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Senior class notes:

We had a senior class for iaido and jodo recently and there are a few calls for "the notes" so with prior apologies, here they are.

The first day used iaido. Note I didn't say we worked on iaido, we used it. During the introductory comments it was stated that we would use the Zen Ken Ren judging guidelines for different levels as our guide to what would be presented in the seminar. This would not be in relation to "passing the next exam" but toward a level-appropriate discussion.

The work began with three embu of three kata each by one of the 7dans after which pairs of attendees were asked to critique. It was very satisfying to see that all of the comments were appropriate to the level of the demonstrator. The comments referred to feeling, metsuke, timing and similar things.

Next a kata was performed by a 3dan and the participants gave a single suggestion for improvement. Again it was satisfying to see that all the comments were focused on the same area so that a coherent, positive change could be made by the demonstrator.

The participants were asked what they needed to work on and a discussion of self-directed practice was had.

Two participants then demonstrated their most troubling kata in order for them to focus on an area of concern. A discussion of metsuke as it relates to the various sets of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Zen Ken Ren iai was had. Next, and for the rest of the morning, there was a recapitulation and extension of the points that Maehara hanshi gave to the seniors at the May seminar this year with regard to using the back foot. Yes, seniors work on such things as using the back foot in their kata. Some analysis was done "hands on" to explore these points.

In the afternoon the seminar began with a run-through of the Zen Ken Ren kata with specific focus brought to bear through a reminder of the traditional instructions on swordsmanship as one can read in the textbooks. A reminder was given to all to go read and research to improve our fundamental understanding of the principles behind Japanese sword. Following this the over-5dan participants watched the rest perform the kata once more with specific, individual suggestions being made.

Finally, since the chance was there, the last hour or so of the day was devoted to making sure that the participants, who all teach, were on the same page for those points of the Zen Ken Ren that concern their students. There were no differences worth mentioning in the understanding of those present, which again, was very satisfying to see.

That concluded the first day of the seminar and some of the class retired to the Pub for a jolly good bitch session about our students... and other things.

The second day of the seminar had a somewhat different group of participants and we used the Zen Ken Ren jo to examine some of the same principles of movement we discussed the previous day. The point was made that with a partner in front of you the concerns with "what is happening" during the kata are much reduced. Physicality over theory was stressed due to the somewhat lower average rank (and age) of the participants but the comments remained focused on methods to improve rather than on specific details of kata. Much work was done on connecting the weapon through the hips to the floor and the main theme was to create a strong platform with a relaxed body above the waist. A major theme was "light hands" and the block wall was assaulted often as students tried to push it over with something other than a death-grip on the bokuto or the jo.

The morning and some of the afternoon was devoted to the solo kihon so that the participants could work within themselves. We then practiced the first three kata (which all the participants would have been practicing for over a decade) to put these insights together with a partner. It is surprising just how quickly a kata one knows well can break down when the lower body is creating so much more power than the usual "going through the check-points" movements one uses while teaching.

After allowing the somewhat "scary" kata to create tension in our upper bodies once more we put down the jo and some simple exercises were done with bokuto to bokuto to once again lighten up the hands.

Since most of the work over the weekend involved highly individual-specific corrections and an actual feeling of force vectors while in physical contact with a partner I'm afraid these notes may be somewhat less than useful to anyone not at the seminar. On the other hand, now you know what went on if you were wondering.

June 30, 2015

Vocabulary is not Knowledge

Reading through the research literature, it always depresses me a little bit when I read an article "On Kata" or some sort and as I begin I realize the author is going to tell me that "Martial arts are taught in set-piece physical actions called kata."

Oh, thanks.

The acquisition of a specialized vocabulary (in other words, a jargon) has always been a substitute for knowledge amongst undergrads who figure the game is to learn the language of science. This has been discovered by other fields of study and some struggle to create a jargon as obscure as they can make it. The problem isn't restricted to academe, in class-based societies your language will substitute for your status, hence Pygmalion.

But that's not how jargon works in relation to knowledge. Jargon is a shortcut not a goal and it's only useful if everyone knows the shortcut. It does not work if it's obscure, the aim is not to exclude, it's to save time. Hence the need for undergrads to learn the language of their discipline, even if that discipline doesn't really need a specialized language.

My daughter looked at a toddler the other day and asked if it is necessary for humans to lose that wonder of the world as they grow up. Unfortunately it is, we take in much too much information to deal with it unfiltered. Our brains sort and categorize, they don't accumulate and extrapolate. We don't do "big data". If we did we wouldn't have computers at faceplant crunching the numbers trying to figure out what we're going to buy next. When the world has tigers in the bushes we don't need to be pointing at flowers and saying "pretty", we need to be seeing tigers. As toddlers we have adults doing that filtering for us until we get the ability. Then, as adults, we take special classes that help us "be in the world" and appreciate the pretty flowers, but again, that's in a protected place like a temple, not, hopefully, while we're driving a car. When we're dealing with the modern tigers (cars) we need to categorize, we need to dismiss anything that we don't need to see, like thousands of advertisements surrounding the road signs.

The research kids marvel that folks miss the guy in the ape suit who walks across their field of vision. I marvel that the researchers expect anyone to see him. We have to discriminate to survive.

Hence the jargon, we put entire species into a name, we put entire books worth of physics into a formula so that we can move beyond that book. If we don't put chunks of knowledge into a word we spend all our time re-learning that knowledge. Once should be enough so that we can then trust that formula and use the method of it's derivation on the next one.

We put an entire method of training into the word "kata". But knowing what that word stands for isn't the same as knowing how to learn or to teach kata. Vocabulary is not knowledge. Use it, by all means, but don't assume that if you don't know that bit of jargon you are somehow lacking in the knowledge that lies behind it. And of course, don't assume that knowing the word means you actually understand the concept it represents. Louisa may speak with the posh accent but she's still from the apple-selling classes. She'll need to know how to fold napkins in the current style. Until she does, it might be best for her to speak posh, but as little as possible lest someone discover she knows the words but not the concepts behind them.

June 29, 2015

Secrets to textbooks

We all know there are no secrets any more in the budo, not with internet video out there. But how far back did these secrets start to get spilled?

Research Journal of Budo Vol. 17 (1985) No. 3 p. 8-17

Research on the Texts of Martial Arts Published in Edo Period - with Emphasis on the Texts Related to Archery -

Kohei Irie
The University of Tsukuba

The technical system of martial arts in Japan had been established in the 16th and 17th centuries and various schools of them had been founded. In the area of archery, the transmission system of technical method in mounted and ceremonial archery, which were characterized as the chivalrous accomplishments, had been established in the 15th century. On the other hand, foot soldier archery (Hosha), which aimed at the real battle, was developed toward the same direction as those of another martial arts.

In the Edo period, the publishers, which had become one of the established business, printed, published, and made public the texts of martial arts which had hitherto been secret. Archery, strategy, and gunnery were the main categories of martial arts in terms of the number of publishing. Many works on strategy and gunnery had been published after the 19th century, assumedly because of the influence of advanced military techniques introduced by the European countries.

As for the works concerned with archery;
1. The arrival of firearms in the 16th century and the accompanied changes in the warfare methods made decrease the utility of the bow. Thereafter, archery was emphasized with its traditional and ceremonial aspects.
2. Archery started to be recognized as the chivalrous accomplishments being a part of general education of a Bushi.
3. Competitive aspect of archery (e. g. Toshiya) raised the interest among the vast majority. These factors might have facilitated the publication of texts dealing with archery.


Archery, strategy and gunnery manuals. Where are the sword manuals from the Edo? There were some which we have today, but it seems not as many as for archery (no longer used for war so no need to keep it secret), strategy (when was that ever secret, being based on the Chinese classics) and gunnery (which perhaps was foreign, best used in large scale warfare, and not otherwise worth keeping as a secret). Within all this, perhaps the sword schools assumed that their skills might yet be used in a fight and so might be worth keeping secret. Those manuals we do have might also have been written for the few, as was Musashi's Go Rin no Sho, written for his employer.

I don't know if an author in the Edo could benefit from being published, presumably he would at least achieve some promotional value toward being hired as an instructor if not monetary gain. Any benefit would have to be weighted against the risk of revealing too much and losing potential students who would figure they could just "buy the book", and the potential loss of life if the secret, unbeatable technique was revealed to the public. How many of these manuals got general circulation as opposed to being "privately published" for the boss? I can't imagine them being any more popular than they are today (not very) so they were likely of limited print runs. The western military manuals of the same era seem to be of the same ilk, being written mainly for the select few.

In our own era, famous instructors such as Nakayama Hakudo produced small print run books to give to their students. Some of these have become somewhat widely available but does one call them secret or public? Is it secret if nobody has seen it, even if it was intended for the public? Is it public if everyone has a copy even though it was intended for students only?

Speaking of secrets, do we really learn anything from internet video? We learn the general shape of things by watching, and if we were thinking of a fight to the death that would be a handy thing to know. It's never good to have a sword appear from a strange angle. But beyond that, there are a world of things that don't show up on film. A student mentioned last night that she found her first kyu test on some tapes and it wasn't at all what she remembered it was. I have mentioned before that I once made a student repeat a kata five or six times because she wasn't "on" and with the final one I was happy. Looking at the video later it was quite clear that whatever I was seeing "live" wasn't there on the video. For myself, I have watched video of myself in dread, knowing how off-balance and weak I was, only to see nothing of the sort. I have also looked at a film of a strong performance, only to see a shaky old man.

There is simply a lot that film can't capture. Imagine how much less you can capture with words in a manual.

Well, actually words are a lot stronger than film, a lot more revealing of some things. A video of a kata will show shapes and shadows, a few well-chosen words can open up a cascade of understanding much more secret than any peeking into windows.

June 24, 2015

Why a new kenjutsu school?

I think everyone can agree that schools multiplied in number from the original three (Nen, Chujo and Shinto) from their founding through the Edo period. The question is always why. Why not just dance with the one that brung ya? If you learn in one school why not just teach that? There are many answers of course, but here is one.


Zensin-Mukei-Ryu Kenjutsu School (literally Zen Meditation-Intangible swardsmanship School) was founded by Shichirozaemon Minamoto-no Takesato Tajima (Takesato Tajima). a headman of Ogose Village (presently Ogose Town, Saitama Prefecture), influenced by Ohyama-Shinko (a Kind of mountainous folk belief) in AD 1800. The School had been prospering until 1830.

This study aimed at clarifying the plan made by the disseminators (mentors) of Ohyama belief who took advantage of Zensin-Mukei Ryu. The results are summarized as follows:
1. In the middle of the Edo Period, many farmers of middle or upper class in the Bushu District (presently Saitama Pref. and its vicinity) wanted to practice Kogen-Itto-Ryu Kenjutsu School that had been established in the same district. Then, Takesato Tajima, one of the students of Kogen-Itto-Ryu. founded another new school, Zensin-Mukei-Ryu in 1800, a branch split from Kogen-Itto-Ryu. It (Zensin-Mukei-Ryu) spread in Ogose Village and its vicinity.
2. Takesato Tajima and his 114 students dedicated a tablet to Kasuga Shrine of Ogose Village, on which the names of the members of Zensin-Mukei-Ryu were writen. On the Tablet we can also find the names of 21 disseminators of Ohyama belief in the Soshu District (presently Kanagawa Pref. and its vicinity), mixed with those of other students in the neighborhood.
3. Mt. Ohyama in Isehara City, Kanagawa Prefecture, is located 1252 meters above sea level. The faith in Mt. Ohyama was born in ancient days when farmers and fishermen in the Kanto District prayed for rain and good harvest. The disseminators of Ohyama had been propagating their belief around the kanto District for acquiring their followers. They organized “Ohyama-Ko”, a pilgrim association of having the same faith. They climbed together Mt. Ohyama and made a monetary contribution to Ohyama Shrine.
4. Then there had been several “Ohyama-Ko” around the Ogose Village. Takesato Tajima and his students also had faith in Mt. Ohyama. They had made a pilgrimage to Mt. Ohyama, and stayed with Sato Ohsumi, one of the disseminators, who was also one of the students of Takesato Tajima.
5. The disseminators of Mt. Ohyama had come to resort to force for protecting themselves from enemies whom they came across while spreading their belief. Before AD 1800, they had been the students of Kogen-Itto-Ryu. After 1800, however, they were converted to Zensin-Mukei-Ryu. This shows how the disseminators came to be affiliated with Zensin-Mukei-Ryu.
6. In short, the disseminators conceived that being the students of Takesato Tajima would help them to increase the number of their believers. On the other hand, Takesato Tajima, saw to it that he could take advantage of Mt. Ohyama's religious influence in order to expand Zensin-Mukei-Ryu. Thus, Zensin-Mukei-Ryu was established to promote mutual benefit with the disseminators of Ohyama belief.


First, let's note that this paper would seem to indicate that farmers and fishermen were studying first Kogen-Itto-Ryu and then the new offshoot Zenshin-Mukei-Ryu in the middle of the Edo period. These people seemed to be followers of a local religion called Ohyama-Shinko and it seems they used their sword skills to defend themselves while promoting their religion.

The new sword school was founded and grew with this religion, and the religion gained new members through the sword school. All this before the Meiji reformation when we are told the sword arts opened up to the common people as the ex-samurai sword instructors were thrown out of their jobs. It seems that everything new is always old. Every sure fact a house on shaky ground.

This relationship of mutual benefit between a "new" martial art and a religion was not unique to this case. We can look at modern examples such as Aikido and the Omoto-kyo. This is perhaps the best known but others can be found with a bit of research. Nothing is as simple as we like to make it a generation or two later. No budo school ever came into existance simply because a brilliant student appeared. We must always look at the cultural circumstances of that founding if we wish to fully understand the school.

June 23, 2015

Iaijutsu and Kenjutsu

Let's move back toward kenjutsu once again from iai. What was the relationship between these two?

Relation Between Iai and Kenjutsu on the Traditional Books

Research Journal of Budo Vol. 19 (1986-1987) No. 1 p. 10-16

Tetsuya WADA
Kagawa Medical School

The practical characteristics of Iai and Kenjutsu are quite distinct when they are phenomenally judged. In Iai, on the whole, unsheathing the sword is the most important technique and great weight is given to the process of unsheathing it. In Kenjutsu, on the other hand, the technique begins after unsheathing the sword and taking a certain posture (kamae). So we can regard the relation between the two as “mihatsu” (before unsheathing) and “ihatsu” (after unsheathing).

Closer investigation, however, reveal that Iai has “kata” not only of “mihatsu” but also of “ihatsu” in the case of “tachiai” (initial moving from standing posture), and that Kenjutsu also has its own techniques to unsheathe the sword. Thus these two martial arts, in which to use the Japanese swords, have the technique in common with each other.

But, the main purpose of Iai is to cope with emergencies in daily life, so the point of view was directed to various, broad aspects of daily life, and in Kenjutsu, the point of view was directed only to the aspects of fighting after taking a certain posture. On that point these two were remarkably different from each other.

Iai and Kenjutsu, after Edo era, had tendency to develop in their own way and to specialize as well. But on account of this, there appeared reversed thought that these two should be regarded as compensating each other.


Here we have the idea that iaido, concentrating on the draw and thus preparedness for emergencies, and kendo, concentrating on the fight, have become distinct entities. But today they ought to be thought of as complementing each other as (they say) two wheels of a cart.
This would seem to be the orthodox view of the kendo federation. What to do if you aren't in the kendo federation? Does one practice the tachiai (the partner kata of your particular iai school) or some other koryu kenjutsu? Or do we worry about this at all? Surely iai alone or kendo alone is sufficient for most modern usage. My feelings on this are in fact, quite conflicted as I can see how each art contains everything you need, but then again, each kata contains the whole. All of swordsmanship can be derived from a single cut provided one understands it correctly.

The difficulty is how to tell if what you're deriving, or should we say inventing, is correct? If we practice kendo, iaido and jodo in the kendo federation we can be fairly certain we are getting the full theory of the kendo federation. If we do just one of those arts it will be a bit less easy to see the whole, and so on. What would studying an outside kenjutsu do for our kendo federation member? Would it open up the wider world of the "Japanese sword"? Is this a good thing? As we have so often in the past, we come down to your reasons for practicing. If it's to learn to fight it may not be a good idea to learn too much. Be excellent at less instead. If it's to preserve the cultural history of Japan, again, learning too much may be counterproductive as you confuse waza from one school with another. If you want to study the limits of Japanese sword, perhaps this accumulative approach is best, as you will eventually be searching for that which does not exist rather than what does.

For myself, I'm a bit old to think about being the best in the world. Mostly I'm just curious and am concerned more with who is teaching than what is taught. I have investigated several schools over my years and have kept up a few of them for the ease with which they teach different aspects of combat. I think this is close to what the kendo federation had in mind when it adopted iai and jo into the organization. Iaido to teach the handling of the katana to those who use the shinai. Kendo to teach the iaido folks about a real opponent. Real swords for imaginary, real opponents for imaginary. Jodo? More a case of the central role the police have had in the kendo world than what jo can teach a kendoka I suspect.

June 23, 2015

Iaido research

What does research into its history reveal about iaido?

Research Journal of Budo Vol. 14 (1981-1982) No. 1 p. 27-35

The Formation of IAI and its technical vicissitudes

Tetsuya WADA
Tsukuda University

Iai originated in the practical combative techniques known as batto (striking instantly with a sword while rapidly unsheathing it in one stroke) which were born during the ages of civil and martial disorder. These martial techniques, batto, as they yielded to the necessities of the subsequent ages of peace underwent drastic transformations in terms of both the way the techniques were preformed and their ideological foundations, and gradually developed into what is now known as iai.

Within the process of this development, in terms of physical technique, the trend toward the practice of the art from a sitting posture occupies a central position. This central position is shared on the mental side with the philosophical reorientation of the art toward one possessing the fundamental nature of being directed toward a defensive response to a sudden and unexpected attack such as what might occur even in an orderly society. This kind of iai, in both its physical and intellectual characteristics, was well suited to the peaceful social conditions of Tokugawa society. Iai was the model martial art for an age of social order.

By developing in this way, undergoing many technical vicissitudes, the adoption of sitting in the formal posture of seiza, the use of the samurai's uchi-gatana (long sword worn through the belt with edge upwards) instead of the soldier's tachi (long sword slung from the belt with edge downward), and assuming the character of a mental discipline practiced without an opponent, iai eventually realized its standard form which has been preserved down to the present time.


It seems that as iaido went into the Edo period, seiza became the focus of the practice. The mental aspects of the practice also became more important, as did the emphasis on self defense.

If we think about what this implies for the past, it would seem that iai was not so focused on self defence from seated postures, that it was thought of as a practical combat art. What does this imply about the origins of our art? Assuming that the Oku forms of Tosa iai represent the older kata, what do you know about them that would confirm or cast doubt on the conclusions of this abstract?

Finally, why do you practice iai? Is your practice true to the original kata and thoughts of the founder? Do we even know what those are?

June 22, 2015

Riai and Research

Does my study of academic papers truely help with my understanding of budo or should I simply get out to practice more often?

Being an academic, spending most of my working life in a University setting, I'm not likely to say that research is useless. Having written 20 plus books on the subject I'm also not likely to fall on the side of "just do what your sensei says". In fact my sensei says that I have to write a book which starts with "My sensei says" because he read one from the past where the author did just that.

Every book I've written should be read with "my sensei says" at the start of each paragraph. It's father's day and all my budo fathers are being thanked for their teaching. Not with cards but if I see one today I'll buy him a beer.

I'm going through research abstracts at the moment, all from the same journal, and making comments that force me to read the abstracts closely. These are all papers written in Japanese so no hope of my reading the whole thing to come to the meaning. Makes you appreciate a good abstract writer. In fact, with five companies controlling access to research these days abstract-driven research is going to become more common. There's no way under the sun that I'm going to pay $35 for a reprint of a non-scientific paper. I'm not going to be replicating methods in this type of research, but I do need more than a glance over the abstract and a note in my head that "I've read it". If for no other reason than to put it out there to my students along with the reference so that when I say "kendo is as old as most koryu" they don't call BS at me. Did you really just say to yourself "depends on your definition"? Hah, you relativistic lefty academic you.

Back to the point, (hey, it's Sunday morning and this dad was never going to get breakfast in bed but he can take his time over coffee). Does my reading of abstracts increase my ability to hit someone else on the head with a stick?

Yeah, it does. Understanding the historical roots of techniques means I know the rational behind them. Sure I could continue on the way I did when I was a beginner and have trust in my sensei, I still have trust in my sensei, but many of them are no longer with me. Do I simply stop here? Repeat what they told me until I die, hoping that the kata will teach me instead?

It's not a bad plan, the kata do teach me but if I want to figure out what the original meaning was, I need to get things in context and the only way to do that is to understand the history. Take the idea that square hips and control of the centerline is a kendo thing. Not exclusive to kendo of course, but central to the art as practiced now. Where did that come from? How does it flavour the iaido of the kendo federation? How would it influence koryu done by the sensei who are in the kendo federation? How does knowing that hips were not always so square help my practice of koryu?

You see what I mean. It's not that I didn't know that kendo is square hips and other arts like Aikido are not, I have known that since the beginning, having done both. But to read the history of how hips got where they are gives me some extra comfort as I experiment with my own. Knowing some history lets me understand where my Aikido teacher's teacher came up with that marvellous straight line at the end of his circular techniques. That line that cut the motion of balance right out from under you and launched you into the air. I knew it was there as a beginner but I used to grow doubt when other folks told me with massive authority that there were no straight lines in Aikido.

Part of becoming a senior is being able to pat a beginner on the head and say "yes indeed son, there is only one way to do this and you must learn that way".

As a "30 year man" should I still believe that? Well I could, and I could probably get the highest ranks available in any organization by simply doing things "the right way" but what fun would that be? And what chance would I have of advancing the art? My buddy Jeff in Japan has lamented for years about the homogenization of iaido and I sympathize. When all the teachers are interchangeable how do we ever get to the point where we figure we can use our special understanding to drop the other guy? Part of the special, advanced teachings of budo is "the edge". That's a belief that you have something that will give you the advantage in a real fight. If you're all clones of the top guy (wow I can't even get myself to say "the right way") then it's all just a crapshoot as to who walks away from the swordfight. Except for the top guy of course since he gets to use a variant of a technique to beat you, which variant then becomes "the right way".

Part of the confidence that lets you toe the line in a fight is the belief that you have a chance, and often that comes from a belief that your teacher has trained you well and distinctively. If your teacher is all about "doing it the right way" or "doing it the way it's supposed to be done" you are going to have to hope your teacher is a better mimic than the other guy's teacher. Me, I like my iconoclastic sensei, none of them were ever worried about a grading or a competition, they were going to show their art and the hell with the judges.

That's a hard lesson, it's a major change in attitude from the blindly following beginner. You must believe, you must trust, you must follow to learn, but if you don't break away from that you'll never do your sensei the pride of passing him by.

Reading the academic papers is part of that, if only to demonstrate to yourself that the old guys in the old days were not inclined to sit at the feet of the master forever. In fact, the master gave them some paper to remind them what the names of the kata were, and booted them out the door to go find their own way. Hopefully while they were still young enough to learn something.

June 21, 2015

The purpose of Kendo

Going back to the origins of shinai-bogu practice, what was the original purpose? This article deals with a match from 1750, mid-Edo. I don't seem to have the URL for this article but if you've been looking at the previous posts you'll find the Journal of Budo and can search the author's name.

THE KOMUSOU (MENDICANT ZEN PRIEST OF FUKE SECT) AND THE TRANSMISSION OF BUJUTSU-An Investigation of a Histrical Material for a Knight-Errantry Tour in A. D. 1750 at Sagawa-Shinkage School in Sendai Clan-


In A. D.1750 two Komusous visited Shinzaburou SAGAWA at Shinkage School in Sendai Clan and played several matches against the Sagawa's disciple. Shinzaburou SAGAWA left a detailed note of the occurence, namely, Ikkan Seizan Sagawa-sensei Shiai Shimatsu. Three written copies of it in the possession of the Saito-houonkai Natural History Museum and the Miyagi Prefectural Library have been analyzed by the present author.
The purpose of this study is fourfold: (1) To clarify who two Komusous called one of them Ikkan and another of them Seizan were. (2) To clarify the purpose for which they went on a Knight-Errantry Tour in A. D.1750. (3) To clarify what kinds of samurai there were in the Sagawa's discple. (4) To clarify how they played the matches and what kinds of protector they played with.

Briefly, the main conclusions were as follows:

(1) Ikkan's name was Gonpachiro HARADA and Seizan's Hannojou NAKAGAWA. Both of them were the samurais of the middle rank in Kameyama clan.

(2) They went on a Knight-Errantry Tour for the purpose of learning practical Bujutsu because, at that time, the educational system of Bujutsu was defective in Kameyama clan and many riots of the peasants were got up everywhere in Japan.

(3) Half the number of the Sagawa's disciple were the samurais of vassal's vassales and of the lowest rank in Sendai clan.

(4) The matches of Sagawa-Shinkage School was played with Fukuroshinai (a kind of bamboo sword) and “Menpou Tebukuro” (the protector of the face and the forearm), but these protectors had no conection with the parts that the players striked on. They striked on Kobushi (the fist) or Wakitsubo (the armpit).

Here we have what must be the beginnings of the movement to kendo, a match played with fukuroshinai (a split bamboo in a leather bag) and head/wrist protection. No chest protection yet. It seems this protection was just that, and not an indication of specific target sites. in fact it seems the boys aimed for the fist and the armpit instead. What's a practice without bruises? The matches were not competitive in a gaming sense either, as it seems the visitors from Kameyama were seeking instruction.

It's interesting that those pesky peasant riots were mentioned in this context. This is an indication that in 1750 the sword may have been playing an important role in policing. This would give kendo training a practical purpose beyond just testing the moves learned in kata.

The author (or the translator) speaks of Knight-errantry which I'm assuming was Musha-shugyo. Other documents have indicated that around this time or afterward a sword student would practice for 5 to 10 years and then receive Menkyo Kaiden. He would then go on a trip to challenge other schools in kendo matches. Yes Menkyo Kaiden in under 40 years, at that time it likely meant you'd learned all the kata of the school to the point where you didn't forget them as soon as you left the dojo. Sort of the modern kendo federation equivalent of godan, where you are expected to be technically fluid in all the kata but aren't really expected to be able to adapt to variable circumstance. In other words, the time where visits to other instructors and matches with other people will do you some good.

It suddenly occurs to me that the rotating partner system of 6dan in jodo gradings could be seen as a reflection of this. You are expected to be able to demonstrate high level jodo with a random partner.

Has anyone been inspired to look through Google scholar as a result of these posts? If you are at a University and have access through the pay walls there are a couple of translations of old manuscripts I'd love to have. If you don't want to post them yourself feel free to send them to me and I'll comment. I have no shame... send them to me anyway.

June 20, 2015

Techniques: kenjutsu to kendo

How did the shinai-bogu techniques change from the older kenjutsu schools to the newer kendo? One paper gives us some information.


THE SYSTEM AND CONSTRUCTION OF TECHNIQUES IN KENDO Chiefly on “Kei-joki” by Sugane Kubota, Tamiyaryu-


We noticed “Hokushin Ittoryu”, among several kenjutsu schools, which tried to re-build the sustem of techniques and constrasted them analytically. But in this essay, we have examined the kenjutsu-theory of Sugane Kubota who was a contemporary of Shusaku Chiba (the founder of “Hokushin Ittoryu”) and left enormous writings. Particularly we have studied, from the viewpoint of the history of athletic techniques, the features of the fundamentals of techniques which are the basis of the system of techniques.

As a result, we have found the two faces; one is the part which tried to build the sustem of techniques consciously, that is, the part which changed from pre-modern (Edo era) kendo into modern (Meiji era) one, and the other in the part which could not get rid of the traditional “Kata-kenjutsu”.

The results of the former are as follows
(1) Not only feet position but also posture was right in the opposition to the opponent, and the direction of the sword was straight to the center of the opponent.
(2) “Te-no-uchi in striking was similar to “pushing-cut” rather than “pulling-cut”.
(3) The course of striking from the front along the central line to the opponent was proposed more mainly than from the right or left side. And continuous strikings were encouraged.

The results of the latter are as follows:
(1) The position of the sword was limited to the three; “jodan-no-kamae” “chudan-no-kamae”, and “gedannokamae”. And jodan-no-kamae”, in which the height of the point of the sword is fixed between the nose and mouth of the opponent, was the most basic.
(2) The footwork was “ayumi-ashi” (walking step).
(3) We guessed that swinging up was done without changing the condition of holding sword of the first posture.
(4) The elbow joints were stretched more forward in holding the sword than modern kendo.
(5) The follow-through of weight transfer after striking was not made unlike the present kendo, and it was directed to return to the former position soon.
(6) “Kanemen-Zuki” was adopted, which was widely used in spear-fighting. It showed a tendency to the techniques of practical and comprehensive military arts.

Thus, Kubota's kenjutsu-theory has some characteristics of the transitional age from pre-modern to modern theory. But it does not reach the stage which breaks with the traditional “kata-kenjutsu” and constructs the system of techniques.



The writings of this Kubota (have never heard of him before) could give us an idea of what was happening during the transition of older to newer kendo. We can see that the stances were becoming more square to the opponent, the centerline becoming emphasized. There are photographs on the net of old kenjutsu folks who are striking in what I might describe as western fencing lunges. Definitely not kendo stance.

The differences listed here are a bit more difficult to parse. The jodan no kamae mentioned seems to be a high seigan, the tip forward and at mouth height rather than what we would call jodan (with the hands overhead and the tip pointing backward). I need to go back to some of the older writings now to see if they make sense from this point of view, I remember being confused by a "jodan" that mentioned the tip being forward. We see the sword held not only higher but more forward than in modern kendo which might indicate a greater emphasis on to-ma, techniques from "outside". I have no idea what kanemen tsuki would be but if it's from spearfighting it may be a thrust to the face? What's kane-men, an area on the head like gan-men or sho-men? A quick cafe search of google turned up nothing.

Those doing seitei iai and jo under the kendo federation might take a look at these points and consider the influence of modern kendo theory on our stances and techniques. Understanding where a posture comes from will often reduce the mental discomfort for those who started a koryu practice first. I know I struggled with a lot of my practice until I understood that seitei iai "is kendo". Once I understood the reference point, the postures and techniques fell into a coherent pattern. If a thing is internally consistent it is easier to hold in your mind.

June 19, 2015

Kendo and Kenjutsu

Just when did Kendo develop and where did it come from? It started, not so much as a new art, but as a method of practice, and as such it started fairly early.

Beyond being a method of training, it was a practice that allowed different schools to test their skills against each other.



Tetsuya WADA 1)

1) Kagawa Medical School

In the latter period of Edo era, “shinai-uchikomi-geiko”, the new training method in which swordsmen wearing protectors strike and thrust each other unrestrainedly by means of bamboo swords, became popular and spread in place of the traditional method by means of kata of the school in Kenj utsu. With the propagation of the new method, “taryu jiai”, a match between swordsmen of different schools, which had been put under the taboo, got activated all over the country. There are, however, few detailed investigations into the process except for the Kanto area. The present study was undertaken to make clear how “shinai-uchikomi-geiko” propagated and “taryujiai”got activated in the Iwakuni clan. Major findings are as follows;

(1) The trend in kenjutsu, the propagation of “shinai-uchikomi-geiko” and the activation of “taryujiai”by the new method, had extended to the Iwakuni clan at latest in the Tenmei or Kansei period. However at that time all the teachers of kenjutsu-schools refused to adopt the new method, so no one of the bushi-class adopted it and took part in “taryu-jiai” in the clan.

(2) With the activation of “taryu-jiai” in the Iwakuni clan, there appeared participants to it in the bushi-class in the latter half of the Bunsei period. Moreover, there appeared teachers of kenjutsu-school who approved to adopt the new method and to take part in “taryu-jiai” in the next Tenpo period. And this became the main method of kenjutsu in the clan.

(3) When Yoro-kan (the clan school) was established in the 4th of the Koka period, it was publicly decided to adopt the new method and to practice “taryu-jiai” in the school. At this time it was Katayama-school that defied the decision. Seven years later, however, the new method was adopted in the school in the 1st of the Ansei period. As a result, in all the kenjutsu-schools in the Iwakuni clan the new method came to be used and “taryu-jiai” to be practiced, while existential significance of the traditional kata and schools main-tamed with it became quite small.



tenmei 1781-9
kansei 1798-1801
bunsei 1818-30
tenpo 1830-44
koka 1844-48
ansei 1854-60

In the Iwakuni area we see that shinai and bogu existed in the late 1700s, but that the kenjutsu teachers resisted its introduction into their schools so that the bushi didn't practice. Would this imply that the common folk were practicing? This would certainly go against what we commonly believe, that sword practice was reserved for the samurai. If this is true, if the commoners were practicing with shinai and bogu, this would certainly have been a good reason for the upper crust to ignore it.

However, by 1830 it would seem that the new practice was starting to infiltrate the bushi and that by 1844 some of the sensei had adopted it. By 1860 all the schools were practicing the new style and participating in challenges with other schools. Was this the end of koryu? Well it seems that schools which had a focus on kata training did become quite small.

So the roots of kendo stretch well back into the Edo era and the old kenjutsu koryu were heavily involved (unless there is evidence out there that kendo was invented by the non-bushi classes, something I haven't seen). It would seem we must give kendo the additional cache of being kenjutsu as well. Can we also call kendo a koryu?

Or do we reserve the word koryu for those schools that only practice kata, or that practice with shinai and bogu in a distinctive, school-based way? It would seem that kendo rapidly became "extra-school" or "meta-school" as the taryujiai testing of kata became a competitive paring down of techniques to what works. This continues to this day with various rule changes that change the emphasis from one technique to another. Kendo was also, shortly after the Edo, taken over by a national body and so into a central control. This would also be a blow to the individual koryu and it would seem that this was recognized as the kendo no kata was developed to provide a national kenjutsu kata. Unification and standardization of a method of practice, rather than a separate popping into existance, seems to have been the route to modern kendo.

One might jump to the conclusion that this damaged the old schools, but a further look into the history might just reveal that it was kendo that provided (and perhaps provides) the environment for their survival. It is a complex relationship, unworthy of simplistic viewpoints.

June 18, 2015

The Gotcha World

Pity the poor samurai of the "low replace high" era. The samurai would sell their services to the highest bidder and turn on their former bosses in the middle of a battle if they figured they could get a better deal. The lords had to watch their backs constantly, their audience rooms having a separate side room full of guards just in case. This was the era of constant vigilance, where the smallest slip could mean your downfall.

Good thing we don't live in that age, who could stand the stress.

Wait, an offhand comment about love in the lab at a meeting half a world away means a Nobel laureate is forced to resign his job. A human rights campaigner is outed by her parents as being the wrong colour and has to resign. Hell there's a whole section of the "social media" that hunts around looking for those who, in their opinion, have bad viewpoints, in order to hound them out of their jobs.

Never mind that their views must have been OK with the boss in the first place (or maybe they kept their opinions to themselves as they kept their jobs), what boss is going to resist the pressure of the social media when advisors are telling them the business is going to collapse unless the miscreant is fired.

It's the gotcha mentality where one slip of the tongue will lose an election, where the press figures an unguarded comment or a statement taken out of context is news. So much easier than actually running down a real story, better to shove that recorder into someone's face and hope they screw up. Who likes political attack ads? Everyone apparently, since they work. Gotcha!

Sharks in the water, one of them gets cut and the others converge. Pirhana attacking their own. The dog eat dog world, it's no different now than in 1570 Japan.

So what to do about it? Well how about doing what a smart budoka of 1570 would do, how about learning the martial arts, specifically iaido. Think about it, where else can you learn to watch your back as efficiently. You prepare your uniform and your weapons before stepping into the dojo (out in public). You bow as you enter to settle your mind into pre-prepared patterns of thought (your scripted press conference answers), you move into the dojo with a specific way of walking designed to make sure you don't slip up (don't slip up). You do a socially imposed and approved bow (shake the hands, kiss the babies) and then spend a couple of hours acting as if someone is going to jump you from the shadows at any minute. (They are.)

What better training for the gotcha world could there be.

A woman just walked into the cafe who I know has starred in porn videos. Really, just this moment. Did I take a picture and out her to the rest of the place? Of course not, if I had I would have been admitting I'd watched the vids. I'd be as gotcha'd as she. Was that the correct, budo-learned response? (Any and all attacks leave the attacker open to a counter-attack). Perhaps, but my real reason for not saying anything was that the woman deserves her privacy. Aside from proving I'm a complete shite, what good would outing her do? (You see what you could have done there? You could state that proving I'm a shite is a good thing... which it probably is.)

I'd rather sit here and call in bad driving to the police. Bad drivers can kill people, I've never heard of anyone damaged by watching a porn vid online, except of course for those who end up on afternoon TV with sex addictions. Does afternoon TV cause sex addictions?

Next time you record someone saying something unguarded and put it on the social networks (or as I like to say, gossip over the back fences) be sure to include the end bit where you say "gotcha", it's more honest and will make you a better person.

June 17, 2015

The Dan grade system.

武道学研究37-(1)1-9,2004 武道における段級の歴史と意義について藤堂良明

Yoshiaki TODO,Naoki MURATA

Study of the history and meaning of dan and kyu grades is one key to the essential character of Budo. Using this idea we began research into the origin of the dan grade system in Shogi, during the Edo period of Japanese history. The dan grade system in certain Kenjutsu and Jujutsu schools where comparable systems existed. For our final reseach we studied the grade system of Judo in the context of the clear intentions established by Jigoro Kano,and we considered how both kendo and kyudo have adopted grading systems and their meaning. Results were as follows:

1. There were 9 dan grade steps in Shogi at the beginning of the 18th Century. A Shogi player could be promoted to the next grade if he won a game against Iemoto,the top authority and 9th dan holder. Only Iemoto was permitted to hold 9th dan.

2. The Jigenryu of kenjutsu school established its own dan grade syustem from 1st to 4th dan at the begininng of the Edo era in order to keep the students motivated. The Tenjin-shinyoryu Jujutsu at the end of the Edo era established 3 dan grade steps: sho dan, chu dan and jo dan. Both systems had similar policies for dan promotion,requiring length of training and technical skills in kata. Also intangible factors such as being of good character, and not aggressive, but with a determined spirit. The system at that time had only a few 3 or 4 dan grades and there was a long time between promotions,and so students could eventually lack motivation.

3. Jigoro Kano, the founder of the Kodokan, established the dan grade system in Judo from 1st dan upwards (without an upper limit), with kyu grades from 5th to 1st, because he disagreed with the traditional grading system and its excessively long intervals to the next grade. He allowed students who had reached 6th dan to teach Judo, and then encouraged study more deeply into the heart of judo before arriving at 10th dan or Shihan. The other purpose of establishing the dan grade system was to stabilize the organization on a firm financial footing.

The Dai Nippon Butokukai, established in 1895 in Kyoto, adopted the dan grade system for Judo and kyu grade system for Kendo which was used in Tokyo Police. In 1917, the Butokukai adopted the dan and kyu system for both Judo and Kendo,then in 1923 also adopted the dan and kyu system for Kyudo.

4. The dan and kyu grade system used today in Judo examines students for promotion up to 6th dan on points obtained in competitions and on their performance of kata. Above 6th dan are judged on their depth of knowledge and their contribution to judo. The grading system in Kendo examines skills in competitions and kata and there is a written test in addition. Correct posture and being able to use a sword correctly are considered to be more important than winning in the examining matches for promotion. Fees for promotion are used for further development of the organization.



We often hear that dan grades started with Judo in the 20th century but this paper shows the system has been around since the beginning of the Edo era. The early use of dan grades seems to have been the same as today, to keep students motivated and hanging around. It seems Jigoro Kano added a few kyu grades and increased the number of dan grades to increase the frequency of grading, again to motivate students.

Let's face it, students like grading. The authors also point out that an extensive dan grade system puts the organization on a firm financial footing. Gradings = income.

In the iai and jo sections of the kendo federation we test "technically" up to 5dan when you can go and teach in your own dojo and put students forward for grading. After that other things come into play which are not strictly technical. In this way we are quite similar to the Judo system as described. Certainly things like depth of knowledge and contributions to the art are taken into account in all senior ranks in all arts, whether written down or not.

The Dan system has been around for a very long time and it seems to work for larger organizations... or is it a cause of larger organizations? Would a small koryu art which relies on the dedication of its students to survive, begin to grow if regular testing was instituted? Would working toward a Dan rank help keep students involved and provide income for the art in order to promote itself and increase its numbers?

Would this be a good thing?

June 16, 2015

Renshu vs Keiko: what's in a name

武道学研究40-(1):1-8,2007〈 総説〉『武道における稽古用語の変遷について』藤堂良明 1) 村 田直樹

A study of how the names used for training methods in Budo have changed
Yoshiaki TODO and Naoki MURATA


We currently use the term renshu (practice) to describe the process of training and mastering techniques in Budo. It was called Keiko in the feudal times in Japan. We have to divided the change in the usage of Budo-related words into three periods

:the early period when Bushi (samurai warior) culture began

:the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), when many martial arts schools were established

:and the modern period when kOdOkan judo was founded by Jigoro Kano.

We analyzed both the meaning and performance of Keiko using source documents on BudO and Judo, The results of our research are as follows: 1. Bushi in the middle ages used the word Keiko to refer to training in such martial arts as horse riding, the archery, sword play and sumo wrestling , however, the precise methods of traning used in these martial arts are not described in the documents. 2. Keiko meant, at the beginning of the Tokugawa period, simply repeating the forms of techniques which had been established by the founder of each school. Later on the meaming of Keiko changed its meaning from simply repeating the forms and techniques to the process of performing these techniques with more originality and ingenuity. 3. In the latter half of the 19th century the names of martial arts such as jujitsu and kenjutsu and so on changed to judo and kendo etc. along with the modernization of their techniques and philosophies. Jigoro Kano,the founder of KOdOkan judo, originally used the word keiko as the name for the practice of training and mastering techniques on the KOdOkan. Later he changed the name of this practice from Keiko to renshu in the belief that young people ought to do more physical fitness training at schools. He favored introducing the new subject of physical education into all junior high schools to foster the health and strength of young people. The name renshu was thus accepted in the first quarter to the last century by judo practitioners, but not in the world of Kendo, where practitioners studied hard and seriosly with the purpose of building up men with a steady nerves, who practiced as if they were using real swords. So in Kendo, the name Keiko was still used to mean 'practice' at that time.


An abstract (the paper is in Japanese) concerning the difference in how training has been named through the years. Today it is Renshu for most folks, specifically Judoka, and it means physical fitness type training which likely reflects what most people get from the martial arts.

When we go to the word keiko we see that originally (at the start of the Tokugawa era, the early 1600s) it meant to repeat the kata of the school faithfully. The authors state that by the later 1800s that word had changed to mean those kata done with more originality and ingenuity.

If we consider that by the late 1800s shinai and armour had been adopted as a common training method for kenjutsu, this change in meaning might not reflect a change in attitude to the kata, but rather an expansion of the term to cover the modification of those kata to suit shinai competition. For those who can, reading the body of the article might reveal whether the authors considered this.


Finally we come to the modern day when jujutsu has been renamed judo and kenjutsu has been renamed kendo. In the early 1900s Kano renamed judo training to renshu, perhaps as a way to get judo accepted in schools as a physical training method. Kendo retained keiko since it was "where practitioners studied hard and seriosly with the purpose of building up men with a steady nerves, who practiced as if they were using real swords." Kendo did eventually get into the school system, but later, and mostly as a way to prepare the nation for the war. It wasn't until after the war that kendo was associated with fitness and especially, competition. A situation the kendo federation seems to be trying to reverse since the mid-1970s. At least according to Alex Bennett who is in a position to know this.

What's in a name? Quite a bit actually, so it always pays to look at how an author is using the term you might, at first, assume you know.

June 15, 2015

Every ten years

Someone has to do a study to see if what we knew ten years ago is still true. It usually turns out to be. My buddy Nate just sent me a link to a news article on a Canadian study of self defence and rape. Lo and Behold, they found out that those who take self defence courses are twice as likely to avoid being raped.

Oh dear. And they are going to specially develop a course out of their findings which they will offer to universities who will of course have to pay for their facilitators. (That's today in a nutshell, it's not real unless you're paying for it. No research without payoff at the end of it.)

Any anti-rape people out there who wish to look up the history of the movement might want to check out the last chapter Susan Brownmiller's book. In 1974 or so Brownmiller concluded that the solution to rape was for women to learn how to fight back.

This wasn't new then, still isn't.

The problem is that since the 1970s this subject has been political. Starting in 1987 until just recently I taught a course of self defence at the University of Guelph which was based on the resistance literature up to that time (and about ten years beyond until I convinced myself that the subject isn't changing) and in every single year that I taught I had to justify myself to someone or other who had an agenda. Very seldom was that person in the class, if you're taking a self defence course you're already self-selected toward believing it will be of some use, but student politicians and members of activist groups were a constant source of challenge.

Now all I wanted to do was teach my students to break away from an attack and escape. I had, and still have, very little interest in who to blame, how to fix those who are to blame, or how to fix society, I'm not 20 any more. I taught from the actual resistance research literature and tried to provide a very realistic approach to life and how to go through it without unwanted danger or damage. And how to be as dangerous and damaging as possible when required.

Most people got that. Those that didn't were invited to read the literature which, as I say, hasn't come up with anything new since the 1940s when the first studies seem to have occured. Yet with all this research, all the books available, most folks still come up with numbers that don't work, mostly because they "believe" this or that. My relationship with "belief" is a whole other topic but suffice to say I didn't even start on this self defence stuff before I did the research to see if it would work or not.

I still get irritated when I read things like one in four students will be raped as was said in the news article. The same article that then stated their findings were that somewhat over 9% of women in the control group were raped while about half that number were raped in the self defence group. Wasn't that control supposed to be 1 in 4?

OK now define rape.

Now let's go to the 1 in 4 thing. Never a real number, it was, at one time, traced to a rape shelter pamphlet by someone who cared enough to trace the citations. The real number of women in university who experience some form of unwanted sexual assault? Since the '40s it's been around 40% and it hasn't changed much. It's much more than 1 in 4, but again, what are you using for your definition? How about date rape? How about having sex with anyone when you didn't want to have sex with them? Around 40% for women in a study of 1000 U. Kansas students. Oh, in the same paper the figure for men was over 60%.

What, you scoff? Go get my stuff from the manuals page of sdksupplies.com website, it's free, and go look up the original papers. Please, don't tell me what you believe. Incidentally, for all you who scoffed at those numbers and are in a "live-in" relationship, what percentage of you have had sex when you didn't want to have sex? I asked for 20 years and got a number that approached 100%.

Anyway, apparently the problem is over, my self defence classes went from 80 students twice a week in the early days to zero last year. Somebody has apparently fixed things, or perhaps not, but I'm content. I'm too old and broken these days to take the hammerings of enthusiastic "helpless" 20 year old women. I'm well content to leave the subject to the young and enthusiastic.

Still, if anyone wants to pay me enough I'd be willing to come out of retirement to teach some instructors. Our course has worked in places world-wide as I've been told by my graduates.

Or you can just read my secret now: Anything works, any sort of resistance works. What doesn't work is doing nothing, begging, crying, and pleading. Talking works, running works, breaking arms works. Do you get hurt by resisting? No. Yet injury and resistance are correlated. You tell me which direction the correlation runs. Can you think of specific instances where I'm wrong in my statements? Yes you can. These statements are statistical and therefore lies as we all know. "lies, damned lies and statistics". That's why we gutted Stats Canada right?

Don't get me started. If you are being assaulted, fight back any way you can. It's statistically likely to stop the assault without further injury to you and it's also statistically likely to be good for your mental well-being later on. If you can't do anything right now, wait and watch and think and act when you can. Nobody, especially groups with a political interest in this stuff, gets to tell you what you should do or what you should have done. I'm simply telling you that the statistics favour fighting back. Take a self defence course to give yourself some tools to fight back with and you're more likely to fight back.

It's not rocket science, although one might think so with all the research that gets done.

June 14, 2015


I typed Photography into google and got thousands of pictures of cameras. That's not what I think of when I think of that word.

Similarly, when I think of iaido I don't think of swords. When I think of jodo I don't think of a stick.

I certainly don't think of the technical aspects of taking a photograph, I don't keep a notebook with all my lighting diagrams in it, I don't care about that. I am not even particularly interested in the image that comes at the end of the process.

Any more than I'm interested in looking at video of myself doing iaido. I don't care whether or not I hit all the grading points.

I care about the process.

June 13, 2015

Post-Seminar depression

Lauren just finished up "Quartet-fest", a two week seminar with up to 8 quartets studying intensively with two professional groups. One of the groups has been together for decades because they were told by Shostakovich that they were good together. Nice chops, as they say.

Now she's going through impostor syndrome because her coaches told her she was really good and she's convinced that she'd just faking it really well.

It's post seminar depression of course, the letdown that you get after a concentrated period of coaching, a time when you struggle to make changes and remember what was said to you. It's not so much that you are depressed compared to your normal training life, it's that you've just had a higher dose than usual and are returning to normal.

The trick is to try and sustain some of the new energy you've acquired, and to incorporate some of the instruction. The thing is, some folks get addicted to the experience and want to travel from seminar to seminar, from intensive to intensive thinking that the increased pace is sustainable. Its not. You need periods of normal in order to incorporate and consolidate what you learn in the seminars. The whole point of a seminar is to pile it on at an almost unsustainable level in order to push you up. Seminars are not regular training, at least they ought not to be. (If a seminar is just like regular training, it's just regular training).

Faking it Well

As for impostor syndrome, everyone has it. What you need to remember is that for most of the time, whether you're actually talented or are faking it really well makes no difference. On a technical level there is no faking it at all, you can either do it or not. There is a level at which faking it and getting it can be different, but that's a place where you'll know whether you're faking or not, there won't be a question about it.

Kids Today

Lauren was also flummoxed that a program for up to 8 quartets had three. Three groups, (one from Chile) shared between two instructor groups. It was amazing for her, but she is having a hard time with the Canadian kids not showing up. The fee was double what we just paid at the Guelph seminar, but it was ten days of study so quite cheap by any standards.

It's a mystery to anyone who is devoted to their art that others don't take advantage of chances to learn. For those who are less dedicated there are lots of things that can get in the way of such training. I find myself open-mouthed quite often at the excuses I hear from students who don't show up for amazing chances to learn, but over the years I've come to accept that not everyone is as obsessed as I am.

Frankly, for a lot of folks the more important training is that done every week with their teacher, the seminar with the big expert being something their teacher ought to do. I get that, too many voices can confuse. As I sit in the cafe right now I'm completely out of the conversation because I can't hear a thing. I am effectively deaf in a room with more than two people talking, the same thing can happen with instructions in an art. It takes a special frame of mind to reconcile seemingly conflicting instructions.

Still, if there's a seminar right in your lap, you ought to go. And afterward don't be surprised if you feel a bit depressed, it's normal.

June 12, 2015

I Want an Unbreakable Wood

Found a couple of posts I did on wood and thought I'd put them together for you here. It's been a few years and I'm sure a whole new bunch of folks are looking through the wood databases to find a wood that's unbreakable so that they can do full contact training. Of course we also want a bokuto that's the same weight and balance as a shinken.


Sometimes I'm asked to make such a beast. Often I'm asked about ironwood:

Ironwood is probably best defined as "the toughest damned wood in the area".

So around here you get Ironwood that is Ostrya virginiana, American Hophornbeam or Carpinus caroliniana, American Hornbeam, which one of my students used to call "muscle Beech". The tree looks like it's got rippling muscles. It's a very dense, white wood that is hard to put nails into, and has a grain that can go just about anywhere. Needless to say it's not a commercial lumber.

In the Sonoran desert you'll get Olneya tesota which apparently grows there and nowhere else. It is truly a wood I'd call "iron". Along with snakewood, it doesn't even sound like wood when you knock on it, more like pig iron, it almost rings. X-Pen-Sieve.

The list goes on and on, there's one on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironwood

One ironwood I use a lot is Ipe, Tabebuia sp. which is a Central and South American wood of various species. Very tough stuff, used a lot for underwater pilings since it doesn't rot very easily. Unfortunately, China has discovered it, along with many of the other pretty woods and the price is going up while the availability is going down. This one is used for expensive decks.

Lignum vitae is called ironwood, not much available any more I'm afraid, since it is now CITES listed (as in "do not cut/trade/use this stuff") although it was never my favourite wood to use for weapons. Too heavy and tends to do what it wants to do, I gave in recently and bought the last of a supply. I have a few bokuto, shoto and little knives made of it hanging around if anyone is interested. You'll feint at the price and if I sell it all I might break even on the deal.

Some of the European Olives are called ironwood, and I've seen some olive that is indeed pretty hard. Have never used it for bokuto, made a mirror for the sister in law out of pearwood once I think.

I don't speak Spanish but I always suspected the Bolivian wood Pau Ferro (Caesalpinia echinata) translates as "ironwood". It's a great looking wood that's also become scarce lately due to the great resource-sink known as China.

While some of these woods are really difficult to dent, and incredibly dense, they can also be very brittle and prone to snapping in half.


Hardness is one measure that may help pick a wood for weapons, but one has to realize that there are other factors involved. Hardness may also imply brittleness, just as in steel, so a wood that is very hard may also tend to break or, more usually, splinter more easily than a softer wood which will deform when dented rather than break.

Wood is not homogeneous so some parts may be hard while others may actually be absent. For instance on the Janka hardness scale locust is listed quite a bit higher than oak or maple, but locust has a very large pore structure so the hard parts may crush into the pores and splinter. Red oak vs white oak (filled pores) is another example of this effect.

Flexibility can play a part in the toughness of weapons. Ash is very light and not very hard, but because of the way the fibers run, it's very tough, not likely to break on a large side impact, even though it may dent.

Cross-linking of fibers is also important, I tried a bokuto of Ramin several years ago, very straight grain, very nice long fibers, decent weight and hardness, but it split from tip to butt. This may just have been this one piece, but I never bothered to try it again.

Grain is important, a very hard wood with wonky grain may break on being dropped onto the floor. Bokuto from the same plank can act quite differently depending on grain, how the wood was dried, and sapwood/hardwood transitions. Osage orange has great hardness and deformation numbers and is known as a great weapon wood, but it's not a commercial lumber so getting clear planks (without knots and wonky grain) is tough. It's also not usually dried very consistently so can spring in unpredictable ways when cutting. Once had a piece I cut lock up the sawblade and stall the motor, thankfully it didn't kick back. All in all not a pleasant wood to work with. It's very stiff and can tear out easily when machining. But it will knock the bejeepers out of lesser woods. Incidentally, osage had a big part in converting the US territories into states as the farmers moved onto the cattle range and used Osage to fence their fields.

Even fungal growth can surprise you. Purpleheart is a wood that is very consistent and great for weapons but there's a fungus that actually eats across the grain, you don't see it until the wood is finished somewhat, the signs are quite subtle but if you tap that piece on the floor it will snap in two. Very strange and luckily quite rare, but I have to keep an eye out for it.

Pinworm/powder-post beetles can riddle hickory with holes, again making a very tough wood into something useless for weapons. These things are the "rust" of wood and I fight them constantly in my shop. If you use air dried wood you acquire them.

Hardness can also mean heaviness, you'll notice that most of the harder woods are also very heavy which isn't always the benefit you might think when using weapons in partner practice.

Other Things:

Price is also a definite consideration, all wood weapons eventually break down when used for contact so it doesn't make a lot of sense to be spending hundreds of dollars on rare, endangered and exotic species if you're just going to pound them to pieces. Paradoxically, as a salesman I would also rather folks pound hickory than rosewood, my profit margins are quite low on expensive woods since the starting material is so expensive and the waste is high. Air dried often means unpredictable and most exotics are air dried. Replacing a fancy bokuto is expensive for you and not as profitable for me.

Beauty however, comes into play, as well as the feel of the wood. Hickory is a bit shaggy and not pretty but tough. Cocobolo can be finished so smooth it is in danger of slipping out of your hands.

A named wood can be several species, for instance Ipe or Hickory are usually sold as a set of species. Hickory can even include Pecan which I personally like a lot for a bokuto, it is less stiff than the "impact/select grade" that folks talk about which is really just sorting through and picking out the Shagbark, the hardest of the hickorys. Shagbark is indeed more dent resistant and heavier than the other hickorys, but it gives you quite a bit more shock in the hands than does pecan, and I've found that it can even bruise your palms, whereas a softer hickory will dull the impact a bit. Before you ask, I don't sort my hickory, I've found all of it is just fine for practice, and sorting the finished bokuto for weight is about all I do. That's the instructor in me over-riding the salesman I suspect, but I already sell too many different types, breaking them down further is more work than my lazy butt wants.

How you/your art uses the weapons makes a huge difference. Some schools seem to swing for the other guy's sword, while others swing for the person. Baseball bats won't last long if you swing them against each other or against a telephone pole. On the other hand, even a pine bokuto would likely last a fairly long time doing something like jodo if you were practicing properly. I actually made a bokuto from cedar (even weaker than pine) and used it for many classes of jodo. It is so soft it goes thunk rather than clack when you hit it. While it got quite shaggy and splintery it never broke in half. On the other hand, I could put it over my knee and break it. How? Soft hands, like a baby's behind.

So lots of things to consider and as with everything, a balance is needed, there isn't a single wood that's best for everyone.

Dent resistance, crush resistance, shear resistance, load resistance, all good things, but moderated by weight, grain, looks, price, etc. etc.

Breaking them:

I'm not the one to ask about breaking sticks, I've broken just about everything at one point or another. I don't think there's anything wooden that can't be broken. That includes resin-laminated plywoods that are heavier than lignum and hard as glass. I remember a couple of fellow stickmakers who offered to replace broken bokuto for free. That ends up a challenge I'm afraid, and they end up replacing expensive pieces because someone has wrapped their stick around a telephone pole. Thankfully I don't think anyone offers those challenges any more. I certainly do not replace broken bokuto unless there's a flaw that gets past Brenda.

The exotics can be pretty tough, given the right piece, they can be pretty weak too. Another thing to consider is what you're matching your bokuto against, a super hard and heavy stick will pound a lighter one pretty badly.

June 11, 2015


I think it's a hangover from my youth when fairness seemed to be super important. There's a Lincoln sitting across two parking spaces in my morning cafe. This in a very small, very busy parking lot. I can see the thinking, it's a new car and it's higher class than the Mazdas and the Toyotas whose drivers would probably ding the door. Besides, parking across two spaces means it's easier to get out, and buddy probably has a business meeting. So of course, being a busy and important person, you get to park across two spaces.

I was reaching for my keys.

I see SUVs parked in the laneway of the Mall outside Starbucks. Same thing of course, busy fellow, busier than everyone else, therefore entitled to block traffic while they rush in for a Starbucks. The drivethrough at Timmies is not appropriate of course, since one would prefer a Starbucks, being a higher class of person.

Not long ago a cop was dinged on social media (and fined by his department if I remember rightly) for parking across two spaces while he went in for coffee. One a restricted disabled space.

What is the mindset of folks who do this? I can see the police figuring they are exempt from laws they themselves enforce, who's going to ticket a fellow officer? But it takes a special attitude of entitlement to park a police cruiser in a disabled space and figure nobody will say anything.

"What were you thinking" would be the question. The answer of course is "nothing". You don't do this stuff if you are thinking.

Which brings up the point. I don't do martial arts to learn how to beat people up, I do it as a way of learning how to pay attention, and part of paying attention is to think ahead to the consequences of our actions. As an instructor I need to point out to my students the consequences of moving the wrong way under a sword. Outside class I also try to use what teaching moments I can find.

I think I'll get my keys out and see if buddy is still parked across two spaces.

June 9, 2015

Everywhere I look.

We're at Tombo Dojo for the weekend (my cabin which had an 800 sq. foot dojo built into it on the second floor). There are 9 of us here at the moment, just starting to wake up for the Sunday seminar.

When I'm at the cabin I sometimes tend to keep my head down because everywhere I look I see a job that needs doing. If I sit on the deck I see boards that need replacing and rails that need staining (yes these two are connected). If I look over the railings I see beer caps and coffee cups that need picking up... does everyone believe the wood elves come around and clean up when we leave the place? No, if you drop that beer cap over the rail it's going to be there the next time you come back. Unless I go pick it up of course.

Doing the iaido class yesterday morning I had the same sort of feeling. These guys need work wherever I look. We did the practice where I give them one correction at a time, they go to the back of the line and I give the next one a correction. When they get back in front of me in the rotation they show me the correction. (We didn't do the part where they get sent home if they don't fix it).

About twenty minutes in, it suddenly hit me that these guys are actually pretty good. I was sometimes struggling to find a correction to make. It's the same with the cabin, sure I see lots of jobs around the place but sometimes I step back and look at the whole picture. It's actually a magnificent place. Eight inch logs, 800 square feet of decking, and that thirteen foot high space with a red pine floor we put down last fall. Cold running water, hot water when the sun is shining on the pipe I threw up on one of the decks.

It's worth keeping the head down once in a while and enjoying the place.

It's also worth not looking for a correction to make once in a while, or even just letting these guys get on with it. One of them just walked out onto the deck with an obi and an iaito so that he can work on his corrections from yesterday.

As a teacher it's my job to find things for them to improve, but sometimes it's a bit hard and I'm tempted to make something up. I mean, do I really need to varnish the pine planks down the hallway walls? A natural finish does develop on pine after a few years, and it looks better than any stain you could apply to the new wood. It's patina, and you can't slap it on out of a can.

I'm not going to look at the guy outside, he doesn't need advice, he needs time to develop his own patina on his iai.

Yesterday afternoon was a lot easier for me, we were learning Kage Ryu on the sand. A baseball team worth of keikogi-clad folks sitting around Sauble Beach having coffee and shopping, then swinging five foot long bokuto on the beach was quite an attraction. It was a lot of fun in the sun to teach a brand new art, the learning curve was pretty steep, even more so than usual since these swords are supposed to be at the very edge of what you can draw and put back into the saya. My job was embarassingly easy, show it and then let them try to do it. I really felt like I wasn't earning my pay. Sort of like when we put in the dojo floor, that job was not the same as picking up empty coffee cups around the cabin or washing the walls, it was a dramatic improvement for a short period of effort.

I think it's worth remembering this as a teacher. If I'm teaching a bunch of people who have been practicing seitei gata iai for upwards of ten years my job is going to be like washing windows. Sure it needs doing, but if you get your nose too close to the pane you'll be scraping at fly poop with your thumbnail when all you really need to do is get the dust off of it. Step back once in a while and see if you really need to be digging in the corner of the frame at that fleck of paint.

Enjoy the view instead, I suspect if you really want to work (or teach) there is a much easier job waiting if you turn around and look.

Low hanging fruit.

Here's the lesson, if you keep picking at the corners of that windowpane to "clean it" you run the risk of breaking the seal and now things will start to fall apart.

If you keep correcting an iai kata that's just fine, that only needs a bit of time to develop the patina of age, you run the risk of messing it up. I've got splotches of paint on the sauna where I touched up little areas of poor coverage with a mis-tinted paint. Looks a lot worse than when I "fixed it".

Do the big jobs, the low hanging fruit and the little ones might just get fixed along the way. It wouldn't be the first time I picked up the beer caps along with the wood scraps after building a shed. In fact I seem to recall hearing a few "aha" comments about seitei iai while the folks were learning kage.

If it's a tough job, you may get it done by sneaking up on it.

June 6, 2015

What are you looking at?

Just what is it that you look at when you're watching a budo video on the net? One thing you're not looking at is the micromovements and intentions of the participants. I know this because I spend a lot of time yelling at one of my students about not getting those right and making her do it again while we're filming. Then I go look at the four or five takes and realize that even while I know exactly what I was seeing in each, they all look the same.

Do you look at the techniques, trying to see "how those guys do it"? Nothing wrong with that, it gives you a wider point of view. Unless it doesn't and you just look at how wrong those guys are.

How about looking for the correct (exact, specified, model) way that your seitei gata is performed? I just watched the jodo demonstration at the world kendo championships and the one thing I did not do is look for all the minor corrections I got a couple weeks ago. The hachidan demonstrating has been to Guelph but he wasn't the hachidan we had this year. Instead I looked at timing and distance and stance and the shape of the cuts and the grip and all that sort of fun stuff. Technique, as in the exact angle of this or that, is not something that you can pick up from any old sensei. Unless it's written in the book they are not going to match each other. Even doing the same exact cut twice in a row is difficult, which is why such things as tameshigiri into the same cut you just made is so impressive.

I opine about what I see, I look for ways to break the kata. That gives me insight into my own weaknesses. I also look, as I do on a grading panel, for strengths, for what each person does well.

What I don't look at, and often I will cut a video off (who has time to watch all of everything), is twitchiness. Speed doesn't impress me if it's combined with imbalance, tight, small cuts and obviously memorized dance movements. I know I must make dancers angry by accusing bad martial art of being "dance" but what I mean is bad dance, dance that is obviously poorly memorized. Movement that is self-referential and self-conscious, with no regard for the partner or anything around. In other words, memorize the movements and do them as fast as you can.

The equivalent out the window here is the guy in the red car who just swept across the crosswalk because he can turn right on the red and intends to do it. Never mind the girl on the sidewalk he almost ran over. This guy will end up jumping a green and getting t-boned by a guy who is pushing it to get through an orange. They'll both be well satisfied that they were right. You can go on a green and you can go if it's not red!

Watch for the good stuff, it's out there, and if you can't find it, watch for what's good in the awful stuff you're seeing.

June 2, 2015


Everyone has one, and apparently so have I. I discovered this while looking at videos on the net. After a statement a few days ago that I do not offer comments on other people's koryu performance it might seem odd that I would have opinions, but having them and offering them are two different things.

Of course I have an opinion on a budo performance, it's my job as a grading panelist to give my independent assessment on those in front of me so without an opinion I'm just a decoration for a head judge who dicatates the passes and fails. As a fellow who is serious about my koryu practice, where there are no gradings to opine about, I also require an opinion. That opinion is upon my own performance, and on that of others to whom I compare myself. So naturally it carries on to an opinion on those who demonstrate their arts on the net, arts that I may or may not practice, I judge them all.

Should I? Certainly, why not? There are lots of things to judge, timing, distance, cutting, body mechanics. It's good practice to look closely at the good and the bad, and it's practical from an antique budo point of view. Looking at potential opponents before an actual match could save your life.

The "but" of all this today is the same as in the past. You need to judge, to look for places where you can win a fight, but you also have to look for the hidden strengths, the places where you think you know what's happening but you are fooled. When looking at someone who is doing my arts I can be pretty sure I know that a weakness is a weakness, but an art I don't practice can include movements I'm mis-interpreting. It's instructive to find those places that I think are weak which are actually strong. It isn't as if I haven't fallen into that trap in the past. There's many a time I can recall attacking a weak position only to find myself tied up in a knot on the ground, slapping the mat. Nothing encourages humble like getting wrestler sweat ground into your cheek.

Even someone doing an art I practice has to be watched carefully. Very few people are one-trick ponies and a lot of folks will have other arts and other techniques at their disposal should the need for them arise. It won't do to move into someone's weak spot only to find oneself at a disadvantage from a technique of another art.

So what do I opine about? Crap technique, certainly. Weak swings and awkward hasuji and many other things but mostly I look for those strengths. It's a lot harder to disguise strength than it is to disguise weakness (the best way to disguise weakness is not to post videos of your demonstrations on the net).

Look for the strengths of each person and you'll learn a lot more than sneering at the faults.

June 1, 2015

Who's your gramma

In the koryu arts that I practice, I know exactly who taught me. In most cases it was one sensei whose lineage I also know. In one case I'm a bit of a mix between two teachers at the insistance of my sensei, but I also know both lineages. That's important in the koryu since "lineage is legitimate" and we all want to be legitimate.

The martial arts are taught in very similar ways to music. I've often asked my daughter about her lineage, I suspect it's quite interesting, but she's never asked. Why is that? She's familiar with my, well let's call it obsession, with the genealogy of instruction but she isn't fussed about it at all.

Is it only martial artists? Is it only me? I wonder how much of this is predicated on testability. After all, the kendo folks don't seem all that obsessed with lineage, they learn from many people and what works in the match is what they value. Similarly, my daughter plays, the proof of her instruction is in the music, if she's making beautiful music she's content that she was taught well.

In the koryu it's a bit more slippery. How do I know what I know is known well? First, I have to have faith in what I was taught, and that's where the lineage thing comes in. I have faith in my lineage. That lets me trust the kata long enough for that kata to start teaching me what it knows. I'm sorry, that sounds a bit strange but the kata contain knowledge that you can access if you trust that your training is solid. Any art does. I will bet that if you play a piece of classical music, and you have been trained well, you will understand what the composer was thinking at the time, why he wrote the piece, what understanding about music he put into it.

Which brings us to seitei iai and jo. Like my daughter's music instruction, which is tested by the creation of music as vs noise, like the kendo player's success on the court, seitei success is measured in the approach to an objective standard in testing. That is, your instruction can be tested in the grading process. This means that it doesn't really matter who teaches you seitei, as long as it's taught to the current standard. Note I said current. With no need for a specific lineage, how does one keep the art unified? Except in specific instances, such as when outside groups begin using the zen ken ren iai for their own purposes, that control is maintained by reference to a somewhat shifting standard. That is, you need to keep up with changes coming out of Tokyo to keep passing your exams. Is this done in a cynical way? Not at all, in fact the efforts to keep things standardized, and "unchanging" are what make the passing standards drift. There is nothing on earth that doesn't contain variation (that's quantum he says) so the effort to propogate a standard from a point source will almost guarantee "changes" down the lines. The meaningful "lineage" in seitei is "anyone who has been at the latest seminar and can be trusted not to have misunderstood the instruction". Hence, multiple teachers are not a problem. If they're OK you pass your next grade, if not, you know quickly how good their instruction was. There you go, the free market and it's corrections.

This year at the recent seminar the word was "beautiful", our seitei ought to be beautiful. I'm good with that, if I dig far enough I'll find where I said that same thing years ago. If it looks good, it's correct. The other thing, for anyone looking for my comments on what I learned at the seminar, is to push with the back foot. Go figure, it's the kendo federation.

We all want to know that we're learning stuff that's real. Few people, in my experience, will admit to learning stuff that is "incorrect". Even cosplayers, people who dress up as fantasy characters, will argue over the authenticity of their laser-lance or their bunny ears. With some things we can test for authenticity. With your bowing and fingering techniques you can play that Mahler piece or you can't. Can't? Bad teacher or bad student. With your hiki-men you can win the championships or not. With your beautiful iai you can pass the next grading or not.

But much of koryu is different. Without gradings how do you test your skill? If it's jodo or another partner art you could practice with someone new. Do you have the control to change your movements within kata to prevent injury or are you simply in automatic pilot? That is some sort of a test, certainly. With a bit more skill you might try staying within the kata but push it toward trying to hit each other, except for the very last blow.... sound dangerous? It is. For iai, which is a solo art, how do we test it? We can't, it's a live blade and short of deaths and dismemberments, there isn't a way. Hence the testing and grading stuff in front of a panel, or the paper given to you by your teacher.

No, the only way you can do a gut-check on your koryu (outside of grading systems) is to trust the lineage, and to trust it you first have to know it.

Go find out who your gramma is.

May 31, 2015

The secrets are out

Back in the day we were not supposed to demonstrate anything in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu iai except the formal kata. Now I see folks demonstrating the bangai and hayanuki and all sorts of variations, some of which they seem to have made up.

Why the change?

I think it has to do with the same reason karate demonstrations include kicking and punching drills. The purpose of the demonstration has changed. A hundred years ago a demonstration was likely a presentation before high-ranking officials. It was an honour to be invited to show your art and you treated it as such, showing only the pure form and certainly not showing practice exercises.

Now we organize our own demonstrations in malls and parks in the hope of attracting students. A different purpose and so a different demonstration. Karate clubs will show kick and punch drills so that potential students can see what they're signing up for. The equivalent in iaido is the bangai and the variations in kata? Along with, perhaps, walking up and down the hallway cutting.

Is this a good thing? I'm not sure, why show people that iaido can get even more boring than doing a kata? Who will that attract? Similarly I'm not sure doing three minutes of mokuso followed by ten minutes of explaining the scoring system is a good way to attract kendo students. Do some kiri kaeshi to warm up and then whack each other I say. Show the good stuff and leave them wanting more.

On the other hand, to an intermediate student the iaido variations are the fun stuff, so perhaps that's the reasoning, the bangai are longer and so more interesting than doing the fundamentals.

Do I have it right? Are demonstrations including the variations and bangai to attract new students or are modern students just not thinking about what they're doing when they present the art to the public?

May 30, 2015

Grading at senior levels

Once again this topic comes up. This time my federation has asked its higher grade iaido members if they would be willing to travel to grade, within the country or overseas. Some said yes, some no, some said maybe a little.

The reasons were discussed a bit, with the usual range of things being discussed. Me, I didn't answer the survey because I'm done with iai grading. There are three 7dan ahead of me to get 8dan before I even think about it, and I have no personal desire for the grade. There is also no need for me to have the rank, so all in all, I am done with it.

Why would I not try anyway? I could I suppose, being semi-retired means I've got the time and I could find the money I suspect, but I just have no reason to bother. Here's my personal story.

I started my grading career in 1981, a year I suspect, after I started Aikido. I went through 5 kyu grades in five years and got shodan in 1991 I think. That was a teaching rank then, and the rank at which I could award kyu grades on my own and put my students forward for shodan. I have no idea if that is still the case but back then it was the finish of my gradings. The next functional rank was 6dan which was automatically shihan then, which meant you could award dan rank. I had no reason to continue grading.

Sometime around that shodan mark (1987 roughly) I started practicing iaido in the CKF (I actually started iai in 1983) and it involved no ranking at all. There wasn't any grading system since the CKF didn't have an iaido section for several years. No problem, I wasn't much impressed with grading after 11 years of it. Eventually an iaido section was created and I entered the grading system because we needed panels in order to grow the art.

While some people can't be bothered with grading, most want it. When gradings happen, numbers rise, it's that simple.

My reasons for grading in iai have always been organization-related (the need for rank to grow the organization). My last self-testing grade would probably be my aikido ikkyu, the shodan came 6 years later at a seminar simply "because it was there". What I'm saying is that I too wanted the gradings at the beginning, they provided structure and incentive and all that usefull stuff. By ikkyu though, I'd been through the curriculum and what was left was training for the rest of my life. No sweat, I didn't need incentive at that point, gradings were of no use to me, especially since I was still with my sensei.

Now I hold the iai rank required to sit a panel up to the top grade that we test for in the CKF. All my iai rank has been to benefit the organization, I didn't go through that beginner phase where grading was useful to me, I started practice "to practice" as a natural extension of my previous art.

I know very few people who get to ten years of practice without having that same flip in attitude toward grading. You start grading for yourself, but at some point you are grading for the organization.

Up to now I haven't mentioned such things as ego-gratification or self-esteem issues as grading incentive, I didn't forget them, I just don't care about them.

If I never grade again for any art I might practice it won't matter to me. Not personally. In fact, the koryu arts I practice have no grading systems for me to join. I practice them because I... well I suppose because I have to. My students practice them for the same reason, I don't give them a choice about it.

So, back to the survey. I think the question was a bit umm, I don't have the word for it, misguided, misdirected? To ask senior people how far they would travel to grade seems to imply that they wish to grade. That grading is something they ought to be willing to spend for. It's the wrong question really. Ask me how far I would travel or how much money I would spend to support my organization, not how far I'm willing to travel to grade. The answer to the latter is "no distance at all", I hate travel and will not stir from my seat here at the window to go grade anywhere. I don't want to grade. To be clear, I also don't want to sit grading panels either, and will actively try to avoid all such things.

On the other hand, ask me if I'm willing to spend time and money to travel to get a grade that the organization needs, and you might get a different answer. Would it bother me if the organization made it mandatory to go grade overseas so that I don't have to sit panels any more?

Go ahead, ask me.

May 29, 2015

You get what you pay for

I've talked about this before. I don't charge for my classes and get a couple new folks wandering in every couple months. Some stay, some go and many make a class a month or so. I charge nothing so that's more or less what the instruction seems to be worth. On the other hand, we've got folks around that pay exactly the same rent I do (nothing at the University) and charge hundreds of dollars for a class. They always seem to have five or six times the students we do.

It's worth what you pay for it.

I was talking today to some vendors at a flea market about pricing. I found a very strange inuit sculpture at their table, it seems to have been made of some sort of composite material, maybe a fine gravel plaster thing, painted and finger-sculpted. It came from an estate with a lot of inuit art and before I asked about it they said "we can make you a deal on that, we can double the price if you'd like". I laughed and knew instantly what they were talking about. Folks can't believe you'd charge a low price for something valuable. If it's a low price that must be what it's worth.

At the seminar we just presented we provided lunches for a low price, but it's pizza so nobody expects much. We also provide a drink with lunch and we leave the drinks out all day. At the end of the seminar I must have picked up 50 or 60 half empty water bottles, pop cans or juice containers. They're free I guess, worth nothing, so it's not worth keeping track of yours, take a slug and go get another when you want another slug.

Another instructor who has dojo parties commented that at one time the beer was free. He too picked up a lot of half empty bottles at the end of the night. He started charging a dollar a beer and they suddenly needed half the number of cases per party. No more half empty bottles either.

If you pay for it, it's worth something I guess.

I'm at the cabin now and I notice that the fire pit contains not deadfall and other scrap from around the place, but heating cordwood. In fact a rather large dent has been made in the stocks. Want fire... hey here's a bunch of really nice wood all neatly stacked up, just carry to the pit and burn.

Not a lot of thought there, it's just lying around to be used right? Now it's half burned in the pit and I'm going to be calling the wood guy for another couple cords for next winter.

If we charged for cordwood I bet the deadfall would appear at the marshmellow roast. It's family so I don't want to "make a rule", neither do I want to ration water bottles or get into the bother of charging for instruction, but holy doodle, I wish folks would think about the worth of things in terms other than money. It isn't free if you didn't pay for it, not even split hardwood, certainly not pop, and yes, not even my instruction.

Don't get me started on first-time photo models who want to get paid. I'd like to point out that my day rate was $1200 when I worked as a commercial photographer. Just because I'm working for free doesn't mean you get paid, especially if I'm teaching you your end while doing mine. Most especially if I have no commercial use for the photos. I'm just keeping my hand in.

It's worth what effort someone put into it. That's what it's worth.

If it was bought and gifted to you, it's worth something. If you use what someone else bought, it's worth something. If someone is doing something for you, it's worth that effort. Sweat equity it's called.

In a cashless economy where every currency transaction will be auto-monitored by the tax folks, you're going to have to figure out what things are worth in the barter economy that will replace the grey-market cash economy we have now. May as well get used to figuring out the worth of something when there's no price tag hanging off it.

May 23, 2015

When Dave leaves the Bar

My friend Dave is the first person most people see as they arrive at our annual spring seminar. Has been for all 25 of them. Folks see Dave to check in, and after two or three days of practice they go home but the seminar is still going. We pack up, clean up and add up for quite a while. Then there's the sensei who are still around, they don't get to go home for quite a while, although this year it's earlier. Yesterday they went for ice cream as we collected the t-shirts, sales items and detritis of 150 swordsmen who can generate a very large number of half full bottles of water which all have to be found under the benches where they rolled.

By the way, Lauren says thank you to all who bought swag from her band, they made $200.

Dave was there with his truck, loading and unloading stuff to the warehouse, the minions were there too. Hey, it's their name, not mine, they call themselves Pam's Minions because they exist to jump to her command. Without them not a lot gets done and they let Pam do some practice.

OK I'll explain a bit further for those who wonder how we did this thing 25 times. For a month before the seminar it's the Pamurai who books rooms, organizes lunches and generally sorts things out so that we can get started. During the seminar it's Dave, Liz, Carole and a few other key players who have straight jobs and do them well, but it's also the minions who fill in everywhere. They're the guys you see running by with boxes and trays, hakamas flying behind them. They hang around and jump in whenever anyone "in charge" looks frazzled, they sneak up behind and listen until they figure out what needs doing, then they go do it and come back saying "all done, not to worry".

And after, it's Dave doing the books from the various revenue sources that pay for this thing. He hands me a big bag full of his unique accounting notes and all is done. My side of this is to ask him "all good?" and he says "yes" and I go to the bank to pay off my credit cards.

That's the mechanics. It is chaotic, it is messy, but it seems to work so I've learned not to poke it. Way back down on the farm I learned not to try to fix the tractor, you jiggled the distributor cap and slapped the solenoid and then pushed the ignition and you got to work.

We often get offers of help and always accept, but "never follow up". What needs doing most is pretty obvious, garbage picked up, tables and chairs folded and stacked, floors swept, shoes straightened, all the things you would do for your kids. Those that can look around and jump in to help with what needs doing are annointed minions. Lots of attendees simply practice as is their right. You pay for a seminar you get to relax and practice, that's the rule and it's a good one. Too many helpers just get in each other's way but just enough means minions aren't collapsing on day three.

Last night we needed to take the sensei to the airport hotel instead of this morning so after ice cream and then a last dinner at the bar, the convoy took off to loads of photos and hugs, then I came back through surprisingly clear roads and met the last of the seminar for final drinks and wings. Four of us closed down the seminar (and the bar) proving once again that...

The seminar is not over until Dave leaves the bar.

Many thanks to everyone who came and practiced, some extra to those who helped the kids out.

May 19, 2015

May 5

Today seems to be May 5, that makes it exactly fourty years ago today that I showed up on the University of Guelph Campus for my first day of classes. I left High School early to avoid those last couple of months of grade 13 and so never did graduate High School. Got a UG matriculation paper somewhere, probably in the same box in a warehouse that my various martial arts paper is. In other words it's as lost as my BSc and MSc.

That makes 2/3 of my life spent here in Guelph. Hmm. My son is worried that he still has no plan in life, hah, I never did get one going. I spent the years since 1975 just "going with the flow", I had a set of principles rather than a plan. As far as I know, they haven't changed much.

Do what you say you will do.
Live like a student.
Play nice.
Life is not fair.
Own what you do.
Nobody owes you a living.
Debt is toxic.
Give it back and pay it forward.
If it doesn't scare the horses, go ahead and do it.
Stop your whining and finish the job.
If you can't sleep, get up and read your book.
Don't be stupid. (Probably my favourite).
Go with the flow.

Stuff like that. Stuff that wasn't dogma imposed from some authority, just things I learned from the family and those I grew up with. Are they "small town values"? In the late 60s early 70s? Are you kidding? I was as counter-culture as you could get in rural SW Ontario. You know the place, Saturday night on the back roads with a case of beer, empties heading for stop signs and mail boxes.

Did I always live up to my principles (such as they were, they sure don't look as lofty as some). Nah, I was a jerk much of the time, still have mood swings where I snap at people and I'm getting generally "old man cranky". But overall they have served me well. I'm happy with them, and they worked.

Somewhere along the way (OK 1980) I found the martial arts and all the various rules included in those seemed to mesh with mine pretty well. I'm still noodling around in the arts and they've provided me with a nice hobby for my declining years. The overall effects have been positive, some joint problems that I'd likely have anyway and an overall fitness reserve that seems to be holding up.

No real point to this, I just want the kids to know they don't have to have a plan at 20. I'm still looking at their schools thinking I ought to go get that PhD to provide my life with some direction.


May 5, 2015

Practice is pointless

Or at least it ought to be. If you are practicing FOR something you are not likely to keep working beyond your goal. If I am practicing FOR the big match, once the match is over I have no more reason to practice.

Same with writing, if I have no reason to write, I tend not to write. Now, long ago as a poet I learned that not having an idea is the surest way to shut down the creative drive. So you do the mechanical thing. If I look back over my journals I see that each new date tends to have a little poem about sitting down to write with my new pen, or my new notebook, or some comment on the weather or the coffee in front of me.

We do the same when we meet someone. When I was a kid my cousin and I used to meet the next day or even a week later and instantly start into the conversation we had when last we met. I would bet that's a rare thing. We make some social noises to warm up don't we? How are you, nice weather we're having, did you see the game last night? I had a meeting with one of my financial advisors (yes I've got more than one) last week and we went through about 2.6 minutes worth of him asking me how it was going. I went along because it got us both comfortable with each other once more, then we got into the part where I have to trust him not to lose all my money. The idle chit-chat ahead of time established that trust, he asked and I answered and that let me see that he was paying attention to me.

I'm not keen on idle talk, or idleness at all for that matter. If I'm having coffee I'm writing this stuff. If I'm eating I'm reading, but that sort of idle talk is necessary for other things and so it is done.

Many things are done for their inherent value. If I'm driving I'm driving (I like to save my life, and those around me, on a minute to minute basis and if you're in control of a destructive device as powerful as a car it's absolutely essential to save lives minute by minute. I watch too much stupidity on the intersection in front of me not to understand this.

Practice? It's in the form of warming up for life, like that poem about coffee, it's warming up. You do it. It's not like eating which you can do automatically because you're refueling (you eat FOR energy) and so you read. Practice is done for itself, or you don't continue doing it beyond the goal.

Should I be reading while eating? No, I should be in the moment, I should be paying attention. You don't want to know all the things I've put in my mouth by mistake while reading. Driving, practice, OK eating, all ought to be done in and of themselves rather than FOR anything. It's all part of paying attention. If you drive to get from point A to B you're driving FOR something and you might be tempted to eat, or text, or do some other stupid thing because you're only driving FOR something.

Practice FOR practice. No music to distract yourself, no thinking that you're working out to lose weight or to live forever, just practice. Pay attention to what you're doing and you might actually improve, but that's a side effect. You practice because that's what you're doing, and you do it because that's what you do.

Go practice.

May 4, 2015

The best defence

The best defence is a good offence. You've heard this one yes?

We know it isn't true. If we look at our kata we realize quickly that most of them start with an offence from uchidachi, the senior side, and a response, that works, from shidachi. So the good offence is defeated by the defence and response.

To make the saying true, we must assume that an opponent can't attack while he is defending. But we practice that all the time. We attack while defending and we defend while attacking.

We could make the statement true if we assume that a successful attack is the best defence but that's meaningless. To win a fight you should win the fight. Umm OK thanks teach.

Cannon fodder

To be cannon fodder is usually defined as being wasted. You're thrown up against the cannons and blasted to bits. Yet from a wider perspective, cannon fodder can make sense. If you throw the inexperienced, mostly useless troops up against the cannon and follow up with good troops you might just get across the killing ground before the cannon are reloaded. History is full of commanders who put their weak troops in the middle of the line to be killed and driven back making a pocket so that the stronger troops can then fold in on the attackers from the flanks.

One can send the civilians and the kids out to clear the minefields. Not nice, but war isn't nice is it? Is it? Depends on how far away from it you are I suppose. Since you don't lead from the front any more, national leaders have little problem sending "their" soldiers out to die. Nations who are a generation away from a war might start thinking it's a romantic thing, similarly young men who haven't the life experience. Handy combination isn't it? I wonder how many dabblers in wars would be dabbling if the leaders had to be in the front lines, or even in the same country?

Cannon fodder can also be a military option, sometimes the only one. In the Korean War my father told me of the human wave tactics of the Chinese army. His tank was parked on a hill, he had a block of wood that prevented the barrel of the 50 calibre machine gun hitting the front trenches of his troops, and he would just depress, sweep and fire when asked. Bodies piled up in front of the trench during an attack, cannon fodder by every definition. But if you have no other option you use what you have. In that same war I was told of the tactics of rifles in the front ranks, knives in the second and bodies in the third. You picked up the weapons of those in front.

How does a military with bodies but no equipment fight? Human waves of cannon fodder. How does a military that can't afford too many casualties counter these tactics? More and better cannon. We see this through history, better equipment means fewer bodies wasted. In the second world war you saw the Russian armies spending bodies, the German armies using the highest tech equipment around, and the US/British/Canadian armies using mass-produced lower-tech equipment. Cannons as cannon fodder.

But equipment costs a lot, and you have to use it eventually. One thing that isn't seen as much any more is using that money to buy what you need, instead of military equipment to fight with. Rich countries have paid tribute to powerful militaries and it has worked. Used to be the main reason for having a strong army at one time. The USA bought half a continent from France with the Louisiana purchase, and then Alaska from Russia. In fact, the world's most powerful military for the last hundred years hasn't won much in the way of land, they did much better when simply buying it. Seems more efficient to me.

Instead of spending money on cannons to kill cannon fodder, why are we not buying countries? For what was spent in the wars of the middling east in the last 20 years I'm sure we could have bought the real estate instead. Divide the money spent by the population of the region and see if that wouldn't be enough to entice you to sell your house and lot, especially if it were rented back to you at a reasonable rate.

Demographics. To understand cannon fodder you need to look at the numbers of teenage boys (and sometimes girls) who are available to throw into those human waves.

April 21, 2015

Small Comforts

I was just starting to think that in a past life I had really annoyed some old man who was just trying to get along and do some practice. You know, karma catching up.

It is nice to be reminded that I'm not the only one who is tired of having to reinvent the wheel every single year, and fight for the priviledge of teaching the students at the University for nothing while the University complains that we aren't making them enough money and that we have to pay to get into the building, and to rent the room and.... well if you're in a similar institution you understand the complaint don't you. People who are supposed to be in charge of programs for students who figure that they'll be paid anyway if there are no programs for them to take care of.

Last night a few of us went for beers and reassured each other that "it isn't us". Having figured that out, we have started looking into spaces in town. After all, if we have to pay for the chance to teach for free, why not give our money to someone who will appreciate it? As one of the boys said, it would be nice to be able to plan for more than a year in advance.

I've felt that way for a decade or more, each fall has been a wiping of the brow and a feeling of "yes, one more year got through". It's not a feeling of neglect or uncaring that we feel around the place, it's a feeling of active hostility, trying to push you out of the place for some reason. I don't know why, there aren't any groups crying for the spaces or times we use, and in a year they will have double the space they have sitting empty now.

Kind of a shame, I've been in that building since 1975, that's 40 years, almost 35 of them teaching. When I started we had one of the most amazing martial arts programs around, have had it for 40 years. Back then the staff was all for us, they saw the benefit of an activity that people could participate in for the rest of their lives. They helped, mostly by staying out of the way. Now it's got nothing to do with exercise, life-long learning or community. Now it's money. In 40 years I've gone from being a member of a group to being a client who needs to be shaken down for as much cash as possible.

Well at least I know it ain't me, it's the place and, fond that I am of the old building, it's the community that mattered. The community that doesn't exist any more.

Places can be replaced, all I need for my art is a ceiling that I won't injure and a floor that won't injure me. We're starting to look, maybe the entire martial arts program of the University will simply roll on down the hill.

They won't even know we're gone.

April 18, 2015

Water fits into anything

Water fits into any shape container. This is an analogy that has been used for hundreds of years in the Japanese sword arts. I expect it came from a Chinese military text and taken up by writer after writer in Japan.

What's it mean? It means get beyond the kata, get beyond the technical and start adapting to the shape of the container you find yourself in. Be a bit fluid in your attitude. Go with the flow.

Kata is a container, it contains the waza of your school, the techniques that you put together to make a kata. If you figure the kata are the important things you will try to fit a kata to a fight and it will be hard. If all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

Make your kata too rigid and you don't have water, you've got ice (if you're lucky). Something frozen won't adapt, it will, however, break nicely. Iaido is a great place to find brittle kata and brittle attitudes. With no partner to change the shape of the kata, the shape can become the important thing, to the point where one might forget what the vessel is for. It's nice to have a pretty mug sitting empty on a display shelf, but if you're thirsty you can't drink that mug.

Partner kata will force you to adapt to small changes, to stir the water about. Moving water takes longer to freeze, and if it stays liquid it might even adapt to a radically different shape container. It keeps that possibility, certainly. Think of partner kata as a mug that gets shaken around.

A competitive match is even more random, consider a match a balloon that two people have their hands on, a vessel that changes shape. If you figure chudan is the best kamae for kendo that's one thing, if you figure it's the only kamae you may have trouble trying to force every match, every balloon, into the same shape.

On the other hand, water alone is hard to hold, if you don't have a container it goes all runny and useless. You can smack someone in the head with a sack of water and do some damage, throw the same amount of water at them without the sack and they will just laugh at you. I found my practice of Aikido to be like trying to put water into a sock, rather than a sack. Often there was no shape to the practice at all, just a bunch of technique that I was trying to shove into some sort of shape. It's hard to push water into a shape without a container. Of course I was too young to understand how to find shapes for the techniques, and being impatient, I started iaido to get the shapes. I didn't realize it at the time, I simply wanted a more defined place to work on my balance and posture without some gumby flopping around, attached to my wrist.

People say "in a fight there are no rules". They also say "you fight like you train". So we should train with no rules? We should spray water around in hopes of enough of it hitting our opponent that he'll get waterlogged and fall over?

We train with rules, otherwise we can't find the techniques. Aikido kata in my line are created by the sensei on the spot, if we don't spend enough time on each, we lose the chance to really fill them up. We usually don't spend that time, students wanting to go on to the next one and sensei agreeing because it's boring to watch students.

Competitive matches have rules, those are the container within which we learn the techniques. Too much worry about winning and we lose the chance to fill up the container fully. We find a couple of things that work and "use them to death".

Kata has a shape and kata based arts spend lots of time filling up the container. Why do schools tend to increase the number of kata over the years (and sometimes decrease them)? Know too few kata and you spend all your time poking around in the little nooks and crannys up in the corner of that Toby-mug's ear. We start to crawl up our own fundament. So a sensei invents another kata or six for us to fill up. On the other hand, if students can't get to all the kata because they've "got a life", none of the kata get filled up and it's time to focus on fewer of them.

It's not a disaster if we have some lost kata around, you can only drink out of one cup at a time... well when I was a student I could do a waterfall of four glasses and I knew guys who could do eight, but you know what I mean.

I think I've pushed this water thing around long enough, time to stop drinking coffee and float out of here before my back teeth float out of my mouth.

April 17, 2015

Kata is not Combat

Going through a new/review set of kata yesterday when I detected a certain slackness in the class. We've been going through a lot of kata as the year winds down and the students are heading home for the summer. There's a tendency when doing that to want to get along to the next one so we can get through the material.

All well and good if we were just running through ways to win a sword fight. You can hit from this angle, slip to the side here if he does that.... but kata isn't combat. Even when running through things fast you need to try to do them accurately. The kata are an assembly of movements that let you shift from one strong posture to another. They are a string of kamae if you'd like to put it that way.

I know, Musashi and I say that there are no kamae but then we say there are. It's true, there are stronger body alignments and weaker ones. Amazing isn't it. The kata teach how to move from strength to strength without too much weakness between. The hips teach us which way to point those strong positions since every kamae has a strong and a weak direction. We usually want the strong position to be pointed at the bad guy.

Every kata has strange stutters and gaps in it. A timing that seems to be full of gaps. They really are full of gaps, and these are for safety. You can reduce them as you and your partner get better, but they are there for safety. It's not hard to break a kata by moving inside one of those gaps, but at real world timing the gap might just not be there. Then there are the kata that I see on the 'net where a couple of kids have memorized the movements and are doing them as two independent sequences of movements that happen to involve someone else in occasional contact. Take the kata and run through it as fast as you possibly can. That's fine as an exercise, not as a demonstration for public display. Doing a kata with all the pauses taken out will show you all the bad kamae, all the off-balance positions you can get into when you're dancing and not paying attention to your opponent. In other words, what you need to work on. These kids? Tap them at the wrong time (pretty much any time) and they'd end up in the middle of the audience or a heap on the floor. Fast is for the time between the start of the swing and your moving out of the way. For that you need to start from a place of stillness and relaxation. Automatic movements, memorized, habitual movements that are used to do something super-fast from start to finish are not particularly useful. Unless you're competing in a timed event like a sprint.

We need to be accurate in the movements and the timing of the kata so that we can get along to the time when we play with the positions and the timing and the rhythms in order to understand those things. We need to have the movements memorized so that we aren't suddenly hitting someone's hand while cutting into a space that was supposed to be a space. If we know all the moves we aren't thinking about the next one, we're paying attention to our partner and can stop the swing. Yesterday I began a kata and stopped, my partner swung down to the floor beside me. As I was giving her hell for chasing my sword instead of trying to hit me, she told me she swung to the side to avoid hitting me on the head. Maybe I buy that, but I always figured if you can change the direction of a cut you can probably stop it instead. Since my head isn't bleeding this morning I'll be happy she changed the direction and even more happy to see that she's trying to hit me. Better that than being scared I won't get out of the way. That's what I mean by memorizing the kata, once you're both happy that you will get out of the way or block or whatever, you can start to cut a bit more freely.

The thing I did? I didn't just freeze half way through a step, I made no preparatory movements, gave no body language that I was about to do the next movement of the kata. Eventually I'm sure my partner will see that sort of thing and start with the "mind reading" that comes with practice. Then she'll stop over my head rather than redirect the cuts. She'll know I'm not moving out of the way. I was once taught to cut and stop my sword above my partner's head so they could sweep it aside. My first thought was "that's a cheat to make the kata look good for the punters". A few years later it was "I'm the teacher side so I'm allowing the junior side to learn how to do the movement". Now it's more like "if there's a head there stop. If my sword is swept to the side, no problem". All three ways of looking at it are correct for different skill levels.

What about the kata where I was told to cut in front of the head? To miss in other words. That one started with "you cut here to let your junior stretch out and make a full movement". Sure, but a few years later I'm thinking "why is the kata set up like that? What's the likelihood of getting an opponent to cut short during a fight?" More easy than you might think apparently, judging by the number of sword schools that have kata where you do just that, but never mind, in the case I'm thinking of, I'm starting to see that we aren't really cutting short, we're cutting to where our opponent is about to be. The problem is a gap. At the moment we're about to cut down at our partner we pause for half a beat to make sure they're paying attention, then we step and cut. It's almost irresistable that we cut for where they are standing, where they're pausing. Take out that gap, where would they normally be on that next step? One step closer right? So we're not stopping and then cutting in front of them, at a full run we'd be cutting where their head would be on that final step forward.

Want to take the time to explain and demonstrate all that to a beginner? Of course not, so tell them to cut in front of the face. And if they ask why, tell them it's so the partner can stretch out. If they're around in 10 years they'll figure out the other bit for themselves.

Kata is not combat, but it should make sense should you take it into combat. Otherwise what's the point.

Then there's the equipment. Supply two wooden swords and a couple of young healthy guys will happily operate their kata within six inches of each other, jumping in, slapping things around, no problem at all. Hand them a couple of shinken and you'll see an entirely different kata. Much slower, much, much longer maai and plenty of gaps in the timing. The trick is to get students to treat bokuto like shinken, not to hand them shinken. The Tokugawa government banned sword matches in the early years because even bokuto resulted in deaths which created feuds. It wasn't until the mid-Edo when shinai and armour became commonplace that matches were allowed once more. Kata with bokuto are safe, that's why they were created. Full contact with bamboo and bogu is safe, that's why it was invented. All of it ought to be done with the feeling of using a real sword, remembering what it's all about, otherwise it's just playing.

Kata is not combat, but it's not playtime either. When you're the attacker and your partner drives that last cut into the side of your neck you ought to feel it. If you aren't a little sick in the pit of your stomach you aren't learning anything. Nothing wrong with a little exercise, but there's more efficient ways to drop a couple pounds. (Not doing budo at all would be one of them, since it involves so much beer drinking after class).

Apr 13, 2015

Taylor's Fallacy

I call it the fallacy of expanding time in kata. It's pretty simple, we do a kata and at some point someone says "what if I do this" and we say "well then I'd do this" and "but then I'd do this" and we say "well then I'd do this".

Pretty soon you've got a kata that's twelve minutes long.

Yesterday we had a nice seminar in Peterborough, iaido in the morning and Niten Ichiryu in the afternoon. The fallacy is never a problem in the iaido class, it would require students to actually see that invisible opponent doing something different, and since we tell them to do just that, to see their invisible opponent, they never do.

But in a partner practice, there's a whole different situation. When students are just starting on a kata they go slow. When they go slow and get confused they stop, but when they learn the steps all the way through they get working on the embellishment. It always begins the same way, the hand goes up and I hear "but what if... " I wander over and sure enough, they've got a good point. If the uchidachi stopped there or didn't swing through past the body in the other place then sure, the kata breaks down.

That's the point, you're supposed to notice those things, that's how the kata teaches you. Why can you step in when he swings at your wrist? Why doesn't it work if he's swinging at your face?

Great questions, great teaching moments.

On the other hand, it's less useful if we figure that we can put in an extra swing at that point where our partner stops for a moment, and then we figure we can block and respond with another swing of our own... It's at that point we have to figure out if the time for that really is there. I mean, the kata has a pause right there, but why? Is it for safety or would you really stop half way through that movement if you were trying to hurt your opponent?

Tricky, but trust the kata and keep doing it the way it was designed. Eventually you will start to see the rhythm, the fast and slow parts, the parts where you stop, then continue on for safety, the parts where you swing through and miss, creating an opening, because you can't do anything else. Then you and your partner will start to wonder why that three step kata is so long, you stop adding in moves because you start to see that in all liklihood, one of you would have been on the ground bleeding after the very first move.

I got all balled up with that yesterday, one kata started with a move that ended a previous kata. I was suddenly trying to explain why the kata didn't end right there, why we were going on to the next bit. I was sure I heard that question from someone. Turns out it was from inside my head and after five minutes of trying to explain that "maybe he did this, or perhaps you're actually doing that" I looked around to see a lot of patient faces waiting for me to get on with it. "You guys really don't care about this do you?" Nope. "I'm talking to myself again aren't I?" Yep.


Apr 12, 2015
Moral Instruction

1-Moral Instruction in Budo

A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

Here's an MA thesis from McGill written by Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

You gotta love Google Scholar, it's more or less what the internet ought to be, what it was meant to be. Neil Gendzwill and a few others will remember when putting an announcement for a seminar onto an email list might get you stomped on for commercial usage. Seems to me it's time for someone to write the search engine algorithm that takes us back there, something that lets us search without finding 700 useless repetitions of a wikipedia article just to drive ad revenue to a website. In the meantime I'll keep using Scholar with delight and in the knowledge that such an engine could actually be written should someone want to contribute to humanity rather than increase shareholder value.

Not that I'm against shareholder value, I am a retired guy after all and living on my investments and what I can make from my own commercial efforts. I'm assuaging my guilt at using the 'net to advertise by writing these wee essays. Yes I do see the irony of complaining about commercial use while writing as an excuse to advertise. I figure it's like owning 42 acres of bush and driving my car. Green offsets.

Which brings us back to the thesis. This one is a study of Chiba Chosaku and a translation of his "Budo Kyokun". Chiba, it is argued, is one of the two sources of "Bushido", the other being Nitobe who I'm sure everyone knows. Chiba's version was rather more direct than Nitobe's being very much concerned with loyalty to the Imperial cause. As Shooklyn says, Chiba roots bushido in ancester and emperor worship through martial arts practice. This in 1911, two decades before the 1930s when we usually assume the state shinto / state bushido era began. As with all things, if we look we can usually find roots going much deeper than we think.

Chiba went on Musha Shugyo in 1873 at 13 years old, and was at it for five years before returning home. He then travelled to Tokyo and studied with Tesshu Yamaoka. You can read more about all this on your own if you want to go get the thesis... and before you ask folks, I'm using a very old tablet and am not home so I don't have the link to hand to you. As a teacher I'm more interested in you learning how to find this stuff than handing it to you anyway.

What interests me most about Chiba's book is his Chapter 15 which is actually an earlier work written in 1769 as "Itto-ryu Kenjutsu Jiri Kuden Kanmen Sho". Shooklyn points out that this is from a cluster of Itto-ryu texts from this period, something that surprised me in itself, the Itto-ryu guys were the ruffians weren't they? The Yagyu guys were the ones writing the nice scrolls yes?

The translation itself is very nice for those of you out there who are working on your Japanese reading skills, Shooklyn provides the complete transliteration of the Japanese after the English so you can check things out for yourself. With regard to the parts of the book that Chiba wrote, I found the english text rather clear and never questioned the translation. When I came to chapter 15 I found myself going to google translate and trying to figure out what that anonymous author was talking about. As with so many translations I assumed that Shooklyn had gone too far and translated terms I didn't want translated. After all, I have a pretty good grasp of "mushin" but if you start talking about "techniques from the void" I get a bit stalled. From what I can figure out, there are no such easy fixes for me here. The Itto text is actually as obscure as the English translation makes it sound.

Here's something for you to start on.

"15.1.1 [Martial] arts practitioners need to know their losing points and no-winning points. To know these is to know the winning points. A losing point is in fact a winning point. A no-winning point is in fact a losing point.

Losing points reside in one's self. No-winning points reside in the opponent. He who attempts to win for himself does so because he does not know his losing points. He who attempts to win despite his losing points does so because he does not know his winning points.

There is no losing without a no-winning point; there is no winning without a losing point.

In perfect victory there is a perfect defeat; in perfect defeat there is perfect victory.

While winning, know the losing point; while losing know the winning point. This is the highest level of the art.

Concealing my techniques and principles, I gain insight into my opponent's techniques and principles. Obeserving the opponent's moves, I must make adjustments accordingly."

OK I get the last paragraph, that's Musashi's spirit kept inside, body moving outside stuff. I even get the victory in defeat and defeat in victory stuff, that's the kendo thingie about learning by getting smacked on the head. But all that losing point, no-winning point and winning point stuff? Shooklyn suggests that the losing point is to lose one's ego and after one does that there are no more defeats. So "there is no winning without a losing point". I get that. Shooklyn says that a no-winning point is a superiority in the opponent. So "no losing without a no-winning point"

So you need to know your losing point (lose your ego) and you need to know your opponent's no-winning points (how he's better than you) in order to know the winning points (how to win). So far so good. "He who attempts to win for himself does so because he does not know his losing points." (To try to win is to have an ego). He who attempts to win despite (ignoring) his losing points (having an ego) does so because he does not know his winning points" (nope, lost it... doesn't know how to win?).

But I think I get the gist. In 1769 the Itto-ryu guys thought it was more about losing your ego than winning or losing a match. 250 years of kids figuring it's about winning and 250 years of the old guys trying to convince them it's not all that.

Shooklyn makes a fun point in his notes, he says "A no-winning point refers to a given superiority of the opponent, which can be dealt with strategically. But when it becomes apparent, it usually means that the opponent wins." I laughed out loud when I read that. Your opponent is faster than you but you don't figure that out until he's smacked you on the head. Yep. There's your lesson for the day.

Was this a secret document of the ryu? If so it became public in 1911, but I suspect it didn't need to be hidden, it's obscure and what's obscure doesn't need to be hidden.

Wait, the winning point is your no-winning point to your opponent? It's losing your ego? Philosophers never change, take something simple and obscure it up to make it profound. Of course now I need to look up when Freud was born and when the term of Ego showed up... obviously later than 1769. No fair telling folks who have never heard of it they should have used it. How do you define the idea of ego without the definition?

You only really win if you lose the desire to win or lose? Aaaand we're back to attachment and non-attachment.

Apr 10, 2015

2-Moral Instruction in Budo

I want to work through this text for myself, you're welcome to come along with me in these essays. The second article seems to refer to stances.

15.1.2. Stances have five elements: heaven, middle, earth, yin, and yang.

Within each of these there are yet again five variants. The transmission of antiquity divided stances into yin and yang. [The movement of] the body mediates [the movement of] the sword; [the position of] the sword mediates [the position of] the body. For instance, a yang stance contains transformation in yin, a yin stance contains transformation in yang. Therefore in stances there is no yin-yang disbalance.

These principles should be applied regardless of what one is doing or thinking. The transmission has no preferred stance. It is one’s self that decides to use one stance or another. The one who desires to make exclusive use of a stance considers only external gains, and doing so he commits an internal error. He is said “to be transfixed on a stance.” Mistakenly transfixed on a stance, one might win if the position matches that of his opponent, but one will lose immediately if it does not. This is due to the lack of internality and reliance on externality.

The Stance is originally formless: it contains neither externalities nor internalities, neither matches nor mismatches, neither advantages nor disadvantages. [Formless stance] protects the whole body. This is the stage of mutual unity of the sword and the mind. Thus there is no yin in a yin stance; there is no yang in a yang stance. [Acting at the] “lightning speed,” the mind takes no premeditated form. This is called “formless stance.”

The learners should cherish these mysteries and train accordingly.

Overall this seems quite consistent with Musashi's discussion of stance and no stance. There is a stance, but there are also no stances. Stances can be a problem so they deserve a bit of consideration.

This article states there are five elements in stances. Musashi says there are five positions as well. For Musashi there is high, middle, low, right and left. Here we have heaven (high), middle and earth (low). We then have yin and yang. This could mean left and right I suppose, the left side of the body is often called yin, the right yang. We meditate with the left hand over the right so that yin calms yang and unites at the thumbs. I'm pretty sure this isn't what is meant here. "The transmission of antiquity divided stances into yin and yang" it says. Then it talks of the body mediating the sword and the sword mediating the body. Yin and yang transforming and balancing. Yin being the body and yang the sword perhaps, internal and external? Defensive and aggressive? Or perhaps as Musashi says, the spirit held back and the spirit sent forth.

Musashi also talks about moving from one stance to another, chudan is the captain, the other four stances being the soldiers. One can flow from one stance to another, as Chiba (for lack of an author on this earlier text) states yin and yang transform.

We come to no-stance, as in "The transmission has no preferred stance." You pick your stance according to what you feel is best at the moment. One who desires a certain stance is only considering winning and losing and makes a mistake all on his own (as opposed to one forced on him by the opponent I suspect). Transfixing on a stance might win if it happens to be the right one to respond to the opponent, but can be the source of defeat if it isn't. Here Chiba states this is "due to the lack of internality and reliance on externality." Lack of yin and reliance on yang I suspect. So we are talking about function and form, thought and action, kan (insight) and ken (sight).

Going back to the beginning, we're perhaps talking about stances which are high, middle and low, which also have a meaning and a shape. These are the five elements named in the first sentence. If we rely on the shape without the theory behind it we might win, we might not. No wonder the transmission has no preferred stance.

This is my problem with kata being thought of as little formulae for beating an opponent, and with iaido as hitting the grading points. It's all yang, all external form and no understanding. Going back to my analysis of Musashi's Sanjugokajo and the concept of Jikitsu, one of the Enmei Ryu sensei was said to have explained the concept in terms of responding to your opponent's stance with one of your own. In other words, stances are responses one to another, if he takes a certain stance, you should adopt one that will counter what he can do from that stance. I often have trouble with Shindo Muso Ryu jodo because there seems to be a new pair of stances for each kata, yet when we get close to each other we just drop into a middle stance and then do the kata. Of course if you examine those stances you start to see how one covers the other.

So why not a table of stances to memorize, if he does jodan you respond with seigan, match hasso with gedan, waki gamae with chudan? The final paragraph of this article gives us a clue as we move to the formless, the void, the place from which all things come. "...it contains neither externalities nor internalities, neither matches nor mismatches, neither advantages nor disadvantages." When your sword and your mind are finally united there are no dualities of yin and yang, internal and external. No tables of this for that. This is the ri of shu ha ri, where you leave the stances and the kata behind. This is the place where Musashi would yell at you "stop analysing and just hit him."

Beginners are dangerous because that's all they can do, all they know. Take the sword and cut that guy over there. This is the return to a beginner's mind we aim for from about six months of practice until we "get it". This is what Musashi means when he says "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". When you know a bit about the stances, about the grading points for iaido, about which technique might work for which attack, you are more danger to yourself than to your opponent. You're going to trip over your own cleverness, as granny might say "You're so sharp, mind you don't cut yourself".

Having gone through the rest of this article, I'd like to return to my thoughts about yin and yang transforming and this being the same as Musashi's captain and soldier stances, I think I might have been a bit superficial. This yin and yang transformation is more likely the analysis transforming the shape of the stance and the position of the sword (yours or your opponent's) transforming your analysis which then changes the shape to compensate.

Finally, "The learners should cherish these mysteries and train accordingly." Oh dear, are we going to have another of these scrolls where we get told to go practice it lots?

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

Apr 14, 2015

3- Moral Instruction in Budo

15.1.3. Enticing power does not entail change.

To reveal it clearly, it is said that technique and principle should not be altered.

To take advantage of the opponent without changing [one’s stance] is the overpowering force. This is called “the stage of transformation.” Quieting the enticing power, counter thousand-fold changes; moving the overpowering force, respond to a multitude of transformations. Thus one matches the opponent using his enticing power, and wins the battle using his overpowering force. Enticing power and overpowering force are two [different forces], but [actually] they are one and the same. They are one and the same, but [their applied aspects] are different. Enticing power contains overpowering force; overpowering force contains enticing power.

The unaltered whole body controls ten directions. Thus there will be no opponent to fear and no self doubt.

When one reaches this stage, his enticing power will issue by itself, and his overpowering force will naturally complement it.

Enticing power and overpowering force. We speak constantly in Kendo of seme, of pressuring the opponent to freeze him and beat him. How do we deal with our opponent's seme? We should welcome it of course, we match his pressure with our absorption, we just soak it up and invite him to swing. Here Chiba says "Enticing power does not entail change". We don't stick our head out at him, simply being in range of his attack will entice him to attack. Technique and principle should not be altered, they are contained one within the other if we know what's good for us.

If we present a strong unchanging stance and take advantage of the opponent we are using overpowering force. This is our usual definition of seme. Chiba says this is called the stage of transformation. How do we deal with transformations? We move the overpowering force. How do we counter thousand-fold changes? We quiet the enticing power.

So match the opponent using enticing power and win the fight using overpowering force. Match his overpowering force with your enticing power. These are two different forces but are one and the same.

Shooklyn, in a note, says that these forces can be glossed as centrifugal and centripedal, one forces outward (centrifugal force) and one attracts (an attack, centripedal force). These can be seen through various tactics, Shooklyn suggests enticing by making a feigned opening, moving one's sword offline, and one exhibits centrifugal force simply by approachng the opponent steadily, forcing him to attack rashly.

Get good enough and these two powers work spontaneously and together to win a match.

In kata practice have you ever fallen into a hole? Have you ever approached uchidachi and swung your sword into an empty space? Uchidachi has simply refused to swing into your enticing power and you have been unable to withold your overpowering force (or you're just on autopilot, which is why you should never think of kata as "training a habitual response"). It is you who were enticed, simply by uchidachi not attacking when you expected him to. Uchidachi has responded (naughtily) to your enticing power with his own. He has "moved his overpowering force" to respond to your transformation of the moment. His job of course is to fall into your enticing power but perhaps you are not enticing so much as dancing through the steps. Don't panic, by dancing through the steps you are supposed, eventually, to see the moment of enticement.

In longer kata I often become angry when my partner does not continue attacking and simply waits, open for attack. If I am supposed to be moving backward to make room for their next move, I become conflicted inside, they are not using their overpowering force, they are using their enticing power and I end up stepping in to attack. This breaks the kata and I become frustrated. Instead, I ought to consider I'm teaching here. If I simply move back, shidachi will not understand they must press forward here. One can teach this in two ways, the nicer way is to move back and then look bored while shidachi gets moving again to finish their attack.

How can one welcome an attack and still overcome it? This enticing power is critical for Aikido practice, without an attack from a partner there isn't any Aikido in the classical sense of blending with the attack. You can't blend with something that isn't there, so you must invite an attack, you must entice it, you must insist on it in various ways. This doesn't mean standing there like a statue. It's actually quite hard to attack a stationary target, it fairly screams of a trap. To stand shock still is actually to "become a big rock", to become something large and immovable. It's easiest to entice an attack by moving and creating the illusion of an opening, or to press in and force an attack.

It is a discussion point in Aikido whether the technique ikkyo is received or created. My line usually treats ikkyo as; the partner cuts at your head with his hand-blade, you then receive this by moving your hand-blade to the outside of his arm, redirecting his strike to the side, taking his elbow with your other hand and then controlling him. You entice by having an open head, he swings at it.

The alternative version is to shove your hand in his face, when he tries to stop your arm you seize his elbow and control him. The enticement is the hand moving toward his face. This may seem to be the exact opposite of the first version, but in fact they are both the same, entice and then overpower. My sensei taught the first, but used the second on me when I was the "rag doll" in class.

This second version actually works better for beginners as receiving a strike from over head seems to be naturally done with a bent elbow as in a karate upper block. Yet to receive a strike and redirect it one's arm must be moving as if doing suriage men. To meet with a bent arm is to stop the strike with a bruised forearm. Worse yet is to try to do the control before dealing with the attack, to meet the centrifugal force with centrifugal force, to grab at the attacking arm. To grab the attacking arm means your grabbing arm is bent and raised in such a way that you are half way pinned at the moment of contact. This is exactly what makes the second version work so much easier to learn.

As you can see, Chiba is right, one force is contained within the other and it's hard sometimes to see which is which. Musashi tells us that every defence must be the same as every attack. If you are defending it must be with an eye to attacking. Here we are told that we can think of our defence as our enticing power. I like it, one doesn't have to be back on one's heels when receiving an attack, one simply makes that attack part of our "cunning plan milord".

In kendo we pressure, we concentrate on our overpowering force. If both sides in a match are static in chudan, not attacking, we are seeing overpowering force meeting overpowering force. Perhaps we should learn to use our enticing power.

In Aikido we concentrate on our enticing power. Without a designated attacker we would see two people standing open, hoping the other will attack. Perhaps we should learn to use our overpowering force to help antice that attack.

How does an aikidoka start a bar fight? By saying "grab my arm".

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

Apr 15, 2015

4- Moral Instruction in Budo

15.1.4. “Projection” is like [the capacity of] the moon to project [its own image] upon the water surface. It is the stage of bōshin –the stage of contact.

“Reflection” is like [the capacity of] the water to reflect the [image of] the moon. This is the stage of zanshin –the stage of separation.

When [this principle] is explained it is called “the water-moon.” When it is taken to the level of technique, it is called “projection-reflection.” It also implies the way the eyes look about, what is called “the gaze.” To commit one’s mind to defense is called projection. To use a technique for attack is called reflection. Distance is of no concern to the water-moon. The one who attempts to deliberately use the distance for an attack will lose his projection instead. He becomes transfixed in projection. The moon projects its image upon the water surface in the state of no-mind. The water reflects the moon in the state of no-thought. If there is no thinking on the inside, the technique is aptly applied on the outside. When no interfering thoughts arise, one will aptly reach the state of the water-moon with his whole body. 176

Shooklyn notes that boshin is "rod-like mind", and zanshin "remaining mind". Boshin is concentration on the attack, zanshin is alertness to a counterattack after the attack. So here we are talking about the mind during and after the attack.

It is interesting that these old essays on sword are so lacking in technical description and so concerned with mental attitude. Perhaps we "kata collectors" should take note.

The moon reflecting in water is a pretty common image, as Chiba says here, the moon projects its image in a state of no-mind (it has no intention, no desire or will to project itself, it simply does) and the water reflects that image in a state of no-thought. The water does not rationalize, it does not decide to reflect the image of the moon. The combination simply is, one hesitates to even say it happens. The speed of light is timeless, the moon projects and at the same time the water reflects. The light switch is thrown and light appears in the room... well perhaps not in these days of fluorescent lights that take a while to warm up but you get the idea.

So an attack is made (boshin) from the void, from a state of no-mind, and it is reflected, perceived, responded to instantly from a state of no-thought. We call the principle the moon in the water, we call the technique projection-reflection and when the gaze is concerned, Shookyn notes that it's the soft vision that takes in everything, like the eyes under moonlight, unfocused and wide sighted, enzan no metsuke.

In the next phrase Shooklyn notes that the order is deliberately reversed, "To commit one’s mind to defense is called projection. To use a technique for attack is called reflection." This reversal is explained as indicating the best defence is an attack, but if either is deliberated the chance is lost. I can't argue with that, the concern here is non-deliberation. Must we though, assign attack to projection and defence to reflection? If we consider the enticing power, we must project that to our opponent in order to communicate it. So we set our mind on defence and he sees defence, which entices an attack. You can't fake a beginner. They just don't see the fake, so they are not reflecting the projection at all. On the other hand, one can't attack without a reflection, one must attack from a true image of the situation, from a calm pond which can reflect the moon, otherwise one is just lashing out.

You can get pretty wound up in this stuff so I'll leave it as something to be discovered in kata.

Speaking of which, let's talk projection-reflection, no-mind no-thought in kata. It is not particularly safe to attack from "no mind" when starting a new kata, nor is it easy to respond with "no thought", but eventually that's what we ought to move toward. The attack comes "when it comes", at the appropriate time and the defender responds "without thought". To do this the defender must open their gaze and quiet their mind so that they can pick up the attack the instant it is made, to be able to respond at the very same time. We work on this from the first moment of practice, uchidachi leads the kata and shidachi follows as tightly as possible. The student eventually realizes the way to follow instantly is to stop thinking and to connect the body to the eyes, to be the still pond that reflects the moon. Too much disturbance and there is no reflection, too much thought and there is no sight.

Chiba talks about distance. "Distance is of no concern to the water-moon. The one who attempts to deliberately use the distance for an attack will lose his projection instead. He becomes transfixed in projection." As physical distance I can see this meaning to try and jump in from outside the opponent's distance to strike. This calculating of inches can actually prevent a good attack. "Do I go now? Can I get him from here? Oops he shifted, is he out of range?" This goes back to the earlier comment on being transfixed on a stance. Trying to force a result from a pre-conceived notion is likely to fail as often as it succeeds.

I can also see this refering to the distance that happens when one thinks, we see something, we think about it, we act. Too late. If we are thinking about a technique, a projection, we are not acting. We put a distance between seeing an opening and responding to it. By thinking we are stirring up the pond, it takes time to settle down to the reflection which allows the projection.

But "Distance is of no concern to the water-moon" could also refer to the need to start the fight from the instant one sees one's opponent. From across the room, during a kata, one should be cutting one's partner. To wait until you're in distance to get serious is a mistake.

Enzan no metsuke is also distance-independant. An unfocused gaze pays no attention to close or far.

All of which is to say I will need to think more on this comment about distance.

Chiba's final statement makes the article clear. No thought on the inside means good technique on the outside.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

Apr 16, 2015

5 - Moral Instruction in Budo

15.1.5. When gain comes prior to the technique and when the body precedes the sword, such conduct is called “disorder.” It is caused by external benefit seeking.

Adapting [yourself] to [the opponent’s] movement should not be accomplished by thinking and calculation. When you take gain as a natural outcome, you will make adjustments without thinking, and transform without calculation. The one who receives the transmission [of the art] will not make gain his priority, and will thus gain mastery of oneness. He will pay heed only to his own response [to a given situation] as his only gain. He will not succumb to thinking and calculation. With a single-pointed mind transcending chaos, he will never doubt his victory. In so doing [the practitioner] will attain the stage of his original destiny. Once the transmission of the art is internalized, it yields a truly victorious performance. Taken to a higher level, there will no longer be any notion of single-mindedness, or any distinct single gain to pay heed to. Strike with inside and outside as one. No more good and evil. Don the armor of one-mind and counter a thousand blades and ten thousand swords. Control the ten directions and kill or grant life at will. Once single-mindedness is actualized, it is the stage of method-gain sameness.

A thousand changes stem from oneness. This oneness is the no-form, no-mind body as a whole. To take water as an example: water has no form. Therefore, it can fit into square and round containers. Practitioners should receive the transmission without prioritizing gains or their own bodies. As the oral transmission has it: “sword-and-body first-and-last.”

This art is a method of gaining a sharp blade. When there is a sword, there is a method; when there is a method, there is a gain. Mind is the source of methods. Body is the source of the sword. That hidden causes ripen into manifest ends is a fallacy. Truth is a certain victory, fallacy is a certain defeat. If gain precedes the method, even the sharpest sword will not cut down a man. Therefore, the foundations must be rectified and mastered through and through. The gains and losses of actual performance depend on the accrued merit [of successful mastery of the basics.]

"When gain comes prior to the technique". Shooklyn notes that this gain can also imply victory, so when one thinks of victory before technique, the safety of one's body, before the sword in your hand, it is not a good thing. One is looking at the goal rather than at the process and this is disordered, the wrong way around.

The message here is to concentrate on the technique, on being one with the sword and not to think about winning or other external goals. when in a fight dont think and calculate, just adapt without thinking, like water fits into various shaped vessels. This water analogy is popular, I ran right over it the first few times I read this, didn't even realize it was here, but it's important.

How can one learn to adapt without thinking? By training without thinking of winning and losing. Remember that this essay came from 1769, a year long past the wars and into the era of shinai kendo where one could fight matches without great risk of death. To fight for its own sake, in order to learn to be spontaneous, was possible at this time. If one got caught up in the competition, in trying to win or avoid losing, one lost the chance to learn how to become one with the sword.

Once the art is internalized, once we are one with the sword, victory appears. We begin to strike with the speed of thought we might say, or Chiba might say, with the speed of sight. We see, we strike. (Shooklyn says "what you see is what you get"). We achieve single-mindedness with the result of method-gain sameness. The technique-victory oneness.

Technique is not unimportant, although many take that meaning from such advice as we have here. Technique is very important, it's how we express what is in our mind. The problem is not technique, it's thinking about technique, thinking about the goal, thinking in general. We can go into a fight all thoughtless and instantaneous movement, but if we don't use good technique it's just so much waving a stick around.

Students should understand the transmission as “sword-and-body first-and-last.” Don't worry about winning or about your body, just seek to become the art, to become one with the sword, there is nothing else to be done, no external goal to be sought. Work on technique, practice technique, don't think about what you're practicing for, or where you're going to use the technique. Technique is not "if he does that then you should do this".

The author obviously thinks this is an important point, he makes it again by pointing out that the art is the way a sharp sword appears. You have a sword, you learn a method, then gain appears. The mind produces the method, the body produces the sword. Nothing mysterious about this. If you think of gain first, you can't cut, even if you've got a sharp sword. Your liklihood of victory in a match corresponds to how much training you have done.

Please note that all this is in reference to the usual way of things. If you feel you can go into a sword fight with an indomitable will to win and no training, you might, by accident, be correct. The idea that your "samurai spirit" will prevail, your dedication to the cause and determination to overcome the enemy might work, you never know. I remember a quote from an Australian vet from the second world war who suggested that the first time they saw a sword charge it was a bit startling but "after that, they made pretty good targets".

Last evening I read a quote from the western sword tradition of about the same era as this essay, where the sword master commented that one should teach one's son wrestling because a mediocre swordsman will be defeated by a good wrestler who is also a mediocre swordsman, and the best one could hope for in most gentlemen's sons is mediocre sword, unless they are spending all their time in the salon.

Training, make the important thing the process, not the end goal. Make training the point, not winning a match. So say the folks in 1769, so said Musashi a hundred years earlier.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

April 16, 2015

6 - Moral Instruction in Budo

15.1.6. The one who concentrates on the outer aspects of a technique reacts to what presents itself from the outside. The one who uses the internal aspects concentrates on the inside. Then controlling the internal aspects, he uses the external.

In this manner, the causality of internal to external is maintained, and favored techniques tend to ensue while the disliked ones are likely to be avoided.

Depending on how the opponent engages and feigns, [one should] put pressure on the center to win at the periphery, or else put pressure on the periphery to win at the center, or even put pressure on both the center and the extremity to win at the both spots. Thus putting pressure on the technique, one protects the gains, putting pressure on the gain one protects the technique.

If one attacks both internally and externally, the error will arise in front; if one defends both externally and internally, the error will arise in back. Therefore, attack while defending, defend while attacking. Attack is not merely attacking, defense is not just defending. There is no victory without both present simultaneously. In the transmission this is called “remaining and not remaining.” The learner should rectify the center and peripheries with this point in mind.

We continue here with the will and the technique, mind and body, internal spirit and external spirit and such descriptions. In other words, thought and deed. If you concentrate on technique, you will respond to technique from the opponent, there won't be anything else for you to respond to. If you use the internal aspects, your insight, the internal analysis of the situation, you will be looking for insight into your opponent as well. Then, controlling the inside you will use the external. Analysing the situation with your mind, you will use your sword.

By now, I am starting to think that this is too simple, am I missing something? I keep reminding myself that for many years I figured it was about looking at what technique he was using and then picking one to counter it. Outer aspects reacting to outer aspects. How, after all, can you read someone else's intentions? With practice I am starting to pick up more subtle clues and my reactions are, if not yet spontaneous in swordwork, at least more subtle. I'm starting to see how, by looking inside my own mind I can see inside his.

If you look inside and use the external to react, you maintain the correct direction of causality. Going from external events to internal would mean being led around by the opponent's actions, which is not healthy.

I'm not sure about "favored techniques tend to ensue while the disliked ones are likely to be avoided. " Is this a good thing? Does Chiba recommend this? I would have thought not if he refers to a student having favourite techniques. One would think that favour and dislike were words weighted toward the subjective rather than the objective. Is it that we are talking here of favoured techniques as ones that are favoured for victory and disliked ones headed toward defeat? In whose opinion? If the instructor, or the advice of the texts concerning the art, that would be good. We recommend (favour) this technique, we don't like that one so much because it isn't very strong in this situation. Think about it and you'll pick a good response rather than a poor response.

Shooklyn suggests that center and extremity in this next passage refers to the internal and external aspects of technique. I am afraid I read it more literally, as centerline and edge. Attack toward do, the side, and the opponent will respond leaving his center open to attack. Press down the centerline and then attack the sides, or alternate between center and periphery and you will confuse his defence. I say this because Chiba tells us that putting pressure on the center or periphery is the result of how the opponent engages and feigns. I think we're talking seme here, if he is pressing your center, move his attention to the periphery to disrupt him. All of this reminds me of advice not to attack a position of strength, don't oppose strength with strength, especially if you are not the stronger. I remember well an aikido class where I decided I'd demonstrate that one could avoid strength by moving underneath it, but at the time my knee was useless and I didn't get under my attacker who got a good shove through my wrists into my shoulders. I stood there for a good three seconds with screaming pain in my shoulder before I finally convinced myself to give up the attempt to get under and moved to the side instead. By that time my arm was hanging useless and took many months to recover as much as it has (which is not completely).

"Thus putting pressure on the technique, one protects the gains, putting pressure on the gain one protects the technique." While previously this gain was best read as victory, here Shooklyn suggests the gain should be read as preferences, favoured places to attack and well-guarded weak spots. Thus we press the technique and protect the attack (by keeping the opponent on his heels), or we guard the weak spots and protect the technique (by denying the opponent the chance to disrupt it by pressing that weak spot).

The last paragraph seems to be embodying the concept of Sei Chu Do, Do Chu Sei. If the body is active the mind should be still, if the body is still the mind should be active. If you are attacking with the sword, you ought to be defending in your mind (looking for counterattacks, keeping your body in a good posture so that bits aren't hanging out to be hit). If you are defending with the sword you ought to be searching with the mind for the attack which must be appended to the defence.

If you attack with both the mind and the sword (internal and external) you have nothing left to defend with should your attack fail. Cannon fodder. The error arises in front, at the beginning, all out attack only works if you catch the opponent, if not, you are defeated "before you start".

If you are defending with both the sword and the mind you are going to be back on your heels and even if you ward off the attack you won't have one of your own. Your mistake is at the back, after you've defended and have nothing to respond with.

In both cases there is a hole in the technique. There must be attack in defence and defence in attack. This concept is a bit more complex than "the best defence is a good offence". Look after the centerline and the periphery, your line of attack with the sword and your arms and legs which might be hanging out to the sides, where they are not protected by your attack line. We were practicing a kata last evening which includes swords meeting and stopping between the two partners as they both strike at the same time. The question arose as to what was happening, are the two people clashing swords together? No of course not, that would mean that the one of the attacks is coming from the side (periphery) which would leave the center open for the other swordsman. No, both swordsmen are attacking down the centerline and as a result you get the stalemate with each strike as two swords are moved into the same place at the same time. The uselessness of attacking into the attack. What caused my rotator cuff to fail.

“remaining and not remaining.” When you attack, keep part of your spirit back, when you defend, send part of your spirit forward. "The learner should rectify the center and peripheries with this point in mind." This final statement makes most sense if we use Shooklyn's suggestion that center is the internal and periphery the external. Think of your mind as the center of a circle, the techniques exist on the periphery. Of course it could also mean, work on your kamae, don't leave bits hanging out when you attack, don't attack off balance, don't forget the other people in the room who might also attack you...

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

April 20, 2016

7 - Moral Instruction in Budo

5.1.7. To gain directly using a technique is called “guarding the beginning,” while to present a gain as a means is called “guarding the end.” If one pauses in the beginning, it means there is a gain at the end. If the end is protected, it means that there is no gain in the beginning. The important point in swordsmanship is not to stop either at the beginning or the end or to have beginnings and ends depend upon the opponent. One does not stick to either of them.

The stage of “sameness of the beginning and end” is one of the absence of beginnings and ends. When there is a beginning, an end is simultaneously present. When there is an end, a beginning is there, too. It does not matter whether the movement is strong or weak, light or heavy. This is how the technique is one yet makes two. While the gains are two, they are one all the same. Whenever you gaze into the sky, the sky is there instantaneously. Liken yourself to an unmoving mountain.

When you make a move, do so like sparks from a flint. Stopping neither at the beginning nor at the end even for a single moment of thought, reach ten thousand things. Since neither the beginning nor the end is sought, transformations will happen spontaneously. Moreover, since the technique issues from one’s whole body and mind, the one who takes advantage of the beginning, gains the beginning, while the one who takes advantage of the end, defends the end and gains the end regardless of how strong or weak, light or heavy the technique might be, or whether it is done while advancing or retreating, or whether the range is long or short. Therefore the one who makes the technique a part of body and mind has nothing to look for outside. When it is not sought elsewhere, one’s mind moves not an inch. This is called not stopping at the beginning or end. The one who achieved mastery over this art does not stop at the beginning and let the initiative be taken; while defending he does not stop inside, and as he defends the gain, the gain of the technique is not stolen [by the opponent.]

Revealing no form when form is sought, revealing form when no-form is sought is called “the stage of unity of crooked and straight.” The one who gains victory by abandoning the notions of “technique” and “gain” is the true master of the art. This is the quintessence of the art of war. Ultimately, without leaving a trace, it is obtained within one’s heart-mind; the hand moves accordingly. Mind is mind, technique is technique, one’s self is one’s self, and opponent is opponent. Whatever one faces, one seeks nothing. With only spontaneous merit, he uses the art when there is need, and abandons it when there is none. He attains “the wondrous stage” of the art.

Here we are talking of beginning and ending. Think of this as a passage between you and the opponent, someone moves, things happen and then you separate. Shooklyn suggests that a gain at the beginning is to attack while the opponent is beginning to execute his technique. Sen no sen. The end is to counterattack after parrying. Go no sen.

With this in mind, "To gain directly using a technique is called 'guarding the beginning'". Your guard being a successful attack as the passage begins, to get in there faster. It could also mean striking before the opponent twitches, sen sen no sen, I suspect. In this case also, our offence is our guard.

"to present a gain as a means is called 'guarding the end'. If one pauses in the beginning, it means there is a gain at the end." Gain being victory or a point, if you hesitate as the opponent begins to strike, your chance for gain is after you have defended. On the other hand, if you guard at the end of the passage there is obviously no gain at the beginning (or at the end if you have defended then broken contact).

Chiba moves from here to his main point, don't think about beginnings and endings, there are no passages, the fight is continuous. Don't "stop either at the beginning or the end". Don't leave beginnings and endings to the opponent to define. Beginnings have ends, ends imply beginnings so they are the same.

"This is how the technique is one yet makes two. While the gains are two, they are one all the same." Shooklyn suggests this means the targets are multiple while the technique (taking advantage of openings at beginning or end) is one. I agree, as Musashi says, look to the strike no matter what you are doing. Find the opening and use it.

"Whenever you gaze into the sky, the sky is there instantaneously. Liken yourself to an unmoving mountain." I love these things. Remember our discussion of projection and reflection. You don't need to think up the sky to see it, you look and it is there. The unmoving mountain is your 'body of a big rock', it's your immovable mind. Don't let yourself be dragged around by your opponent's beginnings and endings, don't let your mind be dragged about by thoughts of why the sky is blue. There it is, deal with it.

We come to the spark and flint, another image that Musashi also uses. Your reaction to the appearance of an opening ought to be the same as a spark which happens as steel strikes flint, without any space, instantly. Put any thought in there and you have a space. Think about a beginning and an end (a technique) and you have a space. Don't seek after beginning and end and transformations will happen spontaneously. The rest of that paragraph ought to be clear once this is understood. Become the art and whether beginning or end, you gain, strong or weak, near or far, you gain.

The "stage of unity of crooked and straight" is to reveal no form when form is sought and reveal form when no-form is sought. This stage means that you are not searching for the proper technique to respond to the technique your opponent is using, and to use technique when there is none opposing you. By simply reacting to what is happening in the moment it happens, one has abandoned thoughts of winning and losing and technique.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

April 22, 2015

8 - Moral Instruction in Budo

15.1.8. There are body and function in an initiative. Attacking without preliminary movement and form is called “the body of an initiative.” Attacking when preliminary moves are made and forms are revealed is called “the function of an initiative.”

To take the body initiative is to attack from an empty spot and to defend with a given form stealing the opponent’s gain, breaking through his setup. Doing thus means using the apparent gain while keeping a technique hidden.

To take the function initiative is to attack with a given form and to defend from an empty spot breaking through the opponent’s setup,stealing his technique. One makes the technique apparent while the real gain remains hidden [until the definitive blow.]

If someone acts haphazardly trying to win without knowing the principles and techniques of body-function attack and defense, he will stick out his head only to be hit and stretch out his hand only to be cut down. This point should be well practiced in training.

You cannot always just hit your opponent. He is not a stationary target, he moves, he defends. Here Chiba is talking of two ways to take an initiative. The first is the body of an initiative, to simply attack from an empty spot, to swing at a target and then defend with your technique to disrupt your opponent and steal his gain. Use an apparent gain, a strike to an opening to trigger his reaction while keeping your own technique hidden.

The second way is the function initiative, to show the opponent a technique and as he tries to counter that, strike at whatever opening appears.

Of course what is being said here is that form and formlessness, technique and striking from the void are one "two sides of a coin". Chiba clarifies by saying that if you simply flail about, sticking out your head or your hands you will be defeated. You have to understand this body-function, attack-defence, principle-technique, all the pairs Chiba has been describing in order to avoid defeat.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

April 23, 1015

9 - Moral Instruction in Budo

15.1.9. There are two kinds of counterattack: one using the empty spot, the other one using a given form.

When you wish to win over the opponent’s empty spot, you have to kill the opponent’s intended form [or technique]. In order to take advantage of the opponent’s assumed form, you have to discern his aim and destroy his empty spot. When the attack comes, counter at the moment he is recovering his balance while his move stops at the periphery.

If he does not regain balance, control the movement of his center. The opponent who moves from his center with extremities at rest should be taken advantage by controlling his center. When the opponent’s center is upright yet his extremities are in disarray, he has to be cut down at the extremities. When the opponent’s center and extremities are both in motion, which is a big mistake, take advantage of this bluff. When his center and extremities are both at rest, which means he does not reach out, take advantage of his [actual] state of engagement.

There is engagement in feigning and feigning in engagement. The great bluff is the same as not reaching out; not reaching out is like the great bluff. The oral transmission says: “he follows forms and chases manifestations.” In other words, one gets stuck in a form. One loses to an initiated attack. Whatever follows is of no use. Therefore, counter the form and kill the manifestations. There are two types of counters. One has to do with an empty spot; the other one has to do with a manifested move. The prior is to counter with a kill, while the latter is to kill with a counter. At this juncture, the distinction between the initiative and the counterattack cannot be made. The initiative becomes a counterattack.

The counterattack becomes the initiative. The distinctions between the sword and the body, between the strengths and weaknesses, center and periphery all become obliterated in one beneficial action. Having arrived at the sameness of technique and principle, one becomes equipped with a technique that breaks through the circle of initiatives and counterattacks. This wondrous principle is hard to learn. It truly belongs to the mind-to-mind transmission.

In article 15.1.8 we talked about two kinds of attack, one without preliminary movement and form, the body of an initiative, in other words, spontaneously, and one with preliminary movement and form, the function of an initiative, with a complex, planned technique.

Here we talk of the counterattack and again we speak of a counter into the empty spot, and another using a form. To counter into an empty spot you have to stall his own form. Musashi called this holding down the pillow. The idea is to forestall your opponent's technique by striking into the space created as he starts it. By striking into this empty spot you will stall his attack outside your body and disrupt the opponent's balance, strike as he tries to recover his balance.

Chiba talks next of controlling the opponent's center or periphery. If he has not recovered his balance, attack his center. Step in and cut.

If he is moving from the center and his sword is at rest, you have to control the center, do not allow him to achieve his desired distance.

If his center is stable and strong, but his arms and sword are not coordinated, attack his arms.

If both center and arms are moving, strike. Both arms and body moving are a mistake according to Chiba, a bluff. This is also what Musashi says when he warns against moving in and striking at the same time. The body must get to the distance first and then the sword can strike.

If neither his body nor his arms are moving, he is not attacking, not reaching out, so strike before he is prepared. Chiba says there is engagement in feigning and feigning in engagement, misdirection must be part of any attack and an attack has (may be) misdirection. Chiba then warns that the great bluff is the same as not reaching out and reaching out is like the great bluff. An immobile enemy may be feigning rather than immobilized.

Again we are warned about becoming trapped in form. If you do you will lose to your opponent's initiated form. You have to disrupt his form, his attack, and then kill whatever moves follow, the manifestations. At this point Chiba repeats that there is a counter to an empty spot (counter with a kill) and there is a counter with a manifested move (kill with a counter). At this point it's hard to tell whether you are attacking or counterattacking.

When you unify technique and principle, attack and counterattack, all the other pairs, your sword becomes wonderous.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

April 25, 2015

10 - Moral Instruction in Budo

15.1.10. Distance is important in a match. When I want to make use of it, the opponent does so, too. As I distance myself, he approaches. Whether one is brave or cowardly, slow or fast, in his initiative and counterattack is a matter of life and death. Hence, proper distance cannot be compromised even for the space of a single hair breadth. Without regard for peril one must take advantage of proper distance thus arriving at the stage of single-handed control over life and death.

I do not breach the distance, nor do I stall in waiting [for the opponent to do so]. I establish the proper distance and remain at this level. This is called “life taking blade and life giving sword.” There is no difference between being close or far in terms of distance. There is no difference between breaching the distance and anticipating. The practitioner of the art should maintain proper distance without waiting for changes to occur. Nor should he let others reach him. Instead he should quickly gain control of proper distance.

It's a plain-spoken article for a Sunday morning. Distance is important in sword, so important that in a Kendo match we start the opponents at issoku itto, one step distance, and in kata we spend hours working on the exact pace that takes us to the correct distance as we approach each other.

A big part of any match is to set the distance, too long for him, just right for you. In Jodo we use a stick that is, in fact, only an inch or two longer than the sword which opposes it, but we use that distance to full advantage. (Check the distance from tip to grip rather than just measuring the two weapons). As I suspect some of my students have heard me say "close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades". A miss with a sword is a miss, whether from two inches or two miles.

Chiba says "I establish the proper distance and remain at this level. This is called 'life taking blade and life giving sword.'" Satsunin to and katsujin ken generally refer to the intent with which one uses the sword, in a killing or a life-preserving manner. I don't know what Chiba is thinking of here, perhaps the fine control of distance that lets you kill or prevents the opponent from killing you. However, he goes on to say that there is no difference between being close or far, breaching the distance or waiting for the opponent. One should control the distance. Shooklyn notes that we aren't talking strictly of distance here, but of the combination of distance, timing and control of technique. Add to that, anticipation, reading the opponent, controlling the rhythm and all the other aspects of a fight and you start to understand how Chiba can say that there is no difference between close and far, your physical distance is not the only factor to consider.

Speaking of distance as this combination of things, the important message here is to "establish the proper distance and remain at this level."

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

April 26, 2015

11 - Moral Instruction in Budo

15.1.11. I turn my opponent’s techniques into my own techniques. I turn his gains into mine. This is called “the mocking bird stage”. Strength for strength, weakness for weakness, a strike for a strike, a thrust for a thrust: counter each and every one of a thousand changes this way. This is called “facing the opponent’s technique.”

Weakness for strength, strength for weakness, a block for a strike, an empty spot for a block: accommodate each and every one of the manifold transformations of gains in this manner. This is called “accommodating the opponent’s gains.”

Face a committed advance by engaging in return, and accommodate a feigned advance by feigning. When the opponent deftly feigns an impossible technique, do likewise.

The mastery of the art is to turn a committed move into a feigned one [immediately, should it miss the target], and to show a feigned move, but turn it into a committed one [immediately, should an opening present itself]. Therefore, facing an opponent, first pretend to be a fool and appear [as if you are about] to lose. This is a stratagem. Truly, as the saying goes, “warfare is the way of deceit.”

When you consider merit to be a spontaneous outcome –feigning and engaging are two sides of the same coin, and so are deceit and truth. This knowledge must be obtained only through self discovery.

We continue with the analysis of strategy in a sword fight. This article deals with types of response to the opponent's actions. FIrst, we discuss the "mocking bird stage" or "facing the opponent's technique". We copy his moves. Come on, you rememer your little brother copying everything you said, it made you lose it didn't it? Think about a life or death fight where the opponent copies every move you make. If you don't do something risky by the third or fourth passage you aren't human. It's either take a big gamble or run away, this guy is meeting you strike for strike and thrust for thrust, he's obviously reading you.

Next we have "accomodating the opponent's gains" which is to meet every technique with it's balance. He strikes, you block. He blocks, you aren't there to be blocked (an empty space, you are, one hopes, in the act of striking somewhere else).

To explain the first point further, if the opponent is attacking, attack in return, meet him strongly. Look for a chance to strike a neglected point from an empty spot. If he is feigning, you feign too, don't get taken in by a fake.

Now combine these two ideas. If he fakes and you fake and he's open you turn your fake into a strike, now you are responding to a fake with a strike.

Therefore the next step is to learn how to switch from feigning to attacking at need. If you attack and fail, don't think of it as a failure, think of it as a fake. Now he's reacting to what you're doing, find another place to strike. If you fake, and he doesn't fall for it, strike. I remember Ohmi sensei trying to explain maai to a class practicing Uke Nagashi from the Tachi Uchi no Kurai set of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. The movement involves a threat by a thrust which uchidachi must strike down, at which point shidachi does uke nagashi and strikes to finish the technique. The class was essentially touching shidachi's chest before doing uke nagashi. Sensei explained over and over that the movement must take place at issoku itto, at the awase position, not where the class thought it should be. "If he is that close he will simply kill you with the thrust!" Chiba is saying the same thing here, feign a movement but if you find your fake within range and your opponent hasn't reacted to it, strike him. If you aren't in position to strike, he won't react to the fake. Ohmi sensei went on to explain that uchidachi must react to the thrust as it crosses the maai, as it comes into range. If he doesn't it's too late, he is struck.

Act like you are a fool, like you don't know what you're doing and are easily defeated, "This is a stratagem. Truly, as the saying goes, 'warfare is the way of deceit.'" This may seem to indicate that Chiba is recommending this as a 'plan'. However, in the last sentence Chiba says "When you consider merit to be a spontaneous outcome...". Remember that we are working toward "the void", toward the "empty spot", toward being able to react without rationalization leaving technique and strategy behind and simply striking. Chiba says that when we consider that, feigning and engaging are two sides of the coin, as are deceit and truth. Sure we have technique, we have strategy, and they may well work. In fact they often do work, but they are not the goal. The goal is to go beyond all that. Musashi had 60 duels before he was 30 and he thought that he was lucky or perhaps that his opponents were not as skilled as he was. He decided that this was not a profitable way to spend the rest of his life. He went on in search of the void, of the spontaneous outcome. The place where technique appears at need rather than where it is forced upon the situation.

All these techniques and strategies are a stage, not the end. There is no 'end' there is only unbecoming, only the empty spot, the void.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

April 27, 2015

Walk up and kill him

Musashi talks about the void. Chiba Chosaku talks about the empty spot. Takuen Soho talks about the immovable mind. They are all talking about being able to respond without thought, without calculation to a situation. Mushin, munen muso. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Techniques appear at need from nowhere.

When I try to explain Niten Ichiryu I often say "walk up and kill him". Partly I'm talking about the simplicity of the kata in the ryu, but I'm also talking about the mechanics of the strikes. They contain a large aspect of spontaneity, of striking from the empty spot. Just strike.

Sounds great doesn't it? You will finally be unbeatable and as we see in the movies, nobody will ever be able to sneak up on you and defeat you. We even have martial arts that test for higher grades by making the students dive out of the way of a shinai strike from behind. Amazing, a real spidey-sense that tingles all over the place.

Oh, wait, where's that radioactive spider again?

Tapping into the void doesn't mean supernatural powers, it means having enough practice, enough experience that you don't need to think about it. When I'm in the shop I can look from ten feet away to a board and tell whether it's a full inch or under by a sixteenth of an inch. This is not magic, this is experience. If you are old enough to have been doing a job for twenty or thirty years consider how much conscious thought you need to do it well. This is the void. You adapt to unexpected demands of your job spontaneously, you don't get distracted by the trivial, you go to the heart of what needs doing and you do it.

Does this mean you can see around corners? Even the best accountant may not get out and find another job before the company loses it's biggest customer and goes bankrupt. There are things you can't see, and what you can't see you can't deal with.

So Musashi and all the other swordsmen were as vulnerable to unseen strikes as anyone else. To defeat an opponent from the void they needed to be facing that opponent. They needed to know they were in a fight. Note that my saying is "walk up and kill him", you're aware you're in a fight. It is often said that Musashi never bathed for fear of being attacked out of reach of his swords. This may or may not be true, but the story is truth. To avoid being attacked unexpectedly, expect an attack. Cut down the chances of being ambushed by not being in the situation in the first place.

Don't let people with shinai in their hands stand behind you.

April 27, 2015

12 - Moral Instruction in Budo

15.1.12. The gain of such as art comes of using one of my [techniques] and two of the opponent’s. It is, for instance, to strike [in proper timing] having the opponent miss the target while I raise the sword to strike. This is called using one out of two. To cut after having parried is called one for one or two for two. When you use the one-out-of-two, it is certain victory. Using one-for-one and two-for-two you sometimes win and sometimes lose. Trying to do both at the same time, you lose in a moment.

Thousand-fold variations should be thoroughly covered in practice.

If I remember right, the western tradition speaks of beats here. A strike down is one beat, to block and strike is two beats. Chiba here is saying that if you have one beat while your opponent has two you are more likely to win, provided of course your beat is a strike.

At least that's what it seems like he is saying. Unfortunately it doesn't actually read that way. I raise my sword while the opponent strikes and misses and then I strike. This he calls one out of two and you win.

To parry and then cut is one for one or two for two and you win sometimes and lose sometimes.

Try to do both and you lose in a moment.

I'm assuming that to lift and then to strike is one. This would make striking from Jodan 0.5? The opponent missing is two? Regardless of this, the situation is what Musashi called stamping on the sword, you will hit him just after he's cut and missed. This is a good strategy, well represented in many schools. Shooklyn notes the modern kendo example of kote-nuki-men, expose your wrist, avoid his strike by lifting your sword and hit his head.

The second situation where you parry and strike gets into the ton-ton, back and forth fight where you take turns striking and blocking. Chiba seems to be saying that the winner is a random event. I'd tend to agree, and it's best not to get into this sort of thing. Musashi would say you ought to disentangle or change the situation with a sudden movement before it occurs to your opponent to do it.

But the third, are we trying to parry and cut at the same time? Cutting and knocking the opponent's sword aside as you cut is said to work. Are we trying to use one for two and two for two at the same time? I'm not sure what that would be.

I suspect Chiba means don't get confused trying to decide what to do. If you decide to block and to cut at the same time your body will be locked in confusion as two different signals are sent together. A sure way to lose.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

April 28, 2015

13 - Moral Instruction in Budo

15.1.13. When one abandons manifold transformations of techniques, one relies instead on the gain of one single course of action. In other words, one reaches the stage of unchanging heart-mind. It is called “undistracted thought.” Thus, maneuvers are made depending on the opponent.

The secret of countering a thousand blades with one sword lies in making use of the accumulated merit of practice. When the time comes to put this [knowledge] to the test, one ought to rely on the spontaneous manifestation of technique. This secret thereby obtained is thereby mastered only in one’s mind. From the outset, let all the maneuvers happen naturally and strive to ascend to the stage of “a hundred battles and a hundred victories” with your whole being. What is called the stage of the single blade in kendo lies in selecting no particular skills, nor in getting involved with principles and technical nuances of manifold changes and transformations. It consists in the total victory before the opponent even conjures his principles and techniques, by making use of the single blade of unchanging one-pointed mind.

This is the summation of all that we have discussed before. Chiba gives us numerous pairs of concepts and tells us that they are actually the same, two sides of a coin. Here he tells us to abandon technique, abandon all thoughts of principles, all planning. Let the encounter unfold, allow yourself to fight from the place of undistracted thought, the unchangeing heart-mind, use the single blade to overcome a thousand blades and all that.

In other words, use spontaneous action to defeat whatever is thrown at you.

Heck, I've known that since my first days in the martial arts. I read lots of books and they all told me to just 'do it'. What's the big deal, you have faith and swing and somehow a technique shows up and you win. I've seen the movies.

But does faith have anything to do with it? Only if you figure Fudo Myoo will somehow guide your arm. Thing is, the gods may also be on the side of the other guy, despite you being a better offerer up of worship.

No, better to respect the gods but not rely on them. The reason Chiba put this article here rather than at the beginning of the piece is that you don't get here without a lot of practice, a lot of learning of technique. Then, after years of repitition and learning you have to do the most difficult thing of all, you have to let it all go. Now that's tough.

Who wants to let go of 10 or 20 years of work? You spend a decade making sure you can cut to exactly one angle, move in exactly the correct distance and block to the cut in less than five milliseconds, now you're supposed to give all that up? Nonsense, what's the point of learning all that stuff in the first place?

The point is that you have something you can let go. A beginner knows nothing, a master knows nothing. What do you think separates them? You know the ending now, feel free to jump to the end and cut out all that hard work through the middle. Be sure to let the rest of us know how you did that.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

April 29, 2015

14 - Moral Instruction in Budo
(Itto-ryu Kenjutsu Jiri Kuden Kannen Sho, 1769)

15.1.14. There is a distinction in kendo between the long and the short [range.] At a long range I use the gap to expose [the enemy’s] aim. At a short range I use that space to project my aim.

The differences of range ought to be quickly adapted to deploy projection and reflection. It applies both to my opponent and myself. It is not just a matter of who is superior at long range and who the other way round. Both conditions come down to one: assuming a given form and following through with a technique. It will be easy to maneuver if the form is mastered. The ease in maneuvering brings about a natural success. Thus left alone, the matter of distance no longer depends on the length of the sword or actual inches and yards.

That said, if I fail to make use of the long range, I gain nothing. Conversely, if I make use even of a short range, I will succeed. Going for long range, do not end up unable to change your technique into a short-range cut; going for a short range do not [become unbalanced or overextend] if you have to adapt a long range. This is called “the sameness of the long and the short.” However, if you end up consciously choosing one of the conditions and “measure” with your blade, your mind will become entangled in calculation, and you will thus lose the original heart-mind of the art.

Your heart-mind is the sharpest sword. What does it have to do with range? For instance, even if you wield a dull sword that cannot cut flesh you will break bones with it. In this manner, even the dull sword finds its use. For the one who sharpens the sword of one-pointed calm and pure heart-mind, it matters little what kinds of weapons he might use: all become the sharpest swords. If the original sword is never separated from the body even for an instant, taking life or giving life become spontaneous matters.

That said, the one who takes advantage of the long range wins over the one who falls short. When both are equal, one sometimes loses and sometimes wins. Yet sometimes the one who falls short wins, and the one who overreaches loses. In battles there are winners and losers, and it is all in accord [with the supreme principle]. He who does not know his limitations obstinately desires a gain regardless of whether it is for the good or evil of others. This is against the Way.

There are limitless outcomes of any given contest such are the wondrous benefits of spontaneous nature. Sometimes there is victory, sometimes defeat, and yet too, total victory where defeat seemed imminent. Sometimes both parties die, yet sometimes both survive. There are no obvious certainties, nor are there any obscure uncertainties. There is no way of seeing whether you are going to win or lose. All are the wondrous benefits of spontaneous nature of the Heavenly Way.

Thus if you do not think about the advantages and disadvantages of a contest, freeing yourself from life and death, and letting the advantages and disadvantages be decided by the will of Heaven, you will decapitate the great opponent –your own ego; and then the enemies in ten directions will disappear. When there is no opponent, how can you be defeated? Suppose there is someone who will come and challenge you. He will but destroy himself.

Knowing this is wisdom, and also, virtue. Practicing it is valor, and also, art.

We continue with the summing up of the "Mysteries of Swordsmanship" (15.1) but move to what feels a bit like a forgotten point, the close and far distance, or perhaps we should say the approach. The first sentence states that we use the long range to expose the opponent's aim, and the short range to project our own. Since modern kendo starts at the neutral point of this range, the issoku itto or one step distance, we should perhaps think of kata here. As you walk toward your partner you should be projecting in such a way as to see what he intends, then as you cross the one-step distance you perform your counter to his attack. We might also think of the WWII kendo matches which were set up to start at a large distance and finish with a single point. In that case you were expected to run toward the opponent and win in a single strike. You had the approach to analyse what he intended and then it was over.

Chiba mentions projection and reflection. This we discussed in article 15.1.4. We should project what we wish the opponent to see as we approach from long range, and reflect what he does as we move to close range. We assume a form and adapt a technique to respond to that, both opponents do this, and if the form as been mastered you will have success. Being concerned with the measured distance, having a longer or shorter sword, these don't matter as much as our appreciation of distance, to our technique. At this point (1769) in the development of kendo one could have a shinai of any length one wanted, (bokuto too, one supposes, shinken however were likely regulated by then). Chiba is saying that this isn't as important as understanding the distance during a fight.

"That said" if you don't use the approach you won't gain any advantage, but if you use any distance to your own ends you will succeed. Adapt, if you're looking for a strike from a long distance and he jumps in close, adapt. If you're striking close and he jumps out of range, don't get over-extended. If you start measuring the distances you will lose your one-pointedness (heart-mind), you will become entangled in calculation. Treat every distance as the same thing.

"Your heart-mind is the sharpest sword". We move a bit toward metaphore here with the observation that even a dull sword will break bones if it is used correctly. Keeping your concentration, your un-entangled mind, you will be able to use anything as a weapon. If you forget the "original sword" (the one in your mind) you will have a problem, keep sword, mind and body integrated (through long practice and then forgetting technique) and giving or taking life becomes spontaneous. Musashi says we must always keep the strike in mind, everything works toward the strike and if we forget this for an instant we are in trouble.

"That said" if you can strike from a long range that's better. If both are equally skilled at long range it's a toss-up. Sometimes the long range specialist over-reaches and loses. When speaking of battles, someone wins and someone loses, if you insist on trying to win, for whatever reason, you are going against the Way. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes both walk away, there's no way of knowing what will happen in a fight and this is the wondrous benefit of the "spontaneous nature of the Heavenly Way."

Leave all thoughts of winning and losing, life and death to the will of heaven and you will "decapitate the great opponent - your own ego" With this your enemies dissappear and you can never be defeated. If someone attacks, wishing to kill you, he has already destroyed himself.

How many times have we heard that last and figured that means if we're "good enough" at X-ryu and someone tries to fight us they've already lost? Firing bullets at Superman, it's just asking to get your lights punched out. It's not really that is it? When Musashi fought Sasaki and Sasaki threw his saya away Musashi said "you have lost!" Shortly after that Musashi decided he didn't get it, he figured (perhaps even correctly) that Sasaki was so upset he could be beaten and saying this would upset him even more. Tricks and a desire to win are not what it's about unless all you want is to win. In that case you're a murderer and you're using satsunin-ken.

If we have decapitated our ego and are challenged and lose our physical head, our opponent has still defeated himself. He still has to live with his ego. It is in this way that the kendo (kenjutsu, whatever you practice) gives wisdom and becomes an art.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

April 30, 2015

15 - Moral Instruction in Budo

(Itto-ryu Kenjutsu Jiri Kuden Kannen Sho, 1769)

15.1.15. When both my opponent and I have discernment, both of us approach without thinking, both retreat without calculation.

He does not approach where I want him to. When I approach, he defends himself. When I am like this, he is also the same: striking at an unexpected spot, reacting in an unpredictable manner. There is no end to these infinite changes and transformations. Applying the principle through a variety of moves, both he and I are one and the same body. He thinks what I think; he calculates my calculations. The unity of technique, principle, movement and stillness is like projecting one’s reflection in a mirror.

At this stage, there is no technique with which to win and no principle to be known.

Whenever you want to win, you will lose. Whenever you do not win, you will immediately lose. The fact that you do not win means you have not [mastered] the art. An adept must keep this in mind.

When I was much younger I had an Aikido partner with whom I was in complete synch. We were equally matched physically and mentally, and we had tremendous sensitivity to each other's movements. We could change techniques in mid air and still land without damage. There was nothing like it and I remember it to this day.

It lasted for about six months and then was gone. I have been hunting for it ever since. I've come close, but never that close to dancing on the edge of disaster, that close to the absolute limits of what I could do.

For a time in Tae Kwon Do I could freestyle with a partner so that it looked a lot like Capoeira, kicks skimming the cheekbones, punches grazing the chin, sweeps barely touching the foot.

For a time in Jodo my partner and I tried, really tried, to take each other's heads off and never quite succeeded. Another partner did me the honour of trying to cave in my skull when doing sword with me.

If you and your opponent both understand the mysteries as outlined in this text, you will be a match, there will be no thought of winning and losing, only of two who are one in the art, both a part of one whole, reacting to each other like a reflection in the mirror. When you experience this you lose all interest in besting an opponent, you only want to continue in this endless winning that is the giving up of the idea of winning.

If you wish to win, you will never get to this point, you will lose. If you do not win, you will instantly lose as your opponent comes through your collapse to strike you. If you don't win you must practice until you cannot lose.

This is the end of first set of articles, 15.1, the Mysteries of Swordsmanship. There are four more sections to come but none as long as this one. I will try to break them into logical sections if possible.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

May 1, 2015

16 - Moral Instruction in Budo

(Itto-ryu Kenjutsu Jiri Kuden Kannen Sho, 1769)

15.2. Formlessness of Swordsmanship Methods

The Great Limit is originally limitless. Water yields to square and round vessels and assumes their forms, but originally it is formless. And so it is with the methods of swordsmanship.

Although at the beginner stage one focuses on stances and learns how to perform techniques, the Stance is originally formless. Accordingly, just like the water that yields to the vessels and assumes their forms, the Stance also assumes various forms in response to the opponent. Indeed there are various examples of stances depending on a style of swordsmanship such as upper, middle (or “clear sight”) and lower level stances; side stance and its reverse; kasumi stance; yin-yang stances, and so forth. Yet they are all wondrous workings of the multitude of changes and transformations that stem from the One Function.

Furthermore, there are various names of battle formation methods –the Eight Battle Formations: Fish Scales, Crane Wings, Flock of Geese, Spear, Bow, Crescent, Yoke Swing, and Five Agents; Mutual Confrontation; Three Siege Maneuvers; Left-Right Encircling Maneuvers; Shapes of One一 and Nine九; Boar-swinging Dragon; Endless Snake, Long Snake, and so forth; and all these forms are assumed in response to the changes of the opponent formations.

However, when someone makes only forms without knowing the Principle, he is ignorant of the Principle of changes and transformations. As a common saying has it, “he makes a Buddha image without putting a soul in it.” For instance, if the formation is suddenly attacked by forces assaulting from the rear or along the right or left flanks, the head force regroups to the rear, or one flank reinforces the other. Strategists must be constantly aware of these [responses]. This is called “nipping mutability in the bud.”

Therefore, always assume a form in response to the opponent, and not by yourself.

A shōgi player has several pawns –the assaulting force –to play with. Captured pawns become part of the capturer’s force. So it is with the art of swordsmanship. Although the way the forms are used is a received tradition, these forms, too, are just like the standard moves of shogi pieces. [Ultimately] form and no-form are all the same. The one who becomes aware of this principle will spontaneously mature in his understanding of the art, and thus he will do the techniques without doing the techniques. This is verily called a “true technique”. Should you come to the realization of this principle after your hands and feet have become accustomed [to the techniques], such knowledge will surely become your shortcut to mastery.

The matter of assaulting forces and regular troops depends upon the opponent, while the matter of committing and feigning depends upon yourself –the outcome [of the battle] depends on how well the belly of each side is settled. Is this not what the ancients used to say?

Chiba makes many things more clear in this passage, he is demystifying the mysteries. We learn where stances and techniques come from and when they should be used.

First, we are reminded that swordsmanship is originally formless. The creating of technique comes from a place of no techniques, shape comes from no shape like water, originally formless, assumes form when poured into a vessel. This is not such an obvious statement as it might seem. We teach from techniques, from shapes, and it's hard to get beyond that stage. I have read endless discussions on the 'net about the difference between one line of practice and another and it never seems to get beyond "those guys finish their cut at horizontal and we finish ours a little below horizontal". The sort of thing that one would be teaching a beginner becomes blown up into a justification for two lines of practice. When one has only a hammer... when ones knowledge extends to where the sword stops during a cut, everything seems to come down to cut-finish-height.

Form comes from formlessness. Technique gets made up, it isn't received from another plane of existance. There is no ultimate reality where techniques exist as ideal forms which we then try to approach. It may seem to be this way, when we begin to write we may copy the kanji until we learn to recognize them (to read), we may practice various kata containing various techniques until we learn swordsmanship, but ultimately it would be nice if we could write, if we could create something from nothing on our own.

When you read Chiba's list of stances above did you see it as a list of stances or did you start to wonder what kasumi stance or yin-yang stance was? The point is that these are just names for shapes, it isn't important that you know them. It's important that you know they all come from one place, from no-stance, and no, I don't want to know what mugamae looks like in your school. Think about that, you can show me what mugamae looks like. Of course you can tack a name onto anything, any shape, you can call a shape no-shape if you wish, but it might be more useful to look for a deeper meaning to a name like that.

Chiba now jumps from solo fights to the battlefield in a way that is similar to Musashi's discussion in the Go Rin no Sho. Obviously a student of the sword arts was expected to expand his understanding beyond the duel to the war. Again, the limited understanding of the beginner is often seen on the 'net, as some will claim that "this school still teaches the strategies of warfare while that one has been reduced to teaching only swordsmanship". Perhaps, yet this author gives a rather impressive list of battle formations despite being a member of a sword school which I have never heard associated with battle strategy and writing in the middle of a long age of peace. What's that you say? He might have studied beyond his school? I bet he did, yet he uses battle formations as an example while discussing his sword school. Knowing lots of battle formations is not all that useful in and of itself. You need to know which to apply to what formation your opponent uses, and then you have to know how to change your formations in relationship to what your opponent is doing... actually if you can do it before he changes his formation that's even better. Nip it in the bud.

Making formations on the parade ground or when you're leading a marching band might be entertaining, but making formations on the battlefield which are not in response to what your enemy is doing, is to misunderstand strategy altogether.

"Therefore, always assume a form in response to the opponent, and not by yourself." I am so tempted... no I will comment here on iaido. I hold a high rank in that art but I am forced to reappraise it as a martial art while reading this passage. Is iai simply making a buddha without putting a soul into it, is it just form without function? This is worth more space than what we will give ourselves here, I encourage some reflection by my iaido students.

The text moves on to compare techniques in sword to the standard opening moves in shogi. We have the received tradition, what we were taught by our instructors, but sword techniques are no more and no less useful than standard openings in a board game. Ultimately we are looking for the principles behind the techniques, the formless knowledge that exists beyond the opening moves.

Moving your pieces, setting up your troops, depends on what the enemy is doing. Attacking or feigning depends on you. The outcome depends on who has the stomach for the fight.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

May 2, 2015

17 - Moral Instruction in Budo

(Itto-ryu Kenjutsu Jiri Kuden Kannen Sho, 1769)

15.3. Proper timing in a match

When both opponents face each other in a match, endless variations of movements may arise. Once the state of anticipation in the middle of an attack and attack in the middle of anticipation is actualized, [the practitioner] arrives at the unity of attack and anticipation. Maturing in technical skill, [the practitioner] arrives at the principle. Mastering the principle, he arrives at the [perfection of] technique. The unity of technique and principle is thus embodied. In this manner, when one’s belly is settled, his hits leave no trace, his actions make no shapes. As the saying goes, it is like striding on top of the nine heavens and strolling below the nine grounds. Beyond the border of no-recollection and no-thought, no sound issues, and no odor comes forth. Ghosts and spirits would not visit this place.

As a matter of comparison, the mind is likened to a mirror in that it reflects objects. This is called the mind-mirror. If you face a mirror and try to attack, the attack cannot pass undetected. But if your mind projects itself, it can hardly be called a real mind-mirror.

There is an old poem that Hanshan once addressed to Shide:

That you are holding that broom
while there is no dust to sweep
is in itself mind’s dust,
is it not?

The following poem is Shide’s response:
This broom
is for sweeping the kind of dust
called “no dust to sweep.”

This interesting dialogue indicates the stage when the level of no-recollection is not yet reached. When there is a thing called “mirror,” it means there is still a concept of “a mirror.” To get rid of the mirror that reflects, and to be able to reflect is the highest mastery of the mind. As an old poem has it:

The Pond of Sarusawa –
the moon thinks not
of casting its reflection
upon the water
that thinks not of reflecting.

While such an account is surely that of someone who has achieved an exalted level, let me also provide an account of proper timing for striking down an opponent, in a manner suited for a general audience. To wit, when the following opportunities present themselves in a match, one should definitely strike:

1. One should avoid the opponent’s committed moves, but strike at feigned
2. Next one should strike the opponent using the discernment of the eye, and ones. not the mind.
3. Strike when the opponent is indecisive.
4. Strike when the opponent freezes.
5. Strike when the opponent shouts in preparation for an attack instead of waiting for him to do his technique.
6. Strike instantaneously.

Also, there is a method of the Eight Conditions for a match:
1. You must act when the opponent is in the midst of preparation.
2. In a match, you must act according to the position of the opponent.
3. You must act when you discern your opponent’s habits.
4. When the sword tips come into contact, you should pressure the opponent’s attacking impulses with your mental power. 218
5. You must put yourself in a striking position such that your opponent will consider it too far for a strike, [6] while it will be close enough for you.
7. When the opponent is strong on the defense, you must use feigned and committed attacks.
8. Regardless of how strong the opponent’s hand is, dissipate the force and attack.

In terms of military strategy, when you must attain victory over an opponent who is twice or three times stronger then you, it is a matter of great importance to retreat from the place of direct confrontation while striking at the opponent’s weak spots in counterattack. In military strategy, too, there is no such thing as cutting down the opponent in a dramatic theatrical manner. You must think deeply over such matters as when to pursue and scatter the opponent, as well as when to retreat and counterattack: know these well.

Timing. You have to unify attack and anticipation so that they aren't two separate things. You must master the technique to understand the principle and master the principle to arrive at the technique. When you unify it all you are in the place where ghosts won't go, you're in the void. We've heard this before, as we have heard of the mind-mirror that is not clouded but reflects so purely that no attack can be missed. If there is dust on the mirror it doesn't reflect truely. A mirror also reflects without thinking about it, like the pond and the moon.

That reminder given with appropriate zen poems to the superior swordsman, we ordinary folks are now told the opportunities to strike in a match. You can read those for yourself. The first two seem somewhat strange to me at first glance. Striking at feints seems a good way to fall into the trap, but if we know it's a feint we can strike at a different place than the one desired. Avoiding the committed move is also efficient, the alternative is to block it which takes more energy than avoiding it.

The second point is to strike using the discernment of the eye and not the mind. Again, it seems counter-intuitive, surely we want to use our mind and not our eye? No, your eye is the mirror, your mind-mirror is the strike that happens when you see-strike without putting the analysing mind in between the two. The rest seem clear, if not obvious.

The eight conditions for a match are next and they seem fairly clear as well. Number seven means, I suspect, you should mix up your attacks between feigned and committed. Shooklyn suggests that against a strong defence one should feign and then strike the exposed target as the opponent reacts to the feint. Going back, we see that he on the other hand should be striking us at an exposed point as we feign toward him. We can see how fast we get into the situation where neither can win if both are skilled.

It seems to me that this advice ought to be as applicable to kendo players today as it was in 1769. Read the points just before your next practice and see what you can do with them.

The final passage bears special attention. First, we are told that on the battlefield we do not confront superior strength directly, but retreat and counterattack to the weaknesses that are exposed. Good advice, the counterpoint would be to strike strongly and quickly before the opponent can retreat if one is superior in strength.

Next we are reminded that there is no dramatic, theatrical victory to be had. Too much style is a bad thing, just get the job done. Remember what Musashi said about flowers that have no fruits.

Be the big coconut that falls on the head, not the flower petals.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

May 5, 2015

18 - Moral Instruction in Budo

(Itto-ryu Kenjutsu Jiri Kuden Kannen Sho, 1769)

15.4. On the unity of mind, vital force, and power

The expanse of Heaven and Earth never extends beyond the Principle and vital force. The cyclic progression of the four seasons never stops –it is caused by the configurations of vital force, which in turn depend on Principle.

Man is born between Heaven and Earth receiving both the Principle and vital force. His heart-mind is the luminous essence of vital force. Therefore the heart-mind is in union with the perfect forces of Heaven and Earth; it thus abides in utmost sincerity and ultimate beauty. As in this old poem, the fragrance of cherry blossoms comes from the heart:

Cherries of Yoshino –
year after year
they blossom.
Split the trunk and see
where the flowers’ fragrance is.

Vital force fills the body. With regard to the heart-mind –as in the case of soldiers who follow their general’s command and move swiftly –when General Heart-Mind is tough, Soldier Body, full of force, will follow his general’s order and move at once. To describe once again the working of the heart-mind by way of an analogy to chess, tapping on the edge of the board humming a popular tune is indicative of the state of vital force, in other words, of an unsettled mind. Although it is quite normal that this so-called “vital force” should be so agile, we must understand that the heart-mind moves depending on vital force.

That which is called “power” arises where vital force gathers. When vital force is deficient, the body is weak; when the vital force is abundant, the body is strong. When the vital force of breathing is abundant below the navel, the whole body, down to a single hair, will not be short of strength. Therefore, you should know that strength is in the body, while courage is in the heart-mind.

Through continual practice of swordsmanship for several years, strength and courage will extend to the tip of the bamboo sword. This is called the “power that issues from technique.”

When the heart-mind, vital force, and power are separated, the efficiency of techniques of swordsmanship cannot be demonstrated. It is as with gunpowder: if sulfur, saltpeter, and ashes are separated, its power will weaken; but if the three ingredients are mixed, its power is so effective –it is akin to making Heaven and Earth tremble.

“No space to fit a hair;” “flint-and-sparks momentum;” “strike the opponent before he makes a move;” and “the cat catches a mouse” –all these are expressions of the unity of heart-mind, vital force, and power.

Principle and vital force, 理気 is Ri Ki. Shooklyn notes that this would be understood in that time as a Neo-Confucian concept of principle (emptiness) and vital force (phenomena and the energy that binds them) which echoes the Buddhist emptiness and manifiestation. Today we would probably say it's the unity of theory and spirit but we must always understand the definition as the author understood it when reading anything.

Nothing extends beyond emptiness and phenomena. That's acceptable, there's not-stuff and stuff. That's not going to be argued by anyone, but of course that's not the problem for philosophers is it? The problem is stating that stuff comes from not-stuff. That the seasons depend on the movements of vital force which depends on the principle. For swordsmen, I don't think we need worry deeply about this, we can take it as a metaphore meaning that what we do is best derived as if out of nowhere, rather than at the end of a long and time-consuming string of reasoning. It's a very practical matter of prolonging life during a swordfight.

Man is between heaven and earth and we have both ri and ki. Our heart-mind is in harmony with these and so we abide in utmost sincerity and ultimate beauty. I very much wish we understood this, unfortunately we are also greedy, grouchy and prone to ambition, all of which destroy our understanding of just how much in harmony with the universe we are. This is why we lament the passing of childhood. It's also what we need to re-capture to become better swordsmen.

Chiba uses a lovely poem to illustrate our need to understand this unity. I love this poem, I can imagine someone splitting open a cherry tree and looking for the scent of the blossoms. We do this all the time. my own reaction to the poem is to think "you're looking where the scent isn't" after all the trunk doesn't smell of blossoms, blossoms do. Of course the poet is speaking of finding the source of the smell, not the smell itself, and so we break the tree open to look. We could dig up the roots, we could grind the flowers and extract the molecules and put them through a mass spectrometer and... wait, we just found the fragrance, and we can identify how it is created too.

The poet wasn't thinking literally I suspect, if I remember right, Japan had a pretty good perfume / cosmetic / chemical industry quite early on. The point is that it's the whole that is important. It takes the entire tree to make the fragrance. We can extract it, we can likely synthesize it, but that's not the point. To look in the trunk for the fragrance is to destroy the fragrance. Break down the techniques, examine the variables too closely and you risk going too far down the chain and losing your fight. Leave the tree alone and enjoy the fragrance, leave your heart-mind unified with the principle and the vital force and enjoy... everything. Split your attention and you split the trunk of your cherry tree. Pay attention, concentrate.

Power comes from the vital force, and now we're talking about that which makes the body strong, part of which is breathing from the hara and not the chest. Strength is in the body, courage in the heart-mind. I really like this, we would say "strong mind and body", but Chiba goes on to say that power issues from technique. And where does technique come from? The principle (void). And how does the principle act? Through the vital force (ki) which acts through the heart-mind to create courage which can use the body's strength which thus creates this power.

Break any link in that chain and power decreases or disappears. You can be the strongest dude around, or have the most spectacular technique, or the deepest understanding of the philosophy, but it requires all of that together, working as an entire tree to produce the fragrance of a cherry blossom.

Dude, it's spring, go smell the Sakura, and while you're at it, have a sniff at the trunk to see what we're talking about.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

May 11, 2015

19 - Moral Instruction in Budo

(Itto-ryu Kenjutsu Jiri Kuden Kannen Sho, 1769)

15.5. Technique –Principle: Questions and Answers.

Question: There are technique and principle in swordsmanship. What is technique?

Answer: In kendo there are four roots [of technique]: size, strength, speed, and weight. However, there are four types of disadvantages associated with these four: big is slow; strong is stiff; fast is small, and light is weak. The one who does not have these disadvantages can be called “truly big, strong, fast, and light.” The technique that does not lose its direct impact is called “correct.”

Question: What is principle?

Answer: It is that which governs technique and is thus the hidden side of technique. It is called “mysterious.” Victory is attained by combining the correct and the mysterious. The correct becomes mysterious, the mysterious correct. This is called “the union of technique and principle.”

Question: What are victory and defeat?

Answer: Victory and defeat depend on the following three factors: distance, position, and vital force.

Question: What do these three mean?

Answer: When my opponent advances I retreat. This is called “distance.” When he positions himself at a certain place, I do likewise. This is called “position.” He has vital force and so do I. The two interact. This is called “vital force.”

We come to the final section which is a series of questions and answers. It's fun that after the pains the author took to explain the value of leaving thoughts of winning and losing behind, that these questions deal mostly with winning and losing. We'll split the section up a bit as it's fairly long.

The first question is about technique and the author mentions that technique comes from four roots. Size, strength, speed and weight. Today we often say Dai Kyo Soku Kei meaning big, strong, fast and smooth. That last is interesting as Chiba uses weight rather than smoothness. Kei can mean light or flexible so without having the original kanji to look at I suspect this is the phrase we're discussing.

The four terms are usually given as the order in which you should learn. First big, then strong, then fast and finally smooth. Heaven forbid that you skip one.

It does happen that we teach beginners big movements, then they get strong. Once they give up a bit of strength they start to get faster and eventually, with enough practice they tend to smooth out. It's more of a natural progression than a curriculum and we usually keep the teaching mantra to "big". We're happy if shodan level iaidoka can go through the movements with some size. Nidans tend to have cuts strong enough to split logs, sandan and yondan get fast and finally, at about godan or rokudan we're starting to see some smoothness. At rokudan we're still trying to get them to ease up on the grip, although the rest of the body is lovely and light.

I'm more interested in the interplay of these things, and especially in Chiba's use of weight rather than smoothness. Each of these four roots have a weakness inherent in them. Big is slow, strong is stiff, fast is small and light is weak. Good technique means having none of these weaknesses. How do we do that? Tenouchi and shibori, the grip. Ease up on the stone hands and squeeze as you hit. Oh? You know that already? Of course you do, but if you're having trouble with it think of Kei as weight rather than smoothness and see if that helps. It surely helped me.

That's technique. Interesting that we haven't had any specific physical movements described isn't it? Perhaps the author is trying to protect the secrets of the school? I doubt it. These are the secrets, the actual movements in a technique are, or should be, left behind long before you're reading something like this text.

We move on to principle, the other side of technique, and by now we know that it's the void, the space from which techniques arise. Here it's called the mysterious and victory is attained by combining the mysterious with the manifestation, the technique. "Who knows where that technique came from but it worked!"

Next we get into the nitty gritty, victory and defeat. We still don't have any physical movements described but Chiba gives us three factors to consider, distance, position and vital force.

Distance means to advance when your opponent retreats. Be in range, preferably when he is out of range. When he stops and takes a stand so do we take our position. Preferably where he is out of position. Then we interact through our vital forces, our ki, our spirit as we swing at each other and victory and defeat appear.

Simple yes? Walk up and hit him.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

May 12, 2015

20 - Moral Instruction in Budo

(Itto-ryu Kenjutsu Jiri Kuden Kannen Sho, 1769)

15.5. Technique –Principle: Questions and Answers (2)

Question: What is the decisive point in a match?

Answer: When vital force and form come forth together, it is called “the decisive point in a match.”

Question: When this happens, does it lead to a certain victory?

Answer: That which cannot be won is inside one’s self. That which can be won rests with the opponent. One has to mature [in this art] and reach the “wondrous.” When one matures, his heart-mind fully forgets his hand; his hand fully forgets the sword and spear; he does not leave the divine sphere.

Such state is the state of ease in which there is no limit to magical transformations. One maneuvers in accordance with one’s opponent’s movements and attains victory.

Question: What is the meaning of gains and losses with respect to technical form?

Answer: There are a few swordsmen nowadays who tend to assume oblique stances. This is called “linking form.” Linking form allows one to act according to circumstances: when there is contact, one rolls with it; when there is none, one stays away from the opponent. This is called “to follow what comes about.” When one follows this method and becomes proficient in this way, one makes [conscious] maneuvers. In so doing, there are gains and losses with respect to technical form.

When one learns the proper way, his maneuvers will be proper. In training one comes full circle: having gone all the way to the end, one returns to the beginning; having come to the beginning, one reaches the end. There are neither beginnings nor ends for me. The same is true of others –there are no limits to mastery. One is both divine and not. This is called “maturing in studies.”

Question: What is certain victory according to the transmission?

Answer: Certain victory is to be fully accomplished within human affairs. Which is to say, he who studies without reflection remains in darkness; he who reflects without study does not understand the truth. He who studies and reflects well can earn his bread and clothes. If one is active in studies and thorough in reflection, how can one not gain knowledge, how can one not become victorious?

Question: What is the difference between high skill and poor skill?

Answer: The sole difference is whether you can seize the crucial moment in distance and timing or not. Distance and timing are the great opportunities in a contest. When distance and timing are not properly used, even if one has done quite a bit of practical training, one is after all not yet ready to step onto the contest ground. The point of difference between high skill and poor skill is truly a matter of a hair’s breadth.

This is the final part of the text, and we continue with questions on how to win a match. The decisive point is given as "When vital force and form come forth together". This is somewhat different than Musashi's critical point where one is on the verge of hitting or being hit. Chiba refers more to the point where we reach the unity of swordsmanship.

The next question asks if this brings certain victory and Chiba reminds us "That which cannot be won is inside one’s self. That which can be won rests with the opponent" This goes back to his first article where he tells us that the losing point is in oneself and the no-winning point is in the opponent. We are to lose our ego, our desire to win. If there is a desire to win, we cannot win. Whether or not we score a point on the opponent depends largely on him. If he hits us first we will not win. Winning and losing are 'in the air'. If we lose our ego (stay in the divine sphere) and unite the heart-mind, the technique and the sword, we will fight in accord with what the opponent is doing and this will lead to victory (incidentally, whether we win or lose the match).

The questioner still wants to pin something down and asks about gain and loss with respect to technique. Chiba refuses to be drawn in. He tells us of those who use oblique stances (think of an Aikido stance, half-facing forward). This is not the usual kendo position and it allows one to roll away when struck and to keep the body out of reach by, perhaps, using a longer shinai with a longer hilt. The angled body position would allow this longer blade. Using these things one can link one's form to the opponent's form in a mechanical way, and so in a mechanical way one can have gain and loss in technical matters. In other words, if you want to restrict yourself to technical gain and loss, you put yourself into the realm of technique which, as we have been told repeatedly, is limited. No matter what stance you take, if you 'take a stance' you are restricting yourself to that stance. This may seem good for politicians but we are swordsmen and it is dangerous to be drawn into a fight of stance against stance. Instead, learn the proper way so that your movements will be proper. Have no stance, do not try to force the world into your stance in the hope that it is a good one, that way lies the war of rock-paper-scissors.

Chiba says your training will come full circle, at the end you circle back to the beginning and so there is no limit to mastery. We are all familiar with the concept, your white belt gets grimy until it is black and then threadbare to become white again. A beginner has no technique and so strikes 'from nowhere' as does the master.

When Chiba says there are no limits to mastery he means that we come back to the beginning, but not on a flat circle. Open it up to a spiral, when we get back to the beginning we are above the beginning, and each time we circle around we get higher. If you think there is something to learn you will only learn a little. If you think there is learning there is nowhere to stop. It's a process rather than a goal. "One is both divine and not. This is called “maturing in studies.”" When you come back to the beginning you have skills and you do not, you have something and you have nothing, but go around again and you will have more and even less. The 90 year old master says 'I think I am getting the hang of my grip'.

Our questioner then tries another tack and asks about victory according to the transmission. He is told to study and reflect. Study alone brings technical skill alone, without understanding, you swing your sword in the darkness. Reflection alone will not reveal the truth, you are a 'light under a bushel basket', there is nothing to be illuminated. If you study and reflect how can you not learn a truth and this is certain victory according to the transmission. It is ignorance that lies bleeding on the dojo floor.

In the final question our hapless student gives up on trying to learn the secret of winning and asks about good and poor skill. The difference, he is told, is in seeing the critical moment in distance and timing. "The point of difference between high skill and poor skill is truly a matter of a hair’s breadth." Substitute 'literally' for 'truly' and you have our modern version of this statement. It really is a hairs breadth, the thickness of a hair, the time it takes for the sword to move the thickness of a hair.

At Ganryujima
Musashi's headband
floats to the sand

To those who have come along with me as I read through this manuscript, I hope you will go back over the text itself without my thoughts in your head. Circle around to the beginning and see what it will teach you this time.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.

May 13, 2015

Look first

I just watched some clown turn right on a red and just about rear-end someone who had pulled over to let an ambulance in full sound and flashing light fury go by. "Oh, nobody coming through so I can turn"...

How do we expect to tell folks to look first when doing a kata in class if humans can't see or hear an ambulance? Slamming a few tonnes of automobile together at high speeds is pretty damned dangerous yet I see people risking that every minute that I drive. I've given up looking at drivers, what they are doing (beside driving) is just too scary. So how do we expect people to pay more attention to their stick swinging, which is exponentially less dangerous than driving?

Which brings me to a question that occured to me this morning. Do we need to believe that we are in danger of death when we practice the martial arts in order to get the psychological benefit?

Papers have been written to compare training in sports vs budo, traditional vs modern budo, but I'm not sure I've seen any that compare, say, yoga with budo. Both of those are supposed to make you a better person. The perception of risk might have something to do with the focus and attention that is likely a big factor in the beneficial aspects of budo.

Perception of risk. What did I read the other day about someone who was denied access to somewhere with their sword, while the place was full of people with guns? Something like that. Sword? OMG you can't bring that in there, it's a dangerous weapon.

It's not. Not compared to a gun, or even to a car moving at very slow speeds. Having seen the damage a car can do just rolling five feet into a garage door ought to scare the daylights out of everyone. But it doesn't. Familiarity breeds contempt.

So perhaps the novelty of swinging a wooden sword at someone forces the sort of adrenalin reinforced focus that is conducive to reflecting on what's really important in life. Things like soft toilet tissue and good dental hygiene as Cohen the Barbarian says.

Apr 9, 2015

Tameshigiri as cultural object

Am half way through a paper on the cultural meaning of Tameshigiri in Japan. The basic analysis is that prior to 1600 there is little written evidence, either due to the loss of records in the wars, or perhaps to tameshigiri not being a formal thing (there being lots of bodies on battlefields to test swords with). Tameshigiri being the cutting up of humans to test swords, rather than a practice to test cutting skills since for those one needed to hit an armoured and moving target.

In the years after 1600 there are many records of Daimyo doing tameshi with a strong sense of approval of the practice as befits a warrior. At this time, and up to the decline of the practice in the 1700s cutting up human bodies was thought to be an essential part of training to prepare for war. Getting used to it and all that.

Since there was no need to be prepared to cut people down, there being no wars to speak of in the Edo period, eventually the practice was discouraged and fell out of favour except as a judicial punishment for the worst of offenders. Later, in the 1800s we come to tameshigiri as a thing one hired a specialist to do in order to test one's sword (during judicial punishment one assumes). This is the era of inscriptions on the tang telling of how many bodies the sword cut through.

Then the author jumps to modern day tameshigiri as a form of cutting rolled mats to test the skills of the swordsman rather than the sword itself.

I have to be fair and mention I'm only half way through the paper and may yet come to the period between the Meiji restoration and today, but so far there seems to be no mention of this period, which is interesting.

Is there no information on tameshigiri during the days of the Imperial Army and the Japanese Empire or is it just rude to mention this period in the history of sword practice? Does one simply drop that part of the story with some sort of "time passes" or "and then stuff happened"?

Without the years from 1870 to 1950 we have a hard time connecting any of our present sword practice with the older traditions. That's a hundred years, are we to believe that someone went to sleep in 1850 and woke up in 1950 to resume teaching the sword arts? What happened in between? It is of some value to know what did. For instance, not so very long ago the opening etiquette of Seitei was explained in part as representing our willingness to defend our country. (Sword edge is out facing your opponent when you bow). A few of the seniors standing around raised their eyebrows at this (it being Canada), but I would bet the majority of the beginners would have no idea this wasn't simply an everyday reference to patriotism as one hears from certain politicians every day.

I don't want to be trite and bring up some sort of "those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it" because I'm not a historian. I'm a biologist by training and I'm going to say that to ignore history is to be inhuman. History is the extended memory that our species has been able to develop due to our ability to communicate with one another. It's why the tigers aren't in charge. To ignore history is to become a different type of animal, it's to be someone who can't learn from their mistakes. If you burn your hand on a hot stove and then do it again you're likely to be taken to a doctor to see what's wrong with your memory. If you ignore history and get involved in wars that are proven to metaphorically burn your hand and bring no benefit to anyone except to a few at the top who make money or get re-elected, you need to think about what is wrong with your collective memory, your ability to access "history". Usually what's wrong is that your education is faulty, your societal memory is mis-wired like your brain is, with a faulty memory for hot stoves. The difference is that stoves can't take advantage of your faulty memory but other "humans" can take advantage of a faulty knowledge of history. There is no malice in a hot stove.

As I said, I'm only half way through the paper so perhaps the author will get to the gap. I hope so.

Apr 8, 2015

The Lost Kata Mines of Canada

I don't much like mentioning names in public unless they're public figures, so I won't say who suggested that we might recover lost kata by putting together a computer program to go through all the possible moves of humans and swords. Assuming there were a limited number of combinations of such, we ought to have all the kata that were lost over the years.

Good idea but how would we know which were lost kata rather than brand new ones, and assuming we knew that, which were OUR lost kata?

How do we know that we have lost kata? There are kata that I have not seen, I know of six of them in the koryu iaido school I practice, but that isn't lost, that's just me not knowing them. I suspect they are practiced somewhere, and if not, at least written down. In the Japanese arts we make a big deal about "living transmission" as against the Western arts which are being revived from the old manuals and a lot of experimentation. Are all of their kata lost? Is a kata that I haven't done for 20 years lost? Is it lost if I go back to my notes and revive it?

If I "swim in the ocean" of my art and I find a new kata described in a manual somewhere it isn't hard for me to revive (re-invent?) it. I can fill in the gaps with what I know from the rest of the school. One objection for the western guys is that they are likely filling in gaps with some other martial art rather than the original.

Perhaps, but as we noted above, there are only so many ways to move a body and move a sword with that body. Do a survey of all sword schools all over the world and you find more differences in the etiquette than you do in the way the sword is moved. One handed pokers tend to be poked, two handed slashers tend to be slashed. I've read a frightening number of old singlestick/ backsword/ saber manuals and they pretty much repeat each other. Cover your head, cut on these 8 lines, here's a lunge, here's 8 blocks for the 8 lines of attack.

Let's go back to the Jikiden/Shinden school and consider just what a kata is. If we take the first four of Omori/Shoden do we actually have four kata? Sure, we name and number them, so yes. They consist of a horizontal cut and a vertical cut and deal with four directions, front, side, side, back.

What if we do one to 134 degrees to the left? Is that a new kata? Well 90 degrees is, and 180 degrees is so why not 134 degrees? Do we need that kata? We add a step forward and a block (or another horizontal cut) while stepping back for number 5 kata, what about if we do that after turning right 90 degrees, is that another kata? Do we need that one? Do we need numbers two to four? Surely we can come up with those once we know number one?

Lost? Newly made up and therefore not battle tested so invalid? Can we only mine the past for knowledge and never move beyond? That seems to be the underlying suspicion when we talk about lost kata.

Again to mention Colin Watkin (public figure) of Kage Ryu and his directions for that school. You learn and keep the waza which are tested over the years, but to demonstrate and to practice, you create new kata from those waza. To take this back to the Jikiden/Shinden tradition, that would be to learn the fundamental horizontal draw and the fundamental vertical strike and create a new way to use them. Perhaps by walking forward three steps, turning to the left and drawing the left foot back as you cut horizontally, then shifting forward to cut vertically. This would be a new kata. It would also be Mawari Gake from Keshi Ryu. But the chiburi is different my students say. So don't go through seigan. But the Keshi Ryu goes through uke nagashi from nuki tsuke to kiri tsuke. I can point you to lines of Jikiden that also move through uke nagashi kids, that doesn't make it different.

What's the waza? The horizontal draw and the vertical cut. Make the cut on an angle? Sure. Draw to waki bara instead of to the head? Sure.
I once defined that kata, horizontal draw and vertical cut to finish, and counted how many variations of it I knew. I think I got somewhere between ten and twenty from 5 or 6 different schools. Or I had one waza, one fundamental way to draw and cut. Somewhere in some sword school our lost kata will be replicated. Learn your whole koryu and then start looking through youtube for the other schools. Look at the majority of any school, rather than to their flash techniques which tend to be just that, flash and fun. I suspect you'll find that the school is internally consistent and will give you a single language with which to create or re-create new or lost kata at will. I also suspect you'll find ways of moving that identify that school, often in the chiburi/noto parts.

That's actually my private definition of "koryu". Is it internally consistent? Not very scientific but I am attached to it. I once showed tape of myself doing two schools to Haruna sensei. One was Shindo Munen (which is now to be called Hosoda Ryu) and the other was Keshi ryu. I asked him if he'd ever seen them and he said no, but Shindo Munen was koryu and Keshi was seitei. He was looking at the internal mechanics of the set, looking to see if the kata worked one with the other. A seitei which pulls from several schools will be hard-pressed to show consistent, inter-related movements, by definition. A representative set will be broad by definition.

(On the other hand, we have the jodo seitei of the kendo federation which comes from a single koryu. One can argue whether a certain twitch is a seitei abomination or really from the koryu, but a stranger looking at the set will never guess wrong about which koryu the set came from. There are no unique bits from other jo schools in there to muddy the waters.)

Where does this "lost kata" idea come from? Firstly, we certainly know that there are lost schools. We have lists of schools from the mid-Edo and the sword schools alone hit something like 700 plus. There are far fewer than that today so surely we lost kata. But were all those schools unique? Were there 700 lines of koryu there? There are usually three or four big traditions of sword from which all the sword arts of Japan are said to derive. We may be looking at 700 named schools but many fewer actual lineages. Think about karate in Canada. I suspect I could find several hundred named schools which may go from one to dozens of dojo, but I suspect I'd find a lot fewer actual styles than names. If some of these disappear we may have lost some kata that step through on move number eight of kata number six, but is that an actual "lost kata"?

Within the Jikiden/Shinden iaido school we have another reason to speak of lost kata. Oe Masamichi (or Masaji as his family names him) the 17th headmaster of the Tanimura-ha (also 15th of the Shimomura-ha if I remember correctly) "rearranged the kata of the school into its current levels and numbers, dropping many kata". This was deemed so much a change that in some books Oe is named as the originator of the style.

So of course we small-fry in the west agonize over the lost kata.

Was the re-organization so radical? Oe sensei died in the 1920s I believe, that's not so very long ago. Surely there were people who disagreed with dropping these lost kata, surely some lines continued to practice all of them. Are these lines around? Pretty much everyone I've seen uses the basic three levels and the kata we know. Of course there are variations, as would be expected, but no shockingly different kata have turned up in my experience. Kono Hyakuren's Batto Ho set has some startling movements in it, but any "old" kata that seem outside the current curriculum tend to be variations on a familiar theme.

In other words, not so much "lost kata" as settling on a standard way to do them and a dropping of variations that never actually get dropped. After all, I was at a seminar a few weeks ago where the beginners were getting told "... and this is the way we used to do seitei about five years ago but now we do it like this..." If we can't stop ourselves from listing variations which have been forbidden to beginners who have never seen them, how are we going to lose variations that were simply declared surplus? We wouldn't, we'd keep them around as variations to astound the juniors with. "And Al sensei taught me this variation..." OOOh AAAh say the kids.

Consider Oe sensei's contemporary, Hakudo Nakayama sensei, originator of the Muso Shinden Ryu and student of the Shimomura ha. Did he, from the other line of Tosa Iai, learning from sensei not under Oe sensei's lineage, did he adopt Oe sensei's mass rearrangement and abbreviation of the school? Why would he? Perhaps he didn't and the changes weren't all that great. There are some differences in names and kata between the two schools. Or perhaps he did because the changes and rearrangement made sense. I just don't know personally but I do suspect that since Jikiden and Shinden are so similar, the changes weren't all that earth-shattering.

One of my favourite "lost kata" is Oi Kake Giri from Jikiden. (I say lost, but it's only lost on the Jikiden side, lots of Shinden schools practice it.) It's one that was specifically dropped because it involves running after someone trying to escape and cutting them down from behind. Not a very spiritually enlightening kata. It happens to be a horizontal cut and then a vertical cut but it's done from a running start. Now that's the first way I learned that particular kata, running down and cutting from behind. I learned it as Oi Kaze.

A few years later I learned that I was actually backing up a fellow who was facing me and trying to draw and cut me. This was a nicer kata for sure, so that's the one I do. I never do Oi Kake Giri, even though the way most people do Oi Kaze is identical to that dropped kata. For the sake of full disclosure, I do the two kata slightly differently, with my Oi Kaze involving two longish steps at the beginning to force the opponent to start backing up. Oi Kake Giri I do from a running start, no two steps at the beginning.

That's not different you say, that's just the way I do them? That's the way I do them because they're different. The difference is in the lesson the kata is teaching, and these two lessons are very different. I use the difference of two steps to remind myself of those two lessons.

Lost kata? Define lost, define kata. What could be lost if we have the fundamentals and can create an infinite number of kata? Now, iaaf I discovered a lost Jikiden kata where we jump up and switch our feet for the final cut it would rock my world a bit.

Apr 7, 2015

Seitei, Gateway, just let me in

Poor old seitei iai and jo, relegated to being public domain by virtue of being popular. Used by enough people for long enough you can lose your trademark to the language, you blow your nose on a kleenex and copy that martial arts manual on a xerox don't you. And you don't do zen ken ren iai you do seitei. Well sort of the same thing... OK not the same thing at all, never mind. Moving on.

Although the two schools we call seitei are in fact, property of the kendo federation, they've been used by outside groups as if they are some sort of generic drug that is cheap and made by anyone who wants to bother. I've seen instances where seitei has been used as an intercollegiate competition set of kata where, presumably, neither the competitors nor the judges are familiar with current seitei practice.

No matter, just define it any old way you wish, it's the common set, it's generic, you can do what you want. And really... go ahead. Maybe the kids who have to learn that form of seitei will start to look for a tighter connection to the school and join a Kendo federation. Seitei gateway!

Elsewhere I see it used by those both inside and outside the kendo federation as a screening set. If the students hang around long enough in the seitei class maybe they're good enough to start learning the "real stuff" the koryu. Koryu gateway!

Seitei is the Rodney Dangerfield of budo, it don't get no respect. It's like generic drugs, something to be given to the plebs if they can't afford the "real stuff" that is the branded drug. Of course those who can afford the name brand are getting better drugs, it's obvious isn't it? Name brand drugs are from companies that have your best medical interest at heart, generics are just there to make a quick buck off of someone else's hard work. Hence the price differences.

I don't buy it. Seitei isn't better or worse than koryu, it is a standardized set of kata that came from the koryu. There is no break in practice, there's a continuous line from koryu to seitei. It's the koryu that everyone thinks is out there, the koryu that has a right and wrong way to be done. It's standardized so of course there's one way to do it correctly, that's the standard. Give it some respect for what it is, a way to rank, a way to compete in the kendo federation (and apparently some other organizations which have adopted it). It may even be a way to learn how to swing the sword, the real one not the noodle-stick of kendo (he he), after all that's the original justification for having iai in the Kendo Federation. It had to go somewhere after the Butokukai was disbanded. Yes the Iaido Federation was around before iai was adopted by the Kendo Federation but we don't speak of that. They're the guys in the building next door during the Kyoto taikai.

John Ray told me about the Kyoto event years ago, when folks dressed in strange outfits passed and pretended they didn't see each other. I howled when I saw the parade for myself, check check, nope other guys, avert eyes. It's not disrespect if we pretend they don't exist is it? We just didn't see them there with their sword-bags over the shoulder and their big skirts sweeping the sidewalks.

How do we respect another organization if we don't respect our own common set of practice? Is it just a gateway to the koryu? A way to pull in the masses and screen them for the big show? Once you move on to koryu you can't be happy with the lesser effects of seitei? Well perhaps, but I know better teachers than I, who use seitei as the place where they (we) work on the technical aspects of moving a sword around. Seitei is defined, so we have to accomodate to it, rather than adapt the art to our own lifelong habits of movement. Got an out-turned left foot? No problem in the koryu, you can cut as hard with that left foot out as with it straight. But do a few years of seitei and you have to square up that foot, it's practically the whole of kendo and iaido and the sword side of jodo (ssshhh don't think of the jo side). You learn to work with a straight foot, now you've got a choice in your koryu, square it up or leave it pointed out. It's not the result of a lifetime of habit, it's you controlling your body. I like that.

Seitei isn't less than koryu. It isn't more either. It's something else, and for the most part it's not connected to koryu. Yes many years ago there was some concern that koryu was being neglected and a requirement for some koryu kata during gradings was brought in. Since your koryu kata are more or less decided for you even at 8dan level where you must show seven of them, (some are "recommended" over others) you can get away with practicing a minimum of koryu, and that as if it's the second level of seitei. That's not a lot of koryu, but maybe that is the real "gateway drug" to koryu, those few kata needed to pass a grading. What I'm saying is that the kendo federation doesn't really deal with koryu at all. It doesn't regulate it, define it, or control it. Some sensei in the kendo federation practice and teach various koryu. A few koryu kata are needed for some gradings. There is an association but it's not very tight. There may even be gradings (paper awarded) in koryu lines within the Kendo Federation, but that is somewhat low-key since it causes frowns. There's some averting of eyes.

Where did the idea that you had to be a certain dan grade to start learning koryu come from? The same place where a certain minimum grade was required before using a shinken. A koryu kata is required at Xdan so you start learning koryu at X-1dan. Shinken required at Ydan? Get one for Y-1dan. The connection is the grading requirement, not from any particular teaching requirement (other than that beginners with shinken are very scary) and certainly not from any requirements within the koryu. Let's be clear about that, there is no requirement in any koryu that you have to learn seitei first. How could there be? That requirement comes from your koryu teacher, not from the school which existed long before seitei did. To begin koryu you begin koryu.

I find myself quoting Colin Watkin a lot these days, as Shihan of the Kage Ryu. One thing he pointed out was that there was no special requirement to start Kage Ryu, but a rank in another sword art was a benefit since one brings in certain skills that are of benefit to learning to use the choken. Where do you learn your fundamental skills? Where your sensei tells you to learn them. If he wants you to learn your fundamental skills in seitei, that's where you learn them. Then you go on to learn the specifics of the koryu kata without that part of the learning curve.

Now, however, you have the source of the complaint that seitei is contaminating koryu. It's a perfectly legitimate complaint. The fundamentals of seitei will become your default movement and you're going to have to change that for koryu if required, and if you can be bothered. Those who can't be bothered or who don't practice enough koryu are going to be pointed at as contaminated.

My position these days is that "koryu is big-hearted". I ask my students to do the kata, when they notice that they are doing a koryu kata in a seitei style I tell them how to change and they work on it. To ask them to do things two different ways when a beginner is harder than it needs to be. Seitei default while doing koryu? Only I need be concerned. On the other hand, if their default is koryu and they take that over to seitei there might just be consequences... like failing a grading. Ho Hum, practice some more and do it again.

Seitei as public domain and as gateway to the koryu. Some thoughts for today.

Apr 6, 2015

The Danger of Seitei

Since I'm just hanging around the cottage practicing, feeding the fire and thinking about seitei and koryu stuff I'll go on to the more or less perpetual discussion of the dangers that seitei iai pose to koryu. Please remember that these dangers exist nowhere except those federations that have a standard set of iaido which is used for gradings and tournaments. For those koryu which do not participate in these organizations there is no need to even think about this.

But for those who practice a standard set alongside their koryu, it's a perpetual concern. I'll speak mostly of the kendo federation since that's where I am and it's easiest but I'm sure similar concerns occur in the other iaido federations.

First, the problem exists. There is certainly a concentration on the seitei kata to the neglect of koryu. This is because students have limited time and prefer to concentrate on their grading and tournament kata. It is a strong instructor indeed who can resist the urge to make sure his students are prepared for these. The pressure comes from below, the students, and also from above, the fellow instructors and those above who feel that all students should be well prepared for tests and should participate in tournaments. The more tournaments and gradings, the more seitei.

This pressure is so intense that many clubs have begun to look at seitei gata as a beginner set. The urge to put students into the grading system quickly means that seitei comes first so that they can get into the system. Students want to grade, the federation wants them in, so they start with the seitei. Since this set was developed "to provide kendoka with a knowledge of iaido" it's not a very big step to saying that seitei is all you really need, that "it's all in there". Well it is I suppose, in the sense that all of iai is in the very first kata. In fact all of iai is in the very first draw and cut of the first kata. The rest is just finishing the job and putting the tools away.

My problem with seitei as a beginner set is that it isn't, it's a representative set. It's difficult and students are asked to do way too much way too quickly. They would have a much better foundation if they started in koryu and picked up seitei when they had a good foundation.

But that brings up the biggest danger of seitei to koryu. It can end up replacing koryu altogether. If one does all one's grading and competition in seitei, and one can get to the higher levels of the ranking system with a minimal (or no) knowledge of koryu, what's the percentage of studying that koryu? In a busy life with limited time for practice, why bother with a koryu which one practices only for interest? Poor cost - benefit ratio, concentrate on seitei instead.

None of this is the fault of the seitei system, there's lots of benefit, and neglect of koryu is down to the instructors not the students, but the problem remains, regardless of where blame is placed.

We can go to some of the lesser dangers.

Leakage from seitei into the koryu is often cited as a problem, but I've found it goes both ways. I see a lot of koryu in seitei at very senior levels. Neither of these worry me too much, if one considers it a problem one can pay attention and keep them separate.

A slightly bigger problem from my point of view is the feeling seitei can give to students that koryu is standardized, presumably by a soke who dictates all aspects of the practice from technique to secret teachings. No, what koryu has is a teacher and a student who are in a line of teachers and students. Organizations don't define koryu, committees don't examine standard technical curricula, it's just a teacher telling a student how to do it. Or prehaps more specifically, how his teacher did it.

Which brings up the second concern I have, which is the idea that one can have multiple koryu teachers. Perhaps one can if one teacher sends their students to another to learn something, but the students do not get to pick and choose their koryu teachers. Even in close-knit organizations with multiple instructors with the same head instructor where students might drift around a bit between clubs, the idea that all those koryu teachers are "your" teachers is a highly restricted one, or should be. Seitei is standard by definition, so everyone should be teaching it the same way with the same goals in mind (to pass exams and compete in tournaments most usually). Koryu can be taught in a great many different ways, technically and mentally, and one ought to make sure that they are following a single path through the woods.

In fact, even in seitei this multi-instructor mindset is discouraged past third dan. Once you've learned all the bits and pieces of the kata and you're expected to start putting it together it's best to use a single style, that is, to study with a single teacher.

Now, do I really think that seitei can be the death of koryu? No, but if it is, the blame will lie with the koryu teachers who allowed it to happen, not the organizations who created standardized forms. I do think that some of the above are concerns to be considered seriously by anyone who practices both a koryu and a seitei.

Apr 4, 2015

Purity of Line

Oh how I wish that was only a term used in drawing class. Unfortunately it is forever being used to define problems or solutions to problems. I turned the radio off this morning shortly after learning that there were a bunch of Australians protesting the "some-other-religionification" of the country and their desire to "take Australia back" from the newbies. I'm pretty sure these protesters were not the folks who arrived in Australia 60,000 years ago or whenever it was, I suspect they were the folks who maybe got there in the late 1800s or so, the newbies who came out of Africa in the migration of 30,000 years ago.

Really, this pure line stuff is sometimes just too much. I'm reading some notes from old iai teachers and their more modern champions who are complaining about how koryu is being changed by the upstart styles, specifically those of the big organizations who have a common set used for grading and tournaments. The seiteis and the tohos. There's two suspicious names for you, where did those neighbours come from before moving in next door?

And what's with the influence? The key is the "gradings and tournaments" bit isn't it? If kids wanted to learn the real deal they wouldn't pay any attention at all to a new set of kata, they'd be looking for those pure line koryu out there. That they don't just proves the popularity of the big organizations with gradings and tournaments over the old ways of teaching and thinking. The way to compete might be to do your own tournaments and gradings or to convince people that tournaments and gradings are nothing compared to being part of the pure line, play off the popular stuff with the elitist angle. A third way might be just to get on with it and ignore everyone else, but where's the fun in that? Who can see a wasp nest and not poke it with a stick?

In these cases of koryu pure lineism my first question is always "what's koryu mean"? Always always always this comes down to definitions. What do you define as a koryu? Once you've got your definition it isn't hard to decide what's legitimate and what's not. If your definition is "a sword school in existence continuously from pre-1868 to now", then the ultimate origin of that school is irrelevant.

If you define it as something that was "battlefield discovered/tested" and unchanged from that time to this, you could include machete techniques from various third world countries as of last month. Well maybe a few years ago, cheap assault rifles being much more available lately.

Add in the proviso that our school has to be pre-Meiji Japan and you've got a real problem talking about ANY legitimate koryu being in existence at all since that "battlefield origin and no changes" is going to be disproved in about six seconds thinking.

Some more considerations when arguing about old schools and pure lines:

Paperwork (documentation)

Is either internally generated "this is what we claim is the truth about our school" or generated by outsiders "this is the sword school that demonstrated at this year's festival, they are called so and so and did such and such"

While either (especially the second type) can help with "historical existence" Neither of those seems to be of much use in determining the legitimacy or effectiveness of the school. Nor does it say much about changes (unless you've got grading licenses that list detailed kata changes from one generation to another).

Cultural requirements

If you have to understand Japanese culture to understand a koryu, why are we talking about it? Even the Japanese don't understand pre-Meiji Japanese culture, any more than I understand pre-Confederation (1867) Canadian culture... and my family has all (all the women-folk have been able to trace that is) been here since before that time. I'd need to talk to a historian to even get an academic idea about what they thought back then, but that's not the same as swimming in the culture. Hey, I find myself talking a lot about the '60s since that's when I grew up, but don't ask me about the culture of the Paris student riots in '68 or Woodstock or Height-Ashbury. I haven't a clue, my culture was small-town Ontario in Canada.

So all is futile if cultural understanding is essential to learning a koryu. Those teaching now are teaching something else, not the original.


Speaking of historians and suchlike, we rely on them to tell us what's legit and what's not. Always have, from before the internet when we read books, to now when we check online forums. Problem is, with books you occasionally got fact-checking and some other money-related (it costs money to publish a book so why publish something that's garbage...) barriers to drivel. Online an expert is such because folks believe they are.

All experts, old-school or new have an agenda. How does that agenda influence their declarations on legitimacy? I howl sometimes to read what is written as gospel on the net, while knowing some of the inside workings of the story. Even when all that is written is absolute truth, it can have an amazing slant.

I'm writing this and I have an agenda. Your job as readers is to figure out what it is, and judge the statements accordingly. Remember that I probably have no particular incentive to make sure that any reader is lead to any truth.


Have agendas. Each and every one of them. Not every headmaster has the same agenda as the one before or the originator. How has their agenda affected what they teach?

Full transmission

Happens very, very rarely if ever. Depending on what you call full transmission it can be impossible. I can never know what my teacher knows because I didn't live his life. If you're talking about being able to dance all the kata in a school, maybe those who got menkyo kaiden in 7 years are legitimate, but there's more to an art than the dance. Some things I've been studying for 25 years now and am still finding new and interesting things. It will take 25 years to pass that knowledge on to a student by which time I'll have 50 years in and.........

What's "transmission"? It's obviously not everything your teacher knows unless you invoke some sort of zen satori moment in which case it can happen at any time interval at all.

Headmasters again, what a problem

For full transmission of the dance, 7 years is fine. Then you go work on it for another 30 or 40 until you earn that menkyo you got. Once you get to that 30-40 year mark you can make up any damned thing you want and it will be "right" and "in the school" even if it's not part of the original curriculum.

I mean make it up. Really, as in invent techniques because that's what happens and we either accept that those techniques are part of the koryu or we go find a koryu that claims never to have changed or made up a technique for the last 150-200 years or so.

Survival means everything

One might suggest that perhaps not everything that has survived is legitimate, but really, if you think about it, survival of a school is the only measure of legitimacy there is. Well maybe the only measure full stop. After all you can be as legitimate as the sunrise but not here in the present, or you can be nothing but moonshine and yet still be here.

As a student you can't pick a school that didn't survive. You can hope the school you pick is legitimate, whatever that means to you, but can you prove it?

I said the same thing many years ago in an article on what Japanese sword schools were around at that time. I was referring to a couple of new and perhaps new schools and said that they would be "schools" in three generations.

Caught quite a bit of flack about that at the time but haven't really had any reason to change my opinion (or rewrite the article as was "suggested").


Apr 4, 2015

Learning by teaching

I don't know how you do it, but I learn from the kata by doing them and by watching students do them. First, I know them pretty well, or at least I know the art pretty well, any specific kata being made up of waza from the school isn't a problem after a few times through.

After that it's a matter of looking and seeing problems, or doing and feeling the same problems.

How do I do that? Like I said, you have to be in an art long enough to have it sink into the bones. When I teach these days and a student asks "what happens if..." I usually say "I don't know, try it" and more times than not something happens. I pick up the student and say "that happens". If the student is picking me up off the floor I say "apparently I don't know, let me get back to you". Regardless which happens, it's the beginning of learning.

The specific steps during a class might run like this.

1. Something is wrong with that kata
2. What's wrong? What caught your eye?
3. Why is it wrong?
4. Provide reasons for the kata movement and why what the students are doing is not working
5. Show it, make sure the students get it.

Of course this is always a risky way of doing things, if you're making stuff up to explain the kata (which is what you're doing) you'd better be making up stuff that is real, that actually works and makes sense within the logic of the school. You need to remember what stuff you've "invented/discovered" just in case your teachers disagree some time later. On the other hand, it's always a nice feeling when you realize a hanshi has stolen your stuff. (Or maybe you stole it? Or maybe it's actually there in the kata?).

A teacher who isn't learning while he is teaching is a sorry fellow. He's stuck, knows everything he's going to know, poor thing. On the other hand, a teacher who learns while teaching has a selfish reason to get his rear to class.

Apr 3, 2015

The Lineage Lens

The cabin is a bit chilly still, after 40 minutes, but a roaring fire and the furnace at full blast has warmed the fingers enough to type. The two Guinness at supper and the Tullamore Dew aren't hurting either. I can blame the clumsy fingers on the chill and have another dram. Up to 14 degrees so far.

The riesling popped it's cork and some mouse tried to eat the cork. Poor little begger, it's plastic. The wine tastes more sherry than it ought, even after half a glass so maybe I'll put that one over the railing. Whiskey folks, it never pops its cork on you and it ought to disinfect anything that was in that wine. The joys of opening the cottage after the winter in Ontario.

I am looking at a paper that is talking about the master-student system of teaching in budo. Which is the same as any direct instruction system, be it music, dance or drawing. You have a teacher with students who in turn have students.

It's a nice pyramid and he has provided a diagram with the A-line and the B-line. The A-line has a third generation with one branch, one labeled a and one b with oblongs drawn around the pairs of teacher-student. I'm not sure what any of that means, he doesn't seem to use it for anything, but the point is that there's a pyramid.

Master on top, students and grand students spreading out below. All very nice and patriarchal (or matriarchal if you like, it's the same diagram). The thing is, I don't believe it for a minute.

A pyramid has a single person on top, it's your perfect "I just invented a martial art" fantasy. You know the one, you study karate, judo and aikido and invent kajudo and you're the soke and a blazing future stretches out into the future.

It's not a pyramid, THAT'S not a pyramid, it's an hourglass. There's the master you're talking about, there's everyone who taught him funnelling down from above and there's the students, real or imagined stretching out below. Our master is not a point source, he's a lens to focus everything that he was taught and below him, the picture spreads out and diffuses.

Let's say that lens is you. It is you know, you are the person teaching your students, not the famous guy three steps back, it's you. Better consider that carefully. So there you are, the focus for all the teaching that came to you from your various instructors. Maybe you figure there's only one, but unless you're living on an island with no radio reception you've seen, heard, read, or gone to seminars with other teachers. You teacher himself is lensing his various teachers at you. You only ever listen to your kajudo teacher? How do you teach? Like he does or maybe a mix of him and your high school physics teacher? What do you tell your students? Only what he said to you? Never what you read in the Go Rin no Sho?

We learned how to talk from our parents, that means we learned how to communicate from them. You communicate with your students? Never be fooled, you are not your teacher. Yes you ought to have only one, yes he ought to be the only influence you want to pass along to your students but pay attention. It isn't going to happen.

When youre a beginner the hourglass is all funnel. There's nothing but information sleeting down onto your head. Nice place to be, very refreshing, like a lawn-hose shower in July on the front deck. Later you might get a student or two, your hourglass is still top-heavy, not a lot happening down at the base which is still more or less that point, or maybe it's becoming a lens as you start to organize what you were taught into stuff you can teach in ways that make sense to you. Your students are starting to feel like ants under your lens, it's heating up on that sidewalk with that big sun above. You're under a shower while they are hot? Damn right, you're young and keen, your lens is highly polished, you're going to shove your 15 years knowledge and everything your teachers know into their heads in a year. Meanwhile your teachers have been doing this a long time. The water is nicely warm for you, refreshingly useful. Your students are starting to curl at the edges and whisps of smoke can be seen.

Later your students get students and your hourglass is starting to even out top and bottom as some of your teachers are gone, and with them those layers above that they knew personally and by instruction. Generation by generation you the lens, the narrow point in the hourglass, rise upward, narrowing what's there and watching the bottom widen.

Eventually we do in fact get to that pyramid shape, that's inevitably just before you, the teacher, the point source now, kick off. Now your direct students, who are lenses in their own right, fly free of each other and start drifting up to create their own pyramids.

It's OK, no need to worry about that last bit. I've heard a lot of people lament "lineages" that have drifted because one of those point sources way back didn't properly name someone to be the next point source. I have no intention of naming one of my students as the "next in line" of whatever it is I teach. There's nothing but trouble in that sort of thing unless you get a country or at least a country house along with the title. My students are all lovely people and the one who is going to be the inheritor of my "stuff" is the one who is closest to the bedside when I die. And only if they're faster than the junk-man to pick it all up.

If this were a movie with special effects I'd be seeing a bunch of funnels becoming hourglasses and then pyramids combining to spawn other funnels/hourglasses/pyramids traveling outward into the future. I think that's a lot more pretty than a big honking string that just gets thicker the longer it's around, like slime accumulating on a rope hanging from a dock.

The geometry of lineage.

Hey, vote for my daughter's band again today at:


Also sign up for the May Seminar at:


You think this stuff is free? Hah.

Kim Taylor
Apr 3, 2015

Apr 3, 2015

There's always grading (Grading III)

We look for grading and ranks from largish modern organizations, but there's always sorting in an art. The most basic and most important from a traditional point of view is time through the door. The mysterious sempai/kohei system.

It works this way, everyone first through the door of the dojo, regardless of rank, is senior to you. Except for some considerations.

First, that's through your dojo door, not first into the art in general. Well sort of. The formal-ish part of this is within your own dojo, informally, someone in the art, not in your dojo, but with more experience (time in) than you ought to be considered your senior. Next is age, if you got there just before an older guy, defer to him. Then there's social status, university professors in the door just after you arrived ought to be deferred to...

In other words, it's the same sorthing that happens out in the world. You should respect learning. OK it's the same sorting that ought to happen out in the world. I know that there are places and people who consider the less learning you have the better you are. If only the supporters of that belief would consider who is promoting it, and why.

Never mind, I just read the newspaper and am grumpy at the state of the world, as I have been since I learned to read.

The training-time system doesn't really change due to absolute time in training. That's picked up in groups that have ranking systems. If you have 300 hours training in one year, and your buddy up the line has 100 in the same time, he's still up the line according to calendar time, you might be ranked higher due to training time.

Is that all clear as mud? The sempai system is informal and so subject to a lot of social dancing between those in the system. How you treat your seniors (by calendar time) is largely up to you due to that informality, and it will say a lot about your reasons for grading if you try to move your carcass up the line with your new 5dan past the older guys.

Modesty in all things folks, especially in the budo. Don't advertise your skill levels, just deck the guy when you need to. Monologueing is for cartoon villains, as we all know.

On the other hand, don't fight for the low spot in the dojo either, I got sick of watching that dance in my dojo, so now the rule is, first through the door, furthest from it, at each class. In other words, get out of the way of everyone else coming in, move down the line. I don't care where you sit, it's a small class and a small room and I know who you are.

Which brings us to small arts. When there's a single dojo of ten people within a thousand mile radius there's really not much need for a grading system is there? Do you know all the kata of the school and the guy next to you has just started? You outrank him, your rank is "know all the kata" and his is, "just started". If you were in a giant, multiple country organization (say, ZNKR jodo) your rank might be godan and his ikkyu and those words might mean the very same thing.

You know where everyone in the family sits around the dinner table don't you? When was the last time you put out name tags for the four of you?

Certification might be somewhat different than sorting in a small group. There might indeed be paper involved. What does that mysterious "menkyo" license look like? Well I've been told it's usually a list of kata names signed by the teacher and addressed to the student. Musashi didn't give those, his kata names were 1, 2, 3... or middle, lower, upper... but he did give lists of advice on how to fight, to named students with his signature.

These menkyo are generally assumed to be teaching licenses today but I can see a time in the past when they were written out and given to students who needed something to remind them what the kata names were. You learn all the kata in five or ten years, your teacher gives you a list of the names and then boots you out the door to go try it on with the rest of the country (musha shugyo with your shinai). You come back with some practical learning and you get told you can teach. Or you don't come back and ask, you just go home and teach. Two hundred years later and we are all fascinated with the paper and know nothing of the process.

Smaller groups (can we say more exclusive? eh, smaller) might not even have a list of kata to hand out. Sensei might teach for a while and student might say "I'm moving away, can I teach" and sensei might look at him and say "sure, why not?". I've heard that one. I've also heard "I'm teaching you guys so that the art will survive, so go teach" I've also heard "where are all the other students?".

Certification to teach isn't quite the same as sorting, but from a historical point of view we sometimes lay a sorting scheme over a lineage chart. "That line is more legit than that other line". Sure, why not? But it only matters in the dojo if we can demonstrate that instructors from "more legitimate" lines are better instructors than the other guys. Then of course, you have to start defining "better" and I've never been good at that.

Sorting of students is sorting of students, it can be done lots of ways. Certification to teach is something else, often linked to a rank system but not always. Same with permission to give out rank or teaching certification. Often linked to rank but not always.

Big organizations get more formal as they get bigger, more stuff written down, more rules and regulations. Smaller organizations might be, might need, nothing more than a teacher and students. You sort according to when you come through the door and you teach when sensei says you can teach. In that case, you might look at your own students and say "sure, go teach, why not?"

Regardless of formal structures, there is always grading. It may be continuous in a small dojo as sensei teaches and watches you learn, or it may be sporadic as in a yearly grading in a big group. I suppose the small dojo is analogue and the big organization is digital. Both assess the student and various things happen as a result of learning. You may get to sit in a different place in the dojo, you may get to go to a different group in a big seminar, you might get to teach at your own dojo.

None of which should concern anyone overly much. The great writers of the past are unwavering in their advice that it's the training that's the thing. Titles without training are just paper in the "file folder of honour" as my buddy says.

Mar 31, 2015

Greed for Grading II

After a day of seitei iai where we got ready for gradings, let's continue on with the reasons organizations give gradings in the first place.

We've talked about money, certification, recruiting and sorting. If we think of a sports organization (or any educational institute) as a business, the product is education and certification. To be blunt, certification is sold. We talked after class yesterday about folks who sold rank and I found myself more un-offended than I once was. It's not that big a step to indulgences from pennance, to selling parchment certificates and cutting out the inconvenient teaching and testing stuff in between.

The problem of course is that the certification is worth exactly what importance, what value people give to it. If you buy some paper from a degree mill you won't get the respect you might if you got one from Ox-bridge. Selling rank degrades it's worth.

On the other hand, the idea that cranking up the requirements will make the rank more valuable is also false economy. Pricing it out of reach financially or requirementally will simply result in an abandonment of the system. Folks will stop grading or leave the organization. Any organization must guard against the appearance of unfairness (suddenly cranking up the requirements means those at the top are seen as taking advantage of their positions) or greed (suddenly dropping the requirements is seen as a cash grab).

Testing has to be fair and transparent to be respected. Interference from outside the grading system, hidden requrements, favouritism and such like will never sit well with those in the grading system.

Control. All that we've mentioned so far can be included in the idea of grading as control by an organization. By manipulating the grading requirements and the judging criteria an organization can maintain control of itself. Think about it, does an organization want too many folks at the top ranks? No, that is asking for trouble, so you make the certification process long and increasingly costly in effort and money. If your system is strictly technical it would not be hard to imagine top ranked people who don't invest any effort in the organization, who might actually work against the system. You want the top folks to be invested in the organization right? Not disinterested or hostile. Some folks wonder why challenge grades aren't the usual way in the martial arts. After all, it's about fighting ability isn't it? If you can fight at a 7dan level why don't you get a 7dan? Investment, that's why. If the 7dans run the place you want someone invested in the organization not someone who has just parachuted in. Administration isn't about fighting ability, it's about wanting to spend the time to run the place, especially if the organization is volunteer-run.

Unification. Along the same lines as the challenge grades mentioned, gradings ought to be a way of unifying the group. To jump people in above others will not foster feelings of unity and harmony in any group. "I've given 20 years of my life to this company and they bring in some snot-nosed kid to run the department!" Gradings are a way of keeping the group focused, and of periodically pulling in the loosely attached types. I hate to say it, but I only ever see some students in the months before a grading. The rest of the time they find other things to be doing. Periodic gradings keep them attached to the organization. Let's face it, people have busy lives so it's not hard to neglect one art in favour of another that requires some attention. That karate grading is coming up and the aikido grading is a year off so let's spend that rare evening off work at the karate dojo.

With an art like kendo or judo when we have a world championship you can keep the art unified. If you want to compete you have to be in the organization. For non-competitive arts like aikido this unifying force doesn't exist. What's left is gradings, so it's no wonder that there is considerable angst at the home dojo when groups on the fringes start getting to where they can do their own gradings without calling in the top guys. It's the curse of success, the grief of growth that as the art gets bigger and as the provincials get higher ranks, the center loses some control. The responses have to be carefully considered in this case. Too much panic-ed changing of the rules and that distant group could be driven right out of the family rather than simply "moving away from home". To unify the group it's often necessary to let go some control.

If you can't control it, approve it. As with kids, you have to pick your battles carefully, don't forbid what you can't prevent.

Standardization. If we test for specific skills at each level and everyone is going through the testing system we'll all be "on the same page". This relates to sorting but it isn't much use sorting people into ranks if their skills are different. Gradings done with transparent and consistent requirements by competant and knowledgeable judges will result in ranks that are similarly consistent. One indication of an organization that has inconsistent judging criteria is inconsistent skills within rank levels. This can happen for other reasons of course, too many years between rank tests for instance, or expensive gradings that cause students to delay their tests, but in general, wide differences in skills at the same rank means a problem with the grading sytem.

In a very real sense, a martial arts organization IS it's grading system. That system is at the core of the organization's existance and is often the sole reason the organization exists. Considerable attention then, ought to be paid to making the system fair, transparent and lively. Students have few enough reasons to grade, make it too irritating, expensive or unfair and an organization may find its numbers dropping off faster than they ought to. It's hard enough to attract students to the arts today, it makes no sense to neglect the rank system.

Am I grading greedy? Not personally, I'm pretty much done with my grading career from an organization-necessary point of view, and it has been a very long time since my self-esteem was tied up with my rank. I was six years before I took my first teaching rank, five more than needed simply because I didn't "need" that rank. That was 20 years ago and I've not felt any increase in pressure to grade since.

Am I willing to fight for an appropriate grading system in any organization I'm part of? Absolutely, I see the benefit and I see the risks if that system is damaged. I'm greedy for fair, open and available gradings where they will do some good, and I see no reason for gradings where they don't.

So sure, call me greedy, but for the right reasons.

Mar 30, 2015

Greed for Grading

Having confessed recently that I don't much like gradings, it's a bit funny that I was accused several months ago of being "grading greedy", of being more interested in getting a grade than in practicing.

So I suppose, at the risk of being accused once again of being crazy for grading, I'll collect up some of my thoughts on grading. To those who have read this before, go on to something else, there's likely to be nothing here that you haven't heard from me.

First, when I've got my grading hat on it's due to the positive aspects of grading I'm going to mention, and because of the peculiar situation I am in, having been one of the first on the scene around 30 years ago. If you're one of the first in you end up being pushed along toward the top ranks and that means you end up being involved in the administration of the organization. You are the one organizing and sitting on grading panels. If I'm pushing for gradings it's because I'm supposed to be pushing for them due to my job, not my personal opinion.

Let's clear one thing up right now. There is a common, and sometimes unconscious assumption that rank equals skill, or wisdom, or character. This is often more coincidence than connection. Rank does not confer skill, wisdom or character. Practicing and getting old does this. Rank is not about being a better person, its about sorting. Big organizations need rank to sort (and extort?? hehe) the members.

Let's look at why you want grades in an organization:

Money. Sorry, was that a bit crass? I don't know why it is, really. If there's an organization there's a need for money, if for no other reason than to buy a website to communicate with the membership. You get money from membership dues and from certification. If you're an aerobics certification ponzi you.... sorry did I just write ponzi? If you've created an organization of levels to provide certification to those who teach others how to do situps you will make money selling the instruction and certification to the level below. CPR works this way, your kid in elementary school is not there for free, someone pays for it. The idea of making money by selling rank is only crass in the martial arts, seriously, and I don't know where that came from. Your religious guy needs money to get paid, even if he only survives on the worship-day collection plate, he's getting paid. "Pay what you figure it's worth" is not different from "pay a set fee". Hey, the internet is not free, you get content here at the fee of looking at advertisements, just like you got "free" TV over the broadcast radio-waves.

Certification. Since we mentioned this, rank at some point usually represents the right to teach the art. In the kendo federation that's usually taken to be 5dan. That's the point where you can have your own dojo and put your students forth for grading. In the Aikido world when I got my shodan that was the teaching rank, I could open my own dojo and put my students forward for grading. It's different rank for different organizations but it's permission to teach, one of the "real" ranks as I call them. The second "real" rank is when you are allowed to award rank to students. All else between those things is just placeholders and the more of those, the more money to the organization, or sometimes, the more of the curriculum you learn. Those groups who trade curriculum for fees are not much different than our school system. You pay a lot more for a PhD than you do for grade four. The Aikido federation tested different parts of the curriculum at different rank, but didn't restrict what you learned when. The kendo federation iai and jo sections test a small curriculum (12 kata) in different ways. The iai section expects all 12 to be learned by nidan usually, while the jo section tests specific parts at specific rank challenges until it's all covered at 5dan. Again, no restriction to learning, just what is tested so sometimes teachers will teach to the grade, others will cram everything into the students as they wish. Those like me will teach whatever they're working on themselves... selfish folks that they are.

Recruiting. Kids like grading so you do gradings for kids who then get stuck in the system and carry on moving up the ladder, the more rank, the more investment, the more likely they'll stay. That's the theory at least. If there's no more grading there's no reason to keep practicing, you've "learned it all". That's not true of course, but that can be the impression. One of the reasons kids like grading is because they want to be like their teacher, they want to be a "black belt". They are connecting the rank with the man, with the person they respect, and they aspire to that status. This is a good thing. If they continue thinking that rank is the cause of the things they admire in their teacher, they can get rank-crazed and if the ranks run out they might figure they have "made it". There had better be other reasons for hanging about by then. Better reasons than being the big-shot giving out rank to others... unless there's money to be made, like in the music or dance or fitness world where you get paid to teach and certify.

Sorting. This is something I was talking about with a student who doesn't like to grade, the negative, embarassing aspects of not grading. Seminars are sorted according to grade. If you've got ten years in with no grade, you aren't at zero grade skill levels. Remember we talked about rank and skill being disconnected? It is embarassing to people when someone of ten years experience has to stay with the non-ranked folks in a seminar class. So put them in a higher class you say? Well aside from the resentment of those who figure rank is important, of having a low ranked person put into their class, how do you figure out which class to put the non-ranked person into? Look at their skill level? So you do a grading for them at each seminar do you?

A grading is an assessment, do you have this level or not. If you do, you get the lavender wristband and you can go into that class with those of comparable skills to get taught according to your level. Not grading means you create a problem. Do we let people go into whatever class they want? That's self-grading and we all know where that leads don't we? The classes will represent ego and self-esteem issues rather than skill levels.

Time to go teach, I'll maybe carry on later.

Mar 29, 2015

The Value of Things

Following Peter Boylan's advice to go to the Metropolitan Museum website, I found an article on a Nobuhide dagger that was worth 31 yen in the early 1900s. Converting the cost and assuming a railway worker now makes around $20 an hour, that dagger, bought directly from the smith, works out to almost $5000. That's a tanto in a period where smiths were not limited in their production and where the old ways were being shunted aside big-time. (In other words, market forces ought to have meant prices were lowish).

And today the kids want a customized full-tang full-wrap battle-ready daito for under $200.

Gotta love it.

Mar 26, 2015

Competition in budo

Every few years I seem to go through a crisis and start looking for the benefit of budo. I read all the latest papers dealing with the ethics and psychological benefits of sport and martial art and think about it quite a bit.

My attitudes never change much, I just need the reminding I think. I'll do a bit of thinking here on the idea of competition in budo if you don't mind.

First, kids like competition. They move from play to competition as they head toward adolescence and I think that competition is a part of their breaking away from home. It's a part of asserting themselves as individuals, a way to separate themselves from "the other" by "making their mark".

So we do the tournament thing because the kids like it and they start and stay in the art. So the story goes at least.

Gradings are the same, a way to separate from the pack, a way to distinguish oneself. Kids love grading.

So goes the thinking, and there's me organizing gradings to go along with the seminar coming up. The thing is, I don't teach kids and I haven't been one for a couple of years now. I don't like tournaments or gradings and I find that most of the adults I teach are of the same opinion. Why is that? I think one usually grows out of competition. Adolescence doesn't last our whole lives, at least not physical adolescence. The time of serious competition also spans a very short period. Steve Nash just retired from Pro Basketball at 41. I was stunned to hear that he had still been playing. No wonder he can hardly walk.

Competitive sport, despite the hype, isn't very good at making better people. The research says so, don't take my word for it, hit Google Scholar and read. Sport, be it martial (kendo, judo, MMA) or otherwise is about playing to the rules, beating the other guy and winning. It's really not about getting along with everyone, cooperating (except maybe with your team if it's a team sport) or dealing with real life... well maybe modern business where we must crush the competition and win that corner office. (What ever happened to being a good craftsman and selling stuff we make to people who actually need what we make?)

A martial art is, at it's heart, about life and death, it doesn't exist in a separate "playspace" like sport, it's connected to some primal stuff that goes pretty deep into our brains, fear and anxiety and stress and most of what we pay doctors to fix these days. Cooperation in the martial arts is absolute, except during the competitive parts. Training is cooperative, the attacker is the instructor, the defender is the student and the attacker never competes, only offers challenges the student can answer. Was it ever any other way in combat? We don't want to defeat our fellow soldiers, we want to have the best guy we can have at our side. If his shield collapses we pay the price too. We don't select soldiers for their fighting ability, we select for the ability to survive the training, then we train them.

But we compete on the battlefield don't we? The politicians may think so, they may be playing the "Great Game" of empire or, nowadays, getting elected, but the soldiers only ever survive or die. They aren't playing to win they are fighting to live. There is a difference despite the confusion of metaphore and reality in the news broadcasts.

One of the core benefits of the sword arts is the kata, and I am beginning to believe that's in the final move, the witholding of the killing blow. Kata is only ever cooperative, it's about moving together to higher levels of sensitivity and it's about the final sacrifice of the attacker (uchidachi) and the witholding of the blow by the defender (shidachi). What I guess I'm saying is that the closest sport comes to this is the coach, but coaches are focused on technique for winning. A focus on technique is constricting, not creative. You don't look for new ways to win at a sport, find one and the rules committee makes a new rule against it. You look for ways to exploit those rules, which is not very creative. Finding a new way to survive a sword strike? You have to be a pretty strict cultural-artifact type not to appreciate that.

To make a kata-based art into a competitive sport is not something I can get behind, no matter how many kids we can attract to the classes by doing it. Performing a kata to win a medal is... a waste of good training time even if you're the most enlightened competitor out there. A full day of tournament with ten minutes of waving the sword around is not good time management.

Kendo is a sport, let's admit it. The ZNKR spends large amounts of energy trying to fight that opinion and they declare the benefits to society and world peace, but when it comes down to it, the most expensive line item of most national kendo organizations is the team they send to the world championships. It's a real problem for the organization because the kids who are competing are driving the sport in one direction (they just wanna have fun) and the old guys are forever pushing back. I'm not alone in my concerns over competition being somewhat opposed to the benefits of budo.

And grading? Colin Watkin sensei, Shihan of the Kage-ryu has explained the grading system to us few students. There is none. Your "grade" is survival on the battlefield.

OMG, so does 3dan mean that I "mostly" survive a fight?

Musashi had 60 duels from age 13 to 27 and won them all. His own assessment was that he was lucky or they were kind of poor swordsmen. He spent the next half of his life trying to figure out how he could improve.

Good enough for me, I'll leave the competition to the kids.

Mar 26, 2015

Just Start

I walked myself down to the cafe just to get out of the house. I was going a bit stir-crazy in the springish weather... it's 1 degree above freezing and spitting rain but there's nothing for me to do in the house except the dishes and I did them. Three books done this winter and put on the website, one more finished the second edit yesterday and waiting for some photos and one more handed off to others for a while making a total of five if I remember right. Some sort of floodgates opened last year. Maybe I just got old enough for the "what will folks think" filters to come down, or more likely I want to get this stuff recorded for the students. The way the arts are going these days I may be down to me in a backyard dojo sooner than I thought.

Now I'm sat down with a coffee watching the world go by outside. I was going to say watching the girls but it's just too much trouble getting told off for saying things like that.

So, now I'm started writing and now I can probably get a post organized and out there. You see, it's all a matter of inertia, get it started and it's a lot easier to keep it going.

Last night we were going through Chuden jodo, something we haven't done in months. I always have my tablet with my videos on it, so a bit of a review to get the footwork started and let the body take over to get the kata done. Not really so hard, and when youve got beginners to the set to teach it's a slow enough process that you can get it done. We ought to be through the set in another four or five classes and then the kids will be another twelve closer to the 200 plus kata that kick around our dojo.

We also went through Seitei Jo and the students were delighted that they can now slide right through them from start to finish without being re-taught. I think that's because we're doing so much else that they have stopped worrying about those six inch shifts of their feet and stopping themselves to fix it. Once you stop it's hard to start again, which is the reverse of getting started and going on with it.

I saw a few full steps instead of half, and some kamae that were off but they're not going for 5dan any time soon so we'll let that stuff go until they need to fix it. Not that they're sloppy, they aren't. In fact they were looking rather sharp and confident so I'm chuffed.

Let's hope that the current three or four registrations for the May seminar will open some sort of Jungian connection and get the participants back on track. It's been tough not having things in place months ago but I now have four tickets on hold from Japan, and the two jodo sensei are arranged. I'm hoping that those who had to arrange vacations back in January and earlier had faith that this thing would make it's 25th year and booked their time off.

I miss those past years when I was getting ulcers about now because I only had 20 or 30 registrations. Never complain, it can always get worse. But it's started and it will run on body memory I'm sure. I hope. Help me out by telling everyone you know that it's started will you please.


Mar 25, 2015

You get out what you put in

First trip for coffee in a while, Brenda's full time job is interfering with my posting career.

I'm 2/3 of the way through Alex Bennett's 2012 doctoral thesis. Someone tell him to publish it through Kendo World if it hasn't been done yet, it's readable, well researched and of value to anybody interested in the Japanese sword arts. (I accessed it as a Thesis through the University).

His main thesis is to trace the invented traditions of Kenjutsu in service of various governmental aims and cultural nationalism in general.

I've said for years that you get out of the martial arts what you put into them, that you get what you bring. If you're young and looking to be a kick-ass you'll find the latest secret fighting method and learn how to beat anyone senseless. If you're older and looking for a bit of exercise you'll find that, and if you're a Japanophile you'll find a wealth of cultural instruction.

If you're looking to be a better person you'll find that too.

What Alex points out is that the martial arts can be used in another way, from the top down and he uses the development of kenjutsu from the Medieval period to the modern day version of Kendo to demonstrate.

For instance, the first flowering of the sword schools began as the country bumpkin warriors moved into Kyoto as the military powers moved there to keep an eye on the pesky emperors in the mid 1300s. The cultural clash was pretty extreme so the warriors tried to learn some manners and the place for that was the sword school. Reminds me of the English getting schooled in the Italian fencing salons a few hundred years later.

Then, once the country was united, Hideyoshi did his big sword hunt and the class system was solidified, the number of sword schools exploded during the Tokugawa era. What better way to put a lid on the samurai class than to make sure they got an education in pseudo-military arts and letters. (If the government had wanted a real military they would have had them all studying gunnery instead of swordplay, the Korean campaign would have taught them that). The roots of Kendo were here in the mid-Edo as the sword schools found a way to re-start the Musha Shugyo tradition that the Tokugawa had forbidden.

After the restoration of Imperial rule (those pesky Emperors again) the sword schools declined until the government figured a way to use them once more as sources of nationalism (we are all Samurai) and then as bare-faced military training in the lower schools toward the end of the "Great Pacific War" or whatever they were calling it then.

After the war and the rehabilitation of Kendo as a sport, and then in the '70s as a Japanese cultural treasure, I suspect Alex will be discussing the use of Kendo as cultural nationalism (as vs military nationalism).

In other words, the various governments of the last 400 years have got out of kenjutsu what they have put in.

It's a good read and I suspect Alex, a 7dan in kendo, caught a bit of flack from the old guys. As a double PhD I suspect he survived that. He's put into one place something that has taken me 30 years to piece together so again, someone make sure this gets into book form.

Just the idea that there can be invented tradition will be of great value to a lot of martial artists out there, and with this analysis the western student will once again be encouraged to examine his own reasons for practice. What are we looking for and what will we get out of it?

Mar 21, 2015

Not Starbucks

Lining up in class is not like lining up in Starbucks. You do not want to block out the folks arriving at the same time, butt into line beside your buddy or do any of a dozen passive-aggressive moves because you think your lateness for work entitles you to do them.

Lining up to practice sword in a crowded class is an entirely different matter. Its safety, pure and simple. There is no other consideration worth thinking about.

So let's think about it. Do you line up according to rank? Good, seniors go further away from the door AND CRUSH DOWN. You're further from the door because you understand that beginners need more space. You don't, you guys know enough not to swing before you look to see if anyone is there so you can squeeze in a bit. Beginners are scared of the room, they want to stay by the door so if you put them at the far end they will edge toward the door. It's safer to leave them down there where they can run outside if they get a panic attack.

Do you line up several lines deep? Seniors you are at the front to set an example, not because you've earned a bunch of extra space by backing up causing the lines behind you to compress. It's your job to stay up where it's safe for the entire class, you're supposed to have the experience to know that, and to watch out for the folks behind you. You're supposed to know how to find your original position so that everyone else can key off of you.

You're also supposed to know how to make the correct formation for safety. For iaido that's a zig zag pattern so that the second row cuts between the bodies of the first row and so on back to the last row.

I've been in places where the seniors go to the back in order to swat the beginners on the head and drive them forward toward sensei who is teaching them.

Good idea.

How do you come into the room? Do you barge in and walk through the lines to the front when you get there late? Really? You're a senior and so everyone else looks out for you? Stay down at the low end by the door. If sensei wants you up front he'll tell you to move when it's safe.

Sensei? Where is sensei when the poor last row kids are so crowded that they can't move? When the line piles up at the door because the seniors have decided they want double-space? It's not up to a junior to tell a senior to move the hell back to their spot, although I'm not above that sort of thing, and I expect that senior to be shocked and apologetic at their rudeness, and not to do it again. I truly do, so I don't do it often, I wait for sensei to fix the problem.

I've also been known to stand my ground and let people back into me. I instantly apologize of course and politely point out that "your spot is up there in front of me, you must have become confused". Passive aggressive? You betcha.

Offering to switch places is another one of my nasty-isms in a crowd. I figure if you want my space maybe you don't want yours up in front of me. I'll gladly move up, I have no shame, I'll show sensei my poor technique in hopes that he will fix it.

How does sensei fix these lining up problems that everyone should have figured out in pre-school when we all hung on to the rope as we went for our walk? Maybe we bring back the rope. I've been known to put little pieces of tape on the floor for the seniors who can't figure out how to find their places. They get to write their name on the tape and put it down themselves. The juniors don't have to do it, which is enough humiliation that the seniors often remember the lesson for upwards of a week.

If it's just one senior a quick fix is to send them down to the end of the line so that they "can be a model for the beginners". Let them be the squashee for a while instead of the squasher.

There are last-row people and front-row people and they often don't match the ranks. At the last seminar I taught, I waited for everyone to line up and then walked to the back of the gym and taught from there. That made folks queasy I'm sure, but by switching from back to front to back it kept the lines spread out evenly.

I generally tell my students to head on up to the front row if it's open because you paid for instruction and you get better instruction right up in front of sensei where he can give you what-for more often. I need to start emphasizing that "if it's open" part, I'm getting a bit tired of kicking people out of the front row physically (as in taking them by the shoulders and marching them back into the second line) because they have decided that the guy next to them will move back. This is "sensei greed" and is one of the reasons I do sometimes teach from the back of the room. The second row is just as easy to see as the first, folks, often better in a crowded room where the first row is almost even with sensei.

Row popping (leaving the starbucks line to get your wallet and then jumping back into the same place without asking permission) is dangerous and rude when swords are involved. I don't usually mind rude but dangerous is dangerous. Don't jump out of the front or middle of the pack to go get something. This often happens when you're allowed to videotape.

Ever wonder why taping is forbidden in some classes? If you're a "taper" who wants to watch the instructions through a tiny screen rather than with your own eyes, keep a small camera in your uwagi. If you have to use a tripod because you're a pro and need that massive HD camera, practice from the back row so you can get it fast and put it back without disrupting the entire class to get into your position.

Does this make sense? Sure it does, if you think about it a moment. Few sensei of my acquaintance mind being filmed, and little of the martial arts is secret, but filming is still dangerous and should be considered a priviledge. Don't abuse it. Mostly, get a small shock-resistant video camera and tuck it away on your person. If you want to make a professional film, ask sensei, he'll likely say yes. Then find a quiet room and film, don't practice, film.

When walking, walk. When sitting, sit. Above all, don't waver.

And do it where it's safe, which is where you were put by sensei.

Sit! Stay! Even small dogs can learn this. Be as mindful as a spanial.

Now we'll see if any of my class reads these things, they've got a couple hours before this afternoon's session.

Mar 15, 2015

What you need

The small sad symbols of winter are melting out of the snowbanks in front of the coffee shop this morning as an hour's stolen time makes me rush through my dark roast.

We did the Welland iaido seminar yesterday which is an interesting format with four groups and five instructors who rotate through the groups. An hour and three kata at a time gives us a view of everyone and gives the students a chance to see the "big guys" all in one place.

Every year I say the same things to the same levels, we learn the footwork in the kyu / non-kyu group, we work on power in the shodan group, nidan-sandan gets drilled on the details and the yondan-up group gets yelled at for not trying hard enough to learn.

Considering we are making it harder and harder to get to yondan you'd think they would be learning-beasts but of necessity they are mostly teachers and they have put in ten years training. I suspect calling them lazy and inexperienced is a bit inaccurate if not downright unproductive. Me, I asked them to be a bit more humble and ask more questions.

I always ask for questions, I'm Mister Kuchi Waza. I'm the explainer apparently, not the one who demonstrates or the one who shows, the one who explains. I think that's hilarious because thats the three of us old guys in a nutshell. The guy who feels it, the guy who loves the details and the guy who thinks too much about it.

I ask questions because I want each level to get what they need. The beginners get the footwork but they need to ask what's happening where. It's a curious thing that we figure knowing what the opponent is doing is "riai" to be learned later as a special secret. In partner practice we know from day one what our partner is doing, we can see him there in front of us. In iai, I was told from the first what my opponent is doing, but it seems that things have become strict, and students are expected to work it out for themselves these days.

So here's the secret, your opponent is where the kata says he is, and doing what he has to be doing when you do what you do. Read the book and when it says turn 90 degrees that's where he is. OK it's not really a secret but it helps.

The shodan level needs to repeat repeat repeat, their questions center around "how do I make it whistle on this angled cut" or "how do I lift it on this angle" and the answer is inevitably "you need to practice until you get it". We had fun with that.

By sandan you are supposed to know the 12 ZenKenIRen kata. Hey, surely you can learn learn 12 small kata in 4 years? The questions here are all on details, what angle exactly, what height precisely.

Four and five dan is where you learn how to cut and we figure you need another seven years to do it. Well there's a little more than that but it will do as a stand-in for the rest of it. The last of the technical stuff comes in here, the stuff that isn't "put the tip here". At this stage folks need to shift from hitting the grading points to hitting the opponent. Their eyeballs need to turn from inside to out as I usually say, stop looking inward to remember just what angle the sword should be here, and look at where teki is, and hit him.

If you're teaching at 4 dan you know all about the grading points, so that's what you teach and that's what you demonstrate in class. When you get in front of someone as a student there's a major shift that has to happen, you have to turn off the teaching mode and turn on the student mode once more. You have to admit that there may be something that you don't know. You have to be humble to ask.

But that's hard because you do know it all. You know the book, you have it all in your head. You know everything that you've been taught up to yesterday, so what do you ask? You can't ask for something that you don't know about can you? And besides, if you're a teacher you're supposed to know it all right? Your students ask, you answer, so if your sensei asks if you have a question your proper answer is to say no, you don't. I changed my question to "what are you working on" which was a little better all around.

The thing to remember here is that your sensei isn't your high school math teacher. He's in class to give you everything you need, not everything he's been told to stuff into your head by the school board. You're there to learn, he's there to teach you, neither of you have to be there so don't waste your time. Either of you. Have something to work on, something to ask and ask it. If you're teaching that class you have to push them, figure out what they need to ask for because, as I said, they often don't know what to ask for. I almost never talk about the details of the kata with this group, they know it and if they don't, they can read. I try to find ways for them to self-learn, to teach themselves how to go where they need to go.

Yesterday it was the back knee in tsuka ate. They know the back foot is supposed to be square to the front, they know there should be power in the thrusts and the cut. Do you know that? Sure you do. Can you self-check without looking down at your foot?

On the thrust to suigetsu stamp your right foot down and pop your left knee half an inch off the ground at the same time. If it isn't square you'll end up on your face. Thrust back and then cut to the front but as you start the cut pop that knee off the ground again. If you want to check the thrust back, use a bokuto and hit a wall. If your front leg isn't propping you correctly you will hurt your shoulder.

Simple, and you don't even need to admit you're working on it.

Mar 8, 2015

How to make a million in budo

Start with two million and open a dojo.

Yuk yuk. Want more time to practice budo? Retire and realize that you've got bags of time to practice, travel to seminars and all the other nice things you want to be doing right now. The question is always, can you afford it.

Are you a University or High School student? Good, you start now when it's easy. Here's a list of things to do.

1. Stay home. Live with the folks for as long as they'll have you around. This is traditional, don't be in a rush to get out and be independent, all that means is broke. Let the folks provide the room and board, you pay them back with sweat. Paint, repair, clean. They'll be happy to have you, in fact they'll figure they are getting the best of the deal.

(Find a local dojo)

2. Finish the degree and get a job. Stay at home. A job is the best investment you can make in growing your personal fortune, it's a regular paycheque, you know how much you're getting and when so you can budget. Contractors can't budget, investors can't budget. Ever wonder why you can't manage to save that gift money? It's because, like all animals, we were never sure when the next meal would show up, and we had no way to preserve a surplus so we ate whatever we could whenever we found it. Get a big meal, eat it all. That's why we're all fat and that's why you didn't save the money Granny gave you. It takes the kind of willpower that years of martial arts training teaches you to deny the urge to spend money or eat sugary foods or... well OK martial arts don't teach you to resist that third pint.

A job is external regulation on your accumulation of money. It's regular meals with no seconds. External willpower.

(Find a sensei, invest by making notes after each class)

3. Live like a student. Which brings us to 3, once you've got that job live like a student. DO NOT raise your living standard at all. Ever. Rich people are misers, they live next door to you. The guys in the big houses with the toys out front are in debt up to their earholes. You can't miss what you never had, so live with the folks and get your private time at the girlfriend's apartment. Eat well, don't eat poor (too much sugar and fat and too little fiber in processed foot) but don't go out to restaurants, get your veggies and cook proper meals. Your mom will cook for your 10 year old self, you'll have to cook your grownup food.

(Keep your shoshin, your beginner's mind, soak up the knowledge rather than show it off)

4. While living at home like a student sock as much money as you can into investments. NOT your bank account where you can see the numbers and get at it, but well away from your eyes. Put it into tax-free investment plans and forget you have it. You can't miss what you never had. Pretend you're poor.

(Write your notes, don't just videotape the class and never review it, put those notes down by hand and then retype them onto the laptop)

5. If you have to have a car, make it used, make it small, make it fuel efficient. It gets you from point a to b it doesn't get you a girlfriend. Seriously, you want a girl who wants your car???

(Look, stay away from women entirely if you want to get good at martial arts, and ride your bike to the dojo... remember, that dojo near to your home?)

6. Keep living like this when you eventually move out. Consider paying a mortgage instead of rent. Houses are great ways to save if you're in a market that will hold its value. Get roommates, lots of them and charge rent. Get a girlfriend who is modern, who pays her own way. If she's got her own car... bonus! Sell yours fast.

(If you start a dojo make it businesslike, and make sure you've got fellow students to help pay the rent. And that girlfriend you shouldn't have? Make sure she wants you out of the house regularly so she can have some alone time.)

7. Figure out where the rich people have their money and put yours there. Rich people are powerful people and they look after their own. They contribute to political parties and lobby for legislation that benefits themselves. Ride their coattails, let them contribute the money but pay attention to where they invest.

(Find a well-run organization to join, one that organizes seminars and whatnot so you don't have to do it)

8. Pay your taxes, the ones you can't legally avoid. Nothing sucks your money away faster than lawyers and accountants trying to keep you out of jail.

(Pay your dues and keep your head down, never volunteer)

9. Keep hiding as much money from yourself as you can.

10. Don't have kids (they sponge off you for years) or delay them for a few years. Young and pregnant is hard on the savings.

(Don't be in a rush to teach)

11. No matter what you do or buy consider it's value. Is it an investment? (House, New home business?) Good. Is it a cost? (Car, Eating out?) Bad.

(Practice, good. Gradings...)

12. At some point incorporate and create a home based business. (What do rich people do?) Grow it slowly, don't go into debt, this is your retirement plan, if you can pay the bills the rest of it is going to be coffee money.

(Pick up those teaching credentials along the way for when its just you)

13. Debt is death. Especially credit card debt. Pay attention to the interest rates! If you can't keep the balance at zero on your card, cut the card in half. Trust me, you can get another one in three minutes but if you don't need it, don't have it.

(Don't waste time and money traveling half way across the globe to study if you don't have to.)

14. Inherited money (and that lottery win) is not yours. You didn't earn it so invest it and give it to your kids. The interest, on the other hand is up for grabs but if you don't need it learn about the miracle of compounding.

(Pass down what you learned unaltered, add as much as you want but the core goes to the kids).

15. Always remember that it's easier to keep money than to earn it. If you spend it or go into debt you have to work much harder to earn it back. You're always running to stay in the same spot when you're paying off a loan.

(Don't reinvent the wheel, get thee to a good instructor and keep at it rather than try to "improve" by making it up).

Feb 27, 2015

Technique, History or "I like it".

Last night at the bar the conversation rolled around to music and the Pamurai said that there were only three ways to discuss music. Technique, history or "I like it".

I wrote that down because you can boil most things down to those three. Since this is a budo series, apply it to discussions on martial arts.

See how that worked? What else do we discuss but technique, history or preference. And once we realize that, how do we argue any more?

Your technique is awful.

Your school is a fake, it was made ten minutes ago.

I like doing this stuff.

Why do you practice?

This stuff works really well.

I'm part of a 3000 year old lineage.

I like it.

Why did you quit?

Stuff doesn't work. It's too hard. Im just going to buy a gun instead.

I've got "history" with the sensei, I can't find the time.

I don't like it any more.

Feb 27, 2015

The Sword of Sci-fi

Or what happens when you fall through the Alternate Universe Interface.

People do all the time, whether by a spaceship to Mars or a magic portal to the fairy universe. It's why we practice swordfighting isn't it? Just so we'll be on a par with the beings of the other place who have studied sword all their lives. Of course we'll have some sort of advantage along with our sword skills, lighter gravity, some sort of genetic twin effect that lets us be a magician, that sort of thing.

Assuming that swordsmen in this other realm learn rather than inherit genetically their sword skills, we can assume their training and skills are going to grow the same as ours. So from a swordsman point of view, let's help the writers.

First, what do we have to work with? We should remember that there have always been swordsmen on earth. At no time since the sword was invented have we ever been without sword training of some sort. Up to a hundred years ago the sword was a basic weapon of war. It was only at the end of the second world war that the horse and saber were retired and so I am one of the first folks who grew up in a non-military sword time.

The bayonet on the other hand, is still with us, or at least was the last time I paid any attention, put a knife on the end of an assault rifle and you have an edged weapon about the size of a sword. This is quite a different weapon than the original bayonet which was a sword on a long rifle/gun that was intended to be a pike rather than a sword. It was for resisting cavalry charges without needing old-style pikemen.

Along with the military sword, which was taught quickly in a basic fashion to adults, we have also had the dueling sword which spawned, almost instantly, the sport sword and, up to about a hundred years ago, it was in use for settling affairs of honour.

The dueling sword would have been taught for a much longer period than the military sword, with salons for young adults to old men and great skills being created. It would have been this serious but continuing training that produced the "zen sword" of today, the idea that practicing sword will make you a better gentleman and a better person overall.

Again, contrast the crude, effect-focused sword of the military to the elegant gentleman duelist. Which is your character? Where will he learn his sword?

Then there is the sport sword, this is something that came out of the dueling sword and has seen an explosion of growth in the last, let's say two hundred years. In the west we had the professional prize-fighters of England who came into being about the time the gun made it's appearance on the battlefield. The sword masters needed some reason to carry on. I'm not going to spend time today looking up dates but call it the late 1500s. By the way, there are hundreds of folk out there now who can argue chapter and verse on all this stuff, a writer would be well served to check out the history of the sword on earth if they want to look for a model of sword play on Mars.

In Japan you also had the introduction of the gun around the same time and an enthusiastic adoption by the main players in the unification of the country. The broad history of sword can be compared in the east and the west and would be a great project. Around 1600 both sides of the world had the start of the great schools, the drift from military to civilian sword. In the west this was a struggle as there was no governmental support but in Japan the Samurai class was on top and their main symbol of power was the sword. This meant that the sword had pride of place from 1600 to 1870 before it hit a dip in popularity.

Around the 1700s you see the great apologists for the sword who lament the sissy ways of the modern era when the WMD, the chemical warfare of explosives made it easy for a peasant to kill a highly trained swordsman from a distance. Where is the manhood? The decades of training to hone skills that can be blown away with the pull of a trigger?

The sport fencing that we see today have roots in Japan and Europe in the mid 1700s, with kendo and olympic fencing in the late 1800s.

Japan's elimination of the samurai at the end of the 19th century meant the sword instructors were out of a job and they moved first toward an entertainment model to make a living, then toward instruction of the police and eventually to the sport kendo of today.

Another thing that provided a re-vitalization for kendo in Japan was the militarization from the 1890s onward through the second world war and the rise of the "Bushido code" which was an effort to instill nationalism by appealing to "the old samurai spirit". European appeals to "the old knightly spirit" weren't unheard of during the same period for identical reasons.

What about military sword? Are we done with the sword as a weapon of war? Well, unfortunately no. Change the name from sword to machete and you'll find lots of places where people are still losing limbs and heads to weapons that might once have been called Falchion or Scimitar, Shoto or Seax

So there is lots of historical sword training with which to endow our hero as he falls through the magic mirror into our story.

But what if we're into hard core Sci-Fi and not fantasy? We can still find ways to get those swords into the hands of our future generations, and we have.

We may not use the sword when riding in our atomic powered tanks or our ray-gun firing flying platforms but what about off the battlefield? We can use our swords on anyone outside their power-suit. Do we allow use of hand-rays on the space station? Well better those neutron-rays than good old fashioned lead slugs that punch holes in the dome, but methinks knives and swords would be an even better bet. And make them steel or titanium or amazingum but not so amazing that they will cut through those same bulkheads and lose all our air. So no monomolecular wires or crystal knives or star-wars type light sabers which can cut through anything but another light saber. And why don't they? Well one problem was practical, plexiglass isn't permeable, but the other is that the fights wouldn't last long otherwise, whoever swings in range first wins, no matter what. No defence means a boring fight.

Instead of the environment why not have another reason to use knives or swords? The personal forcefield of Dune was brilliant, I loved it, and the special method of fighting that had to be developed to defeat it. Slow motion knife fights are wonderful to see.

Of course, if we outline every idea to be had here, who is going to write anything? So let's leave the background and go to the training.

1. Adult Learning Principles.

As a writer you need to know about these if you're going to throw an untrained adult (let's say a computer geek gamer-boy) through the mirror and into a sword-weilding society. This is the military recruit scenario and so you need to get him a teacher and you need to give him an advantage. Make the other folks a bunch of hobbits, now your geek is the high school football linebacker, he's got raw power to back up that sword... did I say sword, why he's now using the blade off a scythe because the swords are like filleting knives to him.

He's still got to learn how to use it. His style is going to be barbarian giant style. You teach him quickly from how to cut to how to block and cut to how to avoid, block and cut.

Incremental learning with lots of negative reinforcement, those wooden swords hurt even when Yoda swings them at you.

Time passes.

There's the key, it doesn't matter how much knowledge the teacher has, how many books fall off the shelf and open conveniently to the chapter on swordplay, it takes time to learn anything. We just don't get it right away.

Unless we have applicable skills already. Your barbarian hero? How about he's a good baseball player? Then we can shortcut a lot of training time, provided the instructor isn't trying to make a silk purse out of this sow's ear. Good heavy blade, swings like a baseball player, blows through all the defences.

2. Shu Ha Ri

What if we're writing from the point of view of a young kid in that sword society? Pretty much any physical skill goes in the stages Shu Ha Ri, memorize the basic movements, break them down and analyse them, use that knowledge to go do it in the messy real world.

Some folks are physically gifted. This means they have a good sense of what their body is doing. Others don't, but the time to mastery of a physical skill is remarkably standard.

Musashi talked about knowing many ways through knowing one way. If you have been taught one skill, it's not hard to apply those learning methods to other skills. It's a matter of starting with simple things and building up to more complex things.

Most people look at the top people in any skill and think "I could never do that" but Musashi said you start small and work your way up. Want to swing a heavy sword? Start light and work up to it. Take the time and practice.

3. Sword manuals

For your hero? Absolutely you can learn from a book. This idea that you can't learn from books and videos is insane, we do it all the time. Some things are hard to learn from a book but those are the things that you learn after you don't need books any more. How to hold the sword? No problem, learn it from a book. How to keep the tip alive through the suppleness of your wrist? Hard to read and do, but you learn it from practice, not from being told. If you could learn from a teacher's words you could learn it from a book.

Sword manuals for writers? Sure, you can learn from practical manuals with pictures and whatnot, a great idea. The more esoteric principles such as are written down in the Go Rin no Sho? Maybe choose a more modern writer, Musashi's language wasn't easy in 1645, even less so now in translation. But what are the basic principles of Japanese sword? Centerline, pressure, speed, calmness. More complex principles? Breathing, moving from the center, relaxation and strength. And the esoteric? Jo ha kyu (acceleration), maai (distancing), shu ha ri (graduated learning).

All the principles are easy to grasp in your head, but they need time in practice to show up. Distance and timing? Practice. Seme (pressure)? Practice.

What about kigurai and such things? Can you learn them? Not kigurai, it's the opposite of being told something, it's the aura that accumulates to someone through long practice. It's the confidence of someone who has performed a skill for 20 years. Musashi called it, rather unhelpfully, the body of a rock. Other fighters go around you like water goes around a rock.

4. Self teaching

Sure, you can teach yourself to play the guitar. How did that work out for you? It's not impossible, it's just inefficient. It's easier to learn from someone else, that's how we work. It's why we are writing on computers and sending it to each other over the internet. Knowledge builds on knowledge and skills build on skills. "Son, this worked in the past and this didn't, you figure out which you want to do".

Trying to teach yourself guitar isn't a big risk. Trying to teach yourself how to fight to the death with swords is a bit trickier.

5. Training and learning methods.

What happens? Well if our hero is trying to learn how to swing a sword by using a sharp one there's going to be blood and tears in far more abundance than sweat. I once had a ski lesson from my buddies, it consisted of strapping me into rented skis with no edges, taking me to the top of a hill that was frozen ice rather than snow and telling me "you're fine, you're a natural athlete" and pushing me down. I lost skin and blood and teeth as the tip of the ski met my face when I fell and rolled like a good aikido guy.

Maybe start slow and build up to spring skiing with rented skis? Maybe pick up a couple of sticks and learn swordwork before using the real things?

You think toy swords make toy swordsmen? You never had to spend a year's salary to buy a sword. You are NOT going to learn to drive on the formula one car, who cares if you get hurt, the car doesn't heal. Chips in your sword don't re-grow like cuts on your arm. You're going to learn with a wooden sword, no matter what era of earth's history or which alternate universe. If you're on a space station you're going to learn with blunt metal, not the sharp stuff.

Hopefully, you're not going to pick up the sharp thing until you're ready, but what kind of a story is that? Of course the hero is going to go out and face great odds and somehow win through to self-knowledge in the end. It's a story.

6. Movie swords vs real swords

Remember the light sabers? Real sword fights are a lot of positioning and care and a move and it's over. Even sport fencing (including kendo) is pretty much boring, one guy twitches and the other scores.

People like a bit more action, a bit more drama, they want the hero to work for it. So read those sword manuals, let the hero learn all the big deep psychological lessons but when it comes time to fight the main villain, he'd better become a bit stupid in the physical skills department or the movie is going to be ten minutes short.

Just some random thoughts on the topic. I could see a book on "sword fighting for writers" but I'm not likely to get it done so you guys take a chapter apiece and do it as a collective. Be a good way for the asian and western sword folks to show off at each other.

Feb 25, 2015

A Plea for Clarity

Having finished 37 posts on Musashi's writings I moved sideways to research some kata which are heading for a book (along with the posts and some other stuff) and suddenly the names of the kata exploded in my head.

Nothing earth shattering but how could I have missed all these years that the names of the kata are taken from Musashi's article titles? Seriously blind there, and blindsided when I looked again.

So here is my plea to all you folks out there who are reading my posts. Go do some research yourself, and don't stop at reading, write! I'd love to read translations of more work on Niten or any of the other arts I practice from those who can read Japanese, so if you do it, send it to me. But if you are into 1940s Citroen cars, for goodness' sake write a couple articles on the topic. Don't have anywhere to publish it? Really? Split it up and post it here, you don't need anybody to read it, that's not the point.

Writing is an amazing way to concentrate your knowledge into a hard core, then you bounce other people's writings off that core and you start to understand why some things stick and some fall away, leaving a larger core. Maybe you come up with a big filter that lets you sift out the BS, maybe you come up with a big crowbar that lets you pry knowledge out of the void.

The one thing that will never happen is that you will waste your time writing. Can't be done.

If you're serious about your budo, practice ten hours and write five. Even if it's writing down what your sensei said in class... no ESPECIALLY if it's writing down what your sensei said in class, write. You won't believe what he is saying while you're half listening and trying to move your left foot to the left instead of to the right. You won't hear it at all unless you write it down because it will get smoothed out of your brain as you're watching TV (instead of writing the notes).

Practice once. Take notes and practice twice.

I've got around 20 manuals done now, and I've got more in me I'm sure. I'm also going to continue the posts for a little while as I finish up with Musashi's writing, but I really don't want anyone reading this stuff and deciding "it's been done". You read it, you figure you got it, you forget it. My books are for my students, I know they aren't writing this stuff down and I know they don't have time to do the research. But many of them do go on to teach so I do the work for them. Problem is, they know this and may get lazy, figure the work is done. It's not, I'm yelling at them to read what I'm writing now, to proof it and to ask the questions I haven't remembered to answer, but what I'd really like them to do is write the stuff themselves.

Don't get lazy, that amazing post you just read won't be there in ten years when you need it. Put it in your own personal manual. The one you're writing now as a beginner. DO NOT wait until you're an 8dan to write that book. You won't write it. Do it now when it's clear. Don't wait until it's all half remembered and muddled up with a lifetime of everyone hanging on your every word as if it's "the way". Write when you're full of doubt, you'll do your research.

Don't have time? I am sitting in the window of With The Grain here in Guelph. I come here almost every morning with my tablet and my bluetooth keyboard and this is where I have a coffee and write a post. It's a routine. I have the extra incentive that this is the only advertising I do for my business, but I'd do it anyway because it's where I write it down to get it clear in my head. Yes ha ha my head is pretty messy but without writing it down I'd not even know what's in there.

Go write something, it's winter, what else you gonna do?

Feb 24, 2015

Kasso Teki and Real Teki

Sunday we had a nice three hour class with just two of us and one of the questions raised was how to see your invisible opponent. It's a good one, and one that beginners agonize over for quite a long time.

First, how do you see something / someone who isn't there? Bill Mears used to tell his students to put out their sword, focus on that and then take the sword away without letting your eyes and focus move. Try focusing on thin air, it's more or less crossing your eyes half way, really hard to do.

That's looking like you're seeing kasso teki.

Who is this mysterious opponent? Again, Bill used to say he is the same size and shape as you, just a little bit slower and with all your bad traits right up front. So every time you cut you're cutting away a bit of what you don't like about yourself.

I keep swinging at his spare tire.

Is this it? To put an image in your head and swing at it? Partly yes, at the beginning yes, but the purpose for kasso teki is to make your iai functional. Nobody looking at your iai from outside your head will know if you've got an image of someone in your head. What sensei can see is whether you would have cut your opponent or not, and that's what's important at the end of the day.

Having an opponent in a paired kata means you will cut him accurately and in the right timing, having no opponent makes that difficult so you ought to be imagining one.

At the end of the iai practice I decided that trying to imagine an opponent was a bit too difficult, and I've never really done that. Instead, get inside the kata, learn what each movement is doing, understand what choices or lack thereof your opponent would have at that moment, figure out what the standard interpretation of his movements is, and then figure out what happens if you don't do as sensei says, does he come right down the centerline if you miss his head with a horizontal slash? Of course he does so get your tip back online.

The more you understand what's happening in the kata, the more real your invisible opponent will become.

After the iai we moved on to the oyo waza of Niten Ichiryu. We don't do these very often, there's usually lots of students to teach the basics before going into the obscures, but we worked through them and I watched what happened when we used the mirror to learn the dance steps. The arms went too far, the tips moved too wide, the footwork wasn't correct. In short, having nobody in front distorted the kata. All that changed once we started working together. It took a few times through to clean up the timing and distance but very quickly the distortions slipped away.

Kasso teki in iai is hard, really hard because there isn't any physical body to correct the distortions, there's only sensei's feedback. I think that's why I find myself grabbing a bokuto and sitting down in front of students these days. It's a lot easier to show them what kasso teki is doing than to try and explain it.

Often we say "learn kendo or jodo to improve your iai" as if doing the occasional partner practice will fix up the kasso teki question. It helps, no doubt about it, but it isn't the cure. We need to understand what's happening in the iai kata as well as what's happening in kendo or jo. Maai doesn't work if there's nobody to take a distance from. What works is a deep understanding of what's happening, what can happen and how one stops it from happening in that iai kata.

Feb 24, 2015

The End of Learning

Don't know about you, but I really hate Wikipedia. I hate it because it spawns thousands of websites that just copy its content and waste search engine space. I Do Not Need to see 12 websites with the wikipedia article on Musashi's Dokkodo copied and pasted. I really don't.

Now really, if you have done that, carry on, it's fine I'm just annoyed with the time I've spent looking, but the other part of Wikipedia that's a drag is that it gets edited by, as Colin Watkin once said of the Niten Ichiryu article, too many kids who get their information from video games. It's nice to grab the information that is valuable and store it elsewhere so that it doesn't disappear when the page is lost... or the whole system for that matter. A lot of martial arts information went away with geocities if I recall.

The cloud isn't a real place, it's just someone else's disk.

The breakup of the net, the chasing around after the audience as they wander from one place to another (yes that's why I am on faceplant, a place I find even less desirable as internet real estate than AOL was when that lot got out onto the net) is a problem for real learning. OK lost a few FP fans there I suspect.

One used to have a few journals or websites or news outlets where one could go to find out what folks knew. If one were a serious researcher there were archives and museums that could be visited. Now we have search engines that seem to be too specific or too general but don't seem to be able to find the sweet spot, and the archives are all blown apart, their various diaries and photo albums scattered all down the street as individual pages blowing in the wind.

I seem to be coming to the end of learning in my chosen fields, I seem to be running into the wall that exists between what we know and what is tucked away in attics. Hence the irritation with finding the same bits of information over and over. Am I done then? Is what I have gathered together all that there is?

I honestly don't know. You see, there isn't a nice place where everyone comes and shares their information any more, the bits and pieces flying all around the town are gathered up by the people off the streets and nailed to their front doors. What one house knows isn't being shared forward, it's being shared by "come to my place and look".

This is the democratization of the internet. This is the democratization of the publishing industry, ALL books are vanity press books now. Have you wondered why 50 Shades of Pink is so badly written (I've been told and read... a lot)? It's fan-fic, it's what was once published by photocopier. It never saw the desk of a publisher before it was a massive hit on the net.

No editing any more, no gatekeepers to prevent you from publishing your drivel. You're still reading this? Proof positive.

Books are dead, yet there are more books being published now than ever. Physical books being published on vanity press sites and selling four or five copies.

Oh, and the authors are making more on those 4 or 5 than they would have with a publisher in many cases, but that doesn't help the quality of the writing. The big news lately was the possible publication of "to set a watchman", how exciting, except that it's the manuscript that was set aside in favour of "to kill a mockingbird" which was the edited version and was a good book (I heard). I'm sure the academics would love to read the original manuscript, but mostly to see the value of an editor.

I'm drifting from my point, which is that I'm up against a wall looking at the internet which is an endless repeat of a small amount of information. It just seems like there's a lot of stuff but it's actually a library with 50 copies of 100 books rather than 5000 books.

So am I done with it? Nah, I drift more and more into Japanese websites. Google translate is getting better, it has a romanji function along with the translations so I can see where names are being translated into meaningless confusion. Mostly I get to see that Japanese authors don't have a lot more to work with than I do (a comfort, strangely) but every so often I come up with a gem, like the list of schools derived from Musashi's teachings over the years. There are a lot. It's like finding a county full of cousins when you figured you were a small family. Of course now I want to look in all the cousin's attics for the old photo albums.

Never mind that, what I really need to do is dig past all the boxes of invoices piled on the floor of my library to get to my bookshelves where I have hundreds of obscure magazines and photocopied books. I need to go through all that stuff a second, third and fourth time because I know there's stuff in there that never made it to "the cloud".

I ran across a bit of translation on the website of a consular employee in Australia or some such. It was of the Takeda family records from the late 1500s and the author was a high ranking samurai who stated that he was damned near illiterate, and recommended that you have mostly illiterate samurai in your employ... they're more useful if they know how to fight rather than write... which is such a difference from the paper I was reading last night that reflected the modern understanding of a samurai as working on his poetry and tea and zen as much as on his sword... oy... The point? This writer suggested that what you want is two or three books, not a library full, and that you read them over and over again.

I agree. This is the anti-internet theory of knowledge and I agree. I have some ratty photocopies around the place that I read regularly and get more information from each time, than from an afternoon of cruising Google.

Re-read the stuff you've got, you'd be amazed at what you already have, stop looking for the new stuff if you haven't found any new stuff for a while.

Are you still with me my budo buddies? Here's the take-home for today. If you haven't had your head exploded by what a sensei has said to you for a while, stop looking for a new sensei to listen to. Go home and integrate rather than accumulate. I've got a former student in Thunder Bay who once complained that he was all on his own without a sensei. Well being on his own, working through his stuff has got him a hell of a lot further along the way than he would have been by sticking around here waiting for me to reveal the big secret.

When you come to the end of learning you're just at the beginning.

Ho Ho, that was a good one, but I feel like it's beeen said before.

Feb 22, 2015

Speaking of Timing

I just put up article 35 of the Heiho Sanjugokajo which dealt with Jiki Tsu which may have something to do with timing or perhaps with direct communication or maybe a mysterious energy that can't be explained but that eminates from a swordsman with enough practice. Or is that the body of a big rock?

Oh yes, practice. Last night we went through Koyo no uchi, the autumn leaves cut where you drop the opponent's sword out of his hands, and then went through Sessa, a set of five kata that are pretty kendo-like in their look. We discussed the simplicity of them and the way they really don't allow anything other than immediately working on timing and distancing and intimidation and all the things that Musashi writes about. If you're not using his principles these kata don't work at any speed.

In this aspect they are like the itto seiho (long vs long sword) and the kodachi seiho (short vs long), most of those kata have a single movement, "walk up and hit the opponent".

The Musashi Kai, a group that does nito kendo, and have visited the west coast several times has a set of 13 kata for nito kendo based on the Niten Ichiryu and we went through those a couple weeks ago. They are very well suited to kendo and I'd recommend them to any Niten Ichiryu students. If you practice nito seiho you can "get" these pretty fast. There's a video online and Robert Stroud has some notes up on the Idaho Kendo website. They aren't quite the same feel as the sessa though, not quite as dependent on dominating the opponent straight down the line.

These oyo waza (sessa and aikuchi) and the Musashi kai kata all deal very quickly with timing and distance and reading the opponent. They also train the two-sword movements from a slightly different direction so are excellent for breaking habits so I recommend them to anyone practicing Niten Ichiryu these days.

Which I suppose is mostly my point, because what we were learning last night while doing these kata is not easy to write about, "stomp on the sword" makes a bit more sense after practicing Ryusui Uchidome but how much more could I write beyond what I wrote in the comments on the 35 articles?

Jiki Tsu indeed, or... you must investigate this for yourself.

Feb 21, 2015

Zanshin is killing me

So is reiho. Can we make a rule that anything put up on youtube has to be edited so that all we get is 2 minutes of actual kata instead of 15 minutes of slow walking back to the start line and another four minutes of protracted bowing at each other?

I mean seriously, I've only got so much time to spend on watching how other folks do stuff, once I've seen "walking back" I've got it.

I've started jumping the videos but with all the inaccuracy involved there I start to wonder if I'm spending more time trying to find the start of the next technique than just watching the demonstrators walk backward.

Mind you, I'll spend hours looking for a written tutorial rather than spend ten minutes listening to some internet expert natter on about how he's got other videos in this series where he talks about other videos in this series.... before he gets to the specific bit of information (12.6 seconds worth) in the video.

And ebooks, my god I bought an ebook from Google for some research. DON"T. You can't flip to the index, you can't follow endnotes, you can't copy and paste, you can't even print the damned thing out and you have to wait for it to load every ...... single ........ time.

Give me a hard copy I can write in the margins, put in bookmarks, and that I don't feel ticked off about retyping. Not only that, but really, have you ever had four "reading devices" open on your desk at one time? Well there's six books scattered around mine most of the time.

Age of instant information my right buttock. Age of wikipedia more like, the anti-information service, where you find proof that "everyone knows everything" but actually only knows what everyone else knows. Check Wikipedia first, memorize the first line, then look at the "article" you find online and if the first line is the same, move on folks, move along, nothing to see here...

And don't get me started on academic journal portals that charge $50 for a three page paper or pdf sites that charge people to read MY stuff that's up on my website for free. Netflix for writing... so where's my royalties.

Feb 20, 2015

Why we Kata

I don't think anybody would suggest that the martial arts are of any use to the military these days, at least not to the usual run of the millitary. Maybe some commando units still train with things less noisy than silencer-equipped submachineguns.

But it seems even the police these days have no use for anything less lethal than their handguns, I can't remember the last time I looked at the news and didn't read about some unarmed citizen being shot. If you've got the firepower and the permission why bother trying to subdue anyone, it's risky. I'm not being sarcastic there, I don't think farmers ought to be injured in tractor roll-overs either, or fishermen drown or forestry workers be cut in half by kickbacks. These things are jobs and you do them for money and you shouldn't be expected to be injured or killed if there are ways to avoid that.

On the other hand, we don't do martial arts for money (unless we're running a commercial dojo) and we obviously don't do them as part of our job, so what are they for?

One of the studies you should consider when thinking about this is Trulson, M.E. (1986) Martial Arts Training: A Novel "Cure" for Juvenile Delinquency. Human Relations 39: 1131-1140.

He taught two classes of Tae Kwon Do and a control. One class got technique only, one got "philosophy" and a third got volleyball or some such, haven't read it in years, but the "traditional" martial art class had a reduction in aggression and delinquency, the "modern" class showed an increase in the same and the exercise class didn't change. Let's not make the obvious connection with pro wrestling and MMA (hah, just did).

It's not so much what you teach, it's how you teach it and especially what you teach along with it.

Here's something I wrote several years ago: http://www.uoguelph.ca/~kataylor/mapsy1.htm and http://www.uoguelph.ca/~kataylor/mapsy2.htm It contains several other references that might be relevant to your thoughts on this stuff.

So, if I'm a drill instructor and we're on a war footing, I don't want my recruits to be thinking about improving themselves, I want them to become more aggressive yes? So I teach how to efficiently hurt people and I don't talk about the why or the what, or anything else that might help to humanize the enemy or make my recruits less likely to attack.

Military training is military training, no matter the era or the country, but I think you'll find that in some cases that training is used as something more. The koryu were/are considered life-long daily exercises which makes no sense at all if their function is simply to train soldiers. A couple days a month will usually serve for militia units.

While this may be laughed at by many, there is, in most young men, a desire to serve, to sacrifice. It's the biological equivalent of the "maternal instinct" for women and it has served the human race for a long time. Somebody had to go out and fight the tiger, run the mastodon or the buffalo off the cliff, and go to war with the tribe in the next valley over, and young men are expendable. (It doesn't take that many of the old men to keep all the women pregnant after all, and if we let the young men have some fun between hunting trips or battles...)

I suspect this is a large part of why we have such an interest in the koryu as battlefield arts, as opposed to being just another method of self-improvement. But we should look at the intent of the training, rather than at the form if we want to talk about the martial arts as vs military training. As a method of learning how to fight, the martial arts are simply "overkill". You don't need daily training in an esoteric sword art if you're going to fly predator drones.

Some folks mention that the martial arts train people to withstand the mental pressures of the battlefield but while that may be true, and while the martial arts are probably also useful for recovery after exposure to battle, they aren't necessary. Soldiers are trained quite quickly and fight well enough without resorting to the classical martial arts.

Kata are simply sets of movements designed to teach something, and one can certainly compare a sword kata to a gun clearing exercise. Why not? One could also make a kata out of starting our car in the morning, when was the last time you had to actually go through a checklist for that?

But the martial arts make something more of a kata. They are to be done in a certain way, with a certain mindset that is something a bit different than starting the car or clearing a jam. They are not strictly functional, but have another intent, they are a "mindful practice" as opposed to a habit. (And isn't a checklist such as pilots go through an "anti-kata" an anti-habit designed to force you to actually check things as opposed to doing them automatically?)

I've said it before, but we mentioned TKD so I'll repeat what my TKD instructor told me. "You don't train for ten years on the off chance that you'll get into a bar fight".

Feb 19, 2015

Back to gradings

Lately I've been thinking about gradings once more, yes I know it's months from any grading but that's where I have to start worrying about it. One of the crap things about having a grade is what goes along with it. My whole career I've had enough rank to have to be one of the guys who worries about how others get theirs.

Which brings me inevitably to the question of what possible use a rank is to anyone.

Well quite a while ago I had some thoughts on a discussion forum which I'll share here.


Q: Regarding ZNKR gradings, is this process actually making me a better Iaidoka or am I just becoming more proficient at those five kata and the opening and closing ceremonies? Perhaps the menkyo system is better at producing better all round swords-people but this is labour intensive and probably in practical in modern times.

Me: There is no conflict between getting better at your five kata, practicing the specifics your instructors and your organization tell you to practice to pass ... and improving at iaido in general. Do you not think that perhaps the organization would require various skills at various levels of your practice and would test them at that level so that you can understand what they are? What you need to pass is what you need to learn.

The menkyo system, by which I assume you mean a system whereby your instructor hands you a grade when you are ready for it or when you have earned it, is just as good as your instructor.

A grading is just another practice, same for tournaments, demonstrations and the regular time you are in the dojo. It's all practice. The only person who puts extra pressure on for any "special occasion" is the student, how could it be otherwise. Sensei says "grading in two weeks, you need to work on this".... how is that different than him saying during a "regular" practice "you need to work on this".

It's all practice, do your best, work hard, don't waste your time or energy at any time when you have a sword in your hand.

Q: Not so much personal expenses for you, right? For me, it's running close to $1000 to try a grading by the time I add up flights, hotel, meals etc, not to mention any days off work I might need to take. People in Toronto and Vancouver never have to decide if they are ready enough to risk a significant chunk of change testing. They just show up and test and if they pass, great! If not, they're out $50 for the testing fee or whatever. I've had that decision every time as I've had to fly every time. Fortunately now we do our grading at our annual seminar, so people don't have to contemplate laying out a grand to try ikkyu.

Expenses aside, a grading is not such a cavalier thing for the vast majority of people as you make it out to be. Labeling it as "just another practice" is not helpful. Different kettle of fish. You pay your money and you get the opportunity to train at a level you need. You are unlikely to go home saying, "well, I just blew $1000 and got not much out of it".

Me: I accept the point, and my next test might cost me $4000 or better so I understand the economics, in fact I deal with the economics every time I contemplate gradings, which is twice a year times two arts, where people have to fly in and we have to arrange a grading panel (which we may have to fly across the country). We have also flown entire panels in from Japan in order to provide gradings that are affordable for the students.

I get the economics, I really do but I will not back up on the notion that a grading is just another practice. The thing to do is to make sure that as many gradings as possible also include a seminar so that the membership can get value for money. In fact, it's only a seminar that allows us to fly panels around most of the time as it has been decided that gradings will not only be self-supporting but will turn a profit or they won't be offered.

By my estimation it is not another kettle of fish to spend money for training or for a grading. It is the same necessity for me, I cannot get the training I need to improve by staying in Guelph, I have to travel a couple times a year to where the instructors are. Sure you're out in the boondocks and sure there are guys in Vancouver and Toronto who have no sympathy for your situation, but I'm an hour out of Toronto and still I spend thousands a year to get the instruction I need, instruction I then take back to Toronto and spread around. You eventually rise in rank to the point that you are "out in the boonies" unless you're living in Tokyo. You have to spend to learn just as much as you have to spend to grade, it's no more of a choice for one or the other.

Yes it's a choice that I make to travel to train, but there is no requirement anywhere to grade, that's a choice too. It's the same choice if you combine a seminar with a grading, but if you can only grade, and spend a grand to go do it, you can still:

1. Perform your art at an especially critical and high level in front of your betters.
2. Watch others perform their art with a very careful eye to see what the current expectations of the sensei are.
3. Spend time with senior sensei and fellow students discussing the art.
4. Find out just how dedicated you are to the art and to the organization.
5. Support the art and the organization.

By my choice, there are a lot more positives there than negatives, if it is a choice heavily influenced by "shall I spend a lot of money and perhaps not get a lot out of it" I suggest that choice is already made. A student who figures the only positive to a grading is the paper he gets at the end should really be staying home. There's no status, money, girls or booze that you get from passing a grade... well maybe a beer or two in congratulations.

What do you get with rank? More work, more responsibility and the expectation that you're going to show up to even more events so that your face is in front of the sensei so that you have a better chance of passing the next one up.

A mug's game, the only real justification for attending a grading is the learning experience you get out of it. I say it's just another practice.


If anything I am even more firmly convinced that rank and gradings are a mug's game since I wrote that. I'd much rather organize seminars and forget the stuff that goes along with gradings. The bother of arranging them, the distraction, the dealing with those who fail with poor grace and even worse, those who pass with poor grace... no, give me a pure and simple seminar to make me happy.

Feb 18, 2015

Keep Calm and Kata On

Last night, thanks to some questions from the folks in class, I understood some things from a kata that has irritated me for years. No I'm not going to tell you which one it is, it's all of them.

The thing is, I could easily have changed the kata or just ignored the problem completely and said to myself "do it because sensei taught it to you that way" but that's not what you ought to do. Well no, that is what you're supposed to do, do it like sensei taught it to you, but you aren't supposed to leave it at that. It's supposed to irritate you enough that you want to know what you don't know. You're supposed to be bright enough to find questions to ask.

If there's a kata that you don't understand you should ask sensei. Of course if you're sensei this is kind of a problem, but luckily my guys are the types who preface their questions with "well it looks like this is what's happening here, is that right?" Bless their little bonnets, most of the time I just have to say "yes, exactly, good work" and that's what happened last night as the tail end of a kata fell into place.

Why didn't I ask my sensei? Well they're in Japan and I don't have a lick of Japanese so I do what is more fun anyway, keep calm and kata on until the answers show up. They will you know, if you are practicing honestly, un-mechanically, and you check constantly against what works and what doesn't from a theoretical point of view. In this case it was "why are we cracking our partner in the side of the head when we are done the kata and are half way through separating." The answer of course was that we aren't through at the point I figured we were, and that's what the other folks spotted, they simply assumed that since we were still smacking each other the fight must still be going on. Ding went the bell over my head and one less question for me.

You think I'm going to forget that one? Not a chance, I worked it out... we worked it out without doing the easy thing and asking sensei to spoon feed us. That's what makes for the best teaching of all, the one where you provide a hint (let's say, a kata) and let the students work out the answer for themselves.

So trust your kata, have faith that they will eventually make sense, even if sensei won't tell you what to think. Perhaps he's still working it out too, so don't be afraid to tell him what you think. Maybe he'll say "exactly right, good for you" and chuckle all the way to his notebook.

Feb 18, 2015

Responsibility or Insecurity

I've spent the last couple of months researching and re-reading Musashi's writings, mostly the ones that are not the Go Rin no Sho. I keep trolling the internet, comparing various translations, looking at older writings that use Musashi's words and just generally beating the heck out of the internet search engines.

All because I have this sneaking suspicion that there might be someone or something out there that gives me a bit of insight. I mean I'd hate to miss a secret.

Yet over and over I come back to the same place. Musashi was a Japanese swordsman, there were many before and many since and they all came eventually to the same place. As far as the theory goes, it's there, I don't seem to have missed anything.

As for the practice, I have my training and I continue to learn from the kata. I continue to compare what I get from the practice with what I know of the theory and I'm pretty sure I am not missing anything.

So why back to the research over and over, thinking that maybe someone has found some other document that sheds a bit more light on either the practice, the biography or the theory of Musashi?

It's a circle that I've been moving around for 20 years and I'd like to think that it's my sense of responsibility to my students that drives it. But I'm afraid that it's just my deep down sense of insecurity that maybe I've missed something big and obvious.

At this point it would be a really good idea if I went on a musha shugyo to see where I stood, but I'm pretty old to do that. It should be done when you're in your 20s not your late 50s. I suspect that's why, in the Edo period, you wre handed your menkyo kaiden after 10 years or so and booted out the door to go work it out for yourself at the business end of a shinai.

Where would I go anyway? Modern kendo is something that would test me a bit but I figure what I'd learn is that my legs and shoulders are shot and my head is a target for any of the fast twitch muscled kids. Should probably do it anyway.

I did spend quite a few years in my 30s and 40s organizing and hosting the Guelph School of Japanese Sword Arts where I got to hang out with lots of seniors from various koryu and I did steal some fun stuff while doing that.

Eh, I suppose being insecure is better than being convinced I know it all.

Feb 17, 2015

Furi Kaburi

Furi Kaburi is the sword above your head, sometimes we speak of the movement overhead but for me, I tend to say it's the point at which one starts to strike.

There are lots of ideas about how to get the sword over your head, and where it ought to be once it's overhead.

Sometimes you will see folks swinging a bokuto or shinai back all the way to touch their butt, should we be swinging that way? Beginners have a death grip and the tip wobbles all over the place, touching the centre of the butt and especially opening the hands forces them to relax the hands at the top and lets them know whether or not the tip is centered so swinging this way is a good exercise, but isn't used for cuts very much.

As for big or small cuts, fast or slow, or the shape of the movement. For ZenKenRen seitei and my MJER the kiri oroshi starts at the end of nuki tsuke, not at furi kaburi, there should be no pause at the top. For other interpretations the furi kaburi may be an uke nagashi, there may be a pause at furi kaburi to check the opponent's movements, or if you unite the furi kaburi movement of the first kata Mae with the movement of the knee, it will (appear to) stop at the top... in fact it's damned hard not to have it stop at the top. To make the move continuous you disconnect those movements. (We're talking the ZNKR iai Mae here, where you are on your left knee and you pull that knee up to the right foot as you lift the sword overhead and then cut down as you put the right foot forward).

On the tip down of MJER at the top of furi kaburi, if the tip has gone past the ear (as I was taught for Omori Ryu) one does not drop the tip from there, one raises the hands over the head while relaxing the wrist, thus leaving the tip at the height of the ear and the hands come above, resulting in a much shorter time scale for a big cut. In ZKR iai the tip does not drop below the hilt at this point, this is an instruction from the kendo side of things and from the shinden side as well.

For oku iai the tip may be driven straight up the opponent's face during furi kaburi which should drive him back on his heels and allow you the time to cut him down. When you do this you probably don't want to drop the tip behind your head, you can get the left hand on earlier and start storing energy in your left forearm muscles as you lift the blade. This will allow you to accelerate the tip much more quickly. As Musashi says, "try this out".

The position of the tip when you are overhead can depend on where the target is. One needs the tip at a certain speed upon hitting the target which means a certain arc distance in which to accelarate. If going for the head of a taller opponent you may need to drop the tip. If going for the head of a shorter opponent, a level tip may be fine, if going for kote or do the tip may only need to come from 45 degrees. This teaching is from Iwata sensei in a seminar in Vancouver many years ago. You will also find it in Noma Hisashi's book "The Kendo Reader" which describes a kote strike from a fist in front of the forehead and a men strike from a fist above the head.

One does not leave one's last position (the end of nuki tsuke, chudan, whatever) which is largely defensive and move into an exposed, armpits open position if one is inside the opponent's killing distance/timing. Speed cannot save you in this position, nor can small cuts, only being outside kiri ma and moving in, or rocking teki onto his heels will do it.

Or perhaps using an uke nagashi movement on furi kaburi to deflect his downward cut. Or...

Regardless, being in furi kaburi (the position from which you can strike) before you move your body in to strike is probably a good rule of thumb to follow. This we do in MJER Mae, but not in ZKR iai Mae.

feb 16, 2015

Distance Education - 3

If we can become settled, or perhaps resigned, in ourselves to being without constant technical supervision from our sensei (and let's face it, after 5 or 10 years our sensei isn't on our backs constantly anyway, we're lucky if we get a correction once a month, the rest of the time he's looking at those who still listen when he says "tip higher"), what is it that we miss by being elsewhere?

I mentioned being in an organization and being sponsored through gradings as non-tech benefits to having a sensei, but providing we still have one we don't need to be in the same town for that. We just need to have a sponsor somewhere up the chain of command.

One thing we will benefit from by being in the loop is to be in the loop. I mentioned fads in grading earlier and I should explain that a bit further. If we are near our sensei and he is up the ladder far enough to be in the loop, we will know about something like changes in sageo control for iaido gradings, or whether or not the top-top guys are talking about timing during tournaments (in which case you'd better be ready to see a stopwatch come out during the grading). These "fads" are something that I've always warned my students about so that they go to a grading expecting that things will be "changed at the last second". Stuff is never really changed that late unless you're out of the loop but sometimes that loop can be pretty small. At one time in our federation I was told "the loop" was the restaurant the sensei from one dojo visited for lunch after Sunday class. If you weren't there you didn't know what was going on.

Things ought to be easier now that we have email and other modern marvels but you still get the SOP field kicking into effect. It's Someone Else's Problem to share the decisions the top sensei make in the restaurant or perhaps announce in their own dojo. So a non-tech benefit to having a sensei further up the food chain is being closer to the loop if not in there.

See what I did there, food chain, restaurant...

Can a sensei teach you how to be a better person? Of course, if he's a nice person but your dad can do that too. Stuff like that isn't sensei-specific. Stories of the past masters? Yep of course, but there's books and again any of the old guys can give you that. Stories of his own teacher? There's one for you, and those are wonderful to know. Thing is, those stories are usually told in relation to some sort of technical point. Are these necessary to learning the art? I was asking my daughter the other day who her "grand-teacher" was, what her violin lineage was, and she didn't know. She knows her teacher is amazing and that he trained in Poland but that's about all, he hasn't mentioned his teacher and she hasn't asked. I hope she does because knowing that your lineage goes back past last Tuesday gives you a sense of participating in history. But necessary to learning? She's pretty good if I do say so, even without the stories.

Those lineage stories are relevent with regard to your original sensei, but if your sensei passes away what does it mean to join another sensei and learn his lineage, especially if his lineage is not yours? This happens in the kendo federation where we have multiple koryu lines but the grading lines run on different tracks... wow crap metaphore. Your koryu lineage is with your original teacher, but if you want sponsorship to pass your next grading (and at a certain point this counts... get over it) you go with the guys who are connected no matter which koryu they follow.

Even in the koryu and even in the same lineage there can be interesting situations created with the death of a sensei. For instance, let's say a teacher in Canada has studied under a high ranked sensei in his line in Japan and got his rank there. That teacher dies and now a young fellow is in charge. Does our Canadian sensei put himself under the young headmaster? What if that Canadian teacher gave the new headmaster his first lessons in the art? Again it comes down to political considerations, does our Canadian teacher want more rank? If so he's got a new sensei who is also a kohei. Fun yes?

Of course our Canadian teacher can always start his own organization and start giving out his own paper. He may not have any choice, I've seen new headmasters come in and boot all the foreigners out. Why not? If they're doing their own thing anyway and have no firm connections with Japan any more, why go to the bother of trying to get them back in, maybe best to say "you're good to go, good luck" and cut them loose.

The sensei - student situation goes both ways and a junior sensei may not feel comfortable taking on a senior student. I've been there, I've got folks in my dojo who have been teaching martial arts for decades longer than I have. It's a different relationship than from the kid who walks in cold. It's a lot more technical and a lot more careful for one thing. There's a lot more explanation and discussion and a lot less "just do it".

So there it is, there's the art-specific stuff, the politics, that is necessary to continue in the same art or organization and for that you need a sensei. Unless you're at the top I suppose but who wants to be there, I bet the best headmasters are the most insecure about their technical abilities and wish most they still had a sensei.

Then there's the person-specific stuff, the stuff where your sensei becomes a lot like your dad. I get that, my budo training began after my father died so there was always a bit of substitution going on for me and I can honestly say that I learned a lot of dad stuff from my sensei. But as I said, you get that from any mentor, it doesn't have to be your budo sensei.

Finally what about teaching? Tricky, is that included in the technical side of things? Are we taught to teach or do we learn by watching our own sensei teach? Can we learn how to teach by watching other sensei teach?

Feb 12, 2015

Distance Education - 2

Instructors who are teaching far from their sensei, or who have lost their sensei tend to have some issues with legitimacy. Are they ready to teach on their own? Are they good enough? Should they be seeking out other sensei if they can find them?

On that last, of course they should, but it's not always obvious that a different sensei will know as much or more than your lost sensei, or more than you come to that. Is that egotistical? Probably, but you really do need to think carefully about putting yourself under another sensei. If you aren't sure that he knows more than you do, or that he can make you a better swordsman or a better teacher, why would you align yourself with him?

Several reasons, the most common would be political connections I suspect, that teacher can get you through your next grading or get you appointed to a position in your organization. Or perhaps he is your entry to his organization in the first place. Not all sensei-student relationships are based on the teaching of technique. Let's table that discussion though, in favour of the simply technical, so back to teaching.

There you are, out in the wilderness after five or six years of training under your sensei. You've started a club and now you're not sure you're doing the right thing. After all, your sensei isn't around to support you on a daily basis, you're in Canada for goodness' sake, and your budo is Japanese, you're half a world away from "the real stuff" aren't you? Talk about wilderness!

In Japan there are no five-year teachers, there's only 35 year teachers so what will the Japanese say about you? Well in most cases they'll say you ought not be teaching, that you should hop on the train and go study with your sensei each weekend. (The concept of a three day train ride to visit your sensei might not cross the minds of folks from a small country but we can appreciate the sentiment if not comply with the suggestion.) Come to that, they may cut out the polite stuff and just tell you to stop wasting your time and come to Japan to learn.

Can we talk about koryu? Maybe you're involved there as well as in a more modern system like the kendo federation. If so you know what a menkyo kaiden is, and you don't have one. Whups, now you're even more insecure than you were before.

Allow me to quote from: "Shokoku Kaireki Nichiroku" (Diary of Wandering Several Provinces) 1853-1855 by Muta Bunnosuke, Translation and comments by Sandro Furzi.

Typically the small number of warriors who did undertake their musha
shugyō did so after receiving menkyo kaiden (license / everyone), the final license issued by a school upon full initiation and mastery in the technical and spiritual teachings of the ryūha (a specific school). (p.3)

So there you are, menkyo kaiden is full initiation and mastery in the techniques and spiritual teachings and here's you with only 5-6 years training.

But a short time later we read:

Bunnosuke studied of Tetsujin Ryū under his father until he was adopted by a Saga han retainer named Muta, then continued his training under another Tetsujin Ryū instructor, Uchida Shōemon. In the 5th year of Kaei era (1852) when twenty-three years old he received the menkyo kaiden of Tetsujin Ryū from both his real father and his teacher Uchida.

To a modern reader, especially to traditional martial arts practitioners, while it may seem strange that someone could be awarded the menkyo kaiden at such young age, this was very common among the schools of Edo period. Typically five to ten years study was enough for someone to get that final license and permission to open his own branch dōjō of the school. (p.4)

Either the edo period samurai were massively smarter than us, their teachers massively better, or there has been some "rank deflation" happening in the last hundred years or so. I mean, full transmission in five to ten years? Do we know so much more now, that it takes 20 years to learn it all today? Perhaps our teachers are less talented, or we're just stupid but I'd bet on the time limits between grades being cranked up over the years. Don't forget I've sat on grading panels for 20 years and watched the requirements for grades slowly ratchet upward by both natural processes and recently, by fiat from on high.

I suggest that perhaps the study of the martial arts has become a lot less commonplace than it was in the Edo period. After all we figure most professions we're familiar with (lawyers, doctors, dentists, car mechanics) can be learned in 5-10 years these days, it's just the ones that are mysterious that we figure must take a long time. Back in the Edo period there were lots of samurai doing their sword training and learning the 65 or 165 kata of the style along with the secrets being whispered in the ear or written down in books. At that time it wouldn't be thought necessary to spend your entire working life to graduate. You'd be taught all the kata, told all the secrets and booted out the door to get on with it. If you applied yourself you got better, if you were lazy you didn't.

Could you imagine if we demanded 20 years of study to be an accountant? We require a minimum of 35 years to get to 8dan in the kendo federation. Is that a requirement for learning or a method of keeping the top level at manageable numbers?

So what's all this looking back toward our sensei we do today? One thing is that we don't hand out menkyo kaiden which you can hang on your dojo wall to remind you that you've got permission to have a dojo wall. In the kendo federation we say you can teach independently at 5dan which is about 10 or 11 years to learn 12 kata. Errm OK maybe that's why we say you can go teach a lot earlier than 10 years as long as you've got someone with a 5dan to sign off on your students as they go and grade. How long does it take to learn 12 kata anyway? Seriously.

Have you been learning for 3 or 4 years and have maybe 3dan? Have you got someone willing to sign off on your students' applications to grade? Get on with it.

Are you doing a koryu? Do you have permission from your sensei to teach? If so why are we talking.

Feb 12, 2015

Distance learning

I was never lucky enough to be next door to an iai or jo dojo, the best I ever got was a couple hours trip once a week which was better than most at that time.

I did have my various "empty hand" things at the University, including three times a week at Aikido where we had a pretty good grounding in weapons so I wasn't too deprived.

But even today there are many folks in Canada who are working on the distance ed. model I suppose you would call it. They have various backgrounds in karate, aikido, judo or what have you and they are working on the weapons arts through occasional visits to their sensei.

In most cases they have started classes in order to get space to train and they are helping the arts grow in a vast country.

To a person I find these remote instructors (and I count myself as one of them) hard-working and conscientious, people who try hard to keep up with the latest fads in the major centers with regard to the grading systems. Yes I said fads and I meant it, every year I see some new twist, some new "rule" that suddenly shows up without announcement which two or three dojo know about due to proximity to the organizers of the gradings, but which ambushes everyone else. Like I said, fads, and the distance instructors really do try to figure them out but will always be doomed to miss several.

But more importantly, they work doubly hard to understand the arts they are teaching. They read, they pay attention at seminars, they think. Oh do they think, and they rarely get it wrong, even if they are convinced in themselves that they do.

This stuff (budo) isn't really rocket science, if you are in a Japanese martial art and you have a thorough grounding in another Japanese budo you are going to "get" iaido or jodo or even a koryu like Niten Ichiryu. You will get it because the Japanese arts aren't disconnected, they are all of the same cloth, and why not? The giants of the old days were not single-art wonders, they studied lots of different arts, the giants of pre-war kendo studied judo and aikido and lamented the loss of the kata-based sword arts, just like we do today. Of course the concepts transferred around the arts. Take a look at the history of the famous quotations used in your art, trace them back and you're as likely to find they came from Noh theater or the schools of tea as they are from your particular sword art.

Then there's the sneaking suspicion that your sensei hasn't got to the point where he has told you the deepest secrets. We all have those, it's part of being that life-form on the planet that can see further ahead than the next meal. We see so far ahead that we see into places that don't exist, supernatural realms of demons and gods and depths of knowledge that would make your sensei red in the cheeks to know you think he's that amazing. No, I'm afraid that in my experience your sensei has given you everything he has to give in the time you had together. You may not have understood it all at the time but you were taking notes weren't you? Filming everything on your smart-phone or at least using it as a voice recorder right after class? I have a video somewhere of my taped notes after a seminar in Vancouver with a senior instructor in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and you wouldn't believe what I get out of that when I pull it out and watch it. I'm saying stuff then that blows my ears off now.

Your sensei didn't hold anything back, you just couldn't hear it. So it's no wonder when you go back to visit you hear brand new stuff.

You also have to understand that your sensei is where you are, by himself, thinking, reading, experimenting. He's going to learn stuff between your visits that he will pass along, convincing you that he knew it all along. If he's a smart sensei he may just "let" you teach a class so that he can steal the stuff you've learned since your last visit... but shhh, don't let that get any further than your ears only.

I've been teaching for 25 plus years and you'd figure I would have it all under control but you'd be wrong. I still greedily listen to my sensei when I can. In fact I sometimes lose my train of thought when I'm teaching a section of a seminar next to my sensei. If that happens when you're in the class you can rest easy, I'm not going senile, I'm listening to my sensei in the class next to yours.

The Kids are Alright, you distance instructors are doing as well as any others out there from what I can see.

Feb 12, 2015

So Much Sun

It's really sunny right now as I sit in the window of my coffee shop having a dark roast and squinting from the sun reflecting off the road into my eyes. It reminds me of my youth where my main image of a woman is coming across the beach with the sun coming from ground to sky so that all I saw was a silhouette.

Mid February isn't so bad right now, I have hope that we will see the summer once more. I even had a photo shoot last night (first in months with people) with a couple of new members of the club who wanted to learn how to use the studio and offered to model so they could steal my techniques. First setup? Silhouettes. I put a couple of lights behind the white (it's always white, since Irving Penn it's always white seamless paper) backdrop and it became a giant light source for them to stand in front.

Just like when I was a kid.

Dark shapes approaching out of the glare, you never quite know who they are or what they're doing. I have been reading Noma Hisashi's book on Kendo and he quotes Musashi quite a lot. He mentioned a passage from the old guys where they say "try to make sure your opponent has light shining in his eyes" Noma suggests this is some sort of light shining from your eyes because you've done some esoteric training. I figure you just put the sun at your back, but then I'm not very romantic.

I figure committees are sort of like the glare of the sun on the beach, all keen and bright-looking with confusing dark stuff coming out of them, stuff that isn't clear. Murky, ill defined shapes with indistinct features, mostly seen with your imagination rather than with your eyes.

Can you tell I've been dealing with committees lately? Not the kind where everyone waits until you figure out what the chairman wants and then does that, but the kind you more or less wait to run down to nothing so that you can then get on with doing things. I've been on way too many committees in my life to have any illusions about what happens when things "go to committee" so I don't get upset any more, just try to nudge once in a while so that when it collapses into being informed that whatever the committee was set up to do is impossible to do, I have time to see about doing that impossible thing.

Committees are February, you just grit your teeth and wait for them to be over.

Well it's half way through February and the sun is out and my eyeballs are being seared by the glare and that's OK. Maybe I'll go to the mall for some retail therapy while I wait.

Feb 10, 2015

Seitei vs Koryu

Or perhaps, rules vs reason or form vs function.

At our last class we were practicing the kodachi seiho of Niten Ichiru, the short sword. At one point I told my student to separate at the end of the kata without becoming overly focused on my long sword. In other words, don't leave her short sword in contact with my long sword down by the hip, because it is too easy for me to circle around it and obtain the upper and center position and attack again.

Instead, I said to take a position a bit higher, where the tsuba of the shoto will cover my sword, and be slightly to the right of her centerline to protect her center.

This was done faithfully but two kata later I noticed a bit of stiffness, sure enough I lifted my sword over the shoto and took center, then walked slowly down the line until my kissaki was in contact with her body.

Upon yelling at her about this she told me that she had considered moving her shoto to cover the centerline but I had told her to leave it a bit to the right side of center.

Was she winding me up? I mean, one of the best ways to tell sensei he is overly specific is to do exactly what he tells you to do and let the kata fall apart... But I don't think she was doing that this time.

Don't make a fetish out of anything sensei says. If he says "to the side of centerline" don't take that as a rule to be followed at all times and then lose your life.

This happens all the time in a seitei gata because standardized kata are supposed to be standardized. The more things are clarified, the more they are described to a standard, the more those rules become fetishized and extended to all situations. In the Zen Ken Ren Iai we are told to have the tip of the sword above the hands when we are in furi kaburi (when the sword is above the head and we are in position to strike). Somewhere along the way this got translated into keep the tip above the hands all the time. That became so fetishized that form dominated function and eventually the hanshi, the top instructors, had to clarify that when you have thrust someone you can't lift the sword up overhead keeping the tip above the hands, that would mean lifting the opponent overhead with your sword. If you are smart enough to get this, you end up doing strange movements to first pull the sword out and then shove it back into position to lift it up with that tip above the hands. Inefficient at best.

No, stop looking at the form and think of the function. If you simply raise the hilt over your head while turning your body the tip comes out of the opponent quite nicely. The problem is not getting it out, the problem is letting the tip be, at one point in the turn, below the hands when one has made a fetish of not letting that happen. Your fascination with the rule that you have invented/extended won't allow you to let that tip be below the hands so you break the swing instead. You make the next cut into a three part thing instead of one. Pull, readjust, cut instead of just cut.

Rules do not replace reason, they are supposed to help us approach reason. Seitei gata are to allow judges to see a standard performance so that rank can be assigned, they are very good for that. They are not as efficient at teaching the principles, the riai of sword. This I suppose, is why the Zen Ken Ren Iai judging manual states that Riai becomes important as a judging criteria at 8dan.

If you hear sensei say "put the shoto slightly to the right of center" you should hear the additional explanation "so that you can prevent your opponent's sword from taking center through your shoto because the function is to protect your center not to have the shoto to the right of center". If he does take center by going around your shoto, for goodness' sake take it back! That's function over form, reason over rules, and what you ought to be learning in koryu.

What did I yell at her without thinking? "This isn't seitei! Think about what you should be doing not what I told you to do!"


Feb 8, 2015

Musashi then and now

That something can be, or is, of use in some certain field, is not an indication that it was intended for that purpose.

I can learn how to shoot a bow and arrow at the local archery range, but that doesn't mean that the club has the current or even the past purpose of training yeomen to shoot down French knights.

There is also, I would suggest, some risk in assuming that what we have today in the Niten Ichiryu is what Musashi handed down. But regardless of that, warfare at that time had little to do with swordsmen fighting swordsmen as individuals.

Here is something that I wrote in 2000 which applies:


The Sengoku Jidai and the Tokugawa Shogunate

The Niten Ichi Ryu was founded in what might be called "interesting times". Japan had been in a state of almost constant warfare for over a hundred years and in 1543, a generation before Miyamoto Musashi was born, the gun was introduced to the country. Musashi lived at the end of a tumultuous time, witnessing and participating in the end of the feudal age and the final consolidation of the country by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. The first of the three unifiers, Oda Nobunaga had been betrayed killed by Akechi Mitsuhide shortly before Musashi's birth.

The Japan of this time was not a romantic place of sword-wielding knights roaming the countryside looking for adventure. In the sixteenth century the country contained 25 million inhabitants, almost 10% of which were samurai class. This compares to 16 million people in France, and 4.5 million in England. In England about 0.6% of the population were in the warrior class.

Aside from the samurai, Japan's armies of the day also contained a large proportion of peasants, mostly as lightly armed infantry. Warfare at this time was surprisingly modern. At the battle of Nagashino, Oda Nobunaga defeated Takeda Katsuyori, son of the famous Takeda Shigen. In this battle Oda had 38,000 men with 10,000 of them being gunners. 3000 gunners placed across a stream and behind breastworks used 1000 round volley firing to break the famous Takeda Cavalry. The same tactics were seen centuries later in Europe.

Twelve years after Nagashino, at Coutras in France, Henry IV of England won the day using 300 men armed with pistols and squads of 25 gunners. This battle resulted in the largest loss of men to that date in the French civil war with somewhat less than 3000 dead. At Nagashino about 16,000 men died.

In the late 16th century there were more guns in single armies in Japan than existed in all of England. In 1584 the battle of Komaki featured no cavalry attacks at all, and certainly no heroic single combat between samurai. The fight resolved into trench warfare with both sides dug in firing volleys of shot and exploding land mines. Hardly the romantic ideal of sword swinging samurai.

In the 1590s Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea, originally with 160,000 men (1/4 of which were gunners) and eventually with up to 300,000 men. At about this same time, the daimyo of Japan built their great stone castles and seige warfare became common.

In 1598 Hideyoshi died, leaving an infant heir. Five daimyo were appointed regents and eventually the most powerful, Tokugawa Ieyasu, forced a confrontation to decide who would take supreme power. At Sekigahara Tokugawa fought the forces under Ishida Mitsunari in a battle that involved quite a bit of prior seige work at various castles to control the main roads. Fifteen years later Tokugawa consolidated his power by defeating Hideyoshi's son at Osaka. The country was firmly under his control from this moment on and remained unified ever since despite the occasional regional rebellion.

Curiously, after Sekigahara there was room once again for the individual heroic warrior. With the coming of the Tokugawa peace the need for mass armies, mass tactics, trenches, and castles disappeared allowing time for individual study of the warrior arts. Most of the existing koryu budo of Japan were developed and refined after 1600.

End Quote

copyright 2000, Kim Taylor From Niten Ichi-ryu, a manual of the sword art available from SDKsupplies.com

So let's take this to the idea of koryu being training in warfare. Is the Niten Ichiryu a good preparation for war? Musashi claimed so, he repeatedly tells us to see the large in the small, to understand the battlefield from the individual combat.

If you agree that form follows function, and if the koryu were for training soldiers for the battlefield, It would follow that they would not be teaching one-on-one swordfighting as their main practice. Yet at the very beginning that was the main practice of Niten Ichiryu.

Trench warfare was mentioned in the Onin War from 1467 in Kyoto, the gun was introduced in 1543 and became dominant on the battlefield within 50 years. If the koryu were to train soldiers or even generals to fight wars, one would expect them to take some notice of these things. I do not recall any writings from Musashi on how to dig and supply trenches, but he did intend that we extend our individual kata lessons to unit movements during battle. So not strategy and logistics, but certainly tactics, and not so much for the invididual soldier in the trenches, but for the commanding general at the battle. Musashi even mentioned tactics when facing guns and arrows from seigeworks. Being a creature of his time, and having participated in battles, he would be thinking of these things when he thought of fighting.

Despite those few mentions, the Form of the koryu is years-long training of individuals in swordsmanship or other outdated and battlefield UN-ready weaponry. It continues to this day in that form, despite modern weaponry.

The Function, therefore, is NOT warfare today, and as has been argued, not warfare at its (koryu's) conception. The original function is possibly dueling, but that does not explain its continued practice today since dueling with swords is outlawed, and more importantly, not practiced except in some German University fraternities.

If form follows function, and the form has not changed, one could argue that the function has not changed, and that function today likely reflects the function of the original school.

What is the function today? Or, as my sensei asked me on a flight to a seminar in England many years ago, "I have to do this stuff, it's a cultural thing, but why do you westerners spend your time doing Japanese martial arts?"

Karl Friday suggests there was a self-improvement and enlightenment "function" to the arts at the beginning, and I tend to agree, since, absent dueling, that's the only thing that explains the continued, and cross-cultural, existence of the koryu "handed down the generations in a form unchanged".

Here is my syllogism for today.

Some martial artists may be soldiers
(Not all martial artists are soldiers)

Some soldiers may be martial artists
(Not all soldiers are martial artists)

Some things you learn in the martial arts may be useful to you as a soldier
some things you learn taking violin lessons may also be useful to you as a soldier
it is not necessary to learn anything about martial arts to become a soldier

Martial artists are not identical with soldiers

In other words, you don't need, nor have you ever needed the kind of skills you learn in a koryu for a battlefield.

Musashi for 1645 is the same as Musashi for 2015 in my opinion, but in neither case is the main function to prepare soldiers for a battlefield. While Generals may find things of use in the Niten Ichiryu and in Musashi's associated writings, they will also find things of use in train schedules and fuel efficiency numbers for transport trucks.

The main use for the Niten Ichiryu and other koryu is to make better people. Our koan is to find out how learning to kill can help you learn to to be a better person, and incidentally to make a better society.

Feb 7, 2015

Should I start a club?

I don't know why I'm the king of klubs, but I regularly get asked for my opinion on whether I think it's a good idea to open a club, or whether someone is ready.

First, if you're asking you're thinking about it and thus you're likely ready. If you're thinking about it you have reasons, listen to them.

Second, if you're asking me you're pretty much there. I mean, what am I going to say? I'm the poster boy for starting a dojo, started the U.Guelph iaido club in 1987 because of rule #1.

So what are the rules?

Rule #1: Are you the only game in town?

Open a dojo, it's that or quit practicing.

Rule #2: Sensei suggests, hints, gets out the big stick and pushes you out the front door.

You think you have a choice? He's done with you, go start a dojo. He'll maybe teach you some more once you start teaching.

Rule #3: Sensei gives you the club.

See Rule #2. Whether he gives it to you because he's tired of running it or he has died, it comes to the same thing as Rules 1 and 2.

Now that we're done with the "no choice" considerations, let's go to the rules for starting your own club when sensei is still teaching at the old school. We'll start over with the numbering.

Rule #1: Have you asked sensei?

Ask sensei. He'll let you know if you're ready. If you have more than one sensei, or don't know which of several sensei you should ask you might have your answer right there. Multiple sensei may often be assumed to be no sensei at all, but it's a better problem to have than no sensei at all.

Rule #2: Do you have the ability?

Assuming you asked sensei and he said yes, you have your first hint. He thinks you'd be fine. But he may just want rid of you because you're a know-it-all who can't be taught. Wouldn't be the first time someone was promoted sideways. So you have to look seriously into your own heart. Rank does not equal teaching ability. It often doesn't even mean superior ability, it simply means minimum standard met.
One of the most curious ideas I've ever come across is the airport promotion where you ask your sensei for a teaching rank so that you can go teach. Do folks think that having a rank somehow gives you the ability to teach? Nah, it just gives you... well it doesn't even give you the ability to fool prospective students. Beginners might, only might, know "black belt", they're not going to care that you're a 7dan, they don't know what that is. Serious students will spot airport grades in ten seconds so they're not going to care about that 7dan.

Again, it comes down to you, look deep and decide if you can do it.

Rule #3: Can you afford it?

If you're in a commercial system you will have a business plan and small business experience to call on, you will have a pretty good idea of your market and whether you can make a living in a new dojo. I'm not too worried about you.

But if you're coming from the other side of things, where you teach in a church basement and don't take any money and all that stuff, you might just be in for a very rude shock when that first rent bill comes due and you still have three students. There's a damned good chance you are going to be reaching into your pocket for rent, for club equipment, for a lot of unexpected stuff.

Think carefully before you start teaching, do you have a job that will let you do it? If you're going to be taking food off your family's table to heat the dojo, think again. I teach in a free space at a University and I still ended up spending a very large chunk of my income through my earning years. Now my retirement nestegg subsidizes things.

Rule # 4: Have you got a place?

Some people start with this and it certainly is important, especially in a city where space tends to be rare and expensive. But it is around. Near me (smallish city) I can think of an optimist's club, an orange hall, a dance studio or two and even some karate clubs I might try. That's all before I would consider looking at warehouse and loft space that I'd have to convert myself. Be creative.

Rule #4: Got students?

DO NOT take students from your present club. Trust me on this, I've seen that sort of thing blow up way too many times. If you start a new club and sensei sends you some students or suggests you run on nights he's closed, that's one thing, but you must not allow students from your old club to join yours without that sort of prior agreement. Think about this. Do you want to show your sensei that his students like you better than him? That his students think you are a better teacher? If you're leaving to slap your sensei in the face you aren't reading these rules, you're already heading out the door.

Tell your fellow students they are forbidden from joining your club for six months, and then only with permission of their sensei.

Which begs the question "Got students?" Got a plan on how to get some? Small hint, advertising/promotion is your one and only chance here.

Of course if sensei is splitting the club because it's too big, you're golden.

Rule#5: Got a support system?

Does your organization approve? Most will, more clubs means more dues and more growth. Good relations with your sensei as per the rules above will also mean support from sensei. Informal support systems with your fellow dojo heads are also a good thing, especially in the area of all that instruction on how to run a dojo that you didn't get when you went for all that rank.

Rule #6: Go with what you need.

If all the rules above are putting you off but it's still better for you to go teach (as in, you can't live in your mom's basement forever) just go do it. You'll learn as much in failure as you will in success. More. Although I mentioned that teaching rank isn't teaching ability, it's defined as teaching rank for a reason.

When all else fails, drop me a line and I'll tell ya. I'm the King of Klubs.

Feb 5, 2015

Kasso Teki

I don't know if it's the humidity here on the east coast but the first evening of the seminar here in Antigonish featured two diatribes on spirituality in iaido.

I honestly can't remember the first, we've been out for beer. The second was all about kasso teki. He's the guy who is the opponent in iaido of course. He looks like you, he sounds like you, in fact, Bill Mears used to say that he was everything about you that you didn't like. All the terrible things you do and say that you wish you didn't.

Oh, and for a beginner, he's just a little bit too slow and stupid to ever win, so each time you do a kata you kill a little bit of what you don't like about yourself.

Cool eh?

Kasso teki has to be a bit less skilled than your beginner self because otherwise you won't learn. Think of your badminton instructor, you know, the one who is an all-state champion, who can send you home black and blue like a trip to the local.... never mind, the guy who can send you home black and blue from birdie bites. What would you learn if he just screamed them past you from hour one? Nothing? Absolutely, nothing. To begin with he's got to lob them over the net so that you can learn to return them. He's got to lose to you, just like kasso teki. Think of this like your invisible opponent is lobbing, oh, I dunno, your cigarette habit over the net. Not too hard to beat that one is it Mr. ashtray licking kisser?

But eventually you learn the basics of badminton (or iaido) and it gets a bit easy to beat your simple self, you know, the nasty habits you want to get rid of anyway. Eventually you get on to stuff like "beer: drinking too much thereof". Oh yes, now your kasso teki is just a little bit better than you. This is your badminton coach staying just a tiny bit ahead of your skill level so that you learn. You have to learn or you end up getting beaten over and over again. So you try hard and you catch up a bit and he stays a bit ahead of you.

This is most of your iaido career, your imaginary opponent remains a bit better than you are, and you get a bit better for trying to stay alive, for having to struggle to beat him day in and day out.

But that's only most of your career. Eventually kasso teki gets mean and nasty. Around when you're old, let's say sometime when you feel like I do most of the time, perhaps when you're 70 or so, kasso teki ends up being your 18 year old self. Young, healthy, full of wastewater and acidic substances (piss and vinagre I think I mean), and he can wipe the floor with you. In fact, kasso teki does wipe the floor with you. Every time you step into the dojo you notice you are another step behind, that it takes a few seconds less time for your younger self to defeat your present self.

You move from humiliation to humiliation every practice.

And yet, knowing that you are beaten and will be beaten you show up in the dojo and put your sword in your belt. You do it knowing your students can see your weakness, you do it knowing they see you defeated each and every kata you perform. You do it simply through the sheer effort of will it takes to be beaten but still show up for practice.

This is all you have to give your students eventually, your example of going on in spite of losing a bit sooner, a bit worse every day. Of losing to the swordsman you once were, but showing up anyway to be beaten again. It is this spiritual determination, this mental toughness that you can give, all you can give, and you give it every day.

This is the joy of iai, the ability of old men to continue past the time when they would have been chased from the dojo by the young bucks in sports where the opponent is real, not invisible, not one's self. Physical abuse of the body, bruises and breaks will stop an old man's career simply because the body can't take it, even if the mind can, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Past this place, the kasso teki of iaido will allow these old warriors a few more years to be battered but not quite beaten in spirit.

I hope I can be one of them when my time comes.

Jan 30, 2015

The Things you Learn

We're practicing Niten Ichiryu on a fixed schedule these days (Friday evenings) because we've been neglecting it and it is one of the core arts of Sei Do Kai. Last week I started with nito seiho because that's where I started and I want to examine kodachi and tachi as kihon for the nito set. In other words I want to reverse the assumed order of practice.

But part way through the class I found myself yelling at my senior student. We were simply demonstrating so that the beginners could learn the dance steps but damnit, why wasn't I being driven back into the wall? I explained what I discovered in that moment, that I really, really care about this school of sword. Not in any sort of academic way, but as if it was the essence of my being, and something that I have to pass along if I want to call myself a teacher.

I had no idea I felt that strongly about Niten. Perhaps it is because I have no teacher and I feel the responsibility to pass on his gift to me. That seems a bit cockeyed to some people, if you've lost your teacher you ought to go find another one and be passionate about that instruction yes? Well, no. Budo is much more than collecting kata, you have to get over the dance moves within the first couple of years and move along if you want to really learn budo, so changing to a new art or even just a new teacher when you lose your own means throwing all those years away and starting over. If you've only got a couple of years invested that's fine, with 20 it's just too late. So I continue to learn from the knowledge my teacher gave me and as I go deeper into the school I get more demanding of my students that they follow along and challenge me.

Which, I suppose explains this black finger I'm looking at today. My student really does pay attention to me and a few minutes after I was giving her hell for not being aggressive enough I changed up a kata to demonstrate how one might just drive someone across the room. Halfway there she presented me with proof that my right hand was open. Yep, ask a good student to hit you and you may just get hit.

Quite a few years ago I was at a seminar with a student who had moved away and is now teaching in his own club. As I was demonstrating something or other I motioned vaguely at him to strike down at me and then looked back at the class. Next thing I knew I was stepping smartly back off the line as his bokuto whooshed down in front of my nose. I looked at him and he looked right back and said "What??".

Yep, what indeed, I had forgotten that he was quite happy to cave my skull in because that's what we had agreed upon way back when. I had just been practicing with, shall we call them "less enthusiastic" students for a while.

Nice to know some of this stuff still gets me excited, and nice to know there's a student or two out there willing to help me along by trying to break my bones.

Jan 12, 2015

Respect the man

Or respect the position. Which do you? Or do you respect according to the situation?

Both are worthy of respect, a man if he deserves it, the position because it's one of authority, as in a member of a grading panel, a referee, that sort of thing. You respect the power, you respect the effort the job takes. You don't have to respect the man or even like him, but you respect the position.

Positions have authority over you, you can fail a grading, you can lose a match, so positions get respect automatically. A position has no integrity on its own, it's just a name and a job description. The man filling the position may or may not be worthy of the job, but by standing in front of a judge or a ref we automatically respect the position. If we didn't we would be a fool to be there. We invest the position with our belief that the job has trust and honour and justice built into it and so we do not criticise. Again, we would be fools to stand for a grade from a panel we don't recognize as being capable of judging us.

On the other hand, respecting someone who has no position is a little bit different. You really can't respect anyone you don't know, you can show courtesy but respect is something else. You can't respect a rank, who knows if that big shot you just met bought his rank? People do. Or maybe it was just handed to him because it was convenient for him to have it. You can be polite to rank, and it's always best to do so since you never know who the fellow is connected to. The one thing you can be fairly sure of with rank is that the guy has been around the system long enough to collect it. That means he probably knows where bodies are buried and so polite is a good insurance policy. In any case, why make potential enemies for no reason.

Maybe you think that we should respect everyone, maybe your mom told you to do that. The thing is, respect implies trust, which means being sure the person you respect will not lie, will not cheat, will not harm you. To trust strangers means to open yourself up to being cheated. If you figure you can tell if someone is going to cheat you, you are not a trusting person, you don't respect that stranger, you just assume the best of him, which is different. Thinking the best of someone is conditional, respect is absolute. Not permanant, it can be lost quickly and it's gained slowly, but it's absolute.

I have had lots of teachers through the years, I have been polite to all of them but very few of them had my respect. I trusted very few of them enough to throw myself into an attack with the knowledge that they would not harm me. I remember one hung-over aikido seminar morning where my teacher waved vaguely at me and I came in like a freight train. I wasn't paying attention and that's not what he wanted at all, he spun me around and launched me (I was completely off balance by that time) into an almost certain broken neck. On seeing that he grabbed me out of mid air and collapsed onto his ass with me on top of him. For just a fraction of a second his arm tightened around my neck and I could feel how angry he was but he chose to look like a complete prat in front of a seminar full of people rather than let me be hurt.

Of those I respected, some I didn't love, most I liked but that has nothing to do with respect. I respect a great many people without liking them. You don't have to like a person to respect them. If they do their job with integrity, if they do what they say they will do when they say they will do it, if they push you only just past your limits when teaching you, and keep you safe, you can respect them whether you like them or not. On the other hand, some folks I quite like, but I don't trust them, they may be proven liars, they may obviously be looking out for themselves first. Affection and respect are not linked, although I must admit it's probably easier to like someone you respect.

I couldn't care less about polite, call me a fat, ugly, no-talent bum and I'm just peachy with that. In fact I'd probably laugh. Just don't accuse me of lying or we will have a problem. In other words, don't confuse polite with respect. One of the things that irritate me most is to be polited. That's the verb form of polite, just as the verb form of respect is respected right? Think about that, you can respect someone but you are polite toward somebody, even the grammer knows there is a difference. Respect is something you give, polite is something you are.

To be polited is, as I say, one of my less favourite things. To me it actually shows a lack of respect, as if being called "sir" and "sensei" will hide the fact that whoever is talking to me has an agenda. "A man may smile and smile.... ". I think mostly it's the assumption that I can't see beyond the grin, that I'm so venal I won't see the underlying meaning. It's just calling me stupid.

"Don't polite me kid" I've been around the block more times than you have, and in my day the blocks were bigger.

Not that you can't be polite toward me, I'm fine with that, just don't polite me.

Some people confuse respect for the position with respect for the man. Those are the types who want the posltion for the respect that goes along with it. Don't be that person. If you want respect as a man, if you want to know that people respect you for who you are rather than for what job you're doing, give up the job. Step away from the power and you'll soon see who was toadying to power and who actually thought you were a worthy person to know.

Be careful, you may learn something about yourself and that's often quite dangerous.

Jan10, 2015

Boys Don't Smell

Boys don't smell their own stink goes the saying around where I grew up. Neither does the woman in the next cubicle who seems to bathe in cheap perfume and there's a simple reason, the nose attenuates to familiar smells. There is too much input from the world to handle all of it all the time. Surely you've heard about the experiments where a guy in a gorilla suit walks through the room but nobody sees him, he's not part of whatever folks are concentrating on so the brain ignores him. Not exactly attenuation but a good example of our non-mulititasking ability.

I used to work in a fish shanty and nobody complained about the smell until they brought the guts bin back from the pig farm. Then the place smelled awful until we got used to it.

Attenuation happens everywhere and we have to take special steps to avoid it in situations where we need to keep aware of what's happening, like driving a car. How many folks have slipped into TV mode when driving. You know, the windscreen becomes a television screen and so you can ignore it for a bit while you text an answer to your friend. When driving becomes something that soaks into the background and you become unaware of what you're doing someone gets rear-ended. Usually the guy in front of you and your first thought? Why did that idiot stop. Yep, not our fault. In fact, "why did he back into me?" is likely what the brain is saying before we snap back from our couch to our car.

Budo needs attention. A nice video of a female aikido teacher has been going around in my social media crowd. She's got good skills but she's got aikido teacher twitch. She's looking at the other students as she throws her partner. It's funny, I do it too when I'm teaching Aikido and I don't notice, but when I do a similar type movement in my sword class it annoys the hell out of me. "Do your opponent the courtesy of looking at him while you kill him" is how I put it to my similarly inattentive students. It's a show-off move originally, "look ma, no hands". Sure you're going to say that once you have your opponent into the technique you should be looking around for more opponents. Yeah, periferal vision doesn't exist and all opponents come from the direction of your students right? I've never seen an aikido teacher check the blank back wall. Maybe you're a better person than I, but I know for a fact I'm looking for applause when I look away from my partner during a demonstration. I gave up telling myself I was looking to see if they understood what I was doing.

Students attenuate quickly, they want to learn, move on and learn more. If you give them the same correction in the same words more than twice they stop hearing it. If you don't work out alternative ways to tell them the same thing you will eventually hear all about how some other teacher at a seminar was a great instructor who fixed their problem right up. Yeah, it wasn't your deafness in my class kid, it was his great skills. Well OK it takes two to teach, it was also me not realizing that you'd gone deaf.

Deep breath, reset your attention, then start the kata. That's the way of the real world. I am not a big believer in being constantly on alert and fully concentrated for an entire two hour class. Most people can't do it, they settle into a sort of rigid sleep mode, like the sentry that can sleep standing up with his eyes open. No, I like students who can snap to attention during a kata and then relax into a refreshed, general attention between. You don't avoid getting hit by a bus by watching for them 24/7, you avoid it by looking for a bus when you get near a street. You look for busses near streets by getting your nose out of the smartphone. That doesn't scan as well as nose out of a book, we need another phrase.

Look around today, especially on the roads, and check how many people have attenuated. The inattention to what's happening around them will scare the pants off you, and it should. The most common cause of traffic accidents now is not drink driving, it's smartphones.

Look up. Pay attention, smell the roses, that's the perfume your crazy ex-girlfriend wears and she's standing right behind you with a bottle of axe shampoo. Lucky she had to stop and answer a text!

Attenuation can be your friend...

Jan 8, 2015


Last summer I did a knife-making course and as I was pounding metal I realized that I was working in the opposite way I usually do. With woodworking you start with something at least as big as what you end up with and take away everything that isn't what you want. It's a subtractive process. With metalworking you start with the material you need but each stroke of the hammer adds to its size rather than reduces it. The process is additive.

As a photographer who has dabbled in the history of the art I'm well aware of the comparisons with painting. The two visual arts have been argued and angsted over for almost 200 years now, and suddenly a lot of it falls into place as I think of painting being additive and photography subtractive. To paint you add pigment to canvas, building up an image. In photography you subtract from what is there to be recorded. The photographer frames the image, removing everything outside the frame. The studio photographer may seem to be adding something when he uses his lights but he has in fact removed the overall evenly-lit vision you get on a cloudy day (the solar softbox) and by turning off the overhead light has pared his image down to what can be recorded by the studio lights so carefully arranged. You subtract lighting in the studio. (Which explains my irritation at our current white-covered space where you have to fight to control the bounce and spread of the stuff.)

The pictorialist vs realist streams in photography can come down to additive and subtractive. The pictorialists want to tell a story, they add costume and background and "try to paint with their camera". The realists say this is not pure photography, you must photograph what is real, which means your art comes down to framing and focus, you subtract what is there, and do not add what is not.

Possibly my dislike of too much digital manipulation comes from this. If you're going to spend more time pushing pixels around in photoshop than shooting, you may as well call yourself a painter.

Writing is additive, that's screamingly obvious, and editing is subtractive. That's why you can have specialists in both. As an editor I rarely tell writers to add words, they're good at that and usually need to be told to cut the bloat.

What about physical activity? Exercise as done by most people would probably be called subtractive, as in subtracting the food they've eaten from the fat stores in their body. Most folks exercise to lose weight and pay very little attention to the exercise itself as evidenced by the blaring music and television screens covering the walls. Anything to remove the awareness that the bike we're riding is going nowhere as we build up an appetite for more food.

Budo? Additive surely, we are paying attention to the movement and learning new skills, same as sports. Perhaps sport and budo isn't the true opposition to exercise though, perhaps we should talk about bodybuilding where the same sort of weightlifting, running and cycling is done to add bulk to the body as opposed to subtract it.

And where does this get us? Nowhere specific, thinking in terms of add and subtract is simply a tool, a handle that can be used to rearrange arguments so we can come at them from a different direction. I have no doubt I'll be looking at budo more finely and trying to analyse kata vs freestyle training. At first glance I'd say that kata training is additive but is sparring subtractive? Is kata really additive though? When we do a front kick are we adding a skill or are we subtracting all the useless motion we see in a beginner? Deciding which of those we are doing can have an affect on how we teach that kick.

Remember, Barbi says "Math is hard".

Jan 7, 2015

Retail Therapy

It suddenly occured to me a few days ago, why I go to stores. I usually have no reason, I just get an urge to hit the mall or a big box. Since I pay attention to things like that I noticed that I usually want to go to the store after I've been to the gym, or had some dealings with an organization I'm a member of.

Lately I've been dealing with the University administration "improving service to the clients" which is of course code for doing less and charging more and being snotty about it from the front lines on up to the top. They seem to be looking for more retail space in the admin building and so they are looking for places to put the ousted student organization and that place seems to be our photo club studio and darkroom.

I won't bother with more examples, suffice to say that everywhere I turn I'm being told in various subtle ways that I'm not welcome, that although there is a theoretical place for me to be, in reality the world would be a much better place if I wasn't there.

Not so retail. I walk into my usual coffee shop today and I get a chorus of hello and a cup of coffee appears before I've even got my coat off. I go into a store and a clerk comes up to ask if they can help me. Help me? As opposed to giving me shit for not gettting enough students into an instructional class I'm teaching?

We rant and rail about the materialism of "kids these days" but what do we expect when they are told to go through gates to get into the gym and then given shit when the turnstiles don't work. As if they broke them or somehow erased their key cards. Everyone likes going where they are welcome. When the "spirit of volunteerism" becomes the spirit of bitching and moaning about how much work you have to do for free, the sports clubs and fraternal organizations (remember service clubs?) start losing membership. When the paid admin jobs become places where one pushes paper and collects a cheque at the end of the month and the "clients" distract you from finishing that report, the membership starts to get grumpy and, if they can, leave. The situation is especially acute when the clients have no choice, when they are forced to pay their membership. No incentive to be nice to them at all.

And that's the difference between a retail operation with real "clients" and customers. Bitch at your customers and you don't eat. There's an incentive to be nice to folks who can take their money to the next store over if they don't like you.

In the organization mode you have members who may not be able to move to another place, maybe you're the only game in town, maybe you're an adjunct to a school and the students have to pay, or have to go without if you cut the club. That's where you get members being re-named as clients or customers, as if pretending you're a retail operation will improve customer service. Doesn't work, if your pay isn't linked to being nice to people there's no incentive to be nice.

So I enjoy the smiles of the girls who refill my coffee cup and I enjoy being in bright, shiny stores with, occasionally, good music playing and I smile back and soak up some retail therapy before going back to fighting with the powers that be for the chance to enjoy a few minutes a week of exercise or the use of a studio to shoot some photographs out of the winter cold.

I've already replaced the weight room at the gym with one in my house, and built my own sauna which I use daily. Next spring I may just build a dojo/photo studio.

In the meantime, see you at the mall.

Jan 6, 2015


What would you do if you had all of your enemies at your feet? Having just watched "The Tempest" a few days ago the thought popped into my head that this would be a very good way to discover your innermost makeup. Let's make it even more interesting, let's say that you have just finished a war of some type and that you are really angry. What would you do?

Think about it for a while, it actually has real world meaning. The great powers of the world have taken a run at this several times in the past hundred and twenty years. Most of us can think of WWI and II and the very different treatment of the losers without heading for the history books. Now think of the more recent wars that have had absolute winners and losers, what was done with the losers and what has been the result? OK "google is your friend".

But nations are not people and leaders seldom have enough power to dictate any more, even dictators have to please multiple factions to stay in power. (That's why killing the figurehead seldom solves the problem.)

No, think about yourself and those who really tick you off along with those who have actually, and intentionally harmed you, being together in front of your chair on their knees. What do you do with them?

Too easy? Too hard? Right, let's get more subtle, let's think what you would do with absolute strangers who happen to be at your mercy, let's say a situation like Hutu vs Tutsi, let's say you have not even been inconvenienced by the minority rule of decades but suddenly you find yourself with the power of life and death over those who were in power and no longer are. The injustice now is theoretical rather than real to you. They're at your front door, what do you do?

Think this can't happen these days? How long ago does "these days" mean? Twenty years?

Remember it has to be you that decides the fate, not your group, whichever group that is, no appealing to "somebody else did it" or "my (insert leader title here) told me I had to do it". It's you. Let's also say that you are not afraid of going to hell if you don't do what your religion tells you, that you don't have to obey a god's command to either revenge or forgive. Just a good old atheistic, existential decision that is yours alone, no consequences either way.

OK go.

Jan 5, 2015