Read the label – July 4, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

I just walked in from the back back yard, very deep lot, most folks don’t realize we have a back yard and a back back yard, and am feeling a bit sheepish. I was doing one handed dumbell snatches (you guys would be doing them with kettle bells I’m sure, but me and my handlebar moustache are a bit traditional, no to be honest, cheap) and I had just given up on my weight jump. I’d put another five pounds on and couldn’t get past three reps. When I took the 2.5 pound weights off the reps jumped to an easy 10 and I got suspicious.

Turns out my 2.5 pound weights were actually 2.2 kg so my weight jump was ten pounds, not five. If I’d known that I would probably have been happy with my 3 reps. In fact I’ll probably put them on again quite soon.

Read the label before you jump to conclusions. Sure I read the weights when I bought them (used) but I usually forget my reading glasses so just saw 2.number and assumed they were 2.5s. Why not, they were light.

At a recent class we had a discussion about seitei iaido. Does the tip of the sword need to be above the hilt at all times? We assumed so for decades and struggled to make other parts of some kata work with this restriction. The problem of course was if you had just thrust the sword into an imaginary opponent and then had to lift it overhead for a second cut without making two movements, one to pull it out and one to lift it. If you lift the thing straight up you are picking up this imaginary fellow as well. If you pull it out then lift it, that’s two movements, in fact that’s often a pull out, then a shove back to “cock” the cut.

So back to the book where it says that the tip of the blade is above the hilt “at furi kaburi”. Ah, well that doesn’t help much, we need to know what furi kaburi means. Most folks define it as “lifting the blade over your head”. I did too, before I just got tired of trying to avoid either lifting an opponent on the sword, doing two movements to lift the sword, or (dun dun dun) allowing the tip to move below the hilt as I lifted the sword. In other words, until I realized that I could only lift my dumbell three times before failure. The “fix” came when the upper ups told us to let the tip fall below the hilt as we lifted the sword after a thrust. So we memorized and did. No problem technically but WTH, the book is supposed to trump all.

The “solution” came when a hanshi made the comment that “the hips square up at furi kaburi”. Not “at the end of” but “at”. Ding, the label suddenly became clear as I looked at it a bit more closely. Furi kaburi is that moment when you are about to attack, not the entire time that you are lifting the sword over your head, but at the instant you begin the downward cut. Now it doesn’t matter where the tip is in relation to the hilt as you raise the sword, just that it is above the hilt as you begin the cut.

Are you reaching for your keyboards? Does this sound like sophistry? Of course it does, because it is. The book is sacred, it is the standard, and like all standards it moves with those who have the power to move it. Think of the book as the law, and those who can move it as the government who try to make the law immobile. Mandatory sentences and all that. Now think of the hanshi as judges, those who interpret the book for you in the name of justice. They have to apply the laws to real life, which is not simple, it’s messy. They have to reconcile one movement from the thrust to the cut, with not dropping the tip, as much as you or I do. So they interpret. That’s their job, they have to decide which is less damaging to the kata as a martial art, to make two movements or to “drop the tip” as we would automatically say. They read the label in a different way than you or I do, in fact they must often “read it to us”. All the while telling us that the law is the law. The book is the standard and I believe it. I also believe that I can find contradictions which must be reconciled. Nice to have someone to do that for me.

Who does that for me? Not the visiting upper ups who often seem to have different solutions to the problems. No it’s the top guy in the country, he’s the chief decider. The guy who decides is the guy who puts your name forward to the president for your next grade. The guy who tells all the other judges how to read the labels. It has to be one guy or you get arguments, it has to be that guy because he’s the ultimate authority on the ranking system. Ranks in my organization come from my country, or another country if I grade there, where someone else reads the labels. The book makes sure that everyone has the same label to read, and it’s pretty specific in most cases, but as I’ve heard some students complain, “it doesn’t spell everything out”. No it doesn’t, just enough that we’re all on the same page. We don’t all have to be on the same line.

To force everyone to be on the same line, to take any descretion away from any upper up, would be like trying to dictate mandatory sentences for everyone. Justice would suffer. If we all went strictly by the book then I’d be done with iaido, I can’t sit properly in seiza or tate hiza so I’d be gone. At least gone from my organization if not from the art. I’m happy for there to be a chief decider who says I can continue to practice iaido even when the book says I have to do kata from seiza and tate hiza.

Read the label, if it’s a dumbell weight it’s pretty clear but if it’s something like the seitei book it needs to be read even more carefully. If you read one thing and I read another, that’s maybe an argument. Thankfully we have a fellow who decides what the book says. That’s his job.

Kim Taylor
July 4, 2015

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