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Grading Serendipity

Just finished the Guelph Spring Iaido and Jodo Seminar, I'll have more to say I hope, once I get caught up on things but thinking about the gradings I found this link through the Kendo World forums.


I hope to come back to this article and make specific comments on what the sensei had to say to the instructors at the seminar.

May 27, 2010
Rekijo Girls!

According to the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF), as of 2009 there were 1,270 newly registered members, and 30 percent of them were female. AJKF representative Chihiro Kishimoto, 76, says, "Even at colleges, many girls are choosing to join the iaido club, something that would have been unimaginable in the old times." ---  http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fd20100307a2.html

Wow, if we had 300 new folks (let alone new women) sign up for iaido this year in Canada I'd be over the moon. I recently heard that historical action figures are all the rage in Japan right now. Must be part of the same trend.

In other news, the sensei are arriving on Wednesday which means that I'm out of contact until they leave the Tuesday after.

For years we have had a pre-registration fee and an "at the door" fee and for years people have been leaving their registration later and later. Guys, Dave is telling me we need a cutoff date of, like, two weeks ago because all those mailed in registrations from next week will land while I'm driving the sensei around the countryside sightseeing and I'll be up until 2am doing paperwork.

The vast majority are in and registered, but for those of you who are just too busy.... remember that when you see Dave "at the door" he might just say "it's in the mail and You're At The Door". You see if I can't get the paperwork done before the seminar, he has to do it during.

For those attending other seminars this summer... mix a little thinking with your swinging and get that paperwork done! Make an organizer happy.

Asked his opinion on why there was a history/sword boom among women all of sudden, the AJKF's Kishimoto says, "Modern women are not weak. They are ready to defend themselves, and maybe that kind of psychology is reflected in iaido or combat classes."

May 16, 2010
Nostalgia Kim in Japan

I'm updating and backing things up, and I discovered this shot from Doug Martin of me on our trip to Japan almost exactly a year ago.

I have no idea why it catches my interest, it doesn't particularly look like me, at least not the me I have in my head, that guy is still 18.

Something about the expression I think, and the Christmas themed red and green repeated in the background.

photo by Doug Martin

You know, I think it's just that I don't seem to be worried about anything. I'm present, but not involved.

I have no real budo point about this, except that even for those of us who pay attention to ourselves, and to who we are, why we do things and so on, there are times when we are simply unknown to ourselves. We just have to accept our ability to surprise ourselves.

May 12, 2010
Tokyo Events Upcoming Kendo Events in JAPAN
* May 16, 2010
All Japan Women's Kendo Pre-Tournament
 (qualifying/preliminary tournament)
Location: Tokyo Budokan

* May 22, 2010
Tokyo (Inter-Prefectural) Women's Kendo Friendship Tournaments
 within age-groups of ten years

Location: Tokyo Budokan

* June 7, 2010
All Japan Senior BUDO Tournament
Location: Nippon Budokan

* July 3, 2010
All Japan Iaido Pre-Tournament (qualifying/preliminary tournament)
Location: Tokyo Budokan
* July 17, 2010
Tokyo (Inter-Prefectural) JODO Tournament
Location: Tokyo Budokan

* July 24 and 25, 2010
All Japan Juvenile Budo (Kendo) Training Tournament
Location: Nippon Budokan

* September 4, 2010
Tokyo (Inter-Prefectural) Kendo Championship
Location: Tokyo Budokan

* September 4, 2010
Tomohito Shinno Cup 8th-dan Invitational Tournament
Location: Tokyo Budokan

* September 26, 2010
All Japan Women's Kendo Championship
Location: Fujieda-shi (Shizuoka)


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May 11, 2010
Kendo-kote Sumi Sensei on Kote

This translation and subtitling was done be a couple of different people in the Kendo World forum.


It's an excellent example of cooperation across the net to acomplish something lovely.

It's also a really nice examination of kote.


May 6, 2010
News News from EJMAS etc.

Hey, it's 30 years ago today I arrived in Guelph as a Callow Youth to attend University.

EJMAS.com has been updated for May, see http://ejmas.com/thismonth.html for details or click on the logo up there. I just put up an article on maai.

For those who have been waiting for iaito, we have a new shipment in the house now, please let us know what you're interested in.

I have edited down the Niten Ichiryu Tachi Seiho tape, it's on a two-DVD set. Not on the catalogue yet but ask for Vidbbi 11a and Vidbbi 11b Tachi Seiho. For those wondering, the DVD for Tanjo can be had separately from the tanjo (I'm selling them in a set at: http://sdksupplies.netfirms.com/cat_instructset.html If you want the dvd separately, it's Vid 28 Tanjo

May 5, 2010
Gradings in Japan 8 Dan Iaido Gradings, 2010

The final results from the 2010 All Japan Kendo Federation 8-dan iaido grading are out. From a field of 149 participants, 31 passed the first stage of the grading, out of whom only 7 passed (4.7% pass rate).

Prefecture Name Age
Chiba Yojima Hiroshi 48
Tokyo Kaneda Kazuhisa 50
Gifu Koumura Shigeru 61
Shimane Miyamoto Terutaka 62
Kochi Matsuda Tadao 64
Wakayama Inoue Yoshimi 65
Fukuoka Horie Masao 68

8 Dan Kendo Gradings, 2010

The final results from the 2010 Kyoto 8-dan grading on the 1st and 2nd of May are out. On the first day, from 751 participants, 9 passed (1.2% pass rate). The second day saw 12 from 779 pass (1.5% pass rate). The successful challengers were:

Prefecture Name Age
Day 1
Osaka Yoshida Kazuhide 46
Aichi Kuranari Kenji 47
Mie Tsumehashi Tomohisa 48
Miyazaki Nagatomo Yasunori 50
America Kato Shozo 54
Tokyo Fujisaki O. 57
Tokyo Ozawa Hiroshi 60
Chiba Yanagawa Miyuki 67
Osaka Ikeda M. 68
Day 2
Tokushima Hirano Seiji 46
Ibaragi Motona Kazuhiko 46
Tokyo Kuniyoshi Tomonari 48
Tottori Abe Masami 48
Fukuoka Nakayama Kouji 50
Chiba Kakihara Naoto 54
Aichi Horiyama Kenji 56
Shizuoka Kawabe Shouji 59
Miyagi Sone Takaetsu 61
Saitama Kono Akihiro 66
Shizuoka Takagi Ryo 68
Kanagawa Kouno Hiroshi 69

As reported by Kendo-World

8-Dan Jodo Gradings 2010

Tokyo - Fujisaki ??? - age 57
Hokkaido - Yasumaru Susumu - age 61
Ehime - Shiraishi Takeshi - age 73

out of 32 challengers.

May 4, 2010
Kata Standardization

In the past, by watching a kata preformance one could say at first glance which master had guided the practice. In the last few years books and video tapes are increasingly used for karate teaching. That is why kata have become uniform even in detail, and lost individuality. Also at the big kata contests kata performances prove excellent training results but nearly no individuality; the kata always look the same.   -Kenei Mabuni, Empty Hand: The Essence of Budo Karate, 2010.

Jeff Broderick made almost the same comment about iaido in Japan at the top levels of the Kendo Federation in his blog http://jeffsbudoblog.blogspot.com/ He lamented the variety of practice that he saw even a few years earlier in the tournaments and demonstrations in Japan.

It's not just the martial arts that are becoming homogenized in this age of the internet, it's culture as a whole. Think about the reach of Youtube, of Wikipedia and the Google image search. No matter where you are on earth, if you type in a search term you'll get the same results as everyone else on the planet.

This is the blessing and the curse of the human world, one where we are losing hundreds of languages a year as the old speakers pass away, but one where we can preserve vast numbers of people from disaster by a world-wide network of transportation and information.

In the Kendo Federation we actually have "the solution" to this problem, if we would but use it. We have the Zen Ken Ren Iai and Jo sets which are commonly called "seitei gata iai/jo" or "representative/standard forms of iai/jo".

This means just what it says, it's a standard set of kata that are done world-wide in the same way, or at least they should be, and they are encouraged to be. These are our grading kata, our competition kata, our common language. All students practice these kata as closely to the current practice as they can.

But we also have the various koryu which are also practiced by people in the Kendo Federation. These koryu are supported by the federation in that the grading system requires a demonstration of them at the advanced ranks in order to pass.

It always amuses me that people mix up these two types of practice. There are non-federation groups out there which practice "seitei iai" as if it's a school that can be learned and passed along outside the Kendo Federation. There are also federation people who wish to practice the seitei "as I was taught it several years ago before they started messing around with it." Seitei is a standardized set of practice kata which the Kendo Federation uses to discuss and demonstrate its current thoughts on practice, to instruct and assess students, and to ensure minimum levels of skill across multiple countries. It is also, perhaps unintentionally, a way of identifying who has been paying attention and who's been out of the loop for the last few years.

On the other hand, there are people who practice koryu who will look at the practice of other groups and say "they are doing it wrong", as if there were a standard, correct/representative way of practicing any koryu. This is an artifact of a world-wide ability to transfer video, photography and books, and an understanding that there are seitei sets out there which are standardized.

In fact, without the birth of Youtube just five years ago this sort of assumption would never have been made, and comments on how one group does something as compared to another would have been almost impossible, at least at the level of those who have not had long years of watching performances with their own eyes.

Seitei is designed to look the same for everyone. It's for judging and grading purposes, it's a level playing field on which to perform. The seitei gata are like a cross country race-course, they are a set of challenges that everyone experiences the same way, all the runners going over the same field, up the same hill and across the same marsh.

Koryu are, by their very nature, individual. You can indeed see which teacher taught which student when you are talking about the old schools. Koryu is taught from instructor to student, usually without reference to books, videos, photos or even other instructors. This daisy-chain of personal instruction from one generation to the next will naturally produce some drifting apart of lines. If two of my students teach in different cities, their grand-students will naturally look somewhat different from each other. Somewhat, as those things that I emphasize as being "very important" will likely be preserved as "very important" through the line.

But there is another way that the koryu become individualized, and that is the very correct and proper way that a teacher will shape an art for each student. This is a simple and practical matter of matching the art to the student, giving a large student large and strong technique and a small, wiry student fast technique. It may require actual modifications of the technique to fit a student with a weak arm, or a damaged knee. All of this also tends to move the koryu away from a standard way of practice.

With the seitei sets the student tries as hard as possible to match the body to the art. With the koryu sets the student has the art matched to the body. One tends toward a common practice, the other tends away from the common practice.

Of course all this is in balance, seitei is not rigid, just standardized; koryu is not deliberately changed, just molded.

If practice is looked at like this, there should be no reason to lament the loss of unique flavours in the martial arts. The koryu must be cherished by the seitei, the seitei must be understood by the koryu.

In our larger world, if our mass culture cherishes and values the esoteric, there is no reason why the languages of the Amazon basin need be lost to us while those peoples acquire laptops and the internet along with Coke, Nike and McDonalds.

April 29, 2010
Design What's UP

With That? I'm making my son toad-in-the-hole for breakfast (pan with butter, bread, tear hole out of middle of bread, drop in egg, fry both sides, server with syrup) and I notice the pan handle is loose.

Flipping it, expecting to see a slot screw to tighten I'm confronted with some sort of specialty star shape.

What? People aren't supposed to tighten the handles on their frying pans? We have to take this in to some service centre somewhere?

Design for real people! Nobody is going to have that screwdriver-bit in their house, and one can expect pan handles to get loose. Design with that in mind!

April 25, 2010
Living Start in the Corner

Looking over the post I just wrote, it makes me depressed and gives me the feeling that I don't have enough time in the day (left in my life) to do everything that needs doing.

This is pretty common, and something that can paralyze a person. You notice that the shower head is leaking, but that means opening up the wall to remove the fitting, and that means re-tiling and grouting, and that means fixing the backing board and that means rebuilding the studs and that means... before you know it you're rebuilding the house like some bad cable channel TV program.

You can't do this or that because of all the other things that you need to do... and it overwhelms you so that you just sit down and have a coffee on the couch and watch your kids play video games instead.

Two things to try.

First, turn off the radio, the computer, the TV and the your mp3 player. None of those things help get anything done, they are for distraction, not for productivity.

Second, for Musashi's sake don't think about all the things you have to get done. Just start in one corner of the house and start cleaning from there. Don't look around at the mess behind you, just work backwards out of that corner and keep looking at the nice clean area you've made so far.

It's a trick, but we need the tricks to get anything done. Multi-tasking is a myth, my computer can't do it and neither can I, the computer is just a lot faster at switching than I am.

OH, and if you're doing a job right now, do it Right, Now. Use the proper materials and do a proper job. That way you don't have to do it all over again in ten years (or three minutes).

OH, and don't even bother delegating stuff to someone you aren't sure will do the job. It's faster to do it yourself than to drive yourself insane trying to follow up all the delegation. This doesn't apply of course if you're paying folks to do this delegated job. Hey, you don't suppose that's why we invented jobs for pay do you?

OH, and if you are paying someone to do a job and they aren't doing it... fire them. Life's too short to treat employees like children.

OH, and if your kids don't do a job for you when they are asked, trade the neighbour for his kids. Kids will happily do work for the neighbour that they won't do for you. That way you can indulge your kids and still get the yardwork done. Just make sure your neighbour has kids the right age... damnit I knew there was a problem with that one.

OH and... this isn't getting EJMAS updated.

April 25, 2010
Catch-up News from the SDK front

Let's see, still waiting for enough registrations to come in for the seminar so that I can clear my credit cards and put the next chunk of expenses on there. This will be the 20th Guelph Spring Seminar for iaido and jodo, and we have 8 sensei coming from Japan including the chair of the Iaido committee, Kishimoto sensei. Should be a good seminar and I'm scrambling to get it all organized. It doesn't get any easier as the years go along, especially with coordinating this many instructors through the International Kendo Federation. The seminar is at: http://seidokai.ca/iai.seminar.html

This year we'll be doing a door prize, you will have to be at the free dinner on Saturday evening to collect... the nefarious plot of course is to get more people there bidding on the auction pieces so we can recover the price of the dinner and the door prize... wait a minute, let me go over that thinking again...

Other goodies include a free t-shirt that we still have to get ordered, you'll pick up your t-shirt when you put your ticket in for the door prize. (And how many does one order if there are only 30 people registered so far and no idea how many will eventually turn up? Oh the joys of the seminar organizer.) I've also got the students canvassing businesses to put up displays at the seminar and donate cool stuff to the auction so if anyone has any ideas just let me know. The deal is that the business sends items to display, and those are often donated to the auction. From Japan, Kendo World is sending some back issues along with subscription forms, and Chiba Budogu is sending some catalogues and bokuto. Jeff Broderick is sending a couple of items for the auction as well.

I was in Peterborough last weekend and am waiting on visuals for that seminar report. Good seminar, I did another run at abstracting timing from kata. I need to do an article on that for you guys, have to get the video out for it I think.

Speaking of video, I've managed to get a couple more done. The tanjo tape has been done for a while, and is available as a set with a tanjo. http://sdksupplies.com/cat_instructset.html We did a new one on Tachi Uchi no Kurai, I'm learning (I hope) how to do a decent instructional for partner sets. The solo iaido videos are so much easier, turn the tape on, talk for 2 hours, turn the tape off... but partner sets are a different story. Yesterday we did the tachi seiho from Niten Ichiryu and I have a good feeling for this one, although I haven't watched it yet.

I spent the afternoon yesterday uploading photos of the latest one of a kind weapons to that page. http://sdksupplies.com/cat_bokuto_singles.html Still waiting to get the prices and the buttons coded but if you're interested in anything the prices will be similar to others you see on the page and you can always email.

I hope to get an article or two uploaded to EJMAS this morning before class, and I have a page full of notes on blog entries next to my left hand here.

In the meantime I'm trying to get my Mother's estate sorted away, my own house repaired and my cottage finished after 16 years of half-finished drywall. You know, years ago folks used to ask to become my uchi-deshi for this or that art I teach. Maybe I should start saying yes, I'll teach you in return for carpentry, painting, yard-work, plumbing...... If I can only get you to pay for your own food as well...

Ah dear, I suppose one day all the tapes will be done, all the books written, all the kids established in their lives, all the students booted out the door and I'll go sit and think on the back porch. I'm half way to being a cranky old man now... yes only half way, it's going to get worse kids. Once I hit that porch everyone better stay off my lawn.

April 25, 2010
Teaching Kiwanis Music Festival

I attended the first of four or five classes my violin-playing daughter has for this year's Kiwanis Music Festival. The participants play a piece and an adjudicator makes notes and comments at the end of the performances.

My daughter is the equivalent of a Kendo Federation 5th dan.

The adjudicator talked about "how soft is piano" "how fast is adagio" and about the feeling of the piece. She suggested different bowing techniques to achieve different emotions in the music.

I was reminded of the advice that 5dan iaido students get on how to pace the kata, how to make this part or that more hard, more soft.

Then as we were walking out my daughter commented that she had the same instructor for her master class and that this woman had torn her piece to bits, and berated her about not being up on the technical aspects of the playing. My daughter added she knew she was doing this to make her a better player and that her own instructor is just as harsh and unforgiving of technical mistakes.

My opinion that she is a 5dan was confirmed. This rank is the "last of the technical grades" in the Kendo Federation, it is the last grade where the physical ability to perform the kata is the main reason to pass. Beyond this all sorts of other things like the feeling of the kata and the timing within the technique become more important.

More interesting is that the visiting master class instructor felt free to rip her to pieces on her technical skills. She must have seen her level of skill and realized that she should simply be ready for class, the notes ready to hand, and be working on other things. Her comments on the Kiwanis class began with "it's a pleasure to see people come to class prepared", and then she proceeded to give instructions on how to go to the next level.

From now on my daughter will be asked to do more of her own work, to figure out her own phrasing and bowing, to have her own opinion on how a piece should be interpreted and eventually to develop her own style. This style will be something other than a gimmick, it will simply be how she plays, what is natural to her. She will be asked to make the art her own.

How Budo can you get?

Apr 21, 2010
Training Chocolate Milk as a Post-Exercise Recovery Aid.

(One of my students will be delighted at this one.

International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism Feb2006, Vol. 16 Issue 1, p78 14p.
Karp, Jason R.
Johnston, Jeanne D.
Tecklenburg, Sandra
Mickleborough, Timothy D.
Fly, Alyce D.
Stager, Joel M.
Nine male, endurance-trained cyclists performed an interval workout followed by 4 h of recovery, and a subsequent endurance trial to exhaustion at 70% VO<sub>2max</sub>, on three separate days. Immediately following the first exercise bout and 2 h of recovery, subjects drank isovolumic amounts of chocolate milk, fluid replacement drink (FR), or carbohydrate replacement drink (CR), in a single-blind, randomized design. Carbohydrate content was equivalent for chocolate milk and CR. Time to exhaustion (TTE), average heart rate (HR), rating of perceived exertion (RPE), and total work (W<sub>T</sub>) for the endurance exercise were compared between trials. TTE and W<sub>T</sub> were significantly greater for chocolate milk and FR trials compared to CR trial. The results of this study suggest that chocolate milk is an effective recovery aid between two exhausting exercise bouts.

Apr 13, 2010
Teaching Too Many Cooks

I picked my son up from his Judo class and he was not a very happy camper. He had a couple of complaints but they all came, more or less, down to the same problem.

First, he and his partner were told to practice slower by one sensei, and they did. Then another sensei came along and told them to practice faster, and they did. The first sensei came back and told them that if they didn't start listening to him he was going to kick them off the mat.

Eventually the second sensei came over and admitted he had told them to do something different.

Later, he was working carefully to get a good throw in, since he doesn't want to just try to muscle on the throws because he has no muscle to work with. A sensei announced to the class in general that if they weren't ready to come on the mat and try their hardest they should just stay home.

Now, as it turns out there is a tournament coming up but I wonder how much good this is doing anyone at that class.

The martial arts are not a democracy, there is room for only one voice in a class at any one time. I well remember Aikido classes where every senior I practiced with had his own contribution to my training, and I remember even more clearly wishing they would all just shut up and listen to what the instructor was saying because what he was saying had very little to do with what they thought he was saying... or perhaps they just knew better than their sensei.

It's been a while since I have actually run across this problem. Either I'm so senior nobody talks over my instruction, or those practicing the weapons arts are a bit more careful (confusion doesn't lead to a twisted wrist, it leads to blood on the scalp). I do know that I was always very careful, when in any class, to listen to whoever is teaching and to practice what they were teaching. I always tried very hard to do what they said, rather than to get into "well in my dojo we do it this way"... after all if my partner wanted to learn from me I'm sure he would have said so or turned up in my class.

None of this helps my son with his multiple sensei problem of course, and the only advice I ever came up with to solve the problem was to try and do it the way the last sensei told you to do it... although I have to admit, I really can't think of more than three classes I was ever in with more than one sensei walking around. If it's a training partner yapping away at you then smile, nod, say thank you, and then act stupid while you do the technique the way sensei told you to do it, rather than the way your partner told you. That goes for partners who outrank you as well as those who don't. If your partner outranks you by enough you may find (as I did once or twice) that they stop and ask "really, sensei said do it that way? Oops I guess I should look closer next time".

One cook in each kitchen folks, one sensei in each class.

Apr 13, 2010
History Japan's Military from 1895-1945


Lots of photos and discussion to waste an afternoon or three.

Hmm, can anyone tell me why baseball became so popular in Japan after the war?

Apr 12, 2010
Aesthetics The Dojo Floor

Namitome Dojo, Fukuoka

We were talking about "the dojo" a couple of days ago. The dojo is the top floor of my cottage, it's a beautiful space of 24 by 36 feet with 13 foot high ceilings that has, for 16 years, been used as a junk accumulation area but now one of my students is determined he is going to make it a dojo before this spring is over.

We got thinking about the floor and it occurs to me that the best floor I've ever seen is in the dojo of Namitome sensei in Fukuoka. It has light coming in at floor level, it has red pine floors, and it has acquired, over the years, the surface texture of a golf ball.

It's beautiful.

It's like a practice top that is starting to fray around the collar, just the right amount of wear and tear to let you know that someone works here. This floor has acquired its dents from years of jo and bokuto hits which have been worn in by regular washing.

Just thinking about it makes me happy.

Namitome dojo, Fukuoka

Apr 10, 2010
Video Vancouver Iaido Seminar

Here is some film of Oda Katsuo sensei (hanshi) who will be instructing at the seminar coming this July 3-4 in Vancouver. Contact Natan Cheifetz <bokuto@telus.net> for details.

Source: http://www.yaegaki-kai.be/iaido/iaido-videos/

Also on that site are several videos of Yamazaki sensei who visited Vancouver and Guelph a few years ago, and a short biography of Oda sensei http://www.yaegaki-kai.be/koryu_eishin-ryu_oda-katsuo/oda-katsuo-sensei/

It's interesting that Oda sensei's training is very similar to Ohmi Goyo sensei's http://www.jccciaido.com/jccc_instructors.html in that he trained at the Shumphukai in Osaka under Sakamoto sensei, and later in the line of Yamamoto Harusuke (Yamashibu sensei for Oda sensei, and one generation later, Haruna sensei for Ohmi sensei).

So for the Muso Jikiden Eishinryu folks of Eastern Canada, a visit to Vancouver in July would be very instructive. I will be attending along with Dave Green from Ottawa.

Apr 2, 2010
Stages The ages of Learning

(With apologies to Confucious)

I suspect I was one of the first folks on the net to point out that Shimizu sensei got a menkyo kaiden (full transmission of the school) in just 8 years http://ejmas.com/jnc/jncart_taylor_0900.htm and I'm usually the first to jump in on the debunking of the "ancient Japanese master" stuff but to be honest, at this stage in my martial arts career it looks about like this:

At 5 years I had learned all the kata.

At 10 years I had some idea that I knew what the kata were for.

At going on 30 years of martial arts practice now I'm just starting to figure out that it's got nothing to do with kata. The really juicy stuff is in the first twitch of your foot just as the opponent has reached a point in his attack where he's committed and can't prevent what you're about to do to him.

The first twitch of the foot. 

And I'm still not there, I figure I need another ten years at least before I get what I'm working on now, by which time I'll be fascinated by something even more esoteric.

Look, there are guys out there who get "menkyo kaiden" in short periods of time... and I have a 7dan in iaido, but that stuff isn't what I'm talking about. Knowing the school and being able to teach it isn't the end of the road. The real secrets of the martial arts (and I've said this before too) are contained in the lessons you got on the very first day of your training. They aren't secrets at all, they're practical ways of moving that explode into all the kata of the school and then contract after years of training into a couple of basic motions. Back to what you learned the first day.

So for 5 years you learn kata like crazy, looking for the techniques.

For the next ten years you study the kata for the secret techniques contained within and between the techniques and maybe you get permission to start teaching.

Then for the next 20 years you slowly start to realize that the kata are only the textbooks, knowing them is knowing what the recipe for a chocolate cake is, they aren't the chocolate cake.

The good cooking comes after years of cooking, not after memorizing a few hundred recipes.

March 30, 2010
Learning Still Learning

This example won't mean much to those who don't do jodo but the idea's the same.

I was working, the last couple of practices, on hiki otoshi uchi, the knocking aside of the sword by the jo. Mostly I'm trying to get the students to keep their hips underneath themselves, to keep their hands from crossing when they swing, to get the right angle on the strike, all sorts of things like that.

Yesterday I was talking about footwork, carrying over from the iaido class earlier in the day and mentioned the change in the foot between ma hanmi (fully sideways stance) where you start this technique, and ya ya hanmi (sort of sideways) where you finish. The front foot moves from 45 degrees away from the opponent to pointing directly at them.

Suddenly I said " OK turn your foot first, before you hit the sword" and lights appeared over heads all over the class.

Including mine.

And suddenly hips, angles, hands all fell into place.

I heard, down the line a little way, someone say "why didn't you mention this before?"

Hells bells, I just noticed it myself! Didn't say so of course, can't have the students know just how small the distance between us is, I said something like "well now you're ready to hear it".

Thankfully nobody challenged the little talk on hand angles and grip that popped into my head at the same time... fixed up the swing shape though.

Mar 29, 2010
Discussions People Is People

From the "everyone's the same" files: On an online forum recently it was suggested that the koryu in Japan do not badmouth each other. This response comes from Rennis Buchner

Not to be argumentative, but spend a little bit of time on various Japanese discussion boards where budo matters come up and you will readily find endless discussions of various ryu, various lines of ryua, etc that make some of the meanest and most vindictive arguments we have see on our English forums seem downright tame in comparison. Of course one major reason for this is that Japanese forums generally tend to lean towards anonymous posting, which really allows the gloves to come off. But in any case, the idea that most other ryuha don't have similar issues in the online (and real life) community and don't get bad-mouthed and aggressively attacked for any number of reasons in Japan is far from true. Most ryu do "put up with it" or more correctly, just try to ignore it.

Many western beginners do tend to have the idea that Japanese budo is some sort of monolithic, polite society dedicated to improving all humanity. It's always a good idea to remember that people is people at the end of the day.

Mar 26, 2010
Tools Anything Breaks

A customer sent this to me today:

Sorry to be emailing you this but I broke my ebony bokken today on a rubber "Bob"...yes, broken...I will send you pics asap.....I am not asking for anything and just providing feedback for you and Kim....I cut ABOUT 4000 cuts minimum a week for about 15 years now so I'm starting to get it as far as cutting...Anyway, its sad to see my ebony break and just wanted to share that they all can break and sadly, all do when used....just an fyi, "bob" is the rubber guy who stands and is filled with water or sand..I put about 4 sweatshirts on him too and firehoods on his head to  deaden the impacts.....(firehoods per I'm a firefighter in GA)... again, please let me know what you think....thank you!! (this bokken was the custom black ebony one made about 2 years ago now)

I'll be offering a deal to replace his bokuto but a couple of points to make here about using wood tools.

It's wood. It dries out, it suffers from repeated blows, it doesn't like hitting things that don't move out of the way once you hit them. In other words, hit something hard enough or long enough and it will break. I've broken the hickory handles of splitting mauls with a single mis-hit on a piece of pine. I've broken those indestructible plastic handles too.

A few of my fellow bokuto-makers used to offer guarantees against breakage, one of them for "dymondwood" like material (ebony glued laminated wood) and another for verawood, but they don't any more. People break the unbreakable stuff. If I remember the story right, one verawood customer bought a bokuto (at a couple hundred dollars likely) and went out and broke it on a telephone pole.

After almost 30 years of making these things I can tell a lot of stories but here's my advice on hitting things with bokuto.

1. Hit lightly. You want accuracy not power, a bokuto represents a sword and you don't need to hit hard with a sword, the sharp edge takes care of the damage, you just have to deliver it.

2. Hit something springy. If you do want to hit things hard, make sure they give, like a bundle of small branches or a FLEXIBLE rubber tire, but not a heavy bag or a "bob", those things don't give way fast enough. They're OK for hitting with your fist or your foot since those things are moving relatively slowly and if you hit too hard you give... and eventually heal. Bokuto break.

3. Don't use your exotic wood weapons to smack things. They're expensive and they're not the most reliable grain in the world, but as I mentioned, even the epoxy-glued laminates don't stand up to some hitting. Buy a cheap hickory bokuto to break instead.

4. Make sure you hit with the sweet spot. If you hit too close to the end of a bokuto you run the risk of splitting the tip, if you hit too far down you put more weight into the front end which "folds over" the target and snaps. Of course if you hit far enough toward your hands you lose the speed and the leverage and so you reduce the risk.

5. Even weapons that are designed to hit hard don't actually hit hard. I'm thinking of the jo in Shindo Muso Ryu jodo. They are used to smack bokuto out of the way and the bokuto do go flying away fast, but the best strikes, the most correct strikes, don't meet at 90 degrees. The strikes are on an angle that puts the power into the bokuto over a distance and over a period of time so the damage is minimal while the motion is maximized. Even the few strikes that are more or less square on are mitigated by it being tip on tip, so the jo can flex and the bokuto can be driven sideways in the grip of the swordsman. There's never an edge to edge movie-style smacking going on.

6. Remember that you can break an ash (very flexible wood) baseball bat on a small ball so it should never be a surprise that you can break a bokuto on an immovable object, or on another bokuto swung at 90 degrees to hit edge to edge.

7. Experience is not a protection. At some point you will have to ease up even more when you hit things, because with experience comes the ability to put more and more power into the tip of the bokuto. Eventually you will be able to pick up just about any weapon and know how to snap it in half. I know karate guys who can break a bo by swinging it in the air.

Mar 25, 2010
Seminar Welland Seminar

Here's a news clipping courtesy of Mike Masotti about the Welland iaido seminar of March 6.

Welland Iaido Clinic

Mar 23, 2010
Seminar AUSKF iaido seminar in San Antonio Texas, June 2010

AUSKF seminar, June 2009
2009 AUSKF seminar, tournament and grading in Idaho.
There's Kim in the back row in white.

The 2010 AUSKF iaido seminar will be held in Texas, June 9-13. You'll find details here:


Mar 21, 2010
Training Flavours

One of the truisms of the martial arts is that you have to stick with one instructor. Sometimes it works out that you can, but in the case of myself and many of my students it has not.

I have a student in Japan who has had an embarassment of instruction. Due to his job he has moved to several locations in Japan and has practiced with many of the strongest iaido and jodo instructors.

Here in Canada we have been exposed to dozens of very strong instructors from Japan as a matter of course as seminars are presented and different people are invited.

This is both good and bad. As a beginner and for a couple of decades after that, being exposed to many different instructors means that you can be moulded into something very strong, something that, if you're lucky, is the best of each instructor. They all see different things and they all make tweaks in different ways which means a student can get some fine "fine tuning".

The flip side is that there can be conflicting instruction, which is where the flavour comes in. Even in a common set such as Zen Ken Ren Iai (seitei iaido) there is room for variation in the shape of a cut or the timing of a movement.

You can see why this multiple instruction isn't a problem until you've had ten or 15 years of practice, to change at will the shape of your cut or the path the tip of your sword takes, means that you are an advanced student to begin with. Instruction goes from the large to the small, from big movements to the details, and by the time you're working on those details you're very experienced. This is where there can be too many flavours in one dish. You are now at the stage where you can make these kinds of changes and so you will get nailed with contradictory advice.

Note that we're talking about Zen Ken Ren Iai and there is very little room for personal interpretation here. The set is designed for testing how closely students can come to a specified practice, and it is designed to be the same worldwide. In other words, multiple instructors should be able to teach the same student and come up with someone who is performing the techniques correctly. It is only at the advanced stages that the student needs consistent instruction, at about 5 or 6dan, certainly by 7dan.

Koryu is a different story. There is no common agreement on how to practice a koryu art, even very small arts such as Niten Ichiryu have multiple lines of instruction. Larger arts such as Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu have hundreds of lines of practice which can look radically different and can have quite different interpretations of the kata. It is of great value for a student to learn from a single instructor for as much of their practice as possible, certainly from their fourth or fifth year of practice onward. Of course, each of these koryu have their own grading systems (or not) and so it would be downright impossible to consider advancing in any of the lines without being a student of that line and thus the student of one instructor. It is only in a common set such as Zen Ken Ren iai that the question even arises that you can have several instructors and advance in rank.

Bottom line, you either follow the instructor you're studying with or you insult him/her by second guessing their instruction and if you're second guessing the instruction you're wasting your time. Even if you can do it "two different ways" and keep them separated, what do you do when you grade? These are the origins of the "one teacher" rule. It has something to do with loyalty and instructors being reluctant to poach students, sure, but it has a lot more to do with having a clear voice of instruction at higher levels of study.

Finally, there is always the case of "politics" which, in the martial arts actually more often than not means "sponsorship". To achieve the very highest ranks in any organization you need to be known, and in a large organization that means you need to be sponsored by someone who can vouch for your character and abilities. Those at the top of a small organization may know everyone of interest below, but get into the thousands of members and you're looking at personal recommendations being very important and that means picking the right teacher and sticking with him.

Mar 20, 2010
Lineage A bit on lineage from Chris Gilham's blog


Mar 19, 2010
Seminar Isoyama Shihan in Southlake Texas

Isoyama sensei
On June 12th, Hiroshi Isoyama Shihan will be visiting Southlake, Texas where he will be the leading instructor at an Aikido seminar. Isoyama Shihan currently holds an 8th Dan within the Aikikai and is the Chief Instructor at the Ibaraki Shibu Dojo in Iwama, Japan on behalf of Ueshiba Moriteru Doshu.

Isoyama seminar
Isoyama Shihan started his career in Aikido at the age of 12 as a student of Ueshiba Morihei O-Sensei, the founder of Aikido. During his long career in the martial arts, Isoyama Shihan has been the Chief Instructor of Defensive Tactics for the Japan Self Defense Force Academy, and has been an instructor to the U.S. Army on self defense tactics. Some of his first students were members of the American Military Police, and eventually included amongst others, Steven Seagal Sensei, as well as members of Japan’s armed forces. Also participating, Michael Moreno Sensei who currently holds a 6th dan under the Aikikai Foundation.  Moreno Sensei studied under Ni Dai Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba (O’Sensei’s son).  Moreno Sensei currently resides in Texas where he is the chief instructor of the Aikido USA dojo and the Technical Director for the American Aikikai Federation.

Isoyama sensei and Stephen Seagal
For more information about this event please visit www.isoyamaseminar.com and www.americanaikikaifederation.com
Mar 11, 2010
learning Enlightenment

The function of the life long practice of budo is often assumed to be enlightenment.

I gotta tell you, it's a tricky subject. If we're talking about that wonderful feeling of being connected to the entire universe (non-drug induced) and the sure knowledge that the world and your self interpenetrate and all that jazz, I got that about 30 years ago. I was riding on a bus and received it as we were going around a corner. Cool rubber on hot pavement, the outward sway of movement, the smell of diesel exhaust, the warmth of the sun on our window, the vibration of the engine.

What did it do for me? Well I'm no longer bothered by religion, fear of death or the rest of that "big thing". I instantly knew the meaning of life and I haven't forgotten it.

Did it make me happy? A better person?

No. Unfortunately no on both counts.

The problem is that I live in the world. I have to deal with life in all its ugly, stupid, depressing, vindictive, petty glory. One of my students is living like a monk in my cottage up north. He chops wood, melts snow, reads good books and is alone with his thoughts. Oh how I envy him! Ah, yes, envy.

Enlightenment isn't a goal, being a good person isn't an achievement, it's something that we have to work at every day. Training is forever or the world sucks you right back down into the pointless bickering and argument of everyday life in an over-crowded world where most people figure they'll be happy with just a little bit more, where next week it's going to get done and next year we'll do that nice thing we have been meaning to do for.... is it ten years now?

Make a list for a day of all the selfish, petty, hurtful things that you notice.

Now make a list for all the same things you notice in other people.

It's easy to be enlightened if you're a hermit on a mountain. It's not so easy if you live in the world of ghosts, in that city of half-alive people who don't know they're half dead. In that place where the only way most people feel life is through self-inflicted pain and where their connection with others is through the infliction of more pain.

Mostly it's a fight against the anger that comes with the understanding of how happy people could be if they would just stop looking inward and nurturing, indulging that needy-greedy little child and look outward to the wonder of being alive.

To just stop and pay attention to the rest of their own self, the part that is beyond that bag of skin they think separates them from the rest of their life, their happiness.

Mar 3, 2010
Instruction Guelph Spring Iaido and Jodo Seminar

Well the tickets are bought, the sensei invited, the rooms booked. The 2010 Guelph Spring Iaido and Jodo Seminar is now well under way, all we need now is for those registration forms to start rolling in.

In the last few years we've had quite a few setbacks to attendance, and that will continue this year as we all deal with the recession and our US friends will need a passport to get back into their own country. While this cuts down a lot on the tourists, the serious budoka continue to visit.

This year we have a special guest in Kishimoto sensei, hanshi hachidan who is head of the iaido section for the ZNKR / FIK. He originally trained in the dojo of Nakayama Hakudo so those who practice Muso Shinden ryu should make an extra effort to come visit. Those who were at the AUSKF seminar last June in Idaho will remember sensei and I'm sure will want to take this chance to practice with him again.

Hatakenaka sensei and Tsubaki sensei will also be teaching iaido, along with Ohmi sensei and Cruise sensei so there will be lots of iaido instruction at the same great ratio of students to instructors we have had for many years.

On the jodo side of things Furukawa sensei and Arai sensei are again visiting to continue our instruction in seitei jodo and koryu. This year they will be joined by Ozeki sensei, Ueda sensei and Sakai sensei. Given that the jodo population is quite a bit smaller than the iaido population, the teacher to student ratio is going to be wonderful.

To check out the seminar go to http://seidokai.ca/iai.seminar.html where you will find links to the registration forms.

Mar 1, 2010
Learning Mostly

growing up and being happy
comes down to
asking yourself
what you want.

Out of life
Out of love
Out of time

figuring out what you want
gives you answers:
what you don't want
how to get that
how to say goodbye

it isn't money
it isn't fame
it isn't sex

it's time
to spend with the kids
to think
to write
to be alone with your thoughts

So why
Oh why

do we spend our lives
with people who don't like us
doing things we don't have to do
for money we don't need
in places we don't like

Is it God
Systemic disadvantage
Nature or Nurture



it comes down to understanding
that I'm not your mother
you're not my mother
and your pain really
is not mine.

it's the golden rule
You get what you give
not what you deserve

you need to figure out
what you deserve

your great great grandkids
won't know your name
let alone
what you were upset about


Feb 24, 2010
Culture Conservatism

Moshe Feldenkrais said, in 1942, that "... the word Ju-Jitsu is used only in Europe and is obsolete in the country in which it originated, as is the method it is used to denote. Both are replaced by a more scientific and much more efficient system called Judo."

Feldenkrais was a convert to judo of course, but it's interesting that he would say jujutsu was an obsolete word. In this day of koryu-mania they are far from obsolete, we're digging up all those old terms and even the old grading systems as fast as we can.

Ah yes, "there's none so Scots as the Scots abroad". Or perhaps more appropriately, "there's none so fervent as the converted". While the Japanese were keen to embrace the new and improved, the Europeans were clinging to the old ways which were, of course, much more romantic.

We agonize over mirrors in the dojo while the Japanese are working with motion capture training systems.

Feb 23, 2010
Theory Boredom

I seem to get bored easily, in fact it takes about 5 minutes on average. This isn't a problem in and of itself, but with me boredom is dangerous. It causes projects.

I can't count the number of projects I've started and haven't been able to finish because of this. I should be able to deal with a half day of downtime between one update to EJMAS, monthly issue to 180 magazine, update to the one of a kind page of sdksupplies, change to the kendo-canada website and another... or a pause in any of the other 12 or 14 things I do, but no, I end up starting another project.


This is not a variation on "train like your hair is on fire", this is more the result of being afraid that I won't get it all done, or that if I don't do it, nobody will.

Less haste and more speed. Fewer projects and get more done!

Feb 22, 2010
Learning Esoteric Arts

A couple of days ago I began making plans to get the partner into the gym and practice up a couple of new koryu sets that I still don't have worked into my bones. I don't have a lot of time for this and it suddenly occurred to me that I don't really have dozens of students waiting anxiously for this material.

Now learning new kata and new sets is a good thing, there is no doubt of that. You learn a few new moves with your weapon, you learn a lot of subtle new ways to use the basic moves you already know, and it reinforces a lot of the basics you already have.

But often it's really just a bunch of variations on the same theme so why am I knocking myself out learning them "by heart".

I've often said that I'm a fan of arts that are small, that have few but pithy techniques. These arts are easy to learn and provide a lifetime of the stuff that comes after you've learned them. (Learning obviously meaning to learn the movements of the kata.)

A lot of people on the net express a desire to learn an obscure koryu so that they can help preserve it for the future.

Nuts to that, they're curious, nothing more, or they're romantic but there's nothing in any art I ever practiced or watched that is intrinsically valuable. There are no movements I've ever seen that are worth preserving for their own sake, they can all be reinvented at need. The value of a koryu, at least a good one, is that it has been pared down into an internally consistent set of movements that fit together and make sense. One leads into the next and at the end of your study you can move within that art inventing techniques at will.

Some seitei gata (representative forms) share a similar theme. The kendo federation jodo forms are such as they are a subset of the Shindo Muso Ryu. Study of the seitei gata is more or less the study of the first 2 or 3 (depending on how you count) sets of the koryu and study of one means a pretty good understanding of the other. The beauty of the seitei forms is that there are only 12 of them, as compared to 26 of the koryu forms in the same covered material. There is value in simplicity and I doubt I'll ever forget which seitei kata comes next or how to do it.The same can't be said for my study of the SMR koryu kata.

But that's what books, video and my notebook are for isn't it? That's what the walls full of kata lists in the dojo are for isn't it?

Back to the point. There is really no reason for me to be too concerned about learning these new kata sets as long as I don't have students eager to learn them.

Are there students? I teach 5 or 6 koryu, 3 or 4 "seitei" (depending again on how you count) and I have the time to travel. There are no hoards beating down my door to be taught, no invites to exotic locations to pass on my knowledge. I travel about once a month to visit the various folks I've been practicing with for years but I don't see many new faces there either. 

Nah, I'll head out to the shop and finish that stick order rather than haul myself and my partner out to the gym to practice. Maybe tomorrow I'll go swing the sticks I made today.

Feb 20, 2010
Training Switching Dojo

One of the most divisive things about the martial arts is the act of moving from one dojo to another. It's like leaving a family to go live with another one, and you should treat it like that.

If it's one person leaving to go practice with someone else, perhaps to get a different style of instruction, a couple of things should be done as a matter of course. First, both the current and the future instructor should be asked, and in that order. Your current instructor got you to where you are now, you need to acknowledge that by asking him if you can switch to another instructor. Your future instructor will likely value his relationship with your old teacher much more than he will value you as a student, you should respect that as well. There should be no feeling of abandonment or "student poaching" if you discuss the move beforehand.

What are good reasons for a move? One is a difference in instruction as I mentioned, if a kendo player is on the verge of breaking into a national team level and that breakthrough can be made better with a different instructor, all parties may agree it's a good thing. Another reason to leave, and much more common, would be moving to a different location where there is a different, local dojo. There will seldom be a problem with switching in this case.

Be aware that we are talking about fairly low-ranked short-studied students here. It is accepted that students need to find their best fit for instruction and a certain amount of moving around to find it is good for the art. On the other hand, if you've got 5 or 6dan with the same instructor, or have been there for 15 years, moving to another dojo is going to be a serious business and the reasons had better be extremely good if difficulties are to be avoided. This goes for moves across the country. It is perfectly acceptable to practice in a different dojo while being a student of someone far away, it is less acceptable to move, as a high ranking student, to another sensei altogether. There are political consequences that will reverberate far beyond the two instructors and the student involved.

What about leaving a dojo to start your own?

Ah, this is the sort of thing that breaks apart organizations. I have seen many cases where a senior student leaves a dojo and invites students to move with him to a new place. This is amazingly bad manners and a real slap in the face to the instructor of the original dojo. This sort of thing takes years to heal, if it ever does... and often it never does. I've seen it spill over into the next generation and I've seen it split organizations in two.

If you really want to go start teaching on your own, do it the correct way. Ask permission from your sensei, ask him for help, ask him to come teach once in a while, ask him to allow your students to come practice in the old dojo, and most important of all.... get your own students.

If your sensei tells his students they can practice with you, great, but never, ever invite them to leave the old dojo and join yours. Not unless you really mean to insult the man who "raised you" to the level you're at now.

In the case where you are already a high-level student who has been practicing in another teacher's dojo for a few years and it's time to go start your own place, it is still inappropriate to ask students to come along to your new place. Thank your long-time host and start your own dojo, find your own students. In this case your old host may just send a few students along to help you get started.

Don't poach students, ever. I've seen instructors practice in another dojo and tell students they should come practice with them. Poor taste, right up there with having dinner at a friend's house and making a pass at his wife. At least have the decency to make a pass at the wife in the supermarket, not while enjoying the husband's hospitality. If a student shows up at your dojo and wants to practice with you, ask him who his sensei is, and whether or not he's talked it over with him. Call the old sensei and talk with him if you think it's appropriate.

None of this is to imply that students shouldn't travel to different dojo to practice. I have seen the case where there are many dojo in a city, and students move from one to another through the week so that they can practice 7 days out of 7. This can be quite healthy, it makes for better students and it makes for instructors who don't get bent out of shape with each other, how can they fly apart when their students are busy making things come together. As long as the students have a home dojo and as long as the various sensei are happy, this is a marvellous situation.

Feb 18, 2010
Learning Kamiza

In the Kendo World forum someone is asking about kamiza and Peter West (a 7dan iaido teacher in England) replied that "A basketball hoop makes a perfect kamiza."

I'm not sure that folks really got that remark. There were comments on the perfect circle and a hilarious note that a great scroll to hang would be "don't clip the basketball hoop" but I was struck by a rather deeper appreciation for a seemingly throwaway remark.

A basketball hoop for a kamiza.

First, why is one worrying about a kamiza in the west? One obviously wants to make a Japanese dojo, complete with shinto decoration. This means a special place to practice iaido.

This is a bad idea.

The best place to practice iaido is wherever you can practice it, and often that means in a gym, stealing some time away from the boys in the 'hood who want to get in there and sink a few hoops.

Even in Japan you'll find a lot of very serious iaido being practiced in places where the basketball hoop is the kamiza.

If you've got a private dojo, a dedicated space with a wonderful kamiza and a lovely scroll in the tokonoma, that's great, but a basketball hoop will do for the important stuff.

Feb 17, 2010

At the
Metro Toronto Convention Centre

>From Japan, traveling to the Expo, seven award-winning artists from Tokyo, presenting works in traditional styles as well as that country’s sophisticated modern contribution to world art. Netsuke, sumie, anime, modern abstractions and drawing. Complimenting this will be a presentation of rarely seen woodblock prints from Japanese masters of the 60’s and 70’s on loan from the Japanese Government.

To catch up on previous Akimbos about the exciting features that will be at the Expo:
For Sculpture Feature go to  www.torontoartexpo.com/2010/akimbo/akimbosculpture.html

For General Information on Features go to www.torontoartexpo.com/2010/akimbo/akimbogeneric.html

For Zhenghui Lan, Monumental Works on Paper from China go to www.torontoartexpo.com/2010/akimbo/akimbolan.html

The 2010 Toronto Art Expo will represent a significant expansion in Gallery and International participants, showcasing artists and galleries that have never exhibited before in Toronto, coming from twelve countries. Note our dates.


Feb 16, 2010
Teaching How Selfish Can You Get

Last evening I realized, not for the first time, that I only teach because it helps me learn. I don't make any money teaching, it's a pain in the butt to convince the powers that be every year (for 20 years now) that they should grant us a bit of time in a dance studio when nobody else wants to be near the place, and I've passed on pretty much everything I know to other students who are teaching in dojo of their own. I've done my bit for the arts, so I teach only for my own gain these days.

How does that work? Having to go teach helps get my lazy self into the dojo. Having some residual feeling of responsibility to get the students through their next grading helps focus the classes on a few key sets of kata which are suitable for beginners, and forces me to concentrate on basics. Beyond that, I wander through kata and arts as it pleases me. I see connections between this and that so we practice them. I torture whichever senior is around just so I can see whether this angle or that step is good or bad for me (and the opposite for them).

And I answer questions. By answering questions I concentrate and focus my own thoughts about the subject, I discover new answers as I am speaking them, and I get pushed into new areas to investigate.

All this is good for me, not so good for beginners, but I don't really care much about that. They seem to pick it up despite how I'm laying it out so enough of them stay around to become interesting. Of course I also suspect the seniors are telling the beginners what they need to know when my back is turned, which will turn them into teachers without their realizing it.

Oh devious arts, how resiliant thou art to overcome even the most selfish of instructors.

Feb 6, 2010
Learning Go no Sen

Check out this short article here: http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2010/203/1

Basically it supports the idea that there is an error prone reaction system which we can tap into when we are in danger. This reaction system is marginally faster than an action that is deliberately taken. The example they use is the gunfight, the person drawing second, reacting to the other person's draw, is marginally faster than the first person. Unfortunately, this speed doesn't entirely make up for the lack of initiative and if we're just counting draw and shoot, the second fellow loses.

But if someone is slightly faster to begin with, more practiced, and reacts to the attack efficiently...

Go no sen: To attack after the attack. A sword cut, especially an iaido draw and cut, isn't going to be as fast as a gunslinger. Add in some serious practice in a patterned response to a predictable attack and you just may get to an advantage going to the person who reacts, rather than the person who initiates.

Now, if you can get to the point where you can read the attacker's intention and begin your danger-driven, practiced reaction at that point...

Feb 5, 2010
Teaching  Teaching Style

   I have a new question that is related to my last e-mail about old/ young sensei. I talked a little bit about the demonstration in my last e-mail, well my question is about teaching methods. I'm not referring to the methods used in demos, but the methods used in day to day classes. I know that in demos, a new technique is shown and the students have a few minutes to practice the technique then another new technique is introduced. I get that this teaching is a way to show a lot of techniques to prospect students and get them to want to join your dojo. But the problem I have is when that type of teaching continues into the classes. What happened in my case was, I watched the demo and took up the dojos offer to try a week of classes for free. I was told I would attend the regular classes and, if I was a good student, I could join. The first class I attended, the teaching was indirect and was all over the place. A technique was introduced and quickly the technique was altered then altered again at the sensei's will. There were no basics and everything was fast paced, with a "do as say not as I do" attitude. Well, my question is whether this teaching is normal or not? Also, what is your method of teaching, I would like to know for myself.

Ah yes, teaching style. One of my sensei learned the very first kata for 2 or 3 years before starting to move along. The other learned in a dojo where they proceeded through the kata sets in a regular fashion, start to finish and start again. As a result, my own students sometimes get marched through a set or two in one evening and at other times may get four hours of the same kata.

The thing about iaido is that it can be practiced solo and I do tend to assume my students are practicing outside class so I feel free to move along briskly at times, confident that they will be reinforcing things on their own time.

Silly, I know.

So how best to teach beginners? It's a delicate balance. If you spend three weeks on a single kata you are quite likely to lose the 10% of those who start who would have stayed on. On the other hand, if you march right through things too quickly you may lose that vital 10% of "stickers" and retain a different set of students who leave a bit later assuming they know everything there is to know once they've picked up the "dance steps".

It sounds as if the sensei who was teaching you not only moved through the kata quickly, but also showed you a lot of variation and interpretation in the kata. This is something that beginners really don't appreciate. If you're whizzing past a kata they don't want three different ways to do it, especially if you tell them that they can pick any of the three and don't tell them which you practice personally.

How should one teach?

I think the ideal, and what I like to think I do, is to give a bit of a mix. Go through several kata at one time, explaining to the class that they are getting an overview to let them know what's ahead. Then go back and start teaching. For beginners go from the big to the small. Start with the dance steps, this foot goes in front of that. Once they have the shape explain the basic meaning of the kata, since we're talking iai here we must tell them what their invisible opponent is doing. After they get the right shape we start working on the flavour, the timing, posture and the targeting of the cuts to make sure it all works together. Here is where we start to introduce the variations to show how the kata would change if the opponent did this or that. Much later we start working on the texture, the feeling of the kata. Finally, the student has to start working toward making the art their own, which means that sensei has to suggest modifications which suit the student so that they can begin to feel the art within their own bodies. Once they do that, sensei is just the guy who stands around making tea while they get on with learning the rest of the lessons by themselves.

That's the kata. But the kata are only places where we learn the kihon, and that instruction goes on continually through learning one kata after another. How to grip the sword, how to swing, how to move the hips, how to breathe. That's something that would be excruciating to learn without the distraction of learning kata so a good sensei will sneak that stuff in between repetitions of each small dance.

Feb 4, 2010
Teaching Does Sensei have to be Old

I had a situation recently that made me question whether a sensei needed to be old in order to teach a martial art. This question came about when I decided to attend an open house for a local martial arts school that offered kendo. I was excited about the whole thing and was eager to see a demonstration of their art. The senior students went about demonstrating their other various arts: hand-to-hand combat, jo techniques, bo staff techniques, and a few other ninja type weapons. Finally, the time came for the sensei to demonstrate their sword techniques. One of the senior students picked up a sword and the sensei went to face him. The match barely began when it was over, the senior student admitted defeat and bowed out. Some of the older men from the crowd began grumbling amongst themselves. The demonstration continued and with each technique the sensei demonstrated the disgruntled men just got worse. At the end of the demonstration, the several disgruntled men got up and walked towards the door. I stopped one of the men and asked why they were leaving and he answered, "He's too young to know anything!" This statement perplexed me, I couldn't figure out why age would be that important. First of all, the sensei at the demonstration was in his mid thirties and was of sandan rank with certification from his sensei. I personally felt this enough to at least watch his demonstration and get to know him. But I've began to notice this trend in all aspects of life, people don't want to learn from someone younger then them. So my question to you is, "Does a sensei need to be old in order to teach?" Does age matter or does the sensei need to be the bald, white breaded master we see in the movies and on TV? Sorry for this long e-mail but if you could make sense of this I'd appreciate it.

Hey, I'm bald and white-bearded and have been since I was about 35... in fact I took off the beard and what was left of the hair because I didn't like the old man staring out at me from the mirror.

I think that's the problem right there. Your old men who walked out of the demonstration didn't really believe they were old, they still saw themselves as the same age as the sensei who was demonstrating, and so they couldn't believe that someone that young (their age) could know much.

We are trained by older men, it's a plain and simple fact, and so we expect our teachers to be older than we are. When we get old ourselves it becomes very difficult to take instruction from someone who is younger. It takes a certain strength of character, assuredness of self, and humbleness to stand before someone who is younger than you are and ask to be taught. It takes a serious lack of ego.

You run into this situation a lot in the koryu, where the headmaster dies and leaves the school to a younger man. Where do the old students go? Do they stay with the new headmaster, a fellow they remember in diapers? A kid who asked them how to hold the sword? How can you be kohai and sensei at the same time? How can you be sempai and student?

In a lot of cases the older men step aside politely, teaching in their own dojo but rarely visiting the old school. Charitably, this allows the new teacher to establish himself in his own school without having the students look sideways at the seniors. I suspect there is also a bit of removing oneself from the temptation to correct the new headmaster, and perhaps a bit of staying away so that one's own ego does not get rubbed the wrong way. Mostly this situation works to the satisfaction of all, the old men come to the official functions and support the young headmaster and mostly do their own thing for the rest of the time.

The situation can get a bit more sticky if friction occurs, perhaps the new headmaster was a bit of a late-comer, perhaps the students of the old men and the young soke get into a bit of "my dad is bigger than your dad". In this case the practical difference might simply be that the old men don't show up for the official events. In almost all cases, the new headmaster eventually gets to be the old headmaster and the sempei shuffle off the stage and all settles down again.

Let's face it, new headmasters tend to have their own ideas on practice and who wants to change their style after 30 years of practice. It doesn't have to be any more complicated than that.

To get back to this specific case we aren't talking about koryu, but kendo which is a pretty broad art with no clear headmaster but a great many older, experienced instructors around. Lots of them. Enough of them that you could find a pretty senior person with a bit of effort for just about any demonstration you might wish to present. This may be one reason your old men were complaining, compared to a 7dan that might have been in the next town, what does a 3dan know indeed? Perhaps they weren't complaining about the skill level of the sandan but the very fact that he was demonstrating in public at that rank (when there was a better example to be had). If there was no better example around, it really comes down to expose the art or don't expose it. I would tend to come down on the side of "show it" in that case because the damage to kendo by a sandan showing it publicly won't be all that great.

Can a young man have something to teach? Certainly. Would an old man want to learn from him? A different question indeed, even if he was a great teacher, as most honest old men would admit.

"Does a sensei need to be old in order to teach?" ... No but it helps.

My own question is "should the old men have discouraged a potential student (you) from entering the art by 'dissing' the young sensei?"

Jan 27, 2010
Article Maai and Personal Space in Iaido


Jan 23, 2010
Students Recruiting Time

It's been a downward trend for students in many of the clubs I'm affiliated with lately, so we should think about a bit of recruiting to keep things ticking along I think. Here I'm going to gather some ideas together, so this post may grow a bit over the next few days.

  • Constant recruiting: We should recruit in good times as well as bad, if we wait until we're down to 3 students we've waited too long and those who have to rent practice space will find themselves hard pressed to keep their space. Those in free community centres or other shared space may also experience the same problem as groups with more participants start lobbying for your space or practice times.
  • Bring a friend for free week: or month, get everyone to bring at least one more person along to try it out. Club members will be the most effective recruiters in any club.
  • Press releases: in local papers, if you don't have an event handy, make one up and write up a release, including a photo for all the local media. Every grading, every special event, every seminar, every visiting teacher should provide you with a new press release. 
  • Articles and interviews: Write articles for local papers, magazines or EJMAS.com even (see below). Give interviews whenever and wherever you are asked.
  • Recreation handbooks: make sure you're listed in all the community calendars.
  • Web pages: Your dojo absolutely has to have a web page. The internet is now the first place to look for any service, and if you're not there you're not going to be found. Make sure your organization has a dojo listing as well, and get your club onto it. Link to other clubs or back to your organization, provide as many ways for the search engines to find your site as you can. Put the link to your website in your email signature. 
  • Business cards: Always have a few in your wallet, and give them to your students to hand out as well. Make it easy for people to get in touch, and give them several ways to do it, by phone, mail, email or walk in visits.
  • Open house: Invite the public in regularly, once a quarter maybe, or just before the next beginner class starts. Let people come and look the place over. Joining a dojo is stressful, make it less so by letting folks see what a regular bunch you are. 
  • Summer Samurai Camp: if one of the club members needs a job for the summer, why not do a day camp? Can you imagine being a kid and being able to do a camp based on your martial art for a week or two? Wouldn't you have loved that?
  • Kids Kids Kids: Sure you figure you're a cheap babysitting class if you take in kids, but what's wrong with that? The kids are getting something great out of the arts, you get to hang out with all that enthusiasm and you can help make them better people. Why not have a homework area so the kids can do their schoolwork before (or after) they can get onto the mat and blow off some steam? If you're a babysitter why not be the best. Remember, kids grow up to become the next generation of instructors.
  • Be generous: If you have a full class and a waiting list, pass those students on to a nearby club, don't think for a moment that they will wait around to join your class later. They will be on to some other activity instead. Pass them to a club in your organization or even send them to another group, just make sure that everyone who is interested gets into the arts while they are keen on it. 
  • Kick the seniors out: If you've got a lot of high ranking students in your dojo, students who could be teaching a class, encourage them to go start a class somewhere else. They won't be taking students away from your class, they'll be expanding the art as a whole. Think about how many martial art clubs are in your area as compared to fitness clubs, or dance studios. People expect there to be a fitness club in every neighbourhood. If you get beyond a critical mass of clubs and students, the same expectation will occur for your martial art. 
  • Talk it up: Any budo is good budo, just like people want a dance studio, they want a martial art dojo and they aren't too fussy about which style they try at first. Don't talk down anybody's dojo, encourage everyone who asks to get involved, no matter where or with whom. People will start, find out they like it, and then migrate to your club because it's the best in town right? Look, the bottom line is that the more of us that are advertising, the more folks will come looking and they may just find you when they go looking for the other guys. 
  • Hit the mall: Most shopping malls will rent some hallway space and a table to groups for a very reasonable rate. Go sit for a day and answer questions, give demonstrations, show videos and hand out flyers. 
  • Demonstrations: Never turn one down, and tell your students that you're willing to demonstrate at their school, scout meeting, business lunch or retail store. 
  • Seminars: Same here, get thee to any other dojo or fitness club or dance studio that will have you and teach a short seminar. Everyone can teach something, even if it isn't the innermost secrets of your school. There's always some aspect of any art that transfers fast and easily. 
  • Retain those students: It's a lot more easy to keep someone who is already in the dojo than it is to find a new one, so lighten up there sensei, stop chasing the beginners out. Save that for the seniors when they are thoroughly hooked. Make it easy for students to come back to class after a few missed sessions. Even if the budo is everything to you, your students may have a life, recognize that once in a while and cut them a little slack.

Jan 15, 2010
Sharing Be an EJMAS author

Hey all you bloggers out there, you're producing quite a bit of work that isn't being seen by as many people as it should be. Why not take a look at what you've got and see if it would fit in EJMAS.com?

We have been one of the largest sources of martial art and fitness information on the net almost since there was a net, and we've outlasted quite a few online and print publications already. Consider sharing your work with a broader audience and send it to us.

Not convinced? Email me and I'll give you several reasons why you should be on EJMAS as well as on your own blog.

Don't have a blog but still have something to say? Well...

Kim "publisher hat on"

Jan 13, 2010
Lessons Everything Teaches

I was at my mother's house yesterday, cleaning. My sister had suggested hiring someone to clean and we could easily have afforded it, but my mother kept a neat house. She painted about once each 10 years and used good paint. She cleaned at least three times a year, and by cleaning I mean she got out a bucket and a sponge and scrubbed ceilings, walls and floors. She did this because both she and her husband smoked and everything went dull and dingy, white became beige, blue became beige, red became beige...

If my mother had let the place go, if it looked like my own house looks now (it looks like a not very well organized warehouse with boxes and stacks of loose wooden sticks everywhere, winding pathways between) I would have had no problem hiring someone to clean it. But I couldn't.

As her eyes got worse she went to a cleaning company and she would ask me when I visited "are there cobwebs?" There weren't  and I told her so but I knew she didn't believe me. She could feel the place getting dingy as her eyesight faded.

I needed to clean the place myself. I didn't succeed, I didn't clean it very well, but I was witness to how it wasn't clean in a way that a cleaning company wouldn't see, wouldn't care. I know what my mother considered clean and I honoured that, at least in the breach.

Which brings me to the opportunity to give a lesson. We started at the ceiling and used a mop and a strong cleaner. Once we got to the area where my mother lived the last few years, listening to old TV shows (she remembered what they looked like) and smoking, the stray bits of water would run down the walls away from the ceiling. An almost black drop would appear about a foot down and a streak of... not white but at least 5 shades whiter than what was there, would appear.

I called the kids over and said "imagine that in your lungs over 60 years". Both kids expressed wonder that Gramma had lived as long as she had. [Why had she? The women in my family are tough, they live a LONG time. They have to be tough to deal with the men (who, on the Taylor side at least, tend to die young and of faulty livers).]

The lesson, which was only in the way of reinforcement, neither kid has the least interest in smoking, was taken I think.

My budo points?
  • Everything is an opportunity to teach and to learn.
  • Everything is a chance to practice (my back and neck are now shot, I learned once again how to drive myself physically beyond what I can/should do)
  • Honour your teachers in the way that best honours them. My mother would not want the final family gathering in a place that was less than spotless... I failed but I tried. I honour my deceased instructors by trying to teach as they taught... again I fail but I try. 
  • Your mother was your first budo teacher. I discovered this by reading a letter she sent me while I was in University. You should think about it.

Jan 10, 2010
Technique The Right Place

A couple posts ago I mentioned moving to the right place. I used to play Go a little, was never very good but occasionally I could make a decent player frown. The way I did that was to make every single move in the game the same way, I would look over the board and decide where the most important point was, then drop a stone there. I tried to be where it was most important to be, I tried to be in the right place.

I got that from the martial arts. Whether you are throwing, grappling or using weapons it is vitally important to be in the right place... of course at the right time, but time doesn't matter if you can't figure out where.

This was brought home to me recently when I was practicing Niten with a student. Niten tends to be where I emphasize timing and placement, mostly because it's made for that. Several of the tachi seiho (long vs long sword) kata are great for examining body positioning, too far away and it doesn't work, too close and it doesn't work, wrong angle of the body, wrong angle of movement... it is by being in the right place we knock uchidachi back on his heels and make the kata work. Wrong place and it doesn't matter how fast you are, how strong you are, uchidach can lay that blade on you. Right place and I don't care how much more experienced you are, you're jumping around wide-eyed looking for the nearest exit.

Damn that's fun. I most especially like ending up with a blade in my face while my own sword is hanging off to one side and I'm hopping up and down one one leg, the other dangling because I really don't know how to get it back on the ground without poking my own eye out. I'm not kidding, that's fun!

Jan 9, 2010
Greed and Gifts Bring and Take

Call me old and a fuddy duddy. I was never really bothered by neologisms... at least not rationally. Sure the verbification of nouns grated on my ears, or should I say "impacted my ears", but I understood that's the way English works. However, I can't seem to ignore the misuse of bring and take. It seems that we are doomed to use bring for every instance of moving something from one place to another. I know we're doomed because all US TV shows seem to say "bring". "We need to bring the tools to the jobsite".

I'm sorry but if it's going from here to there we take it, and if it's going from there to here they bring it. It's driving me crazy and I finally figured out why.

Bring means gimme, bring me a present, bring me a beer, bring me the TV remote. Take means work, giving something away, I take dessert to the party and I take the bokuto to the dojo.

The bringers of the world want it all and want it now. "Bring it, baby". Giving? What's that?

Which brings us to "You get what you pay for". Christmas just came and went and Santa brought all sorts of presents to everyone (he didn't take them to anyone apparently). Those of us who weren't gifted by the fat one had to buy stuff for people and bring it to them personally (aaargh my teeth hurt). While shopping I'm sure you looked at a couple of geejaws with two different prices and thought "the more expensive one will last longer" right? We have no proof of any such thing but we've been taught that better is more expensive so we tend to buy into that.

It works for martial arts instruction too, the more expensive classes at the University where I teach tend to have more students, implying that students sign up for courses they value based on price. OK maybe those classes with more students charge more? Well even given that, the statement stands. More people in a class means they value that class more, so therefore we should charge more because... yes, "you get what you pay for". See?

Well I don't. What I see in the martial arts, and in a hell of a lot of other places where one person teaches another, is a different value system altogether and it goes like this.

You get back what you put in.

Once said, it seems obvious for the martial arts but it holds true for University science courses as well. Over the 65 or 70 courses I took during my school days I got the most out of those courses I put the most work into. I may have chosen to put that work in or I may have been forced to work by an instructor that insisted on it, but I got more out when I put more in.

They all cost the same but some were better than others.

Now, how can we work money back into this new equation? Well if you are being taught a martial art that you figure you're getting a lot out of, put more in. Your sensei teachs for free? (Not unusual in some arts, like the ones I teach), find some way of paying him back other than stuffing a wad of bills in his obi. Is he a carpenter? Get him to build your garden shed. Is he a baker? Buy your bread from his shop. After all, he has to make a living and if he can't do it in your area he may just move away and that means you lose your instruction. Put more in, get more out. It works on many levels.

"I want you to bring me to that class Dad, it's more expensive so it should be better".

"Take me there father, I hear they make you work very hard so I should get more out of it".

Jan 8, 2010
Technique Smoking and Self Defence

Just in the spirit of self defence, I present the following information I gained from a podcast I heard this morning.

It takes just 5 cigarettes to gain your first mutation of your DNA.

It takes 18,000 packs of cigarettes to pretty much ensure that you will develop cancer.

So, for those who give themselves cancer from cigarette smoking in Ontario, where you can buy a package for about $4 apparently, it will cost you $72,000 which is damned near as much as I had accumulated in my pension fund when I took a buyout after 24 years of service.

Let's be clear about this, you will spend $72,000 for the priviledge of getting cancer.

If you hear that, and stop smoking it will be the single most beneficial act of self defence you will ever perform. It could save your life and put $72,000 in your pocket at the same time.


A little addendum to this, and an explanation I suppose. My mother died a couple of days ago. She suffered from leukemia, diabeties, kidney failure, macular degeneration, heart disease and a couple other things. She was a life long chain-smoker. I loved her dearly but I couldn't spend as much time with her in the last few years as I wanted to because I couldn't stand being around the smoke.

Jan 1, 2010