Thursday, 27 December 2012

Teachings in Budo: Awareness and Responsibility

If there is one thing I learned in my years of Iaido, Kyudo, and more recently Kung Fu training, it is that Budo is about "Awareness". Awareness of one's surroundings, awareness of one's actions, and awareness of one's thoughts. With this awareness comes the responsibility to improve yourself in each of these areas, through enhancing positive attributes and removing negative ones.

The Iaido Seitei Manual describes each situation of the 12 kata prescribed by the ZNKR committee. They all begin with "detecting the harmful intent of your opponent". In everyday life, we encounter situations like these all the time. The intent may not be harmful, but the result could often have consequences. Whether minor or severe, we can learn to be aware of these possibilities and develop an appropriate proper response:
  • I work in an office environment with cubicles that rise a couple of inches above my head. The maze of walls are ripe for accidental collisions to occur. I've learned to pay attention at these intersections, being prepared to step forward, back, or to the side if a careless associate were to come barrelling through.
  • Have you ever gone to open a door, only for it to suddenly be opened by someone on the other side? Did you lose your balance and almost fall over? It doesn't take much effort to be aware of this possibility and simply balance your body before going for the handle.
  • When walking down stairs, do you find your head bobbing up and down? This puts unnecessary pressure on your feet and knees. Try keeping yourself steady when the terrain changes. Your lower body and core muscles may get a work out, but it'll do wonders for your joints, spine, and upper body.
Being aware of your surroundings isn't just about noticing what may harm you. It's also about appreciating the things that share your environment. It's about being aware of life. When walking outside, do you notice the smell of the air, the feeling of the wind, the colours of the trees and sky? Can you hear the voices of birds, dogs, children, parents, couples? By bringing awareness outside yourself, one can take in a lifetime of experiences in just a few seconds.

With knowledge that your life is part of your environment, you must realize that your actions, or lack of action, may affect others in immeasurable ways. You control how people see you, your associates, and your organization through your actions. One must always be aware of this perception, as these relationships help define who we are as people:
  • Do you purposely hold doors open for strangers?
  • Do you mindfully adjust your pace to match your companions?
  • Do you regularly check up on someone important to you who you haven't seen in a while?
  • Do you show appreciation for the people in your life?
Those in positions of influence should never forget who got them there. The recognition and power to do what you do must come from the individuals who have put their faith and trust in you. Those of us who have chosen to act on something beyond our own self-interests must remember to be grateful for the community that carries us on their shoulders; and to ensure our words and actions align to the such goals as, to borrow from Kyudo, Shin (Truth), Zen (Goodness), and Bi (Beauty).

While your actions affect how others perceive you, you must also be aware of how you perceive others, and ultimately, how you perceive yourself. We must continuously strive to improve these thoughts that guide our actions:
  • Be hungry. To borrow a phrase from Steve Job's Stanford speech; where he urges new grads to never be satisfied. In Budo, the minimum years between gradings is not a criteria for passing, but an opportunity to re-dedicate yourself to the training and double your efforts. Simply making it through this period is not an accomplishment to be proud of.
  • Be generous. Be mindful of all that you should be thankful for and share these benefits with others. Even the smallest gestures can mean a lot. Offer rides to seminars. Give positive feedback to your fellow students. Take an interest in each other as people who have their own unique experiences, motivations, and personality, and learn from them. Provide a welcoming environment to all who enter.
  • Be courageous. Step out of your comfort zone and look to make a difference in your training (can you push yourself to work just a bit harder?), in your dojo (can you put aside your ego and dedicate yourself to the service of others?), and in the organization (can you look beyond what others can do for you, and contribute your time and energies to making everyone better?). 
Can you make any of these your new years resolution? How about all of them? 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

2012 JCCC Winter Festival - Gingerbread Competition

A martial arts club isn't just a school. It is a community working towards an ideal goal. A family that helps each other grow as individuals.

Members of our Kyudo club represent this philosophy admirably in their dedication to training and bringing people together through cooperation. As one of many clubs that make the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre a home, we try to contribute to the cause through volunteering at the annual Bazaar, as well as contributing to the Family Winter Festival.

In 2011, we placed 2nd with a gingerbread Kyudojo, falling just shy of the ultimate prizes: Gift coupons to local restaurants. This year, we chose Carl's house from the Pixar movie "UP". A whimsical display, requiring moderately difficult engineering, that would hopefully put us over the top.

Planning started a few weeks prior to the event with project manager, Aleem, building his team and organizing the purchase of materials. Our tireless baker, Mos, prepared each and every shape and size of gingerbread we would need to construct the house; and with all the materials ready for assembly, we gathered the day before the competition at Mie sensei's house and laid out the plans.

Each piece was meticulously labelled with spares just in case
Architectural design based off a paper model of the house
3:00 PM: While Aleem, Michael, and Nanik went about building the foundation of the house with gingerbread and icing sugar, other jobs had to be done as well. Ray's marzipan figures turned out amazing, and gave Yukiko a wonderful starting point to fill in personal details of each character.
Marzipan figures, food colouring, and paint brush set

Plastic knives used...if we only thought of the piping bag sooner ;P
Doug started working away at a cylinder of layered rice crackers that would serve as a base for the balloons to rise out of the chimney. The balloons were prepared by Tane using marshmellows and food colouring. Our initial reservations with this method gave way to excitement as we saw how vibrant the colours were coming out from the sugary balls.

5:00 PM: Two hours into the project, each of us were settling in to our various tasks. The construction was moving along at a steady, but slow pace, and as one member got tired, another would fill in. A natural rhythm was formed and the team continued to work with the efficiency gained only through the practice of Japanese Arts.

A brief pizza, pop, and chips break, courtesy of Tane, provided additional energy, but some "other snacks" were available too.
There goes our spare pieces...^_^
Fine tuning and leveling the structure required some thinking
7:00 PM: Nearly five hours in, the icing was finally settled, providing stability to the walls. Each side was colourfully painted, with additional detail like windows and doors being added as a final touch. Fatigue and hunger were returning, testing concentration and patience, but our team soldiered on.
The rice cracker base was supplemented with marshmellows.
The "balloons" were pierced with dried Chap-Chae noodles
10:00 PM: When Michael, Hanna, and I returned after dinner, the roof and chimney were already installed and the balloons were being placed with care. Since the icing for the chimney still needed to dry, we decided to insert only a few balloons and to fill in the rest just before the competition was to start.

Aleem, Mos, Nanik, and Tane had done a wonderful job assembling the major pieces and took a well-deserved break as we stepped into our shift. Ray returned a few minutes later with McDonalds, providing the last burst of sustenance for completing the project.
MORE!!! MORE!!!!
11:30 PM: Another 90 minutes blew by as we worked on cleaning the debris and putting in the grass, fences, and characters. The result was a masterpiece.

The next day, we submitted our entry to the JCCC in Shokokai Court as one of seven participants. Throughout the day, families walked by and were given the option of voting for:
  • Best Overall
  • Most Original
  • Children's Choice (only votes by kids)

The Final Results:

Best Overall - #5 Carl's house from Up (WE WON!)
2nd Overall - #7 A Canadian Christmas
Children's choice - #1 Our Dream Cottage
Most Original - #2 Whoville

Congratulations go to everyone who worked on and supported the project from start to finish. It was a tiring eight and a half hours of construction, but the sense of accomplishment made the whole endeavour worth while.

There's really no limit to what a team of dedicated and committed individuals can accomplish. Perhaps a proper Kyudojo for our club isn't as improbable as previously imagined. As long as we stick together, I, for one, believe it can happen.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Gratitude for the Martial Arts

During the holiday season thoughts often turn to food, presents, and more food. Consumers swarm the malls, looking for that one right gift for a friend, family member, or that one special someone. Online retailers offer coupons, discounts, and other tools to help you compare one item over another. It could become a rather complex process.

In Budo, we are taught to simplify things. Develop strong fundamentals, reduce excessive power, and focus the mind. However, we should realize that the opportunity to train is a luxury many people around the world do not possess. Whether it be cost, or distance, or quality of instruction, there is much we should be grateful for.

Let's take the time during this season, and really put an effort into expressing sincere gratitude to:

  • Your sensei: A good sensei cares about your progress as a student and as a person and accepts the responsibility for your failures, as well as your successes.
  • Your sempai: A good sempai helps you assimilate into the dojo environment and guides you to become an accepted member of the budo "family".
  • Your kohai: A good kohai will be eager to learn, and as such, will teach you about compassion, understanding, and responsibility.
  • Your dojo: A good dojo is any space that you make your own, for it could be a lot worse.
  • Your health: Can you sit in Seiza? If not, can you stand? Can you hold a sword? If so, be grateful for these abilities and be kind to your body and mind.
  • Your organization: A good organization provides opportunities to connect with others through contacts, seminars, gradings, and tournaments.

None of these people or things should be taken for granted and should be treated with the respect you have for any of your most loved people, places, or things. Sure they might have faults, so does everyone including yourself. The goal of Budo is to try to improve a little each day. This is how you can start:

  • Sensei: Show them you are not completely dependent on their attention, that you can work on your own. Show effort and keep an open mind. Try hard. They are here as guides, not as knowledge dumps. Give them time of their own as well. 
  • Sempai: Follow their lead. If you see them doing something for the dojo, try to help out. Make an effort to create a welcome and generous environment.
  • Kohai: On the flip side, if you are the sempai, give your Kohai some direction and show them you have confidence in them helping out and that they are just as important a person in the dojo as anyone else.
  • Dojo: Keep it clean. Keep it safe.
  • Health: Most often neglected by everyone. Your time and potential in the Budo is directly related to your health. You must make it your responsibility to keep it at peak condition. Eat well. Sleep lots. Rest, relax, find treatment, and give yourself time to heal.
  • Organization: Make a contribution with time and energy. Everyone has unique skills. Find a way to make yourself useful. The organization has the ability to help the most number of people, so by helping the organization, you are help the most number of people as well.

Now I must go out and follow my own words =P

Friday, 7 December 2012

Self Analysis

I've often found myself wondering, when reading other martial arts blogs, what the writer is like in person. How would they analyse themselves using the same perspective they've shared about the various events, locations, or instructors, that are detailed in their writings? If I were to look at photos of myself and treat the image as just another practitioner, what would I like this person to focus on?

It takes a special photographer to be able to make an Iaidoka look better than they are. Two such people are good friends of mine from the All United States Kendo Federation (AUSKF): Nancy James (5 Dan) and Gordon Hall (3 Dan). I really like these two pictures as they highlight a lot of good points while exposing those that I know I need to work on.

This first picture was taken in 2011 at the AUSKF Iaido National Summer Camp in Kent, Ohio. With an unprecedented number of Canadians participating in the event, the US committee had generously invited us to perform an Embu (demonstration) at the end of the seminar.
2011 AUSKF Iaido Summer Camp
Eishin Ryu set - Yama Oroshi
  • Good intensity and focus
  • Good balance (shoulders above hips)

  • Right arm disconnected
  • Body power in wrong direction

  • Lower right shoulder, keep with body
  • Maintain hips to target
This second picture was taken in 2012 at the GNEUSKF Iaido Seminar and Shinsa in Newark, New Jersey. It was during regular practice when James-Sensei was snapping away with her camera.
2012 GNEUSKF Iaido Seminar
ZNKR Seitei set - Ushiro
  • Good balance
  • Strong sayabiki
  • Body and Legs aligned forward

  • Too much right hand/arm
  • Hips misaligned
  • Head tilted
  • Holding breath

  • Use left hand to turn saya 90 degrees
  • Keep right shoulder in with body
  • Maintain hips to target
With my 4 Dan grading over and done with, I have an opportunity now to start tearing down specific habits and start building up again. Looking forward to 2013 being a year of significant growth!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

2012 Fall CKF Iaido Grading

On Saturday, December 1, 2012, the Canadian Kendo Federation - Eastern Iaido Shinsa was held at the Etobicoke Olympium. Over 60 practitioners from Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, braved the chilly morning to test their Iai.

The day started with a pre-grading seminar, used mostly as a reminder for the key points one should be prepared to show. It is also an excellent opportunity for the challengers to see the judges in a less stressful environment, and hopefully provide a calming presence before the start of the "festivities".

Almost one third of those grading were represented by our dojo, Mu Mon Kai, and it was exciting to see other members show up to cheer their companions on.
Rank challengers from Mu Mon Kai
Goyo Ohmi-sensei (Chief Examiner) ensured that each group had one or two judges to oversee their preparation:
  • Kyu challengers were assigned to Stephen Cruise-sensei (Renshi 7 Dan)
  • 1 Dan challengers were assigned to Edward Chart-sensei and Tracy Sheppar-sensei (5 Dan)
  • 2 Dan challengers were assigned to Carole Galligan-sensei (Renshi 6 Dan) and Peter Schramek-sensei (5 Dan)
  • 3 Dan challengers were assigned to Eric Tribe-sensei (Renshi 6 Dan) and Enore Gardonio (5 Dan)
  • 4 & 5 Dan challengers were assigned to Kim Taylor-sensei (Renshi 7 Dan)
Following the seminar, an official presentation of Kyoshi was awarded to Ohmi-sensei as well as a very nicely framed calligraphy from Montreal.

...and so, let the grading begin!
Ohmi-Sensei officially receives his Kyoshi shogo
Challengers assemble!
The shitei waza were posted about 30 minutes before the start. Sighs of relief and gasps of dismay were heard as each group went up to see which kata they were to perform in front of the judges.

Overall, most individuals sounded happy that they didn't have to do #11 Sou Giri, except for 5 Dan.

Before too long, it was our time to step on the floor. Focused and determined faces, with a hint of nervousness for just under six minutes, to relaxed and confident in just under six minutes.
Let's do this!
Young'uns - 5 Dan, 4 Dan, 1 Dan from Mu Mon Kai
The results were posted shortly after the 5 Dan's had completed their embu and the celebration began. Successful challengers were showered with handshakes and hugs, while unsuccessful ones showed excellent Budo spirit and sportsmanship, re-dedicating themselves to training for next time.

And just like that, Canadian Iaido has grown by another year. The upper ranks were bolstered by two talented and committed 5 Dans, while the base level of Iai has seen significant improvement. A notable sign of things to come in our country.

  • 1 Kyu - 16/17 (94%) - Mu Mon Kai 4/4
  • 1 Dan - 14/15 (93%) - Mu Mon Kai 6/6
  • 2 Dan - 15/15 (100%) - Mu Mon Kai 1/1
  • 3 Dan - 9/11 (82%) - Mu Mon Kai 3/4
  • 4 Dan - 1/3 (33%) - Mu Mon Kai 1/2
  • 5 Dan - 3/4 (75%) - Mu Mon Kai 2/3