Take a stance – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

Let’s think about kamae, Musashi said that there are no kamae in his art, yet he immediately went on to describe five of them. Now, they were upper, middle, lower, right and left side which is sort of “going around the circle”, like there are 8 directions of cutting, up down, right left and the angles between. Kendo too has five kamae, upper, middle, lower, hasso and waki gamae. These are not the same as Musashi’s five, but there are similarities.

In fact, there are similarities all over the place because, really, a kamae is a place where you end up at some point in time while going from place to place. Or maybe it’s a starting place, or a resting place. That there is no one, single, overwhelmingly efficient, kamae which we all stand (or sit) in, could be a clue that each kamae has strong points and weak points. Even Kendo has multiple stances although chudan is pretty much “the bomb”. Musashi agrees, saying that chudan is “the captain” to lead all the other stances.

So what is a kamae? It’s a stance, a position we put juniors into. It’s a placeholder, “stand like this”. Or sit like this. Seated kamae in iaido tend to be of two general types, seiza and tate hiza, on your knees and on one knee. Aikido has seiza alone, although perhaps a couple of variations, one for bowing, doing techniques from and knee-walking around and one for the end of class when we sink between the heels and try not to get knocked over during kokyu dosa.

It’s funny that there are no schools that use anza (sitting on your backside with legs crossed) or a leg’s sprawled out sort of seated kamae, at least none that I know of. I suppose they are just such useless places to fight from we don’t use them as placeholders.

Anybody like tate hiza? Horrid position isn’t it? It’s for when you’re wearing armour isn’t it? That’s what I was told, but I’ve since read a few papers that suggest it was simply the formal way of sitting before everyone had tatami rooms and adopted seiza. Makes more sense to me than armour, frankly, I can’t imagine trying to fold my leg under myself like that with shin guards on. Dropping onto a knee, certainly, but not folding those legs up.

So they are sitting positions, one older than the other…. well probably not. Kids drop into tate hiza and seiza and that fish-tail thing that makes me wince, spontaneously. We sit however we sit, we are not taught how to sit in these positions, we are taught which of them are “proper” and which are not. In other words, we are taught etiquette. Girls, close your knees, don’t show us your panties, sit properly.

That’s a kamae.

In budo we tend to think a bit more combatively, stand ready, don’t get caught in a sloppy position. Sometimes it can get a bit precious, in iaido I’ve been told two fists apart (except girls who are one fist) and one fist apart and one and a half fists apart. One and a half? For judging tournaments I’m supposed to sit on the edge of a chair with my knees a fist width apart. This is a “proper” kamae but not a combative one. If I sit in that position I’m good for about 30 seconds and then my groin muscles go into spasm because my thighs don’t work that way.

30 seconds is about all you can do in tate hiza unless you’re practiced in it, so why do we practice iaido from tate hiza and not from a chair? I don’t know about you but I practice iaido from chairs once in a while. I lived in the country growing up, I practiced “tire-pump iai” against loose farm dogs from a bicycle. Used it more than I’ve used iaido, that’s for sure.

Sit down in seiza and prepare to do your school’s equivalent of “seitei Mae”. Now draw while stepping forward. After your horizontal cut would you believe me if I told you that you moved through tate hiza? You did. Sit down again and start to draw, slowly this time, now imagine that your opponent has got the drop on you, his draw is faster, as you realize this, stamp your right foot down onto the floor and push yourself back out of range. The moment your foot hit the ground you were in tate hiza. Cool no? No? Oh, it was three inches too far forward for tate hiza was it? Precious.

So if we start from this half way position between seiza and standing up, we can practice things like “move back while drawing”. We could do it from seiza too I suppose, but then why not start from across the room, walk forward, sit in seiza, then move to tate hiza and do the draw moving back. Or why not start the kata in the changeroom as we put on our hakama with full zanshin… or on the road driving to the dojo. You have to start somewhere, best to start where it makes most sense. And wastes least time.

Hence, Kamae.

Not magical shapes we use to invoke demonic or angelic powers of protection and attack, but convenient placeholders for beginners. Some so precious we will pass or fail your performance on their precision, some just “up, down, middle, side or other side, where else you gonna put your sword?”

Take a knee.

Kim Taylor
June 20, 2017


July Niten and Kage seminars:

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