Saturday, 17 June 2017

Iai Injury

In my 18 years of serious budo practice, I've been lucky enough to be spared most of the usual serious injuries like torn achilles tendons and such, aside from a cut finger shortly after acquiring my first shinken. Although this did require a visit to the hospital, I was still able to compete in next day's taikai (albeit with a bokuto) and the EJC a few weeks later. This was until last Monday's keiko.

I'd started training around 20:00 by running through the seitei forms once each, then moving on to the standing okuden. I spent about five minutes on each form, focusing on refreshing my memory of the main points of each one and making sure to cover the kaewaza as well and, by the time Kancho arrived shortly after 21:00, I was most of the way through. Around 21:35, I was just starting Itomagoi sono san when, just after the draw, I heard the sound of cloth being cut and the kissaki caught on something: my forearm. As it turns out, I hadn't waited until I'd completely lifted the kissaki before bringing my left hand forward to try to take the tsuka, impaling my arm on the kissaki.

Thinking back, I don't remember any pain or what I did with the sword immediately after. I do remember a lot of blood, though, and clapping my hand over the wound to try and keep it in but it was no use: my formerly white summer keikogi and hakama were now adorned with dashes of a bright shade of red called "soup of Aurélien". Everyone else in the dojo immediately stopped practice and rushed over with tissues and tenugui while Kancho called for an ambulance. I think I ended up with about five tenugui wrapped as tightly as possible around my arm, the vast majority of which were soon soaked through, and Fujikawa s. gripping my left bicep as tightly as he could and keeping it raised (given that I'm quite a bit taller than him, this required me to kneel and eventually lie down when I started getting light-headed). The ambulance took around 10mins to arrive and, after taking my details, asking a couple of questions and having a bit of a look, I was taken with Fuku-Kancho to Daiichi Hospital nearby at the usual leisurely pace of ambulances in Japan.

I waited in the ER for I reckon about 15-20mins until the one doctor and nurse on duty finished tending to another patient and turned to me. While the doctor had that grizzled veteran look, the nurse seemed quite new and unsure of a lot of things, so much so that another senior nurse was called on to assist. The whole process of anaesthetising part of my arm and sewing me up took a good couple of hours and I was sent on my way with three days' worth of antibiotics and painkillers and orders to report to the Daiichi Clinic the next morning to have the wound cleaned and the dressing changed. Kancho very kindly came to pick us up and drove me home.

I'll need to visit the clinic every few days, the threads should be taken out in a couple of weeks and it'll take another two weeks or so to heal completely. Luckily, because it was a stab rather than a cut, the actual muscle damage is minimal and, even right after the injury, I was still able to move all of my fingers, if with some difficulty. Now, five days on, I've regained a lot of mobility, although I'm still trying to use it as little as possible, and I just feel lucky that I'll be able to get back to full strength and training eventually.

Apologies for the lacks of photos but I didn't have my phone on me when all this was happening. Also, although I wasn't really expecting it to do any good, I washed my keikogi/hakama a couple of days later and they are now spotless!

Friday, 9 June 2017

35th Kanagawa Prefectural Jodo Taikai

A couple of weeks ago, the Kanagawa Prefectural Jodo Taikai was held in the Prefectural Budokan in Yokohama. Since the Tohoku Iaido Taikai was being held the same day in Niigata, this year's Shimbukan delegation only included Fuku-Kancho, Jane, the Ishibashis and myself. On top of that, Fuku-Kancho had somehow broken his thumb during kendo keiko and was therefore out of action. He still drove us there and back and helped with refereeing and court management.

Things kicked off at 9:00 with the usual announcements, speeches of encouragement and national anthem before everyone splitting up between the two courts, each one being overseen by two 8dans (Kotsuka s. and Hayashi s. on one and Kaminosono s. and Yano s. on the other). As usual, the 5dans-7dans were assigned to help with court management and refereeing so, for us, it was a busy day of shepherding competitors, making sure everyone had a tachi, recording results, refereeing and a bit of competing.

Unlike most other prefectures in Japan, in Kanagawa, only the jo side is judged, the result being that there's always a fair amount of rushing around off-court and desperate calling for anyone of a certain grade who might be free to tachi. Unfortunately, Nishigaki-san (my tachi of choice and usual partner for the Tokyo Taikai and All Japans) was unable to make it this year but there were a couple of other fellow 5dans who were kind enough to tachi for me and, although my grip faltered a couple of times in my first couple of matches, I didn't do too badly.

The shitei-waza were:

1dan and below: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
2dan: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
3dan: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
4dan: 6, 7, 8, 9, 11
5dan and above: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Sempo (up to 1dan): 1, 2, 3
Chuken (up to 3dan): 5, 6, 7
Taisho (up to 5dan): 8, 11, 12

Since I started competing here, Shimbukan has never put a team forward, I think largely due to the rather top-heavy makeup of the dojo in terms of dan grades (aside from one 2dan, everyone else is 4dan or above) and, considering every member attending this year was at least 5dan, this year was no exception. One interesting thing I would mention about the team taikai was that, unlike at the Europeans where there is a set way for the competitors to rotate between matches on court, here, all team members left the court after each decision, changed weapons and returned to the court in the correct configuration for the next match.

In terms of decision, although I didn't agree 100% with all the decisions, I didn't see any matches where I felt anyone was robbed.

Finally, before the closing ceremony, we were treated to koryu and seitei embu, notably tankenjutsu (Chuwa Ryu) by Kotsuka s. and Tokito s., several demonstrations of kusarigamajutsu (Isshin Ryu), seitei 1-6 by Abe s. and Kobayashi s. and 7-12 by Otake s. and Kaminosono s.. It's always great to see the 8dans in action and I never get tired of koryu embu, especially the tankenjutsu. All in all, an exhausting but great day!

The taikai results, as well as videos of each final, can be found here. Apologies for the lack of videos/pictures but I only decided to write up a post about it on the way home. I'll make sure to get pictures/footage for future posts!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2015 Budo Practice

Well, barring a few gradings in April/May, 2014 has been a fantastically unproductive year, budo-wise. Most of my energies this past year were given over to studying for my two attempts at the JLPT and, although I will be taking it again next year (the results haven't been announced yet but I'm not holding my breath), 2015 will be dedicated to budo, kendo in particular.


After the first five years of practice, the regularity of my keiko tapered off as I started university and work but it has returned to pre-university levels since coming to Japan. I have identified a number of issues I want to resolve in 2015, first of which is to build stamina and the strength in my left side. I am lucky enough to practice at two children's dojos where the adults can usually dictate exactly what waza they want to practice and exactly how to practice them. I plan to start with kirikaeshi before moving on to wazageiko (five times each), alternating between wazageiko and two-minutes' worth of kakarigeiko and uchikomigeiko, increasing the time as my endurance builds.

Secondly, I need to broaden the range of waza I am comfortable with. I am relatively happy with basic waza such as men-uchi, kote-uchi and hikiwaza, but I feel my technique gets quite shaky when it comes to anything more advanced. I want to work especially on kaeshiwaza, nukiwaza and haraiwaza, as this is the direction I want my kendo to go in at the moment. Besides, I have to start somewhere...

Finally, for the last few months, I have had a go at fighting from jodan. I don't think I will ever make jodan my favoured kamae but I do want it in my repertoire so I need to raise its level to equal that of my chudan. Unfortunately, none of the sensei I train with are jodan fighters but, on those occasions when I have used jodan against them, they have been kind enough to give tips and points.


While next year's focus in terms of budo will be on kendo, there are also a few habits that urgently need to be kicked; I had previously thought that I had rectified them but both Ishido s. and Nakada s. have made it clear that they are still cropping up, so I will be looking to eradicate them completely.

The first of these is a double nukitsuke in forms such as seitei Mae and koryu Sato, Uto, to name but a few. I think the root of this habit lies in putting too much emphasis on the initial seme and turning what should be one movement into two (seme and cut). I will therefore be taking some of the focus out of the seme.

Second is an old demon I have been struggling with for a while: solidifying my cuts. While my kirioroshi is quite solid (though not as solid as I'd like), my body has a tendency to shift back in standing forms. This problem is quite noticeable in this video from the Kanto Taikai back in November. I suspect part of the issue is that my front leg might be too straight, pushing my body up instead of stopping my body's forward movement. In order to address this, I will be bringing my weight down and making sure my front leg doesn't straighten too much.

In contrast to the previous habit, the last point is one I've only noticed in the last month or so: whenever the right knee comes up for nukitsuke in seated forms like seitei Mae and koryu In'yo Shintai and others, I find my hips turn ever so slightly, also raising my right hip. I think this is due to sayabiki pulling the left hip back, the angle of my shoulders filtering down to the hips, and my right leg trying to make too much distance forward. I have already worked on this point a little during the last few practices of 2014 and putting the focus of hips further into the left hip seems to help, but I will have to have a play around over the year to find the best way of correcting this.

As a general aid to my training, I have also decided to model my iai on Hiraoka Yuki, a 6dan from Nakada s.'s dojo. His technique is very nice and correct, his cuts are sharp and his kamae is incredibly solid, despite his very tall and thin physique.


As for jodo, I have only one really major technique that I seriously need to work on and one general habit I need to kick. The technique is makiotoshi, specifically in Midaredome where I find that I generally move too early and rush to bring the jo up, so I'll be working on waiting longer and relaxing the catch. As for the general point, I again seem to have a problem with solidity and sharpness.

Additionally, I'll be making a concerted effort to seriously practice the Omote, Tanjo, Chudan and Kenjutsu (in that order) every chance I get. Unfortunately, not many people in the dojo practice any of the jo koryu, let alone the auxiliary arts, and there's no such thing as a jodo koryu seminar here.

Similarly to iai, I have also chosen someone to model my jodo on: Morimoto Kunihito s., 8dan Kyoshi. He is also quite tall and relatively slim but his technique is absolutely beautiful and very clean and sharp, all things I am trying to incorporate into my jodo. Sadly, he is from Osaka so my exposure to him is limited but I will take every opportunity to study him.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

18th-19th January 2014 - Regional Jodo Seminar

Held in Edogawa Sports Centre in Tokyo, this seminar was organised by the ZNKR and headed by Shiiya Mitsuo Sensei (椎屋光男先生; 8dan Hanshi), the current jodo incho. The other high grades present in a teaching capacity (there were quite a few 8dans from all over the country but not all were there to teach) were: Tominaga Shozo Sensei (富永彰三先生; 8dan Hanshi), Arai Hiroshi Sensei (荒井洋先生; 8dan Hanshi), Kurogo Genji Sensei (黒郷源慈先生; 8dan Kyoshi), Otake Sensei, Morimoto Norifumi Sensei (森本訓史先生; 8dan Kyoshi), Yasumaru Susumu Sensei (安丸進先生; 8dan Kyoshi).

Tandoku Dosa and Sotai Dosa

The first hour or so was spent going over the Tandoku and Sotai Dosa with Otake S. and Morimoto S. demonstrating the Sotai Dosa on jo and tachi respectively, Yasumaru S.demonstrating the Tandoku Dosa and Arai S. providing the explanations. Morimoto S. was a joy and a pleasure to watch; an excellent example of footwork, posture and all-round technique. I sincerely hope Morimoto S. is chosen as part of the ZNKR delegation to the EJC sometime in the near future. Arai S. then went through everything in the book point by point, emphasising the following points:
  • jo and tachi should overlap by 10cm when in awase
  • when receiving gyakute-uchi, the tachi should allow the josaki to reach the centre
  • the front hand should not drop when preparing for kaeshi-tsuki
  • the extension line of the jo should be pointing at the solar plexus when preparing for kaeshi-tsuki
  • in gyakute-tsuki, the jo should remain as close to the centre line as possible
  • the back foot should not be allowed to drag during this technique (or any other) but should be the source of all forward movement
  • in maki-otoshi, the right hand should be eye height
  • when in chudan-no-kamae, the kissaki should be at upper chest (大胸) level
  • the kissaki, just before the tsuki in tsuki-hazushi-uchi should be aiming for the solar plexus
  • in dobarai-uchi, uchidachi should be cutting from left hasso
  • in dobarai-uchi, there should be a distinction between the strike and the seme
  • when pulling the jo through in preparation for the strike in dobarai-uchi, the left hand should move as little as possible; the majority of the action should come from raising the right hand
Kurogo S. then led us in a warm-up before practicing the Tandoku Dosa but as the dojo was incredibly full we were only able to practice each technique a total of eight or nine times.

After lunch, we gathered again to go through the forms with Morimoto S. and Kurogo S. demonstrating jo and tachi respectively and Tominaga S. providing explanations. This took only an hour as Tominaga S. kept his explanations short and to the point and only took questions at the end. The following points were brought up:
  • maintain control of the jo when you take the opening kamae (Tsukizue)
  • ensure you make enough distance on the final honte-uchi so you don't overextend (Tsukizue)
  • maintain control of the tachi, even when receiving hiki-otoshi
  • generally, both sides should maintain stability in the hips and not allow too much movement in the upper body
Finally, we all split up into grade groups with 2dans and below and 7dans and above going to a different dojo with 3dans to 6dans stayed in the main hall. The 2dans and below were taught by Yasumaru S., 3dans by Otake S., 4dans by Arai S., 5dans by Morimoto S., 6dans by Kurogo S. and 7dans and 8dans by Tominaga S.. We only managed to get up to Sakan on the first day and spent the second on the remaining forms, with Arai S. providing reminders of the points mentioned by Tominaga S. for each form as well as a few points of his own (such as having the head in the middle of the jo in kuritsuke, kurihanashi and taiatari, the right wrist being turned out when preparing for maki-otoshi and the tachi's feet always returning to okuri-ashi).

All in all, it was a great day of practice. I had the chance to practice with a very strong partner from Hokkaido and although my jodo felt even worse than usual, I was able to work not only on the points we'd just been given, but also on those I have been given over the last month.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Last few iai/jo seminars of 2013

Righto, it's been a while since my last post and I've now decided to use this blog to write reports about any seminars I attend. The main purpose of these posts will be to keep a record of what is taught and when so I can look back and remind myself of precisely what was said. As I have been to four seminars since my last post, I will make a brief summary of each one with an approximate list of the teachers present (sadly, my memory is not perfect so I will more than likely forget some teachers) as well as the points that were mentioned. I hasten to add that not all these points will be from the Seitei books but instead of trying to sift through the points to separate general advice from ZNKR criteria, I'll just include everything. After the New Year, I hope to make comprehensive notes on the points that are mentioned and the teachers present and to write it all up in a proper report but for now, my incomplete memory will have to suffice for this. Here goes...

20th October 2013 - October Kanagawa Iaido Seminar

This seminar was held in Matsudacho Sports Centre and was headed by Ishido Shizufumi Sensei. Although the lineup included such Hanshis as Shojima Hiroyuki Sensei (庄島弘介先生) and Ozaki Makoto Sensei (尾崎誠先生), the groups were taught by Ono Nobuyoshi Sensei (小野信義先生, 7dan Kyoshi; 6dan group), Saida Sensei (才田先生, 7dan Kyoshi; 5dan group), Kiyota Sensei (5dan group), Takeuchi Michiko Sensei (竹内迪子先生, 7dan Kyoshi; 4dan group), Takeda Nobuyuki Sensei (武田信之先生, 7dan Kyoshi; 4dan group), Kobayashi Mitsuo Sensei (小林光雄先生, 7dan Kyoshi; 3dan group) and Orihara Yasuyuki Sensei (折原靖幸先生, 7dan Kyoshi; 2dan and below group) with Ishido Sensei taking a special grading group for those taking 6dan and 7dan and Nakada Sensei floating from group to group and making additional comments.

In this seminar, there was no central gathering to go through the points; we just split up in groups, each running as a kind of separate mini-seminar. Takeda Sensei took us through one of the most intensive warm-ups I've ever experienced at an iai seminar, involving push-ups and squat thrusts. We then proceeded to go through each form three or four times with both Takeuchi Sensei and Takeda Sensei occasionally stopping us, seitei book in hand, to bring up points. The vast majority of points were just reminders(not dropping the tip in furikaburi, hikinuki in Morotetsuki, etc...) but I was given a couple of specific points to work on, including straightening the wrist at the end of ochiburi (I have been told my wrist goes a little limp). All-in-all, it was a great seminar with plenty of good points mentioned without letting the whole thing turn into leg- and mind-numbing talk.

27th October 2013 - October Kanagawa Jodo Seminar

Held at Komazawa Gakuen Junior High School (駒沢学園中学校), the seminar was headed by Otake Toshiyuki Sensei and we were lucky enough to have seven of Kanagawa's nine 8dan Kyoshis, the two absentees being Ishido Sensei and Yano Kiyonori Sensei (矢野清徳先生):

Yamamoto Sensei
Yamaguchi Kaoru Sensei
Otake Toshiyuki Sensei
Hayashi Eiko Sensei (林映子先生)
Kotsuka Reiko Sensei (小塚禮子先生)
Yano Taeko Sensei (矢野多衛子先生)
Kaminosono Fumio Sensei (神之園文男先生)

Kaminosono Sensei was assigned to teach the 4dan group and took a shine to Lucy and I so he spent most of the seminar teaching us. One thing that has to be said about Kaminosono Sensei is that his technique is absolutely devastating. Standing at around 5' tall with a stocky build, his jodo is very compact but incredibly powerful, not just in terms of physical strength (he's a relatively young 8dan) but also in excellence of technique. Unfortunately for me, I am close to a foot taller than him with longer limbs so I am simply not capable of doing jodo like him, no matter how much I try. I have however made it a challenge to myself to incorporate what he is teaching me and adapt it to my own technique. The main lesson at this seminar was with regards to taiatari and bringing the hips into play; this is something that I have always struggled with and will keep working on.

17th November 2013 - November Kanagawa High Grade Seminar

This seminar was held in the very nice and modern Suwa Elementary School (諏訪小学校) in Yokosuka and was attended by the same teachers as outlined above with the addition of Ishido Sensei. After the usual opening words of thanks to various people for coming and words of encouragement, Otake s. handed out copies of the High Grade Jodo Study and Training Materials (杖道高段者研修資料) published by the ZNKR and took us through it for about 30mins. It mostly had to do with refereeing, mentioning which rei to do in which situation, how to roll the flags up, how to sit and general shinpan behaviour.

We then moved on to the actual kata with Hayashi s. and Kotsuka s. demonstrating tachi and jo respectively and Otake s., book in hand, taking us through the points as outlined in the book. After a few forms, we would then split up into groups with 5dans partnering 4dans ("high grade" in Kanagawa is 4dan and above) and 7dans partnering 6dans. Yano s. took one group of 4-5dans, Hayashi s. took the other and Kaminosono s. took the 6-7dans. With Yano s.'s group, we just went through the forms one after the other while she wandered up and down offering points to work on; in my case, that usually involved straightening my head.

Unfortunately, I completely forgot my book or any writing materials for this seminar but there were two points which stuck in my mind: in kamae-o-toku for tachi side, the kissaki should be six centimetres below the opponent's knee and the left hand should be in the centre of the body just below obi-height (this goes for when jo-side has assumed tsune-no-kamae as well as when tachi has lowered the sword as in the end of Tsukizue); the footwork for tachi in Raiuchi after the second cut is ayumi-ashi (歩み足; lit. "walking foot"), not tsugi-ashi (継足; lit. "succeeding foot")

This last point may not mean much to the majority of non-Japanese-speaking non-kendo jodoka as, in the practice of jodo, there is little reference to all the different ashi-sabaki to be found in kendo. Until that seminar, I had always been under the impression that the correct footwork was tsugi-ashi, where the right foot is pulled back to the left before pushing the left foot back. The problem with this is that it always leaves the distance far too close, especially if one goes by the the ZNKR stipulation of not moving the left foot when taking kamae-o-toku and keeping the okuri-ashi (送り足; lit. "sending foot") foot position. Ayumi-ashi, however, allows both sides to be at a sensible and safe distance for the jo, even if the distance after jo takes honte-kamae is a little far.

Lastly for this post, I will finish off by mentioning the last two practices of the year, which took place today and yesterday. These were special grading practices for the four dojo members going for their 6dan next month but, since I'm on holiday from school and have nothing better to do (besides which, my own grading is coming up soon), I was also invited. Although these practices took place at Shinbukan Ishido Dojo, Otake s. was also in attendance both days and did most of the teaching, with Ishido s. occasionally popping in with questions or extra advice. I can honestly say that although both sensei focused mostly on the 6dan gradees, these have been two of the best jodo practices I have ever had. The advice came thick and fast (mostly yesterday) so I have plenty to work on over the next four months and I have written it all up below.

  • Honte-uchi - during the actual strike, the front hand should only go up slightly, as much as is natural.
  • Hiki-otoshi-kamae - fingers on the top hand should be pointing straight up.
  • Kaeshi-tsuki - this should be done with the hips and with the rear foot pointing forward (at an angle of less than 90 degrees).
  • Gyakute-tsuki - when taking kamae, the movement should come from the turning of the hips and the raising of the left hand, not by bringing the right hand back.
  • Maki-otoshi - there should be no unnecessary movements before making the technique.
  • Dobarai-uchi - the body and foot positions for dobarai should be identical to hikiotoshi-kamae; the pulling through of the jo should be done by raising the right hand up not pushing the left hand down or forward.
  • Taihazushi-uchi - don't drop the upper hand below head height before the strike
  • Kasumi - start moving into awase after tachi side stops in distance.
  • Tachiotoshi - first strike is to the centre of the head (josaki between the ears).
  • Raiuchi - don't bring the left hand down lower than it needs to go before the second tsuki; push the left foot straight in for the second tsuki.
  • Seigan/Ranai - jo-hasso: right hand should be above the right ear, left hand at suigetsu level with the wrist bent outward.
  • Midaredome - don't go too far forward in the kuritsuke
  • Ranai - when jo makes the seme to the eyes, tachi should lean back slightly with the sword at the same angle as for Ukenagashi in Seitei Iai; keep your back straight after kuritsuke; after the second tsuki to the wakibara, return to the centre line going back a little; (tachi) just block jo's honte strike naturally, pushing the tachi up and forward from your head; on the left-footed right-handed honte strike, push the right hip into it; body should be in ma-hanmi on the evasion.
Otake s. also gave a couple of general points: maintain pressure in the balls of the feet, rear heel slightly raised off the ground; whenever there is a tsuki followed by a hikiotoshi-uchi, make sure the rear foot is angled with the toes pointing forward on the tsuki and turn the foot slightly clockwise when taking hikiotoshi-kamae; avoid making small techniques; always keep your legs slightly bent.

Monday, 29 July 2013


I don't think enough happened this month to fill more than one post so I'll start off with the non-budo stuff before moving on to the budo section.

School broke up on July 18th and the theme leading up to this point was, unsurprisingly, the summer holidays and I explained about taking the Eurostar to visit my French family and I also showed the kids some family pictures. Most of the kids seemed to be spending the summer at cram school (学習塾, gakushujuku or just "juku" for short) and one of the girls was taking part in an English speech competition. Making speeches is a big deal in Japan (you make a self-introductory speech whenever joining a new group like a company or club) and I was very surprised that she chose to talk about discrimination.

It's surprising because discrimination is an integral part of living in Japan. While discrimination carries strong negative connotations in the Western mind, in the Japanese mindset it is more akin to a strong awareness of the differences between Japanese people and non-Japanese and is therefore not always negative. An example of this is being immediately handed an English menu in some restaurants or some people insisting on using English with me, even though only speak Japanese back. The roots for this mindset can most likely be traced to Nihonjinron literature (日本人論, literature that examines Japanese national and cultural identity and identifying it as fundamentally different from that of any other country) that became especially popular shortly after the Second World War. This has given rise to the idea among both Japanese and non-Japanese that Japan occupies a "special" place in the world as more different from, say, America than America is from traditional Zulu culture. This, in turn, has led to the popular belief among Japanese and no small number of non-Japanese that Japanese culture and language cannot be understood or mastered by anyone remotely foreign.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that this notion has more holes in it than Swiss cheese (after all, a number of foreign writers, writing in Japanese, have won a number of literary awards for their work) but the majority of ordinary people of any nation do not take the time to properly analyse their own viewpoints and really question their opinions. But the majority of people here do not see it as discrimination or prejudice in the negative sense that Westerners understand it, just as an acceptance that Japanese are different.

So, it's surprising that Yuko chose to speak on this subject but definitely promising that she's willing to tackle it. Although she'll be speaking mostly about the kind of discrimination she's most familiar with (ie. bullying at school), she's making references to Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement America as well as the Apartheid in South Africa so she's definitely aware of its wider relevence. I helped her with a few facts, grammar and pronunciation and the contest will be on Saturday so I'll be attending. Fingers crossed!


Shortly after I started going to Sugao, Yanai sensei invited me to a kendo gasshuku (合宿) in Nikko (日光) run by an accounting association. It was organised for the first weekend of July so I had to miss the Kanagawa-ken Jodo Championships but I thought it was worth it to make some kendo contacts. Besides, I'm going to the All Japan Jodo Championships (全日本杖道大会) in Octobre so I’ll get my chance to test my jodo in a taikai later. We left from Sakurashinmachi station (桜新町駅) at 8:30 and drive up to Nikko with Yanai s. not saying a whole lot but that gave me a chance to get to know Irish squad member John Doherty (by coincidence, we work for the same ALT company). We got up to Nikko at about 12:00 and started the Saturday keiko right after lunch.

Keiko started with about an hour's katageiko (形稽古) when John and I ran through all ten kendo kata under Yanai s.'s supervision. This practice was incredibly valuable and refreshing in that we covered the forms in much more depth, with sensei mentioning specific points with regards to kamae, cuts and ashi-sabaki. These points included revelations such as the fact that uchi-dachi's shomen cut in gohonme is only to chin-height and shi-dachi is far more active in hachihonme and makes much more use of sen-sen-no-sen to draw out uchi's attack. All points to work on. We then moved on to kihongeiko (基本稽古) and for about an hour and a half or so before doing some shiai practice (actually shinpan practice for the higher grades). Surprisingly enough, I was able to hold my own for most of my fights, although I was still eventually obliterated most of the time (aside from a couple of draws and one victory). It'll be a while before I try my luck in any kind of taikai. We finished off with another hour and a half or so of jigeiko (地稽古) before heading back to the Japanese-style hotel for a few beers, a soak in the onsen and dinner with more alcohol. Although it all seemed to take quite a lot of time, I reckon we all turned in relatively early at about 10-11pm.

The next morning's practice started at around 10am at a lovely traditional dojo in the Toshogu Shrine (東照宮) grounds and we were lucky enough to have Shiozawa sensei (塩澤先生), 8dan Kyoshi, join us. The keiko only lasted a couple of hours but I had some fantastic fights, including one with Shiozawa sensei. We then went to a local soba joint for beer and well-needed soba (cold buckwheat noodles) and tempura (天ぷら, deep-fried shrimp) which hit just the right spot before heading back. Yanai s. did ask whether we wanted to do any sightseeing but we decided we were too exhausted to have any chance to enjoy it and I was coming back the following weekend anyway (I'll write about that in a separate post).

Iai-wise, things feel like they are progressing quite nicely. The vast majority of the points I'm being given are difficult to incorporate but I do feel like my iai is making progress - at least I have definite points to work on now, especially for koryu. How well I've incorporated these points will also be tested in mid-August when I compete in the Kanagawa-ken Iaido Taikai (神奈川県居合道大会). Bring it on!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Training these past 8months...

Ok, first budo post so if you're not nutty enough to practice martial arts, look away now. I'll divide this into three sections for kendo, iaido and jodo.


For the past couple of months, I've been training at the Sugao Elementary School Dojo (菅生小学校道場), run by Kubota sensei (久保田先生). I got in touch with Yanai sensei (矢内先生), whom I knew from Mumeishi, and, through him, was introduced to Sugao. The senseis outnumber the deshi by quite a margin (they regularly number around a dozen) and opportunities to practice with all of them are few and far between so I tend to focus on the three or four most senior: Kubota sensei (7dan Kyoshi), Yanai sensei (7dan Kyoshi), Saeki sensei (佐伯先生) and Yazawa sensei (矢澤先生). Practicing with them is incredibly invaluable and they all shower me with more points than I can possibly absorb in one keiko but I am working through them.

The points I've been working on so far are getting my footwork back to what kendo footwork should be (years of doing more iai/jo than kendo meant that I ended up with a very wide kamae), centring my cuts (a consequence of my overactive right hand) as well as solidifying them. It's quite reassuring that I can feel my kendo improve practice by practice but it's still a long way to yondan (especially since I'm grading in Kanagawa...I hear it's one of the tougher prefectures to grade in for kendo). I also made a point of getting a heavy shinai (660g) for regular keiko and a lighter one (531g) for taikai and shinsa and I'm planning on buying a suburi-ko so we'll see if that has any effect on my kendo.


Given that I was working at Gaba full-time, I hadn't intended on practicing at all in the first couple of months but I attended the Osaka Iaido Taikai (大阪居合道大会)  in early Decembre and the Kita-Kyushu Iaido Taikai (北九州居合道大会) in March so I tried to train at least once or twice a week. More recently, as my professional situation solidified into more of an 8:00-16:00 arrangement, I've been turning up to almost every training available (I've had to give up the Tuesday practices because of Japanese lessons).

I don't put that much emphasis on competition as a mark of what I've achieved; in my mind, the primary purpose of taikai is to put the pressure on and test my self-control. Improving on technique in the dojo is all well and good but practicing and incorporating the myriad points when being scrutinised by three or four very senior practitioners is something else entirely. I think it's closest thing we'll ever get to actual combat and as such it's an immensely valuable experience that, no matter how hard you try, you just will not get in the dojo. If you can change the points you've been taught under that kind of pressure (regardless of the number of shiai you win), I think that's an excellent guide of how much your iai has changed for the better. There's also the added bonus of being seen by sensei you might not usually be exposed to and they will sometimes give you points to work on so it's an opportunity to learn new ways of doing things and of thinking about them.

39th Kita-Kyushu Iaido Taikai (第39回北九州居合道大会)
The first taikai I attended was the Osaka Taikai and I went fully expecting to just have the one fight then spend the rest of the day browsing the selection of iaito, shinken and other goodies. As there were around a thousand participants, it was a three-way embu in front of four shinpan (three to give the initial decision and one standing by in case of a three-way draw) and the shitei-waza consisted of two koryu (I did Gyakuto and Ukigumo) and three seitei. Amazingly, I did get through the first round but lost the second so I was very chuffed to have had two goes. In such a huge event (I don't think any other country or continent could dream of those numbers), there's obviously a wide range of abilities so I got to see some iai that was verging on the divine and some that was nightmarish and I got to see a lot more ryuha than we get in Europe: all three of the main Hayashizaki lines were represented (Muso Shinden Jushin Ryu (夢想神傳重信流), Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu (無双直伝英信流) and Muso Shinden Ryu (夢想神伝流)) as were Tamiya Ryu (田宮流), Hoki Ryu (伯耆流), Shinkage Ryu (新陰流), Shinto Munen Ryu (神道無念流) and Mugai Ryu (無外流). All in all, it was a fantastic experience and wonderful to see such a range of ryuha. My second taikai was the Kita-Kyushu Taikai in Kokura, Fukuoka Prefecture (小倉市、福岡県), and, since the participants again numbered close to a thousand, the arrangements were the same. This time, I lost my first fight (but still somehow got Fighting Spirit (敢闘賞)) but found a new iaito. Up until then I had first used Fuku-Kancho's very nice shinken then one of the dojo iaito (which was quite heavy, horribly balanced and the tsuka was a bit too long) so I was quite desperate to find a new one. It's a 2.6 and roughly the same weight but the balance is much better; cutting with it is quite tricky, though, and I'm now finding it difficult to adjust my cutting for it. This new iaito doesn't quite fight me but nor does it help me cut so I'm still working out some of the kinks but it's good to have one that doesn't try to rip my shoulders out on every cut.

As for how my iai is developing, with a fairly major grading coming up in under a year, I'm getting slightly paranoid as to how few points I'm being given around the dojo, and although I've had more over the past couple of weeks, I'm sure there's more wrong with my iai than that so to say I'm worried is a bit of an understatement. Additionally, although I have been told what I should be aiming for for my next grade, I remain uncertain as to whether or not my development is moving in the right direction, something which needs to be brought up with sensei in the next couple of weeks. My current training regime is to spend no more than five minutes on each form and to work my way through one set every evening. In the event that I finish the set with time to spare, I do the relevant to-rei and start over from the first form of that set. I find the time limit helps to focus and does wonders for my motivation to get it right (although this format goes out the window somewhat on the occasions when I do get points so I'll throw in an additional five minutes to work on that new point). I'd also noticed that my knowledge, ability and comfort with the higher forms, especially okuden, has suffered from lack of practice over the last two or three years so working through one set at a time should hopefully combat that. Because on Saturdays it is normal for people to work through the whole of seitei before moving on to koryu, I tend to practice seitei about twice as much as any of the koryu sets but this is definitely a good thing as seitei does tend to be more pedantic than koryu.

One specific habit I'm working on in all my forms is that every time I cut, my front leg doesn't quite maintain the same amount of tension as the back leg and as a result, my body bounces back ever so slightly after the cut. This, as well as an annoying little shoulder movement just before chiburi, can be clearly seen in this footage from the 2010 EIC in Paris (although that was over two and a half years ago but I have been picked up on this as recently as nine months ago), video courtesy of Joel Bergmark (I start around 3:40). To counter this, I'm focusing on freezing my whole body right after the final cut and trying to my make chiburi smoother (ie take the power out).


My jodo practice since getting here has been rather frustrating in that I haven't been given many comments and although my technique's been feeling ok in general, this is usually a good sign that I'm not doing it right. I've been struggling with hikiotoshi for the past eighteen months or so (until then it hadn't felt too bad, then it all went down the drain) and again, considering that I have quite a serious grading coming up in April of next year, I'm starting to panic slightly.

Although there haven't been that many jodo events, I have turned up to a couple of koshukai (講習会, "seminar") including the central Kanagawa Prefecture seminar (when the local high grades pass on all the recent changes made to the seitei by the ZNKR technical committee) where we were fortunate enough to have seven out of Kanagawa's nine (I think) 8dans present. The jodo powers that be haven't actually changed anything to the katas themselves but they have clarified that, on Tachiotoshi, the initial small step back should only bring the toes of the right foot in line the with heel of the left and that the first step preparing for the first strike should be at an angle of 30 degrees. In addition to this, they have modified the way of holding weapons when not practicing and for gradings [again]; I did take a picture of Otake sensei demonstrating this but I won't put it up until I've had a chance to ask for his permission so I'll just describe it. Jo and bokuto should be held side-by-side on the right hip, with the bokuto on the inside and the jo on the outside. The bokuto should have the tsuka pointing forward, the ha pointing up and the tsukagashira and josaki should be level. With regards to the hands, the right hand should be holding them at the right hip and the left should be holding both the jo and tsuba with the thumb on the tsuba. Lastly, both weapons should be horizontal or with the forward ends angled slightly upwards (the logic being that the bokuto is theoretically in a saya and, although the thumb is holding on to the tsuba, the angle is an added measure against it falling out).

Well, there goes my first budo post. I doubt I'll write more than one post a month (I don't think my life, budo or otherwise, is interesting enough to warrant more than that), unless something earth-shattering happens. So, for now, that's all folks!