Saturday, 10 August 2013

Kyudo Education

A member of our Kyudo club recently submitted a blog article about Kyudo. As a Psychologist, Professor, and Founder of the Reach Sudbury School of Toronto, her experiences and accomplishments are exceptional. Since her writing is 100 times more eloquent than my usual dribblings, I'm sharing her article here. Enjoy!

Link to article:
by Tane Akamatsu

I have been taking Japanese archery (kyudo) lessons for 4-1/2 years, amongst a group of other adult learners.  I’ve decided that studying kyudo is a lot like being a Sudbury student.

We all started from the same point: interest, curiosity, self-motivation.  (Plus, it looks so cool!)  My youngest classmate is now in her early 20s; my eldest in her early 80s.  My teacher and most of my classmates are in their 30s.  In my 50s, I’m one of the older students in the class.  Most of us have been practicing for less than 5 years.  Our class is rather large, around 30-40 people, one certified instructor, and a few volunteer assistants.  With this student:teacher ratio and up to 12 arrows flying at a time, one instructor cannot deal effectively with each student.  Instead, she relies on the Japanese sempai-kouhai system – more advanced students help out the less advanced students.

There is a body of knowledge and skills that needs to be mastered, and there are beginner steps that everyone has to learn.  Here’s the kicker:  There is only one 8-step “kata” – a single form that is relatively easy to memorize and yet takes a lifetime to master.

There is a 4-volume textbook, only volume 1 (less than 150 pp) of which has been translated into English from the Japanese.  All the answers to the grading tests, including your opinions, are contained in this first volume.  Mostly, we are left to study it on our own.  Each time I read the textbook, I find new meaning.  Each time I review questions for the grading test, I learn something new as I struggle to formulate my answers.  Sometimes we study in small groups outside of class.  Some of us read the original Japanese and help our classmates by comparing the original to the translated version.  Some people can read Chinese and help us out with the characters in the Japanese text.  We help each other where and when we can.  (One side-effect: my Japanese has gotten better.)

There are grading tests, which are encouraged but optional.  Most people fail these tests most of the time.  Yet, they keep testing because testing serves as a confirmation of one’s level of mastery.  It is information that one chooses to have, not a hurdle to overcome because someone says you have to.

No one learns kyudo in exactly the same way or progresses through the ranks at the same pace.  There is no expectation that this should happen.  In fact, the one piece of advice that my teacher often repeats is, “Everyone is different.  Don’t worry; just keep practicing.  If you practice, you will get better.”

There are three kinds of practice: observation (mitori-geiko), experimentation (kufuu-geiko), and repetition (yakazu-geiko (lit. “many arrows”)).  Observation is not simply looking another person shoot; it is watching with purpose.  Experimentation is trying different techniques to achieve a particular outcome.  I was recently told by a very experienced and high-ranking teacher, who has been practicing kyudo for over 50 years, that he is still experimenting with his grip.  He started his lecture with, “I have a theory about grip,” and ended it with, “But that’s just me.  You have to work it out for yourselves.”  Yakazu-geiko must be done with considerable care.  You don’t want to repeat mistakes and turn them into bad habits.

Philosophically, kyudo has much to offer.  It teaches not to resent others when they do better than ourselves.  Instead, we are to look to ourselves to find our own answers.  My teacher told me that when I shoot well, that’s the time to stop and ponder – what went right?  When I don’t shoot well, that’s the time to just move on and try to get it right the next time.  Don’t dwell on mistakes; be aware of them and fix them next time.  Another high-ranking teacher told us that what works for one person may not work for another; you have to find what works for you.  Whether we pass a grading or not, whether we shoot well or not, we look to ourselves, find our own answers, and KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

If these practices sound familiar, they should, especially in the context of a Sudbury education.  The sempai-kouhai system is a direct enactment of working in Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.  Kids do this all the time; the less experienced seek help from the more experienced.  This is one of the advantages of mixed-age groupings with children.  Kids do mitori-geiko, kufuu-geiko and yakazu-geiko (not the arrow part, but specifically, repetition) on a daily basis.  Children learn a considerable amount simply through observation.  Children experiment all the time, challenging themselves, seeing if this or that will work, dropping useless practices and keeping useful ones.  And of course, kids repeat.  Same questions over and over.  Same conversations over and over. Watching the same shows, reading the same books, playing the same games.  Why? Because they are getting something from the practice.  Even when it looks like they’re “doing nothing”, they’re probably doing mitori-geiko, or pondering their next move.  On the way to learning one thing, they learn a whole bunch of other things.  Even failing grading tests is like losing a life in a video game; they go back and try again.  Moving from level to level gets harder and harder, but they keep on trying, because it’s fun!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

2013 Tokyo Iaido Judging and Technical Instruction Seminar: 4 Key Points

Continued from the Shimpan Overview post...

Following lunch, we all gathered once again at the front of the gym and made a wide circle around Aoki sensei for instruction on Seitei. Various points from the manual were raised, but 4 key points were especially emphasized throughout the demonstration.

The following quotes from Aoki sensei are essential for Iaidoka at all levels to remember.

1. Central Axis
  • Rough translation implies your axis or center => i.e. the connection to the ground = main foot
  • "To generate the proper force and energy, you must have ki-ken-tai-ichi. Without focus on your axis, everything collapses."
  • "Each rank is responsible to show the proper focus and attention at their level."

2. Opponent
  • "Movement comes from your ki"
  • "Although you must have kiseme and strong energy, you must also win through proper use of the sword"
    • "Proper tenouchi and hasuji is important - If either is not correct, it's not Iai anymore; it's just dance."
  • "It's important to constantly have focus on your left hand, don't let it just play"
  • "The opponent appears in how you do keiko; which comes from your inner self."
  • "You must question how you really think about your Iai. If you just show form and movement, then it means nothing"

3. 獨理獨行 
  • Roughly translated as "Independently Reason, Independent Journey"
  • While your Sensei is there to guide you along the path, how far you are able to go is completely up to you.

4. Difference between Koryu and Seitei
  • "If you don't understand the meaning of your Koryu, then it's not worth doing."
  • "The key differences are in how you move your body - You must understand the difference by using your mind."
  • "If you really understand the Shoden set, then you should also understand Seitei. So always try to practice Shoden and Seitei together."
  • "Unless a student really understands Shoden, they should not be taught the Okuden sets.

This last point is echoed in Hatakenaka sensei's classes where the majority of her students (even the lowest ranks) in each class will work on Shoden (Omori-ryu in the MJER line) before starting their Seitei practice.

It really worked out well to be able to participate in this seminar before starting our daily training at Hatakenaka sensei's dojo and free practice times around Shinjuku. It gave us the right perspective and motivation to start from the basics and really look within to focus on our weaknesses.

I hope all readers of these notes were also able to find some useful tidbits to continue to grow as Iaidoka.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

2013 Tokyo Iaido Judging and Technical Instruction Seminar: Shimpan Overview

Continued from the Seminar Recap post...

While there wasn't much opportunity to take notes during the group sessions, the Shimpan Overview by Aoki sensei provided clear expectations and responsibilities for everyone present. Each note is actually just a quote taken from Aoki sensei's speeches.

Again, these quotes are only available because of the hard work of Hanna in writing and translating for all of us foreigners. I've included a heading before each note to provide context for each piece of instruction. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below.

On Attending Seminars
  • "The purpose is not simply to attend, but to listen, think, and practice. By practicing the knowledge becomes a part of you"
  • "Judging seminars are where one learns to ascertain and distinguish between what's right and what's wrong"
  • "An Iaidoka is unable to see beyond their own ability, so it is the responsibility of those above him/her to correct any errors in judgment and fill the knowledge gap. The leaders are accountable for the failings of those below them. In a taikai, this person is the Shimpan-Cho.

On Learning
  • "Who has the latest manual?" - only a few hands go up - "The FIRST step is to look around and see what the latest requirements are, and to know them inside-out. That is one of the most important responsibilities of being a judge"
  • "Learning is not just through the body, but the mind as well, through thinking. If you do not think, it's mindless practice. It's nothing."
  • "If you only learn the form and not use kokoro (heart/mind) then you are basically doing nothing"

On Responsibility
  • "The instructors/leaders must always show the correct way. Whether that is in their Iai or even in their manners" - two examples were given:
    • Ex 1 - If sensei are not sitting in seiza when necessary and in the correct way, the students will not.
    • Ex 2 - In a taikai, if the shu-shin (head judge) is not calling out the correct go-rei (i.e. Hantei, Gogi, Shobu-ari), then the other judges will make the same mistake.
  • "If Tokyo doesn't put forth the energy and effort, the rest of Japan will not improve and become united."
  • "Although Iaido is something you learn on your own, when you go to Taikai and Gradings, you are judged by others. So you must follow your teacher and they must follow theirs, all the way to the top."

On Taikai
  • "In order for the event to run smoothly, the scorekeepers, timekeepers, ushers, and other staff must be really organized."
  • "Everyone including the participants, judges, and seminar staff must be able to act and move quickly and exhibit Meri-hari. They must also have Rinkyohen: Ability to react to any situation correctly and in a timely fashion.
    • Ex 1 - After the "shobu-ari" call, many shu-shin tend not to look at the court, but they must also display zanshin because even when the challengers are backing up, something could happen. Someone could get hurt.
    • Ex 2 - The fuku-shin (sub judges) should be able to act faster than the shu-shin. If they notice a reason to call gogi, they should be able to call it before the shu-shin.

Aoki Sensei also kept mentioning page 34 in the Iaido Manual (Japanese version) regarding "Mindset during Embu". We'll see if we can get that translated later.

Finally, we also received some words of wisdom from Hatakenaka sensei who lead our group (4 dan and below):
  • "A 4th dan must not think of 5th dan as simply the next grade to achieve. With the rank also lies the responsibility in judging, and be an example for the lower ranks. You must have this mindset when training for 5th dan. "
  • "The basics are more important the higher level you get. When I was preparing for 8 dan, I had to go back and really work on the basics. Even now, that is where most of my focus is"

Up Next: Four Key Points for Judging by Aoki Sensei

Monday, 15 July 2013

2013 Tokyo Iaido Judging and Technical Instruction Seminar: Overview

On Saturday, July 6, 2013, Hanna and I attended the Tokyo Judging & Technical Instruction Seminar held at the Takinokawa Gym in the Northern District. Having attended the same event in 2009, we were expecting a long, but productive day of learning and training.

Wide-space, no Air-Con, 34C outside.... long day
Let's all get naked!...seriously, that's what we do here
The seminar was broken down into four parts separated by a short break and lunch:
  • Shimpan Overview - All Participants (Instructors & Students)
  • Shimpan and General seminar - Participants split into dan groups
  • Shimpan Key Points - All Participants (Instructors & Students)
  • Shimpan and General seminar (cont'd) - Participants split into dan groups

Leading the entire program was Aoki Eiji sensei (Hanshi 8 dan), whose dignified and commanding presence, not to mention his experience and depth of instruction, belied his relatively young age (mid-60s). His speeches during the Shimpan Overview and Key Points segments broached no argument, even among the many older 8 dans in the instructor groups.

Aoki Eiji sensei. Picture courtesy of
Court distribution: 4 dan-, 5 dan, 6 dan, and 7 dan
Following each of these imposing yet encouraging speeches, the participants were split into their rank (dan) groups to receive guidance on judging (5 dan+) and general techniques (4 dan and below). The groups each had two 8 dan instructors to lead the way, a rare opportunity even in Tokyo.

Group instructors included:
  • 7 Dan: Ito Tomoharu, Maruyama Yoshiaki
  • 6 Dan: Yoshimura Kenichi, Shirasu Kimiya
  • 5 Dan: Koyama Takanobu, Kaneda Kazuhisa
  • 4 Dan: Hatakenaka Atsumi, Ito Shigeo(?)

5 dan+ worked on judging using members as guinea pigs
5 dan group lead by Koyama and Kaneda sensei

As usual, the notes (to be shared in my next post) are only possible due to the diligence and effort of my wife, Hanna. I'm sure it is mostly her growing relationship with Hatakenaka sensei that allowed us to be accepted as honorary members of the Shinjuku Iaido groups:

Lunch was fantastic as usual and ready for pickup at the registration tables just as our stomachs started to growl.

Green tea and Bento!! Soooo gooood!
Beautifully packaged and sorted.
The seminar was completed with demonstrations from the 7 dan groups. Several individuals really stood out for Hanna and I. If we can find out their names, will let you all know ;)

Attitude while spectating is just as important as demonstrating
Future 8 dan? Some, most definitely!
Up next: 2013 Tokyo Iaido Judging and Technical Instruction Seminar: Wisdom from Aoki Sensei

Monday, 8 July 2013

2013 Mu Mon Kai Summer Celebration

On June 29, 2013, Mu Mon Kai hosted our first Summer Celebration class. Building on the success of last year's Mid-Year General Meeting we decided to schedule a full-day of training, learning, and socializing. In order to differentiate between our Year-End class, itself a celebration of the art of Iaido, we decided to dedicate this day to the people that make up this wonderful community.

With 6 hours available to us due to a class-swap with the JCCC Kyudo Club, we were able to split the session into three T's:
  1. Training
  2. Taberu
  3. Talking
....yeah, I just made that up.

Training - Practice time was broken into two sections sandwiching a snack break. The first session was focused on the "Too Many People" list from the Guelph Recap Notes; observations that the Japanese Sensei underscored as common and repeating failings of Canadian Iaidoka. With hard training and focus on these points, we'll be able to demonstrate our commitment to the instruction of the Japanese Sensei, as well as our dedication to improve our own Iai.

In session two, our members were treated to instruction in MJER Oku-Iai iwaza and tachiwaza techniques. While the majority of us would not be practicing these kata until later in our Iaido careers, it's important to understand the extensive lineage of our school.

Taberu - With such a diverse membership in the Mu Mon Kai and Affiliates Iaido groups, what better way to celebrate it than a potluck; and we were definitely not disappointed with the variety of food. From Japanese cold-soba to Portugese fried fish-cakes, Romanian cabbage-rolls and even a intact honeycomb, our palettes savoured a rainbow of flavours, a somewhat fitting end to Pride-Week in Toronto.

Gotta have some fruits & veges

Martin is a bee-keeper...who would've thought


Talking - Following the success of last year's "Meet the Sensei" theme of presentations, where each Sensei talked about themselves and the influence Iaido has had on their lives, we decided to expand the talks to create a friendly and educational environment that is not normally seen within a regular schedule class.

We began with a recap of the first half of 2013's Events and Recognition by Patrick & Hanna

  • Mu Mon Kai's February visit to a special edition of the US East Coast Iaido Seminar and Shinsa with visiting Chihiro Kishimoto Sensei allowed us to further grow the bond between our club and our friends south of the border. 
  • In March, the first of hopefully an annual seminar in Vancouver, BC, with Ohmi Sensei helped forge a stronger connection between the Canadian West and East coast.
  • Next MMK journeyed to the southern tip of Ontario to participate in the annual Welland Iaido Clinic, a truly fun and educational affair with a unique format.
  • In April, MMK hosted our bi-annual Tameshigiri seminar, inviting non-Iaido members from the JCCC whom we are proud to call friends, as we shared our mutual love of the Japanese martial arts.
  • Finally, we had another great turnout at the May Guelph seminar, with over 20 participants from our dojo. 

As with these seminars, the next few talks highlight the fact that the greatest assets MMK can provide to the Iaido community are our generous and dedicated members. Each of these subjects deserve a session, article, or lecture of their own, and I hope to make that possible in the near future.

Sensei's Introduction into Mu Mon Kai by Ohmi-sensei, Carole, Enore, Mike G, Mike H, Bruce
To match the JCCC's 50th Anniversary celebration, each Sensei gave a brief talk about their experiences before joining MMK and what it was like in those first few years.

Practicalities of Iaido and relationships that can be found within other martial arts by Bruce
A fun and educational demonstration with the help of Mike G

Importance of Lineage, History, and Culture by Mike H
A deep and passionate discussion well-deserving of being published

Start of the Affiliated dojo program and Brock by Chris
An example of commitment to one's Sensei and the acceptance of responsibility

Start of Affiliated dojo in Peterborough/Oshawa and Thank You Message by Martin
A brief history of a group that can potentially becoming the largest collection of Iaidoka in Canada

Photography and Iaido - Purpose in the Art by Oz
A philosophical approach to finding your path towards perfection

Photo courtesy of Ozan Yigit

Up Next

MMK BBQ (August 11) with special talks:
Common injuries and prevention by Scott
Japanese etiquette in the martial arts by Hanna


Friday, 14 June 2013

2013 Ottawa Kyudo Workshop

Kyudo, the Japanese art of archery, is a martial art that uniquely balances both cultural and spiritual training, with the technical aspects of a martial based discipline. Since the Kyudo Association of Canada's (KAC) inception in 2010, the Vancouver and Toronto clubs have worked tirelessly to develop their students and make an impact on the world stage. With over 20 delegates at the International Kyudo Federation's (IKYF) America Seminar each of the last two years, and another large group expected this year in South Carolina, the potential for Kyudo to grow in Canada is starting to be realized.

It was an exceptionally pleasant Sunday afternoon on June 9, 2013, as the KAC hosted their first introductory workshop and demonstration in the city of Ottawa. Held at the Japan Karate Association’s (JKA) beautifully-detailed private dojo in the heart of our nation's capital, participants of the workshop were ushered onto floor promptly at 1pm and regaled with an hour-and-a-half of history, culture, and martial philosophy.
The session began with an overview of Kyudo as a Japanese martial art. Topics in the slideshow included:

  • The history of Kyudo and modern influences
  • The different styles of Kyudo
  • Organizations and Globalization
  • Equipment and Uniforms
  • How to make Kyudo a part of your life

Subsequent feedback was largely positive, as a survey revealed over 3/4 of the participants had interest in learning more about the history and martial theory.
Patrick Suen – 2 dan
Up next was a special demonstration of “Hitotsu Mato (Makiwara in this case) Sharei”, a single target ceremonial shoot. Everyone present (including the organizers) was in for a treat; as the two highest ranked Kyudo practitioners in Canada would be performing this routine together for the very first time. KAC’s only shogo (teacher title) holder, Mie Takahashi (Renshi 5 dan) was joined by KAC president, Motomasa Mori (4 dan) for this special two-person sharei. They did not disappoint, as the level of physical and mental focus was breathtaking.

Mie Takahashi – Renshi 5 dan
Motomasa Mori – 4 dan
Following the demonstration, participants were encouraged to ask questions and discuss their impression of Kyudo. Several audience members talked about the similarities they see within other practices; as Zen, meditation, firearm training, and cultural rituals were brought up. Current students were asked their opinions of the most difficult and most rewarding aspects of the training, with passionate responses from KAC Toronto volunteers Hanna Ikeda-Suen (2 dan) and Cathy Tang (mudan) rounding out the day.

There are many organizations and individuals that need to be recognized for the successful hosting and promotion of this event: 

·      Ottawa Japan Karate Association for allowing us to hold this ground-breaking event in their dojo;

·      Tateyama Iaido and Jodo club for donating their regular class time and space;

·      Ottawa JET Alumni Association for promoting this event through an article in their May newsletter;

   Hanna Ikeda-Suen – 2 dan & Cathy Tang - Mudan
·      The following organizations also need to be thanked for advertising the workshop through their classes, building, social media and word of mouth. Attendance from each of these groups also showed a diversity of interests and backgrounds.
o    Ottawa Japanese Language School (OJLS)
o    Ottawa Japanese Community Association & Cultural Centre (OJCA/OJCC)
o    Embassy of Japan
o    Ottawa Sogetsu Ikebana School
o    Ottawa Kendo Club (Takahashi Dojo)
o    Ottawa Aikikai

The KAC and Seikyu Kai (Toronto JCCC Kyudo Club) look forward to growing our relationship with each of these clubs and centres to promote and spread Japanese Culture and Arts in the future.

Photographs courtesy of Stan Vardomiskiy, Tateyama Dojo

Sunday, 9 June 2013

2013 Guelph Recap Notes

On Saturday, May 25 - the first weekend following Victoria Day - Mu Mon Kai held a special "recap" class to review the specific instruction and comments made to our senior members (4 Dan+) . The goal was to consolidate the information and ensure key points are focused on for the year leading up to the 2014 Guelph Iaido Seminar. While mostly consistent, a couple of points came up that require further analysis and commitment by Sensei on which alternative to adhere to. 

The following notes are beneficial to everyone, but are especially relevant to individuals in the following groups in decreasing order:MMK Students

  1. Students with direct lineage under Goyo Ohmi Sensei
  2. Eastern Canadians
  3. All Canadians
  4. North Americans
  5. Rest of the world - excluding Japan

Having said that, we would very much welcome input from anyone regarding their perspective on any of these points.

General Theory and Observations by Sensei

         Attitude is crucial, even when not practicing
         Sitting and standing posture while Sensei is talking shows respect – Do not cross arms. Always have thumb on tsuba or hand on tsuka.
         The sword is used to protect yourself, your family, and your country.

         To develop personal character rather than killing the opponent
         The goal is to make the opponent give up – to destroy their “killing intention” rather than their life
         The body is the target, but not the purpose
         The Japanese sword can be used for both offense and defense, unlike other weapons that are only offensive
         Don’t think about the killing – Iaido is a heart-to-heart conversation with your opponent – this differentiates Iai-jutsu from Iai-do
         You can take this philosophy into your everyday life

         Beginners – Form and Technique. Students should understand the philosophy and purpose of Iaido (mentioned above) so they do not abuse it – otherwise, society would reject Iaido. (get rid of crazy students)
         Intermediate – Distance and Timing – ki-ken-tai-ichi and rational as budo (understand the scenario)
         Advanced – Feeling – kihaku (dignified presence) and riai (theory)

4)       BREATHING
         With proper breathing, all kata can be performed correctly
         Exhale on every cut – should be forceful then stop quickly – matching the timing of the cut
         Exhale when standing up after noto and when hand comes off tsuka.
         Use “belly breathing” (using abdominal muscles) on both inhale and exhale – full abdomen expands on inhale – lower abdomen pushes out on exhale  (upper abdomen squeezes in and pushes out lower abdomen)
         Actions during keiko:
o    Kata 1-4 – On hajime, exhale wherever you are in the breath cycle, then inhale, put hands on tsuka and start exhale on breaking of koiguchi with thumb
o    Kata 5-12 – On hajime, exhale wehever you are in the breath cycle, then inhale, start to walk at start of exhale
         Point of Contention – Timing of hands starting
o    Inhale to 50%, then start with hands reaching at 80%
o    Inhale to 80%, then start hands and exhale
         Ideally, kata should finish in one breath, but you may inhale at key times when stationary if this is not possible.

Grading and Judging

On Sunday afternoon at the Guelph seminar, the 6th Dan+ participants were called into a judging class with Kishimoto Sensei. Hanna was asked to help with translations, and a few lower ranked members were asked to be examples.
         Justin Lee (MMK) – No rank eligible for 1 Kyu in December
         Joe Oliveira (MMK) – 1 Dan eligible for 2 Dan in December
         Martin Stabler (Kenshokan) – 2 Dan eligible for 3 Dan in December

Basic (non-kata) Judging points were explained followed by a breakdown for specific ranks.

Grading Standards
      In Japan, gradings up to 5 Dan are held locally. In Canada it is the same.
      In some countries certain levels are harder/easier than others. It is very important to have consistent standards world-wide. Therefore, judges must have uniform understanding.
      The number of judges required for pass/fail and who are eligible to judge is different in different countries, but basically follow the guidebook
      Chakuso, dress code, is part of etiquette and is crucial judging point. Ushers and administrators should help graders prior to entering the grading area. (eg. Help ensure the hakama back is higher than front)

Grading Tape/Line
      The tape is 30cm and with its corners stretching back (away from judges) forms a square 30cm x 30cm
      The challenger’s toes must be within this box (preferably feet inside the box) for ONLY opening and closing shomen-rei
o    Q: What if knees go over line on to-rei? That’s ok
o    Q: What if feet are over line after closing to-rei? Take steps back until you are inside box before closing shomen-rei.
      Tape disappears afterwards in terms of start/end of kata and to-rei
      Disclaimer: In a shiai (tournament match) it could make a difference in terms of awareness, but not in gradings

Judging Points
   1 Kyu
     Level should be close to 1 Dan
     Judged on Reiho, Dress code, and Basic technique
     Dress code is a major deduction, but not a fail point (unlike all other ranks)
     Challenger can make lots of small mistakes, but not large ones
     Errors in reiho may be corrected by the judges (i.e. koiguchi is open during to-rei, starting walking with wrong foot)
     Most 1 Kyu challengers should pass
   1 Dan
     Judging should be stricter than 1 Dan
     Dress code MUST be correct from this rank onward
     Etiquette MUST be correct from this rank onward
     Technical points: Correct nukitsuke, kiritsuke, chiburi, and noto
o    Accuracy should be the focus, not speed or power (i.e. finishing positions of the tip)
o    Correct form is more important than good technique
   2 and 3 Dan
     There seems to be a large variance in skill between countries – some are stricter than others, some have longer time periods between eligibility to test.
     Accuracy is even more important at this level. (i.e. Toes need to be aligned when sitting in seiza)
     Challenger should have some idea of having an opponent (i.e. metsuke and timing should be evident) – doesn’t have to be good, just evident
     Being weak is ok as long as waza is correct (i.e. proper grip)
     For 3 Dan, overall technique should be stronger, smoother, and show a better understanding of opponent
   4 and 5 Dan
     Challenger should not be nervous and make nervous mistakes
     Need ki-ken-tai-ichi and ­kihaku
     General attitude and character is important
     Technique should make sense as a budo

Review of Kata

The focus of this session was to recap the corrections/instructions we specifically received for each kata. We are not going over points that are written in the seitei manual. Several pointers (especially from Hatakenaka Sensei) mentioned “Too many people” – indicating general faults that everyone needs to fix; other points may be person or dojo specific and should be reviewed with your Sensei before attempting.

Variations in opinion are marked as “Points of Contention” and require clarifications or decisions from 6 Dan and above.

0)       GENERAL
      Too many people have their stance forward rather than equal between both feet.
o    Q: Where should knee be in relation to foot? Depends on the person’s anatomy. Key is that you are balanced.
      Sword Tip – In the Japanese manual, it differentiates between kissaki and ken-sen. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in the English version. Need to pay attention to kata the specify the difference.

1)       MAE
      On furikaburi, need more emphasis on blade turning upwards
      On furikaburi, need to bring body under tsuka
      Too many people making an additional hip shift (eg. Okuri-ashi) on cut – This is MJER Koryu, NOT seitei
      Too many people do not have their knees at 90. Most stances are too long.
      Too many people have their tip ending above knee on O-chiburi. This has been a repeating point for several years now.
      Need to have strength in the back foot – this is something you lose as you get older so needs extra work

2)       USHIRO
      Right foot must be planted behind right knee before nukitsuke
      Too many people do not have sufficient sayabiki as opposed to in Mae. Need to pay attention.
      On turning:
o    Beginners – Hands on, look over left shoulder, raise toes under before starting the turn
o    Advanced – Hands on with minimal movement (don’t give away your intention to teki). Rise in a “corkscrew” motion – movement of head leads/initiates the turn of the body – all of this is done in a smooth motion.

3)       UKE-NAGASHI
      Timing: Different than other seitei kata since go-no-sen requires immediate and quick reaction. Unlike others where the goal is to pressure and stop the opponent’s killing intention.
      Point of Contention – After the cut, the tip of the sword should be centered in front of your navel, unlike Kesa-giri where the tip is outside your left hip.
      Too many people’s metsuke is incorrectly looking straight beyond the tip after the cut. The opponent is not directly in front of you like other kata, but slightly to the right
      The uke and nagashi are both equally important => ½ block and ½ flow. The trick is to have kime left hand and not right.
      Your body does not face the opponent until the uke moment. Until then, it stays pointed to the right (no angle specified)

4)       TSUKA-ATE
      Too many people using right hand to draw – instead must use left hand and sayabiki, this will allow the tip to snap onto chest
      Too many people have incorrect timing. Too robotic without jo-ha-kyu.
      Too many people are using hands/arms to perform hiki-nuki­ rather than the turn of the body
      Loosen wrists after tsuki to allow for a proper blade angle when bringing the sword up
      Too many people are opening their knee out when performing noto (like MJER Koryu), must keep it in.

5)       KESA-GIRI
      First and second cut are on the same line
      Too many people have their hands ending farther from body than regular cut. Need to pull into a fist/fist-and-a-half.
      Too many people are leaning forward because they’re not using their left-hand to draw
      Too many people squaring up the sword before bringing back to Hasso-no-kamae – it should be one smooth motion
      Q: When does the sword start turning back to the down angle after first cut? Start turning the sword as soon as it’s out of the body, but do it gradually so it ends up at the right angle only just before the second cut starts.

      On nuki-uchi, the kensen (actual tip), rather than the kissaki should end just under chin.
      Point of Contention – Footwork on 180 turns – Rotate hips and turn on balls of your feet until you can no longer do so due to position of left foot, then step out (left) and through (right). This is unlike ganmen-ate where the right heel must be square before starting the movement towards rear opponent.
      Too many people have incorrect timing. Too robotic – described as gobu-nuki (plucking a carrot) – sudden movements without the continuity and jo-ha-kyu. Need to have a flow – mix up the timing – meri hari.
      Timing is important as the opponents could be close or far. Need to show by keeping hands relaxed and free to bring above head and cut quickly.
      On tsuki the stance should be shorter than standard to make it easier to perform hiki-nuki
      On tsuki, the body should move first, then the action. Same for all tsuki like in #8 and #10
      Too many people are not using enough arm motion on tsuki – need to show commitment by extending the arms

7)       SANPO-GIRI
      Too many people are doing okuri-ashi on first cut resulting in an incorrect shift forward.
      Too many people have their jodan flat – need to point higher
      On transition from first to second cut, bring hand naturally up beside face and do not block vision to fron
o    Too many people are bringing the sword in then upwards in a square motion rather than smooth and straight.
       After second cut, the “parrying motion” does not have to be overhead – in fact, it is below head height during the turn and only reaches centre line just as the final cut is initiated

8)       GANMEN-ATE
      Perform an inward-twisting motion with the right hand on the tsuki – Just before the edge facing slightly down, after the edge is facing slightly up
      Sayabiki motion is and draw should be performed solely with the left hand
o    Beginners – Turn saya with left-hand before turning body which finishes the draw
o    Advanced – Turn saya at same time as body turn – more difficult (not safe for beginners)
      When sword is on hip, it is the thumb that touches the hip bone so the tsuba is in-line with the front of the hip
      Point of Agreement – Sayabiki is performed on ~45 angle down and around
      Too many people have feet angled – need to work hard to ensure both feet are always pointed straight

9)       SOETE-TSUKI
      Too many people are not drawing high enough – must be above head
      Too many people are moving their foot in during the recovery – foot should move back a bit, but not in towards the other foot (maintain hip width)
      Use a short-sharp exhale on tsuki and make sure front kneed does not move past heel. (maintain weight centered)
      Just like in Ganmen-Ate, the thumb should be on hip, not the tsuba
      Point of Contention – Where does the cut start
o    Hatakenaka Sensei – Cut starts on monouchi, but not any specific point. Depends on distance to opponent.
o    Kishimoto Sensei – Cut starts at tsubamoto
      Chiburi – hand is not at hip height – stays at chest height.

      On the turn for tsuki prep – left foot needs to be adjusted back and body rotates around balls of the feet with kiseme
      Q (to Hatakenaka Sensei) When sword is on chest just before tsuki how does the hand hold the tsuka (using pinky as leverage)? Not necessarily, this all depends on body structure. What matters is where tip is and that the left-hand is used to get the sword to snap into place.
      New Point (Kishimoto Sensei) – Do not have to return to starting point at the end – do each technique rational as Iai without contortions to get back
      Point of Contention – Waki-gamae is not square to opponent and do not stop or pose

11)   SOU-GIRI
      Draw-and-step-back once right hand is fully out, the rest of the draw is done with the left hand
      Too many people are bringing the sword straight up after the 3rd cut, rather than following the line back around and above before preparation of the horizontal cut.
      Point of Contention – Just before horizontal cut:
o    Instructed by both Sensei (180⁰) - Sword starting position is pointed directly out to the left and ends directly out to the right before recovery for last cut
o    Demonstration from Kishimoto Sensei (Greater than 180⁰) - Sword may start pointed backwards a bit before starting cut

      Point of Contention – Distance on step back
o    Further – return to starting point on final step
o    Closer – return to starting point on cut
      Too many people are rushing this technique