Drove to the bar tonight, I am whipped from working on a bike shed all day. Can’t believe it’s this hot this late in September. When I was a lad I remember the fall semester having one good weekend of warm weather and then the girls got out the blue jeans and you never saw a leg for the rest of the winter.
Stretched the class last night because I had a couple of challengers to 6 and 7 dan at class. The “advanced training” consisted of me pointing out that if you haven’t learned the 12 kata of seitei gata iai in 20 to 30 years… well you have. There’s no other way to put it, you know them, and all the bits and pieces that go into them. There’s no use trying to improve your technique as if you are a sandan, you’re missing the point. You’re missing the training that comes after learning that stuff. Ten years is more than sufficient to become a technique monster, and let’s face it, if we start at around 25 or 30, a time when many of us did, you are just about as genki at godan as you are going to be for the rest of your life. It’s going to be a struggle to keep what you have. But who wants to go through a long slow decline, fighting that rearguard action, trying to remain that physical marvel you once were. If you can’t get beyond that, quit. Lots of folks do at this point, quit or give up.
No, time to work on the stuff you can’t see, time to work on the stuff you feel. Time to use the noggin and tell a story. Tell it first to yourself. What is happening in your kata. Notice I didn’t say “the” kata. I don’t care what the book says, what the latest hanshi you stood in front of said, or what the guy next to you says. I want to know what’s happening in your kata, I want to see it, I want to feel it. I won’t unless you feel it, so decide what’s happening. Now show me. (Seriously, if I wanted to know what “that guy” told you to do I’d ask that guy. I don’t care what he says, I really, truly, deeply do not care what he thinks.)
How do you know what’s happening? You have to feel it, which means you have to feel it from the other side, you have to feel what your attacker is feeling. Tough to do with iai, very tough. Do your best. No, you know what, get in front of someone and kick them back across the floor as they start their Mae. (Put, your right heel, into their sternum, and, kick, them, across the floor.) Now figure out how to prevent that. Get out the bokuto, collect a couple of bruises, you’re good for it, you’ve put a lot of toughness into the budo bank, take a bit out and be brave, learn by getting hit. The Pamurai took two or three good hits for the team as we did Uke Nagashi together, a small adjustment, a reminder of basic reality-bites in the form of “I’m going to keep slapping right through your monouchi, shift the block to the chu-o or the tsuba moto” and it worked, the cut worked, I only got half way to her do before she took my neck.
That was “the instruction” for that kata. “Were you watching? Fine, do the kata”. We moved on.
Tsuka Ate, how many opponents? What are they doing and where are they? How do you know where they are? You look at the thrusts and the cut. They are where you do the thrusts and the cut. How is this a mystery?
That close? That’s grab my shoulders from behind close! So try tate hiza, rise and thrust to the front while someone is touching your shoulders. Not grabbing them, just touching them.
And on and on it went. Who cares about chiburi and noto, you will never get there if you haven’t killed the jerk in front of you. “Catch him” my sensei says, I said it too. At 5dan you’re waving a sword around. At 6dan you’re in a fight, at 7dan you may, just may, walk away from that fight. There’s a world of difference between waving a stick around and fighting.
Don’t go all “oooo errrr” at me 5dans, some of you do kendo and some of you have been in fights but most of you are still sword dancing. You are! Oh just stop, this class isn’t about you anyway.
Look, you watched a couple of the very best in the country get shit for thinking about the checkpoints in the judging manual. Take a lesson, you’re not there yet and you won’t be for another 5 or 10 years. It’s incredibly difficult to fight with ghosts. Invisible enemies never make mistakes. That invisible enemy is put there, in front of you, by the panel who judges your grading. Do you understand what that means?
It means we watch you, we re-run your performance in our heads and retroactively apply pressure to your suki, your weak points from OUR teki.
You live or die at our pleasure. This is your 6, 7, 8dan grading, you having fun yet? What do you say to us? You say “look you jerks, for the next 6 minutes your attention is mine. You HAVE to watch my iaido, MY iaido. Watch and learn, pass judgement in the sure belief that no matter how tough you are on me, I am tougher. Do your best judges, gambatte!
Seriously, show up without your kata, YOUR kata and you’re welcome to practice in front of us but don’t expect me to pay any attention to you. You have to earn the attention of the judges.
“But, how do we practice like that when we’re teaching, oh great and wise one?” Hey, I’m here to tell you that it’s a choice, you can teach or you can pass your next test. Pick one. No, I’ll be even meaner, decide which one you want more. If you start in with the “but I have a responsibility to teach the beginners” you have picked teaching, my question is answered, we’re done talking.
You want to be the best at this stuff? Act like it. Watch any olympic coverage where they do that bio of the athlete thing. Any of them have jobs or families? The ones on the way up? Budo upper dans are like that except with no TV coverage.
Special, no quotes.
Remember, in the kendo federation we let you teach at 5dan. No need to go on from there, teach to your heart’s content.
Sept 23, 2017
Sept 30-Oct 1 Ottawa iaido, jodo and niten seminars, Taylor
Oct 28-29 Peterborough koryu iaido, Ohmi sensei, Galligan and Taylor
Nov 17-19 Jodo Grading and Koryu Seminar Shiiya sensei and Kurogo sensei, Mississauga location tbd