Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Remembering the Legend and the 'Hard Bastard': Key builders of Canadian Iaido

These last couple of days before the new year is typically a time for reflection. And while many of us will look back at 2014 with a mixture of accomplishment, regret, and nostalgia, we should also take this opportunity to reflect on those who got us to this point; and have laid the foundation to a brighter future, full of possibility.

The Legend
I started Iaido in 2004, but even before that I had started reading up on the art and its growth in Canada. Besides the usual suspects, the current leaders in Ohmi, Cruise, and Taylor, another name kept popping up: Haruna. Who was this man and why did everyone speak of him with such awe and reverence? I'll let the words of those who knew him best from his time in Canada speak for themselves:

The 'Hard Bastard'
I recently became aware that a new member of our Iaido dojo had actually started training over 10 years ago in St. Catharines, Ontario, but had to stop due to various other commitments. Back in 2003, Iaido in Southern Ontario was expertly organized and taught by one Bill Mears Sensei; a tall, bearded transplant from the UK who was affectionately referred to as a "Hard Bastard" by his many friends, colleagues, and students of Iaido in Canada. His tragic passing in 2005 of a heart attack left a hole in the hearts of many across the country and around the world. His legacy is still remembered and honoured by a tight-knit group of Iaido students; a community that he helped build.

Spring 2015 will be the 10 year anniversary of his passing, so let us take a look back and appreciate the many lessons he brought to those who had the pleasure of knowing him for years, or even only a few moments:

Friday, 26 December 2014

3 Things to Maximize Your Learning Experience at Seminars

Travelling and meeting people is one of the joys of being part of an international community1. I don't think my wife and I have taken any trips in the past several years where we didn't train, or meet with someone in the local Iaido/Kyudo community. When not heading to a seminar in Canada, the US - or shugyo-ing it up in Japan - our vacation plans inevitably include a stopover at the local dojo.

In June, I had the distinct pleasure to attend a seminar, taught at the highest level by Hanshi 8-Dan, Sakono Yasuo Sensei, at the 2014 AUSKF Iaido Summer Camp. This annual event was conveniently located in the center of Manhattan, NY and hosted by our friends from Ken Zen Institute and ShidogakuinI'll be covering my key takeaways from the seminar over several posts, so please stay tuned.

Introductory Speech from the AUSKF President

Each day opened with announcements, as well as some words from AUSKF President, Arthur Murakami Sensei. While his speeches were brief, they nonetheless carried significant wisdom that all participants could learn from. 

Simply attending the seminar is not enough. Without consistent practice and being mindful of the takeaways for the rest of the year, you're just wasting your time.

A great opening speech for seminars of this magnitude. As one of only few major, country-wide, events to host instructors of this quality from Japan, the annual summer camp is really where the best of the country find out what they need to work on for the foreseeable future. This echos one of the lessons I wrote on the Tokyo Judging Technical and Judging Seminar in 2013: On Attending Seminars and On Learning (View Now)

Here are 3 things I've learned about maximizing one's learning opportunity at these events.
  1. Be Noticed - This is essential, and probably the most overlooked, factor for being at any martial arts seminar. I'm reading a book right now called Never Be Closing by Dunne & Hurson. Why is this interesting? Because it's a book about "Selling" - And it is as relevant to the business world as it is to anything else in life. From the beginning, the writers discard the most common myth i.e. The salesperson's goal is to get you buy something you don't want or need. In reality, the standouts are those who realize that selling is about two things: 1) Long-Term Relationships and 2) Value Generation. I won't go into too much detail about the process (perhaps a topic for another post), but put into the context of a seminar, it is important to realize that theirs a value exchange going on. Obviously you are there to learn something, but the visiting instructors are also there to pass on their knowledge. They receive value when they see you learning something. So no, you are not there to show how good you are - You are there to Show Your Iai, Receive Instruction, then Show that you have improved as a result of that instruction. Be Noticed.

  2. Be Genuine - Don't try to change the way you do your Iai. You may be motivated to show more power, more speed, more feeling, etc. But that is not how you normally practice. Your Iai is what you happens when you are not thinking. When you don't focus on any particular point or theory. As my brother recently wrote in his blog: Just Do It (View Now). This is no place to experiment with your own thoughts, or even those from other students. The visiting instructors can only comment on what they see and it is in your best interest to show what you normally do - any instruction will then be salient to you and you alone. Be Genuine.

  3. Be Observant - In Kyudo, we talk about three different types of Keiko (training). They are 1) Kufu Keiko - Thinking and Reflecting, 2) Kakari Keiko - Repetition, and 3) Mitori Keiko - Looking. While many of us are pretty good at the first two points, number three is often difficult to assess. What are you looking for? What are you look at? What can you take from it? I'll probably expand on these questions at a later date, but the real question I want you think about is: Are you "seeing" or are you just "looking"? In Dan Roam's book, The Back of the Napkin, he explains the difference between these two terms. When you are just "looking", you don't comprehend the details. It's like when you commute along your regular path to school/work, and you suddenly wake up at your destination - It's like your brain went into standby and failed to receive any information for the past 45 minutes. Can you remember the last time this happened at an Iaido seminar? I can. To be observant is to not just look, but to "see" what is actually going on. When the instructor is lecturing, demonstrating, or correcting someone else, pay attention - and I mean really pay attention. Test yourself at your next practice. Start by eliminating those commute moments and you'll find the seminar you attend to be much more fruitful.
1 It really all started in 2007 and we haven't looked back since: http://sueniaidokyudo.blogspot.ca/2011_09_01_archive.html