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1976 Canadian National Kendo Team

Some familiar faces here to those in the CKF. Found this page from the 1976 WKC programme at the British Kendo Association website.

Canada at WKC 1976

June 21, 2012
Koryu Seminar: Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo

Instructors Shunya Furukawa, hanshi hachidan and Hiroshi Arai hanshi hachidan

Place is Aikido Yoshinkai 399 Yonge Street, Toronto Canada.

Times are Oct 19 7-9pm,

Sat Oct 20, 10-12 and 2-4:30 dinner in the evening
Sun Oct 21, 10am-12:30 and then chinese restaurant.

Price is $225
Limit 30 people nidan minimum rank.

Topics will be Omote and Chudan through Ranai.

To register send your cheque payable to T. Kimeda to:

Aikido Yoshinkai Canada
399 Yonge Street,
Toronto Ont
M5B 1S9


T. Kimeda
2416 Poplar Cres
Mississauga Ont
L5J 4H6

Do I need to explain who these instructors are? Or what a hanshi rank represents? Probably not to those who should be attending this seminar so I'll leave it at this.

June 19, 2012
GSJSA Seminar Poster

Click for pdf
Click for the PDF version

June 18, 2012
Thoughts on Seminar Hosting

Happy Father's Day. Mine was almost as exciting as my birthday which I usually forget about and my students tell me changes my whole attitude to life. Apparently I get all depressed about getting old, and then start challenging them to fights saying something like "I may be old but I can still take you". That I can't take some of my seniors is patently true but apparently that doesn't stop me. Only the passing of the birthday puts me back to my usual gentle, wizened old self.

I have noticed on the net (someone slammed me into a koryu group on FacePage) that a group in Europe is having a seminar. I was mystified for weeks that the posts kept suggesting that if folks didn't sign up right away the price will go up for everyone past a certain date. It finally dawned on me that they probably haven't paid the airfare for the Japanese sensei yet. They are presumably waiting to collect enough money from registrations to pay for the tickets, and if the those go into the summer fare price everyone (including those who have already paid presumably) will have to pay more for the seminar.

Wow, talk about living on the edge. That's a formula for seminar cancellation if I ever saw one, and teachers don't like cancelled seminars. They plan a year in advance for most of their visits here and there, and to lose a weekend or a week is tough, especially for those who book vacation time to attend. The alternative way of hosting a seminar is to be ready to lose your shirt if not enough folks show up. And if that happens (it's happened to me a few times over the years) you just chalk it up to experience and move on, often after you've canned that seminar.

And yet here I am, reviving the GSJSA after several years of peaceful Julys. I did the smart thing, I asked folks if they were up for it and I did get quite a few positive answers. Now, a month from the seminar date I have yet to receive a registration.

About par for the course really.

This is a koryu seminar, just like the one in Europe and despite what you read on the net, there is absolutely no "koryu boom" happening out there. There's just a greater awareness of the arts but no real desire to be put out attending one, except for the usual suspects, the usual 2-300 folks across the world who are hard core about this stuff. And yes I mean 2-300, I don't think there are more than that number of serious koryu students outside Japan.

Look, most folks treat budo like any other recreational activity. Sure heli-skiing in the Rockies is amazing but most people ski the local garbage hill (that's a ski hill that is made on a mound of garbage in this area folks, not a slur on the quality of the local resorts). An acquiantance who runs a commercial Karate dojo has recently realized that the "territory" his club draws from is a hell of a lot smaller than he ever imagined, on the order of several city blocks. He found this out when he gritted his teeth and opened a club nearby, or what he thought was nearby. Not a single crossover student so far. Hell in Guelph, my hometown of 130,000 or so there are ten or fifteen commercial karate clubs. People don't like to go more than a few blocks to find a gym, a bar or a dojo.

So why revive the seminar? Well actually it's because one of my students is back into class in a big way after a few years of academia and he's keen. Or he was, haven't heard anything from him about it lately but no matter, he was the trigger that made me look back and realize the thing had been resting for many years so I decided to do a small program, just two instructors, both of us close by, and both keen on the inner lessons of koryu as vs. the kata collector mentality of those who wish to mine the koryu for secrets to brag about possessing.

There aren't any in the dance steps but there sure as hell are in the practice.

So that's what we're going to try and put across to the students. For me it will be a couple of kata in each art I teach to illustrate some ideas about dealing with an attacker. Specifically I'm looking at going right, left or straight at the begger.

Yesterday I was demonstrating at the Canadian Tai Chi Association AGM and one of the demonstrators talked a bit about angles in three different styles of Tai Chi. Square, oblique and 90 degrees off, and why each did as it did. Interesting stuff, to explain in Japanese terms he was talking about kendo (square) jodo (hanmi) and maybe yari or naginata (90 degrees, hitoemi). When the demos were over one watcher commented that she thought the distancing in Jodo was fascinating in it's shared connection. I said it was just like push hands and another fellow said "yeah but at six feet away". The important stuff is the important stuff, and it's the stuff you heard the first day in class. So my advanced class is going to start from "if someone is swinging a sword, don't be underneath it". If you got that first class, don't bother coming to the seminar.

Me, I'm still working on it after 30 years.

June 17, 2012
Kishimoto sensei notes (up on members area of iaido-canada.com)

If you haven't joined the Canadian Iaido and Jodo Fund yet, you can't see them I guess. Go on over to iaido-canada.com and cough up a pitcher of beer worth of funds to check out the growing list of instructional material.

Also on there now is the 2010 Hanshi seminar notes (From two seminars and three hanshi).

June 3, 2012
Seminar Reminder
Music to Soothe the Savage Budoka

Registrations are rolling in, I've almost got the airfare paid off and am working on the room rental so keep those paypal alerts and letters rolling in folks.

In the meantime I have determined that Lauren will be able to play once more for us Saturday evening at the auction. She'll be minding the concession table (and taking 10% from your sales) as well as selling jackets and handing out T-shirts. She may have some other things we've found around the house during the renovations (ongoing still) at her table.

Here's a little video of Lauren doing a Mozart concerto with the Guelph Youth Symphony a few weeks ago. Enjoy.


OH! and the seminar! http://seidokai.ca/iai.seminar.html

Apr 20, 2012
Synchronized Iaido

One of my students used to call it that, having an entire class of students do the kata in exact unison. This weekend I spent two days trying to get a couple different groups doing the thing we used to be able to do at will when we started. It was hard.

I guess we had less to think about in the old days, or we figured timing was important. Actually, timing is important and this ability to sync with others is a necessary skill.

It's a given that you can't break an opponent's timing without being able to match it. A lot of partner kata rely on the partner moving at a full beat while you break him by moving on the half or the beat and a half. So learn how to match timing.

Another consideration is when you're practicing in a large group, with kata that move in different directions you can easily clash blades with the guy beside you, or worse, clip the guy in front or back with a swing that's too mechanical and eyes that aren't seeing. Safety demands that even if  you screw up a kata you move with the group until it finishes the technique.

The average timing in a group practice will be pretty close to what sensei does. Each student tries to copy sensei, and each gets this or that part of the kata slightly wrong but on average in a large group, the timing will work out to something close to the ideal. Ideal being what sensei is teaching. So if you're faster than the class, you're wrong, slow down. If you're slower than the class, you're wrong, catch up.

Figure out how to be in sync in a class and you will be safe, close to sensei's timing, able to catch someone else's timing and thus break it.

Finally, you have to open up your awareness when trying to sync up, so your eyeballs will have to roll away from looking inward and out toward the rest of the room. Your ears will have to tell you where everyone else is, all those you can't see.

Tsune ni itte kyu ni awase, be ready to blend with the situation. The iaido "motto" and what do you need to do in order to blend with the situation? You need to be aware of the situation in the first place. You need to get out of your own head, your own timing, and be aware of what's going on around you.

First you learn the dance steps, then you learn to do them with your partners.

Apr 17, 2012
Summer Seminars

Three major seminars coming up for me this summer. The Guelph Spring Iaido and Jodo seminar is running for the umpteenth time... 22? This year we have five sensei coming from Japan to teach and it should be a great year for learning with only minor gradings in both arts.

We have revived the Guelph School of Japanese Sword Arts with a program of sword and stick arts presented by yours truly and Douglas Tong. Arts will include Yagyu Shinkage ryu, Katori Shinto ryu, Niten Ichiryu, Shindo Muso ryu and Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu.

The Calgary Summer Seminar will be presented once again for those in the western half of the continent. We'll be practicing Niten Ichiryu, Iaido and Jodo this  year.

In addition you'll see that folks other than your genial reporter do present seminars these days, including the AUSKF iaido seminar in Tacoma Washington, A Yagyu Shinkage and Yagyu Shingan ryu seminar in Toronto and the Midwest iaido seminar in Moorhead Minn. (Unfortunately I can't attend that one, I managed to conflict it with our own GSJSA) Check the links below to see what's happening.

May 18-21 Guelph Spring Iaido Jodo seminar http://seidokai.ca/iai.seminar.html
June 21-24 AUSKF iaido seminar Takoma WA
July 15-16 Yagyu Shinkage ryu seminar Tokumeikan http://www.tokumeikan.org/
July 28-29 Guelph School of Japanese Sword Arts
July 28-29 Moorhead Iaido seminar Minn.
August 10-12 Niten Ichiryu, Iaido, Jodo Calgary Alta.

With this list of seminars there's no excuse to let your sword skills get rusty while waiting to get back to the dojo after the summer is there?

Of course if you're in the Guelph area you can always drop in to our classes on Tuesday (jodo) and Thursday (iaido) evenings from 7-9 at the University Athletic Center.

Apr 16, 2012
CKF petition

I'm a member of the Canadian Kendo Federation and have been since 1987 when they organized the iaido section. At that time I was very proud to be a member and eager to pay my dues each year, which I did. I eventually came to understand that not everyone did this (it was only $20 a year for lord's sake) because they didn't have to, the record keeping was "relaxed" to say the least. Instead people paid a membership fee only in the year they graded.

Not a big deal since Canada had some of the highest grading fees in the world. What, you thought maybe that the folks who ran the place were a bit dim? Of course they cranked the fees up if nobody paid their membership fee, the CKF has to put in a team to the World Kendo Championships each three years and this is not cheap!

So from 1987 until 2010 I happily paid my yearly membership and my grading fees, both grading fees, a modest testing fee and a certificate fee that I always told my students was a "registration fee" since it was ridiculous that they would think they were paying that sort of money for an 8x11 piece of paper spit out of a printer. Did I mention that Japanese style certificates were an extra $70 which was automatically tacked on at 4dan and above.

Several years ago the CKF put in an electronic registration system which started to pull in more membership fees. Then a couple of years ago, while I was on the board of directors, we delightedly put in a trap to capture membership fees that were not paid in previous years. Now when you register for a grading you have to pay for any years you did not sign on as a member. This is the equivalent of buying back years of seniority in a union shop, a rather good thing because according to the CKF bylaws a member could be told they can't grade until they accumulated the years of membership they need. That would mean not grading until they had paid their membership the next year, and the next, until they had the years of membership to qualify for the grade.

Of course the CKF would never do that, it's much easier and more practical (not to mention good for the cash flow) to let members pay the back-fees.

Not long ago, while I was still on the board, we started to buy sports insurance for the entire membership and in order to fund this we raised the membership fee by $15 to $35 a year, and also raised the testing fee (the one that is non-refundable and is intended to support the cost of the grading) by a similar small amount. This more than covered the insurance cost, especially since we are still seeing an increase in the amount of membership dues as people pay their back-dues from their last test. A rise in the certificate fees was mentioned but quickly dismissed upon checking to see that we were still amongst the highest fees in the world for Kendo organizations, and because we had no need for the extra money.

I left the board of directors.

Now, this year, we are informed that the board has raised the certificate fees so that we are now, without doubt or rival, the "proud" owners of the highest grading fees in the world. I have no idea why we suddenly need this extra money, the membership has been told things like "I.T. costs, no fee increase in over ten years, and higher program spending" You'll see a letter from the Treasurer and President at: http://www.kendo-canada.com/. None of this seems to me to require an increase in fees like this, and I have not heard a good explanation of the increase from my contacts on the board.

I'm pissed off, but for my blood pressure I am not on the phone arguing with the board.

It turns out, however, that I may not have to argue for the membership anyway, it seems they are doing it for themselves. There is a facebook group for Canadian Kendo and some comments on there seem to have prompted other members to start a petition which I was told went online a day or two ago.

Yay members, you need to get involved, check out the petition which is linked to a couple of charts that are sure to make your blood as hot as mine was when I saw them.

The link to this petition is: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/578/545/015/ckf-members-want-to-keep-kendo-iaido-and-jodo-grading-fees-accessible-in-canada/

Back to my updates of EJMAS.com with delight in the confidence that the CKF membership can get along without me.

Apr 13, 2012
We Can Ignore It

I thought of this while listening to yet another program on global warming, but then I began thinking of all the other things in life that we'd like to ignore and the reasons we do. I thought I'd put up a list of reasons why we can justify not looking at, if not fixing, a problem.

As a martial artist, part of the deal is personal responsibility, after all what is fighting with someone if not taking personal responsibility for self defence, or being a soldier or looking for enlightenment or what else have you for doing budo. So here's a list of reasons not to act, to ignore one of your basic urges (to do something about it).

If there's disagreement amongst scientists we can ignore it.
If it costs too much we can ignore it.
If the predictive models aren't perfect we can ignore it.
If someone else does it too we can ignore it.
If someone else does it more we can ignore it.
If it's happened before we can ignore it.
If an advocate makes a mistake we can ignore it.
If the other side has alarmists we can ignore it.
If we can go too far the other way and that's bad, we can ignore it.
If there's bigger problems we can ignore it.
If it goes against tradition we can ignore it.
If it rocks the boat we can ignore it.
If it upsets the (voters, members, special interest groups, grannies) we can ignore it.
If we can't do anything about it we can ignore it.
If it's somebody else's problem we can ignore it.
If we're too busy we can ignore it.

Feel free to come up with your own set of reasons to ignore something.

April 9, 2012
What Rank Are You Anyway?

Often I get asked by students what rank I have, or I get asked what Dan/belt I am. There is more than one way to answer this because there's more than one ranking system.

If I want to brag or impress a Japanese visitor I say I sit on the Canadian Kendo Federation grading panel or I am the chair of the jodo section. My ranks (7dan iai and 5dan jo) are not impressive to anyone, but those positions are worthy of respect. Well I shouldn't say the ranks are not impressive, many beginners will think them high, but anyone who is impressed by them is likely unaware of what they mean on an international or even national scale. I'm one of many 7dan iai and 5dan jo folks, but there's only one head of section.

As for the koryu, MJER or SMR, I have no rank there at all, none, neither paper nor title. Yet I teach the koryu without any fuss from others or guilt on my part. My certification is the instruction of my teachers, my permission to teach is from them and that's the fact of it. Very confusing to many students who have done some reading on the net and have heard of fakes and frauds out there who teach without any "papers".

The koryu are small, anyone who is in the part of that particular world where I dwell will recognize my teachers, and no paper on the wall is needed. I was once offered a license that stated I was shibucho (the guy in charge) of North America in a very small koryu. I asked if anyone could get to the sensei without going through me. The answer was no, so, effectively, I'm already shibucho yes? Having the paper on my wall or more likely in my desk drawer, didn't change the facts at all, and the art was so small there was no confusion over who was who.

Let's go back to the dan grades, do those pieces of paper give students the right to teach? Not really, although officially it's stated that one "can" teach at a certain rank, in fact that isn't always the case. In Japan a 5dan should be able to teach according to the rules but it's apparently rare for anyone below 7dan to have their own dojo. Even in Canada not all 5dan have their own club, yet some even lower ranks also teach in their own club (under the signature of a 5dan or higher). It comes down, once again, to the lineage, to the teacher. If a sensei "suggests" that a student go out and start a class somewhere, it gets done, but if you are a 5dan in a dojo run by a 7dan, you tend to practice without teaching. You don't normally start a club if you're still in town, you keep on being a student. If you move to a town where there is no club, of course you will start teaching, but again, it's expected that you have the support of your own teacher even then.

All this talk of teaching is only one reason someone will ask about rank, it's also assumed that rank is an indication of skill. It is, in a rough sort of way, there's a minimum level of technical skill involved in all of the ranking systems. In many koryu you will get a rank when you have learned a certain number of kata. In the CKF you are ranked mostly on 12 kata, and you need to show a minimum technical skill for the level at which you are challenging rank. Note that all this implies a benchmark, not an actual level of skill. Combine a minimum technical skill level with a requirement for time of practice and you have a ranking system that will tell you what the baseline should be, but not necessarily anything about the skills of the rank holder. If you have X certification it means you have satisfied, at some point, the requirements of that certification. If you received the paper 12 years ago or you are just incredibly skillful, the paper may not actually reflect your skills at all.

So the next time you ask someone what rank they are, you might want to be prepared for a lengthy discussion on what standards are in place, what ranking system is being used, and what organizational positions may also be held.

Or you could just ask the person to show you what rank they are. Get them onto the dojo floor and let them show you their rank. That's the one that usually matters on an individual basis.

As to their teaching rank? Look at their students.

April 8, 2012
Bonsai Workshop
Art & Horticulture
The Japanese art of growing a tree in a container.

Learn about this fascinating art form and try it yourself!
This workshop will discuss the development of bonsai as an art form
related to the Japanese reverence for nature, techniques for achieving
style, and tips for care and maintenance. Each participant will create
their own juniper bonsai to take home. One tree, pot and soil are
included in the price. Instructor Michelle McMillan has been teaching
the art of bonsai for 20 years and uses it in horticultural therapy practice.
Saturday April 21, 2012
10am - 4pm
$95 Pre-Registration Required ($115 for a larger tree)
Register and inquire at ki.design@sympatico.ca (519)837-0038
Workshop will be held in Guelph (directions provided with registration)
Art & Horticulture
The Japanese art of growing a tree in a container.

April 8, 2012
JCCC Haru Matsuri
Mar 1, 2012
It's Worth What You Pay For It

I want to go on a bit with the thought I had yesterday about paying for budo. I'm a very firm believer in paying for it, and so should you be.

Now, I've often heard it said that "You get what you pay for" but that's garbage and we all know it. One of my favourite stories about retail is about the kid who is helping his uncle in the fruit store. He makes two piles of grapefruit and the uncle puts a sign for $0.43 on one and a sign for $0.99 on the other. The kid asks him why and the uncle replies "There are folks who like to buy grapefruit for 43 cents and people who like to buy grapefruit for 99 cents." It's as simple as that.

I bought an e-reader for $200 a while ago, down from twice that amount. Was it suddenly half as good as it was at $400? No of course not. But then the price dropped again by another $50. Did I feel bad about that because I paid too much? No, I spent what it was worth to me, it was worth what I paid for it. I tend to think in terms of jugs of beer, and this thing was worth ten or twelve jugs of beer.

"You get what you pay for" is certainly not how most students say they think of the martial arts. The very term McDojo lets us know what we think of clubs who have a storefront and teach for pay. (Why not a McDancestudio?) Look on the net and find some information on identifying a legitimate teacher or similar. There are whole websites devoted to finding the fakes and frauds so it won't be hard. One thing that seems to come up consistantly on the legitimate side is "no charge". Often, it's stated that it's OK to charge for room rental and other expenses (hey, nice of the students to allow that) but nothing more. Students seem to think that in this one and only case "a fool and his money are soon parted" rather than "you get what you pay for".


Yet there is something to this. Teachers who charge money are handing their students a very tough road to travel. A student who pays for lessons is in charge. He's paid so the instruction is his to use or not as he sees fit. If work has been a bit rough it's time to kick back and have a beer, not go to class and sweat and be yelled at... hey I paid for the lessons it's up to me whether or not I use them.

The teachers who don't charge figure that students who don't pay anything for lessons, or only pay to cover the costs of room rental will appreciate the instruction because they will understand how much the teacher is giving up just to be there and donate his time and effort. Also astonishing, it really doesn't work that way. "You get what you pay for" does figure into most people's thinking and they've paid nothing for the lessons, so that's what they're worth. I've even heard, and I'm not kidding here, a student say that "hey, if I wasn't here sensei would have nobody to teach". Yep, the kid was doing sensei a favour by showing up for class.

"Yeah but if sensei wanted to be paid he'd say so, he's offering classes for free so he doesn't want anything". This also I have heard and it's likely the truth, but let's examine it a bit. Yes he's offering classes for free and most sensei I know and respect who do not charge genuinely don't want to be paid for their instruction. Does it follow that they should not be paid? Those sensei likely come from a culture of unpaid instructors, where "there are no professional X teachers" and where their own teacher didn't pay or get paid. That doesn't mean there's no pay involved here folks. This is "pay it forward". I was taught, I have to teach, it's as simple as that. Also in this culture is the idea that seniors buy the beer after practice for the students who have no money, and when those kids get jobs they have the duty to buy for the students of their day. Nice, but I've seen it come down to "sensei pays" for everyone, including the ones who have decent jobs. Clear lack of understanding of the payment scheme here.

Regardless of why sensei doesn't ask to be paid back, don't think for a moment that you should consider those classes are free. If  you do it's bad for you. You will have no respect for the instructor and when you finally "get it" at some time in the future you will be disgusted with your younger self. These classes have a cost, the instruction part of these classes has a cost above and beyond rent and heat and whatnot.

Pay now AND pay it forward later. Open your eyes and see what needs doing and then do it. Sweep the floor, clean the bathroom, fix the walls and repaint when they need it. If you're in a public space rather than a private dojo you'll need to look harder. Does sensei need a new sageo? Get him one. Do Not Ask if he would like you to buy him one, hand him one and say "thanks for the extra class last week". What else does he need and how can you get it to him without discussing it with him? Can you fix his front porch? Help build his deck? Give him a ride to and from class once in a while? You go out for beer with the guy after every class, you'll find some way to pay him for his instruction so do it and make sure you pay him what it's worth to you.

It's worth what you pay for it. Make sure you don't pay nothing because if you do, you're wasting your time since you have just told yourself it's worth nothing. It's worth your time, get to class on time and every time. It's worth your extra effort, sweep the floor. It's worth your money and your labour, get a case of beer, six of the guys and go build that deck.

When you start paying it forward and you're teaching for free and you see a bunch of your students pull up with a truck and a case of beer, welcome them, let them work and cook them some burgers. Let them pay what they can, it's good for them.

Feb 24, 2012
Food on Table
Hand Crafted

I wonder what to tell my kids to get into. I'm in Ontario and outside of Toronto (home of our very own financial industry where you borrow money at low rates and lend it out at higher rates and pay yourself pots of money because you're so clever) so I'm looking at the rust belt creeping north of the border into our very own manufacturing sector. I'm trying to think what they can make money at when there are no more jobs making stuff, the financial industry finally gets regulated, farms are all owned by Agribusiness and the credit card industry is outlawed by the usury laws so we can no longer work at fast food joints serving each other lunch.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-globalization and the problems created recently will fix themselves when bunker C prices go through the roof and shipping costs more than nothing again. Hey, I shop at the Hyaku-yen store (we call it the dollar store) where you can find all sorts of good-enough stuff from China. It's going up in price already, and it will continue on up. I'm old enough to remember when "Cheap, Made in Japan" meant just that in both senses, but Japanese goods are not cheap any more. China will move on up but there will be some other country for my kid's working life that will keep the manufacturing jobs out of Canada.

Well there's the tar sands, but I wouldn't want my kids doing a job that is worse than picking tobacco (my job of no-choice as a kid) so I'm going to go with handwork. Some sort of handwork. My daughter plays violin and I'm actually rooting for her to go to school for music over engineering. Seriously. She loves playing and she also loves teaching. I figure that music teachers, wedding photographers, dentists and plumbers will always have a job because folks expect to pay them for what they do, and what they do can't be done well with stuff bought at the dollar store.

Me, I no longer work as a lab tech at a university, I handcraft customized wooden weapons and resell stuff I bring in from other countries. Yes the coming shipping increases are going to hurt, just as the high Canadian petro-dollar hurt, but it still pays some of the bills (the rest comes out of the retirement savings which I won't need due to our wonderful OAS system.... er wait...). I'm always looking to expand the sales lines and I spend a lot of time looking at design blogs to see what stuff I can steal 'er be inspired by.

What I am not making any money at is teaching the martial arts. Some teaching jobs are considered paid, some not, and teaching iaido is one that has traditionally been considered a volunteer gig.

It's curious that aerobics, kickboxing, MMA, yoga, ballet, jazz-tap, and all forms of music, are all jobs where folks expect to pay the teachers. While kids coaches are supposed to work for free, parents have no problem paying for hockey, baseball, swimming and soccer classes. So what don't we think we should pay for? Martial arts classes and church.


As a result, I make wooden swords from exotic woods and charge a minimum markup yet get requests all the time for discounts because "it's too expensive". A function of "budo is free" of course, but then I check out a design blog and find a lamp like the ones I made recently http://180gallery.com/ retailing for three times what I charge for a bokuto, and costing vastly less to make.


I'll let you know if I sell many of these lamps, if I do maybe that's my next manufacturing job.

Feb 23, 2012
Repeating Oneself

I suspect that if I go back into this blog I'll find that I have repeated myself a lot. One of the hazards of being an instructor I suppose, you repeat things for students who are slow on the uptake, who use you as a memory aide, or who are new to the class.

Often it can get a bit difficult when dealing with the first type (the third is hearing it for the first time and the second is just lazy). You absolutely cannot say the same thing over and over, humans are very good at attenuating familiar stimuli. In other words, students go deaf when you tell them to correct something too many times. The usual attempt at a solution is to try and say it a different way and/or if the possibility is there, send the student to another instructor who may have a fresh angle on the old problem.

Me, I also try not to correct the same thing more than three times in a practice. There's always a lot else to work on so if a student isn't getting it changed, move along to something they can. In the meantime I also try not to correct something in the same way in the same practice. I might say "drop your hips" or "sink your weight" or "bend your knees" or "lower your heel" and they'll all be the same correction. My students have standing instructions to get in front of other teachers whenever they can so that's also a way to avoid repeating myself, hearing the exact same thing in a different voice might just jog something loose.

I Can't Do It

This one is likely the most annoying student habit I can think of. A student can collapse while trying to do something, or say "I've got an injury and can't turn my foot that way today" but never "I can't do it". As an instructor one gets a pretty good idea of what a student can and can't do at what stage in their career. We will always push a little beyond what the student is comfortable with, but we won't suggest doing something a student can't do. At least we'd better not as that will destroy any trust the student has in us.

I rarely react directly to this problem, I usually say "well OK but keep trying to work toward it". The exception is when I have a promising, hard-working, fast-learning student in front of me. The negativity of "I can't do it" is absolutely crippling to that sort of student's progress. To say that once will carry over into the next two or three practices so I often snap back at them and laugh at them scornfully (as scornful as an old grey-beard can be that is) when they inevitably "get it". Positive reinforcement is well and good but sometimes a good old-fashioned ridiculing can work wonders.

Feb 22, 2012
How Did It Start

I'm working on the serialization of the GoRin no Sho translation for The Iaido Journal (EJMAS) http://ejmas.com/tin/gorinsho/tinart_taylor_1202.html and came across my own comment on unified theory in a school. Originally I simply stated that a school had a unified core principle and a modern school was a set of gathered up techniques. I rewrote that a bit but I'd like to expand on it here.

Modern schools (those founded or invented recently) often tend to be a collection of techniques taken from different schools. In the worst cases that's all they ever are, but some have an underlying framework. An example of this is the Zen Ken Ren Iai (All Japan Kendo Federation iaido) which has a set of 12 iai kata taken from different schools. In this case the way to move, the posture, and attitude of Kendo is used while practicing the set and so it has an overall unified feeling and theory to it.

Were old schools originally founded the same way, as a set of techniques from here and there that got smoothed out as similarities of movement were found between them and the rough (sticking out) edges smoothed off? Perhaps. Others perhaps were founded from a single principle and maybe a couple of kata and were then expanded over the years and generations, always keeping to the same principles of movement. In most cases that I know of, old schools tend to end up with a unified feeling and a comfortable number of kata, enough to be interesting and take several years to master, but not too many to keep in practice for someone with a job.

One thing about ZKR iai is that the remnants of the older schools keep it a bit rough around the edges. There are multiple noto and two different bows at the start and finish. These contribute to a somewhat choppy feel to the school compared to a koryu.

Another "modern" iaido school is Keshi-ryu (Keishicho-ryu), which is a bit older than ZKR seitei iai. It consists of 5 kata from 5 schools, front, right, left, rear and four sides. As taught to me, they could have been a koryu for all I knew (I learned them long ago), they have the same chiburi and noto throughout, opening and closing etiquette was the same (Muso Shinden-ryu since a MSR sensei taught them to me) and the kata seemed to cover a set amount of material, attacks from four directions. I showed them once to  Haruna sensei who had not seen them, and he stated immediately that they were not koryu. There are edges sticking out, too many techniques piled into a small number of kata. In contrast, if we look at Muso Jikiden Eishinryu we find a horizontal cut then a vertical cut over and over. There are not too many diagonal cuts, cuts upward, techniques with the left hand on the blade and suchnot. Some are there in the iai, and some in the partner kata but mostly the kata stick to the basics.

But every koryu was once a new school, so how did they develop that feel that identifies them as "koryu". If we take a set like ZenKenRen iai, or Keshi-ryu, which are representative kata from a few schools as a model, we may speculate that someone did the same several hundred years ago with some kata he might have picked up from several people. He might teach them the same as he learned them, but his student would inevitably start smoothing off the rough edges, making them more cohesive. This is only natural if he keeps practicing only that school. Each succeeding generation will do the same, what doesn't seem to fit the core teachings, as received by each headmaster along the way, will tend to be dropped out of the school. Four different noto? Why? Let's go with one or two maximum if we can't find any real reason to have four. Eventually the techniques within the kata will interpenetrate each other and there will be a unified feel to the school.

During my time with the ZenKenRen this has been happening to these kata. The senior instructors will meet and discuss it regularly and the consensus will prevail. Stances are square, kamae agree with the kendo ideal, the underlying assumption is that there is always another opponent... all this contributes to more and more agreement between the kata, a more consistent feel.

What about the other way I mentioned for a koryu to start, from a limited set of kata which grow in number with time. Shindo Muso Ryu jodo is said to have originated in 5 kata and all the rest were added as time went along. If you start with a few kata, and create new ones as the need to teach a specific point arises (some things are easiest taught one way, others in another way), you will naturally have a set of kata that are internally consistent. Another reason to increase the kata is to keep the students interested. Five kata that can be learned in a month might not hold students for several years... at least not beginners. Very senior instructors tend to be happy practicing one or two for decades but you have to get through the beginner stage to get that attitude.

How many kata do you end up with? In most of the koryu of my experience it comes down to a few sets of about ten kata each. That seems to be ideal as a balance of interest over time (it takes several years to master all the kata) and simple time constraints (you can run through all the kata in most of these schools in a couple of hours). Thus the syllabus isn't too big to remember or too small to be challenging.

The ZenKenRen iai set has expanded during my time. It went from 7 original kata to ten, and then to 12 (same as jodo which always had 12). Will it continue to expand? A good question, the kendo no kata of the ZenKenRen have been joined by a second set of bokuto exercises which are supposedly simpler and focus more closely on what's needed for kendo competition. Perhaps a second level of iai may eventually appear as well. This might be more likely if the ZenKenRen, or rather its members, focus more and more on seitei and ignore the various koryu. As students master the set of 12 they will be looking for more.

Alternatively, ZenKenRen students may start to put iaido and jodo together to give themselves two sets of 12 for 24 kata. This is the number of kata in the three sets of HyoHo Niten Ichiryu (12, 7 and 5), but is a bit less than the core iai kata of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu (11, 10, 8, 10, 3) at 42. Of course one could say that the jodo kata are all two-sided so you have 36 "movements" to memorize in the iai/jo practice and 48 in Niten.

Just a couple of ideas on how koryu may start and develop their internal consistency. The thing is, I don't know of any way that we could know for sure how a koryu started or developed except in a very general way, records are sketchy and the Japanese didn't make detailed manuals with illustrations. The best we've got is lists of kata through the years and I would love to see a set of lists for fifty or sixty schools (there were hundreds) to see how the kata numbers change through the generations. It might give us an indication of what proportion of schools appeared full-blown and how many developed over the years.

What Makes It a Koryu

Apart from "internally consistant" which any modern school could be (think Aikido or Judo or Kendo), just what is this "koryu" thing? If we take it literally and pick a specific date, the Meiji restoration of 1868 perhaps, the definition is easy. Older is koryu, younger is seitei. The problem for the kenjutsu school students is always Kendo. It can be traced back into the Edo period and so would be a koryu under this definition. I have no problem with this but lots of folks do, and they start to engage in some magical thinking to find some other aspect to separate koryu from modern art. The less experience had in the koryu, the more extravagant the claims it seems.

Some of the various ideas that have popped up over the years about koryu include the training method, secret inner knowledge of esoteric buddhist practices revealed only to the initiates, special intuition handed down through generations of warriors through the samurai period, they used weapons (as vs modern judo and other combat sports which do not), a special quality of mind that you can only develop through serious koryu practice as a warrior but not sports practice, the constant thinking of death as vs winning a fight, going right to the edge of death or injury in the kata and then stopping just short.

All these things, while surely interesting, don't really give me any insight into the difference between a koryu and a modern combat art, they seem to be differences between sports and military or paramilitary training and we certainly have both of those today, with the modern military training being done with much more lethal weapons than a sword or stick. In fact the US military weapon of choice these days to take out an individual enemy seems to be not the sword or even the gun, but the missile-armed predator drone and the best operators seem to be those well trained in video games.

Taken individually, the kata training method (as vs sport randori I presume) isn't unique to koryu, modern non-koryu versions ("seitei") also include the same kata. Esoteric practices I can't talk about, I'm not aware of any but I may not be an initiate in any of the koryu I've practiced, secret knowledge is just that, secret until you know it. All I can say is that I've never seen any hint of it in any of the koryu I practice, and for those koryu who do practice it, it's well documented and not secret... OK that's a bit tautological. Special initiation by generations of warriors? What the Edo period bureaucrat-samurai? These were arts that were developed far from the battlefield I'm afraid. Weapons? That leaves out koryu jujutsu. Being a warrior in the first place? Fine, I'm not a warrior/army/policeman so I can't speak to this but it could be tested easily. I won't go on to the rest, all of it seems more dependent on teacher vs teacher than on koryu vs modern version.

To go to the idea of testing the assumption, first we must assume that there is a difference between koryu and modern versions of budo and define what this difference is. If we "just know" there's a difference or even just suspect, or are curious if there is one at all, we can test it by difference. We have koryu jodo and koryu iaido and modern "seitei" versions of both available to us both in Japan and in the west. Furthermore, they are taught be fully licensed instructors in each. Let's get specific, we could test Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo, the koryu version and the ZenKenRen seitei jo version. These have been suggested to be different many times.

We have available as instructors members of various police dojo who are menkyo kaiden and hanshi hachidan in the koryu and seitei respectively. This takes the instructor variable out of the equation. Furthermore we have a seitei that is taken completely from the koryu so we don't have the confounding factor of kata from multiple schools vs a single school.

We can then vary the conditions of our test. We can examine military or police students vs civilian students. We can examine, through asking our cooperating instructors, whether they give esoteric knowledge to the koryu students but not the seitei students, and similarly we can ask about any other suggested differences in training offered. We can directly examine how they teach the seitei vs the koryu students. In short, we have a testing platform to ask questions regarding koryu vs modern budo.

What will we test? Here's a bit of a problem. What will we define as a difference between seitei and koryu? Skill at the kata themselves? This would imply the instructors teach differently or the students learn differently so it could lead us to some answers. Resulting "grace under fire" of the two sets of students in a military or paramilitary situation? Not sure that's very ethical but we could perhaps do a retrospective examination of incident reports of students trained in the two different arts by the same instructors etc. If we can control for all other factors we might get an answer.

Other than skill at kata, we'll need to hypothesize differences between koryu and seitei that are testable. Esoteric practice is one of them, and easily testable. Instructors are warriors if teaching koryu can't be tested in our experiment since we're using the same instructors for each art. We would, however, be using paramilitary (police) instructors for both so the potential effect should not be confounding to the other results. I leave it up to you gentle reader to come up with more things that could be defined and examined in our experiment, and how to set it up. I don't actually have any intention to run the test since I'm not all that concerned with making the differences more important than I think they are.

My idea of koryu vs seitei? I'll use the ZenKenRen seitei iai and jo since that's what I'm most familiar with.

mostly one, but allowed to practice with many
one instructor, difficult to change instructors, rarely taught by another sensei
limited to 12 kata
multiple kata in multiple sets
training method
kata based
kata based
individual curriculum vs group training
depends on class size, small classes tend to end up in individual training
usually small classes, so usually individual training
grading system
kyu/dan and shogo
varies, usually not kyu/dan
grading judges
committee of several senior instructors
varies, often a single instructor
kata source
jodo, one source
iaido, multiple sources
one art so one source
kata differences
within the range of koryu differences
differences between lines of koryu
overall feel
jodo, feels "of a piece"
iaido, can feel disjointed
all kata feel "of a piece"
esoteric instruction
rare but not unheard of
rare in my experience
consistency between instructors
very high level of agreement on way kata should be performed
no agreement sought, consistency usually only within lines of instruction
who defines the art, creates changes over time
committee of most senior instructors
any instructor of sufficient seniority
Intensity of practice
depends on instructor, can be very high
depends on instructor, can be very high
general expectation of student
technical proficiency and advanced concepts of budo
technical proficiency and advanced concepts of budo
yes but a minor adjunct to training

Final conclusion:

For me, given that the same instructors are teaching both koryu and seitei, real differences are slight. In my experience no instructor will teach seitei in a way that is less "real" or intense than he teaches koryu, in fact the opposite is often true when it comes to hammering home the small details. Seitei, being "representative" is more standardized with fewer kata and so the level of student skill is high allowing more work to be done on the fine structure. If koryu is not practiced to the same extent in a club as seitei, its practice can often be perfunctory due to a desire to get all the kata learned rather than working on the biomechanics.

So, as to what makes it a koryu according to Unka Kim? It started pre-1868 and is still being taught in more or less the same manner by a lineage that goes back directly. No reboots allowed. The rest is down to the instructor.

Feb 20, 2012
Is That So

Everyone should be aware of this story of Priest Hakuin. The one where the village girl names Hakuin as father of his child. He says "is that so?" and takes the child as his own. Later the girl says she lied and wants the child back. Hakuin says "is that so?" and gives it back.

Assuming for a moment that Hakuin actually knew that he was not the father, what possible motivation would he have for simply going along with the activities?

Let's get rid of the notion right here that the story is all about being above the concerns of society, or what I like to call the tyranny of the grannies. A brief read about his life will reveal that Hakuin had little reason for concern with such approval from the gossiping classes. While this may be the usual take home lesson of the story, it's not likely Hakuin would have cared for a child simply to show we should be unaffected by gossip.

Why did he do it?

Firstly, the child was going to have a bad time of it. Born out of wedlock and obviously with someone the girl didn't want to name, there wasn't a lot of incentive for the girl or the family to look out for an unwanted baby. Hakuin may simply have been motivated to care for something that needed caring for. This is a putting aside of one's own comfort for another. An excellent trait to have, and one that is far more rare than we would suspect.

It is snowy here today and as I walked through a parking lot I watched an old man walking behind a car backing up and driven by another old man. The pedestrian was commenting quite loudly to his wife that "he isn't even looking" as he walked closer to the backing car and trapped himself between it and another parked vehicle. It was plain to see that if the guy backing up didn't stop, a crushing collision was inevitable. Mr "I like broken legs" couldn't put himself in the driver's seat, even though he probably also had a stiff neck and probably also drove the very same way. Even though he could see the danger, he couldn't get past his own world-view and just get out of the way. His inconvenience at having to stop and wait was more important than the potential hospital stay or worse. I know he saw the danger, he just couldn't get beyond his own feeling of entitlement, not even to preserve his own health.

A bit later in the day my daughter bit her lip as she watched an idiot run a late orange and just about hit another SUV that was clearing the intersection turning left. Again, a nice demonstration of how people can't get beyond the feeling that their lives are the centre of existance, that somehow nothing else in the world could possibly be as important as their concerns. After all "they're busy people".

Think of the CEO who figures he's worth 10,000 times the salary of his secretary, (as Warren Buffet noted for us) or worse, the exec of a volunteer organization who figures said organization should fly his kids with him to some meeting "because he's giving up his family time for the organization". The CEO of a for-profit company may be right in feeling that he deserves whatever he can squeeze out in compensation (after all his goal is to make money) but volunteer organizations are not about accumulating money, they're about giving your money and time to something the organization represents. Yet those who end up in charge often feel they're "doing a job" and should be compensated accordingly for their sacrifices.

Hakuin took in the child, cared for it and gave it back when asked for it. He didn't also hand back a list of feeding and cleaning supplies to be recompensed. He didn't charge a weekly child care fee.

Secondly, Hakuin may have considered this a teaching moment. In this case, he did something wrong (he allowed a lie to be told about him) in the knowledge that eventually those who lied would learn something useful to them. The girl eventually learned that she wanted her baby, that the baby was more important to her than her parent's anger, and that her lies did not make her happy.

As martial artists we may feel that honour is everything and that we should never suffer liars without exposing them and of course never lie ourselves. Looking at this a bit more closely we can see that we are actually just being concerned about the grannies, about what others may think of us. There may be a situation (a child that needs caring for?) where it would be appropriate for us to accept a lie, or to lie ourselves in order for a more general lesson to be presented.

I'm not speaking of little white lies here to protect the feelings of others "does this hakama make me look fat?" but big ones that go to the heart of your self-esteem and self-worth.

Could you look to the greater good and allow your name to be dragged through the mud? Could you watch your dignity be destroyed and simply say "is that so?"

Feb 11, 2012
There's a Koryu Over There in the Corner

People speak of the koryu as if they were some sort of physical thing, some sort of body of knowledge, a list of kata that you could find in Wikipedia, or some school building you could find out in the country somewhere.

A koryu is a line of instruction, it's what is passed along from teacher to student and how it's passed along. This supposedly-physical thing might be said to breathe in and out as headmasters add or subtract from the teachings, but in fact it changes form with each new leader. If the 4th headmaster drops half the techniques from what he teaches the 5th, and the 7th headmaster picks them up again, they aren't the same techniques. Despite having the same name and perhaps being vaguely similar to something written on a scroll, they have not been handed body to body. They will probably be something which is pretty close, but filtered through what the 7th head knows and has been taught about the rest of the kata that were handed down. They might be very close but some of the tiny weight shifts here or there will be lost.

Think of a rather opposite situation. A story can be written down and copied scribe to scribe, that's not much problem except that small mis-spellings might creep in, a word changed without noticing here and there but the story isn't going to change much in overall theme or in nuance. That's the kata handed down from one body to another.

Now think of that story being memorized and repeated orally just once before it is again written down. That's the kata written down and revived later from the scrolls. Could be pretty close, the main themes and moral of the story will likely be there, but the nuances of telling will be changed and the writer of the later version will have a tremendous influence on the new-old kata.

The koryu is this passing along, this writing from one body to another, it's not the kata, they change in number and nature. It's the ideas behind the kata, the morals of the stories and these also acquire different meanings over the years. If we assume Aesop's fables are more or less as written generations ago can we also assume we get the same lesson now as a Greek of 500 BCE? It may be close, I suspect it is, but the nuance is probably different.

Education is not a physical thing that can be placed under glass and preserved in its pristine state. It's a process. Koryu is a line of education from generation to generation.

A koryu, being simply a lineage, is as effective, moral, useful, adaptable, honourable, trustworthy and loyal to its members as the headmaster is all of those things.

People speak of combining, adding to, changing or otherwise modifying koryu to create a new koryu. This is, again, to give body to something that is essentially bodiless. A teacher can't unlearn or change what they have learned in order to create a new koryu, they simply teach what they know. If what they know is that they reject completely or partially what some teacher handed down to them, they are still teaching in relation to what they were taught. If they add stuff, they add to, they don't invent out of whole cloth.

I defy any reader to create an entirely new sentence right now. Don't go firing up a search engine to check out your creation, I don't care what it is, it isn't something new in the world. You used an alphabet, grammar and vocabulary that you learned long ago. Did you create a brand new word? So did Shakespeare before you, and nobody ever accused him of being anything but a writer of English.

One might argue that now we can incorporate organizations, make our administrative body a legal "person" and so it's a physical thing. This legislative fiction is intended to make an organization or company easier to deal with, and to protect its members from liability of one sort or another. It doesn't really create something where nothing actually exists, it just invents a way of dealing with a bunch of people doing something together. Your budo organization, whether koryu or modern accumulation of various arts, clubs and ryu isn't a thing, it's the sum total of everyone involved and it is only as good as those in charge. There's really nothing inherent in the organization to honour, be loyal to or otherwise interact with. You interact with the guys running the thing and like your teacher, they deserve as much respect as they earn and not a dollop more. The koryu, the budo organization should get as much loyalty as the top guy gives, as much respect and as much admiration as they earn.

Feb 2, 2012
Facts and Statistics and Kata

I heard a few days ago that facts didn't start to dominate in the Western intellectual landscape until the 18th century when the scientific method became the way to look at the world. That method was to  observe the world, derive a hypothesis from those observable facts, and then do some experimentation to disprove the hypothesis. I say disprove because you can't prove anything scientifically. (Which is why I am constantly amazed at religious folk trying to prove god exists "scientificially" or wanting creationism to be taught in a science class. If we disprove it with experiment, we discard it, it's gone...  If we can't test it experimentally, it isn't science.)

Before the uplifting of facts it was more common to try and decide what super-factual ability made man better than the animals, since, after all they said, even a cat can see a rock. Animals deal in facts, but humans can see beyond. Often this "beyond" was/is defined as religious belief (God made us above the animals), or sometimes as metaphysics (we are closer to an ideal state than animals). While most folks of my acquaintance today embrace the scientific method, there are some who still seek some sort of Platonic Ideal world, usually in the form of economic theory (market forces will come into play to solve the oil crisis for instance).

You can see the problem of course, facts, no matter how many are accumulated, can't give you a grasp on how the world works, or what it's for. In one case you won't have a way to predict future events, in the other you may be asking a meaningless question, or one that won't yield to factual analysis (depending on your tendency to believe in the supernatural). Even if we gather huge numbers of facts and subject them to statistical analysis, we will be missing a key element to understanding, the leap to a hypothesis, a way of explaining the facts in a causal manner. It's sunny today, it was sunny yesterday and the day before and it's sunny 46.8% of the days in Januarys of years that are even numbered. Will it be sunny tomorrow? Without some sort of hypothesis about weather, who could say other than "based on past activity, there's a 46.8% chance that it will be".

Well, do we get much beyond that these days? Often not. Numbers and facts are easy, cats can do them, they're simple and comforting, they seem to work, but really, to be useful we need to be asking what we can do with facts rather than accumulating them endlessly in the hope that with enough of them will come understanding (rather than statistics).

Think of Kata as facts.

We can take an entire kata as a fact, or we can break the kata down and know a bunch of facts about it. Which foot goes where. We can examine other people's kata, or rather the kata of teachers other than our own, and learn what they do differently than us... more facts like they put their foot in a different place.

It's simple and comforting to look at our facts and make sure we have them written down, that we have our kata memorized exactly as sensei has taught us, that our school is passed down faithfully from generation to generation. The kata shouldn't change, after all the facts don't lie right? A fact is a fact and our kata work (we've been told or at least, we assume). If we know enough facts we'll understand (somehow) the entire picture... if we just keep accumulating facts. And one fact is as important as any other fact (because without a hypothesis or even a belief, we have no way of choosing between them).

I'm a scientist, was trained as one and worked as one. I believe in facts as much as the next fellow, but facts are only part of the world-picture. If you believe in facts alone, you treat them all as equal and that leads to giving the same TV air-time to idiots as to learned men simply because there's some sort of feeling these days that arguments should be balanced. Thing is, you can't tell an idiot fact from an intelligent fact without some knowledge of the scientific method where the idea of facts come from. Belief isn't fact, opinion isn't fact, and neither is the scientific "other side" of facts.

Hypothesis is the other side of facts, and it's not such an easy thing. With kata you have facts, now put the facts together, or pick them apart, and derive a hypothesis based on these facts. I know 24 kata from a school, what can I do with that? I could break them down and say that 32.5% of the kata involve a vertical sword strike but where's that get me? It gets me as far as our sunny day predictor doesn't it? The problem with recording sunny day facts is that we have somehow missed the reason it's sunny or not sunny. We didn't "get" clouds. No amount of study of the 24 kata, or the 347 lost kata beyond those, or the 1346 kata of the other sword schools we can study will ever suddenly throw up an understanding of clouds if we don't see clouds in the kata. Clouds aren't present on sunny days so why should we consider them when counting sunny days?

What sort of stuff can we miss if we are trying to derive a hypothesis of our martial art school? What things are not present, are outside the facts themselves that have influence and bearing on the facts? (Where are the "clouds"?) Why should we care about such things in the first place? Why should we care about sunshine? What does it do for us?

Now, I hinted at a problem with a belief system, with believing that the market will solve the oil crisis. Belief too is easy, especially if we believe in something we can bend to fit any situation. The problem is that Belief isn't subjected to testing (it would be hypothesis otherwise) and it isn't subject to being discarded if found wanting (same reason). The market will solve the oil crisis because as oil prices go up due to shortage of easily obtained oil, other sources of oil such as tar sands or fracking shale will become economic and will supply the demand. It's a nice belief and it may even work for a while but oil is finite and so is the capacity of "globalization" to work with more expensive shipping fuel. Of course the belief is that when oil gets expensive enough we'll simply come up with fusion... but that's bringing in another "fact" to deny the finding that the supply and demand market can't solve the oil crisis, it will only cause oil prices to be cheap when there's lots of it around, and expensive when there isn't. It's not a bad hypothesis for price fluctuation but it isn't a solution to a limited resource.

My point? To believe that we will derive the benefit of our budo kata if only we keep on doing the kata is the same as believing the market will fix the oil crisis if we only let it work on us. It's a belief that has very little to back it up. The market does affect this and that and so do the kata but we can't be sure of the end result of either if we don't ask deeper questions.

What's the purpose of kata? What's the use of it? What can it predict, produce or otherwise promise? Can you know any of that by simply accumulating more kata, more facts?


Feb 1, 2012
Welland Area Iaido Clinic

I am pleased to announce that we will again host a Iaido clinic in Niagara Peninsula with three of the highest ranking sensei in Canada.

The seminar will be Saturday March 10 from 9:30am to 4pm at the Ukrainian Black Sea Hall in St. Catherines (455 Welland Avenue). Price is $50 per person with pre-registration, $60 at the door.

We will be working the ZenKenRen Iai waza in the morning and the first koryu sets for Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu and Muso Shinden ryu in the afternoon.

Your participation is greatly appreciated.  Also, please pass this information along.

Contact me for the application form which needs to be received by March 3th but payment is at the door.

Ron Mattie <rmattie@vaxxine.com>

Jan 26, 2012
I Don't Trust My Left Arm

I am not using my left arm very much these days, it mostly hangs loose by my side. I don't trust it. It's not that it's useless, it is recovering from a tear in the biceps and some rotator cuff stuff as far as I can tell. I have a large range of motion (compared to a month ago) that is pain free and quite a bit of strength and I reconfirm all that regularly in the weight room. But the thing betrayed me, it failed and caused a lot of pain for quite a while so I don't trust it.

It would be nice, but you can't just decide to trust something once you've lost faith in it. You have to forget the betrayal and the pain, you have to forget and then use it through old, deep habits for long enough that you can once again rely on it. Any little stab of pain will act as a reminder of the betrayal and you're back to not trusting at all. What's conscious, what's rational, is distrust to avoid more pain. What allows trust once more is a long period of no reminders so that old routines can reassert themselves and eventually you can come to rely on the damaged part again.

It's the same with people. Trust in someone is a habit acquired over quite a long time, family is most deep, then childhood friends and on through the years to the guy you met last week. Trust isn't automatic, that would be rather counter-productive to continued existance. Lions would love monkeys to trust them. Once trust in a person is lost it has to be regained through continued association for long enough that habits of reliance can be re-established. Multiple, constant apologies and explanations only dredge up the pain of betrayal and delay the process. The only thing that will help is to forget. Forgiving is a rational, conscious decision and has nothing to do with trust. To forgive is the same as to apologize, it allows the continued association through which the trust habit may be reestablished. Trust is much more easily lost with those of shallower habit, those you've known for a shorter time, but it can also be regained more quickly since there's not much to regain.

Let's talk about budo since it's a budo blog. We often hear people saying you have to go into a dojo with trust in your sensei, you have to trust what he says and do it without question. What utter rot. Firstly, it doesn't happen, a student who comes into a class and does whatever sensei says is looking for a messiah to save him from personal responsibility and thought. It's got nothing to do with trust and everything to do with abdicating the hard chore of living correctly.

Expectation is a much better way of describing the sensei student relationship. A student should have an expectation that sensei will be able to teach him, and expect that what sensei tells him to do will be instructive. The student accepts the teaching, questions it's result and if the result is more knowledge  over the years, the student will come to trust the sensei. You can't go in with trust or you're setting yourself up for a painful betrayal when you fail to learn a lesson. Sorry, I should say you can't go in with trust at all as I've described it here. You can however, go in with faith and so can feel a betrayal of religious proportions when lesson failure inevitably occurs. Look, my left arm was never infinitely strong or pain free, I never had faith in it, I had trust that it would do what I asked as long as I didn't ask what was beyond it's ability.

In most of our personal life trust is the most important currency we can develop. It is for a smaller part of our life that we are dealing with money (hard currency) or other exchange goods in the sort of legally enforceable contract which substitutes for trust. Before lawyers we had our good word. Now we have agreements which exchange actions for goods and defined penalties (usually more goods) for non-performance (the equivalent of a betrayal). Unfortunately it seems people are starting to accept this legalist model of life as the way things should be.

Let's say we've got two people who live together. For 200,000 years of our existance what was important was trust, did the other person have our back? Could we trust them to help us live to see tomorrow? What mattered was the ability to rely on our partner, it was our "word" our "honour" our "trust" that let us set up these relationships. Since the invention of money we have created a world with contracts and agreements. If you give me that or do this work for me I'll give you these tokens which you can exchange with someone else who is participating in this system of trust, for other goods or work. Somewhere along the way somebody thought it would be a good idea to see if we could reinforce the trust-based nature of this stuff (somebody betrayed someone didn't they) by government, by setting up a bunch of guys with bats of wood who would break your kneecaps if  you didn't respect your side of the bargains. The value of a man's word began to slip. Then, Chthulu help us, we invented a class of people whose job it was to draw up contracts on paper, and immediately that class doubled in number due to an equal number of people designated to find out how to cheat on said written contracts. So our two people living together and producing kids and fighting back to back outside the cave mouth? Marriage. A contract that says if you want to do that kind of stuff you gotta agree to a bunch of things and if you don't do them you're going to pay through goods, labour or pain. Trust became just another clause in the contract and now even that has gone, betrayal of the marriage vows is no longer direct justification for divorce... well never mind we won't push this one too far.

As martial artists, looking to become better people we learn how to injure, maim and kill. A big part of this training is the injunction against doing just what we've been trained to do. We are training to trust our partners and to give our word to them that we will hold back when swinging lumber at their head. We learn that our word, our honour is something of value. We learn to value the old ways of 200,000 years. Is there any budoka out there who has anything but contempt for that waiver you signed on the first day of training? Fear of lawyers is not what keeps us from hurting each other, it's trust. We aren't paying each other to spar, we're in it voluntarily, it's different. Same with the people we drink with and watch movies with, we exchange trust, not money and if we lose trust in someone, we stop cooking dinners for them.

Of course I have no doubt that somewhere right now someone with no knowledge of honour is suing someone because they hurt their feelings. I'd like to sue my left arm. Is trust as a concept losing out? Do we need to talk about politics? We now have a class of professional rulars (you go to school to learn how to politic and then you join a party and spend your life doing that stuff) who we expect to lie, and we put them in power over us so that they can make decisions about what contractual interactions we will carry out with each other. No need for trust anywhere along this line. It was a lot easier up in the trees where you'd simply turn your back on someone who broke trust. Off they'd need to go to reestablish themselves somewhere else, perhaps a bit wiser and more conscientious, if not they dropped out of the gene pool.

Finally, let's talk about organizations. There are two kinds, those who run on pay and those who run on trust. The ones who pay are businesses and they are subject to all sorts of laws and study in school but boil down to something pretty simple. I'll give you money to do things for me and/or I'll sell you other people stuff for money. No need to get all bent out of shape over trust here, employers don't have to trust employees and vice versa. We've got money and contracts and lawyers up the wazoo. Sure we talk about trust sometimes, and employees who break their trust with the employers get fired, but that stuff mostly boils down to what's in the contract anyway. Thou shalt not steal office supplies is not a matter of trust, it's in the contract. Thou shalt not treat me like a donkey is heading more toward the trust thing but we still have human resources vs human rights to fight that one out in the courts. Money means contracts not trust.

But when we go to volunteer organizations we lose the basis for all that contractual stuff. It's really hard to make a contract on "if you give me your time and effort for nothing I'll pay you nothing". The urge to contract, the direction of value for service, actually moves the other way, from individual to organization. In a business the boss says "I'll pay you to do this", with volunteer organizations the "employee" says "I'll give the organization my time and effort for free so that a certain goal I desire can be attained".

So where's the trust come in? All organizations over a certain size end up with management. Someone has to make sure things are coordinated, goals are set, money is collected, accounted for and spent correctly, etc. etc. So we can go to a simpler agreement. "I'll donate money or give my time and effort to the organization because I trust you to use that money time and effort well".

What happens if management betrays that trust? Pretty simple really, the monkey turns his back and walks away. He's not being paid to work for the organization, he's paying to be part of it. Business principles and human resources theory don't work. Trust works, a person's word is important when all you have is people who say "I'll do that" rather than some middle manager who says "I'll hire someone to do that". You don't fire people from volunteer organizations, they fire you.

Jan 26, 2012
Book Learning.... Again

It is a constant in the martial arts world that some beginner will ask which book is good to read to start iaido and a dozen people will jump all over them telling them that they can't learn from a book and, further, that it's dangerous and counterproductive and will hurt their chances of learning when they do get to a sensei.

No wonder the arts are drying up. Used to be that we'd get a magazine or a book and start hacking around with each other, and then if we found a teacher we'd jump on the chance and nobody had a problem. Now that we've got the internet a beginner wouldn't dare even read a book for fear of getting bad habits. Don't even think about watching a video.

The most curious thing is that it's rarely the top folks who are giving this advice, it's the beginners who surf the net (and have soaked up the wisdom of the masses) and the intermediate types who have five or six years in.

Bottom line is that you can learn as much iaido from a book as you can learn any other physical activity such as skiing or skating or swimming. Some stuff is really hard to put into words but you generally don't need that stuff until you're beyond "book learning" anyway. I learned how to cross country ski from a book (and many other skills along the way). Never noticed that I was bad at any of it, hurt by it, or held back by "bad habits" when I found a teacher.

The thing is, I'm a bit ticked off every time some junior tells the world you can't learn from a book. I learned from books, I pretty much had to until there were enough people doing iaido in Eastern North America that we could start bringing instructors over from Japan. I was luckier than most, I was only four years from my introduction to iaido until I found my current sensei, but even then, we all read everything we could find to try and get up to speed. My sensei still reads everything he can get his hands on, a good lesson as far as I can tell.

When folks speak so glibly about "go see a sensei" they are actually being quite dismissive of the efforts of the first generation or two of students over here in these arts. Quite often all we had were books to keep up with what was happening, it was many years until we had sensei coming regularly from Japan to update us, and when they finally did become available we worked our asses off to fix what we needed to.

Also understand that while we were trying to get enough time for practice ourselves, we were teaching the next generation who only needed to do as they were told and, as my sensei says "selfish practice". It is not easy to start an art from scratch administratively, while "filling in the blanks", catching up to date and teaching so that there will be enough folks to fill the seminars that bring the sensei from Japan.

Now I am not a bad writer, and as far as banging out words, I'm a good one. It's easy for me so I have written a lot of manuals on how to do iaido. I wrote them intending that beginners could use them to get started and advanced beginners could use them as reference. I spent a lot of time and care on them and so again, I don't appreciate some kid who's never seen them telling me they're harmful.

For a beginner, a book (and even better, books and video) are just fine for learning the large motor skills you'll need to memorize the kata. An advanced student is also just fine with books. If you have a good grounding in the art, you can read an old book (that's well enough written) which might contain kata which you've never seen and be able to fill in the gaps in the descriptions. They will contain the fundamentals, the stuff that is too obvious to write down. Anyone who has developed the skill of making notes will know how the shorthand goes.

As a demonstration of the power of words, many years ago the FIK introduced two new kata to the Zen Ken Ren Iai set. We had a written description (no photos, no video) of the kata from a student in Japan and passed it around to the seniors in our organization. Several months later we had a visit from an 8dan who offered to introduce the new kata to us. Having heard that we had been practicing from written notes he asked us to demonstrate what we had come up with. Several of the brave ones walked forward to demonstrate and not only were we close to each other (we hadn't had a chance to compare notes), we were also very close to the technique. Our difference from the technique was about the same as the changes that came over later that year as the sensei in Japan continued to refine it.

In other words, from someone else's written notes we were able to get very close to a brand new kata. This is not magical, it's simply that humans are very capable of communicating in ways other than speech and demonstration.

This is not to say that all things can be easily taught by book, some are best shown "hands on" so that instant feedback can be given. The time for that type of teaching is during the intermediate ages of, say, 4 to 10 years practice. Just the time when students have the confidence to head online and teach beginners by written posts all about how they can't learn from books.

Is it better to learn from a sensei from day one? You betcha, a hell of a lot easier than the way we had to do it, but don't go all superior about your skills and assume you know the true way to the top of the mountain. There are may ways, as someone starting now you've got one of the easier ones. If the current generation isn't vastly better than we are when you're our age, it will be from pure laziness. I'd like to see a lot more of you stick your noses into some source material instead of looking at us with big cow eyes expecting to be spoon fed and making excuses for not reading like "I'm afraid it will give me bad habits".

Jan 25, 2012
Budo Sermons

In 1982 I decided the philosophy of Aikido was contained in the techniques. I was there to learn how to be a better person because I couldn't find a Zen priest in Guelph and sensei never gave sermons in class so...

Much later I decided the philosophy of the martial arts came during the beers after class, that's when all the stories and jibber-jabber about overall technique and internal dialog during kata showed up.

Now I've moved to a slightly different perspective on sermonizing.

"there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" said Hamlet, while Siddhartha taught us that while life is suffering, there is a way out which involves meditation.

And that is a sufficient sermon in my opinion. The brain is the source of pain and thoughts are the source of emotional suffering. A solution must involve treating the cause, rather than adding to the symptoms.

When I started my martial arts practice it was a part of a massive amount of reading and thinking and even obtaining a minor in philosophy, I knew all the dates, all the terms, all the various schools of thought and could demonstrate wonderful dominance over others in that book learning. None of the book learning helped, in fact it just made me argue with those who got something wrong. I sermonized all the time but somehow telling other folks how to live their lives didn't make their life, or mine, any better. Now I just smile and nod when folks tell me how to be happy, or what is best for them or for me or for everyone. That makes me feel better for not getting into conflict, and it must make them feel better because they stop talking to me about it. I am reminded of one fellow I know who can quote chapter and verse of obscure philosophy at me and I'm sure he is never wrong about it, but he's an ass who causes no end of trouble around himself, while making himself miserable at the same time. None of that learning has done him a bit of good, it's just so much craving for things, in his case, data.

Over the years I've forgotten all of that book stuff; if I want to know it, there's Wikipedia where thousands of bright young things argue infinitely over angels and heads of pins. In fact, I was out at a cafe this morning and popped onto the internet to find that Shakespeare quote up there... what a wonderful bit of technology that lets me let go of so much. Now there's room in my head for knowing who Brittney is dating this week without worrying about what fell out of the other side of my head.

These days I mostly just swing the sword and teach my students how to swing the sword better than they were swinging it yesterday. While I do occasionally slip into what they call "rant mode", as I did yesterday when I went on for a while about the kata kaeshaku and what it means today, I try to keep my mouth shut. The best sermon in iaido practice is to swing the sword.

All of which is a trick of course, it really does make no difference at all whether or not you're good at iaido since your average punk on the street with a gun will blow your head off, as the modern fighters are fond of telling us, and your sword is going to be at home when your MMA expert does the ground and pound on you. All those years of swinging the sword. Wasted, just wasted.

Consider what you're doing in an iaido class. Give it 10 or 12 years if it appeals to you at all (and it doesn't appeal to many). If after that time you still feel that you need sermons during the class, go back to church, it will probably do you more good than swinging a sword.

Me, I'll continue to try and perfect something that can't be perfected, I'll continue to enjoy all the impositions and committee-led changes to seitei, all the struggling with koryu iai and kenjutsu to try and work out from the inside of the kata what I should be looking for on the outside. All the while, for each hour of my life I spend doing that, I'll have saved myself an hour of fuss and bother thinking that I should be reading a new book or listening to a new holy man just in case they have the secret formula to make me happy.

Let's face it, we do iaido and the other budo because the spiritual teachers aren't allowed to preach at us.

Jan 16, 2012
Secrets and Fetishes

I was reminded of a comment made by a student several years ago. This fellow is older than I and has been teaching longer than I've been in the arts so he's no beginner (and I've always been honoured that he considers me his student when he's my senior in so many ways). It was when I was teaching koryu iai and had just finished demonstrating three different ways to do a kata that he said "which is the way we should do it".

Of course I started talking about how each way was correct and he could choose whichever he liked. He came back with "which one do you want us to do" and I went on to say that I didn't mind which and...

Not being stupid he interrupted (with a slightly irritated tone) "then which one do you do".

Slowly the dawn. I realized he was after two things, one was to give me a bit of a teaching moment... don't give beginners three different ways to do something they're just learning how to do... and he was honestly looking for the one to practice, the one I practiced, which would be the one the dojo practiced as their base technique. Variations are just that, alternative ways to do the base technique.

So the secret teachings are something revealed in passing to seniors, a variation, an alternative way to think about a technique. They are not something to tell beginners, it's just confusing, they are secrets.

The Fetish? Ah, that's when a student can't get past that first way to do something, that's when a student figures there is a single correct way to do a technique. Note my student never once said "which is the right way" he wasn't a beginner, he knew there were variations, he just wasn't interested in trying to remember all of them while learning the technique. But he has never had a fetish about "the way sensei does it".

I've met students who can't get over "the way sensei does it" or did it, if he has died. It's not a healthy attitude but it's not uncommon. A fetish is an attribution of mystical or spiritual powers to a physical object. A kata is a physical object, so to insist that it be done "the way sensei did it" is to fetishize a movement. Like the wizards and alchemists of old, if we get the movement wrong, bad things can happen, the demon can cross the chalk circle and we all know what happens then.

It doesn't have to be some sort of exaggerated wish to respect our sensei that causes us to fetishize a kata, it could be the belief that these things were invented on the battlefield and that if we change them from what we were taught we'd be doing something that doesn't work "for real".

Real matters, but I have no faith whatsoever that I can tell/teach/show someone to do a movement in a certain way and have them be able to do it "for real".

Last night we were working on moving from the hips.... OK don't look at the date, EVERY last night we were doing that... and we went to a partner practice to try and get the students to move forward, to drive in rather than concentrate on their shoulders or their grip or whatever. I was moving toward one of the seniors and getting right up on her sword. I told her to get back, to protect her distance and she said "I can't, that's as far as I can get back, I'd have to jump" I yelled at her "then you're dead, dead, dead! Do what you have to do to make the distance!". She jumped and suddenly she could maintain the maai.

She was doing exactly what I had taught her for years, but what I taught her was just a movement, perfect or not, it wasn't enough. Good form = fetish. There's nothing wrong with good form, but if your opponent is a foot taller than you and can drive in well, you'd better be concentrating on the maai and not on the kata. Jump, even if you think that's the wrong way to do it.

From "do what you have to" come the changes to your kata that make it "real". Fetishizing the movements simply makes them a distraction to learning the lesson. We came back to "real is what works" later in the class when I couldn't get some of them to begin their iai kata with good posture, or the right starting position. We went to "how do you defeat an iaido technique" and had an unarmed person sit in front of a sword and prevent the swordsman from cutting them. It's not hard if they aren't doing the technique properly. What's proper? That's when they can't be stopped and the cut hits the opponent no matter what they try to do. Funny enough, what works looks just like what I try to teach, but it's a lot easier to get over the fetish of the movement (I'm doing what I was told so I don't have to change anything) when you realize your fetish doesn't work (oops, maybe I wasn't doing what I thought I was doing).

It's why you need to have a teacher, why you need to figure out what actually works. Just because you've always drawn your chalk circles that way doesn't necessarily mean the demon won't find a way out. A kata isn't "the right way" do do a sword technique, it's a classroom where you can go and learn something about timing and distance and moving from the hips and... you really shouldn't make those schoolgirl uniforms a fetish.

Jan 14, 2012
Teaching Does Not Equal Expertise

A few days ago I was reading a forum thread where a fellow repeatedly stated that he taught self defence and then continued on to make his points, assuming an "expertise by authority of teaching".

Amongst those who teach martial arts, there is likely a majority who also teach "self defence" as a related or separate item from their martial art classes. Let's face it, a "self defence" class is a great way to get new students into the dojo so why not? But are these folks experts on self defence?

Not by a long shot, no more than those who teach photography workshops are expert photographers, or those who teach aerobics are expert exercise physiologists.

It is dangerous for instructors to believe they are experts simply because they instruct. It is dangerous for them to believe this even if they have some sort of certification to teach. After all, most of these things are self-regulated, which means that a few folks who teach something get together, decide on a basic set of "things to know", set themselves up as an accreditation body and proceed to convince health clubs, schools and community centers that their instructors need to be certified.

None of it requires expertise, only promotion and public acceptance of their certification bodies. There is no governmental oversight for most of this accreditation and what there is has nothing to do with declaring expertise, only with ensuring the public isn't abused too badly by such things as lifetime memberships in gyms that last four months.

An expert is someone who does the research, who stays current with the field of experimental ie scientific investigation into their topic. There is a vast and continually growing field of research into assault and resistance to assault which reveals some interesting things about "self defence". Over the years I've acquired the very deep suspicion that most of the martial artists who teach self defence, are unaware of this research. They may be experts at judo or karate or aikido but they aren't experts at self defence. They don't know what works and how best to teach it.

The next time you find somebody saying to you "I teach this stuff and let me tell you..." stop them and ask them what sort of certification they have to teach, and what sort of ongoing research they conduct or courses they take to keep themselves current in developments in their field.

Oh, but self defence is about fighting and I have a high rank (that means I can teach) in a martial art that hasn't changed in hundreds of years so therefore there's nothing else to learn or to keep up with right?

Sooo many things wrong with that sentence.

A couple of things that high ranked martial artists could keep up on:

How to teach
How to teach kids
How to teach adults
How to teach those with disabilities
How to perform their own art at a higher level
How to keep their students safe while practicing (CPR, First Aid, the latest in sprung floors)

All this before they get to self defence instruction.

Jan 8, 2012
A New Year
Best Wishes

All the best for the year of the dragon. Here's a drawing from Stephen Cruise, Iaido Eastern Canada bucho and sculptor/artist extraordinaire.

Year of the Dragon by Stephen Cruise

Jan 1, 2012
Shinken and Iaito

We currently have a full range of sizes in top quality Japanese iaito from 2.3 to 2.6 shaku, in half shaku sizes.

Lots of inventory which means we've got lots of Lauren's university tuition tied up in boxes around the house so feel free to use some of that Christmas Cash. That's the downside of having iaito here to ship to you immediately, it costs us a lot... not that I'm trying to guilt trip you or anything...

We have also ordered a range of sizes (up to 2.6, I'm checking once more about 2.65 or more) of shinken from China and I will let you know when they arrive. In the meantime we have one 2.4 shaku shinken left. This shipment is also going to cost a bundle so if you want to pre-order I will be more than happy to hear from you.

Dec 30, 2011
Gorin no Sho
Translation Being Serialized

First installment is at: http://ejmas.com/tin/gorinsho/tinart_taylor_1201.html

If anyone wants to have the entire translation right now, I'm happy to provide it in PDF form at its current state (99% done) for $10. Just email me.

Since I try to make a living at this stuff I'm sure I can count on you guys not to create groups to purchase and re-copy it??

Dec 30, 2011