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

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Sword balance research

You should just come and do this, it only takes five minutes. I will share all the results when completed...

Facebook Sword Balance Research Page

Or you can go straight to the survey...

Sword balance survey

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Unpacking A Koryu Kata



At a recent Muso Shinden Ryu Keikokai, I presented a brief explanation on what I had learned from, primarily, Ishido Sensei but also from other prominent teachers as well in terms of what is actually in a kata.
Most of us I’m sure are familiar with the meaning of kata () meaning shape or form of something. As Jock pointed out at the Keikokai, there is a lot more content within the learning of koryu than just the easily visible and physical shape of the form. Given that we all have a limited amount of time available to learn and practice budo, the habit of “collecting” koryu kata is in direct opposition to the ability of being able to develop “depth of knowledge” of any kata. While we shouldn’t spend the rest of our lives learning how to bow to the shomen, the learning of all aspects of a kata is what makes a study of budo interesting and worthwhile rather than just a rehearsal of choreography.
I have heard Ishido Sensei explain how kata can fit into certain categories, how it can be parsed into components and separated into variances. Furthermore the performance of a kata should change as the exponent develops themselves. In this way, while the koryu might be described on the surface as a set of choreographed movements, it becomes something of a living and growing organism that gets born when it is learned and develops and then dies with the exponent.
Anyway, away from contemplating ones navel, being someone who relies on visuals and patterns to describe and remember abstract stuff, I built my own appreciation for a kata on a set of views and components of each kata. It goes something like this (in fact it goes exactly like this).


  • 1. Kihon waza  基本技







The kata is originally described and taught by its kihon, its basic form. This describes roughly what the techniques are, what is the scenario, what the enemies are doing and where they are. It is what one sees when one reads a book on the style and sees the kata, what one learns in the first few months of studying a new kata. It is, unfortunately, what one can mistake for being the important thing to learn. It is of course the basic architecture and is of paramount importance to learn correctly and preserve. One shouldn’t think though that because they have learned the choreography that one has mastered the kata. It is the framework for further study and discovery, some via ones teacher, some through solo training and research.


  •  2. Teigi  定義










The route to explaining this becomes a bit mixed up here so please bear with me. In terms of deconstructing the kata, Teigi and Gainen should be explained in parallel. However in terms of the order in which one learns and discovers the depths of the kata, teigi is probably learned first followed by Oyo and then Gainen.
Anyway, teigi means “definition” and in this context it is the fine detail, like the geometry or techniques and postures which go on to give finer and finer information concerning the kata. It is important to understand the teigi as these give vital information about how to deliver the kihon waza “correctly” and thus preserve the koryu accurately. An example of this might be (and this example was used at the Ishido Cup in 2018) how one defines hasso kamae, i.e.
·        Tsuba one fist away from the mouth
·        Kensen elevated to approximately 45°
·        Hasuji inclined forwards
·        Left hand at the centre of the body
·        Body slightly turned
·        Etc. 



  •      3. Oyo  応用 







Oyo means application, to put the kata into practical usage. For exponents this means three things:
·        Through a volume of training, certain parts of the kata become very fluid and natural. This leads to edges and corners becoming rounded off both in terms of physical movement and timing. While the overall shape of the kihon is still there and visible, this is how the form should look when put into action.
·        That certain parts of the kata may actually be omitted or changed. The kata looks almost the same as the kihon but the parts which were originally included to explicitly train the body are now made so subtle that the kata may look different.
·        That this may form another version of the kata (a kaewaza) meant to show how the basic technique leads to a more fluid and flexible version.
 

  •     4. Gainen  概念







At some point in the training, the exponent begins to learn that individual techniques within, or the kata as a whole, is composed of one of more practical concepts or ideas. These are different to teigi in that they rarely have definitive qualities like dimensions or strict physical criteria. Instead they have uses. The example that Ishido Sensei gave was, how would one define Ukenagashi. Looking at its presence in Seitei and in Muso Shinden Ryu for example, it is used in a typical flowing way with the sword declined to allow the opponent’s sword  slide off the defending sword. However, the kensen may be elevated to make Ukenagashi or even flat. It doesn’t have teigi (definition), it exists only as a concept. In ZNKR iaido for example, it is used as a style of making furikaburi in the most efficient way possible.
On examination, a kata may be trying to instill a gainen to the student or it may make use of concepts to construct the kata.


  • 5. Kotsu 




Kotsu is the Chinese reading of the Japanese word for “bone”. In this context, kotsu means knack, skill, secret or know-how. In my opinion, it is the slightly concealed kernel at the core of every kata which one has to search for and master in order to really “know” the kata. I believe personally that a kata may have one or several such kotsu but essentially they are the key skills that one is aiming to develop through learning, researching and training the kata. From Ishido Sensei’s explanations it seems fairly clear that the kotsu can be divided into two main categories (which aren’t so strikingly different from each other):

  • Jokyo – situation, how to deal with one particular scenario

  • Toho – methodology or swordsmanship, how to use the sword in a certain way


So what’s the point of all this then? I should here point out that this parsing of the kata into different aspects does not reflect the importance or priority of one aspect over another. The kihon is not more or less important that the kotsu. Without one or the other the kata makes no sense and has no practical usage or method of learning.


  •  6. Kaewaza  変え技





Ultimately it is possible to make enough changes to the Teigi that the architecture of the form is slightly different and takes the shape of “kaewaza” 変え技 or alternative form. The gainen within and the main kotsu may be the same, it is the outside form which is likely to be different.

As a close, I should point out that these aren't strict definitions or meanings. The order in which they are taught or learned may vary kata-to-kata, ryuha-to-ryuha, teacher-to-teacher, student-to-student. The importance, I believe, is that one shouldn't be satisfied with the learning of a kata until all of these aspects are assimilated. One need only then go onto master the various aspects until....one dies. Then let's hope one has written enough blog posts to accurately pass on this knowledge to the next generation.

LOL

Thursday, 30 November 2017

European Championships Organisation (and scraps of paper found on the floor)

So, while Stoj was tidying up my house (otherwise known as reducing the universal entropy by a quantum fluctuation) she came across a scrap of paper that I had scribbled out from the last European Jodo Championships. It was some feedback from Kurogo Sensei about how we might consider improving the organisation of the Championships so that it ran a bit smoother on the day. He was quick to point out that these were just his ideas and weren't "direction" by any means.

I thought it would be useful to replicate those points here and they are almost as relevant for a European Iaido Championships (except the stuff about Uchidachi of course):

  1. Referee rotation system: This should be decided before the day of the taikai between the EKF, the host country, the ZNKR shinpan and the referees themselves. Rather than just talking about the procedure at the shinpan seminar, it should be decided how many bouts will take place before a rotation occurs. This shouldn't be decided on the morning of the taikai but in fact all referees should arrive at the taikai knowing completely how the day will run so that they can concentrate on judging only.
  2.  Opening commands: It should also be decided and explained how the taikai will open with regards to the commands made by the shinpancho and the shinpan at the first match of the day. It should also be confirmed how the final matches will run with regards to the closing commands (how many shomen no rei to do for example). This needs to be confirmed with the competitors as well so that they don't have to listen to instructions before going out to the finals and they're not called back to the shiaijo after the last final has finished (as happens almost every year).
  3. What to judge on: This is a point for Jodo, it should be clearly agreed what the judges are judging on during the taikai with regards to it being either jo only, jo and tachi equally or jo mainly with a nuance of tachi.
  4. Restriction of dan grade of Uchidachi: While it may be written in the rules, it is important that the restriction of dan grade of the Uchidachi (within 2 dans of the Shijo) is clearly explained and confirmed. This is important as if a shinpan suspects that an Uchidachi is beyond the two grade limit then they have to stop the match and reset it possibly. There is no clear procedure for this so it is best that it never occurs through clear explanation.
  5. Match records: It should be clearly explained to each Shinpan Shunin how the matches will be recorded on the paperwork. Usually there are three Shinpan Shunin from the ZNKR and one from Europe and it might be constantly changing how the matches will be ordered and recorded. The host country with the EKF should ensure that this is confirmed with the Shunin each year.

I just also would like to mention something that happened at this year's EJC which was very interesting. When we got to the finals, Kurogo Sensei selected the finals shinpans. It was pointed out that some of the judges were of the same nationality as the finalists. Instead of replacing them, Kurogo Sensei explained that by the time we got to the finals, every shinpan should be able to judge fairly and accurately regardless as to whether they were judging their own country.

While I realise that this is currently against our regulations, I thought it was a nice touch and I would welcome a time in the future when all of our referees are able to judge without bias and take some regard for the extreme time and effort every competitor has put into their training to be there. Judging should be hard work and not simply an opportunity to sit back and wait to be impressed or see an obvious fault.