Friendly neighbourhood sensei – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

Having snuck off to the cafe before we pick up Mansfield sensei, I thought I’d do this wee topic for you since it falls into what Mansfield sensei will be teaching this weekend. At least I assume that to be the case, since he has been working on the non-technical aspects of both iai and jo on his many recent seminars.

That he had to choose between the European gradings and our seminar shows how busy the man is these days. I’m glad he chose Canada, and I hope our students take full advantage of his tuition this weekend.

The friendly neighbourhood sensei is the guy who will, to the best of his ability, get you to the right part of town, maybe even to the right house, so that you can work on digging out the treasure to be found in the back yard.

Sensei can’t do it for you, this is something you have to do for yourself if you really want the treasure. Sure you can claim you have it, and for a solo art like iaido you can convince yourself you’ve got it, but you may not. Unless it comes from within, it’s very difficult to get it. What’s “it”? Pretty much everything in a martial art except the technical.

Sensei can tell you where your fist is, where your foot points, and you can copy that, but that’s just the neighbourhood. You have to go into that back yard by yourself. You have to somehow develop a feel for why your foot is put where it is put. This is what I was talking about recently when I was telling the class that if their front foot moves, the back foot must move also to reestablish the stance. What I meant by that is of course the balance, the internal power lines, something you can’t show me you understand, and something I can’t teach you. You are on balance or not, you can apply power from there or you cannot. It does no good to argue with me and tell me you can resist my push from that awkward stance, I’m sure you can. I used to apply power in Aikido through some very strange pathways in my body, but all of that required strain and as an old man I am paying for that. As Saint Leonard says “I ache in the places I used to play”.

It’s my job to get you to the neighbourhood, to push and pull your feet into a stance that 300 years of study in the arts say is a good one, but you have to take the last few steps into the back yard and dig. You have to feel that it’s right, you have to click, you have to find the place where your opponent simply bounces off as his attack, his power, grounds through you into your back foot. Suddenly you feel as if you hit him with the earth. That’s the treasure, can you find it?

Often my students will complain to me that they “can’t do it” or “I don’t know what you want me to do”. Here and now I will admit that often I don’t know what I want you to do but I’ll know it when I see it. I’ll feel the pressure or I’ll see a “samurai face”. This is the place where you leave me and go into that back yard to dig.

Mansfield sensei talks of testing your iaido. If you haven’t heard of that, you may be in a place where you are trying to learn from the outside in, from sensei’s words and demonstrations. Or you may prefer that.

Example. Recently I was trying to clean up a stance in jodo, a place where the sword is near the arm. I asked a student to do the movement and tapped them on the forearm. Again, tap. Again, tap. “oh, what am I doing wrong?” You’re getting your arm hit, try it again. Tap. “I don’t know what I’m suposed to do.”

Of course, being a poor sensei I answered instead of walking away silent. I just wasted a chance for my student to learn from the inside, to think and adjust and try again. What I saw was the same thing done over and over, waiting to be told how to “fix it”. This is no better or worse than trying random changes to fix something, but at least with random changes you do have a better chance of stumbling onto a solution that works.

Start from what you have been taught, start from that technical instruction, that’s the neighbourhood. Don’t go across the city to dig, dig where sensei told you to dig. Now dig. If you don’t, you will forever be tweeking from the outside. This angle?That stance? In a photograph, on a video you may look fine, those are the outsides. But a sensei in the room with you will be able to see that you don’t have “it”. With enough experience you can look at anyone, doing anything, and know if it’s in the bones or on the skin. It will only go into the bones if you learn from within, if you find the treasure.

What works, the certain knowledge that it works. Not faith, not belief in sensei, not wishing, but knowledge. Belief in yourself, as Mansfield sensei said last evening. That’s the treasure, to work something out for yourself, to learn how to learn, to learn from the inside. To do that, sensei can take you only so far, he can get you to the neighbourhood, but you have to find the treasure yourself.

Mansfield sensei is a guy who can teach you how to find the treasure. Much better than I can. I hope you don’t waste this chance to get your hands muddy. Think of him as your friendly neighbourhood sensei.

Kim Taylor
May 16, 2019


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

HNIR and Kageryu:
Guelph (Port Credit) Seminar – Kajiya Soke and Watkin Shihan on the weekend of June 28/29/30 (yes, Canada Day weekend)
Calgary Seminar – Watkin Shihan on the weekend of July 6/7 Stampede weekend!

August 10,11. Quebec City, Jodo seminar and grading with Eric Tribe, Ed Chart and Tsubaki sensei.

November 8-10 Annual CKF Fall International Jodo seminar and grading. (Kurogo sensei), Mississauga (Port Credit).
iaito, bokuto, bokken, jo, shinken, karate and judo uniforms, books, videos and other…

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