Empires from the sun – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

OK I spent an absolutely horrible night without sleep of more than 30 minutes at a time before I had to get up. Couldn’t sit to read, couldn’t lie down, went to the sauna, couldn’t sleep there. Thank goodness morning came before I had to go work in the shop.

Why am I telling you this? It’s a rant, a grouchy, grumpy rant so if you don’t want to hear my private, grumpy thoughts, stop reading. Seriously, I’m about to complain about the state of the system.

You were warned.

On the other hand, I’d like my direct students to read on.

Had beers last evening with one of my students who has been doing some world traveling and was told that Seitei Iaido has become so homogenized that the hanshi out of Japan are giving identical instructions at seminars no matter where they are in the world. Precisely identical, as in look at the notes from one sensei in one country and compare to another in different country a couple months later, and you’d figure you were at the same event.

Interesting, that tells me a couple of things, first, these guys ought to be interchangeable now. No reason at all to ask for, or hope for, any individual, they are all saying the same thing. That’s good, since the ZNKR/FIK is sending whoever they want when it’s an “official” seminar. Official means that one of the Japanaese sits on a panel. I’ve explained this before, if you want a Japanese panelist you have to ask and you get sent and that’s it.

But what about koryu you say? You need your specific sensei for koryu, you can’t learn from just anyone that gets sent over. That is correct, but if it’s an official delegation you aren’t going to get any koryu anyway. The official delegations teach seitei and that’s it, no koryu. That’s the rule, if they are teaching you koryu at the same time, they’re not following the rules, and neither are you for asking. So how do you learn your koryu? Invite your sensei, don’t hold a seitei grading (or hold one without your Japanese guest sitting the panel) and you’re fine. This is a “private” seminar. Stop leaching off of seitei gradings to get your koryu instruction.

This stuff isn’t complicated, it’s getting more and more clear in certain aspects. To repeat, it means that as far as Seitei is concerned, you are going to get the same instruction no matter who comes, so be happy with whoever is sent along.

But Koryu? Forget koryu, you won’t see it in gradings any more, you won’t need it. I’ve been told Canada is in the process of cutting it out for iaido. Canadian jodo hasn’t had koryu kata in our gradings for a decade or more.

Why is koryu gone? Because it’s not zen ken ren seitei. And mainly because, according to the ZNKR, it was a way for the old hachidan committee to concentrate power which allowed them to extort large gifts from the challengers. Part of the cleanup was to get rid of the koryu.

I’m good with that, the system needed to be fixed and that was part of the fix. The riai of seitei, the underlying principles are that it is standard, and that rank is standards-based. Bring in koryu, bring in patronage (you gotta have the right sponsor) and anything other than “meet the standard”, and you don’t have a standards-based system any more. Pass/fail on things outside the standards and it’s outside the standards.

I can hear some of you laughing. Why? Can you think of a way that the old system can re-assert itself? How about being told “you need my vote, you should come to Japan”. Ah yes, the old overseas empire building with new emperors, this time not built around koryu, but around seitei itself.

Thing is, it can’t be done, not without active participation from the natives of foreign lands, not without us. The rules are quite simple, you need six panelists, period. They don’t specify where they come from, so any time we want to cut the emperor system, we simply stop inviting Japanese to sit the panels.

Horrors, this would cut us off from our koryu sensei, we can’t do that! OK now you’re feeling the frown on my face, these things are not connected any more, unless you figure you’re going to keep using kendo federation gradings to bring over your koryu sensei to teach. But that’s not supposed to be happening any more, this stuff is supposed to be separate. So separate them. Private invites are fine, the FIK doesn’t want to hear about them so don’t tell them.

There ought to be a lot more koryu seminars now. If seitei has become so standard that everyone teaches exactly the same thing, why do you need multiple seitei seminars? Do you forget what you were taught from one month to the next? You see, that’s the next consequence of standardization, once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. There is an end to the process, a finish to the technical skill. Once you can cut on that angle you can cut on that angle.

But what about all that stuff beyond the technique I keep talking about? When was the last time you were taught that stuff at a seminar, when was the last time you got told that your seitei should be adapted to your height, your age? Not long ago? By your sensei? How about by an official delegation? That doesn’t happen. Film an official seminar and you’ve got this year’s changes, share it and we’re all up to date.

Doesn’t help us to pass gradings if we’re being told “you gotta go to Japan because you need my vote”, but what the heck, maybe you don’t want to participate in that system. Those “empires from the sun” where you need to be seen in the right camp, the right clique, to pass. If you want to participate in that, pick your sponsor carefully, make sure you know who has the power to push you through. If “it’s political”, be political, that’s part of budo, learn to swim in those waters.

This year I’m asking my most senior students to concentrate on our koryu, that’s where you can adapt your teaching to your students, where you and they can learn and grow, where you can work hard on those things that aren’t the technical skills. You get lots of technique practice when you do the seitei, don’t neglect the koryu that you were originally taught. “You dance with the one what brung ya”. You guys learned your iai from the koryu, seitei was added on later. Go back to your roots and be confident that a quick seminar from anyone from Japan, about once a year, will keep you up to date on the latest moves.

The other thing about going back to our roots? Remember how long we practiced without gradings? Was that a problem? You guys complain to me about the system, that your rank seems to have no use. Why are you still banging on closed doors?

Just asking.

Kim Taylor
Jan 5, 2019
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2019
April 6, Seito Bugei Juku seminar in Peterborough.

May 17-20 Annual CKF International Jodo and Iaido seminar and grading, (Kurogo sensei and Mansfield sensei) Guelph.

August TBD. Montreal Jodo seminar and grading with Eric Tribe, Ed Chart and Japanese instructor (TBA)

November 8-10 Annual CKF International Jodo seminar and grading (Kurogo sensei), Mississauga (Port Credit).

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