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Business 101 or Follow
In recent posts I've talked about grading from the student and the
teacher point of view. Now I'd like to go on to talk about grading from
the supply side. Any budo organization can be split into instructional
and administrative functions. Forget about who does what and think
about what jobs are done and this is easier to see. Some jobs deal with
keeping records (secretarial) and some with teaching students
(education / product).
There are good things about rank from the instruction side of the
business, the chance to see where each student is in his development,
and as a way of sorting your corporals from your majors so that
instruction flows down the chain (it rarely flows upward very well).
From the administrator's viewpoint rank is also a good thing
because it's a source of income. To put things into business 101 terms,
a budo organization's product line generally consists of two items,
instruction and rank. Personally I'm rather in favour of putting the
greater cost on grades because as someone on the instruction side of
the company, I think the instruction is much more valuable than the
grade so I want it to be cheap for my students. Not very loyal to the
know, but I'm not a shareholder I'm an instructor / student.
Budo is a bit of a strange duck if you're talking traditional business
models (make widgets and sell them) because we have a business model
where customers (members) provide the
product (instruction) to other customers (students)... Sort of like
facebook really (members provide content for members) which
shouldn't work but it does because facebook sells the customer eyeballs
to advertisers. One difference is that facebook doesn't charge folks to
be members, it's "free". In the budo world customers teach customers
of advertisers to fund the system, we've got customers who buy content
from other customers up the line who teach. We all
pay so that the system continues, at least that's the theory. Why
should anyone pay to teach other people? So you can be taught in your
own turn of course, stop thinking ponzi schemes.
What do the gradings do for the admin side? Quite a lot actually.
Gradings are the second source of income as mentioned, and without
gradings there's a lot less administration. No records would be needed
to keep track of who has what rank, only who has paid their membership
The instructional divison wants the ranks so we have them.
For a volunteer budo business that just teaches, grades and keeps
records, there's very little need for either an admin department or for
income really. It doesn't cost much to keep track of the membership and
grading information so a couple people are usually good.
If the business decides to do a bit more for the students (and the
customers / members / students always ask "what am I getting for my
dues?" ... funny they rarely ask "what am I getting for the money I pay
for my rank?") then more money has to come in and often more
administration jobs. What sort of extra goes to the membership? The
ones I like involve more organized effort at education, the
organization itself can provide instruction tours, education for more
senior instructors, supplementary teaching aids like videos or books
and other such things. Of less interest to me personally is the
situation where the budo is competitive (like the kendo, judo or TKD
federations). Then regional and national teams or athletes may be
supported from the general funds. If this happens, then money also has
to be spent on extra administration in the form of coaches, trainers
and other such support for the competitors.
So the balance between admin and education ebbs and flows depending on
what the organization does, but as a general rule, the 101 of budo is
that students pay for instruction and grading on the demand side, and
the organization supplies instruction and rank for the money.
Now you can use this simple way of looking at it to analyse your own
organization. Do you pay your instructors? Do they keep the records? Do
volunteers organize things for volunteer instructors? If so where's the
Follow the money if you want to know "what you get for your fees",
decide what product you're buying and you'll soon see if you are
getting value for your dollars.
Dec 26, 2012
Am I there yet?
While I usually ramble on about gradings being practice, I really don't
think of them as a good place to teach. I suggested a while ago that
I'd like to do the grading and then the seminar rather than the other
way around and Chris Gilham suggested a further elaboration. Grading,
feedback, seminar and then re-test.
That would be a great way to use gradings as a way to teach, and Chris
knows his teaching theory, but as someone who has to sit the grading
panel, I'm not keen on that for selfish reasons. For one thing,
watching 60 people do the same kata over and over is hypnotizing, you
have to fight to pay attention unless you grade by "nails sticking up"
(if it caught your attention it must have been a bad point). Not that
we'd be looking at 60 people again at the end of the seminar but
really, I'm tired by that time.
More to the point, that sort of setup would assume the goal of grading
is to pass the grading. By that I mean we'd be assuming that grading
requirements are firmly linked with improving one's budo and that each
grade level puts one on a higher level of knowledge.
I don't entirely buy it. Grading should be thought of more as a
specific location rather than as the actual progression down the road
to your destination. There's often more than one way to get from here
to there, and gradings are markers on the google maps route. That way
is usually a good one, but there are other, often more scenic routes
available. If you don't pass a grading it simply means you aren't at
the place where google says turn left and continue for the next four
years. You may not be there yet (the usual case), but it might be that
you are on a parallel road and would have to move sideways to hit that
particular corner on the road.
If you pass the grading it doesn't mean you're at the turning, it could
mean you're well past it, on down the road because you're speeding
(gradings happen at set times during the year, as if your map app just
counts down and calls out the turns when you should be at the corner
rather than checking where you actually are).
Not to push our map app too far, but gradings are places where you can
say to yourself "am I there yet?". Useful but not much more informative
than that for your personal budo journey.
I mentioned the use of gradings for the instructors earlier, but
gradings are also useful to the overall organization if it's a large
Rank is a way of sorting and assigning, of planning and checking. In an
organization that is scattered geographically with too many people to
keep track of in one head, a way of putting name tags to faces and rank
insignia to sleaves is useful. If you're moving along the grading path
we know you're not too far from our desired route to the destination.
If you're at a certain point we can assign certain duties and we know
who you should be talking with next to find the next point on the map.
So, to sum up (you're supposed to do that apparently) I find the idea
of teaching a seminar ahead of the grading, to pass the grading, a bit
hopeless, and I don't think we ought to teach a seminar after the
grading to do the same thing.
I'm more in favour of not worrying about gradings too much except as a
chance to re-read the manual and bring ourselves back onto the
organizational path so that we're at roughly the same corner as
everyone else at roughly the same times along the way. That way when we
say to each other "were you there?" we can talk about the nice pie and
ice cream at the corner restaurant.
Dec 26, 2012
OK this was filmed just before Lauren was born so just before we
started building the cabin on Sky Lake where the movie Psycho Pike was
filmed, made, then lost for 20 years. Apparently there are copies out
there so the project for the holidays is to find one.
Help with the cause folks and we'll put on a Psycho Pike weekend of
martial arts and movie watching.
Had no clue there was a martial art connection in the movie by the
Kuden means "oral teaching" Okuden means "great, big, special oral
teaching". Of course we all figure they mean "secrets whispered into
the ear of the special student".
In fact the kuden are the first things you ever heard out of the mouth
sensei. Seriously, the verbal teaching and the secret knowledge is the
stuff too central, too fundamental for anyone to write down so they
don't get written down.
Kuden are the kihon, the basic exercises, but they're what make those
exercises clear, the kuden are the principles of the school. In Aikido
the kihon is irimi, tenkan and kaiten, ways of moving off the attack
line. the kuden is just what I wrote there, "these are ways to move off
the attack line, you can't do any aikido if your opponent has just
smacked you with a sword so move off the attack line and then do
stuff". Who is going to bother writing that down? Can you think of a
kuden for Judo? Karate? Kendo?
Take your martial art and distill it to a single sentence and you will
go a long way toward understanding it.
It's not that easy, which is why the kuden, the kihon are the things
you go back to at the other end of 30 years of
training. You get to the top levels of your art by working on the
basics for 30 years of course but somewhere in the middle of that you
find yourself trapped in all sorts of complexities, which angle of a
foot turn do we use for this kata, as opposed to the three degrees less
we use for that kata. But it's an illusion that you eventually see
through, the idea isn't that you "just turn your foot enough" or that
"no battle plan survives contact with the enemy" (you won't have time
to worry about angles of your foot) or even "all foot turns are the
same foot turn", no the idea is that you no longer need to worry about
your foot, it turns by itself as you do something else. Foot turns are
no more a problem than breathing and how many middle level folks get
all screwed up with breathing? Eventually you learn to let all that
stuff go and realize the basic is what you were told the first day you
started class. Move in and punch him... step here and cut him as he
cuts you... shift your hip here when he's off balance...
You know, the stuff that's too obvious to write down. That's the stuff
you have to go back to after 30 years of training. I'm not there yet, I
know it because I'm still getting stuck on breathing out when I cut, I
just can't get past listening to the fine nuances of what the sounds
from my sword are telling me, it's a teaching thing but I have to get
past that before I can become a bit more than just a teacher.
I have to get back to the best, most secret kuden of all. One day I
asked Haruna sensei how to sit in tate hiza and he crooked his finger
at me and leaned over to whisper in my ear.... "keiko".
Go ask your sensei to explain that secret concept to you, it's too
secret for me to write down publicly.
Dec 22, 2012
Ten Second Black Belt
I was looking online this morning and found a post relating to
5 ways to deal with a punch to the head. OK I thought, I'm up for that
and started the video. Ten minutes in and we still hadn't got to number
I don't have time for that, I wonder if anyone has time for my
If not, here's martial arts in a nutshell.
1. Figure out the attack line
2. Get off it if he's attacking
3. Get on it if he's not.
There's every koryu and gendai armed and unarmed martial art
in three seconds for ya.
Have a great rest of the day.
Dec 20, 2012
The Opposite of Books
In case you haven't
noticed, Lauren has set up SDKsupplies.com (well OK, me) with the
social media. There's six little symbols on the top of the page here,
representing six "communities" with slightly different takes on social
media. The temptation is to do something different in each of them,
blog in tumblr, put up photos in instagram, videos in youtube, updates
and news in twitter, share links in pinterest and do whatever the hell
people do in facebook and google+. In fact Lauren tells me that's what
young people do, which means that if you "follow" (what's the
difference between following and stalking?) your friends you have to do
it on a whole bunch of "media".
While all this may seem to be a wonderful way to bring people together,
it's actually not a sharing environment at all. There's a reason I code
my own blog here rather than use blogger or some other "free" service,
and it's not because I'm a luddite who can't figure those systems out
(remember I said I code my own stuff here). The reason I don't like the
social media stuff is that I am a fan of the original fantasy of the
net, the ability to share your ideas freely and contribute to the sum
of knowledge of humanity.
Let me tell you a story about why this doesn't happen on the net. In
the beginning of the WWW (which isn't the net but I'm not going back
that far kiddies) there was... well actually before the WWW there was
email. Soon after email, and we're talking early 90s I suppose, there
was listserv which was an email list that let you go back and forth in
a chain of discussion. While it wasn't the first martial arts related
list, Iaido-L was started here in Guelph in 1994 as a place to talk
about swords. It replaced a "zine" and a manual list of email addresses
that went back to 1987. At the start we had folks who discussed iaido,
kendo, kenjutsu, sword-using aspects of arts like aikido and sword
collecting. The discussions were pretty interesting with a lot of
cross-fertilization but soon the breakup started.
First to go was the sword collecting community who didn't want to have
to read about using swords since they were more interested in
preserving them rather than dinging them up. Then came the WWW and the
forums which were nicely graphic and allowed subjects and threads and
suddenly there were small places where folks could go and set up as
experts to a select set of listeners. With the forums came moderation
so that everyone had to speak nicely or get banned.
Then came the "social media" which remind me of nothing so much as a
return to the enclaves of the bulletin board era, the compuserv and AOL
era. These have fractured the net further into fenced compounds which,
within them, contain even-smaller sub-groups of people trying to learn
and discuss things like iaido and jodo and kendo. Now however, not only
do you get the moderators, you get the censors.
So, if a book is a place where one might expect to find a large body of
information on a topic, the present-day net is a place where you will
find a page here and a page there under a bush or up a tree or even
blowing across the open prairie. The binding has come loose, the pages
Worse yet, some of those pages have fallen in the water and sunk out of
contact, dissolving back into chaos. Witness what happens when whole
enclaves disappear (Geocities) or become "old-fashioned" (that thing
before facebook... damnit, music oriented... not yahoo voices, not
orkut, not google+... aaargh, not friendster... MYSPACE!!) These are
all commercial spaces, they are walled compounds subject to the rules
and whims of the owners and their lawyers. Places where you pay for
admission by giving up your buying preferences to advertisers and your
freedom of speach to software-based censors.
While I never really got into these compounds to do much of my work, I
have been on a few martial arts forums out in the general area of the
net, and there is a good example of the book coming apart in a forum
called e-budo. It was for a few years, one of the more popular places
to discuss martial arts and accumulated quite a lot of information,
including many long and time-consuming posts from yours truly. A few
weeks ago it disapppeared under the waters taking all the pages it
contained with it. All that accumulated discussion has gone.
There is no "cloud" out there, stuff put "onto the net" does not exist
forever. If it is being archived somewhere I haven't ever found it.
Once an accumulation of electronic knowledge is erased from the last
disk holding it, it's gone never to be unearthed again by some
archeologist in the future.
Now I'm the last person on earth to claim that my writings ought to be
preserved for future generations, but I'm damned if I'm going to put my
time into something that some other putz will decide isn't worth
saving, or should be censored. No I'll continue to code my own little
website here which is available to anyone who wants to drop on by to
read it. It will be here as long as I pay the hosting bills and/or have
a backup on a disk here at home.
Did I mention that one of my businesses disappeared completely off the
net after the buddy who was hosting the site on his home server decided
to clean up his disk?
The net is the opposite of books.
PS, Iaido-L is still around, being hosted and archived at the
University of Guelph and mirrored somewhere else as fa.iaido in google
groups which was, I'm sure, some other company when the list began to
Dec 19, 2012
Teachers Gotta Teach
Just uploaded a rather long diatribe on hiki otoshi uchi or how to
smack down a sword using a jo. This was in response to a question from
a long-distance student (like an 11 hour flight) and I did it using my
tablet, filmed the comments and uploaded them all in the same evening.
So unedited comments to be sure but perhaps useful. Regardless of this
the student emailed back and said thanks, and hoped that he wasn't
imposing with the questions.
We live for this sort of excuse to hear ourselves talk... well at least
I do, and I'm really pleased to have an excuse to use a new toy.
I love answering questions because it's the way I learn these days, I
learned a brand new thing doing the video, and so did the two folks
helping me (you'll see it if you pay attention to the video, the
camera guy looked up to watch).
Even though I've been
swinging jo and bokuto around for almost 35 years now, I still don't
consider myself an expert. My proof is that I'm still learning stuff,
so questions that help me do that are not a bother at all.
Students Gotta Learn
The long range student also said he hoped the students here knew how
lucky they are.
They don't, they're here and familiarity breeds contempt, it's just the
way of the world. That's not a bad thing really, when
we're home we're busy so we tend to start learning a rare skill only if
it's right next door to us and we've got time for it. We only do the
long commutes when we get hooked and we no longer have a sensei right
door. Then we grumble and get in the car or on the airplane.
My advice, though, is to get a bunch of people hooked on the art and
then get the teacher on the plane. Let him get the jet-lag while you
sleep in your own bed.
Will a teacher come if asked? See above.
Dreamers Gotta Dream
Then there's the folks who read something on the net and wish they
could travel across the oceans to
learn from a master. These folks often won't spend half an hour
commuting to class and never start learning at all, but hey, they may
tell someone else about the guy half an hour away.
Dec 18, 2012
Practice vs Checkpoints
Recently I've been re-reading my notes from various hanshi on the ZNKR
iaido kata. These are a set of common kata and the form of each kata is
set by the iaido committee of the ZNKR, the all Japan Kendo Federation.
Reading these notes plus the official manual for iaido with an eye to
providing a set of notes for common judging practice in Canada, I was
struck by the difference between grading points and practice points.
(See that article here: http://ejmas.com/tin/2012tin/tinart_taylor_1212.html
A grading point is a specific check on a position that the students
have to hit. The sword must be in this position, the feet at this
angle, that sort of thing. They are places where judges are instructed
to pay attention, they are quick and easy ways to make sure the kata
are being done to a standard and as such are really quite useful to
The problem is, they have little to do with the proper performance and
practice of iaido. Check points are just that, points, they aren't the
flow of the art, the spirit of the art. It's more or less necessary to
make these checkpoints a frozen-in-time item as it's very difficult to
describe a movement check ... "is the cut done without pause" is about
as good as it gets, we need checkpoints to figure out whether the cut
done without pause is done correctly. Checkpoints can be illustrated by
photographs, but as we all know, kata are difficult to describe with
either text or photographs, you need a video.
All this is fine up to the point where students begin to confuse
checkpoints with skill. Now at the lower levels of practice, where
you're learning which foot goes where, checkpoints are excellent
teaching devices, they are the footprints painted on the floor that
help you learn the dance steps. After a while, you gotta step off the
paint and show that you understand other things like timing and rhythm
and where your partner/enemy is and that can't be done by hitting
the checkpoints. It has to be done by moving smoothly through those
To put it simply, an instruction like "when turning is the back foot
pointed straight at the opponent and the back heel raised" is a
checkpoint. If the instruction reads "turn on the balls of your feet
and sweep the back foot across" it's a practice point and in many ways
is much more important than the checkpoint which is the place where you
change from turning to attacking the opponent.
Dec 16, 2013
The Three Stages of
It occurs to me that there are as many forms of teaching the martial
arts as there are students ... OK that's trite. There are as many
stages of teaching and as there are levels of learning.
For the fellow who just walks in the dojo the level of teaching is
"this foot goes in front of that one".
You know, a lot of people in iaido and jodo never get beyond this
point, figuring it's all about memorizing kata and knowing which sensei
did it this way and which did it that way and being ultra precise with
the angle of the cut and the shape of the swing. The physical part is
often accompanied by a historical and encyclopedic knowledge of
Japanese budo and esoteric buddhism as it applies to the sengoku era
These folks usually quit after a short time figuring they've got it all
learned, but some of them can stay around for a surprising number of
years before they finally burn out due to old age-related injuries.
After all if you can't do it like it should be done, it's time to move
Thing is, that sort of attitude might be the fault of the instructor
who can't (or is too lazy to) get beyond the mechanical instruction.
It's a lot easier to simply keep correcting angles and timing than it
is to teach the stuff that's beyond that.
By beyond it in the kendo federation I mean very specifically 5th dan.
There are three rough levels of instruction bounded by 1-3dan, 4-5dan
and 6-8dan with the technical levels more or less finishing at 5dan.
1-3dan is learning to walk, what we've been talking about.
Specifically, according to the kendo federation instructions to judges
the student must master:
) Correct etiquette
correct way of wearing uniform
) Correct Nukituke & Kirituke
) Correct Chiburi &
4 ) Correct Noto
From a kata point of view, that means they have to get their pants on
straight and be able to do the mechanics of the techniques and not much
Let's call this teaching style A (or we could call it shu)
For 4-5 dan they are expected to also master:
of your mind and spirit
2 ) Metsuke
3 ) Kihaku (spirit,
dynamism, energy, etc.)
4 ) Ki-Ken-Tai
Experience means calm, and by a 4dan challenge they've been at it for
at least six years. They've got to look in the right direction (show
they at least understand where the pretend bad guys are in the kata)
show some energy rather than look like they're trying to remember the
times tables, and they've got to move the sword, the body and their
"spirit" together. Mostly that means the sword and the body move
This requires teaching style B (call it ha)
Finally, for 6-8dan the challengers must demonstrate that they
Theory and principle is easy yes? You just need to know which kata to
use for which battlefield situation right? Well, no. Riai means a grasp
of the underlying principles of the art, almost by definition it means
you're beyond the mechanics of the kata and in the kendo federation the
iaido and jodo manuals say "for grades up to 5dan check the book" In
other words, "what we've written down about how to do the kata is what
they should know". For 6 and 7dan they ought to have the book "in their
bones" and they ought to be moving beyond technical concerns.
For 8dan they add a requirement for character, originality, grace and
dignity. This is the level at which the owners of the art get together
over a good bottle of port and decide what the art is so it's sort of
expected that they're going to be exceptional people of good character.
You don't want small minded technocrats hanging around here because
these are the guys that have to pull the rest of the folks up to their
Let's call the 6-7 dan teaching style C (ri) and I am not going to even
approach what it takes to make an 8dan because I'm all sorts of
unqualified to talk about that. I will say though that it does NOT take
a 9dan, that's technical thinking once again. In the kendo federation
there's only rank up to 8dan so 8dan is by definition "the top" and
folks get there by being "the top". (I'm not forgetting the shogo
folks, I know all about it but let's keep it simple).
So back to our 1-3dan beginner, he's going to get teaching level A,
here's the kata, here's what you have to do with it, here's how you
move to look good doing it. The simple stuff, the memorization of dance
Teaching style B, getting students to 4-5dan is, actually, mostly a
matter of letting them get on with it for 5 or 6 years while they get
better and better at remembering the kata and it starts to become an
acquired skill that they can use to demonstrate other things. It's
these "other things" that the instructor has to show the student and
now is where the student sometimes thinks "sensei is getting mean".
You teach balance by challenging it, and calmness is nothing if not
balance. Around year 4 or 5 when the student has pretty much learned
all the technique he's going to need for a while, the teacher starts
pushing. Nothing is good enough any more, there's not enough
concentration, there's not enough energy, there's too much strength,
the shoulders are too tight, the breathing isn't right, the weight is
too high, the feet are at the wrong angles. All this is thrown at the
student with the expectation that he will figure it out. He has to go
inside his own body and analyze how he's moving, he has to watch his
teacher and "feel in his guts" what is happening so that he can copy
the movements. This is the period of analysis of the art, when the
student starts to understand how to adapt the movements to his own
situation, where he learns to make the technical aspects of the art his
As a teacher this is difficult, it's no good simply saying "do it this
way" or trying to describe how you do it yourself or even (oh dear) how
some teacher from three generations ago said you do it in some dusty
notebook. You've got to let go of the student's body, stop being a
puppetmaster and let them find their own way. Yet it has to be the
right way, so the teacher has to be far enough along the curve to know
what is right and what is wrong for the student. There's no "teaching
to your own level" here, you've got to have the experience to know
which path will work and which will lead to a cliff.
A teacher who isn't far enough ahead of the student will only be able
to show his students the dance steps. But all is not lost, as I said
it's mostly a matter of getting on with it so the students may be
slowed down a bit but they won't be stopped. They'll eventually find
their way to an understanding of how the art works for them.
And it's still largely technical.
Now we come to it. The reason why there are old men in the martial
arts. Somehow at 6dan you've got to start leaving technique behind,
while still improving your technique. You've got to start getting to
the point where you can deal with a situation "on the battlefield"
without going through a list of kata trying to find the one that works.
If you understand the principles behind a kata, you don't need the
kata. This is what we mean by leaving the art, by the "ri" of "shu ha
ri" the "leave" of "keep, break, leave".
How do you teach the principles of the art? Certainly not by pulling
out a chalkboard and setting up chairs for a talk. Absolutely not by
sending the student out to read chapters in a textbook or even telling
them to study another art.
No, you teach the principles by going back to the kihon, by starting
all over again and teaching how to hold the sword, how to breathe, how
to look, how to stand up and how to sit down. And oh dear how hard this
is, because you have to get through the wall of knowledge the student
has about the art, all his success at gradings, at tournaments, all his
accumulated practice time in the dojo, all his "I know". You have to
break all that down, get him to throw it all away and open his eyes up
once more and become a baby so that all that knowledge can flow out of
him leaving only the stuff that he can't forget.
If the teacher can't do it, he has to make his first leap to that same
level and send the student to someone who can. He has to let go of his
own wall of assurance that he "can teach" and admit that he's crap,
that he can't teach what the student needs to know, and by doing that
he can make his own leap of faith back to the basics.
Did I mention that since about 5dan, or even earlier here in the west,
the student has been teaching?
For those who haven't noticed yet, we've got our 2 for 1 Christmas sale
on at sdksupplies.com
which will likely be there until the new year since I'm not that great
at updating stuff. So you can buy your sensei a nice fancy bokuto or
spend your christmas cash on a new toy for yourself.
What's not to like?
Dec 11, 2012
Deaf, Blind and Dumb
Students go deaf, certainly, but teachers also go blind.
Not a particularly shocking revelation to me but I was reminded of this
while doing some photos to illustrate the judging points of the
official ZNKR iaido manual. My student was posing and I was finding all
sorts of interesting quirks and angles that I hadn't seen for a while.
Makes me wonder what sort of things I've got stored up in my own body.
The moral of the story is to use mirrors ("mirror teacher" as one of
our sensei calls it) and video and still photos to check yourself. Far
from "not being able to learn from video" I'd say that anyone not using
this ubiquitous technology these days is just asking for a set of
problems that are entirely preventable.
Case in point, this first shot shows me with my head tilted to the
On the good side of things I like the lack of tension in the hands.
By this second shot I've straightened my head
But you can see that my left shoulder is up compared to my right, this
would seem to indicate that my right hip is forward of my left, which
would mean my left foot is likely not square and my left hip isn't
involved in the cut. I can feel the un-exhaled breath in my lungs
damnit, I am just too in love with the sound of that iaito.
Not sure I'm liking the metsuke either.
Overall though, taking into consideration the state of my knees when
these were shot, I'm relatively happy that I look as good as I do.
Dec 9, 2012
Tournaments in Iai
There has been a "explosion" of interest in iaido tournaments in Canada
lately. Well OK we've just had one a month or so ago and now the CKF
wants to start a national iaido tournament.
I've got some problems with iaido tournaments, always have had, even
though I was a driving force behind the triannual Canadian Open which
was started, I must admit, in the somewhat forlorn hope that the kendo
guys would "get it" when they thought about iaido. I was wrong because
an iaido tournament doesn't make any more sense to a kendoka than iaido
Both iaido as training and as tournament is done necessarily as a solo
practice. For a tournament you have two people (side by side) facing
three judges who decide which has done a set of five kata better. Yes
it's competition but it has no actual meaning... or perhaps I should
say it needn't have any more meaning than just another day in the dojo.
You can compete in iai without the least reference to the opponent, and
still win provided he isn't as good in the eyes of the judges as you
Try that in a kendo match. If you aren't fully and constantly aware of
your opponents in a kendo tournament, you are going home early. That's
good practice and it's different than the usual training one does in
the dojo. Competition in kendo has good use as a training tool. Iaido
or jodo, not necessarily so.
But, you say, tournaments are all about nerves, all about overcoming
your fears. Fears of what? What causes the nerves? I'm afraid it's a
fear of losing (the match, respect, maybe your sensei's faith in your
ability). In a kendo match if you have a fear of losing, you increase
your liklihood of losing. Play well, lose your defensive posture,
attack with joy and abandon and you are going to do better. Lose your
fear of losing in an iaido match and you are right back at the usual
training state in the dojo. If tournaments are a chance to lose the ego
through winning and losing, then a successful iaido tournament career
means you simply lose the desire to compete. Let's face it, even the
winner of a large iaido tournament will perform less than half an
hour's worth of kata in a day. Better to stay home and put in a solid
day's practice. And if you lose? Well same as for the kendo losers, you
spend a day and the entry fees to get a few minutes practice in.
Nope, iaido and jodo tournaments are a good chance to get together with
other folks in the organization to bond, but they're not great learning
experiences unless you want to learn whether the guy beside you is
better or worse than you are at the points the judges are judging.
Seminars in iaido and jodo are much more efficient
learning-slash-bonding opportunities and that's where I'd rather be as
a student. Let's face it, every iaido tournament is an iaido seminar
What exactly is being judged in a tournament anyway? Like I said, it's
whether you're better than the guy beside you at the five kata you just
performed. A tournament win tells you nothing more than this, was your
iaido better or worse in a competitive situation. Tournament judgements
mean one winner and one loser, no ties, someone gets the nod. Grading
judgements might use the same criteria on paper, but in this case you
have either met a minimum criteria or you have not. In a grading it's
possible for the entire cohort to pass or fail, and all the judges are
saying is that you met a minimum standard. In neither case do you
really get a feeling for where you are in your iai. Only your sensei
can tell you that. If I win a match or pass a grade it tells me
something, but really not much.
All this changes if I'm in the judging seat. Now a tournament means
something to me, it means the chance to watch our students closely, two
at a time. By the end of a tournament day my butt is numb, my hands and
forearms are cramped from holding the flags, and my mind is full of
just what the students need to work on to improve. Same as when I sit a
grading panel (minus the cramped hands). Unfortunately, in the usual
way these things work, at the end of the tournament we all go drinking.
Before I hear suggestions that the students should run to the judges
and ask for pointers after the tournament or grading, let me say that
to be fair to everyone there should be a strict policy of no discussion
of the results between judges or between judges and applicants. Judges
need to be impartial observers and should not be changing their mind
after a judgement is made. Judges should also be free to make their
judgements and to say to applicants afterward "ask your sensei". If you
lost or failed, you really need to ask your sensei (and in both senses
of that statement, perhaps so do the judges). Asking a judge to tell
you what to improve upon is to ask why he failed you and this is no
better idea in iaido than it is in soccer.
Save it for a seminar.
Ah yes, tournament and grading seminars. Seminars attached to gradings
and tournaments are held before the event, not afterward. Makes sense
to a student, you learn what you need to know to pass the exam or win
the match and then you go pass or win right?
You tell me.
Even if it worked the seminar will always end up being a cram session
in "how to pass or win" and not "what you need to do for the next year
and a half to get better at iaido".
If I were in charge of the world the tournament (and/or grading) would
be held first, and the instructors would use their observations to
structure the seminar which would be held afterward. Oh, and any
winners not attending the seminar afterward would be stripped of their
Dec 8, 2012
- Uruguay, Nov 15
What sad-blasted thoughts come
while the Amazon floats
in that colour
after red leaves the sky
What blue-scrubbed images
of your face look back
from the window
as we drone through the night
An hour ago
the jungle trees were sand
on a green beach
leading to a river
wide as a lake
And you weren't here
to see it
Why I don't like travel, written for my kids of course.
Dec 5, 2012
Nerdydata.com Hall of
has been named a gold member of the Nerdydata hall of fame as being in
the top 1% of the websites they track.
I have absolutely no idea what that means but hey, it's a gold star
right? Mom would be proud.
Wait a minute, they say we got 25 million visitors in a month. What's
the conversion rate on that? Oh man now I'm depressed, we can't be
getting that many people a month, there aren't 25 million people in the
world that are interested in the martial arts. Bet we just got an award
for a denial of service attack!
Oct 29, 2012
Fall Koryu Seminars
2012 AYC Toronto Jodo Seminar
The 2012 Toronto Jodo Koryu seminar was last weekend, attended by a bit
over 20 students and featuring two hanshi instructors from Tokyo,
Furukawa sensei and Arai sensei. These instructors have been visiting
Canada for many years and will for many more I hope. The topic under
study this year was the Chudan level of Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo and
students spent three days working at it.
Video and notes from the seminar can be found on the Canadian Iaido and
Jodo Fund website http://jodo-canada.ca/
where you will be invited to donate to the fund. The fund helps grow
iaido and jodo in Canada. We have provided support for three items
recently and exhausted the initial seed money provided by the senior
folks, so we could use an infusion from students. Check out the terms
of the fund to find out what it's all about.
2012 KSK Peterborough Iaido Seminar.
Photo courtesy Jim Wilson, click for a larger version
The weekend before the Jodo seminar was the Peterborough Koryu Iaido
seminar which featured two days of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu instruction.
Students went through a thorough review of all three levels of the
school, plus some extra kata and bokuto work with Goyo Ohmi sensei who
emphasized distance and timing which he asked students to take back
into their iai. Me, I got into seiza four or five times, first time on
six months so I'm pretty chuffed.
We have a koryu iaido seminar coming up and it appears the plan is to
cover 4 sets of solo techniques then get stuck into some partner
practice. The students "of a certain rank" are going to love it, you
know, the ones who are kata-collecting, who figure they know the ones
they've been taught and want to learn the rest.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with that attitude, and the presence
of 50 or 60 kata in a school is testimony that things haven't changed
over the years. The kids still want to "get on with it" so you give
them more kata to learn, more dance steps to memorize. It's good, you
amuse them and they maybe stick around long enough to learn some of the
Thing is, this attitude that you know a kata is largely a conviction
that you can "learn it" and move on. Thankfully that isn't true. If you
could learn a kata perfectly or even well you would eventually learn
the entire curriculum perfectly or well and then you would have to quit
or start learning another school. You would be polishing a diamond.
If kata were like diamonds you could take the rough gem and with a few
strikes of the chisel, and some work with the polishing wheel, come up
with something that is flawless and perfect. A couple wipes with a rag
to clean off the dust and you stop working because no matter how much
you polish this diamond now, you won't improve it.
Thankfully, the kata are not diamonds, they are lumps of coal. We can
spend all our lives polishing and still not have a diamond.
You start with something ugly and rub furiously. It gets shiny and it
seems like you can go further, eventually the edges get worn down and
the kata seems smaller. Perhaps along the way you hit patches of sand
(in the coal, on your rag, who knows from where) and the kata falls
apart a bit, but you keep polishing and it becomes smooth and shiny
again. Maybe it's a different shape, but you keep working. Eventually,
with enough polishing, the kata may disappear altogether, but you've
got all that blackness deep inside the skin of your hands, it hasn't
really gone away, it's just in you now.
Try to wash it out.
Oct 2, 2012
by Scotty Allen
of the issues facing Iaido in Canada is poor enrolment = poor funding
for clubs. I think one of the biggest reasons for this poor
enrolment is that people just don’t know what Iaido is.
Etobicoke Iaido club under the direction of Stephen Cruise sensei,
recently received a request from Ron Mattie sensei of the Welland
Iaido group, Wa Do Kai to come and help him out with a demonstration
at the Hamilton Canadian Japanese Cultural Centre. Ron has recently
started up an Iaido dojo at this facility and felt that a demo would
be a good boost for the club.
of us piled into sensei’s van after Sunday keiko and made the trip
to Hamilton. We ended up with a total of eight members to do this
demo in front of a large crowd. In spite of the less than ideal
floor, (audience did not notice how much we were all sticking to the
mats), the demonstration was very well received.
like this can go a long way to promote our art.
Just can't seem to get healthy. I was improving for a while, and then
while cutting the lawn I stepped back into our shared driveway. Yep,
the neighbour girl ran over my ankle with her SUV. Thankfully I know
how to fall down and a couple boots on her fender got her to pull
forward off the foot. Funny, you can feel the tire deform as it goes
over your ankle.
Anyway that threw me back a week while it healed. While the shoulder
and knee that I blew seem to be coming along, the other knee and
shoulder (the ones I was protecting when I blew the healthy ones) are
still sore and not improving.
Then there's a wasp nest in my wall that won't die, I swear they have
reduced the lethality of insecticide! This little wart on my
finger has been frozen to general frostbite five times now and it's
still laughing at me.
There's been three trips to the cabin to take down the old wind
generator, all of which ended with the thing up there still... and
I don't know, it may just be my usual depression at the shortening
days, or maybe my starting to feel the tipping point between getting
better and hanging on to my skills with fingertips dug into the cliff
One cool thing I'd like to share is this shot from my shop.
Those are chips of purpleheart sticking in a cedar board. They were
drilled in there by my router which is a good seven feet away. The
cedar is for a paddle (now why didn't I shoot the paddles and put them
online instead of doing this???) and the purpleheart was for a custom
order I imagine.
Just think of what one of those little chips would do in your eyeball
next time you think to yourself that custom weapons are expensive. Hah.
Yesterday and today I spent replacing a couple of dead light fixtures
in the shop with new, low temperature fluorescents. I hate that I need
that light to see by these days and I hate even more that I have to
replace light fixtures that I put up there myself not so long ago....
well maybe 15 or 20 years ago but damnit things should last longer!
All my saw blades are dull.
The place needs a sweep and all the dust bags are full.
Ugh, brain the size of a planet....
On the plus side, last weekend at the cabin got the Tsumi Ai no Kurai
manual done and the Tachi Uchi no Kurai manual half done... but of
course that means they join two or three other manuals that are waiting
for me to get healthy enough to do photos and video.
Sept 25, 2012
New One of a Kind
Finally have around a hundred new items uploaded and pegged with
buttons so here's your call to action to go visit and check them out.
The page takes quite a while to load, there's a lot of items to look
over and more to come as soon as I get a chance to get the camera out.
Sept 21, 2012
Is Time Per Kata
Relative to Numbers of Kata Practiced?
On the chalkboard in our usual room at the University are several lists
of kata. They accumulate for a couple of years until someone wipes them
off to put three or four key points down for some fitness class or
other, then we start writing all over again.
As I have been pushing beginners and seniors through three or four sets
of partner practice in both iai and jo, I happened to look at the many
dozens of kata and wonder if I am pushing too fast. After all there are
many people out there who will spend a couple of weeks going through a
single kata making sure everyone has every little angle correct. And
there are students who obsess over tiny details of timing that can't
have much to do with either effectiveness or enlightenment.
A lot of those clubs practice a single koryu, or maybe a koryu and a
seitei set. Do clubs with few kata spend more time on each one? Of
course they do. By the simple calculation of total class time divided
by number of kata practiced it is obvious they must spend more time on
each kata than we do.
The question isn't time per kata but rather, learning over time. What's
better, lots of time on a single kata or lots of kata? Neither in my
opinion, getting every single nuance in a kata memorized is useful, as
is doing several score of kata, they are both helpful... and both
equally damaging. Wasteful obsession over detail is a result of
spending too much time on a kata. The students begin to think the
difference between half a second here and three degrees of angle there
is important. Kata collection is the result of simply memorizing the
dance steps of dozens of techniques from several schools and thinking
that some sort of secret knowledge is being accumulated with each one.
Or worse, thinking that there's a specific kata for each potential
threat to be encountered on the battlefield.
It's the underlying principles that we need to teach, and there is more
than one way to do that. I have students who want to learn Niten
Ichiryu, and others that want to stick to iaido, and some that want to
go over tanjo again before they forget the steps. To all of them I try
to explain that it doesn't matter what school, set or waza we are
working on, the principles are the same. I'm always teaching the art of
"drop the hips, get the tension out of the shoulders, move from the
centre and unite the breath with the cut".
Sept 19, 2012
Lots of New Stuff
Want tough hands? Here's a sisel wrapped tanren bo of ipe, very heavy.
I've got several of these from ipe of various sizes without the wrap
but I kind of like this. Been making them from other woods as well, in
various weird and wonderful sizes.
Lots of other laminated bokuto and such for the one of a kind page.
Lauren did the photography while I madly worked in the shop trying to
get things sorted away.
Something new for me is canoe paddles, I'll be putting up a new page
for those although if I was smart I'd be doing them at a new website
since they aren't really martial arts equipment. Nevertheless, I'll
start them here and see how they go, I've got some cedar and some pine
done as test pieces.
Other new items include some batons that will go onto the one of a kind
page eventually, new sword racks, some aztek style war clubs... dunno
what else I'll find there. Hopefully folks will want to buy it.
Sept 12, 2012
The Information Age
Has anyone ever thought about trivia contests in the age of the
internet? I do, quite a lot. Like everyone else of my age I was a
collector of trivia, in my case it was massively scattered throughout
hundreds of topics. My brain was a mini-Wikipedia. (We used to say
quaintly that someone like me had an "encyclopedic knowledge" now we
just say "he's got Wikipedia").
So, today we have the actual Wikipedia for that sort of knowledge, and
I've got to be somewhere out of range of a WiFi connection or a Cell
Tower before I can impress anyone with "what I know". A good set of
thumbs and a smart phone gets you many more facts than I ever knew in a
shorter period of time now that my brain is a bit cluttered and
unindexed due to the old shelves being dusty and unused.
In the case of budo, it means that the majority of seminar-attendance
is now as needless as reading the Guinness Book of Records or the daily
miscellania column in the paper. In the last three years or so youtube
has eliminated the main reason for attending a seminar in a different
art... curiosity. I don't have to attend the GSJSA this year to learn
what the techniques of the Yagyu Shinkage Ryu sword school look like, I
can find out right now online with a few clicks of a mouse. All the
information is right there. And if I want to try them out, I'm quite
capable of copying what I see on the video. In fact I can download the
video to my ipod and take that to the gym so I can replay it as many
times as I wish and get it down really well.
Incidentally, speaking of the GSJSA, it's cancelled this year, I
received three registrations as of this morning and that's just not
enough interest to get the other instructor up from Toronto to spend 12
and 9 hours teaching with me. Really? I scheduled that much time to
teach? No way in hell am I going to run a seminar with less than 25
students for that amount of instruction... the energy levels would just
be too low to survive the weekend with less, I'm not young enough or
evangelical enough for that any more... but never mind, I wasn't all
that optimistic that we'd get the students to revive it. Why? Back to
the topic at hand.
All the arts we were going to present at the seminar are represented in
video online somewhere or other. All those who might be curious enough
about some koryu sword school or other to attend a seminar can scratch
that itch with a couple of minutes search online... and for free. Why
would anyone pay to go to a seminar that won't give them any more
information than what they can get from a video? After all what can you
learn in a couple hours instruction in a new art except the overall
shape of the kata?
What indeed? The information itch can be scratched instantly on the
net. One can be informed about the topic for free.
Of course some will be saying "but you can't learn from books or
video". Of course you can, don't be daft, and you can certainly learn
what something looks like by watching it. You don't need to stand in
front of a sensei to be informed about his art, you just have to look
at a vid.
I know this. All instructors know this, and yet we still offer
seminars. Curious isn't it? Perhaps we're just stupid in the same way
that the movie industry is stupidly trying to shut down You-Tube
presentations of their movies for free. Perhaps we're all just stuck in
the old way of thinking and we should adapt to the new reality that
"information wants to be free".
I have no clue as to how movies which cost millions of dollars upfront
to make, will be made in the future. Perhaps they can simply make them
all in low-cost CGI and offer them on itunes with the hope that they'll
get their money back some day at $5 a download? That's supposed to work
for music... but a song isn't a movie, really, is it? Perhaps they can
be crowd-funded? Advertising placement supported? Promoted as a
tax-loss to really rich people who are paying too much tax?
I do know why budo instructors continue to teach in the face of videos
of their art online. It's because there's a difference between
information and understanding, between trivia and learning. I'm not
talking mystical "hidden techniques" or "direct transmission" in the
usual sense people natter on about, I'm talking about plain old stuff I
can tell you about, I can show you on a video, and I can demonstrate
live in front of you that you still aren't going to get. Stuff you need
me to do to you a few times before you start to understand.
It's the stuff we old farts have built up over years of doing the kata,
that body-knowledge that says "the hell with the kata, it won't work
because he's moving the wrong way so start over.... or maybe, do this
little hip twitch, dump him on his ass and start over.
I am just writing a list of the iaido kata that we do or have done in
our club over the years and it runs to... just counted, 113 kata over 5
schools. With a bit of reference to my notes (or a quick look on
youtube) I can probably do any of them still today, although some have
been neglected for a decade or so. Thing is, any of you reading this
can also look on the net and do the kata, and you might even find some
information somewhere else on the net as to what the kata means!
But what you can't do with a google search is teach yourself that 33
seconds into the kata you are not driving your left big toe into the
floor on a 45 degree angle and so your whole posture is unstable and
you would die if you tried to do this "for real". A sensei with 30
years of practice over 6 or 7 different related arts might have a
chance of telling you this.
If you're someone who is slightly more than simply curious about what
an art looks like, what would you pay for learning that thing about
what you're doing at 33 seconds? Would you pay 21 hours of your life
over a weekend? Because that's what was planned for the GSJSA, an
analysis of the basic movements of Japanese swordsmanship, not the
trivia of "this is how you do kata number six". For that you can go
look at youtube, just make sure you look at someone who actually knows
how the kata is done...
But that's another kettle of fish entirely isn't it?
July 23, 2012
We all want our instructors to be professionals, yet we don't like our
sensei to get paid.
It just doesn't work like that. Now I have never made a living at being
a martial arts instructor, and I've never actually had the urge to try
it. There's no money in it and there's no respect either.
Who's heard about "storefront dojo"? You know what I mean, a McDojo,
those Karate/MMA places on every other block? You figure those are
classy places to learn the finer points of budo?
Nah, we need to learn a koryu from some guy who learned it from the guy
who's head of the organization. That's the real stuff right?
Except we don't. I've been offering free classes in koryu for decades
and my students, for the most part, are local kids who wander in off
the street. Yes I have long-time serious students who travel for hours
to get to class but the vast majority are just local folk who happen to
find the room we're practicing in. Those folk on the net who are
desparate for koryu very rarely travel the hour or two it would take
them to get to my class, instead they email and ask where the local
teacher lives. We really want the corner dojo, we just wish they taught
some esoteric sword school... specifically the esoteric sword school
we've decided is just right for us.
You think I'm kidding? I've got one registration so far for the end of
month koryu seminar ( GSJSA ), where students can taste four or five
different koryu from a couple of instructors who have "stood at the
feet of the masters". One, and the University of Guelph is about two
hours from 25% of the population of the country.
No, we want professional instruction from amateur instructors. Most of
the koryu instructors I know work at it part time, and make their
living from some other job. Often that's not out of some sort of pure
motive, it's mostly because you can't make a living teaching koryu. You
can make a living teaching the neighbourhood kids karate, not a good
one, but it's possible. It's about the same as those who teach dance or
yoga or fitness classes, poor pay, little respect, but in fact, great
benefit for the general public. If for no other reason than karate or
dance classes are cheap babysitting while the parents get from work to
Don't knock it, anyone who has had to do the two-job two-parent thing
will know the actual value of the McDojo on the corner, which is why so
many parents are supportive of the storefront schools.
While I'm on not making a living, you can't make a living teaching
adults the "popular" martial arts either, I know several dojo that are
struggling right now because they aren't doing the after school kids
classes, the sensei are paying the rent out of their other resources,
their savings or their "other job".
So what's my point... well it's simply that as students of the martial
arts we ought to stop demanding that our instructors be "professionals"
if we're not willing to pay them to teach and study full time. With a
full time "normal" job to make a living, our sensei can either learn or
teach in the couple hours a week they can devote to the arts. If we
want them to teach, they can't practice and study and learn, they can
teach. If we want them to be amazing, we need to leave them alone to
practice. Only a professional can both practice and teach, and we don't
want to pay our sensei a living wage.
So stop expecting elite level physical skills from weekend athletes.
Understand what you're asking for and have realistic expectations of
what you will get.