It occurs every so often on Iaido forums. A prospective student would ask about a dojo, a sensei, and whether or not it's possible to start learning from books. Inevitably, forum "veterans" and most likely seniors in the art would jump on them saying "It's only possible to learn from a Sensei". Of course there are merits to this, but it seems rather black and white, and not a bit unyielding.
I remember a similar thread, a couple years ago, on Kendo World, and his stance back then was the same as it is now. What's interesting is, I believe most of those seniors were also around at the time and possibly, grudgingly agreed with Taylor-Sensei's opinion, and yet, they all jumped on the guy as if it never happened.
I actually believe that the further you are in your studies, the MORE you have to go into books.
There's just too much information out there that can be applied to an individual that another person can't possibly be aware of, including your instructor. It's not that your instructor is incompetent, but if they are true to the martial art, they are also learning how to improve themselves. They will be drawn to information that can help their specific needs.
There's not enough time to learn everything. That's why it's also important to find someone who learns, acts, and moves the same way as you so you can share experiences.
There's a time in your training when you reach a plateau. A period where you can't seem to improve and nothing feels right. A lot of juniors will see this as the pinnacle of their training and quit. Those of us who've been around long enough will realize it's just another barrier that must be challenged and defeated. Sometimes you just need more practice, other times, you need a new perspective. This is where books can assist you.
In my experience (and it is brief in comparison to many others), I've found solutions and inspiration for Iaido in all sorts of reading material:
- All Japan Kyudo Federation - Kyohon (Kyudo Manual)
- Articles and Discussions on Kendo
- Articles on Taichi
- Articles and Discussion on Yoga
Just thinking about all the knowledge available in books and how much they can help each individual nearly overwhelms me.... Patience.... Just keep reading.
The end of December is a great time for celebration. Twelve months of hard training, a recently completed rank test, and the company of old and new friends are all legitimate reasons for throwing the biggest party of the year.
Our last class before the JCCC closes over the Christmas and New Years holidays was held on December 18, 2011, and it was quite a show!
1. Regular Practice - Regular practice started at 12:30pm, lead by Carole Galligan-Sensei with warmups followed by running through the ZNKR Seitei set. We were delighted that friends from affiliated dojos in Peterborough, St. Catharines, and Rochester could join us, making the dojo feel comfortably warm despite the cold weather outside. As we completed the twelfth kata, Galligan-Sensei came up with the playful suggestion of performing the "Nuki-uchi Wave."
The Nuki-uchi Wave is a common technique for practicing timing with a partner. The results of one of our largest gatherings provided quite a spectacle:
2. Embu Taikai - The afternoon continued with an Embu Taikai in which students were split into divisions and demonstrated all together in front of the Sensei. A single participant was chosen from each group to receive a prize in the form of calligraphy from Ohmi Sensei, a couple of books by Oz, and hand-made pottery by Chris.
3. Capoeira Demo - While the results were being tabulated, we were treated to a Capoeira demonstration by Mark Ross of Kenshokan, Peterborough. His performance was amazing to watch, giving us a breathtaking view of what this Brazillian martial art entails. It was also a great opportunity for members of our dojo to see what each other do outside of Iaido. I'd be very interested in expanding this format in 2012! ^_^
4. Sensei Demo - With the training portion of the afternoon ending, what better way to send off than with a final demonstration by our Sensei. Group one included Gardonio-, Schramek-, and Sheppard-Sensei (5 Dan), followed by Ohmi-Sensei (Renshi 7 Dan) and Galligan-Sensei (Renshi 6 Dan). It's always an inspiration to watch them, and a great way to see what we should strive for in our own training.
5. Class Photo - I present to you, Mu Mon Kai - 2011 edition, the largest dojo in the Canadian Kendo Federation. Joining us are our friends and affiliates from Kenshokan (second largest Iaido dojo in Canada), Kaigen Kai, Ittokai, and University of Rochester Iaido club. Photographs by Oz.
6. Taikai Prizes - The year-end Mu Mon Kai Embu Taikai began in 2008 and has been recurring annually since then. In 2009, when co-founder and former club president, Sandra Jorgenson-Sensei moved to the west coast, the dojo commissioned the "Jorgenson Cup" in her honour. The trophy is presented to the winner of the highest division of the MMK Embu Taikai. In 2009, the award was won by Tracy Sheppard (5 Dan). In the last two years, the award was won by the first students to join the newly formed club of Mu Mon Kai at the JCCC in 2000: Michael Gan (4 Dan) in 2010, and Jim Wilson (4 Dan) in 2011.
1 Kyu and below winner - Arseny Nikulchenko
2 Dan division winner - Alexey Konovalov
Jorgenson Cup winner - Jim Wilson
1 Dan division winner - Mark Ross
3 Dan division winner - Michael Suen
7. Sensei Gifts - To thank the Sensei for all the instruction and guidance they provided throughout the year, they were presented with gifts that ranged from Audio Books to BBQ Sauce. It was quite enjoyable seeing their reactions.
8. Sake Toast - Another tradition of our year end class is a speech and toast with pink & white sake from Ohmi Sensei. I did my customary sip and gave the rest to Hanna. I think she downed another few cups afterwards as well. =P
9. President election - Having travelled around Canada, the United States, and Japan; and participating in multiple Iaido and Kyudo seminars, it began to dawn on me the potential and opportunity for growth of these arts. As a member of one of the largest Iaido dojos in North America, I believe we have the responsibility to share our experiences and aim to provide the same benefits that we've enjoyed with high quality instruction and diversity of talents. So in 2012, I will strive to continue where Jorgenson-Sensei and Kevin Adams left off, and with the help of members of our dojo and affiliates, build a stronger Iaido community around us.
Looking forward to another exciting year of learning, training, and making new friends.
Patrick Suen Mu Mon Kai Discovery, Empowerment, Fellowship
Tora no Issoku was the second technique we played around with, and would prove to define how we executed the later counters. We were still trying out the off-screen, hand-grab, as you can see from this video. Needed to work on coordination and timing:
The major development from this kata was the use of the saya as a weapon.
This next video shows that the final version ended up to be much more elegant than what we initially had planned. =P
Yokogumo was an interesting technique to play with. The kata encompasses all the basics of Iaido. The movements are very tight and leave very little room for defense and counter.
Continuing with the theme of a "floating sword", we thought it would be cool if an attack can be stopped mid-way by the use of something like "the force" in Star Wars. The following clip is a behind-the-scenes look at how we made it happen:
You'll notice that the final version is slightly different, as we added in a casual waving of the hand, causing the stopped sword to go flying. The next video is a compilation of our initial takes, some went well, some, less so.
Commentary of each take:
I held on too long for this one
I thought this take went well (hehehehehehe), but didn't fit into our definition of a "counter"
This one was ok, except we started noticing the stopped sword hanging awkwardly, so we wanted to do something about it.
We got the sword to go flying now, but it didn't seem like it was controlled by Mike. Thus, the final version.