Koryu Seminar V: More thinking with our swinging. -Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

The second day of the seminar began with Ohmi sensei speaking of Takashima Tomiyoshi (don’t quote me on this author, he may be circa 1710 but I didn’t find him at the Sauble Dunes bar with the wifi access and the loudly live music this evening) who spoke on saya no uchi. We have heard this before usually as “saya no uchi no kachi” meaning “winning in the scabbard”. We could take this to mean “win, then strike”, that is, don’t draw until you know you have won over your imaginary opponent. Other interpretations are that your potential, your life, is there in your scabbard.

Ohmi sensei explained that Takashima said once the sword is drawn, swordsmanship is diminished. If you draw one hundered times and lose one hundred times, this is obviously not a good thing. But if you draw 100 times and win 100 times, your art is diminished. The best is not to use the sword 100 times, this means you have won 100 times while the sword is still in the scabbard. Your swordsmanship is wonderful.

The idea is to know how to use the sword, but not to use it. In other words, don’t be a bully.

This reminds me of yugen, to have the sword but not use it, is like the moon mostly hidden by clouds, it is so much bigger, so much more beautiful that way. Or to put it the other way, if the moon is withdrawn from it’s scabbard of clouds so we can see it against a bare, dark sky, it is reduced.

Another swordsman who advocated similar ideas was Harigaya Sekiun who stated that swordsmanship of his era (roughly the same years as Musashi) was rough (bullying) with a swordsman beating those who were less skilled, being defeated by those who were more skilled and mutual destruction (Ai Uchi) with those who were equals. If you pass by without drawing your swords you have found a fourth way, Ai Nuki.

Ohmi sensei went on to write the following on the whiteboard. Me (eye), Ashi (foot), Tan (spirit), Riki (technique) (again, I may have this written down incorrectly, I was taking notes!). This is the order of occurance for an attack by a senior. See, move the foot, move the spirit too, then strike with technique.

But for beginners, the sequence is reversed. You must develop the technique, then add spirit, then learn the footwork and finally, learn to see the opening.

Learn from the shape, be brave, step in and during this learning phase, start to see. Once you can see, once you have learned, the sequence is reversed. You see an opening and you are moving toward it, your spirit united with the technique you perform.

Are we not speaking of learning and then mushin here? Mushin is not just flailing mindlessly, it is hitting without trying to decide anything. The body sees the opening and the body attacks. You do not make the attack, the attack happens to you.

Ohmi sensei spoke at length of making a big cut, not a big motion. Do not shove your shoulders upward as you slam your biceps into your ears when you cut. This creates a massive opening (suki) in your cut. On the other hand, you cannot cut with small flicking movements.

Sensei mentioned there was a difference between correcting a technique and changing it. This reminded me instantly of the way that Seitei Gata iai is practiced in many places, an endless sequence of changes long after the corrections ought to be finished. “What angle is this sensei?” “You’re a 5dan, pick one”. “But which angle do you want us to use sensei?” Changes, not corrections.

Sensei asked what Jo Ha Kyu meant, and was told “slow, faster, fastest”. Not unexpected, but he went on to explain that Jo is to fill yourself with spirit, it is leading the opponent, it is to display kigurai, a noble spirit. In budo we must, before the start of the technique, control his “before the start”. Our calmness must be able to read our opponent. Part of this is Ki Sen O Seisuru, to control the moment when the attack begins.

Ha, is the time for the technique to speed up, it is moving, it is developing.

Kyu is the place of ki ken tai ichi. Try comparing Jo Ha Kyu with Sen Dan Zan.

Hei Jo Shin, this is the ordinary mind, the everyday mind, which is one of calmness. Tsune ni Itte Kyu ni Awasu, the full name for I Ai, means to be ready, to adapt. It is not that one isn’t surprised, one is. But it’s the time between the surprise and the return to the everyday mind that is important. Ohmi sensei mentioned a WWII pilot who in later ife commented on young pilots. Their skills were better than older pilots, but in an emergency the older pilots returned to their normal, everyday mind much more quickly. This return to heijoshin is largely the result of experience, of long practice, one doesn’t “learn” it.

Fudoshin is the immovable mind, a mind that doesn’t get dragged around by events. We ought to understand this if we want to be good budoka. Part of heijoshin is fudoshin, if our mind is dragged about as we panic of event after event, we are not in our ordinary mind. Or if we are, we really need to adjust that ordinary mind.

If we are working on the Oku Iai (which we were doing) then we are done with the basics. No more acting in your kata. This assumes that one has mastered the Omori and Eishin ryu sets and the lessons contained within them. If one simply memorizes the kata then they will all be equally “acting”. Omori is to learn the basics, Eishin is to learn tate hiza and to understand a single opponent who is close, Oku iai is to learn how to deal with multiple opponents, a situation where just “dancing” the kata will not be good enough. The lessons of the first two levels must be learned before Oku iai makes sense.

Shu Ha Ri is this sequence of learning. Shu is the basic, from, say, 1-3 dan. Ha is probably from 4 to 8 dan. Ri? Ohmi sensei wonders if there is anyone today who is at this level. He mentioned that perhaps Harigaya or Musashi might have been there.

Shin Ki Ryoku. Mind, spirit, killing/power. This is the gathering of energy and the cut. Note the number of concepts that deal with the transition from ordinary mind (heijoshin) to the cut. The move from sen to dan, jo to ha. Elsewhere Ohmi sensei has compared shin to still water (calmness), ki to the wind over the water and ryoku to the wave, the result of the wind passing over the water.

During the kata Kabe Zoe, sensei mentioned that the noto of this kata is called Donden gaeshi. As an aside, this is a term that is used in Kabuki and it means a sudden turn leading to an unexpected conclusion.

As a final comment, Ohmi sensei said that we can think about our koryu. It is not all written down for us, and because it is not “written in stone” we can learn from that process of thought.

Kim Taylor
September 2, 2017

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Fall seminars coming up for me:

Sept 30-Oct 1 Ottawa iaido, jodo and niten seminars

Oct 28-29 Peterborough koryu iaido

Nov 17-19 Jodo Grading and Koryu Seminar Shiiya sensei and Kurogo sensei, Mississauga


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