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 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.