Two steps forward – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

And one step back. After being pleased yesterday that my shoulder wasn’t hurting, I managed to strain it again on the very first movement of my sword last evening.

Now I can’t read the newspaper so I may as well type. We worked on Koryu iai last evening, tachi uchi no kurai and Kurai Tori. We didn’t get to Tsumi Ai because I started talking. Happens sometimes.

The Kurai Tori is a set from Muso Shinden Ryu, or at least it has been preserved there. I’ve never heard of it elsewhere and for all I know it was invented by Nakayama sensei. It’s a standing set of nine kata, about half of them are the same as Tachi Uchi no Kurai and some of the rest are similar. A couple are quite different, Tsuka Zume especially. Walk up to your opponent, slide slightly left, strike his left wrist with your tsuka, hold his tsuka down with your right hand and do tsuka ate to his face. More into the jujutsu kata, really.

The set is done standing, and many of the kata are done with both sides drawing and cutting one handed to meet sword to sword. Because it’s so similar to the other two sets I tend not to practice it too often, but the movements do tend to creep in when I’m teaching those others, as in, “and then you could do this”.

I’ve taught it to some of the MSR students in the country, as a way to introduce their own way of doing the partner practices. The MJER influence is so strong in Canada I’d hate to see them shifted completely over to that way of doing the partner practices.

This is one reason we have included koryu practice in the May seminar again this year. We have always encouraged the senior ranks (the judges) to do a bit of cross training so that they understand the other way of doing things. It’s good to know a bit about the influences that a koryu can exert on Seitei Gata when you’re sitting in judgement, let alone recognizing that the koryu kata you just saw isn’t a really bad version of your koryu, but another one altogether.

Judges need to have wide experience as well as deep. To assume that all sword is from your own small world and then judge everyone accordingly, is the sort of bias we try to train away from. If you are in a smaller group (like Canada, where there are only a few hundred folks practicing in the entire country), with one or only a few top instructors, this sort of thing can happen. If you do only seitei gata you are still “contaminated” with the koryu of the fellow up the chain of instruction who did some koryu. If you practice koryu as well as seitei you will have cross influences. If it’s not specified in seitei these influences are allowed. I’ve seen hachidan who have more of my koryu “contaminating” their seitei than I would ever admit to for myself.

Best, as a judge, to understand some of the other influences, which is why training with one of the “other guys” during the seminar is a good idea. If you understand the underlying principles it’s easier to get away from saying things like “you guys do it this way but we do it that way”, as if it’s a simple choice of angle or height.

Hopefully, by studying the other way, you will come to understand that there are other points of view out there. That “style differences” may not be fashion statements or even shibboliths to identify your sensei to the other judges, that the differences may actually be the result of a different principle of movement. Who knows, you may even learn something.

You think this sort of judging bias toward your own koryu is rare? I’ve listened to folks saying that if you’re MJER (my koryu) and you want to pass your 8dan in Japan you have to change our koryu to look like MSR since most of the panel is MSR. This was serious advice for passing the second part of the exam, which is koryu. That is no longer a problem since they took the koryu portion out of the exam.

While the CKF still includes koryu kata, I’d encourage all the 4dan and above iaido people, who may find themselves on a grading panel one day, to attend a different koryu class.

For those who don’t figure they need the wider experience, or are forbidden from looking at another koryu, I get it, I’m not asking you to go against your sensei’s wishes. But then again, most of those won’t be reading this or attending the seminar so no problem.

For the jodo folks out there, the closest we have in the Kendo Federation Jo, to a different koryu is “north and south style”, so we don’t worry so much about cross training. Some of the older sensei also tend to have “opinions” on any such cross training, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use “youtube sensei” if you’re at judging level. Get on there and take a good look at the various demonstrations. A wide variety of lineage can be found from south to north and all places in between. Do your research.

Meanwhile, I’m going to develop a set of partner kata that have zero contact whatsoever, and are done with cedar bokuto using a left handed grip so that I can maybe avoid some of the RSI that seems to have crept in the last 35 years or so.

Two steps forward, one step back indeed. All forward from then on!

Kim Taylor
April 21, 2018

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