We were having fun with tachi seiho last night, two of us learning the set, two seniors. A good mix when you are learning because the senior side can take care of the timing and distance for you.
Of course we got questions on which foot goes where and that started putting thoughts of “seitei niten” into my head. You know, the niten where you have to pass an exam by putting the correct foot in the correct place and cutting to the precise position because that’s what is written in the book.
Even though I “wrote the book” that idea gives me the willies. Fortunately, I suspect I’ll never have to worry about that sort of thing. Niten kata are just too simple to be used that way. Most of the tachi seiho (long sword vs long sword) are of the “he cuts for your head, step to the side and cut him on his head” variety. Everyone would be a 7dan in two years if we did testing on that sort of stuff. Thing is, you don’t step where you step because it’s “in the book”, you put the right foot in the right place because you have to, otherwise you get smacked on the head.
Which is of course why I love Niten. You know all those things Musashi says in his book, all the “stick like glue” and “steel and flint” and “body of a massive rock” stuff? When you stop memorizing dance steps you actually get to explore that stuff. Take the fourth technique, Uke Nagashi hidari. You walk up to your partner, on the third step he cuts down at your head, you step to the right while deflecting his sword down to your left, then as he steps back into hasso you step in and cut him on the wrist or the head.
Simple neh? Who cares about that sort of kata, it’s hardly a waza, you can learn it in four minutes, six if you’re a bit slow. I’ve had lots of potential students come and go saying it’s just too easy. But, but, when do you step to the side? Where does your partner swing at your head? Where do you move? How come he steps back? How come you have to step in to hit him? How come he doesn’t just crash through your block? Can’t you step back and hit him before he hits you? Why do my bokuto keep breaking?
Oh this is joy my friends, these are the things I live for. Keep your memorization exercises, I want a simple kata and a vicious partner who will try to hit me. Someone who will track me if I start going into automatic pilot, who will cheat by changing the attack if I don’t wait, wait, wait for the right moment. Someone who will just step out of range if I hesitate when that right moment arrives.
Don’t make me go inside my head and do the metronome-timing micrometer-distance double-solo-dance grading thing. Let me instead look into my partner’s soul and try to catch that instant when the attack can’t be changed. Not when it starts, that’s too easy, but that point half way through when there’s total commitment, when I can move and laugh at the widened eyes of someone who knows they just died but haven’t fallen over yet…
Was it good for you too?
Once we’ve done that for a while, let’s look into the stuff that’s “hidden” in the kata. Hidden, hah! Musashi wrote a lot of stuff that doesn’t seem to fit the kata he left if you’re not paying attention. After you learn how to pay attention to your partner with those simple niten techniques, maybe you go back to the book and pay attention this time.
OMG I thought the last kata was amazing!
Kim Taylor Dec 19, 2015