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

Friday, 30 November 2012

American Kyudo Seminar 2012: Pre-Seminar Activities

The American Kyudo (AKR) Seminar brings together students from the States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina for a week of intense training and instruction in the art of Japanese archery. Nestled in these grueling days is a tournament and grading... just to make things interesting. =P

While the opportunity learn from three Hanshi 8 Dan Sensei is hard to match, this annual event also gives participants an excuse to visit interesting cities stretching from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic. We had an amazing time at last year's seminar in Minnesota, and after nearly a month in Japan, were looking forward to reacquainting with our western friends and further bonding with our dojo mates.

This year's AKR Seminar was hosted in Davis, a small university city near central California, known for contributions in Agriculture and Life Sciences. Our two options for flying in were Sacramento or San Francisco, and chose the City by the Bay for the tourist attractions. So did we plan a vacation around the seminar, or a seminar around a vacation? Even now it's hard to tell ;)

My recollection of our time in California was split into three segments, and so will they be separated into posts:
1. American Kyudo Seminar 2012: Before - Touring Begins
2. American Kyudo Seminar 2012: During - The Dark Seminar  (yeah..I'm reaching)
3. American Kyudo Seminar 2012: After - Touring Rises
Participants from Toronto numbered over 20, continuing the trend of being one of the fastest growing Kyudo hubs in North America. With members challenging for Shodan, Nidan, and Yondan, and accompanied by the leaders of our national organization in Mori Motomasa (President, Vancouver) and Mie Takahashi Sensei (Vice-President, Toronto), we were prepared to make another strong showing this summer.

Our touring began on a sunny, but mild Saturday morning in San Francisco. Temperatures barely rose above 15 except when in direct sunlight; peaking at 18C around noon. Six of us, the pre-seminar tour group, met up at the hotel before grabbing some food and heading out to the Lands End, a park overlooking the entrance to the Golden Gate.
A 20 minute bus ride took us to the edge of the park, and as the fog lowered around us, so did the temperature. Luckily we packed our windbreakers/rainjackets and were able to keep warm by hiking at a brisk pace.

The afternoon went by very quickly as we enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells of the ocean. Reaching the end of the trail by the Sutro Baths, we warmed up with some hot cocoa before heading back to the hotel to rest up for the next big day: Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.
Online travel tips warned us of how the weather could change at a moments notice, from sunny to foggy, and calm to windy. Even though we came prepared, it was still quite chilly - dropping below 10C for most of the middle journey. The walk across was well worth the discomfort as we marveled at the engineering it took to create a bridge this size. Peering over the edge, we could see several groups of dolphins swimming way down below among the yachts, sailboats and ferries.

It was almost mid-day by the time we reached the other side. The fog was still rolling over the hills, but the sun was strong enough cut a window through to the ground, warming us up in the process. After a quick rest stop, we proceeded to follow the several cars and bikes down to Sausalito. Artistic summer homes dotted the hillside, while boat houses lined the shores of this small port city. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the community, with the now clear skies and warm sun beating down on the boardwalk. After lunch, we took the ferry back south to the Ferry Building and were about to take the train to Fisherman's Wharf when we spotted what looked like a giant bow and arrow sticking out of the ground.
What a nice scenic background
Name these five stages of the Shaho Hassetsu
It wouldn't be much of a Kyudo trip, if we passed up an experience like this! Closer inspection revealed it to be a public sculpture called "Cupid's Span". We quickly took advantage of this photo-op before hopping on the train to Pier 39. Just as fast as the weather had improved at the other end of the bridge, so did it worsen again. The winds picked up and the sun was once again hidden behind clouds. Hastened by the chilling winds, we took a quick tour of Fisherman's Wharf with some candy shopping and a magic show fitted in for good measure. A sushi restaurant welcomed us with smells of fresh fish and rice, while a TV showing the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games kept us entertained as we filled our bellies with sustenance.

We ended the evening with a ride on the world famous San Francisco Cable Car back to Union Square and our hotel. After a such an exciting day, it didn't take long before we were sound asleep, dreaming of the seminar to come.
The next day, we met up with the rest of our dojo group at the airport and took a chartered bus to Davis. The check-in and registration was a breeze, as the organizers from the Northern California Kyudo Federation (NCKF) had made sure everything was in order and fully planned out.

Mie Sensei was already in class, having arrived early to participate in the senior (4 Dan+) seminar. We took advantage of her absence by decorating her room as a surprise birthday celebration. Unfortunately, we were not there to see her reaction, but she seemed very pleased when we met up afterwards.
What a way to start this Kyudo week, and it would only get better from here!

Monday, 19 November 2012

2012 Fall JCCC Tameshigiri Seminar

Our Iaido club has been a member of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC) since it's move to the current location back in 2000. Being one of many clubs that offer instruction in the traditional martial arts, we've always had a cordial relationship with each of our dojo mates; often engaging in friendly conversations between classes.

Besides providing a high quality facility for training, the centre brings people together so that we not only share the space, but a sense of cooperativeness and community between clubs. Together, we strive to better ourselves through the practice of the traditional Japanese martial arts (Budo).

In the history of Budo, there is no weapon more revered than the Japanese sword, the Katana. Many of the arts that are extant today either use the katana (Iaido, Kenjutsu) or are based on it's application (Kendo, Aikido). However, it is with Tameshigiri, the art of test cutting, where one truly experiences the feelings of wielding this beautiful and deadly weapon. While Tameshigiri training can be a serious test of one's ability, it can also be a fun and interesting experience for someone new to the sword arts.

With the aim of introducing our fellow JCCC budo friends to the way of the sword and to share in the good times, we decided to replace our regular free practice time slot with a joint Tameshigiri seminar. For some of the participants, it was their first time using a shinken, but our experienced instructors and seniors were patient and kind in guiding each person to safe and positive results.

The smiles say it all

For one afternoon, it made no difference whether we practiced Aikido, Kendo, Kyudo, or Iaido. We were all members of the same community, the same culture, and the same family. The JCCC family.

I'm proud to continue this journey through Budo with such a great group of people. Until next year, Cheers!~

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

2012 Ottawa Iaido Seminar

Events in Ottawa have always been convenient. With several places to stay and the benefit of reuniting with family and friends, we can't really complain about the 5 hour drive from Toronto. The city is clean and has a small town feel that's friendly and inviting. We've had some pretty good Canadian cuisine in past visits, but the continued lack of good Asian restaurants is rather disappointing.

The Japanese community in Ottawa is quite active though, with the JET Alumni Association hosting an annual summer festival, presenting food, culture, and art. The martial arts are seeing positive signs of growth, and along with the Language and Ikebana classes found in the core of the city, are really helping to promote Japanese culture. Lead by the Takahashi and Tateyama dojos, students looking to get into the world of Budo can be guaranteed an experienced base of instruction.

This year, organizers of the Ottawa Seminar had graciously moved their spot back a month to allow for the Peterborough Koryu Seminar, and modified the format by combining Kendo and Iaido. This happened to be a perfect fit for the visiting Sensei, who between them, have over 50 years of experience in both sword arts:
  • Goyo Ohmi-Sensei (Iaido Renshi 7 Dan, Kendo Renshi 6 Dan)
  • Stephen Cruise-Sensei (Iaido Renshi 7 Dan, Kendo 5 Dan)
Students were able to attend both sessions, with introductory details provided for those who want to experiment. It was encouraging to see almost 10 individuals trying out Iaido for the first time. As usual, the team of David Green-Sensei, Chris Jarvie, and Stan Vardomskiy, made it simple to register and gave us all a warm welcome to our nation's capital.
Tateyama Kendo/Iaido/Jodo Club
The weekend schedule was split evenly each day, with a morning Kendo session, followed by Iaido in the afternoon on Saturday; and the reverse on Sunday

Saturday, November 3 @ Takahashi Dojo

Located just west of China town, the dojo sits on the corner of a cozy residential neighbourhood surrounded by a few local eateries. With the Iaido session starting at 3pm, Hanna and I were able to have breakfast with her parents before meeting up with a couple of friends for lunch at the "Art is in Bakery". Small restaurants like this one, found in an industrial area not far from the dojo, are an excellent example of hidden gems throughout this city. Based out of a "literal" warehouse space, the Canadian-born and raised chef had perfected his trade in New York City, France, and Switzerland, before returning to serve amazing sandwiches, flatbreads, and a treasure trove of baked goods. Having thoroughly gorged ourselves on sandwiches, tarts, and coffee, followed by a quick visit to another local shop, Isobel's Cupcake for second dessert, we definitely had enough energy for an afternoon of intense Iaido practice.

We arrived a little early, just as the first session was winding down and the Sensei's were going off for some refreshments. Our stomachs were pretty full already, and not wanting to risk falling asleep by sitting around, we proceeded downstairs to the unoccupied tatami room for some pre-seminar keiko. The room was big enough for us to share with our good friend from Nova Scotia, Karen, but we definitely had to watch the pipes running across the ceiling. Other participants started trickling in over the next half hour, and it wasn't long before the Iaido session was ready to begin.
Ohmi- and Cruise-Sensei got ready, Green-Sensei lead us through a few exercises that we recently learned from Kishimoto-Sensei in Guelph earlier this year. With our muscles warmed up and a good sweat keeping our joints lubricated, Green-Sensei took the first time Iaidoka upstairs while Cruise-Sensei took the Kyus, and Ohmi-Sensei lead the those from 1 Dan to 4 Dan. Edward Chart (5 Dan) assisted him on the side.

Due to space limitations, we were split into three groups and took turns going through the ZNKR Seitei set with Ohmi-Sensei providing rank suitable pointers:

A) 1 Dan - Big technique, Clear movements
B) 2 and 3 Dan - Show understanding and feeling, Seme
C) 4 Dan - Show experience, Kihaku and Kigurai

The first hour went by very quickly as we transitioned to demonstrations from anyone who wanted to "volunteer", with some slight nudging from Ohmi-Sensei: =P

Demo 1Ed Chart performing 1 koryu + shitei waza. Once again, we were blown away by his Iaido. An equally dynamic and engaging performance, approaching levels we've rarely seen, even in Japan.
Demo 2 - Seminar organizers: Chris (4 Dan), Stan (2 Dan - challenging 3 Dan next month)
Demo 3 - John (Treasurer of the Canadian Kendo Federation), Karen (visiting from Nova Scotia)
Demo 4 - Phil (longest student of Green-Sensei from Ottawa), Andre (visiting from New Brunswick)

The seminar wound down around 5:30pm. We all bowed out and looked forward to more Iai the following morning.
Sunday, November 4 @ Carleton University
It wouldn't be the annual Ottawa Iaido seminar if it didn't start out with a brisk, cold morning. Frost (some of the first of the season) was seen scattered around and blown about by a light breeze. It was a short drive from Hanna's parent's house to Carleton University and we arrived just as a few others were walking in.

The building was very pleasantly heated, unlike last year's community centre, with the space split between a wood floor-room lined with mirrors (9:30-11) and a padded-floor room with windows along one side (11-12:30). 
Like the day before, Green-Sensei gave instruction to those new to Iaido, while Cruise-Sensei lead us through warmups followed by Seitei 1-10 with assistance from Ed Chart.

Today's teaching was on following proper form, posture, and doing it by the book, as past tendencies and lack of focus had lead to bad habits. It was good to be reminded of the fundamental requirements that are laid out by the All Japan Kendo Federation, and especially beneficial with a grading coming up in less than a months time.
We had a short break at 11 to move to the next room, and Ohmi-Sensei took over for the final portion of the seminar. The lesson: Mitori-keiko (training/learning through observation). With everyone along one side of the room, Ohmi-sensei positioned himself in the center and proceeded to go through Seitei 1-10, performing each kata twice; first facing forward, and then 90 degrees to the side so we can watch in profile. After each technique, I tried my best to take what I could from his demonstration and inject it into mine. We took turns in the center, rotating after each kata. In an attempt to improve the overall quality of this demonstration, I tried to match my entrance and exit timing to Ohmi-Sensei's, maintaining the symmetry that is seen in Kyudo demonstrations. It was a fun practice. =)

The session wrapped up with a demonstration from Cruise-Sensei doing two koryu + five seitei, then Hayanuki. We don't often get to see MSR Koryu, so it was nice to have the opportunity to observe the difference in movement, scenario, and emphasis. The longer sword and sharp noto made for quite an impressive display. As the Kendo students began to arrive after lunch, we bade our farewells and prepared ourselves for another five hour drive back to Toronto.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Random Thoughts: Dojo Energy

In our travels, we've had the opportunity and privilege to train in a variety of dojos with practitioners of all ages and backgrounds. Each bring with them experiences, beliefs, and personalities that fill the training space with a distinct energy. Tapping into it has been a challenging yet rewarding experience; giving a sense of connection with the people, the building, and its history.

From hidden treasures like the Shinfukan Dojo in Marseille, France and modern luxuries like the Shinjuku Cosmic Centre in Tokyo, to the lineage significant floors of the Musashi Dojo in Ohara, and our current hombu at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Center in Toronto; the art may be the same, but the environment each have their own uniqueness.

An Iaido friend once told me to let my emotions flow into my training.
When you feel happy, do happy Iai. When you feel upset, do angry Iai. Let your Chi/Ki carry these feelings into your movements until you are in balance. This will bring life into your Iai.
When entering an unfamiliar dojo, there is a lot you can learn from basic sensory input (sights, sounds, smells), but don't forget the feelings to come about subconsciously. Let yourself forget about technical differences and styles, and experience the training with an open mind and heart.  There's no telling how much your performance can change.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Asia Trip 2012: Kyudo in Chiba - Kanto 5 Dan Shinsa


It's been over 2 months since we left Japan. Since then we've successfully graded for Kyudo 2 Dan, had an incredibly fun trip in San Francisco, and hosted the largest Iaido tournament in Canadian history. So why has it taken so long to finish up the last entry of our "Asia Trip 2012"?

Perhaps I didn't want the feeling to end. Just like our month long experience, the closing of this blog series meant a return to the realities of doing Budo outside Japan. While inferior in many ways, we must to strive to improve a little each day to reach the level attained by these martial arts' country of origin. Like the training itself, we continue to grow; and with such an amazing group of people in both our Iaido and Kyudo clubs, the experience will definitely be rewarding.

And so, without further ado, our last Budo day in Japan.


Kohama Sensei once again came to pick us up at 8:30am in front of the hotel and we drove 30 minutes to the Chiba Prefecture Kyudojo in Tendai. The Kanto regional Kyudo 5 Dan shinsa was scheduled from 9am to approx. 3pm; and with almost 150 challengers, it was going to be a long day.

As with most city run spaces, the building and surrounding area was not just in good working condition, but also exceptionally maintained. The grass and hedges were trimmed neatly, and the floors looked clean enough to eat off of. No doubt recently waxed, it was going to be a tough time for the participants to hold their dozukuri. =P

We arrived just in time to watch the Yawatashi performed by Ishii Sensei, Hanshi 8 Dan and President of the Chiba Kyudo Association. The participants all lined up in seiza and watched. Their quiet, focused attention and respect was palpable, and added to the awe we felt watching his demonstration. As a leader of the Chiba kokutai team when Mie-Sensei was a member, we hoped to have the chance to meet him in person.

Testing started immediately after with friends and family providing support. Kohama Sensei recognized a lot of the spectators and introduced us to each of them. These middle aged women, in casual summer clothing, were all cheerful and friendly; and with an air of humbleness that belied their 5 Dan+ rank.

At break time, we went to browse the items displayed by the few vendors on-site. A couple of the judges took turns coming out to the yard for a cigarette break. During one of these intermissions, we noticed a rather familiar face. It was Kubota Sensei (Hanshi 8 Dan) of Ibaraki Prefecture! One of the three Sensei to attend the 2011 American Kyudo Renmei Seminar in Northfield, Minnesota, was also on the judging panel at our very first Kyudo grading. When we learned that he would be attending the 2012 AKR seminar in Davis, California as well, we were already very pleased, but it was definitely a huge surprise to see him in Japan.

Although he didn't recall the three of us specifically, he did have positive memories of Canada's performance in last year's seminar. By his side, Ishii Sensei was much more familiar with Kohama Sensei and asked how Mie Sensei was. Their time together on the Chiba team was apparently a fond experience for Ishii Sensei, and this gave us a certain intimacy while in his presence.

The next break was lunch time and with a variety of  restaurants nearby, Kohama Sensei let us make the selection. We naturally chose Kaiten Sushi! Just thinking about it now, even with a full stomach, my mouth is watering. Now I feel sad, for it would be another year before we'd get to taste this quality again..., where was I? Oh yeah, Kyudo!

We arrived back at the dojo and took a look around inside before heading out to the stands. A few participants were already preparing for their turn. On the way out, we noticed a rather familiar posting on the wall. It was the Budo Charter!

The tests rolled on, and continued to be an interesting affair. There are many grading opportunities in Kyudo in Japan, making it common for those who recently passed 4 Dan to immediately try for 5 Dan. The experience level from beginning to end was a huge contrast, but the overall accuracy today was just as surprising. Kohama Sensei's looked disappointed at the poor shooting. With over a hundred challengers, less than five were able to hit both arrows, and only about 15-20 even hit once.We could see a lot of nerves in the way the Tasukigake and Hadanugi were being performed, along with many unexpected releases. Kohama Sensei expected less than 10 out of the 150, would receive their 5 Dan. The final number was: 3

Despite the overall poor quality of shooting today, those few who stood out were excellent examples to follow. They showed composure of spirit and movement from beginning to end. Their presence was calm and confident, and their shooting top notch. Definitely lots to copy and learn from.

Instead of waiting another hour for the judges to make their decisions, Kohama Sensei drove us back to Narita and dropped us off at the Naritasan Temple for some late afternoon site-seeing. We thanked her for all her help in scheduling, introducing, and guiding us around the dojo in Chiba; and for being a wonderful host for our last few days in Japan. We couldn't have thought of a better way to end this trip.


And so ends my recap of our summer journey through Asia. I hope the readers enjoyed this series. I've summarized the links to these posts here:

It was truly an experience we would not soon forget, and are especially grateful for all the people that made this possible. I'd like to specifically thank the following individuals who hosted, organized, and generally made our stay in Hong Kong and Japan a blast! (listed in chronological order):

  • Aunt Samantha and Cousin Harvey for letting us stay at their place and taking us around Hong Kong
  • Ms. Agnes Lee for organizing our Iaido training in Hong Kong
  • Sugimura Shojiro-san for organizing our Kyudo training in Okayama
  • Trevor Jones-sensei for hosting us in Ohara
  • Hatakenaka Atsumi-sensei and Tsubaki Fumio-sensei for organizing and instructing us in Iaido in Tokyo
  • Peter Schramek-sensei for being such a flexible companion during our stay in Tokyo
  • Mie-sensei for coordinating our contact with Sugimura-san and Kohama Sumiko-sensei for our Kyudo training in Japan
  • Kohama-sensei for organizing our training and observations in Chiba
Final thanks to all the readers who have personally expressed their appreciation of this blog. It really helps motivate me to continue. ^_^ 

Until next time......*insert witty sign-off here*