For the last several classes of Seitei Gata I have been telling the students not to bore me. I mean it. I’ve seen those kata thousands of times and I’m really not interested in watching you robot your way through the check points.
Ohmi sensei has been saying this for years, and lately he put it very well. This is Seitei in a nutshell.
1. Read the book
2. Practice what it says
3. When you do the kata, kill the opponents.
It’s that number 3 that makes things more interesting to watch than a robot going through the same motions 24 hours a day building a widget. How are you going to do number 3?
First of all, you are not going to kill anyone if you’re thinking about the angle of your hip, or anything else about your technique. You will die. To practice a kata like it’s a series of movements that you perform without any reference to the outside world is, as Ohmi sensei said recently, “worse than a dancer”.
Why do I reference Ohmi sensei about that? Because he is the answer to your next problem, the one you have after you memorize the Seitei kata and you have practiced it perfectly for a dozen years.
Obviously you learn the riai right? That’s the difference between 7dan and 8dan according to the book, at 8dan you know the riai.
So you practice the kata for 30 years and the understanding pours in right? Not a chance. Oh, well, then sensei tells you right? Perhaps, but what does he tell you? Can you understand what he says? What about the stuff he can’t tell you, what about the stuff that goes beyond “this foot there and use seme, and here’s how you put this foot there to do seme”.
No. Now you’re stuck with “what the hell is seme and how do I do seme to someone who isn’t there?”
You have to think, you have to research, and that’s where you learn from Ohmi sensei. You watch him, you listen to what he is telling you when he’s telling you something else. You listen to what he says when he’s introducing the topic to you.
“This sensei said…”
“I read in a book…”
“This swordsman from the past said…”
“I talked to a doctor who said…”
“I met this dancer who… “
Which is why I heard him say that the students were worse than dancers. Dancers think about why they move, they try to express emotion in their movements. They don’t just move robotically. Oda sensei said the same thing, that a big part of iaido was Embu, acting.
You know, Ohmi sensei is a very senior sensei, he doesn’t have to tell you where or how he learned things. If you don’t pay attention to his introduction, you simply register “Ohmi sensei said…” and that would be quite enough reason to do things, but he is telling you how to learn on your own. Pay attention to his training story, he worked damned hard to understand, and even though we can simply do what he says, it will make us boring. To have iai as interesting as his iai, we must work as hard as he did.
So don’t bore me. You have twelve kata that you have to perform in a very precise way, you don’t get to make up amazing new moves to impress the judges, you can’t do an extra rotation on your jump-spin and get another four points for it. So you have to tell the story, you do that through Meri Hari, through the rhythm of the kata. You do it by your metsuke, by the way you look, and when you look. We have all heard how, we may not understand what we heard.
Do you know the story of your kata? If you only know the check points it’s going to be boring. It’s going to be the figures portion of figure skating (gone now). It’s going to be those poems the class memorized and repeated in school (The highwayman came riding, riding riding…. is there another riding in there?) It’s going to be boring.
Figure out YOUR story, then show us YOUR iaido (again, something Ohmi sensei says). Make us believe it, act it for us, make us feel it.
Don’t bore me.
Aug 7, 2020
U. Guelph Japanese Swordsmanship Club (Sei Do Kai) Zoom classes: Wed. 7pm (Jodo), Fri. 7pm (Iaido), Sunday 11am (Niten Ichiryu). Link on https://seidokai.ca/ or Contact email@example.com for details.
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