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Hope for us all
Our Folks

Best for the season folks. Here's a link to an article about Gary Cole's new knee. Gary is an iaido/jodo student in the CKF, and a member of Sei Do Kai. Quite interesting photos and a video I haven't quite brought myself to watch  yet.

http://www.brantfordexpositor.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2900436#



Dec 23, 2010
Generations
Am I Quiet?

Having just read three renshi essays I realize that there's a reason I don't feel too bad about not writing as regularly on this blog or elsewhere as I sometimes think I should. I mean aside from the convoluted way I have of writing and the lack of information I often convey thereby.

Having just read three renshi essays I realize that there is another generation out there that "gets it". As I was reading I found myself sort of zoning out, as if I were reading my own work. In fact I do sometimes come across my own work on the net while searching for something or other and I have even said "hey this is good" before realizing it's mine... of course I like it. But I liked these essays too.

It's interesting that in a couple of them the writers mentioned their state of mind at various times during their iaido career, they were pretty similar to each other and to those who are studying right now. We all go through stages and they're pretty much similar for anyone with a certain amount of time in.

Sorry, did you think you were unique? Ah well, you are my dear, you are a true original and we appreciate you for what you are, now go do what the rest of the class is doing. He he.

So here I am, wondering why I'm writing when these three can be writing almost exactly what I am in a couple of years, plenty of time for the youngsters to hear it.

The power of habit I suppose.



Nov 30, 2010
Equipment
Carry Your Own Sword

Coming back from the kendo gradings in Toronto I was met by a rather downcast daughter. When I asked how practice that day went (she's in the KW youth orchestra, co-concertmaster in her first year with the orchestra... HEY, it's my daughter, I can brag!) she rather unhappily told me that she had fallen down and broken her violin.

Actually not hers, but the extremely expensive violin of her teacher. This teacher has pushed her for quite a while to get a better violin than the one she owns, and eventually he handed her one of his that is currently uninsured. She already plays his viola so it's not a big jump to her having his violin too.

Here's the fun part. He said the only condition is that we pay for the insurance. After a rather large argument wherein I said "you really should not use that thing until we get it insured" and the usual delays due to the usual further arguments, the call was made to our insurance broker and it was established that we don't get insurance for what we don't own. This put it back on the teacher to get insurance for which we'd pay him.

In the meantime, not wanting to go through more months of arguments in the house, I shut up about using the thing while uninsured.

And yes, it was uninsured when my daughter tripped over a doorframe and landed on it. (Guess whose fault it is that we're out the money? Yes... It's My Fault but sometimes I'd rather take the blame than endure the arguments.) She was carrying the thing in the approved violin carry way, and apparently there was something in the doorframe so who knows, maybe the orchestra or the University will pay something toward the repairs or replacement. Somehow I doubt the University lawyers will be as cooperative as these folks think, but one can only hope, that violin was worth about 2/3 of the income we get from our business in a year.

Regardless of all that personal kerfuffle, my point is really pretty simple. I tried to teach my daughter many years ago that she must always carry her own violin. This is because these things are delicate and if someone else damages it, like the time a fellow student sat on her bow, it makes for bad feelings all around. She was carrying it and I'm happy for that. It would infuriate me to have to come up with this kind of money somehow to replace a violin for a third party that some other student had broken. It's my daughter so I'll figure it out without too much grumbling.

So, folks, Carry Your Own Sword, and don't feel hurt if sensei doesn't let you carry his sword around. Carry his gym bag or his bogu or the other stuff from his car but let him carry his own sword. That way if it gets damaged he doesn't have to forgive you for damaging it. If it cuts someone (and yes, I did tell my daughter that I was glad she wasn't carrying a sword because she could have had more than a swollen knee out if it) it's the responsibility of the owner of the blade, and it's usually the person carrying it that gets cut in an accident. Most of all, however, making a big fuss over carrying a sword or a violin reminds us that these things are:

1. valuable
2. tools of our trade and should be respected
3. personal and should not be messed about with by others
4. dangerous.

Both of them are dangerous. Do you remember when you were a kid and you banged yourself up good while not spilling a drop of your ice cream cone? Same applies to a violin or a sword because your instinct is to try to save the instrument at the risk of your own body. More than once I've snatched my hand back from grabbing my shinken as it slid out of the scabbard unexpectedly.

Let the thing hit the floor. Let it break. It's just a thing, even the most famous violin in the world is not worth my daughter having a bum shoulder or knee for the rest of her life, even the most famous sword in the world is not worth you losing your thumb and possibly your livelihood.

Carry your own sword, mostly so that you can watch it drop over that cliff or under that truck and say "wow, that could have been me".



Nov 29, 2010
New/Old/wha?
Kim Invents a Kata

I was teaching the other day and we began doing some exercises that don't fit anywhere in the schools that I teach. I was making the stuff up out of whole cloth, taking solo iaido kata and making paired techniques so that I could talk about distance, timing, strategy and a few other things. A pretty normal thing for me to do I guess.

Somewhere around three minutes in I noticed the students trying to memorize the techniques. I stopped and explained carefully that these things are simply invented on the spot. They have no meaning beyond the points I am making and they don't need to be remembered.

Then I got into a bit of a rant, very unusual for me, on the idea that all the iaido kata that we practice are somehow battle-tested or worse, battle-invented. I speculated out loud.

So I'm on the battlefield and it's my first time so I'm just waving my sword around randomly and I happen to hit someone with the sharp edge. Zippo-Hey, I've got the first kata for my future school, it showed up in an fight and I'm still alive so I add it to my notebook. I keep waving the sword around and more techniques happen that I record for the future. Now everyone who learns from my student's student's students can rest assured that this stuff works and nobody else better add anything without finding it on the battlefield.

Seriously, that's way too Darwinian even for me. We aren't random mutations of spasmic motion on the battlefield waiting to get selected out, we never were. There has never been a fighter or an army that went out there without some sort of pre-imagined plan. The very first guy to pick up a curved, single edged sword took a look and used his imagination to make up a few techniques before he headed out looking for a life or death match against the old style.

And all the generations of students afterward did their own imagining. I'll never buy the idea that our arts are battle-tested beyond a very minimal amount. I will buy that the schools get fancier, longer, more complex and with more kata hanging around as the years go by, and that sometimes they go in the opposite direction.

In any case, the point of my little rant was that these things aren't sacred, we can make up new kata if we feel the need.

But do we need to? I've been studying one style of iaido for getting on toward 30 years now and I am still finding lots of things to work on, lots of hidden lessons and lots of surprises every time I perform a kata. Maybe I'm a slow study but somehow I doubt that since those who are my betters say the same thing and have been doing the same kata for much longer than I.

There isn't any need to invent new stuff because the old stuff is sufficient. It's not sacred, it's just sufficient.

So why was I inventing new stuff? I wasn't, I was teaching the old stuff and I'd better not discover any of the students in that class practicing those partner techniques as if they were kata. They aren't battlefield tested yet!




Nov 27, 2010
New Book
I am a editor in [Kendo nippon]monthly magazine.
Please read by all means. It introduces a new book.

From「Kendo Nippon Monthly」

For more infomation,

http://www.skijournal.co.jp/bilingual/history_of_kendo.html


Nov 1, 2010
Learning
I Am Not Your Mother

I teach adults in a class that costs very little to attend. I teach because I like what I do, and I like passing it along. Nobody has to be there in front of me, and I do not have to be there teaching. Of course I have my reasons for continuing to teach but they are of no concern to the students.

So:

1. I am not there to teach you how to tell time. If you are late to class, come on in and start practicing, I will not punish you, you will not disrupt the class if you are quiet, and we will not go over what you missed. That's not punishment, that's just common sense. I'm there teaching if there's someone to teach, if I arrive at class on time and there's nobody there I'm likely to go lift weights or have a sauna rather than wait around to see if someone shows up. I'm not your mother, it's not my job to wait for you.

2. I am not there to teach you respect. If you are respectful you will get respect, if you are a lout, you will likely get treated as a lout. I don't mind either way because I'm a bit of a lout myself. Family members get to be disrespectful because you're living with them 24/7, you I see a couple hours a week and I'm not your mother. Surely anyone can be polite a couple hours a week in front of someone who has desireable information?

3. I am not there to teach you how to read, or how to use the internet. If a grading is coming up, there are places where I hear about it, they are usually such places as the organization website or newsletter, places where you could also find the information. If you want to grade, go look it up, don't expect me to lead you into the room on a string with the rest of the class lined up behind like a bunch of pre-school kids out for a walk. I don't care if you grade or not, I may think it's good for you to do it, and I'll likely say it, but I'm not your mother.

4. I am not the laundry police. If your uniform reeks of old sweat and mildew I, and the rest of the class, will likely stay away from your general vicinity. If you can learn from 20 feet away, that's fine, but I won't likely be telling you to clean your clothes. I'm not your mother.

5. When I sweep the floor I do it because I want a clean floor to stand on, or because I want some quiet time doing something mindless. If I haven't cleaned the floor and you want it clean, go sweep it. Don't complain to me if you step on a stone or get dust on your knees, I'm not your mother. Also don't try to grab the broom from me more than once, I'm not guilt tripping you, I'm not your mother, if I want you to sweep the floor I'll tell you to sweep it.

6. If you know better than me how a technique works, we'll try it. If you end up on your ass with a broken nose I won't feel too badly, neither will I feel badly if I end up the same way so you'd better be serious about "putting it on". I take this stuff seriously and I have little interest in showing you the correct way of doing things in a nurturing and caring environment. I'm not your mother... but I do have a healthy respect for lawyers so I might not be trying to actually break your nose. Having said that, I have broken noses while trying to pull the punch, but if the nose is in the wrong place going the wrong way...

7. I don't care about your personal life, your crappy boss or your PMS. I can make comforting and non-committal social noises with the rest of them but don't confuse those with actual concern for your problems outside the technique we're practicing. I'm not your mother. I do care if your outside life is interfering with your training, and even more if it's interfering with mine, but my solution is likely to call an early end to class rather than try to fix your life. Maybe we'll go for a beer and you can tell me all about it then... if you're buying, because...

8. If you're in front of me, I'll teach you. If you're not in front of me I won't. You don't have to apologize for not being in class last week or tell me you won't be there next week. I usually have other stuff to do so it's no big deal if nobody shows up to practice. On the other hand, don't ask me to put on a special class or travel somewhere to teach without making sure it will really happen and there will be someone to teach, I have a life and I've probably rearranged it for you. I don't have to be in class and I don't have to drive to another town, so I might not do it the next time. I am not your mother, I don't have to be home at lunch just in case you decide to drop in for a snack.

9. If you want to talk sports or art or literature during class time I may just sit down and talk with you. It depends entirely on what my mood is at the time. If the rest of the class resents your taking my attention away from the lesson of the day and they call you bad names in the parking lot, that's not my problem. I'm not your mother. On the other hand, I may tell you to go home and talk sports with your brother if I feel like practicing, and when I'm in class I usually feel like practicing so we'll do what I want to do, not what you want to do because I'm not your mother.

The bottom line is, if you give your attention to me, I'll give my knowledge to you. If you aren't present physically or mentally in class, I don't have to pay any attention to you. I am not responsible for your progress or your well-being in the world. I am not your mother.

PS. for those with OCD who are really bothered that there are nine points up there instead of 10... I apologize.

10. While I am not your mother, chances are, if you are in my class I really do like you and like your company so I really would like to continue practicing with you, and if you become a skilled martial artist I'll be happy, if you become a better, happier human being I'll be even more pleased.



Oct 21, 2010
Grading
Shodans and Secrets

In the last gradings I attended, the shodan group were given a set of defined kata rather than their usual free choice. You should have heard the wails, but all the candidates had learned all the kata and there was actually no problem with the pass rate.

I think folks who concentrate on passing the exam by practicing only 5 kata (likely those who were shocked and scared that they couldn't do their choices) are fooling themselves if they think their practiced kata are better than those unpracticed. At shodan it really won't make that much difference. As I said recently to my class, the range of error is going to be wider than the increase in precision.

What I mean is the extra practice they put in on their preferred set of kata will not improve their accuracy of cuts or precision of position to a noticeable degree since their kata to kata variation in position and accuracy will be larger than the increase in precision due to practice.

Perhaps that is clear as mud. Let's say that you have to stop at 43.6 degrees down angle of your sword at the end of a movement. By extra practice for a month, one might improve that accuracy by 5%, but if one's variation in angle from kata to kata remains at 10%, the improved accuracy won't be noticeable as the greater error will still cover the increased precision.

Of course, if one only knows 5 kata and those are not the ones that are chosen for the test, there is real cause for wails and moans.

And so we come to secrets.

Until students reache a certain level of skill, achieved only by practice practice practice, it is completely useless to tell them to do certain things. They simply won't be able to do them and it only gives them one more thing to be frustrated about.

In other words, beginners should not be told "everything" since they can't do much with some of the information and it only gets in the way. If they are approaching the ultimate goal, that's enough for the moment. A good instructor knows what not to teach as much as he knows what to teach. What not to correct as much as what to correct.

Later, when the student can do it, a little secret can be given, at which time the student will inevitably say "why didn't you tell me that sooner and save me all this effort!".

Such is the short term memory of the young who cannot see the long view because they are just climbing up their first valley wall.



Sept 29, 2010
Grading
Kaizen

A process of continuous improvement in an industrial process or, in this case, a martial art. A student should undergo a continuous improvement in skill such that certain abilities should be shown at various times during that process. This is called grading and the defining of certain skills to be acquired at certain times of practice assumes that each student will improve at a more or less standard rate.

While there is supposed to be an objective standard for each grade level, in fact the requirements do change for various reasons from year to year.

One way they can change is if there is a highly skilled bunch of people grading. Although we are not supposed to grade in comparison to the other challengers, it's hard not to be influenced by a set of exceptional students. This has happened in our organization as a set of 8-10 talented and dedicated students from one dojo have moved up through the ranks. The panel has had to remind itself not to be influenced by these students who would raise the standards at least a grade level.

On the other hand, while there is an "objective" standard to pass in a grading, that standard can move upward as the quality of the art improves over the years. Our nidans are without a doubt, better now than they were ten years ago and I suspect that some who passed then might not pass now with the same technique. Of course they wouldn't have the same technique today as back then. There is more and better instruction available now, which is why the standards as a whole have drifted upward.

The time to each grade is the same, but what a student should have learned during that time has increased. Both the quality and the quantity of knowledge has been affected by this drift, and those pockets of students who do not maintain contact with the core instructors naturally risk being left behind at grading time.



Sept 28, 2010
Promotion
Where are the students?

Was discussing that this weekend after the tameshigiri seminar.... what you didn't know there was a tameshigiri seminar? Hmm, maybe there is something to this advertising stuff after all.

Here's a great webvertisement from the AEMMA guys down in Toronto.





Sept 27, 2010
Judging
Seitei and Koryu yet again.

A constant remark about the difference between the ZNKR seitei iai and koryu iai is that "seitei gata changes every year depending on who's in charge, while koryu (being battlefield tested) never changes".

Leaving aside those assumptions about koryu iai, I honestly don't care what those outside the Kendo Federation believe, they really have no say in what seitei is or is not, and their concern, while touching, is irrelevant to my practice.

But I hear the same thing from those within the kendo federation who obviously heard it from somewhere. Just for the record (for those in the kendo federation, as anyone else can believe what they wish), Seitei Gata has not changed since I began practicing iaido some 27 years ago. Neither, for that matter, have the koryu that I have practiced for just as long.

Again, I will state that seitei has not changed, there have been additions but those additions have not changed since they were made. Consider that Mae is a horizontal cut and then a vertical cut followed by a circular chiburi and then noto. That has never changed.

But seitei is a standard of practice throughout the world and there are periodic clarifications as to what is currently required. These are not changes in the kata, they are instructions and they are not hard to do. At least they should not be hard to do for those beyond five or six years practice.

To change kesa giri from two cut angles to one is not a change to the kata, it is a choice of a way to do the kata, it is a way to standardize everyone in the world on one way of doing it, and if you, as a student, have to "change" the way you're doing it, go ahead and "change". The kata remains the same as always, a diagonal rising cut followed immediately by a descending diagonal cut. Does anyone really believe that there is a difference between practicing two angles or one when one is "on the battlefield". One will cut whatever one can reach on the way up, and then on the way down, adjusting the angles as necessary to avoid the armour, the ruffles or the bling.

Similarly the change in the hiki nuki of Morote Zuki. Some folks were moving off the line and some were staying on the line during practice. The word came down that we will now stay on the line. Some folks have been doing that since the early '80s. I myself started on the line, moved off the line, and now am back on the line. Big deal, this is not a "change" in the kata, it is a difference in how you are instructed to do the kata and you will make the necessary adjustments to your technique to keep up with the current discussion of the seitei kata. If you do not, you are not doing seitei and you are not in the FIK stream of instruction, you are copying something someone did several years ago. (Perhaps that makes it a koryu.)

A very close second to questions about changes to seitei (and of course, "will this be on the exam" or "do I have to know these changes to seitei on my next grading") is "can a kendo federation grading panel judge the koryu of a student who is grading since the koryu are so varied in their techniques with all the variations being correct?"

The problem here is the same problem as saying that "seitei changes".

As for koryu, of course we can judge a koryu kata. The mistake is in assuming that the most important point of a demonstration of your skill is the placement of this foot here or that finishing position of the hand there. In your seitei kata during a grading this is taken into account and we absolutely do want to know if you can handle a sword with precision and accuracy, but it is only a part of what is judged. In your koryu, precision is less of a part but it must still be part, a bad grip is a bad grip, a cut with the flat of the blade is still a cut with the flat of the blade. What is different about the koryu portion of your grading is that we do not expect it to be done to an FIK standard, otherwise it must be done as well as your seitei, and this is where a lot of folks can fail. Just ask the 8dan challengers who pass the seitei portion of their gradings easily year after year, yet fail their koryu grading. If you have neglected your koryu it will eventually show, often at a much earlier stage than 8dan.

We have students in Canada who have started practicing Kage ryu with Colin Watkin, and one turned to me at that first seminar in Calgary and asked if he could do Kage for his koryu at an iaido grading.

First, the panel would have to decide if Kage ryu was iai or not (a question of saya banari, but I suspect we'd allow it if the student wanted to use it) then we'd have to figure out the etiquette of how to change swords in the middle of a grading, from a 3.7 with a maezashi to a 2.45 or similar length katana, and finally, we'd have to decide if the Kage performance was up to the level of the seitei performance (which it likely would not be if the student has just started practice) and if it were at the level of the grade being challenged. A special consideration for the student is that Kage ryu practice is to demonstrate alternate techniques in public demonstration. Is a ZNKR grading a public demonstration or should the core techniques be shown? This would not be a problem for the panel since we are not usually judging "waza machigai" or "wrong technique" during the koryu proportion of a grading.

The situation has in fact, been encountered before with other koryu switches, and it doubtless will be again. We can and we do judge the koryu simply because iaido is more than the memorization of a sequence of dance steps. This is why we can say that the kata have not changed while at the same time telling you to move your foot here instead of here and to cut on this angle instead of the other angle we were having you cut last week.

If, as a judge on a grading panel, you encounter a koryu you have never seen, these questions are considered.

1. Is it a koryu?
2. Is it iaido?
3. Is it done with internal consistancy if it is done in a manner different from seitei?
4. Is it done with the appropriate confidence and assurance to the grade being challenged?
5. Are the mechanics correct and well executed?

As a student you should simply make your best effort to show both koryu and seitei as you have been taught. Worrying about "changes" to either is not in your best interest, but resisting instruction in current practice (again in both seitei and koryu) is also not consistent with applying for a grading. If you are going to grade, be up to date on both your seitei and your koryu. It is entirely possible that your koryu instructor (or his teacher) will be sitting on your grading panel and then precision and all those other fussy dance-step type points will become a lot more important.



Sept 7, 2010
Ego
Better-Than

On an internet forum I am trying (and trying is certainly the word, I've been at it for a week) to read yet another discussion of lineage, false claims of lineage, re-construction, resurrection and legitimacy in the martial arts.

I don't know why I bother, because it always seems to come down to a simple formula.

If you are not in an unbroken lineage at least a couple hundred years old, you are deluded.

There isn't any simpler way to put it, but it comes down to that eventually, every time the discussion takes place.

My question, and that of others nowadays, is motive. Why would someone who believes that reconstruction or invention or illicitly extended lineage is a bad thing bother to repeatedly state such a belief. Is it to educate those who are fooled? Certainly that is the claimed reason, but honestly, folks are not stupid, and argument from authority (inasmuch as the claimants have any authority beyond being published authors) is as legitimate as any claimed lineage which is not backed up with old paper.

I would like to suggest that a deeper reason for such an obsession is ego. One will note that those who are most vocal in denouncing the false claims, reconstructionists and resurrectionists are those in relatively small (self-described as elite) groups which claim long and "proven" lineage. The superiority of such a group and of those training in such a group is assumed, and thus we have folks who are "better-than".

Of course to be "better-than" we need someone who is not, and this is the reason the misguided must be constantly in our thoughts, and constantly informed of their misguidedness.

Let's look at the claims from the legitimate for the need of an unbroken lineage. You need to be taught the oral secrets in order to have the correct feeling and timing and ...

And I call bullshit. I've been teaching agreed-upon "legitimate" arts for long enough to have teachers that have taught teachers and I have never once, in all that time passed on any such ability as feeling or timing. The kata do that, the repeated, years-long practice of patterned skill-sets is what gives a feeling for timing, a feeling for distance, a feeling for finding an opening and moving into it. I can't teach that, I can only create the conditions for the student to find that.

Do I think it's a good thing to be in an art with a verifiable lineage going back a couple hundred years? I'm in a couple-three aren't I? And I'm not in a search for documents to help resurrect anything. Yet I'm also in an art that is generally accepted as absolutely legit, yet I've been hit (years ago by one of the "truly-legitimate I might add) in a hopefully hurtful way with the information that the lineage has a bit of a question before my teacher's teacher. I say hopefully hurtful because I know (and knew) what the kata teach and I have no problem with the lineage whether 400 or 40 years old. The school is historically extant for 400, one can find instructors for each generation since year one, but perhaps there was a "reinvention" or at least a "re-invigoration" somewhere around two generations ago. I've tried out another couple of the "big legitimates" which have also had some questions about the generation before last and they seemed OK from what I experienced. In fact, every single koryu art I practice (three in regular rotation) seems to come down to a single man two or three generations ago. How do we know he's legit? How do we know he learned it all, all the secrets, how do we know he had a single, un-sullied by other voices, instructor? We don't... in fact we can be pretty sure, based on the shape of the Japanese martial arts at that time, that the instruction was from multiple people, in multiple lines, and of a "grab-bag" nature since these single men tended to be the ones who "systematized" and "reformed" the instruction into the shape we have it today.

What that means of course is that what we know and how we know it, comes from them and the way they chose to teach it, so that's "what it is".

What knowing this does, is to keep me honest about what I'm learning, and to be a bit less "better-than" about those who are seriously trying to reconstruct martial arts from source material, or those who are in arts that have questionable lineage. It's ALL QUESTIONABLE. The martial arts is not an important topic for historical research, never has been, so the records tend to be created "in house" with some few mentions in temple or tax records etc. What's "in house" is subject to, how shall I put it, "interpretation". It may be mythologically accurate to accord a divine origin to the art, but I doubt we'll ever get a Tengu database included in Wikipedia that we can check for corroboration.

While I laugh as hard as anyone else at claims of a 4000 year old lineage for something invented last week, I feel no great urge to denounce it monthly, but then again, my ego is just fine thanks, I don't need the jolt of "better-than", I've got a new thing I learned/discovered while doing one of my kata last night. A Tengu whispered it in my ear just before I called one of my students over and demonstrated it for her, causing her to have an "a-ha" moment and get just that little bit better.

My ego does better in the building-up than it does in the tearing-down.



Sept 1, 2010
Self-work
Your True Face

We all have a public face. Even those who try only to present their true selves will edit once in a while, or choose not to speak.

But one place where you have the best chance to catch your true feelings is when you are alone, when you are by yourself for more than a couple of hours. If you find yourself in this situation (and in the wired world this is very difficult to achieve) you must first allow some time for the mask to fade. We will "keep up appearances" for quite a while since it is a habit.

But it is only that, a habit, and it can be suspended, if not broken. When you are alone and  you want to do some work on yourself begin by watching for double impressions. Look for places in your thinking, or places where you are reacting to something you read or watch, where you have two different feelings very close together. One will be your public face and the other will be something closer to what you really feel. Go down the path toward what you really feel.

How will you know which path? The one you want will be the "wrong" one, the one you feel is unworthy of a good person, or the one your mother would disapprove.

You can also check your thinking for blank spots, places where you "have no opinion" or where you "really don't care". Look carefully there and see what you can find in the empty spot. You may just catch something that you didn't expect to find.

Eventually this sort of letting go of the self-editing, and removal of the mask will become easier and you can begin your work.

First, don't assume that what you believe privately, what you are covering over with your public face, is actually something bad. Look at it seriously, if it's an unworthy thought, or a prejudice against someone, or simply something that isn't very prettily thought out, you must look at it dispassionately and decide rationally if it is something that you should get rid of. It may be a useful, but ugly trait, it is for you to decide, not for anyone else. This is your private self, the place where the moralists and the theorists and the idealists of the world cannot intrude, where they cannot impose their opinions.

Honesty is the key here. Look for the crutches that you need to discard. Look for the fears that are groundless, look very hard for the ignorance out of which delusion grows. Find the places where you need to change, where you can improve, and then think hard about how you can change and improve yourself.

This is a life-long process so don't try to do it all at once. Pick something key, something that is as far back in the chain of events that you can discover and change that. You will find that the earlier in the process you adjust, the more change you make.

This is not unlike correcting a martial arts kata. Look for the source of the problem, not the effects. Sometimes the problem starts much earlier in the chain of movement than you would suspect, and a small change early will fix a cascade of problems afterward.



Aug 25, 2010
Teaching
Stay away from the Hanshi

A few posts ago I was complaining about the lack of students at some seminars featuring hanshi instructors. In no way was I saying that these instructors should be teaching more lower-ranked students, just that I am gobsmacked that the lower ranks are not jumping at the chance to be there.

In fact, a hanshi can't say much to a nidan that his own godan instructor won't say. In fact (and here is the difference between a hanshi 8dan and a 5dan teacher), the hanshi will likely have a lot less to say. He will not be trying to give the nidan all the information, he will only be giving him as much information as he needs at the moment.

But what he says to the godan will be so much further on than where that godan is, and the rokudan will get more, and the nanadan will get so much more...

In other words, the higher the rank, the more necessary it is to sit in front of those who are higher still, and the more that advanced teacher can teach. I once heard the ranks explained like this. Take the wall facing you. The hanshi hachidan is in the top corner. The hachidan is half way down the wall, the nanadan is half way down from there, the 6dan half way down from that... and so on down to the kyu. Now check out the distance between a 2dan and a 5dan... 5-4 is , 4-3 is , 3-2 is so your 5dan is 8 times higher than your 2dan. On the other hand your hanshi is 16 times higher than your 5dan. A 5dan can talk understandably to a 2dan, and a hanshi can talk understandably to a 5dan but can a hanshi talk understandably to a 2dan? At 128 times further down the wall, can the nidan understand the hanshi? Of course they can because the hanshi can edit what he says. Can the nidan even hope to understand all that the hanshi could say to him? Probably not. And a kyu? He's 512 times removed from the hanshi, does he need to be taught by that hanshi?

Of course not.

Should he get his rear end in front of a hanshi if he has the chance? Is that even a question?

But what about those 5, 6, and 7dan who are in range of a seminar featuring a hanshi? That's not even a question, it is absolutely, totally, one hundred percent necessary that they get to that seminar. At least it's necessary unless they have decided that they are done with learning, and happy with their current rank.

So, nidan, get thee to a godan and godan, get thee to a nanadan and nanadan, get thee to a hanshi... unless the seminars are attended by only 20 people, in which case everyone ought to pile in before the rest of them find out and they restrict the registration.



Aug 24, 2010
Learning
Seitei Keeps Changing

“Every year the sensei come from Japan and tell us all the changes for that year. Every time I see them they explain that I can't do it the way I have been doing it and now I have to change to a different way of doing the techniques.”

Umm, OK except that I haven't noticed any changes in several years.

Here's a secret for all the students out there moving through their ranks. There are some things that you can do as a beginner and some things that you can't. There are other things that you should not be trying to do because it will prevent you from doing other things that you should be doing.

When you have enough practice under your belt, some sensei or another is going to tell you to do some things differently than you have been taught to do them.

In other words, seitei keeps changing “for you” but that doesn't mean the kata themselves are changing anywhere near as often as you are being told to change.



Aug 23, 2010
Theory
Ya Ya

On the net, one of the jabs the koryu types send toward the ZNKR iaido set, otherwise known as "seitei" is that it is too exact, it's set in stone, the angles are prescribed and cannot be varied, that the instructors and judges want you to do it "like it's written in the book" and don't care about your performance otherwise.

To a certain extent, this is justified because I've heard a lot of ZNKR people say the same thing. A small problem might be the English translations that we have available to us, which tend to be rather precise.

I would like to introduce a phrase into our iaido lexicon which has been used by some of the hanshi in recent seminars. It is “ya ya”. Ya ya is usually paired with “ma” as anyone who does jodo will be able to tell you, and it is used in iaido thus.

In Ushiro, the opponent is behind us. We turn 180 degrees on the right knee and cut the opponent horizontally. We have been told not to move the right knee and to sweep the left foot across at the same time as we cut. Now, for all the jailhouse lawyers or (as I was) union negotiators out there, you will quite quickly realize that “you miss the opponent” because when you turn this way your body is one width to the side of your original position. You might catch him on the horizontal cut but you will miss his right shoulder if your vertical cut is good and he's the same size as you.

I spent half an hour in front of a hanshi recently where he very patiently explained that everything from the line of your shoulders back is “behind” you and that, for Ushiro, the opponent is “ushiro” and not “ma ushiro” or “directly behind”.

In other words, ya ya. He is roughly behind you, or somewhere behind you or...

A too literal, too strict interpretation of the language is sometimes not helpful.

Another hanshi recently explained that the Japanese version of the manual often contains the phrase “ya ya” when talking of such things as the angle at which a movement finishes. The correct translation is perhaps not “45 degrees” but “around 45 degrees” depending on the body shape of the student.

Ya ya, around, sort of, roughly...

Of course the problem now becomes worse not better, as students will now compete to make their practice as different as possible from each other and from the book. Already I hear students speculating on the angles one turns in a kata, or the distance from that 45 degree angle one can drift before being “wrong”.

I caution everyone, the meaning of ya ya is not “do what you want” but “deviate from the strict angle only to the extent that your body type forces you to deviate from that strict angle”.

In other words, ya ya is an invisible word to those who are not teaching or judging, the angles are exact, the timings are precise and the students will try to hit them bang on. The secret teaching is that some people can't do it, and that's OK, the ultimate goal is for iaido to make sense, not to “look sort of like this”. There is no “ya ya iai”.



Aug 22, 2010
Learning
The Secret Seminars

With the amount of traffic on the internet about Japanese sword and the more esoteric schools of practice, one would think that a seminar with one of the top people in the field would be well attended.

Not the case.

I have attended two seminars so far this year with less than 20 people attending, and both were led by top folks in their field.

The first was in Vancouver in July and featured Oda sensei, a hanshi hachidan instructor. Who attended? Well there were 5 folks from the East, freshly off of the May seminar in Guelph (which was attended by 120 plus students who long ago learned the value of practicing with the 8dans).

There were less than 20 people in attendance, likely because Western Canadian students have yet to understand what they are missing, so what's not to love about attending.

I mean really? A hanshi hachidan instructor, in Steveston BC (a fishing village with a terrific Japanese heritage) at a marvellous intimate dojo that is one of the prettiest in Canada.

Hello? I'm there. I'm also somewhat reluctant to write about this seminar since it will certainly get better attended, which means I'll get less personal instruction.

Let me explain this a bit. In Japan I would have few chances to get this close to a hanshi instructor, and I'm a seven dan. I have a 5dan friend in Tokyo who can't remember the last time he got to practice with a hanshi.

You just don't get this level of instruction very often so you take advantage of it while you can.

The seminar actually started Thursday evening at the Japanese language school in downtown Vancouver. I got there Friday and didn't hesitate to get to the practice rather than explore the town. That evening (an extra practice to the seminar proper) was attended by less than 10 folks and I got some real close attention. Of course I pushed my way right to the front of the class, pulling rank and having little trouble anyway as students always seem to think that they get better attention the further from the front they stand. Trust me, it's better at the front.

I had not practiced with Oda sensei before, but it was a pleasure and he reiterated what we had learned in May with Kishimoto sensei, as well as what had been reported by another student who attended the AUSKF seminar in Texas in June with Kishimoto sensei and Yamazaki sensei. Yes those of us who go to these things do exchange notes with each other. Oda sensei reiterated the points and added to them as everyone has their own way of teaching. All I can say is that multiple views always give a more complete picture.

I am still working on what I obtained from these three seminars and will likely have lots to chew on for the next year or so.

The second secret seminar was in August at the annual Calary seminar where I was invited to teach jodo and iaido. With me at that seminar was Colin Watkin sensei, who is Menkyo in the Hyoho Niten Ichiryu as well as Shihan and one of the few people left practicing the Kage ryu, a prefectural art that features drawing very long swords. And I mean very long.

Colin has been visiting Calgary for a while, since the students there were introduced to him and to the Niten Ichiryu at the Guelph May seminar, but this was the very first time Colin has taught the Kage ryu, and the 10 or 11 people in the seminar all learned some lovely new things, including how to give up our notions of drawing a sword with perfect upright posture. When the sword is as long as you are tall it's time to stretch those legs and lean into it.

This seminar always amazes me. What sword geek hasn't heard about Miyamoto Musashi and the Go Rin no Sho? How may hundreds of folks have told me they wished to learn his sword style over the last two decades? And yet the seminar is attended by a loyal core of students from Calgary and one or three other folks from widely varied places... and no more.

People wonder why I simply wave my hand and say “come visit me” when they start talking about practicing one of the arts I teach. I really don't have the energy any more to chase them down and find a good time for them to practice, or to find them a teacher just down the block (there isn't one, trust me).

No, there are a couple of places where you can start learning this stuff, where you can stand in front of some of the top folks in the world and get it directly. They are the secret seminars and I really, from an entirely selfish point of view, hope that the rest of the world doesn't find out about them.



Aug 21, 2010
Ageism
Half my life

Yeaow! I just realized that I have now been practicing iaido for half my life. I started in 1983 if anyone wants to calculate the depressing bits out of that.

Well... maybe not so depressing.

When I was born there were just about 3 billion people on the earth and we thought that too many. There are now 6.5 billion and since most of those are under 25, there is going to be about 9 billion of our little hides on this dried crust of rock by 2050. I might just live to see that, not that I'm looking forward to it.

Yet we were supposed to be dying by now. Of course, the Green Revolution relies on oil, fertilizer, mechanization and genetic manipulation of crops for yield (be it breeding or, now, direct modification) so I suppose I can still be pessimistic there as the oil gets expensive and the backlash against "GM food" starts to cut into research.

I grew up learning how to "duck and cover" I know what an air-raid siren sounds like since we had one in our town that was tested every Thursday evening at 7pm, and I was convinced that the world would end in thermonuclear flames. Certain of it actually. Well the USSR and the USA aren't going to go at it, but I suppose I can still worry about terrorists... No, on second thought I'm not going to worry about some whacko getting a little bomb and blowing up half a city. I'm going to worry about the reaction to that event, which will be much more damaging.

I grew up hungry, I remember my cousin and I hunting through the house one morning for something to eat for breakfast, there was nothing, not even flour and water, no relish, no catsup, no oil, until my mother got home from work. She was back in the tobacco fields, along with my step-father, because there were no other jobs. I wasn't working because there weren't any McJobs back then, it was all manufacturing, mining, fishing and farming and you didn't do that stuff part time. I was in the fields the next year.

Now I'm over fed and I pay money to go to a gym to lose weight. I drink diet pop... as a student I looked around for calorie rich, cheap foods. (I still miss chicken-heart fry-ups.) Now I pay extra for calorie free food.

I heard some snot-nosed economist on the radio yesterday say that consumers were as afraid of debt today as they were in the '30s. I'm sorry, my grandparents lived through the '30s, and my parents saw some of them. Neither 30 year old economists nor consumers today have a clue what fear of debt is, although they may yet learn. My grandmother worried herself sick over my University debt, and I must admit, with bank interest rates approaching 20% (That's right BANK interest rates, not credit card rates) I saw her point. Shortly after that came wage and price control and my step-father telling me that he was sorry I would never see mortgage rates at 6 or 8 percent in my lifetime so I would never be able to own a house.

Now I've got a household line of credit at less than 4 percent.

I've got kids, and students, who don't know how good they've got it.

And I wouldn't want it any other way.



Aug 20, 2010
Teaching
Don't Bother Me

I see that Wayne Muramoto http://classicbudoka.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/12-dont-be-a-dumbass/ has published another list of "what not to's" about koryu and starting its practice. Basically, if you are a dumbass don't show up.

I sympathize, I really do, I don't want to deal with dumbasses either, and I do have to deal with them. Like the other day I hit the crosswalk button and was just about to step out to cross the street when some dumbass blew through the red light in front of me. Or the other day my teenage son told me he was chased down the street by some other teenagers with a baseball bat. On further discussion it turns out he and his friend had told the other guys to... well you get the picture. Dumbasses all around.

So sure, I get it, people don't understand that koryu is a terribly elitist thing and that in order to sit in front of me to get some learnin' you have to meet my approval because you don't pay me to learn this stuff and I don't have to teach anyone. But I've never really had much of a problem with the koryu classes. Maybe it's because I teach at a University and the students self select for polite, intelligent, well-read youngsters, but I think it's mostly because I let folks watch or try a class. This stuff is boring, and anyone who isn't suited for it goes away real fast. I usually don't have more than 7 or 8 folks in a class and there really isn't a waiting list to get in. Sure I get the curious folks tromping in with running shoes or socks on, or wearing hats in class but none of that really bothers me, I'm not well dressed myself. I don't consider them to be rude to me or offending the ancients in my lineage. I consider them folks who are curious and haven't been told by me to take their socks off... in fact I often just let them slide around on the floor for a while until they take them off for a better grip.

In other words, this stuff makes sense. The etiquette makes sense, the uniform makes sense, and students will "get it" on their own soon enough. "What do you call me? Anything that gets my attention"... they go away and look it up and call me sensei next class. What's the opening etiquette? They look around and do what everyone else is doing. I don't have to get stressed about it, social and peer pressure shapes them all sooner or later.

It's interesting, I'm really a rather slack, accommodating fellow when it comes to teaching, certainly it seems, compared to some of the other writers about koryu, yet I would be willing to bet that I don't have any more or any worse students than those guys. Teachers get the students they are suited for, and nobody, or at least not the vast majority of folks out there, likes the koryu that much. The numbers will be low no matter what we do, how we act or what we demand in the way of etiquette, introductions and hoops-through-jumping of new students.

I see Wayne has calmed down a bit by the end of his post. Sometimes we just have to rant a bit. Sometimes we feel like we're speaking into the wind. Sometimes a really nice person walks through the front door and stays for years. In the end, the arts seem to tick over generation to generation and that's just fine. In the end there's no need to get stressed about it.



Aug 5, 2010
Theory
Tools

The sword you hold in your hands is a tool, with a single purpose. The only use for a sword is to cut people.

Sure we can talk about symbols of rank and power, but where does that rank and power come from? If the symbol is a sword, the power is derived from the threat of death and dismemberment.

Yet, at some time in history, likely when the sword was headed toward uselessness and conversion to a farm implement, someone got the idea that the sword could be a method of enlightenment. Well I suppose it wasn't the sword specifically, but the method of training with the sword that could be used for enlightenment.

The sword itself? Some folks seem to think that going to Japan somehow makes you understand the samurai, studying with a ranked Japanese master somehow makes you understand the samurai arts and that a real Japanese sword has to be made by some little old guy and two apprentices up in the mountains and that said sword will then contain someone's soul... but we speak not of these things. Nor do we speak of ploughboys suddenly becoming gentlemen because some king whacks them on the shoulders with the flat of his sword.

We speak of the long, continuing practice of the sword, the training that requires concentration and the elimination of excess thought, the "meditation on the sword" as I think I read a book title long ago. We speak of the idea of katsujin no ken as vs. satsujin no ken, of life-affirming swords as opposed to tools for taking life. The tool remains the same, it's the use, the intent, the reason for training that differs.

There are those who are fascinated with "effective" sword technique. Those who eagerly want to know all about the use of the sword in the Second World War and want to speculate about cuts to the inside of the joints where the armour is weakest. I call these the fantasy boys, the ones who will be ready when they fall through the alternate universe interface (AUI), or when the apocalypse arrives. These are the boys who, having the blood of heroes in their veins (see Japan, visits to) will somehow know how to use the sword effectively when they need it, because they have the blood and know all the stories.

Yet as I laugh at these boys, I realize that practice without expertise, that using the sword without effectiveness, without reality, is untruthful. No matter why we practice, we must recognize the sword in our hand as a tool for killing men. We must recognize what it is, and then refuse to use it.

Is this so strange? A shovel is used to dig, to turn over dirt, yet eventually food may come from that garden to nourish us. Is this not quite the same as the sword? OK but digging is a quiet, solitary activity that, through its repetition encourages the mind to the same quiet state which may indeed lead to enlightenment.

Practicing "real" iaido may be the only way to actually become enlightened by using the sword. To practice blindly (sensei says so), or sloppily (we won't have a sword with us in the alleyway), or in a flashy manner (the chicks love it) is to feed the fantasy. There is no flash, no trash, no blindness in serious practice, there is only the search for the fastest way to end a man's life, and in the visualization, the realization of that potential ending of a life, we may just give life to ourselves.



Aug 4, 2010
Learning Hell

Is often said to be other people, and it usually is, but it's also our own forgetfulness.

My life would be so much simpler without other people in the world. There is a reason why monks go away from society and live a simple life on their own, it is conducive to thought, understanding, forgiveness, love and all that other stuff that's good in life.

Other people complicate things, they knock you off balance, irritate and deliberately poke and prod until you have forgotten the lessons learned in silence.

Our own life can also be a problem, the lessons we learned well in our youth can be forgotten. The sureness of step, the confidence of the body can be lost with age and injury, and that of course means the mind loses its balance.

I noticed and took the time to read this article http://ejmas.com/pt/2010pt/ptart_taylor_1005.html over again this morning. It is something I wrote in 1998 and I was amazed at how much I knew then, and how much I have forgotten. Not the things I was saying, I've believed that since the early '70s and I haven't had any reason to change my mind. I'm talking about the way I understood it then, the way that I apparently slept well at night, and didn't get upset at things, and seemed to "have it together".

I suppose our lives are like mountains, lots of fuss and bother as they get created by continents banging together, lots of rough edges, then the rain and wind smooths things out and for a long time they sit there, massive, impressive, imperturbable, but eventually that same wind and rain wears them down until they're just hills, subject to a lot of disturbance from a little rain.

It's too bad my little mountain peak, bare and windswept for so long, isn't going to get worn down enough to have a nice coat of grass on it any more. 


July 28, 2010
Website Fukuoka Monster Scroll

Some fun illustrations here, go to the main blog for more. Guess they do more than jodo in Fukuoka.

http://pinktentacle.com/2010/04/kaikidan-ekotoba-monster-scroll/


July 27, 2010
Learning Thread Closed

And that, folks, is why the martial art forums die. There are a couple of them out there that used to be pretty lively but I rarely am inspired to post any more on them simply because they are becoming less and less populated.

The argument for moderation on a forum is to keep things civil, to cut down on the nonsense and to stop this endless repetition of answering the same old questions and arguments that have already been answered a thousand times before... in other words, to simply refer folks to the archives.

Case in point this morning is a note I got about a thread that was started by a somewhat old question "Why is lineage so important". It's one of my hot buttons so I answered, as did several other folks and a reasonable discussion ensued. This morning Karl Friday made a summary of the arguments and I was inspired to take up a point with him...

At least I wanted to, but a hall monitor 'er moderator decided that was the definitive argument and closed the thread... a not particularly active thread, a rather mild mannered thread, one of the very few going on in that forum, but it seems the moderator is a bit pissed at the original poster because he seems to ask stupid and provocative questions...........

Ones that provoke responses... in a discussion forum.... Hmmm.

Well there is a reason why "freedom of speach" was seen as a good thing after the Enlightenment (ask me about it if you're interested, or check the archives). "Thread closed" is a discussion killer and a forum killer. It's curious that the most heavily monitored budo forums are in the USA, land of free speach. I guess you can have too much of a good thing?

Questions, even stupid and provocative ones, are not a bad thing folks, even in budo. You are not there to shut up and copy, you're there to learn and questions are a part of that process.

Really. I've sat in front of many hanshi during my career and every one of them.... EVERY ONE has said at some point or other, "any questions?". I say it regularly myself when I am teaching, and I expect questions. ANY questions. I am delighted to get them because they bring out the nuance in what we are learning. Sure we go over things that the seniors in the class have gone over a thousand times and it's fun to watch their eyes glass over when a beginner asks something they know all about... and even more fun, (a bit annoying I have to admit) to watch their attention snap back into place as they realize I've said something they haven't heard before... and then ask me to explain it all again for them because they weren't paying attention.

All us iaido types know all about uchiko right? It's that powder in the little puff ball that we tap onto our blades to clean them. Well a beginner didn't know last Thursday, so I told her that it's an abrasive made up of what's left over from the sword polishing process. You scoop the crumbled stone powder out of the bottom of the tray, filter it, dry it, seive it and put it into a silk bag so that only a certain grit comes out onto the sword where it literally polishes away any rust on the blade after a practice.

I then noted that sometimes that isn't enough, that some folks have very acidic skin and that the acid can get down into the pores of the metal where the abrasive can't get it and it can't be soaked out..... I was going to go on to describe sword water (ask me about it some time if you want to know) when suddenly I thought of something I had never thought of before.

When a sword is polished many togishi (polishers) put washing soda in the water to keep the blades from rusting. Washing soda is basic, it's also a powder that goes into solution and will return to a powder when it is dried... Do you see where I am going with this?

Without that question, which I've answered many times before, I might never have had that thought myself.

None of my threads are ever closed.

July 26, 2010
Learning Editing

I don't watch TV news, absolutely never tune into a 24 hour news station and rarely listen to radio news.

I'm reasonably informed about world events, and I mean reasonably in every sense of that word, by reading a national newspaper once a day.

I want edited news, and I want background to that news, I don't have time to do that myself so I delegate it to the newspaper and it has worked for years.

Think about 24 hour news stations for a moment. Is there really that much going on in the world? Of course not, or rather, there is not that much going on that the folks who watch 24 hour news stations would be interested in seeing, or that the producers would be willing to pay to produce, or that the advertisers would be willing to bankroll. After all, I'm sure there are fascinating things going on in the neighbourhoods of Shanghai, Durban and Mozambique but I doubt your average CNN watcher would want to watch it.

The internet is another place I don't get news. I tend not to get a lot from the net but I am as caught up in it as anyone when it comes to certain topics. Photography goes past my eyes in vast amounts. I regularly attend a couple of martial arts discussion groups, but my facebook account sits neglected for weeks at a time since I haven't a clue what facebook is (for).

These tiny infusions of data into our brains which burst constantly all day long may actually be changing the way we think. I know it takes me a couple of days at the cottage before I can actually read a book again. The brain likes it's jumpy information flow, our history as a species likely designed us to be that way... after all you don't want to miss the lion in the grass while you are chasing away the buzzards and hyenas from that carcass.

It has been suggested that the ability to concentrate on one thing for a long time came about with books. Perhaps, but I wouldn't be surprised if a shepherd didn't have long thoughts while watching the sheep day by day (which may in fact explain the large numbers of religions that come out of the pasture and desert regions). I do know that without concentration you don't get the great philosophers and you certainly don't get to understand how they make their arguments toward their philosophies by jumping from wikipedia to about.com to philosophy.com to Stanford University to... Nothing is a substitute to a careful reading of their writings, except perhaps a very good philosophy instructor who has edited it down for you.

Which brings me to my martial arts point. Like with my news, I want my budo in quality not quantity, I want it edited, not now and certainly not in fragments and half-understood bursts of enthusiasm.

In short, I want to listen to an 8dan and not a 4dan. Not that a 4dan isn't a useful person to have around, they tend to be the repository of "how it's done", they know the "right" way to do it and let's face it, they're the Wikipedia of our world. Think about it, how often have you watched a 7dan turn to a 4dan and say "what's the next technique?" Trust me, they aren't asking to test knowledge or to provide experience in teaching... they really can't remember what the next technique is. But the 4dan will know.

A 4dan knows the next technique in their own art and are likely to know the next technique in three more. They know the name of all the teachers in the lineage, where they lived and what they had for breakfast on Tuesdays. In fact they are like the 24 hour news channel or like the internet, they are a vast and unending sea of information bites, much of it repeated at regular intervals and all of it seemingly disconnected from all the rest.

What they aren't, these 4dans, and why, despite their usefulness, I would rather sit in front of an 8dan, is experienced. They haven't digested all that information, they haven't lived with it and used it for so long that they have forgotten where the information came from. They haven't edited it yet. Eventually they will get longer in tooth and ear-hair, they will get so old they start to forget the details and they'll have to start asking their own students what technique comes next... but they'll be able to "do it". They'll know how the weight shifts, how the hip twists, how the little finger squeezes just so here and here and ... really it goes that way? well in that case how the little finger squeezes HERE.

I want the newspaper, not the 24 hour news channel.


July 24, 2010
Giri Generations

Tomorrow I am heading to Toronto for the appreciation dinner with Roy Asa sensei, president of the CKF for almost 30 years and recently retired.

I've been involved with the CKF since 1987 and have heard, for much of the time from then until now, the usual complaints about what the federation should do about this or that. Always, always with the full intent that someone else other than the complainer should be doing something because said complainer had paid their $15, later $20 annual membership fee.

Well I have been involved at or near the top of the iaido and jodo sections since they were organized within the federation and so I have been priviledged to have worked closely on occasion with Asa sensei. I may speak another time about volunteer organizations and the workings of such entities, but for now I'd like to relate a small personal story about Asa sensei and how he got things done.

Several years after the iaido section was organized and running nicely, the CKF realized that there were enough folks around to organize a jodo section. There were 5 or 6 active dojo with instructors and a well established history of instruction from Japan so it became time to create the section and provide gradings in Canada, allowing the art to grow.

At one of the summer seminars, which I "organize" I ended up sitting in the middle of the gym floor discussing the first grading with Asa sensei and with the head of the jodo committee of the ZNKR. It became apparent during the discussions that I was about to become the head of the section. I spoke up saying that there were three or four jodo folks experienced enough and talented enough to do the job, and that it didn't have to be me. The Japanese sensei laughed and Asa sensei simply looked at me like I was slightly slow-witted and said "I know you".

With those words I was both tapped and trapped. There was no way that I could avoid the job or do less than my very best at it. You see, I had watched Asa sensei put his heart, soul and a huge chunk of his life into the CKF and when he turned to me I could do no less than as much as I could to repay that work. I know how hard he worked to make the CKF work, how personal it was to him. By that single statement "I know you" he made it clear that the organization was now a personal concern of mine as well. How could it not be?

We have our teachers of budo and we owe them for those teachings. We also have our sensei in the organization we belong to, and we owe them the same debt when asked.


July 23, 2010
Lineage Who's your Daddy

It suddenly occurs to me that even though I have a lineage (or two) that goes back to before 1600 (according to the records) I have trained with the last two generations and that's it. I have not trained with all those teachers back to 1600 so what's the point of claiming them as progenitors?

Really, we train with the last guy in the line, not the first, so lineage or not, our training depends on the abilities of our teachers.

The value of having a long-winded school? I'm now not sure. Due to the effects of telephone tag I'm not sure I'm learning what the founder taught. In one of my schools I have actually traced a lot of the additions that have happened over the years through later teachers.

The value of having some really good fighters in the lineage? Fighting ability isn't something that passes all that easily down through the years as far as I know.

Bragging rights? Really.

No, obsessing about the lineage is mostly idle thought, not really conducive to good training at all, except perhaps for the stories about how hard the guys trained back then... and how I should get back to it.


July 13, 2010
Training Take Those Notes

Yesterday we spent the day going over "what we did on our summer seminar". In this case my visit to the Oda sensei seminar in Vancouver. I tried to go through all the things that I picked up from sensei so that we could reinforce them and so that those who were not at the seminar would hear them.

Two other students who attended the seminar were present, and I asked them repeatedly if there was anything I was forgetting or that they had heard that I had not.

This can be like pulling teeth.

Just because I'm a high rank and I'm in front of the class doesn't mean that I am omnipotent... much as students would like to think that of their teachers. We need help too folks, help to remember the details, help to remember the timelines, and help to see the things we can't see because we're not there in class.

So as a student, even if your sensei is in the same class as you are, make notes and don't hesitate to speak up in the review class (we all DO have review classes after every seminar don't we???)  when asked.


July 12, 2010
Summertime Oops

June has slipped away and we're half into July. I am OK folks, thanks to those who have been concerned, but it's been a chore keeping EJMAS and 180 magazine updated, let alone the blogs associated with them.

Having said that, I will make more of an effort here.

July 12, 2010