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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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Friday 20 January 2023

The Challenge that is Seiteigata No.12 Nukiuchi 敵の刀に空を切らせ

 As part of the BKA's Iaido Kyoshi exam, we were expected to learn, off-by-heart, all of the Chakuganten from the ZNKR Iaido Manual, not a particularly challenging task as there are only 40 points but made more difficult if 

  1. You have the memory of a sieve
  2. You realise that each numbered item is probably making more than one point or criteria
To give a simple example of point 2., the 2nd chakuganten in Mae is translated something like:

  • Is furikaburi made by passing by the left ear and with a feeling of thrusting behind

  • This therefore has two criteria that need to be memorised and observed:
    1. Furikaburi passes by the left ear.
    2. Furikaburi performed with a feeling of thrusting behind.
    A slightly more complex example is found in the 2nd chakuganten in Morotezuki...

    • While passing through chudan, does the rear foot move close to the front foot and is the thrust made effectively to the opponent’s solar plexus?
    If one sequentially goes through this sentence there are 4, (yes 4!), criteria being described:
    • Must pass through chudan.
    • Rear foot moves close to the front foot (“okurikonde” does not mean “next to”).
    • Thrust must be effective.
    • Thrust must be to the solar plexus.
    Magically, this brings the number of points to remember from 40 up to around 73. This then leads to two options in my opinion, either memorise the sentences word-for-word or memorise the 73 points so that you can reconstruct the sentences as you recall the individual chakuganten. For me it was the latter as I felt that this was a more useful way of remembering them.

    So having devoted a not insignificant number of brain cells to memorising all that and then doing the exam I remembered the aim of the kyoshi exam in the first place (which I co-wrote with Al Colebourn). Seeing as 7th dan Kyoshi was the highest grade of iaido of anyone in Europe, the idea was to ensure that if you held Kyoshi that you had memorised all of the important stuff from the ZNKR curriculum. Why? Because as the highest grades, they have the greatest responsibility to maintain their knowledge of the ZNKR curriculum, were able to "interpret" the text into meaningful instruction and demonstration...they were to be the gatekeepers in Europe for instruction of ZNKR Iai (at least that was the intention of the exam content).

    Personally I still believe this is important and relevant. It is, or should be, the same aim for all iaidoka who take their development and study seriously, though it is the Kyoshi who need to be particularly attentive to this.

    Anyway, during this period of serious self-motivation (I don't think I moved away from my desk for about a week, Pizza Express shares went up) I had a few conversations with my friend Robert Stroud Sensei from https://www.idaho-kendo.com/ fame. I cannot overemphasise the importance of the great work that Robert has done to surgically translated the ZNKR manual from Japanese into English being uber-careful about getting the nuance and detail as correct and appropriate as one can without turning the whole translation into a "Learn Japanese Slowly" manual. I heartily encourage you to visit his website, have a look around and buy him a coffee for his dedicated work.

    Robert was finding some difficulty in harmonizing what was written in the manual with what was being taught at seminars. I have to say that we are extremely lucky to have had Ishido Sensei as a constant source of support, instruction and wisdom in all the years that he has been visiting Europe. He has always been able to give us all of the context and history to the development and delivery of ZNKR Seitei iaido and so where mismatches in logic or explanation have occurred, he has even been able to say the central meeting that this or that particular issue was discussed in Kisarazu (I think it was) where for years the content of the iaido manual was discussed and explored and its interpretation decided by the highest grades in Japan. With these years of Ishido Sensei tirelessly trying to hammer this information into our heads, I was able to discuss what some of the directions of understanding were with a few of the issues that he had found.

    If you have found yourself with nothing to do, with no friends, no options in life and with only a few shekels to spend on bread crusts and bacon rinds then you might have found yourself at one of my iaido seminars in the last few years where I have monologued about one of the kata in particular where the explanation in the manual has consistently failed to be met with a correct performance of the kata. In fact, if you have been kidnapped by bandits and have been locked in a room with only a laptop for company then you might have even drifted through the following post I wrote years ago, shallowly covering the same topic:


    But I thought now was a good time to come back to this topic and join Robert in the quest to make some sense of some of the less-obviously-difficult parts of certain kata. And so, here is my view on ZNKR No.12 Nukiuchi. 

    I should first lay out what my opinion is regarding the ZNKR Manual, it is a written guide for how to do ZNKR Seiteigata Iaido to establish some consistency between teachers. Therefore, while it doesn't teach you how to walk, there is supposed to be adequate detail in there so that the majority of people are doing these kata consistently with each other for most of the time (the clear exception is the method of noto and sageo sabaki which are to be performed in accordance with your koryu/teacher lineage).

    Since the manual was produced there have been ongoing efforts to clarify any points which are not completely detailed; these efforts have consisted of written and spoken detail usually originating from central iaido seminars in Japan and directed by the ZNKR Iaido Committee. So we should be comfortable with the fact that the interpretation of some points has been made outside of the manual. 

    These points however are in general for where there is a lack of clarity and detail in the manual; the manual however is extremely detailed both in terms of what is written and how it is written. There are some aspects of Japanese grammar which are difficult to translate into languages such as English without losing the subtle nuance. As an example, the translation of "while" in English goes several ways in Japanese and trying to get those differences back into English can cause the sentence to become bloated. To illustrate this:

    1. テレビを見ながらお茶を飲みました - Terebi wo minagara ocha wo nomimashita
    2. お茶を飲みながらテレビを見ました - Ocha wo nominagara terebi wo mimashita
    3. 皿洗いをしている間に鳩が部屋に飛び込みました - Sara'arai wo shite iru aida ni hato ga heya ni tobikomimashita
    4. 右足を踏み込むと同時に真っ向から切り下ろす - Migi ashi wo fumikomu to douji ni makkou kara kiri orosu
    All of these can be simply translated as follows using "while" to represent simultaneity:
    1. While watching TV I drank some tea
    2. While drinking tea I watched some TV
    3. While I was washing the dishes a pigeon flew into the room
    4. While stepping the right foot forwards cut vertically down
    But actually there are key nuances between the timing terms -nagara, -te iru aida ni and to douji ni and I strongly suggest that these nuances are used correctly and intentionally in the writing of the manual. As I mentioned, translating these nuances back into English makes the sentence bloated but misleading without additional detail, e.g.:

    1. It is while I was already watching TV that I drank some tea
    2. It is while I was drinking tea that I started to watch some TV
    3. It was during the act of washing the dishes that a pigeon flew into the room
    4. Exactly at the same time that you step the right foot forwards you must cut vertically down
    Just in case the English sentences above still don't separate the nuance properly...
    1. This sentence is stating that in the pre-existing state of watching TV, some tea was drunk at the same time, both of these events took some tangible duration and there was some simultaneity involved.
    2. As 1. above but this time it was in a pre-existing state of watching TV that some tea was then drunk.
    3. This sentence is indicating that some action was being undertaken which took some tangible duration (washing the dishes) and there was an instantaneous event which occurred (the pigeon flew into the room)
    4. This sentence dictates that two actions take place at the same time, there are no pre-existing states, they are both carried out at the same time.
    And now you can probably understand why, like many others, I prefer to read the seitei manual in Japanese than in English.

    Returning to Nukiuchi, this kata takes up a comparably small amount of space in the manual; the kata is simple, short and often carried out rapidly so there is some very careful structuring of the sentences to ensure that things are done with the correct coordination of timing.

    Subclauses 1-4 present the outline of the kata:
    1. Soutai shite chokuritsu shite iru zenpou no teki ga, totsuzen, kirikakate kuru no wo (In response to the descending cut suddenly by an enemy confronting you from the front...)
    2. katana wo nukiagenagara shirizoite (...while drawing the sword up, withdraw...)
    3. teki no katana ni kuu wo kirase (...and make/let the enemy's sword cut the empty space...)
    4. sara ni makkou kara kiriorosu. (...and then, cut down vertically)
    I should here point out again, the critical positions of commas in the sentence, the sequences and the timing references.
    • Subclause 1 indicates that the enemy standing in front of you moves towards you and commences a cut and your next movements are in response to the cut.
    • Subclause 2 indicates that during the action of drawing the sword up (emphasis on drawing up), you move back.
    • Subclause 3 indicates that by moving away from your initial position you allow the opponent's sword to cut through that vacated space.
    • Subclause 4 then emphasises "and then" do kirioroshi.

    Subclauses 5-9 are the actions (dousa). Please note that I am only examining action no.1 which is the kata up to the kirioroshi. 

    5. Chokuritsu shita mama subayaku katana ni te wo kakeru, (From the same position i.e., without moving, sharply place your hands on the sword...)

    6.  hidari ashi wo kouhou ni hiki, (...pull the left foot back...)

    7. migi ashi wo hidari ashi chikaku ni hikiyosenagara katana wo subayaku zujou ni nuki ageru to- (while drawing back the right foot close to the left foot, sharply draw the sword up above the head and...)

    8. douji ni hidari te wo tsuka ni kake, (...at the same time place the left hand on the tsuka...)

    9. ma wo oku koto naku migi ashi wo fumikomu to douji ni makkou kara kiriorosu. (...then, without any delay step forwards with the right foot at the same time as cutting down vertically.) 

     Again, please allow me to point out how the critical timing references, commas and sequences add nuance to the subclauses:

    • Subclause 5 indicates that the hands go on the sword while not moving the body (the "chokuritsu shita mama" meaning "while remaining upright").
    • Subclause 6 has a sequential verb (omitting the -te but basically meaning the same thing), with a comma after it indicating that this movement is done singly without much else taking place.
    • Subclause 7 indicates that the right foot is drawn back close to the left, during this action the sword is sharply drawn up above the head.
    • Subclause 8 indicates with "to douji ni" that as a relatively short duration movement, the left hand is placed on the tsuka at some point during the raising of the sword.
    • Subclause 9, being preceded by a sequential verb means this happens next, "ma wo oku koto naku" means without delay so while this movement happens after the previous one, one should not stop moving between these movements. Again "to douji ni" joins the stepping forwards with the cutting down with the suggestion that the cut takes a relatively shorter time than the stepping forwards.

    For a summary the diagram below shows the sequence as indicated by each subclause; blue boxes represent movements that are suggested to have some tangible duration, red boxes are relatively shorter "instances":

    So I think that should be fairly uncontentious what exactly the book is instructing us to do; actually this is a lot of description in Japanese using these versatile timing terms for such a simple and short kata, I would say that it leaves nothing for self interpretation in my honest opinion. 

    I now would now like to examine the examination points (chakuganten) in detail as these clearly explain what we should be concerned with when doing this form.

    1. Katana wo nukiageta toki, hidari ashi wo juubun ni gohou ni hiite iru ka (When the sword is drawn up, is the left foot withdrawn back adequately?)
    2. Katana wo nukiageta toki no, migi te no ichi wa seichuusen ni natte iru ka (When the sword is drawn up (by the right hand), is the right hand "becoming" (following) the centreline?)
    I think point 2. is self-explanatory, there are no quantities being examined, merely does the right hand remain on the centreline. This has been clarified from the notes from a few central seminar where it has been clarified that this movement is not through the ukenagashi position but should start and finish on the body's centreline.

    Point 1 may need qualifying though; how much is "adequate". Well, I ask you to ask yourselves, how much is enough? This chakuganten could determine whether you pass or fail a grading so it cannot be a trivial point. 

    I think (I am sure), given the scenario described in the outline of the form, and the use of the subclause "teki no katana ni kuu wo kirase" (make the enemy's sword cut the empty space), that this adequate stepping means that if the enemy's sword is moving through the zone that you were standing in, that no part of your body should be in that space once you step away. As I have written in my previous blogpost on this, this includes arms, hands, and the tsuka itself. You have to, I think, completely vacate that original space. Keeping the right hand on the centreline while vacating that space (without your hand going back in once your head has retreated) means that the sword needs to be elevated so that a nukiage (draw up) movement can be performed.

    I think this point is explained very clearly in this demonstration by Kaneda Sensei here https://youtu.be/4k-oXA4l09k?t=52. Unfortunately in this demonstration, the partner is not cutting anywhere near close enough to actually cut Kaneda Sensei's head if he didn't move. This is the shortcoming I think in many people's imagery of the form. When I spoke to Ishido Sensei about this he said that without some kind of partner training then doing iaido kata alone leads to this misunderstanding. If one does kendo, kenjutsu, jodo, tachiuchi no kurai etc. then it should become instinctive what is the correct distance and how to step outside of that distance. It was a relief to see though that someone was demonstrating this online showing the danger of the right arm being cut. 


    By this point you may realise that I am being critical of others here; I'm actually just very sensitive to the easiness with which this form is performed ineffectively and incorrectly. During all seminars where I am teaching at, when everyone trains Nukiuchi I usually stand at the end of each line and look down to see who is dragging their right arm through the cut space of the enemy's sword. Usually it is more than 95% of people.

    As gangly Europeans, it is easy to step back enough, the difficulty is keeping our long arms out of the cut space. But this then comes back to something very fundamental and something which was explained in painful elementary detail when this form was introduced to the ZNKR Iai-doing population. I still remember it, and I think it was Kishimoto Sensei who was Inchou at the time who explained it (it might have been his predecessor but anyway...), the point was that the sequence was critical:
    1. Hands go on the sword without moving the body.
    2. Left foot moves back while the sword is elevated up (only elevated, not drawn)
    3. Right foot moves back while the sword is drawn up above the head.
    4. Using te-no-uchi, at the moment of sayabanare a gentle squeeze should bring the sword close to horizontal smartly at the moment that the right foot reaches its objective position close to (not next to) the left foot.
    5. Immediately, the left hand joins onto the tsuka, the right foot moves forwards and kirioroshi is made.
    Messing up this sequence and drawing the sword up while the left foot is moving back will almost certainly lead one to putting their hand back into the cutting space. But then what if the enemy's sword is cutting after your hand leaves that space? Well, in this case I would say that you haven't really achieved a vital aspect of evasion which is the notion of mikiri (sometimes known as "issun no mikiri" 「一寸の見切り」). To understand this it is best to imagine trying to trick your opponent into believing that they have cut you so that they have no opportunity to change their attack when you evade. Essentially this means minimising both the distance and the time that you take to evade; as late as possible with a movement as small as possible). If you were to leave it as late as possible to evade your head from the opponent's cut, this means that you cannot then put your right hand back into that target space.

    This is why the sequence is more important than the speed, it teaches you how to do this effectively. Those who do Jodo should easily understand this as it is the meaning of the kihon waza "Tai hazushi uchi". If your left arm moves significantly in front of your head as you step back to avoid the Uchidachi's cut then it gets cut instead.

    Anyway, I have probably written too much about this now already, I hope it has been in some way useful. I realise that writing and reading about these concepts are no replacement for practicing and testing it and I sincerely recommend that you explore these points yourself.