Disclaimer and Stuff

Firstly I would like to say that all of the material contained within this blog is of my own opinion and any inaccuracies in technical content or other's personal quotations are completely my own.

Secondly I would like to thank everyone in advance where I have used photos of you or photos you have taken. I have quite a library of digital photos and virtually no record of who took them so I hope you will take this general thanks as adequate gratitude. If there are any photos of you or taken by you that you would like removed please let me know.

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

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

Thursday 30 November 2017

European Championships Organisation (and scraps of paper found on the floor)

So, while Stoj was tidying up my house (otherwise known as reducing the universal entropy by a quantum fluctuation) she came across a scrap of paper that I had scribbled out from the last European Jodo Championships. It was some feedback from Kurogo Sensei about how we might consider improving the organisation of the Championships so that it ran a bit smoother on the day. He was quick to point out that these were just his ideas and weren't "direction" by any means.

I thought it would be useful to replicate those points here and they are almost as relevant for a European Iaido Championships (except the stuff about Uchidachi of course):

  1. Referee rotation system: This should be decided before the day of the taikai between the EKF, the host country, the ZNKR shinpan and the referees themselves. Rather than just talking about the procedure at the shinpan seminar, it should be decided how many bouts will take place before a rotation occurs. This shouldn't be decided on the morning of the taikai but in fact all referees should arrive at the taikai knowing completely how the day will run so that they can concentrate on judging only.
  2.  Opening commands: It should also be decided and explained how the taikai will open with regards to the commands made by the shinpancho and the shinpan at the first match of the day. It should also be confirmed how the final matches will run with regards to the closing commands (how many shomen no rei to do for example). This needs to be confirmed with the competitors as well so that they don't have to listen to instructions before going out to the finals and they're not called back to the shiaijo after the last final has finished (as happens almost every year).
  3. What to judge on: This is a point for Jodo, it should be clearly agreed what the judges are judging on during the taikai with regards to it being either jo only, jo and tachi equally or jo mainly with a nuance of tachi.
  4. Restriction of dan grade of Uchidachi: While it may be written in the rules, it is important that the restriction of dan grade of the Uchidachi (within 2 dans of the Shijo) is clearly explained and confirmed. This is important as if a shinpan suspects that an Uchidachi is beyond the two grade limit then they have to stop the match and reset it possibly. There is no clear procedure for this so it is best that it never occurs through clear explanation.
  5. Match records: It should be clearly explained to each Shinpan Shunin how the matches will be recorded on the paperwork. Usually there are three Shinpan Shunin from the ZNKR and one from Europe and it might be constantly changing how the matches will be ordered and recorded. The host country with the EKF should ensure that this is confirmed with the Shunin each year.

I just also would like to mention something that happened at this year's EJC which was very interesting. When we got to the finals, Kurogo Sensei selected the finals shinpans. It was pointed out that some of the judges were of the same nationality as the finalists. Instead of replacing them, Kurogo Sensei explained that by the time we got to the finals, every shinpan should be able to judge fairly and accurately regardless as to whether they were judging their own country.

While I realise that this is currently against our regulations, I thought it was a nice touch and I would welcome a time in the future when all of our referees are able to judge without bias and take some regard for the extreme time and effort every competitor has put into their training to be there. Judging should be hard work and not simply an opportunity to sit back and wait to be impressed or see an obvious fault.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Some Traditional Ways To Do Kesagiri Incorrectly

So I am now approaching the one-year boundary to taking my 7th dan grading in Iaido and achieving Level 10 Paladin status (with a +8 vorpal blade to boot). Naturally this means I now have to focus on the important things in life to prepare:
  • Watching more Youtube
  • Starting to write more blogs
  • Procrastinating about finishing them
  • Doing the washing up
 So in this theme of avoiding doing any training at all costs, I thought I would spend some time in the dojo filming my students and commenting about how they are "still doing it wrong, you never listen, why am I even here if you don't listen, I told you this last week etc, etc, etc" so I ensure that they feel that they are properly valued.
I decided to turn my focus on Kesagiri, a form that somehow gets little attention compared to other Seiteigata so by my reckoning probably means that we (I mean me) are missing out some essential bits.
Let's start at the beginning with the translation of the ZNKR instruction on the most important part in this path to spiritual perfection - hacking your opponent in two...

  1. While facing the front, begin walking with the right foot; when the left foot is in front quickly place both hands on the sword. Rotate the saya left and down while drawing the sword; at the same time that the right foot moves forwards, with a right-handed grip cut the enemy in front from their right wakibara in a reverse kesa cut. Note - when the sword has cut up, the sword should be rotated when the right fist is above the right shoulder.
  2. With the feet in the same position, with the left hand bring the saya back to it's original position, release the koiguchi and grip the tsuka; without stopping the sword from the rising cut, cut the enemy from the shoulder joint down through the kesa. Note - at the end of the cut, the alignment of the left fist and the kissaki should be the same as Kata No. 3 Note on Point 2.*
* This refers to the kissaki being slightly below horizontal and slightly to the left with the left hand in front of the navel

I'm going to stop there because I don't want to get into how to make hasso kamae etc.

In the chakuganten (critical points for examination and judging) the significant one of the two is asking whether the rotation of the sword is made above the shoulder or not.

So these are the bits which are "decided"; we also receive various bits of advice and instruction from our Japanese patron teachers over many years including:

  • The two cuts should be joined into one
  • The initial draw should make a pressure to the enemy's face
  • The distance to the enemy for both cuts is the same
I think these are generally inarguable as they have been instructed by a very wide range of teachers, both from official delegations to private invitations.

So, the fun began by seeing how each cut related to each other when I started torturing (aka filming) certain students. I present here a small sample of those movies and I am grateful to those who allowed me to make these images. Not to be outdone by Yuki Shima's Jodo blog (with animated images) I thought I would waste some time doing the same.

Oli is first...

I should add here, before Oli falls on his sword, this was the worst case out of three movies that I took but I would say pretty typical of what most people do.

I have combined a sequence with no enemy and with an enemy in the following clip...

Again you can see that the course described by the kissaki on the uppercut shows an opponent that is so close on the downward cut that they would likely be hit the hands or the tsubamoto rather than the monouchi.

You might now also start to see some extra lines showing one of the probable causes.

Let's look at Will next. Firstly just the cutting lines...

You will notice that Will's uppercut has a bit more of an outreach than the other examples. Let's see it with Mr K.Teki in the image...

So, while it isn't perfectly aligned for both cuts, this is slightly better; Will's downward cut is using the centre of the blade. I should also point out another couple of interesting observations:

  1.  I haven't made markings of Will's changing foot positions during this sequence because they don't move.
  2. The red circle at the end of the sequence shows the intersect point. This is where the upper cut and downward cut have the sword in the same position (albeit with the hasuji rotated) and so show that the sword position is defining the enemy's position as being the same.
So, now onto Perfection itself i.e. me.

I should point out that I asked myself to be filmed after:
  • Watching and filming other people doing Kesagiri
  • Spotting this issue with distance
  • Thinking carefully about the causes
  • Trying hard to implement solutions
 So basically I cheated. Anyway, here I am in glorious normal speed...

 You can then see the kissaki course lines and my front foot positioning...

You will notice that the intersect point is quite low now with this version. I then superimposed Mr K.Teki and also emphasised the entry points of the sword by turning my shinken into a nice yellow light sabre...

Not perfect by any means (the camera perspective here doesn't help much either) but the point I am trying to make is that to enhance one's Kesagiri one should try to ensure that the entry part of the upper cut and the downward cut both use a reasonable portion of the monouchi and not the kissaki going up and the tsuba coming down. The position of this intersect point is crucial to doing this right. The higher the intersect point is then the less chance that a correct paired cut is made.

For example:

 So I think from some of the observations from these clips, the causes of a distance mismatch can be boiled down to:

  • The body moving forwards after the entry point of the upper cut. This can be further broken down to:
    • The front foot continuing to move forwards
    • The rear foot being pulled up afterwards (Oli's case)
  •  The right arm being pulled up too quickly after sayabanare or the right arm being too contracted during the uppercut
This latter point I actually noted back in a previous posting...

Iaido Training Session 44

The course on the left is fairly typical with the right arm dragging the sword up instead of using the tenouchi to drive the kissaki forwards. This shouldn't mean drawing the sword downwards so that the kissaki hits the floor. Ishido Sensei has demonstrated time and time again how leaning forwards doesn't help at all.

To continue this analysis, I have had to call upon the help of a friend of mine. Ladies and gentlemen, for his first time on Shugyo - Iaido and Jodo Training Blog - please let me introduce Arthur...

 Arthur has quite a nice dojo. Wooden floors, mats stacked up in the corner, even a bar to go for a bit of a warm down snuck around the back. He's also a bit of an idiot. His feet come unstuck during camera shoots and he won't allow to put screws through his feet. Still he can be of some help...

 Now look at the intersect point. It's almost in front of his face. If we put Mr K.Teki in position (he's wearing a very fetching green today) we can see how the two cuts relate to each other...

 Points to note though:

  1. Arthur doesn't need to lean forwards in order to get the monouchi to cut the opponent's wakibara. In fact you can see that the right arm is at shoulder height during this initial drawing sequence.
  2. The kissaki's course from the saya to the wakibara is not overly curved. It isn't straight either, it follows a natural arc made by leaving the right hand fairly still and using tenouchi.
  3. Once contact is made, the right arm starts to lift. Those of you with even a rudimentary knowledge of anatomy and the cutting dynamics of a sword will know that during this uppercut it is more than likely that the sword will run over the top of bones such as the ribs while going across the chest. One wouldn't be able to cleave through the body with a one-handed uppercut. This upward course is nicely represented by the kissaki arc now moving much more vertically once contact is made.
  4. This alignment of the cutting courses only works effectively if the feet aren't moving after first contact is made with the sword.
With regards to 4. I don't believe that it's necessary that the feet should remain absolutely static in order for one to make friends and influence people. However, the more residual movement there is, the less alignment occurs between the two cuts. This isn't by any means in order to make the kata static and non-dynamic. There should be no problem with, for example, the rear foot shifting up slightly while the sword is traveling from the koiguchi to the first contact point. The point is that the body shouldn't be moving after this first contact.

 So now, how to avoid dragging the sword up into what would be a very short distance cut during the kiriage. I tried it myself and advised others to train this nukitsuke without any intention of lifting the arm. This starts off with a very light and moderately slow cut. However, our muscle memory is so tuned to wanting to lift the sword, after even a small amount of practice, the feeling of needing to lift the arm once the kissaki had moved into a first contact position was very strong and almost automatically resulted in a kiriage. A much better result than before.

Actually all of this reminded me of a comment that Ishido Sensei made while talking about Morishima Sensei; he said that now Morishima Sensei was making his final steps in this kata much slower in order to accentuate the speed of the cut. This certainly works very nicely to control and moderate the foot movement so that there isn't this post-cut residual movement.

So in summary, a note to myself (and to you if you find yourself doing the same thing in this kata, it shouldn't be many of you, perhaps only 95% of you....):

  1. Observe and control step speed and spacing so that post-cut movement is minimised.
  2. Don't intend to pull the right hand up during the cut. Instead focus on the tenouchi of the first cut and allow this to blend naturally into the rising cut (kiriage).
 Anyway, I have some washing to go and do during which I can think about training....hmm, maybe something wrong here....