The High Level Stuff – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

Yesterday it was the Pamurai, the new guy and me in class. We went through Seitei Iai just because it’s mindless, it requires no thought from the Pamurai to do the kata, she’s been practicing them for 12 years so we can work on the high level stuff rather than “this foot there”.

So what do you work on when you’re done with learning the dance steps? Not more dance steps, not better dance steps.

We worked on grip. “But if I do that I can’t put my fingertips in the diamonds like you told me to.” “Diamonds are so last year, get your hands over top and get your thumb off the hilt.”

We worked on the hips, as in “use your hips”. “You’ve been telling me that for ten years”. “Yeah but maybe now you can hear it, see how much better you look when you think about moving from your hips?” “What are you talking about, I’m in the same posture I was in before”. “Really, look at this, now look at this when I think about my hips, do you see how my head and shoulders change?”

And on it goes. Would you guys like an exercise for what we old farts mean when we say move from your hips? No? OK skip to the next part, otherwise here it is.

Stand up normally. Now move one step forward, back, and to each side. Do this each time from standing perfectly still and do it slowly. Pay careful, careful attention to your head. Do you feel how your head moves ever so slightly as you start to move? “Do you see how my head moves when I move?” “No, what are you talking about?” “OK look more carefully, you see it now? Good, ten years of training haven’t been wasted, now see if you can feel your head move”.

OK let’s be even more obvious, if you can’t feel your head move. Lock your knees. They were? Lock them more firmly and put your weight equally between your heels and your toes. Now step forward without tilting your head forward to start you falling. I hope you see it now.

Iai goshi means “iai hips”, break your knees, stop dropping your weight onto the cartilage (you’ll need that later in life so stop pounding it now) and take it with your leg muscles. You shouldn’t be any shorter, don’t do a squat, just break the knees. Now keep your head still, keep your arms still, using the muscles in your legs for connection to the ground, move your hips forward. Can you take a step now?

The very last thing you want to do as a swordsman is throw your head at your opponent. Keep your head above your hips and step forward instead, using your hips.

This is a really, really high level thing to do. It’s so high level we told you all about it the very first day you were in class. Maybe after 10 years you are ready to hear it, after you’ve spent that long trying to figure out how to change your angle of cut or how many cm from the floor your sword tip should stop. Ten years of not thinking you are throwing your head forward to start moving while sensei has been yelling at you to straighten up.

What else did you hear that first year? How to hold the sword, jo ha kyu, metsuke, meri hari? Yeah, the high level stuff. So high it takes a decade to start seeing it. Seriously.

Teaching the old way

What about the new guy? What was he doing during all this high level yap yap? He was learning the old way, as in “go back there where you can see and do what she’s doing”. Watch and do, don’t think about it, and you’re not going to get taught.

Old sensei trick. Of course he’s being taught, he’s being taught to see, and put it into his hands and legs without writing a lot of garbage in his head along the way. Every time a teacher corrects something, it gets written in the brain in big neon letters a mile high. After ten years you may have rewritten those first IMPORTANT instructions enough times that they shrink a bit, at that point, the book in your head may have faded enough for you to actually see things instead of reading about them.

If you don’t get told everything right away, if you don’t get taught so that you never finish a kata before being stopped and corrected, you may just be able to learn with your body instead.

New guy did all 12 Seitei Gata iai kata quite well by the end of an hour and a half. Hopefully he won’t remember how to do any of them, hopefully he was just copying. Next time he copies them his body will get there a bit faster. If he doesn’t think about it, if he isn’t forced to think about it by some teacher trying to “explain things”, he will start to “feel” how they work.

Look up mirror neurons.

This is the Shu part of Shu Ha Ri. It really is. When sensei is correcting every little twitch and wiggle you’re in Ha, the place where you break things down and write that book in your head. That’s the book you have to get rid of in order to get to Ri.

Let them flounder, let them make that direct connection between eyes and body. That will come in handy in ten years when they are looking at you trying to see that micromovement of your head just before your body does.

And suddenly that student has her sword in your face just before you attack.

This stuff is NOT about the figures in figure skating. It’s not about doing something over and over exactly the same way, going around the figure-8 twenty times and leaving a single line on the ice. At least not in my world, that’s not how I was taught so it’s not what I’m passing along.

Kim Taylor
April 14, 2018


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