Date: Sunday, November 13 starting at 11:30am in the Heritage Lounge at the JCCC
Participants (6): P. Schramek [5D], N. Chau [3D], M. Suen [3D], P. Suen [3D], K. Adams [3D]
Topic(s): The feeling in a kata's scenario
From the ZNKR Manual for Mae:
Detecting the harmful intention of the person in front of you, forestall it by using the sword tip to cut their temple in a horizontal action and then bring the sword downwards from above the head in a vertical action.
What is this "detecting" of a harmful intention? It might be easy to conceptualize, but really difficult to put into practice. Are there ways we can practice it?
- Try having a conversation with someone and read his/her feelings, intentions, and reactions
- Try reading yourself. How do you feel and How would you act in a situation. At work. At home. At the dojo.
In terms of Mae, does the harmful intention lie in physical movement?
- Do you draw when your opponent's eyes show action?
- Do you draw when your opponent's body weight shifts?
- Do you draw when your opponent's hands start to rise?
- Do you draw when your opponent's hands touch their tsuka?
So does the "harmful intention" result from one of these actions, or is it even harder to describe? Perhaps there are senses that cannot be explained. Perhaps how you act and how you detect action involves your whole being.
What is the point of no return? When the "intention" turns into "action". There is a reason why you are "forestalling" your opponent's movements on detection of intent. If your opponent was "acting" already, it'd be too late.
Ohmi Sensei has said that a samurai does not touch their sword unless they intend to use it. He told us a story to lend context to this saying:
A samurai was being picked on by some hooligans. To scare them away, he drew his sword. When they ran, he re-sheathed his sword and continued on his way. Hearing about this, his Daimyo stripped him of his title for he lacked the discipline of his position.
Now what is our perception of the entire kata?
- Do you perform the scenario as written and show the audience what you are doing? In this case, most people should look pretty much the same, or
- Do you perform the kata with the scenario in mind and encompassing your whole self in each movement? As a result, the audience will interpret your performance from their perspective. In this case, most people should look different as their personality, character, and body type are taken into account.
These alternatives brought us to the comparison of whether an Iaido demonstration is meant to be "Ceremonial" or "Realistic". We would argue that, if you could put your full self into your demonstration, then both perspectives are correct.
But then, how would you judge? In the sword-smithing industry in Japan, there is a title called "Mukansa" which translates to "Person who cannot be judged". Perhaps our understanding of these seemly contradictory aspects of Iaido eventually merge as one into the same category as the Mukansa.
It seems we require more investigation in this matter.
- Alter how you move and how you feel and see what results
- Keep thinking about what you are doing in terms of the technical movements and the scenario
- Use the ZNKR manual as a guide
- The higher the level, the less you can use words to explain. Must keep training and let your body figure out it out.
In our training, we must let our minds be flexible, allowing us to experiment from all perspectives to find our own Iai. It is like the exercises where you do each kata extremely slow, followed by extremely fast, and finally regular speed. This allows you to test and push your own physical boundaries. Don't be surprised if sometimes, your body figures it out before you mind does. That moment when you realize you've just achieved something, without actively thinking about it, is very rewarding.
So how do we stretch our mental boundaries? We could watch those that are at a much higher level. Most of the time, we are not aware of the possibilities until we've seen them. Just like at a concert, there are so much exchanges that are unexplained:
- A feeling of give-and-take
- Energies flow from the crowd to the performer and back
- The energy is shared, but also
- The energy is expanded as each individual feeds off of others
In this sense, perhaps the mindset of the judges could affect what happens at gradings?
- Are they looking to pass people?
- Are they looking to fail people?
- What is their posture?
- What kind of vibe/energy to they give off?
In order to see the best, you must expect the best. You must also give your best as an onlooker. This is what we see from the high level Japanese Sensei who come to North America. They give their all in their demonstrations. They give their all in their judging.