Choice Points – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

Last evening I was told that we were doing kihon. Eventually I translated that as “no more reviewing kata, let’s work on the good stuff”. In Jodo the code word is kihon. So we went through the first three kata in Seitei Gata for the two hour class. Well, maybe we quit a half hour early because we’d had enough practice and, let’s face it, because beer.

At the end of the class we spent quite a bit of time going over the kata Hissage, looking at why we don’t want to just slide through our two sides without paying attention to each other. That’s more or less obvious, partner kata require partners, otherwise it would be called “iaido tournament”. Bwahahah, you know what I mean, two people doing kata side by side. In a lot of partner kata it’s two people doing their own kata facing each other.

So we hunted through the kata looking at the several places where there are supposed to be pauses. Why? Why not slide right through the pauses, we’re going to the next move anyway, so why not go there.

Hissage starts with the jo hidden behind the body, as the sword approaches the jo drops out from behind the body and the two match weapons. (You can find this kata online I’m sure, if you don’t know it). So why does the sword not just come through and cut the jo’s head or arm? Why does he stop. Because kata, sure, but can’t we do better than “because sensei said so”? How about, jo drops the end of the stick down from behind and aims it at tachi’s face which causes tachi to hesitate. Maybe, or maybe he speeds up and cuts you. So drop the stick and put it in his face rather than point it at his face. Not hard to do, and not hard to see why the sword guy hesitates when he sees the tip of the sword aimed at his face.

Choice point. Tachi can come through and cut, or match weapons, first pause. It is legitimate for tachi to stop here, we don’t have to walk up and match weapons smoothly just because we know that’s what we’re going to do. We can pretend we don’t know what’s going to happen, maybe we can sometimes, if we trust our partner, change it up and end the kata by stuffing the jo into the sword’s face. “Keep it real, Man.”

The rest of the kata you can spend a lot of time on. Here’s what we did. First we did the kata as per the recipe, sword steps forward and lifts overhead. Jo slides back and drops the stick to one side. Sword steps in again and cuts for the head, jo steps aside, catches the sword on the way down, locks the sword into the swordsman’s waist and then does what we call “yada yada”, sword moves away, stick pokes him and then smacks him in the face.

Never mind the yada yada, let’s go back to why the stick guy can’t get off the line and catch the sword on the way down. Sword just blasts in there and cuts and stick has no chance at all. A mystery. Jo has too many moves compared to tachi’s moves. Wait, there’s a choice point here, if the weapons are matched, why would jo do anything except poke sword in the face when sword guy lifts his sword. Aha, so maybe don’t just lift the sword, maybe move forward and wait for jo to pull the stick back, then lift and cut. Because kata? How about jo just slides back, keeping the distance perfect.

Don’t worry about the footwork on this, I’m making it up, just keep the distance, this is not the kata. Or a pipe, Rene.

OK sword gets clever and says to himself, why don’t I push the jo out of the way as I press in? We had just been doing that sort of thing in our hiki otoshi uchi kihon variations… where we compared hiki otoshi uchi of jodo to uke nagashi of seitei iai. Don’t ask. Suffice to say that if jo lets tachi move up on the stick and tachi does tenouchi / shibori, the jo goes flying back out of the hands and right at THE MIRRORS! So jo doesn’t want to pay for plywood sized mirrors and avoids the press to the side by pulling the tip of the jo back, then shoves it forward again on the other side of the sword… ha ha, in your face!

Or, jo can move back into hiki otoshi uchi. Choice point. We’ve had a couple of choices so far, one at the first where we end the kata on the very first approach with tachi having a busted nose. Now we’ve seen a couple of ways the nose can be busted at the movement after the weapons are matched. One of these, the second one, can be used in the kata with a trusted partner. Either pull back into hiki otoshi no kamae (drop the sword to your side) or shove it back into tachi’s face after he lifts the sword.

That’s another place where you’re supposed to pause in the kata, sword lifts to jodan, checks to see what jo is doing, then cuts for jo’s head. Now we have a reason to pause, we need to see if our partner is going to shove the stick back into our face or drop it to his side so we can go on. Choice point.

Because kata, jo drops the stick to the side, sword cuts for the head, jo now has time to go to the side and catch the hilt and slap it down into sword’s hip (go look at the kata). Sword moves off the end of the stick, the stick could maybe bust a couple of ribs while he’s trying to do this, but if jo pulls the stick back to try to do this while tachi is close, tachi can cut him, so both sides are careful. Sword squares up to cut jo but jo slams the stick into his solar plexus. Wait, why are you doing this so fast? Oh, sword is just running away and you’re trying to keep up? Seriously? You’re running after a guy with a sword because you’ve got a stick? Look, if he runs away say “thank you” and go home. It’s the smart thing to do.

Sword guy, dude, try to cut, look for places to cut, it’s the budo thing to do.

So after the poke the jo guy rushes through to the strike to the face. Only when I tried that on the Pamurai she just flicked my stick away from her face with her sword and stuck it in my throat. Hmm, did she time my attack and break my timing? Am I being too predictable? There is a little pause between the poke and dropping the stick to my side in hiki otoshi no kamae, and then the thrust to the face.

Choice point pause there, why? Because I have to freeze Mr. sword dude in place so I can hit him. If I pause the sword guy thinks “target” and starts to move in again, either taking center with the sword or trying to cut for my shoulder. If he lifts his sword to take center I do hiki otoshi uchi and end up in his face. If he tries to cut I just take the centerline and go into his face. Either way his change from moving back to moving forward is my space.

Hey, another place where we can change things with partners we trust. That’s three easy ones that don’t disturb the kata too much because they are natural choice points. They are pauses we’re told to stick into the kata.

Why don’t we do this stuff all the time? Because they’re dangerous, unpredictable, and they require that we can do the kata well, with attention to our partners. We do the kata the way we are told to do it, because we get to do the kata again instead of take our partner to emergency with a broken nose. But we can think about doing the variations, we can look for holes in our partner’s technique while not taking advantage of those holes.

We can pay attention to the choice points.

Even if you don’t do jodo you can look at the choice points in your own art’s kata.

Kim Taylor
Mar 14, 2018

28 Oct 2017 Kenshokan Koryu Kenkyukai!!
Guelph Spring Seminar registration is open:

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iaito, bokuto, bokken, jo, shinken, karate and judo uniforms, books, videos and other supplies for the…

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