My sensei says…
Before that, I’d like to say many thanks to Jim Wilson and his crew in Peterborough for their work with yet another lovely Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu seminar. I think this is the fourth, may there be many more. I’m impressed that so many students will attend a koryu seminar with an instructor who is not their direct teacher. It’s nice to see that they have faith that they will be made welcome and their particular lineage will be respected.
I’m not, however, surprised. My sensei said, during his introductory comments, that you follow your sensei, even if you’re here in front of him, you follow your sensei because that’s the way of koryu. He has always been welcoming and has always given his best for the students in front of him. That’s the arrangement we made when our group started way back when, that it would be about the students and not about us. So if you’re in front of my sensei he will do his best to teach you. He’s not interested in being a big shot, and he leads reluctantly to say the least, but we won’t let him quit. The result is that there were students from at least a dozen different instructors at the seminar. I heard not one word of disagreement with anything he said, not one sigh of frustration that he “was doing it wrong”. Sure it was a self-selecting group but I’d like to believe that we are perhaps growing up out of the attitude that we have nothing to learn from anyone except our own sensei who has all the secrets in his head.
I happened to be passing one of my own students who said “I’m waiting to see which section Ohmi sensei is teaching and I’m going there”. Good. That’s as it should be, even if I’m teaching on the other side of the room. Go where it’s going to do you the most good.
My sensei also said, and I quote, “If you’re 7dan seitei you better show me 7dan koryu”. I’m pretty sure I know who that was aimed at, I’m going to take it that way regardless. I need those boots to the butt in order to keep my ego in check. (OK don’t spray your coffee all over.) If you don’t have a little pounding down once in a while your head can get all pointy so thanks sensei.
His meaning is pretty clear, you can concentrate on the technical movements of iaido and get to a pretty high grade without learning much about the mindly aspects of budo. From my point of view, seitei is amazing for learning body control. It’s a defined (standard) practice that you can be taught by dozens and hundreds of instructors. One mountain, may viewpoints. Those same instructors, and this is my sensei’s point, can also give you insights to the mental aspects of the art if you are willing to listen.
That can be good and bad. It can be a great breadth of understanding or it can be a confusing jabber of voices. That’s where you need a pure stream of knowledge, a steady frame to contain all that other information. You need your koryu teacher, the one who has a unified understanding, a straight line, a single path up the mountain for you to follow.
You can’t climb two paths at the same time, but it can be a tremendous help if someone on the path beside yours can look ahead and tell you about that cliff to the left. Seitei is the “Grouse Grind” a stairway up a mountain in Vancouver that has dozens of people on it at any one time, climbing all day long. Koryu is the pathway around the other side with you and your guide. Both are ways up. On your sensei’s path you see his backside and not much else, on the Grind it’s wider (I imagine, my daughter told me about it, I’ve never been), there’s room for you, your sensei, his buddies and their sensei so you can listen in on the gossip as you learn how to put one foot in front of the other.
To further bend the metaphor, there can be cross-linking paths between the two of them and now I’ve told you that you can’t climb two paths at the same time but that you can climb two paths. When I first started my iai practice my sensei had to tell us to at least go through seitei once every practice. Thirty years later he has to remind us to work on koryu as much as on seitei.
Thanks for the reminder sensei. And thanks for the chance to get the reminder Peterborough Iaido.
Nov 9, 2015