Thursday, 25 July 2013

2013 Tokyo Iaido Judging and Technical Instruction Seminar: 4 Key Points

Continued from the Shimpan Overview post...

Following lunch, we all gathered once again at the front of the gym and made a wide circle around Aoki sensei for instruction on Seitei. Various points from the manual were raised, but 4 key points were especially emphasized throughout the demonstration.

The following quotes from Aoki sensei are essential for Iaidoka at all levels to remember.

1. Central Axis
  • Rough translation implies your axis or center => i.e. the connection to the ground = main foot
  • "To generate the proper force and energy, you must have ki-ken-tai-ichi. Without focus on your axis, everything collapses."
  • "Each rank is responsible to show the proper focus and attention at their level."

2. Opponent
  • "Movement comes from your ki"
  • "Although you must have kiseme and strong energy, you must also win through proper use of the sword"
    • "Proper tenouchi and hasuji is important - If either is not correct, it's not Iai anymore; it's just dance."
  • "It's important to constantly have focus on your left hand, don't let it just play"
  • "The opponent appears in how you do keiko; which comes from your inner self."
  • "You must question how you really think about your Iai. If you just show form and movement, then it means nothing"

3. 獨理獨行 
  • Roughly translated as "Independently Reason, Independent Journey"
  • While your Sensei is there to guide you along the path, how far you are able to go is completely up to you.

4. Difference between Koryu and Seitei
  • "If you don't understand the meaning of your Koryu, then it's not worth doing."
  • "The key differences are in how you move your body - You must understand the difference by using your mind."
  • "If you really understand the Shoden set, then you should also understand Seitei. So always try to practice Shoden and Seitei together."
  • "Unless a student really understands Shoden, they should not be taught the Okuden sets.

This last point is echoed in Hatakenaka sensei's classes where the majority of her students (even the lowest ranks) in each class will work on Shoden (Omori-ryu in the MJER line) before starting their Seitei practice.

It really worked out well to be able to participate in this seminar before starting our daily training at Hatakenaka sensei's dojo and free practice times around Shinjuku. It gave us the right perspective and motivation to start from the basics and really look within to focus on our weaknesses.

I hope all readers of these notes were also able to find some useful tidbits to continue to grow as Iaidoka.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

2013 Tokyo Iaido Judging and Technical Instruction Seminar: Shimpan Overview

Continued from the Seminar Recap post...

While there wasn't much opportunity to take notes during the group sessions, the Shimpan Overview by Aoki sensei provided clear expectations and responsibilities for everyone present. Each note is actually just a quote taken from Aoki sensei's speeches.

Again, these quotes are only available because of the hard work of Hanna in writing and translating for all of us foreigners. I've included a heading before each note to provide context for each piece of instruction. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below.

On Attending Seminars
  • "The purpose is not simply to attend, but to listen, think, and practice. By practicing the knowledge becomes a part of you"
  • "Judging seminars are where one learns to ascertain and distinguish between what's right and what's wrong"
  • "An Iaidoka is unable to see beyond their own ability, so it is the responsibility of those above him/her to correct any errors in judgment and fill the knowledge gap. The leaders are accountable for the failings of those below them. In a taikai, this person is the Shimpan-Cho.

On Learning
  • "Who has the latest manual?" - only a few hands go up - "The FIRST step is to look around and see what the latest requirements are, and to know them inside-out. That is one of the most important responsibilities of being a judge"
  • "Learning is not just through the body, but the mind as well, through thinking. If you do not think, it's mindless practice. It's nothing."
  • "If you only learn the form and not use kokoro (heart/mind) then you are basically doing nothing"

On Responsibility
  • "The instructors/leaders must always show the correct way. Whether that is in their Iai or even in their manners" - two examples were given:
    • Ex 1 - If sensei are not sitting in seiza when necessary and in the correct way, the students will not.
    • Ex 2 - In a taikai, if the shu-shin (head judge) is not calling out the correct go-rei (i.e. Hantei, Gogi, Shobu-ari), then the other judges will make the same mistake.
  • "If Tokyo doesn't put forth the energy and effort, the rest of Japan will not improve and become united."
  • "Although Iaido is something you learn on your own, when you go to Taikai and Gradings, you are judged by others. So you must follow your teacher and they must follow theirs, all the way to the top."

On Taikai
  • "In order for the event to run smoothly, the scorekeepers, timekeepers, ushers, and other staff must be really organized."
  • "Everyone including the participants, judges, and seminar staff must be able to act and move quickly and exhibit Meri-hari. They must also have Rinkyohen: Ability to react to any situation correctly and in a timely fashion.
    • Ex 1 - After the "shobu-ari" call, many shu-shin tend not to look at the court, but they must also display zanshin because even when the challengers are backing up, something could happen. Someone could get hurt.
    • Ex 2 - The fuku-shin (sub judges) should be able to act faster than the shu-shin. If they notice a reason to call gogi, they should be able to call it before the shu-shin.

Aoki Sensei also kept mentioning page 34 in the Iaido Manual (Japanese version) regarding "Mindset during Embu". We'll see if we can get that translated later.

Finally, we also received some words of wisdom from Hatakenaka sensei who lead our group (4 dan and below):
  • "A 4th dan must not think of 5th dan as simply the next grade to achieve. With the rank also lies the responsibility in judging, and be an example for the lower ranks. You must have this mindset when training for 5th dan. "
  • "The basics are more important the higher level you get. When I was preparing for 8 dan, I had to go back and really work on the basics. Even now, that is where most of my focus is"

Up Next: Four Key Points for Judging by Aoki Sensei

Monday, 15 July 2013

2013 Tokyo Iaido Judging and Technical Instruction Seminar: Overview

On Saturday, July 6, 2013, Hanna and I attended the Tokyo Judging & Technical Instruction Seminar held at the Takinokawa Gym in the Northern District. Having attended the same event in 2009, we were expecting a long, but productive day of learning and training.

Wide-space, no Air-Con, 34C outside.... long day
Let's all get naked!...seriously, that's what we do here
The seminar was broken down into four parts separated by a short break and lunch:
  • Shimpan Overview - All Participants (Instructors & Students)
  • Shimpan and General seminar - Participants split into dan groups
  • Shimpan Key Points - All Participants (Instructors & Students)
  • Shimpan and General seminar (cont'd) - Participants split into dan groups

Leading the entire program was Aoki Eiji sensei (Hanshi 8 dan), whose dignified and commanding presence, not to mention his experience and depth of instruction, belied his relatively young age (mid-60s). His speeches during the Shimpan Overview and Key Points segments broached no argument, even among the many older 8 dans in the instructor groups.

Aoki Eiji sensei. Picture courtesy of
Court distribution: 4 dan-, 5 dan, 6 dan, and 7 dan
Following each of these imposing yet encouraging speeches, the participants were split into their rank (dan) groups to receive guidance on judging (5 dan+) and general techniques (4 dan and below). The groups each had two 8 dan instructors to lead the way, a rare opportunity even in Tokyo.

Group instructors included:
  • 7 Dan: Ito Tomoharu, Maruyama Yoshiaki
  • 6 Dan: Yoshimura Kenichi, Shirasu Kimiya
  • 5 Dan: Koyama Takanobu, Kaneda Kazuhisa
  • 4 Dan: Hatakenaka Atsumi, Ito Shigeo(?)

5 dan+ worked on judging using members as guinea pigs
5 dan group lead by Koyama and Kaneda sensei

As usual, the notes (to be shared in my next post) are only possible due to the diligence and effort of my wife, Hanna. I'm sure it is mostly her growing relationship with Hatakenaka sensei that allowed us to be accepted as honorary members of the Shinjuku Iaido groups:

Lunch was fantastic as usual and ready for pickup at the registration tables just as our stomachs started to growl.

Green tea and Bento!! Soooo gooood!
Beautifully packaged and sorted.
The seminar was completed with demonstrations from the 7 dan groups. Several individuals really stood out for Hanna and I. If we can find out their names, will let you all know ;)

Attitude while spectating is just as important as demonstrating
Future 8 dan? Some, most definitely!
Up next: 2013 Tokyo Iaido Judging and Technical Instruction Seminar: Wisdom from Aoki Sensei

Monday, 8 July 2013

2013 Mu Mon Kai Summer Celebration

On June 29, 2013, Mu Mon Kai hosted our first Summer Celebration class. Building on the success of last year's Mid-Year General Meeting we decided to schedule a full-day of training, learning, and socializing. In order to differentiate between our Year-End class, itself a celebration of the art of Iaido, we decided to dedicate this day to the people that make up this wonderful community.

With 6 hours available to us due to a class-swap with the JCCC Kyudo Club, we were able to split the session into three T's:
  1. Training
  2. Taberu
  3. Talking
....yeah, I just made that up.

Training - Practice time was broken into two sections sandwiching a snack break. The first session was focused on the "Too Many People" list from the Guelph Recap Notes; observations that the Japanese Sensei underscored as common and repeating failings of Canadian Iaidoka. With hard training and focus on these points, we'll be able to demonstrate our commitment to the instruction of the Japanese Sensei, as well as our dedication to improve our own Iai.

In session two, our members were treated to instruction in MJER Oku-Iai iwaza and tachiwaza techniques. While the majority of us would not be practicing these kata until later in our Iaido careers, it's important to understand the extensive lineage of our school.

Taberu - With such a diverse membership in the Mu Mon Kai and Affiliates Iaido groups, what better way to celebrate it than a potluck; and we were definitely not disappointed with the variety of food. From Japanese cold-soba to Portugese fried fish-cakes, Romanian cabbage-rolls and even a intact honeycomb, our palettes savoured a rainbow of flavours, a somewhat fitting end to Pride-Week in Toronto.

Gotta have some fruits & veges

Martin is a bee-keeper...who would've thought


Talking - Following the success of last year's "Meet the Sensei" theme of presentations, where each Sensei talked about themselves and the influence Iaido has had on their lives, we decided to expand the talks to create a friendly and educational environment that is not normally seen within a regular schedule class.

We began with a recap of the first half of 2013's Events and Recognition by Patrick & Hanna

  • Mu Mon Kai's February visit to a special edition of the US East Coast Iaido Seminar and Shinsa with visiting Chihiro Kishimoto Sensei allowed us to further grow the bond between our club and our friends south of the border. 
  • In March, the first of hopefully an annual seminar in Vancouver, BC, with Ohmi Sensei helped forge a stronger connection between the Canadian West and East coast.
  • Next MMK journeyed to the southern tip of Ontario to participate in the annual Welland Iaido Clinic, a truly fun and educational affair with a unique format.
  • In April, MMK hosted our bi-annual Tameshigiri seminar, inviting non-Iaido members from the JCCC whom we are proud to call friends, as we shared our mutual love of the Japanese martial arts.
  • Finally, we had another great turnout at the May Guelph seminar, with over 20 participants from our dojo. 

As with these seminars, the next few talks highlight the fact that the greatest assets MMK can provide to the Iaido community are our generous and dedicated members. Each of these subjects deserve a session, article, or lecture of their own, and I hope to make that possible in the near future.

Sensei's Introduction into Mu Mon Kai by Ohmi-sensei, Carole, Enore, Mike G, Mike H, Bruce
To match the JCCC's 50th Anniversary celebration, each Sensei gave a brief talk about their experiences before joining MMK and what it was like in those first few years.

Practicalities of Iaido and relationships that can be found within other martial arts by Bruce
A fun and educational demonstration with the help of Mike G

Importance of Lineage, History, and Culture by Mike H
A deep and passionate discussion well-deserving of being published

Start of the Affiliated dojo program and Brock by Chris
An example of commitment to one's Sensei and the acceptance of responsibility

Start of Affiliated dojo in Peterborough/Oshawa and Thank You Message by Martin
A brief history of a group that can potentially becoming the largest collection of Iaidoka in Canada

Photography and Iaido - Purpose in the Art by Oz
A philosophical approach to finding your path towards perfection

Photo courtesy of Ozan Yigit

Up Next

MMK BBQ (August 11) with special talks:
Common injuries and prevention by Scott
Japanese etiquette in the martial arts by Hanna