Seitei, Gateway, just let me in – Apr 6, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Poor old seitei iai and jo, relegated to being public domain by virtue of being popular. Used by enough people for long enough you can lose your trademark to the language, you blow your nose on a kleenex and copy that martial arts manual on a xerox don’t you. And you don’t do zen ken ren iai you do seitei. Well sort of the same thing… OK not the same thing at all, never mind. Moving on.

Although the two schools we call seitei are in fact, property of the kendo federation, they’ve been used by outside groups as if they are some sort of generic drug that is cheap and made by anyone who wants to bother. I’ve seen instances where seitei has been used as an intercollegiate competition set of kata where, presumably, neither the competitors nor the judges are familiar with current seitei practice.

No matter, just define it any old way you wish, it’s the common set, it’s generic, you can do what you want. And really… go ahead. Maybe the kids who have to learn that form of seitei will start to look for a tighter connection to the school and join a Kendo federation. Seitei gateway!

Elsewhere I see it used by those both inside and outside the kendo federation as a screening set. If the students hang around long enough in the seitei class maybe they’re good enough to start learning the “real stuff” the koryu. Koryu gateway!

Seitei is the Rodney Dangerfield of budo, it don’t get no respect. It’s like generic drugs, something to be given to the plebs if they can’t afford the “real stuff” that is the branded drug. Of course those who can afford the name brand are getting better drugs, it’s obvious isn’t it? Name brand drugs are from companies that have your best medical interest at heart, generics are just there to make a quick buck off of someone else’s hard work. Hence the price differences.

I don’t buy it. Seitei isn’t better or worse than koryu, it is a standardized set of kata that came from the koryu. There is no break in practice, there’s a continuous line from koryu to seitei. It’s the koryu that everyone thinks is out there, the koryu that has a right and wrong way to be done. It’s standardized so of course there’s one way to do it correctly, that’s the standard. Give it some respect for what it is, a way to rank, a way to compete in the kendo federation (and apparently some other organizations which have adopted it). It may even be a way to learn how to swing the sword, the real one not the noodle-stick of kendo (he he), after all that’s the original justification for having iai in the Kendo Federation. It had to go somewhere after the Butokukai was disbanded. Yes the Iaido Federation was around before iai was adopted by the Kendo Federation but we don’t speak of that. They’re the guys in the building next door during the Kyoto taikai.

John Ray told me about the Kyoto event years ago, when folks dressed in strange outfits passed and pretended they didn’t see each other. I howled when I saw the parade for myself, check check, nope other guys, avert eyes. It’s not disrespect if we pretend they don’t exist is it? We just didn’t see them there with their sword-bags over the shoulder and their big skirts sweeping the sidewalks.

How do we respect another organization if we don’t respect our own common set of practice? Is it just a gateway to the koryu? A way to pull in the masses and screen them for the big show? Once you move on to koryu you can’t be happy with the lesser effects of seitei? Well perhaps, but I know better teachers than I, who use seitei as the place where they (we) work on the technical aspects of moving a sword around. Seitei is defined, so we have to accomodate to it, rather than adapt the art to our own lifelong habits of movement. Got an out-turned left foot? No problem in the koryu, you can cut as hard with that left foot out as with it straight. But do a few years of seitei and you have to square up that foot, it’s practically the whole of kendo and iaido and the sword side of jodo (ssshhh don’t think of the jo side). You learn to work with a straight foot, now you’ve got a choice in your koryu, square it up or leave it pointed out. It’s not the result of a lifetime of habit, it’s you controlling your body. I like that.

Seitei isn’t less than koryu. It isn’t more either. It’s something else, and for the most part it’s not connected to koryu. Yes many years ago there was some concern that koryu was being neglected and a requirement for some koryu kata during gradings was brought in. Since your koryu kata are more or less decided for you even at 8dan level where you must show seven of them, (some are “recommended” over others) you can get away with practicing a minimum of koryu, and that as if it’s the second level of seitei. That’s not a lot of koryu, but maybe that is the real “gateway drug” to koryu, those few kata needed to pass a grading. What I’m saying is that the kendo federation doesn’t really deal with koryu at all. It doesn’t regulate it, define it, or control it. Some sensei in the kendo federation practice and teach various koryu. A few koryu kata are needed for some gradings. There is an association but it’s not very tight. There may even be gradings (paper awarded) in koryu lines within the Kendo Federation, but that is somewhat low-key since it causes frowns. There’s some averting of eyes.

Where did the idea that you had to be a certain dan grade to start learning koryu come from? The same place where a certain minimum grade was required before using a shinken. A koryu kata is required at Xdan so you start learning koryu at X-1dan. Shinken required at Ydan? Get one for Y-1dan. The connection is the grading requirement, not from any particular teaching requirement (other than that beginners with shinken are very scary) and certainly not from any requirements within the koryu. Let’s be clear about that, there is no requirement in any koryu that you have to learn seitei first. How could there be? That requirement comes from your koryu teacher, not from the school which existed long before seitei did. To begin koryu you begin koryu.

I find myself quoting Colin Watkin a lot these days, as Shihan of the Kage Ryu. One thing he pointed out was that there was no special requirement to start Kage Ryu, but a rank in another sword art was a benefit since one brings in certain skills that are of benefit to learning to use the choken. Where do you learn your fundamental skills? Where your sensei tells you to learn them. If he wants you to learn your fundamental skills in seitei, that’s where you learn them. Then you go on to learn the specifics of the koryu kata without that part of the learning curve.

Now, however, you have the source of the complaint that seitei is contaminating koryu. It’s a perfectly legitimate complaint. The fundamentals of seitei will become your default movement and you’re going to have to change that for koryu if required, and if you can be bothered. Those who can’t be bothered or who don’t practice enough koryu are going to be pointed at as contaminated.

My position these days is that “koryu is big-hearted”. I ask my students to do the kata, when they notice that they are doing a koryu kata in a seitei style I tell them how to change and they work on it. To ask them to do things two different ways when a beginner is harder than it needs to be. Seitei default while doing koryu? Only I need be concerned. On the other hand, if their default is koryu and they take that over to seitei there might just be consequences… like failing a grading. Ho Hum, practice some more and do it again.

Seitei as public domain and as gateway to the koryu. Some thoughts for today.


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