Disclaimer and Stuff

Firstly I would like to say that all of the material contained within this blog is of my own opinion and any inaccuracies in technical content or other's personal quotations are completely my own.

Secondly I would like to thank everyone in advance where I have used photos of you or photos you have taken. I have quite a library of digital photos and virtually no record of who took them so I hope you will take this general thanks as adequate gratitude. If there are any photos of you or taken by you that you would like removed please let me know.

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7th dan iaido grading due in

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Some Traditional Ways To Do Kesagiri Incorrectly

So I am now approaching the one-year boundary to taking my 7th dan grading in Iaido and achieving Level 10 Paladin status (with a +8 vorpal blade to boot). Naturally this means I now have to focus on the important things in life to prepare:
  • Watching more Youtube
  • Starting to write more blogs
  • Procrastinating about finishing them
  • Doing the washing up
 So in this theme of avoiding doing any training at all costs, I thought I would spend some time in the dojo filming my students and commenting about how they are "still doing it wrong, you never listen, why am I even here if you don't listen, I told you this last week etc, etc, etc" so I ensure that they feel that they are properly valued.
I decided to turn my focus on Kesagiri, a form that somehow gets little attention compared to other Seiteigata so by my reckoning probably means that we (I mean me) are missing out some essential bits.
Let's start at the beginning with the translation of the ZNKR instruction on the most important part in this path to spiritual perfection - hacking your opponent in two...

  1. While facing the front, begin walking with the right foot; when the left foot is in front quickly place both hands on the sword. Rotate the saya left and down while drawing the sword; at the same time that the right foot moves forwards, with a right-handed grip cut the enemy in front from their right wakibara in a reverse kesa cut. Note - when the sword has cut up, the sword should be rotated when the right fist is above the right shoulder.
  2. With the feet in the same position, with the left hand bring the saya back to it's original position, release the koiguchi and grip the tsuka; without stopping the sword from the rising cut, cut the enemy from the shoulder joint down through the kesa. Note - at the end of the cut, the alignment of the left fist and the kissaki should be the same as Kata No. 3 Note on Point 2.*
* This refers to the kissaki being slightly below horizontal and slightly to the left with the left hand in front of the navel

I'm going to stop there because I don't want to get into how to make hasso kamae etc.

In the chakuganten (critical points for examination and judging) the significant one of the two is asking whether the rotation of the sword is made above the shoulder or not.

So these are the bits which are "decided"; we also receive various bits of advice and instruction from our Japanese patron teachers over many years including:

  • The two cuts should be joined into one
  • The initial draw should make a pressure to the enemy's face
  • The distance to the enemy for both cuts is the same
I think these are generally inarguable as they have been instructed by a very wide range of teachers, both from official delegations to private invitations.

So, the fun began by seeing how each cut related to each other when I started torturing (aka filming) certain students. I present here a small sample of those movies and I am grateful to those who allowed me to make these images. Not to be outdone by Yuki Shima's Jodo blog (with animated images) I thought I would waste some time doing the same.

Oli is first...

I should add here, before Oli falls on his sword, this was the worst case out of three movies that I took but I would say pretty typical of what most people do.

I have combined a sequence with no enemy and with an enemy in the following clip...

Again you can see that the course described by the kissaki on the uppercut shows an opponent that is so close on the downward cut that they would likely be hit the hands or the tsubamoto rather than the monouchi.

You might now also start to see some extra lines showing one of the probable causes.

Let's look at Will next. Firstly just the cutting lines...

You will notice that Will's uppercut has a bit more of an outreach than the other examples. Let's see it with Mr K.Teki in the image...

So, while it isn't perfectly aligned for both cuts, this is slightly better; Will's downward cut is using the centre of the blade. I should also point out another couple of interesting observations:

  1.  I haven't made markings of Will's changing foot positions during this sequence because they don't move.
  2. The red circle at the end of the sequence shows the intersect point. This is where the upper cut and downward cut have the sword in the same position (albeit with the hasuji rotated) and so show that the sword position is defining the enemy's position as being the same.
So, now onto Perfection itself i.e. me.

I should point out that I asked myself to be filmed after:
  • Watching and filming other people doing Kesagiri
  • Spotting this issue with distance
  • Thinking carefully about the causes
  • Trying hard to implement solutions
 So basically I cheated. Anyway, here I am in glorious normal speed...

 You can then see the kissaki course lines and my front foot positioning...

You will notice that the intersect point is quite low now with this version. I then superimposed Mr K.Teki and also emphasised the entry points of the sword by turning my shinken into a nice yellow light sabre...

Not perfect by any means (the camera perspective here doesn't help much either) but the point I am trying to make is that to enhance one's Kesagiri one should try to ensure that the entry part of the upper cut and the downward cut both use a reasonable portion of the monouchi and not the kissaki going up and the tsuba coming down. The position of this intersect point is crucial to doing this right. The higher the intersect point is then the less chance that a correct paired cut is made.

For example:

 So I think from some of the observations from these clips, the causes of a distance mismatch can be boiled down to:

  • The body moving forwards after the entry point of the upper cut. This can be further broken down to:
    • The front foot continuing to move forwards
    • The rear foot being pulled up afterwards (Oli's case)
  •  The right arm being pulled up too quickly after sayabanare or the right arm being too contracted during the uppercut
This latter point I actually noted back in a previous posting...

Iaido Training Session 44

The course on the left is fairly typical with the right arm dragging the sword up instead of using the tenouchi to drive the kissaki forwards. This shouldn't mean drawing the sword downwards so that the kissaki hits the floor. Ishido Sensei has demonstrated time and time again how leaning forwards doesn't help at all.

To continue this analysis, I have had to call upon the help of a friend of mine. Ladies and gentlemen, for his first time on Shugyo - Iaido and Jodo Training Blog - please let me introduce Arthur...

 Arthur has quite a nice dojo. Wooden floors, mats stacked up in the corner, even a bar to go for a bit of a warm down snuck around the back. He's also a bit of an idiot. His feet come unstuck during camera shoots and he won't allow to put screws through his feet. Still he can be of some help...

 Now look at the intersect point. It's almost in front of his face. If we put Mr K.Teki in position (he's wearing a very fetching green today) we can see how the two cuts relate to each other...

 Points to note though:

  1. Arthur doesn't need to lean forwards in order to get the monouchi to cut the opponent's wakibara. In fact you can see that the right arm is at shoulder height during this initial drawing sequence.
  2. The kissaki's course from the saya to the wakibara is not overly curved. It isn't straight either, it follows a natural arc made by leaving the right hand fairly still and using tenouchi.
  3. Once contact is made, the right arm starts to lift. Those of you with even a rudimentary knowledge of anatomy and the cutting dynamics of a sword will know that during this uppercut it is more than likely that the sword will run over the top of bones such as the ribs while going across the chest. One wouldn't be able to cleave through the body with a one-handed uppercut. This upward course is nicely represented by the kissaki arc now moving much more vertically once contact is made.
  4. This alignment of the cutting courses only works effectively if the feet aren't moving after first contact is made with the sword.
With regards to 4. I don't believe that it's necessary that the feet should remain absolutely static in order for one to make friends and influence people. However, the more residual movement there is, the less alignment occurs between the two cuts. This isn't by any means in order to make the kata static and non-dynamic. There should be no problem with, for example, the rear foot shifting up slightly while the sword is traveling from the koiguchi to the first contact point. The point is that the body shouldn't be moving after this first contact.

 So now, how to avoid dragging the sword up into what would be a very short distance cut during the kiriage. I tried it myself and advised others to train this nukitsuke without any intention of lifting the arm. This starts off with a very light and moderately slow cut. However, our muscle memory is so tuned to wanting to lift the sword, after even a small amount of practice, the feeling of needing to lift the arm once the kissaki had moved into a first contact position was very strong and almost automatically resulted in a kiriage. A much better result than before.

Actually all of this reminded me of a comment that Ishido Sensei made while talking about Morishima Sensei; he said that now Morishima Sensei was making his final steps in this kata much slower in order to accentuate the speed of the cut. This certainly works very nicely to control and moderate the foot movement so that there isn't this post-cut residual movement.

So in summary, a note to myself (and to you if you find yourself doing the same thing in this kata, it shouldn't be many of you, perhaps only 95% of you....):

  1. Observe and control step speed and spacing so that post-cut movement is minimised.
  2. Don't intend to pull the right hand up during the cut. Instead focus on the tenouchi of the first cut and allow this to blend naturally into the rising cut (kiriage).
 Anyway, I have some washing to go and do during which I can think about training....hmm, maybe something wrong here....

Monday, 15 August 2016

ZNKR Iaido Special Points for Consideration

As promised at the Netherland Kendo Renmei 50th Anniversary Seminar this year (and at the UK Jikiden Seminar earlier), I have uploaded my translation of the ZNKR Iaido Special Points for Consideration.

You can find the link below, please feel free to distribute (for no commercial gain of course)...

ZNKR Special Points for Consideration

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan (and does anyone know where the off-button is?)


And so begins the shugyo blog on my road preparing for iaido 7th Dan.  Why now, I hear you ask along with the other voices in my head, some telling me to put my toaster in the fridge at 3:27 every day. Well I am currently writing this while in Japan for a week training with Ishido Sensei (and today, on Sunday, with Yoshimura Sensei) and this short period of intense training makes a clear mark of my starting my prepatory training.

To be honest the last year or so I have been quite lazy with my own training. We now have quite a full dojo with a perfect number of students and each iai class generally has two or three levels in it. For about a year now I have been pushing our guys to learn Shinden Ryu from scratch and I have tried to ensure that everyone understands the basic form of every kata in accordance with Ishido Sensei 's teaching. We are now working through Okuden Tachiwaza, it has been quite a slog (I don't know how they put up with me). There is also a section of the dojo preparing for their forthcoming grading so there is also a focus on Seitei at the same time. We also have a relative beginner or two so each class requires quite a bit of supervision especially given the limited space available. This requires a lot of sacrifice for all of our dojo's highest grades.

I have been busy helping the training in Poland as well along with a few other fine teachers. Watching the Polish guys develop has been a rewarding study in itself if not a highly challenging one. They have done extremely well at a European level and every time they win something I have to think hard about how to up my coaching to be useful to their ever ascending level.
So the result of this circa 18 months of teaching is a pretty improvement in what my eyes can see but my body is knackered...

Now I have to train to be able to do what I teach, to walk the talk and other overused clichés. And this is why I am now in Japan by myself. The last few days I would have to say has been a glorious learning experience, both for my technical knowledge, my knees and my ability to creatively use sticking plasters. I arrived last Wednesday so I had a bit of time to settle in before the evening Jodo practise. I spent all of Thursday daytime training in the dojo by myself as Sensei slowly drove me through the harder parts of Shoden and Chuden (the latter of which I can't remember experiencing any easy parts). It was during the Chuden part that Sensei introduced me to the concept of Ohyo (応用). It turned out that I had trained this aspect before but didn't realise exactly the concept I was focusing on.

Ohyo means "application". It is quite different to Riai which means the logic of the form. It is probably best to understand it via the way it is used in training. More so in koryu one learns the basic or kihon of a form. In this part of the training, moves are often exaggerated and constructed in a way that makes the performance of the form as physically challenging as possible. By this I don't mean that it would require huge amounts of dexterity, rather it requires the most physical movement aiming for the smallest targets. As one progresses it becomes necessary to practically apply the form. In order to do this effectively and efficiently, certain compromises should be made to the basic form. This might include things like only using the hands to maximise sayabiki where in the kihon the hips might have been used. Moreover small variations in the application in the form are studied. This might include variations in the distance and position of the enemy, what the enemy is doing, variations in timing etc. I should point out here that this is different to the well known concept of kaewaza (variations of the form). One could be concentrating on the most basic and orthodox version of a form but through training in Ohyo one learns how to practically and skillfully apply the technique.

I can't explain much more about Ohyo without visual references but suffice to say that Chuden has quite a lot of opportunities to train Ohyo (especially Ukigumo, Oroshi and Iwanami). After a day of this I started to realise that knees rely on muscles around them...

On Friday I had the morning and afternoon session with Sensei by himself again although as he was busy he ran me through the Okuden Suwariwaza and the points he wanted me to focus on. Again the difference between the Kihon and the Ohyo came up. The Okuden forms are quite short and simple at first glance but it is the Ohyo of the forms which presents the challenge. Again I should emphasis that this is also different to the kotsu (secret or knack) of the form. Ohyo is a way to put the kotsu into practice as an application. Of particular difficulty is the Ohyo of Towaki which I discovered by sticking the point of my new iaito into my forearm. At this point I realised the importance of carrying a tenugui in one's keikogi as an impressive spray of blood went across the floor. One plaster and a box of tissues later I was back into practise with no one the wiser (probably including me who is sure to do this again some day).  During these sessions I worked up to Towaki only and then went back to my hotel for a welcome break.

Not satisfied with torturing myself in the day only I then accompanied Sensei to the class he leads in Tsurumi. It was a nice big dojo, very warm with a good floor. Sensei let me alone to train a while and I was happy to do some Seitei practise. I was getting very tired by now and only had enough energy to go through the forms quite limply. At one point I started Mae, extremely relaxed and slow and then found the sword whipping out into nukitsuke. "Ah, that was good" said Sensei as he passed by. He recognised the softness being turned into sharpness and he described to me the feeling that this should have. He said, imagine sitting in a very hot bath where you don't want to move around or create waves of hotter water which would hurt. Instead you move very smothly and slowly as if not creating any turbulence. I repeated this and became aware of the effort put into my legs but how relaxed my arms were. It was much easier to track the positions of my hands while doing it this way. I will need to check with Sensei but I am guessing that with tactility is what initiates and amplifies Jo-Ha-Kyu.

Anyway I managed to get through this evening training without stabbing myself through the head so we went back to the dojo for the Friday night training. It was a nice class with only Aurelian,  Jane and Morishima Sensei. Watching him reminded me of how keeping a low and deep posture creates core body tension which develops power. After training he told me that I should worry less about techniques and focus on the heart of the delivery. By this he said, he meant that one must focus on the enemy, which should of course be oneself (should be easy to beat in my case), and it should be visually evident to anyone watching that you have utterly killed your opponent by the way the form is performed. I understand pretty much what he means but it is difficult for me to agree that my technique is anywhere near good enough. This week had so far been a lesson in a) how much I still had to learn and b) how unfit my body was to do the forms well.

Anyway I finally got home after midnight from one of the longest training days I had ever had. I have to say it was one of the most enlightening. Certainly my tourniquet skills have improved considerably.

Saturday was open training day in the dojo so I went along in the morning to do some Seitei training with a little revisit of Towaki in the afternoon. Sensei got Inari San to demonstrate Towaki from Eishin Ryu and she showed beautifully how to maintain movement as per the Ohyo of the form.  After a tour-de-force of standing Ukenagashi we left (and went for dinner and drinks with Yoshimura Sensei and Otake Sensei).

I now sit here on Sunday in the Tokyo City Truck Cooperative meeting room writing this after a 2 hour training session with Yoshimura Sensei in Tokyo. I bumped into Dillan Lin who now lives in Tokyo while in the dojo and we all did Seitei.  Yoshimura Sensei asked me to do a 12 form Seitei embu and I started to realise that smaller audiences present more stress than large ones. Breath control especially goes out the window slightly. At the end of everyone’s embu he explained to everyone the importance of koryu practice. He said that all of the seitei forms come originally from koryu and that koryu puts the taste into seitei. Without it it will be simply just movements.

So now I sit here at the airport finishing this off. I had all day Monday and Tuesday morning at the dojo working through koryu forms again. On Monday, Ski Journal journalists turned up to photo Sensei and get some more details for the koryu articles which are being published from his resource. I helped with the photos for Kabezoi so maybe my fifteen seconds of fame are not far away. Actually he showed a lot of detail around footwork and application for the standing forms so I was very glad to be present and record some of this stuff. It especially made Moniri a lot easier to understand. Of special interest was the explanation that the form is performed realising the possibility of an overhead obstruction; it wasn’t necessarily a given that one would hit the obstruction but one had to perform the kata in a certain way just in case.

Once this had finished and they had left after lunch, I then worked further on my Towaki and “how to avoid putting a sword through my arm” technique. I then had about two hours rest before coming back to the dojo for normal iai training. Sensei explained how the tsuka should rotate within the hand exactly 180° in Ukenagashi so that the tsukagashira replaces the position where the blade was previously and brings it onto the centre. This then avoids the left arm obscuring the vision (the same applies for Kesagiri and Sogiri). I tried this and it made the cut quite short but much sharper.
Steffen Michaelis joined the morning training on Tuesday morning (he arrived on Saturday) so we did some koryu training together, it was nice having someone else in the dojo to be honest as I was worried Sensei was getting bored with dragging my sorry ass through the forms.

And so, here at the end of this short but very rewarding trip, with inflamed toes, ankles and knees and no shortage of sticking plasters in various places, I now return to foggy shores (ooh, that was nearly poetical) and soggy weather; there is quite a lot of information collated that I now need to work on regularly and share with my dojo cauliflowers. In fact with all this information I foresee another RSI condition around the jaw....

(As a postscript I just also want to thank Lucy, Jane, Aurelien, Steffi, Steffen, Inari-san for being such good company during my stay and providing me with the frequent assistance in the dojo)

Steffen demonstrating the benefit of a cattle-based diet and the ability to reach objects on high shelves