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.