The cottage now has a new closet/loft bed over the batteries in the dojo. Having finished that we had a couple practices just to warm up the floor for later in July when we do the Tombo Dojo Kage and Niten seminar.
We went over Nito Seiho, Sessa and Aikuchi (Shikko). I often think these last two sets, which are not practiced much any more, should be done as kihon for Nito Seiho. They certainly feel like that’s what they are. Still, Nito first, which is the Go Rin no Sho version of the school. Five kata, five opening kamae and that’s it. Chudan, jodan, gedan, hidari and migi. Middle, upper, lower, left and right. What else is there?
Aw damnit, I just cracked that back tooth that was getting sensitive. Just what I need before heading into three seminars. Probably a liquid diet for a month. Yep, a chunk of what little of the tooth is left just came away. You want to see what’s weak? Change something. By getting other teeth fixed it changes the bite patterns in your mouth and suddenly you’re getting force into your old fillings from different angles. Apparently my two crowns on my big rabbit front teeth are wiggling because the majority of my bite is there. It’s wearing down my lower front teeth and loosening the top. Likely because as the rest of the mouth is filled it is filed down and doesn’t hit any more.
Want to see if your kata are strong? Change something and see what happens with the rest of it. If you start with the other foot or cut from a slightly different angle you may just see how fragile your understanding of the principle really is.
With that in mind, back to Nito.
1. Chudan is a covering kamae, you have a short sword in your left hand, a long sword in your right, they are spread in front of you so that uchidachi will have a very hard time getting at you so his only choice is to slap down your swords and then maybe a quick thrust. As he does this you perform kissaki gaeshi to avoid being hit and suddenly you are inside his sword. He naturally stops moving forward, in fact, moves back and now tries to protect his throat by striking down at your swords once more, at which point you strike at his wrist which makes him step back. Staying in gedan he strikes for your head which is now open and we block upward with the shoto while taking his wrist from below with the long sword.
The finishing strike here is the first kata of Sessa (Sessa Uchidome), walk up in gedan, block his strike to your head with the shoto and take his side or wrist from below.
This is also the first movement of Gedan, the third kata in Nito Seiho.
While comparing these, we see a couple of things. First, yes pretty much everything you can think up to do with two swords is contained in the five Nito Seiho kata, so if you don’t know Sessa and Aikuchi, it’s no big loss, and second, we have kamae to start, we have kamae to pause in and finish with, but we also have kamae that we move through. Again, waving two swords around our body we need to know where they are, or they will hit each other or our own bodies.
Chudan starts in chudan. It then moves to gedan and then hidari waki gamae before the final cut. Three kamae in one short kata. You get a real feel for the transition from kamae to kamae with Sessa Uchidome, careful investigation sees it go from gedan to chudan to hidari waki gamae before the cut. Yet it is a single movement.
2. Jodan starts with the long sword in hasso and the short sword out front in chudan. “But sensei it says jodan yet the sword is in hasso”. The sword is up, that’s jodan, meaning upper. The specific place, up there, is what the kendo folks call hasso. Different arts, different labels.
Once again uchidachi tries to slap down the short sword before attacking because doing anything else will probably mean being blocked by the short sword and cut by the long sword. Shidachi does kissaki gaeshi with the short sword, comes down on top of the attacking blade and locks it in with the long sword. This is the juji dome, the “famous cross block” of Niten. Uchidachi slips out by stepping back and we’re left in gedan, He strikes for our head and we do the cross block upward, then drive his sword down to our right, (yes kids, it’s rather like jodo) bring the swords up again and finish with a cut to his head.
The final movement of this kata is the Aikuchi kata called Sekka no Uchi (spark). That one comes from a gedan approach and is the same as from when uchidachi slips out of the lower juji dome in Jodan. On the other hand, the dynamics of Sekka no Uchi are quite different than in Jodan, it’s a different feeling to meet someone with a cross block as they are in full motion forward, as opposed to meeting them while they are moving back. This is the change I mentioned with bite patterns, you can lose a tooth in this kata. Decades ago when we were learning this kata I asked a student to cut without telling him what I was going to do. He cut alright, straight through my cross block and got me a good one on the head. I was already moving on to the next step in the kata rather than making sure the first one was good.
Lessons learned through negative reinforcement.
3. Gedan starts, as I mentioned, with the shoto block and the cut from hidari waki gamae. It starts as Chudan (1) finishes. What does that mean? After all you’ve cut his wrist so why is he still attacking in the second part of the kata? Because kata. It’s practice after the initial movement in any kata you do, any art.
Gedan continues as uchidachi moves back into hasso and shidachi moves to chudan. Uchidachi cuts down on the swords in chudan, shidachi does kissaki gaeshi, step to the left and cut horizontally into uchdachi’s right shoulder while depressing his sword with the shoto.
Hey, another possible move from chudan, and so we practice it in the second Sessa kata, Sessa Uchibarai. In this case we start in gedan, move toward chudan, avoid to the left and cut horizontally. So we can now avoid to the left and cut, from both chudan and gedan. Musashi tells us that from one thing we can learn ten thousand things. Maybe from these kata we can learn all sorts of other things, from five kata we can learn 15, or 50, or maybe an infinite number of responses to attack.
If we could only get over worrying about which foot is at what angle… I better be careful, I’ll end up doing kendo to practice responses to unspecified attacks.
4. Hidari Waki Gamae, the shoto is in front once more, the long sword is on the left side. Twice we block with the shoto and cut upward into uchidachi’s wrist or side, we’ve done this before, but to finish the kata we sweep his sword out to our left, move the long sword over our right shoulder and cut downward. This sweep outward and cut down is seen in the third kata of Sessa called Ipyoshi Sotobarai where we do it from gedan rather than chudan. In that kata the long sword comes from gedan as well, moving through chudan rather than hidari wakigamae.
The sweep is also done to the inside (the right) in the fourth Sessa kata called Ipyoshi Uchibarai in exactly the same way (just sweep the other direction).
5. The last Nito Seiho kata is Migi Waki Gamae, the shoto is in chudan as it often is, the tachi is on the right hip, tip aimed at uchidachi. As he tries to clear the shoto we move it out of the way and thrust straight along the line of the tachi toward uchidachi’s throat. This is followed by a strike at his wrists as per Chudan and we end up in gedan. Uchidachi strikes at our head, we move back to avoid this, then use the shoto to sweep his sword to our left, but from a low position rather than high, so our tip is below our hand to do this. The tachi has not been lazy, it has moved up to strike uchidachi’s head as we clear the attacking sword and step back into range.
The last kata of Sessa, called Ryusui Uchidome, is this last movement of Migi Waki Gamae. From gedan we move our swords to chudan, then open our arms to invite uchidachi to cut at your head (as we also do in the gedan position) and step back to avoid, sweep to the left and strike.
I won’t go through the Sessa and Aikuchi sets today, I will probably come back to them at some time. The thing to remember is that the Nito Seiho kata are to be done exactly as you were taught them, as we accept that Musashi invented them and passed them along.
But, looking at other lines of Niten, we see that not everyone practices these as we do. Perhaps the line of sensei to student through 300 years will diverge, despite best intentions. Perhaps other kata will be developed, as Sessa and Aikuchi were, derived from the basic set of five. None of this is a reason to panic, it isn’t the form of the kata that is important, it’s the principles held within. As martial arts students we often say “I wish Musashi had been more clear in his Go Rin no Sho because then we’d know the original form of the kata”. But I’d like to remind my students that Musashi did better than write down the shapes of the kata. He gave us quite clear descriptions of the principles held within those kata.
So nice, go read the book.
Even better, come to the seminars.
June 25, 2017
July Niten and Kage seminars: