Soft as stone – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

Got home from the cottage earlier than expected so I made it to class last evening. We used the new fukuro shinai to go through Shinto Ryu, haven’t been through that set in a while. Anyone who has my big list of “everything we do”, be warned, the shinto ryu list is not accurate. I have no idea where I stole it from, but it’s a jumble.

Then we went through some iai and it became a soft and hard class. I told the Pamurai that if she could learn not to have stone hands now, she’d have a lot easier time getting from 6dan to 7, or as it is these days, apparently, from 7 to 8. Seven dan is the new eight dan I’m told.

It all shifts, so ikkyu is the new shodan. It all makes sense as long as everyone knows the new labels, it’s just a name change. Maybe Japan is going to get rid of 8dan next, no wait, that means 8dan is the new 9dan, they’re putting 9 and ten back in!

Hey, this isn’t a rank essay, it’s a stonehands essay, get back on topic. Stone hands rob you of power, this is easy to demonstrate. Get someone to grab your right wrist with their left hand. Now have them squeeze as hard as they can. Do a movement as if to move your right hand over to your hilt and draw. Do you see how easy it is to break the grip? Now tell your helper to grab you with a soft grip, and only harden up when you try to move. Is there a difference?

That’s soft and hard hands, they must be soft until you’re actually cutting, then they drive into the target. While the Pamurai was doing some work on her noto, I got a tanren bo out of the closet. Yes there were only two of us, it’s summertime, people have things to do. I have things to do, but I show willing and make all classes except those I’ve told people I can’t, because of being out of town. Get on the list or email if you haven’t been around for a few months and you need to see me instead of one of the seniors.

I sort of like “private lessons” if they aren’t too frequent and it’s a senior. I get to really drill into a senior. Private lessons for beginners are a bit inefficient, beginners need general instructions and then left alone to get on with it. If you’re looking at them full time you tend to stop them too often for corrections, and they never learn. One correction, get on with it, have you corrected it? Fine, next correction.

Using the tanren bo to work on your grip is a good idea. The “hand on top” thing that I tell my students about, the Niten Ichiryu grip, the “Kisshimoto fingers” thing is more powerful than the “Tome Te” grip. Take the hilt of the tanren bo in your hand, the thumb toward the pommel, the weighted end out the little finger side. Drop your hand by your side and now use the underside/outside/little finger side of your arm to drive the weight up toward your elbow. Try a tome te grip and now put the base of your index finger on top of the hilt (niten grip) and see how much you have to “choke up” on the hilt to move the weight all the way up to touch your elbow. Different?

Tome te, square grip, your thumb outside all four fingers, is easy to get into a stoney grip. It’s designed for that, to use both sides of your forearm to hook onto a branch and pull yourself up. The Niten grip is soft, it has to be, the only fingers you can get into the grip are the little and ring fingers, the very ones you want to activate to move the tanren bo.

Soft.

Remember the way to break the grip on your wrist? If you move in toward your body you should be soft, as you move your arms away from your body you should be hard. Soft in, explode out. Explode with your extensor muscles, use a hammerfist (or a grip on the sword) and drive out. Drive with your hips, leave your head out of it.

We started on the noto, just as you curl the hand over to break the grip, just as you move your arm to do a downward block in Karate, you move the sword over to the saya. In means soft. Now drive your hammerfist, the pommel of the sword, into someone standing to your right front. We started this with the Pamurai hammering her fist into my hip until she could connect the strike with her back foot through her own hip. Breathe out, wedge your shoto into your obi (tighten the stomach against your belt). Above the hips is soft, below is hard, only activate those muscles that are driving the fist into the hip.

Now do noto, drive the pommel into kasso teki (kaso tekki? your imaginary friend). Soft in as you pull the sword into the scabbard.

OK now pick a kata. Start walking forward and you’re driving from the front of your hip, from your tanden, don’t start with your face. Hands come on at the second step, soft, on the third step you draw and cut (hey, same move across with the arm as lower block, grip break, hammer fist into the hip or noto). Draw and move the tip with a soft grip and expecially soft shoulders until it is 1/8 of an inch from the target. At this point your front foot comes down, your hips stabilize, you breathe out and our little finger side muscles drive the tip into the target, now the big muscles of your back move your arm across (NOT your shoulder muscles) to cut. It’s three parts, soft, soft, hard.

Hard

Soften up to wind up the spring once more before exploding into the next cut etc.

Soft and hard, we went through Seitei iai to work on it but you can pick any school, any art, any set to do this. It’s all the same, you have to learn how to use soft and hard together. Some arts (the soft ones) work from the soft side first, some arts (the hard ones) work from the hard side of the process. Both get you to the same place eventually, that 7dan er… 8dan level of understanding.

If I could say one thing, it would be “get rid of the stone hands dude”. Or rather:

Be soft as stone.

Kim Taylor
June 29, 2018

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