Just three of us in Niten class last evening, that’s more like the summer class size I’m used to. We did Nito Seiho, something I wrote about not long ago so I won’t repeat any notes. It was mostly kihon-kata anyway since we were learning the movements for the first time.
I was sort of looking forward to seeing a larger class, to see how the beginners picked up the 2-sword kata after several classes of two-sword kihon and going through the long and short sword kata sets. My intent was to set up the movement patterns so that the students could just plug them in while learning the kata.
There was a time, back in the early ’90s when we started our niten practice with the two sword set. It’s the one that folks had heard of, and wanted to learn and after all, “it’s only five kata”. While that’s true, and while each kata is maybe 3 moves long… (yep, 3, 3, 2, 2, 3 movement patterns) they involve moving the two swords independantly of each other. The footwork is not the usual either, certainly not similar to kendo federation iai and jo, or the other koryu we practice. You know, thinking about it, the kata aren’t un-symmetrical, the first two have a roughly symmetrical set of patterns, but the third, fourth and fifth are “a windmill with broken wings”.
Still, I’m glad I learned the Nito set first, it taught me the importance of movement pattern over kata. Many of the movement skills in the Nito set repeat through the kata, and that taught me the importance of learning the kihon and “letting it go” during the kata. You can’t think your way through a Nito kata, your conscious brain just doesn’t hold two separate arm movements along with the foot and hip movements. What you need to do is learn each arm separately, put them together, learn that pattern, and then at the correct moment in the kata, fire that sequence at uchidachi. Without setting up the movement patterns you will never get to the point where you are thinking about distance, timing, the angle of your covering blades, the angle of the attacking blade, and all the other interesting stuff. You’ll simply be impressed that you remembered all the various “flailing around bits”.
When we went on to learn the tachi and kodachi sets they felt like kihon for the nito set. Having done the nito set it gave me a template for the strange and wonderful stances and kamae that we do. For instance, our sasen (a thrust to the throat) comes from the tachi side of Nito Chudan kamae. Imagine being in nito chudan, moving uchidachi’s sword aside with the shoto and stepping forward to your right front to pierce uchidachi’s throat. What stance would you be in? Drop your shoto and put your left hand on your hip and you are in the finishing position of Sasen.
Looking a bit further, the koshimi stance is the only one that works to put power in the tip when thrusting in that position. Without the Nito training before the tachi seiho I would instinctively have defaulted to the more usual thrust position from jo, tanjo, and iai. No problem with those of course, the movement patterns for them are well ground into the bones, but with Niten I have another pattern available for use should I ever fall through the Alternate Universe Interface and have to rely on my sword skills in the land of the Yik Yaks while rescuing Gwendolyn.
Oh go look it up.
Movement patterns must be worked into the bones, I hope this is clear by now, but another consideration is kamae. If Musashi said “there are no kamae” and that you should use “your normal walk”, why so much fuss with having a correct kamae? Quite simply, a kamae is a balanced, powerful, sensible position from which to block, attack or recover. It is a position your body should take automatically as you move through a kata, it is the correct body position for the movement pattern you are performing. Without setting the kamae into your bones you are prone to going off-balance or sticking your face into the meat grinder.
You think using your normal walk is a good idea? Watch people walk. Watch how they stand around. Most people don’t walk so much as fall from foot to foot.
So the plan was to check out how students did, learning from front to back (tachi seiho and kodachi seiho before nito seiho), and compare it to my experience learning it back to front.
Maybe next month.
June 30, 2017
July Niten and Kage seminars: