I am a mirror – Kim Taylor, Feb 5, 2017

Added with permission from Kim Taylor Nanadan (CKF) Iaido, Rokudan (CKF) Jodo and Niten Ichi Ryu Shidoin, January 2023

How do we get really good at what we’re doing? I mean how do we develop the ability in our martial arts to move with mushin (with? with a label, but the label means without excess, harmful, rationalization).

Well we don’t learn to drive by reading about it or sitting in a chair making steering motions (yes that’s a comment on iaido as a way to learn how to fight). You’ve got to get out there and do partner practice.

What kind? Again, a bit of a slam on Jodo this time, specifically the Ran Ai kata which are very long (well longer than the others) and created, I am convinced, to “bring in the punters”. I mean everyone likes a long kata right? The longer the better because anything that takes a month to learn must be worth a lot…. Maybe.

Me, I think the real work is done in really short kata. As one of our jodo sensei said a couple months ago, “the first movement of the kata is the kata, it’s finished there, the rest is practice”. (Aikido students, this is why I’m so focused on the entry and don’t really care about the throw or the pin. If you have his balance the instant he begins to attack, you have everything you need.)

The Tachi Seiho (long sword against long sword) of Niten Ichiryu are the sort of kata I’m thinking of. The first is Sasen and it’s: walk up to your partner and as he cuts down stab him in the throat. Lest you go try that one, let’s talk about number two, Hasso Hidari. You walk together, both in hasso, on the third step uchidachi pauses to make sure shidachi is ready, then steps in with a fourth step and cuts down. Shidachi uses that fourth step to move off the line and cut into uchidachi’s left neck. And that’s it, center up, release the kamae, back to the starting position.

This kata takes about three repetitions to learn. After that, what? After that we go on to the good stuff, the two-sword stuff? If you think that learning the steps of that kata is the point of it, you are in good company. Many people figure that’s all there is. You learn the steps and go off to teach. It’s a small school, there are dozens of little groups all over the world, all directly connected to Japan, all knowing how to do all the kata of the school so all happily walking through the kata.

You’re guessing I’m about to drop the other shoe. Well, yes. The art isn’t complicated, it really isn’t. There are 5 two-sword kata that Musashi finally settled on which are written about in the Go Rin no Sho. You can go buy my book from sdksupplies.com to read my comments on these descriptions and their use. Suffice to say it’s not terribly clear, (Musashi’s writing, mine is crystal) Musashi was a horrid manual writer, but then again, I suspect he wasn’t writing for you or me.

The point is that there are 12, 7, and 5 kata in the modern school (Santo-ha Hyo Ho Niten Ichiryu, my line) and they don’t take long to learn so folks can learn them in a couple of days and wander off to be leaders of their own group. Hey, we don’t even need paper, the kata are all up on Wikipedia, the densho of everything.

It’s harmless, all this sharing of footwork, less than harmless because it spreads awareness of the school, but it’s not the point. These are not the Bugaloo or the Bump or even the Twist. They are not “moves” like a right cross or a left jab. They are tools, they are containers and if you have a jar with nothing in it, you have a pretty tchotchka. Pablo Naruda’s house in Isla Negra has a bar full of empty bottles on every shelf and surface. Very pretty collection of shapes. Not a drop of Pisco in sight.

So what are we missing? Besides the point? It’s the mirror. We are missing the small instruction on how to practice. It’s the thing that sensei mentions very early but we usually gloss over because it’s a throwaway comment. Uchidachi is the senior so he leads, shidachi follows.

You know that right? Of course you do, but do you know why? And how?

You probably do but my students seem to forget so I’ll explain. You need to be a mirror. Yes I said that, but I mean a mirror. What you do is echoed in the mirror yes? You lead and your image follows. Does it follow “some time after”? No. It follows “faster than thought” it follows faster than anything else in the universe except the speed of light. That’s because it is following what you do at the speed of light and trust me, your thoughts are not faster than that.

You must be a mirror to uchidachi’s movements. There, does that sound different now? Can you wait for uchidachi to take a step and then take a step half a step after he does? What if that’s the fourth step? But who can move the very instant they see the other side move? That’s the speed of light, who can move like that?

Well you can damned well try, and keep trying for years and years and years. You don’t do a bit of an exercise one day in class and say to yourself “I now know how to do this”. You do it, and that’s the core of your practice of Niten Ichiryu. Watkin sensei has told you that he did only Sasen for a very long time before he moved on to other kata. When sensei showed you all 12 kata at once did you think you were luckier than Watkin sensei? In a very real sense, when sensei showed you 12 kata in a class, he showed you nothing at all.

Be a mirror.

Figure out what that means, figure out how to do that. That’s your real practice of Niten, not walking through the dance steps. White guys can’t dance, we all know that from long ago. It’s because they just copy the dance steps. What would they need to do to actually dance? Figure that out. Now tell me if it’s cultural or not.

Let’s make it easier. At a recent class I noticed a couple of students preparing to move, winding up and moving, jumping in two different directions at once to get out of the way. You know what I mean? That “oh now what do I have to do”.


Uchidachi isn’t going to suddenly change his attack, he’s going to cut straight down and you! You are going to move to the right front. How is this a thing to think about? Is it a surprise that you are moving to the right front? Did it change from the last time you moved to the right front? No? Then are you thinking about uchidachi cutting? Are you waiting for him to cut so that you can then move? Stop. You know what he is going to do, you know what you are going to do, there is a single variable and that is when you’re going to do what you’re going to do.

Be a mirror.

Easy peasy now that I explain it? No problemo? Right, uchidachi starts to turn up the heat. Frog in a pot.

Be a mirror.

Kim Taylor

Feb 5, 2017


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s