ukenagashi v2: A bit staid
Ukenagashi v3: Coming on
Ukenagashi v4: Responding to training (especially after this session)

Seitei-wise, I really want to get Kesagiri a bit tidy.

That is all (for now). Don't really have much to write really, having spent the whole session training, everything is still simmering over and not much bubbling to the surface. This weekend might tell me more...

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Iaido Training Session 51

A hard working evening. We ran once through Seitei and then I decided that some free practice wouldn't go amiss. I hid myself to the side and went once through all the koryu, to the end, non stop.

Didn't manage it.

Well, eventually I did but not non stop. I tried to make sure that each form was given 100% concentration and not like a session of throcking. I thought it went quite well, ran into a few problems here and there.

This is going to be one of those short posts. Right, there ya go...

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Nukitsuke revisited

It could only be a Friday night when I write on a publicly viewable blog that I just had an Epiphanic moment in the shower with the use of a blue Bodyshop foot scrubber.

My last post was bothering me, I hadn't finished my thoughts on nukitsuke and the sayabiki/sayabanare moment. I could sense Peter West's fingers approaching his Mac keyboard to remind me of a continental-sized aspect I had missed in my argument. And then it came to me with the momentary use of a foot scrubber. I thought back to the video of Morishima Sensei doing an embu in Mierlo. I thought about how I tried to get some feeling into nukitsuke. I thought about all the photos of Japanese sensei in the pronounced moment of nukitsuke (in monochrome photos wearing montsuki).

The initial parts of the draw are done with the hands. During the moment of sayabanare the left and right hands "talk" to each other to communicate when and when the kissaki is to be released and has been released (that sentence wasn't a typo by the way). And now the bombshell; the sayabanare is done with the hands but the final sayabiki is done with the upper body....

...you knew that already!?

Well, if you did then I guess that just says that I have just acknowledged it in my blog.

Anyway, that's the feeling that was missing in my observations, that was why their kissaki's were too wide of the mark at the end of the draw, that's why the moment was being lost.

...and this is why I think that swords which are too small are a bad thing...