Ah Seitei Iai, we were working on Uke Nagashi and I was reminded once more of the reasons I like Seitei Iai (lots of detail) and the reasons it drives me insane (lots of opinions on those details). With a standardized kata, you can work more and more on the fine structure while being kept in a rigid form. Sort of like “build me a bridge from spaghetti”, it has to be a bridge, but you can do whatever you want, provided it doesn’t collapse. We spent quite a long time (seemed like hours to me) on whether, when the book says “face the front squarely when blocking” it means square to shomen or teki. Seriously, it drives me crazy, these discussions. The Japanese instructors (and many more) come here and say “do you own this book?” (waving the ZNKR iaido manual) and when they get nods they say “have you read it?” Then, inevitably, they spend a couple of days reading it to us. I wish the book didn’t exist… no, I wish students would not read it. What is front? Shomen? The opponent? The book doesn’t say, it’s contextual, you have to work it out.You think I ought to know this? My thought, always, is that the opponent is in front of me, why in the world should I be thinking about the front of the room when the attack is coming from the left? Is it that the judges are at the front of the room and they can’t imagine where the imaginary person is? So you face the judges so that they can check your deflection angles? (Turns out that I was wrong, as we will see later, front is the judges, not teki.)However, if I’m attacking you and you deflect relative to some other direction I’m going to be a happy attacker. But that’s a bit of a straw man argument.What is the base of Uke Nagashi? Someone swings at me, I move to the side and deflect, turn to him and cut him. The rest is style I suppose. Oh, I know, as I shift to the side, the opponent, who is on pan rails, like a movie camera, shifts sideways with me, so that he remains in front of me and in front means 90 degrees to the front wall (which is shomen). No, no, sorry, the book says he’s slightly to the left. There you have it, room for discussion but within what is written in the book. No sliding sideways opponents!You know kids, it is for this very reason that I will NOT teach people how to pass their next Seitei Iai exam. My students fail, even the ones who go all over the world to learn how to pass, they fail, so I’m not doing that any more. My students used to pass but now they don’t. It’s got to be me.It’s OK though, Seitei iai is standardized, just read the book and you’ll be good. Unless you run into a term like “front” which can require a lawyer and an arbitrator to explain. Or go to any instructor anywhere in the world and they will tell you where front is. Or ask someone who just came back from a seminar, they will remember correctly what direction that is. I’ve seen that there are seminars in how to pass your next seitei iai exam, so go to one of those. Me, I’m done with that. I don’t want the arguments any more over what front is. You think I’m being petty and whiny? Look, depending on which senior instructor told you what’s happening, teki is anywhere between five and fifteen degrees to your left when you deflect his cut. Your shoulders should be square to the front wall or perhaps to him which means they may be somewhere between zero and fifteen degrees left of zero. Can you do that without a protractor and a jo strapped to your back? Can you decide which shoulder we’re talking about as square if your left shoulder is back in saya biki and your front is forward of your spine, deflecting? Do you split the difference or do you take the line between the two shoulders? Oh dear, the book doesn’t say shoulders, it says your body is square to the front. “Body” usually means hips, perhaps we ought to do Uke Nagashi again next Tuesday rather than go on. I don’t know what the writers of the book or the translator actually meant, and if I tell you anything, it’s 1. only my opinion and 2. NOT IN THE BOOK so you have to ask some sensei or other. I’m telling you not to ask me if you want to pass your next exam. I’m not on your panel. Ask the guys on your panel. Which brings up another problem doesn’t it? You’re not supposed to know who’s on your panel since some students were bribing judges who they knew were to be on their panel. Ohmi sensei mentioned this yet again in his last class. The federation says no more gifto, at all, not even little things. No more Koryu kata (too easy to tell who the koryu sensei were on the panels), and no more announcing who will be sitting the panels. Nope, I won’t teach you if you tell me you want to know how to pass your next exam, because I can’t teach you that, I don’t know what you have to do to pass your next exam. Go find out somehow who’s on your panel and do what they tell you to do. Advice from a decade or so ago (when panels happened in Canada, and we knew who was on them) was to figure out the biggest sore point for each sensei and do that. On the other hand, I’m obviously teaching Seitei iai, so what am I teaching? What else is there beyond, or before passing an exam? I prefer to look at the kata and think, “how do I survive and cut down the other guy” rather than “which of the six or seven ways of doing this that I’ve heard over the last 30 years should I pick today?” (“I don’t like that way but he’s on my panel today so I’ll do it”.) Functional, I say, “don’t get hit, kill him”. Too Musashi? Perhaps. When we come to this sort of questioning in a class I say “what does the book say?” If the answer is “nothing” I say “make it up”. But of course I mean make it up within the bounds of not dying. Umm, I’ve done this kata as a partner practice with a real partner and have had my shoulder bruised and my face hit with my own bokuto. You can do this too, if you wish to check out your own theories. Having just read the edition of the book we were discussing last evening, it says that the opponent on your left suddenly stands up and intends to cut you down. So where is he in relation to the wall behind him (front)? It doesn’t say, so you work this out by reading your own actions (which is what the judges see, by the way). You stand, ideally your body is facing to the front, after you parry his sword and bring your own above your head, you will naturally be facing the opponent square on. He is a bit to your left. So there you are. Do that, I was wrong last evening.Oops I just noticed that earlier the book says draw your sword close to your chest while standing up. Hmm, everybody in the class assured me that it was a bad thing to lift the hands while drawing, that you begin/do the draw horizontally.You know, I can make the sword draw close to my chest (hara actually) while starting the draw horizontally (turn while rising) but at some point I have to lift my hands to finish with the sword overhead in the block. Don’t try to convince me that you can draw horizontally and then lift the sword. It doesn’t work, you get a bruise, I know this. Oh heck, off topic, ignore that drawing thing.Carry on, there really is no opponent in front of you so you will not get hit on the head or the shoulder by anything harder than an invisible sword. Me, I’ll tell you to do it any way you want, as long as you can convince me that your attacker missed and you didn’t. Within, of course, the shape of what is written in the book.
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