Friday, 30 September 2011

Welcome! ...part 4 of 6

How did I get here? ( 2010 )

2010 . Re-acquainting with Friends
Without a doubt, the most fulfilling aspect of our Iaido and Kyudo training has been getting to know all the people in the martial arts communities. Besides my wife, and 3 out of 5 groomsmen, the comrades and mentors I've had the privilege of meeting over the last seven years have only made the bond between my life and the martial arts stronger than ever.

This year was particularly eventful as we journeyed far and wide, visiting and making many old and new friends.

January - We heard about the Greater North East United States Kendo Federation (GNEUSKF) Seminar and Grading from our friend Ron (affiliated dojo in Rochester) and decided to make the weekend trip to New York/Newark to participate in the seminar, a couple of classes and to visit my wife's sister.  The highlight of this trip was our introduction and subsequent schmoozing with the local Iaido Sensei at an authentic Izakaya in Manhattan. The grading had ended late in the afternoon, and most people had to work the next day, so it was just a small group of us at dinner. We listened raptly as Kato, Parker, and Farmer Sensei each recounted various training experiences in the US, Europe, and Japan.  It seemed like we had barely sat down and started eating, when it was already time to go. From their stories, visions of travelling, physical practice, and discussions of theories filled our heads. "Where would our own Iaido training take us?" we wondered. 

The weather was pretty cold our first couple of days in New York, but warmed up substantially on our last day. A morning tour of the East Village in pouring rain preceded an extra-long, flight-delayed wait at Newark International Airport. Nothing could really dampen our spirits, though, as we remembered an utterly enjoyable weekend. We had no doubt we'd be visiting again, sooner rather than later. 

Rockmeisha, New York with Kato, Parker, and Farmer Sensei.
[ -------------------------
--- Tangent --- I think that it's very important for a person to have a subject that they are passionate and enthusiastic about. Something, in which, you can pour all your heart and soul into. Indeed, I've realized that one of the most joyous moments in life, is to find someone with the same passion and enthusiasm for a subject as you do. Through this interaction, your mind, spirit and imagination can be set free. 
Meeting these people in Iaido, and more recently Kyudo, has been my primary motivation for travelling and I've not been disappointed.
-------------------------- ]

February - In Kyudo there exists the act of Kai, a meeting, which is followed by Hanare, a release. So too does this exist in life. 
It was not all happy times in 2010 as one of our Kyudo instructors, Salvatore, had to leave Toronto to further his studies in Chinese medicine. It was still hard to see him go. He was such a great source of inspiration as a Kyudoka, an instructor, and above all, a genuine and kind human being. It's always a huge blow to a dojo when an instructor leaves, especially one that is still in its infancy, but the dedication Mie and the students showed really made the transition a much less painful one. We were joined shortly after by Yukiko and a couple of other volunteers who continue to support and nurture our development. Four months later, we had our first official seminar with an AKR (American Kyudo Renmei) representative. I restarted Kyudo a year later and as of this day, 13 of our club members have been awarded Shodan, two received Ikkyu and Yukiko earned the rank of Sandan and a tournment win, at the 2011 American Kyudo Renmei seminar in Minnesota.

Final class with Salvatore, JCCC, Toronto

March - Every March Break (Ontario schedule) we make our way to British Columbia for a week of skiing and snowboarding in Whistler. This year, by an astounding coincidence, the Kyudo group in Vancouver was also hosting Blackwell Sensei (Renshi 6 Dan) for a seminar on the weekend of our arrival.  Members of the club were most generous in lending their equipment to Michael and Hanna so they could participate for a couple hours of instruction and training. The Kyudo Association of Canada was only a year old, and it was a great chance for members on opposite sides of the country to get to know each other. Although our time there was brief, there was much excitement as we continue to share the experience of growing the art in this country.

Vancouver Iaido Club with Blackwell Sensei

Our annual trip to Whistler also gave us the opportunity to visit our good friend, mentor, and former instructor in Jorgenson-Sensei (Renshi 6 Dan). As a co-founder of the Iaido club at the JCCC she was a key member of the growth of Iaido in Toronto, whose presence continues to be missed. Recently moving to British Columbia from Toronto, Jorgenson-Sensei was instrumental in mine and Michael's early development in Iaido. Her work ethic, dedication, and commitment to her students, as well as her own training continues to motivate us. 

Pemberton, BC
Hanna and I also got engaged on this trip. Our wedding was held six months later in Toronto where we expressed our joining as that of a growing family. Our Iaido friends accounted for more guests than either of our families individually, and I think this is a testament to what the martial arts community can bring.

We started this year all as friends, and came out of it when a much larger family.

...2010 to continue...

Monday, 26 September 2011

Funday Monday! Series #1-1 Re-Enactment...

I stole borrowed this idea from Sean "Day9" Plott of Starcraft fame, in which a normally serious program is replaced with one for pure entertainment. Starting this week, and each Monday after, I will be posting an entry (with one or two videos) on fun things we do with Iaido.

[Disclaimer] The videos you are about to see are in no way meant to disrespect the arts or anyone who does them. Those of you who know us in person should realize how serious we treat the training and the organization that maintain these arts. I'd like to apologize in advance if anyone is offended. Thank you for your patience.

Iaido Re-Enactment in Japan... Part 1 of 2

It was during our 2007 trip to Japan when we started thinking how our Iaido training would work in a real world environment. While the All Japan Kendo Federation has an official book describing each Seitei kata, it is in the Koryu that we feel the techniques come to life.

One leg of our journey took us deep into the mountains of Koyasan where we visited the famed Mausolea of the Tokugawas. Our morning and evening meals were in the shrine that we stayed at, who's dining room was surprisingly comfortable.  Sitting on the soft cushions on top of tatami was incredibly relaxing after a long day of walking, of course, this meant it was the perfect time to strike!

The Omori-ryu (MJER Shoden set) Kata called Hidari describes:

"An enemy is sitting 90 degrees to your right. Perform nukitsuke while turning towards him. Without hesitation, bring the sword above your head and finish him with Kirioroshi."

The Eishin-ryu (MJER Chuden set) Kata called Iwanami describes:

"An enemy is sitting 90 degrees to your right. To avoid his detection, you begin by drawing your sword down, while taking a step backwards. As your kissaki leaves the koiguchi, you quickly turn towards him, and through this motion (or a stomp) he reacts and turns toward you. Immediately stab him and in one motion, drag him down to the ground. Finish with Kirioroshi."

Friday, 23 September 2011

Mu Mon Kai Discussion Group (MMKDG) - Session #1 Kokyu

To paraphrase Satake Mariko Sensei (Hanshi 8 Dan Kyudo).
"The more you train, the more you learn, the more you realize how little you actually know"

This one fact, perhaps above all others, is what gives the martial arts such an unending appeal. Besides the external, visible movements, there are also many internal, physiological features and mental practices that add another dimension to Iaido and Kyudo theory.

Normally, 2nd dojo is where such theory discussions are held. Unfortunately our class time-slots are not favourable for this common practice. With that in mind, we decided to start a discussion group before class. 

An unedited log of our first meeting is documented below:

Date: Sunday, September 18 at noon in the Heritage Lounge at the JCCC.
Participants (3): M. Suen, P. Suen, K. Adams
Topic(s): Kokyu (Breathing)

We began the discussion with a review of Pages 60 & 105 of the "Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo", which can be found at the FIK Online Store:

How does this affect our training? How can we use it?

    - Kata w/ one breath (difficult)
    - In Kendo, adjust to opponent and predict their movements with breath
    - Generate complete spirit and calm mindset

What are the different types of kokyu?

1. Chest
2. Abdomin -> Tanden

How can we relate this to physical activities we are used to?

1. Yoga 
2. Cardio

- Need Kokyu practice away from technical practice

Prior to start of training, mokuso can be used to arrange posture and breathing

Ex. from a Kyudo Blog - Switching from inhale to exhale, and vice versa, naturally through the use of air pressure in your body. Us the vacuum in your lungs to pull and inhale air, then reverse when the pressure outside is lower than inside.

Ex. Kyudo movements are aligned with breath. Even standing, sitting, walking, and turning.

Ex. Walking to refrigerator  => Need Iaido movements to become natural like this 
   - More thinking, doing slowly
   - Use own natural timing, don't think about timing
   - Start with walking in, then shomen rei, then sit down, then torei, all using breath control

Breath and stance are foundation
Ex. A kyudoka once said that at dozukuri (initial setting of stance), they already know that their shot would be good. That confidence comes from the understanding that your stance and breath gives you the necessary foundation for everything that comes after.

Ex. Like Mui Thai balance before a kick

So how can we relate this to movements in Iaido?

At Nukitsuke, maybe one is "looking for an opening" in your opponent, like in Kendo.
 - Are they panicking? (don't want you to attack = creates an opening)
 - Are they deciding? (decided they want to attack = you must act)

Need to be ready at all times to draw, not just at the Kyu stage of Jo-Ha-Kyu

----> What is this? = Tame = A hold or build-up? Getting the right timing.

So what are the possible interpretations of the Jo-Ha-Kyu?

Ex 1 - Johakyu = distance of draw to allow for natural body acceleration into the cut
Ex 2 - joHAkyu = using secondary pressure (the ha part after kyu) to force a reaction.
Ex 3 - joHAAAKKYU = Treat the Ha (Kai) as the full power point, the tame point. Using Jo (Hikiwake) to gain that natural acceleration, and kyu to be the release (Hanare)

What if Ki was already there? (breath control)  Saya-no-uchi-no-kachi. Win before the draw.

Monday, 19 September 2011

2011 Ontario Iaido Open Taikai

Iaido taikai (competitions) don’t occur very often in Canada (only once a year), but they sure are a blast!

On Saturday, August 27, the 2011 Ontario Iaido Open, was held at the Etobicoke Olympium. Over 25 participants from across Ontario and New York State made their way to Toronto for a day of challenging themselves to through technical and mental competition.

Seminar organizer, Pam, and Volunteer organizer, Hanna, were really on the ball, as they worked tireless to ensure a smooth and pleasant event.  Members from every dojo generously donated their time and efforts to ushering, time-keeping, score-keeping and other necessary tasks.  Their enthusiasm and energy gave the competitors even more motivation to do their best.

Individuals were divided into (1) Shodan and below, (2) Nidan, (3) Sandan, (4) Yondan, and (5) Godan and above. The competition was split into two phases.

The Exhibition Round - Each competitor participates in a minimum of two rounds.

The Elimination Round - The top four competitors from each division, based on flags in the exhibition round, are seeded into the semi-finals.

A team competition, consisting of three individuals judged on synchronicity completed the series of events.

Leading up to this day, a shimpan (judge) seminar was held on Friday at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, where our resident nanadans conducted an informative discussion on the actions and criteria for judging. Yondan and above participants each took turns going through entering/exiting the dojo, unexpected stoppages, and the act of decision making, with various sandans acting as examples players.

By the end of the night, our group of judges, headed by Ohmi-Sensei (Renshi 7 dan, Toronto), Cruise-Sensei (Renshi 7 dan, Etobicoke), and Taylor-Sensei (Renshi 7 dan, Guelph), were ready to decide the outcome of matches to come.

I'm usually quite fatigued by the start of taikai day. For the last four years I've been organizing the score-keeping, seeding and recording activities, and last minute entrants always make for a late night.  My job during the day was to organize the scoring table and train the volunteers for score-keeping while monitoring the results for scheduling tie-breakers and final placements and seeding.  Thank goodness for the competent work of Amy and Jeff so I could spend more time preparing for my matches.

The resulting contests were exciting to watch as all the competitors were very closely matched. In the end I was extremely pleased with the results of our club.

1. M. Ross (Kenshokan)
2. H.J. Choi (Jung Ko)
3. H. Shafman (Mu Mon Kai)
4. M. Stabler (Kenshokan)

1. M. Suen (Mu Mon Kai)
2. P. Suen (Mu Mon Kai)
3. K. Adams (Mu Mon Kai)
3. R. Beck (Mu Mon Kai)
1. C. Galligan (Mu Mon Kai)
2. E. Gardonio (Mu Mon Kai)
3. P. Schramek (Mu Mon Kai)
1. H. Ikeda-Suen (Mu Mon Kai)
2. A. Konovalev (Mu Mon Kai)
3. P. Morgan (Sei Do Kai)
3. D. Le (Mu Mon Kai)

1. M. Gan (Mu Mon Kai)
2. J. Brett (Aikido Yoshinkan of Canada)
3. K. Morgan (Sei Do Kai)
3. R. Mattie (Etobicoke)

Following the individual competition, an embu (demonstration) taikai was held with the winners of the five divisions. A single individual was selected from this group to be awarded a Kantosho (Fighting Spirit Award). Mark Ross (Ikkyu) from Kenshokan, Peterborough, was a unanimous decision from Ohmi-, Cruise-, and Taylor-Sensei. There was also an Fighting Spirit award for the overall seminar presented to Ron Beck (Sandan) from Mu Mon Kai, Rochester, NY.

R. Beck (Mu Mon Kai)

M. Ross (Kenshokan)

With the pressure of the individual matches over, the seminar proceeded to the final, lighter side, event: Team Taikai! Often the highlight of a full day of competing, the team taikai allows us all to unwind with a little bit of fun. 

Limited time, meant that this year’s judging criteria was synchronization, where a team’s performance was decided by their ability to stay in time with each other’s movements. One koryu and four shitei waza were selected for this event. In the past, outcomes were also decided comparing individuals from each team separately.

Besides the regular competition, the following prize-less awards were also given:

- Most Rank Stuffed into a Team Award = X'Mas Carole
- Bathing Cap and Nose Plug (Synch. Swimming) Award = Team Suen
- Flimsiest Reason for a Team Award = Lunch Table
- Most Hopeful Name Award = Winning

Medal results are below:

 1. Team SUEN
     M. Suen (Mu Mon Kai)
     P. Suen (Mu Mon Kai)
     H. Ikeda-Suen (Mu Mon Kai)

     C. Galligan (Mu Mon Kai)
     K. Morgan (Sei Do Kai)
     P. Morgan (Sei Do Kai)
     P. Schramek (AYC/MMK)
     R. Mattie (Etobicoke)
     R. Iafallo (Hayakama)

     P. Anderson (Kenshokan)
     M. Stabler (Kenshokan)
     M. Ross (Kenshokan)

Thanks again to all the organizers, volunteers, and judges for their time! Looking forward to next year! =D

Friday, 16 September 2011

Welcome! ...part 3 of 6

How did I get here? ( 2009 )

2009 . Cultivation

They say when you receive shodan you are now a beginner. They say the same thing when you're around sandan. So what makes you a beginner?

About a week ago, we were at a friend's house playing with his daughter. She's almost two years old now and curious about everything! "Why does this make a sound when I do this, and doesn't when I do this?", "Why does this light up and that doesn't?"

There's a book my brother read that explains this feeling as knowing something will happen, but not knowing what it is. Not assuming anything. => You know there is something you don't know.

Not unlike a beginner's mind, don't you think?

Achieving shodan in Iaido means you've memorized the movements for at least five kata. So you know what to do..... But what now? What don't you know? To find out, you have to go back to the basics. Footwork, Metsuke, Posture, Big movements. As these are developed, you would start thinking about the situation or scenario. Where is the opponent? What is his/her intent? How fast is he/she moving?

Around sandan? Things don't seem work anymore. "My opponent is too fast for me", "My body isn't responding the way my mind wants it to". What am I missing? What don't I know? As it was at the shodan level, to find out, you have to go back to the basics. Except these basics are even more basic than the shodan basics. What the fudgsicle!? How do you break through this barrier?

In 2009, we started noticing something was missing in our training. You can only be spoon-fed so much in a martial arts class. The rest you have to figure out for yourself. "Kufu-Geiko" they call it. Experimentation. "Mitori-Geiko", observation practice. Self-motivation is very important at this time. Without external feedback, it is important to understand how our bodies move and feel while training. What allows us to balance, cut, and move easier.

You will continue to require guidance, of course, and there's no better place than the source! They say, and I would agree, that to get to the next level (or the level after that) it is eventually a requirement that you have some training in Japan.  Our goal was to make the journey ever other year.

As I did for our previous trip, reports can be found on EJMAS:
Part 3 - Class

We had quite a blast this trip and brought back lessons we would continue to benefit from to this day.
With thanks to Kikkawa, Yoshimura, Hatakenaka, and Tsubaki Sensei, and with my honey cheering us on, Michael and I successfully challenged sandan at the CKF December Grading. Everyone else seemed to have fun as well ^_^
Bunny Ears! 2009 Iaido Grading, Etobicoke

Cover Shot! 2009 Iaido Grading, Etobicoke

Some people just don't understand the Cover Shot!
By now, you might have noticed that Part three of our trip to Japan ended with a "stay tuned". Unfortunately, I never got around to writing about it. So anyways, here is where our story detours from Iaido into Kyudo.
Part 4 of our trip began with us meeting Mie in Tokyo to go shopping for Kyudo gear. She had just arrived back in Japan to pack some more of her belongings as her bid for a work Visa in Canada was successful. We were extremely happy for her...maybe even selfishly happy for ourselves, as our instructor would be staying with us long term.
Our shopping trip took us to Asahi Archery, the store chain opened by Onuma Sensei. Those who have read the DeProspero book "Illuminated Spirit" will recognize the name, while those who haven't, should definitely check it out. Even if you do not practice Kyudo.
The store owners were very friendly and even gave us tea and candies while we browsed their inventory. We repaid their kindness by emptying our wallets. =P
Purchasing Kyudo Gear at Asahi, Tokyo
We left the store around lunch time and had to think long and hard about what we wanted to ea...KAITEN SUSHI!!!!!! OM NOM NOM NOM

Anyways, with a full stomach, and bags full of Kyudo gear, we headed towards Meiji Jingu to get a look at their Kyudojo. Mie was able to negotiate our entrance, as you would normally have to be a member of the Kyudo federation. We got a short tour of the building and watched a class of high-school students practice in the Shajo.  The facilities were spectacular! Everything was immaculate, from the walls, to the floors and stairs.  We even had the pleasure of using one of the upper rooms for some makiwara shooting! ^_^
Makiwara Practice at Meiji Jingu, Tokyo
Apparently, every few years, an international Kyudo seminar is held in Japan. I wonder when we'll get the chance to shoot at Meiji Jingu again. ^_^

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Welcome! ...part 2 of 6

How did I get here? ( 2008 )

2008 . Integration & Kyudo
Three years down and a Japan training trip to boot! We're finally starting  to feel like a real part of the Iaido community. No longer were we listening to stories, staring wide-eyed as we imagine following our Sempai and Sensei' footsteps. Instead we were generating some of our own! I also started taking a larger part in our club's own activities as a few of us took over hosting the Ontario Iaido Open taikai and other annual events. The Cultural Centre's grand Kobayashi Hall would be, for a weekend, transformed from a part-time ballroom/auditorium, into a standardized tournament arena. The taikai was such a success that we repeated these efforts for the next two years. Our involvement around Ontario also grew as we started to pay regular visits to other dojos. Whether helping out at our affiliated club in St. Catharines, or just dropping in on a class with our Tateyama friends in Ottawa, we always met up with some friendly faces. 

[ -------------------------
--- Tangent --- This may happen from time to time as things just pop into my head. You may have noticed me using the words “we” and “us” more often than “I” and “me”. To understand why I do this is simple. My brother and I are twins. For 30 years now we’ve gone to the same school, same dojo, and even the same company for work. I did not have much experience being alone, and now, the times we are separate, I spend that with my wife. I hope I never have to experience the alternative.
-------------------------- ]

In September, a one-day workshop was held at the JCCC to introduce (for most participants) the art of Kyudo.  This event was announced earlier in the year, and was lead by Mie Takahashi (5 Dan).  The waiting list was long, and we were lucky to make it into the second, and last, demonstration. Mie was very kind and patient with all of us, as were we humbled with her generosity and effort in speaking English.  One area that she has improved immensely since moving to Toronto. When an introductory class was announced a few months later, we jumped at the chance to learn more. Mie was joined by Salvatore Gianfreda (5 Dan) whose love of life and people made us all feel warm inside. The enthusiasm was palpable. The students, instructors and even JCCC administration were proud of this beginning. Kyudo was (and still is)extremely rare in Canada, and we all looked forward to starting up this new community.

1st Introductory Course, Toronto
From what we've been told, the start up of Iaido in Canada was not very different less than 30 years ago. Even now, basically everyone knows (or has heard of) everyone else. Now for us to start the same thing with Kyudo is VERY exciting.

--- Note --- The JCCC Iaido club (Mu Mon Kai) is currently the largest Iaido club in the Canadian Kendo Federation with over 35 registered members. The JCCC Kyudo club (Seikyu Kai) is also the largest Kyudo club in the Kyudo Association of Canada with over 25 registered members.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Welcome! ...part 1 of 6

Greetings and Welcome! 

Over the years, Iaido and, more recently Kyudo, training have become such an integral component of my life that they have become virtually inseparable. The purpose of this blog is to share the many experiences and lessons that I've benefited from and look forward to in the future through the practice of these wonderful martial arts.

How did I get here? ( 2004 - 2007 )

2004 . Beginning
My first exposure to Iaido happened by chance about a year ago from an article in the Toronto Star. An interview with one of the instructors at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC) described, in detail, the goals and emphasis of this martial art. My twin brother and I were in our final year of University and were looking to the future; of a new beginning with a job (hopefully soon) and to start practicing a non-combative discipline. Keeping the article stowed away, we patiently completed our degrees and in the Fall of 2004, contacted the dojo at the JCCC for more information. Thus, our training began with a group of 12 other newbies. 

2005 . Development
As Winter turned to Spring, our training opportunities gradually increased and we soaked up all the information we could get from Class, 2nd Dojo (after Class get-togethers), various books and online sources. Our first experiences with local workshops, gradings, tournaments and seminars with Japanese Sensei were all eye-opening and an absolute delight to be a part of. The only thing more fulfilling than the score of training opportunities are the friends we met along the way. The various people we met this year have become, to this day, some of our closest friends within Iaido and our personal life.

2006 . Evolution
Our dojo has an interesting curriculum; sometimes rigid, other times.......not so much. =P While Koryu is typically not taught until 2 Dan or above, it's possible for a class or two of Omori-Ryu or Eishin-Ryu practice that involves the entire class. With a little more than a year under our figurative belts, our eyes were opened to even more possibilities. Besides the aforementioned Shoden and Chuden sets, we were exposed to supplemental training methods such as Tachi-Uchi-no-Kurai and Tameshigiri. Activities like these introduce Spacing, Timing, Angles, Accuracy and Power, and continue to increase our knowledge of the intricacies of Iaido. This was a time of immense growth in students at our dojo, maxing out at almost 50 members. While space was limited, the JCCC was ever accommodating of our needs. 

2007 . Adventure
Every three years in Ontario, a dojo would host the Canadian Iaido Open tournament. In 2004, just a month before I started, this Taikai was held at the Etobicoke Olympium. As 2007 approached, we looked forward to our first chance at testing our mental and physical competencies. The event was generously hosted by the Tateyama Iaido Club in our nation's capital of Ottawa, Ontario. Results and Pictures were posted to EJMAS:

Shinjuku Station, Tokyo with Hatakenaka Sensei
The second major adventure of the year technically began in May, when a group of us from the JCCC Iaido Club (Mu Mon Kai) discussed with the visiting Japanese Sensei the possibility of travelling and Training in Japan. This endeavour became a reality half a year later, after which I posted a report on EJMAS:  
It turned out to be an amazing site-seeing + training holiday where Sensei, we had previously only heard, became real people. Names like Kikkawa, Jones, and Yoshimura, joined the familiar presences of Hatakenaka and Tsubaki, to become gracious hosts for our small band of low ranking foreigners.  The two weeks of practice, learning and watching were experiences we would not soon forget.

This year also marked a beginning of sorts, when a new student joined our dojo, looking to practice Iaido until Kyudo became available. Quick to realize she was a once in a lifetime catch, we became good friends, and were married three years later.  ^_^