One of the hardest things to teach a student is that they are supposed to hit you. When a senior student practices with you, try to take their head off, it’s pretty simple. But difficult to do (both the trying and the doing if your partner is truly a senior to you). In my case, most of those who are practicing with me are very kind, they don’t want to injure the old man and I appreciate it, I really do.
But it does neither of us any good to dance around instead of work on this stuff, and working on it means trying to take your senior’s head off. That’s why the seniors have the attacking side, uchidachi, the striking sword. That side gets defeated, it’s the side most likely to get the injury should something go wrong. Seniors are expected to be able to take care of themselves.
The exception to this is Aikido, where the instructor takes shidachi side, nage, the throwing side. I think this happened for a couple of reasons, first was historical, you rarely see Morihei Ueshiba takeing Ukemi. The second is that by the time you get to teach Aikido, you’re pretty banged up. I know I don’t want to take ukemi any more, but I also know that I would be teaching a lot better if I did. The students would learn better.
Mind you, even when I’m throwing it’s better to attack hard and with intent, that way I don’t have to “force it”, to bend you in strange directions and grind your shoulders to get you to move where you’re supposed to move. If you throw yourself into an attack, you throw yourself, and that’s always better than being dumped. Not long ago we were practicing from a punch to the face, I hung my nose out there four or five times when a student finally made contact with it. He was terribly apologetic, but the proper response is to say nothing at all, just try harder next time because sensei isn’t going to be there. Dudes, I know what you’re doing, we’ve agreed on it, if I can’t avoid it I’m done teaching. If you hit me I’m going to say “good, again”.
In the more formalized arts, where the kata are less fluid, an honest attack and response is critical to learning. Do your best each time or you’re just exercising.
I looked at the yoga pillows the other day and shook my head while straightening them up, saying something like “you’d think yoga people whould care a bit more”. The Pamurai laughed and said “this stuff isn’t yoga, it’s an exercise class”. That made me quite sad, because she’s right. Most of the physical movement arts you find are just exercise, done because you’ll live longer or you’ll lose weight. Few are taken or taught as ways to become better people.
This is perhaps one reason why it takes so long to teach beginners to “just swing” and try to connect. Who wants to injure someone, I mean this isn’t about fighting is it? No it’s not about fighting but it really, truly is about trying to connect. If it isn’t, it’s just waving sticks around in the air.
I see that the owners of the UFC are saying McConner’s comeback is the biggest event in UFC history. Macgregor? I dunno, I don’t follow Boxing or Wrestling either, they are exactly what that statement said, events to make money for the owners of said events. They are entertainment. The hero and the villain, the hero turned villain, turned hero again. Stories for money.
Martial arts aren’t “for” anything, they are a process, not a means to an end. The whole point is that there is no end, only endless…. ness. Tournaments and championships and other such prize fights are fun, and of some use to keep the kids interested, and can be fascinating in their own right, but they have a lifespan. Twenty or thirty years ago I thought about a “world championships of iaido”. When that didn’t happen I wasn’t too upset, just annoyed that it was promised and then pulled. I knew that was my lone shot at the time, now I’m too old. “But you could compete in your age class”. The point? The few tournaments I was in were not very interesting to me as a 40 year old. Kids like them and I like them for kids, but as someone who is well known and higher ranked, there is too much bias if I compete. How, in an iaido tournament, do I get a fair shake?
No, I’ll stick to class, to the endless training that I hope to be doing into my 90s. I’ll stick with the honest assessment of my abilities that comes with beginners trying to hit me. I’ll stick with trying to be just a tiny bit faster, harder, closer than they can handle so that they can come up a bit each time we practice. That’s how we both learn.
An image comes into my head of a few days ago when I was trying to make a point about deflection or blocking or something and I put my sword aside so I could slap the Pamurai’s bokuto out of the air. Usually I’m pretty sloppy about that but this time something made me actually focus. Time slowed down, hesitation and doubt left my brain, I was in the moment. I doubt she saw anything different, but I did. It only took ten years to get her to the point where she’s starting to scare me into paying attention. That’s pretty good for non-contact weapons arts, it’s a lot easier with contact arts where you can feel what’s happening body to body. (Also the ground can hit pretty hard if you’re not paying attention).
No it wasn’t deflection vs block, it was “reading your attacker”. That’s why I put the sword down, to make it critical that I read the attack before it happened. This is where the class was going, it’s where every student is going after learning the shape of the kata. It’s using those kata to learn how to read your partner’s attack.
And you can’t get there without an honest attack. If your partner is controlling their swing, as in slowing down “so they don’t hurt you”, swinging to one side, missing the target, or any of the other nice things that they can do, you’re just exercising and there are more efficient ways to work on your cardio.
You know the kiai uchidachi yells as he attacks? It’s translated “HIT ME!”
Aug 5, 2018
Check out the seminars below for the rest of 2018 These are all confirmed. Hit me with those registrations!
August 17-19 Calgary/Vancouver Jodo/Iaido seminar and grading
September 1-3 Tombo dojo Niten and Kage seminar, also Montreal intro to jodo seminar
September 8-9 Ueda sensei in Santiago Jodo seminar and grading
September 22-23 Kurogo sensei in Mississauga koryu Jodo seminar
September 29-30 Fredericton iaido and jodo seminar/grading
Novemer 3-4 Ohmi sensei in Peterborough koryu iaido seminar.
November 23-25 Mansfield Sensei, Mississauga, Jodo seminar and grading
December 1 Etobicoke Iaido grading