What’s the New Footwork on Ushiro -Kim Taylor, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph, Nanadan

Got that question from someone recently, seems he’s heard about an “advanced” way of turning in Ushiro and wants to know all about it.

Thing is, there isn’t a new way of turning, but in the ZKR iai committee meeting of 2010 it was accepted that two ways of turning were acceptable. One is to rise and tuck the toes under then turn. The other way is to roll the left foot over somewhat as is done in MJER koryu. This rolling over of the foot was always introduced as an advanced way of turning, being a problem for Zen Ken Ren iai beginners. Now… I teach it to MJER beginners in Seidokai because it really isn’t hard when you are turning to face an opponent at ma ushiro, directly behind. One takes the right knee to the left, then moves forward with the right knee so that it moves in front of the left and receives the body weight, which means the left foot is very light and can roll over easily.

ZKR Seitei Gata Iai is different, the important point in this school is not to face an opponent directly behind, but to face an opponent to the right rear, and explicitly to move the left foot to the left on the nuki tsuke cut. The right knee stays in one spot and it’s hard to shift the body weight onto that knee without looking like a pine tree in the wind (matsu kaze as it were). To make this left foot movement clear, we teach beginners to tuck the toes under which makes the turn and the shift easier (clearer) than using the koryu way of turning. When students get to about 6dan we tell them they can do the turn MJER style and they can roll the foot if they wish. I should say here that I don’t do ZKR iai this way unless I’m demonstrating it, I tuck the toes under because this makes the most sense to me, especially with my damaged knees.

Unfortunately, the word has got out and now the nidans want to do it the “advanced” way. Anyone with a little bit of experience, as in maybe a month, wants to do the “advanced” stuff, it’s only natural. And now I’m going to have to start dinging grading challengers for not moving their feet since the rollover usually pushes the left foot out before it should go.

Folks, at 30 years worth of practice, I can tell you that you should be looking for the “basic” way to do things, not the “advanced”. Resist the “advanced” way for as long as you can because that way you can show the best iaido. Let me explain this another way. At first kyu and shodan we allow students to pick any 5 kata they wish. There are some students who pick the 5 they are most confident with (and they are always the most basic kata, the “simplest”) and some students who pick the most “advanced” kata, the ones with lots of moves.

The “basic” group get it. As a judge I want to see your basics, I want to see that you understand “free choice” means we want you to show us your best. The “advanced kata” group inevitably figures that we give bonus points for knowing the footwork to the complicated kata. Unfortunately, there are only 12 kata in total and I’ve seen all of them thousands of times, with some of those demonstrations coming from people who are really good. At shodan you are not going to impress me by knowing the dance steps to shihogiri, but if you do a really good nuki tsuke in ushiro, I’ll give you your bonus points.

In the martial arts there is live or die. There is no percentage in learning a hundred kata if you aren’t good enough at any of them to beat an opponent. Learn one thing well and do it with commitment, you might survive to learn another thing. Do the “advanced” ushiro in front of me with less than 5dan under your belt and I will look at your left foot. Really look at it. If your turn and shift isn’t rock solid I’m going to be upset because you didn’t have to use that turn. Impress me with solid basics, not esoteric theory.

I have a youtube channel somewhere and I think I uploaded a video on this “advanced” turn last night. If you’re interested see if you can find it.

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