Sunday, 25 May 2014

Guelph Iaido Seminar - Which day should you go?

As an Iaido practitioner outside Japan, it is a rare opportunity to learn from 8 Dan Sensei. In Canada, we have the annual Guelph Iaido/Jodo Seminar. A 3-day intensive training camp (4-days if you count the senior's class) held at the University of Guelph; ~45 minutes from Toronto. This year, it brought together Iaidoka from all across the continent, including visitors from the United States and South America. For those of us living in the country, we have the luxury of a statutory holiday on Monday. And while non-Canadians may be forced to leave early due to work commitments, those with children also have to grapple with this first warm-weather long weekend after a harsh winter.

If you are one of these unfortunate folk who are unable to attend the full session, this post will hopefully assist you in deciding which day(s) to attend. The following description of the three main days at the seminar is based on personal experience over the past 5 years: 

Day 1 (Saturday) - Group-General Instruction
Following Friday's senior class, the head delegate from Japan will often have an idea of what needs improvement, or is lacking in a general sense. This year's focus was on "Riai" - The theory, concept, or reason behind each kata and each movement. On Day 1, the head delegate (with assistance from the other two Japanese Sensei) will spend the day going through all 12 Zen Ken Ren Iai kata, with the goal of filling these gaps. Occasional practice following each kata will help lay a foundation for training for the rest of the year, but it is not expected (or realistic) that you have everything corrected by the end of the seminar.

It doesn't really matter which kata you are doing, or whether you're doing an Iaido kata or not. The concepts and theories mentioned in this session can be brought into all aspects of your life. From work, to relationships, to hobbies.

Who is this day good for?
  • Instructors who want an overview of what is important in Iaido training
  • Students who are grading on Day 3. They are given just enough details that they can fine-tune their kata, but not too much such that large modifications are required

Who is this day not so good for?
  • Students/Instructors who are looking for lots of practice or specific technical details

Day 2 (Sunday) - Group-Specific Instruction
With three Japanese Sensei, the participants are split into groups as evenly as possible by rank. This year it was 1 dan and below, 2 dan to 4 dan, and 5 dan and up. As I've been in the middle group for the past five years, I can only speak to this experience. The Sensei will typically run through each Zen Ken Ren Iai kata, providing instructions along the way.

We'll often get a mix of broader technical concepts like balance, connection, relaxation, and flexibility, along with a few kata specific corrections.

Who is this day good for?
  • Instructors who are looking for specific details that Canadian Iaidoka are lacking and how to improve on them in the upcoming year
  • Students who can find a benefit in any correction, whether or not they think they are doing the technique incorrectly

Who is this day not so good for?
  • Students who are grading on Day 3 and are easily confused or overwhelmed by detailed instruction
  • Students who often think that general corrections are meant for others in the group and not themselves

Day 3 (Monday) - Individual-Specific Instruction
With the grading held in the morning, this unstructured session provides a rare and unparalleled opportunity to get one-on-one instruction from the 8 Dan Sensei. By positioning yourself in front of them, or simply going up and asking for help, you can be treated to instruction that is fundamentally and uniquely specific to yourself.

Who is this day good for?
  • Instructors/Students who are eager to receive high-level, personalized input on any kata they are working on, and have the patience to train for a year or more before fully realizing the depth of these corrections. 
  • Those who are okay with asking your question and getting an answer without the assistance of a translator (not as difficult as it sounds!)

Who is this day not so good for?
  • Students who have trouble practicing on their own without constant feedback (it'll be another year before you see this 8 Dan Sensei again, if ever)
  • Students who get frustrated when they don't understand something immediately

In conclusion, the answer to which day you should attend the Guelph seminar is simply: "ALL OF THEM"