Passing the Test

2017 09 28 - 00:54

It's a bizarre mix of desire, trepidation, and impending vomit, when sensei tells you he wants you to test for shodan.

When we are preparing for grading, we do endless run-throughs of the waza we've chosen for our gradings - those of us who are allowed to choose, that is. Past a certain point, the committee chooses the waza for you - for the seitei portion, that is; for the koryu, it's a choose-your-own-samurai-adventure.

Doing things standing, means my choices are limited, as the first four waza are from kneeling positions; and you are no longer allowed to do standing versions of kneeling waza for a grading. So, I get to choose from Kesa-giri, Morote-zuki, Sanpo-giri, Ganmen-ate, Soete-zuki, Shiho-giri, So-giri, and Nukiuchi. I don't like Kesa-giri, and anyone who tried So-giri at my level would get thrown off the island for being arrogant - it's a very finessed and particular waza, and not one for a semi-beginner. So, that leaves me six to choose from. We have to do five. So, I'm going to be dull and do the same ones I did for my ikkyu grading: Morote-zuki, Ganmen-ate, Soete-zuki, Shiho-giri, and Nukiuchi.

Apparently, my reiho's in good order, so that's a good chunk of the battle right there. Reiho is the most important part of the entire process. You can fail just for crappy reiho, no matter how perfect the rest of your performance is.

So, we've now progressed beyond the whole do your waza in order, don't drop your sword, and don't make a face thing. Now we need to work on the inner self-judgement conga line, and not shaking like a spastic monkey during the test - given how much I adore public performance (that's my sarcastic voice).

iaido



Aiming For A Target You Cannot See

2017 09 21 - 14:34

I've never understood golf. What point is there in aiming for a target so far away that you can't even see it? (*)

I was mentioning this to a friend yesterday, and he put it in a context that makes sense - though I don't think golf itself ever will - that golf was like Iai; that it's about self-improvement. The self-improvement I get - in regards to Iaido, very much so - and the invisible target certainly. Sure, there's grading, and that's a goal or target, but the real improvement isn't about the grading; nor can you grade what effects the budo arts have on you personally. Iaido itself is an art of striking opponents that must be imagined, envisioned, pretended, as if they were actually there in front of you. You fight yourself in this way, on so many levels.

When I first started Iaido, I didn't even know it had grading. Now, I do them, but it's not why I'm there. If I wanted to get a certificate on my wall for doing something, I'd go after something that's easier than Iaido is, and takes less time.

Really, more than anything else, I go because I like my budo buddies. I like getting out of the house. I like doing something that's a bit off the beaten path. I like my sword. I like the activity. It's all good.

(*) Although I'm told that people with good vision actually can see it. That's a context I can't share.

iaido
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Simple Math

2017 09 17 - 12:46

Today I can only afford to buy one of the things you sell; but if they raise the minimum wage to something liveable, then I will be able to buy two or three of the things you sell, maybe more sometimes, and so will all of my friends and family members who can also only currently afford to buy one; some of them even none. But if you think that you must raise your prices because the minimum wage has gone up, then we're back to me being able to still only afford one, and some of my friends none. So you've made nothing, because you bought into the scare tactic that all prices must go up if the wage goes up.

So there you are, now selling 30 or 40 things a day - maybe more - and they're affordable now because you didn't raise the price, so all of my friends and family tell all of their friends how affordable the things are, and they start coming in to buy the things too. Maybe you have to hire another staff person, but you're selling enough things now that you can cover that wage easily, cover your own wage, cover the rest of your overhead, and still have a little extra on the side.

That right there is the issue, you see. When the scare tactic gets trotted out that higher wages mean higher prices (or costs), what that really means is that profits for the business go down. They're not willing to take a little punch to the profit in order to make life better for everyone - a punch to the profit that will end up not simply ending the stranglehold on the status quo, but actually increase profit by sheer weight of volume; because you will be better off selling 20 things at $10 per, than continuing only to sell 10 things at $15 per, because you preserved your status quo. It is not a hit to baseline needs/costs that businesses are worried about, it's that precious profit margin.

So it's not the leaps of a lottery win into wealth and riches that you were hoping for from your business; but business is steady, your staff content, and goods go out as fast as they come in. What's that old saying: Slow and steady wins the race.

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Oddio

2017 09 07 - 23:22

Two buildings away from me is a restaurant that, over the years, has seen a few iterations; at one time being quite the jazz and blues club. For a long time, though, there's been no live music there. As I was walking to the store tonight to acquire myself an unhealthy snack, I saw that someone was there in front of the mic singing away and playing guitar, so I stopped for a few minutes to listen. What he was singing, I couldn't now tell you, it didn't matter. All that went through my head was how much I admired, and envied a little, the fact that he had the balls to get up there and do it.

I do not have the balls.

I wish I did.

I know I can sing. I know I don't suck. I can carry a tune. I have a decent range for a non-professional. I have a good ear, a natural affinity for music. I have good relative pitch; which, amongst other things, means that I can listen to others while I sing and adjust myself to work with them. I have a good sense of where a piece of music is going, even if it's one I don't know well. I feel my mistakes and can correct myself. I can do it. But I can't do it.

I used to sing in a choir in high school, and had been on stage a couple of times. In groups, it's not so bad. All the pressure is not on you. And when I did have to sing solos with the choir, I was in a choir loft, where the only people who could see me were my choir mates. You aren't the only thing being scrutinised in a group situation; and that, right there, is the issue. Being under scrutiny. I don't like to be stared at like that. I don't like, in fact, to be the centre of attention in any kind of group.

I'm never sure if talking myself into it is ever going to work; or if I'm just going to have to rip off the band-aid and do it one day, without any kind of prep or preamble. One of my friends thinks I should try karaoke, because that's a situation where no one's going to give a crap how I sound at all, and anyone who might actually be listening is going to be too drunk to have a cogent opinion. I can see the sense behind that, behind it being the safest environment one could imagine outside of one's shower, but I hate karaoke. I have no need to do it in order to make myself sound better by comparison to the raft of drunk bar patrons up there - which I think was also a bit behind my friend's suggestion I try it. I don't want to prove I'm better than someone else, and don't need to. I need to do it to prove something to myself.

One of these days I do have to stop just talking about it, though.

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Abstract Expressionism - Again

2017 09 07 - 15:37

What Makes an Abstract Expressionist Painting Good? Though broadly interested in using abstraction as a way to convey individual emotions, the painters who worked in an AbEx mode actually spanned a wide range of techniques, styles, and intentions. In short, like all art-historical groupings, AbEx is both broad and somewhat limiting in how it brings together a diverse range of artists. Each artist had a signature style, from Pollock’s spontaneous, chaotic drip technique to Rothko’s atmospheric squares.

The fact I don't like abstract expressionism is not news to anyone who bothers to listen to me rattle on about art. I find it - in large part - unattractive, noisey, and unfinished. I won't go on about the other reasons I don't like it, because they're too nit-picky for public consumption. I do, though, not mind the paintings of Franz Kline; but I think that's got a lot to do with them being fairly monochromatic - all black and white. They are not a mess of colour as Willem de Kooning's works were, nor the pantone book on acid works of Mark Rothko (although some of them do put one in mind of looking out of a window that's frosted over in condensation, so you only get a vague idea of the world on the other side of the glass. Geezuz, took me over 30 years, but I finally found a point to Rothko), nor the bird shit of Pollock. But, these people did do one thing for which they do deserve a lot of credit: They opened a door. That door had nothing to do with what they did, but with the fact that it allowed people another layer of freedom when it came to painting. It took off yet another layer of fetters.

But, as with all abstract art forms, to my mind, the whys of it can be summed up in that it "can elicit an emotional response from viewers that requires a physical, often prolonged, encounter with them". That's what the point of a lot of abstract art is - to make you feel something. The colours, the shapes, the patterns, the mess, the size, whatever it is, is designed to get a reaction from you. Jackson Pollock got it out of me, by the very fact that he made something I hate to look at; a lot less vehement than the self-loathing that poor bastard experienced for much of his life before he drank himself up a tree trunk.

I love abstract art, but something a lot less frenzied than much of the world of the abstract expressionist. I like a less violently jarring and frenetic use of colour. I like recognisable shapes, even if they aren't shapes out of reality. I like patterns. I like shading and gradient. I like the kind of abstraction that comes out of surrealist creative techniques. I like surrealism itself.

And to anyone who says "I could do that" or "my kid could do that" - if that's so, then by all means go home and do it. But, otherwise, keep it to yourself if that's your only criticism. If you're saying that because you hate the work, then just say you hate the work. If you are saying it because you - like myself - think that Pollock looks like bird shit, then just say Pollock looks like bird shit. If you don't grok what you're looking at, then say that - maybe someone can give some perspective. But if you think you can do better, I won't challenge that. I'll help you select the paint and the canvas to use. I'll tell you the cheapest places to shop. I'll give you names if you need some works to be inspired by.

I find that most criticism of art comes from a lack of understanding. Hell, I've been an arty kind of person most of my life - in one way or another - am familiar with most major schools and genres, have taken art history courses, have been to galleries, looked at books, read articles, listened to artists - and I still very frequently look at something and think, "I don't get it." I don't blame or fault anyone for not getting it. It's a legitimate visceral initial reaction to anything, especially abstract works. So, if you don't get it, look at it for a while. Don't try to figure out what the artist was trying to convey, just have a reaction to it. Enjoy the colour, the brushwork, the pattern, whatever it is. If you don't get the artist's point, at least you've given yourself one.

Also, remember that not everything can appeal to everyone all the time. There are seven billion people on this planet, each with a different perspective. Just as not all of them are going to like your cooking, your taste in music, or even you, they sure aren't all going to like the same kind of art; and even if they do, they might not all be liking it for the same reasons.

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Diva of Dissatisfaction

2017 09 07 - 10:31

I used to spend an enormous amount of time as a young person, staying up late watching movies on TV. Anything, really. It's how I developed a love for old Hollywood. Then, when I'd stay over my high school bestie's place at weekends, we would - as kids are wont to do - stay up late watching movies on the telly. When we weren't doing this together, we'd often have ended up watching the same stuff separately, so it happened that one week we'd watched the 1981 French film Diva - the plot of which I won't detail overmuch. Suffice it to say, that it's a thriller surrounding the illicit recording of an opera singer, prostitutes, and corrupt police. I remember quite liking it.

Well, a couple of years afterwards, and gawd knows how these things ended up being made, that same friend gifted me with a pocket notebook that happened to have the movie's poster on the front of it (which features a knife - this is key to the story). Sometime after that, I ended up at a neighbour's for tea. She was a nice enough person as I recall, but a thoroughly nervous born again Christian. I had taken the notebook out to write something down, and accidentally left it there. When she returned it to my grandmother, she had some kind of hushed, 'concerned' conversation about how she thought I was worshipping the devil because of the content of the notebook cover - the knife, in specific. (Couple with the fact that at the time, I was going through my late visually punk heavily wearing black and a leather jacket phase).

I don't think my grandmother was really worried, but she did bring up the conversation with the neighbour when she gave the notebook back to me. I explained the plot of the film to her, and that was that.

I've been seeing a lot more - old and new - stuff lately, about what it means if your child is listening to certain kinds of music. I didn't listen to punk because I was looking to rebel - I listened to it because I liked the sound of it, the feel, the rough edges and raw energy. I would have rebelled anyhow; punk just happened to come along for the ride. It did help lift me out of a mousey personality that I should never have had, and give me a vehicle to express something that yards of Bowie albums - much as I loved him - was never going to do.

I'm still rebelling a little I think, and still about the same thing - against a person I do not want to be. In a good way.

* * *

The movie poster in question:

Diva
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Post Cladis

2017 08 30 - 02:00

As a nerd child I loved hard sci-fi, but was never much into fantasy outside of the idea of it being costume drama (when it came to film or TV). Sword and sorcery was never my deal. I could never identify with any creature that was too non-human: no orcs, no trolls, no werewolves. I was far more Dune and Doctor Who than LoTR. To be honest with you, I found trying to read Tolkien a massive chore. He wasn't a great writer; but I don't think he was trying to be. It's always been my understanding that he wrote the books because he'd invented the Elvish language Quenya - linguist that he was, and the books became his vehicle for showcasing it.

I was talking to someone today about all this, and what it is I do love these days - which is dystopian or speculative fiction. I have a fascination for how societies will try to reconstruct after a disaster - what social orders do they choose, what of the past do they eschew, what ways do they attempt to control and codify people. As a side to this, I like post-apocalyptic stuff as well. I think the reason why I enjoy the speculative fiction genre so much, is because I find it all so very plausible - even the more far-fetched situations. I can see how we could end up creating some of the cultures I've seen in YA dystopia. I've read a lot of YA dystopia, because they're the only ones really getting it directed at them. Sometimes I wonder if it's all a message to the young to prepare for a less than savoury future. I haven't seen any adult-directed dystopian/speculative fiction in the societal construct vein - outside of The Handmaid's Tale, which I love, in all its forms - and as I've mentioned before, I don't count Snowpiercer; it's a piece of shit, and it's been too long since I've seen A Boy and His Dog for me to opine on it. "Snowpiercer's" (*) only saving grace was having John Hurt in the cast.

Also, I don't identify at all with non-human creatures - not animals, nor elves. People are my favourite animals. If I had a spirit animal, it would probably be a human. (Although, according to some bullshit Native astrological thing I once read, it's a bear.)

* And it occurs to me that I'm not sure how one would do a possessive with a title that's in quotation marks. Does the 's go inside the quotation marks, or outside? This would probably also be affected by whether you're writing like a Brit or an American. Addendum: I was told that if one can't just rewrite the sentence to avoid it altogether, the possessive should go outside the quotation marks.

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Reiho

2017 08 13 - 20:05

I really need to work on the niceties of my reiho.

Not just because I could fail a grading for bad reiho faster than I would for mistakes in the waza, but also because it bothers me that it not nearly as tidy and precise as it should be. Reiho is the most important thing. I'm not kidding when I say that you could fail a grading for bad reiho even if your waza are perfect. It counts for far more than anything else. Bad reiho means bad manners and lack of respect.

During the koryu form of the kneeling part of reiho, one must grasp grasp the middle of the saya with the left hand, and the tsuba with the right, in such a way that every time I do it I feel like I'm going to pitch forward on my face. It's the left hand part that does me in, because I have no issue with the seitei form of this part of reiho. I don't think anyone's noticed it yet, but in order to make sure I don't pitch forward, when I have my left hand down to grasp the saya, I actually place the heel of the hand on the floor briefly and put a little weight on it, then kind of push myself back up, because I don't think I can get back up otherwise. If the sword were a little closer than it is, I could probably manager it properly; but it's got to be far enough out that I can bow to it without touching it or the sageo. In the kneel part of Muso Shinden reiho, though, the angle of the sword relative to the body is much greater than in the seitei form, and the tsuba is in line with your right knee. In the seitei form the angle is less and the tsuba is out past your knee. Maybe it's the right hand part  after all, because I'm leaning farther out.

Either way, It's not elegant; nor is my seitei reiho.

These videos discuss seitei reiho. I couldn't find any that detail koryu. I should bug my sensei into making some.

Were I a higher ranked person than I am, getting my thumb back inside the loops of the sageo might matter more; but I've been led to understand that Muso Shinden may be a little more lax on that point than Jikiden is. I have never been dinged for not getting my thumb back in; but they do expect us to grasp the sageo tidily.



The holding of the end of the sageo against the saya with the left hand during standing reiho is an old-fashioned way to do it. We now have to get it into the right hand; but since it's been almost a year since my ikkyu grading, I'll be jiggered if I can remember how I used to do that. During class I do kneeling reiho, but during grading - since I do all my waza standing - I do standing reiho as well.



We think of the sageo in thirds, so when you're gathering the sageo in the left hand so that the ends of it hang below the loops, the easiest way to do so is to slide your hand along the saya with the sageo in it, and when you get to the end of the saya, you grasp the sageo at that point then loop it up to your thumb. That about thirds it.

I read somewhere that the reason we angle the blade in front of us, is that were we training while the emperor was present, while in the phase of reiho where we'd be on our knees bowing to the sword, the emperor would be seated to our left, and it is treason to point the end of the blade at the emperor. So, we angle it away.

We also have a couple of things we do in my dojo during reiho that I don't think happen in other schools. One of them I've mentioned before, that when putting the blade on the right side to bow to sensei, we turn the ha (cutting edge) outwards, rather than towards us. This is considered a more agressive posture. Another thing we do is more bows. In our dojo the bowing process is:

1 - gather the sword and sageo in the left hand, turn towards the kamiza, move the sword to the right hand with the cutting edge facing downwards, and bow standing, move the sword back to the left hand.

2 - kneel, move the sword to the right hand and place it as we would were we bowing to sensei, and bow to the kamiza kneeling.

3 - staying on your knees, grasp the sword in your right hand (without picking it up completely), and turn towards sensei while keeping the sword at your right side, bow to sensei, and while doing so say "Onegai shimasu". That phrase has a lot of meanings, but in this context it's like "please let me train with you" or "please teach me".

4 - in the proper prescribed manner depending on whether you're doing seitei or koryu, bring the sword in front of you while you remain kneeling, and bow to it; then in the prescribed manner depending on seitei or koryu, pick it up and place it in your belt.

At the end of class we do it all again; but in reverse.

It's that second bow to the kamiza - the kneeling one - that's not always done elsewhere; and would certainly not be done during a grading. During a grading you'd bow standing to the judges, bow to your sword (kneeling or standing), and get on with it. Next grading for me, whenever it'll be, is for shodan - when they actually expect more from you than just making sure you do the waza in order and don't drop your sword. Also, don't make faces. Making a face is frowned upon, no pun intended. Be your best stoic self.

iaido
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Coloured Pencils

2017 08 10 - 12:15

I'm going to detail some of the minutia of my obsession with coloured pencils; because I know you're all just as excited about that as I am. I know it. I can tell.

Moving on...

Some of you may be aware of my incessant need to own every set of quality pencil crayons there is. I'm doing all right so far, as you can see; but there are a few missing. There are also a couple of things not yet on the list, because I can't find reliable lightfastness ratings for them. Apparently the CPSA has done extensive testing and has charts, but I haven't yet bothered with a membership with them in order to access those charts.

These ones are on the way. They have arrived, and are sitting in the pile o' pencils happily with their friends.

These ones are next on the list.

These ones will probably never happen because, yeah, price. And believe me when I tell you that that's the cheapest you'll see them for.

These are currently impossible to get in Canada - I have yet to find a source, so I'd have to order them from the US, which would put them at nearly $400 CAD, so also probably never coming to live with me.

These ones are also not yet available in Canada, but I'm sure will be at some point. However, I'd currently have to order them from the UK open stock, as a number of the set are not acceptably lightfast, so I'd only buy the ones that are. And, after doing a colour comparison to the Derwent Artist line I already have, I see that there are only six colours in the Procolour line that are not in the Artist line - so I'll just get those. They are also now availlable in Canada through Above Ground Art Supplies in Toronto. You can order off their website in sets or open stock.

There are open stock pencils in the cases, from a few different sources.

What you can see:

Derwent Drawing Pencils 24
Faber-Castell Polychromos 120
Koh-I-Noor Polycolor 72
Gallery Soft Pastels (not pencils)
Lyra Rembrandt 72
Derwent Inktense Pencils 72
Derwent Inktense Blocks 72
Derwent Coloursoft Pencils 120
Prismacolor Premier 150

What you can't see:

A handful of Caran D'Ache Luminance pencils
Derwent Studio pencils
Derwent Artist pencils
Derwent Metallics
Derwent Graphitint
Derwent Tinted Charcoal

I'm leaving my drawing and painting pens out of it.

My stash
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Picture Imperfect

2017 08 04 - 23:33

Photographic series or bodies of work are being explicated, explained, contextualized, rationalized, and elevated with text or verbal rationals. You’re thinking: so what? That’s no big deal. Let me start with a short history and then let’s take a look at current practice.

While a lot of art exists in context to other things - like the visuals of photography in context to any narrative attahced - I can see the concern that photography might be - to some - losing quality as it begins to depend too much on other mediums, and becomes less able to stand on its own; or, rather, the creators are taking poorer pictures, putting less effort into the craft of photography, and spreading their efforts too thinly over other other things to pad out the photography they present. I think the author of this article sees some photographers as being lazy.

A few years ago I was heavily into what I referred to abstract photography - some aspects of which others refer to as macro photography, a term I never cared for. I was very much into taking pictures of shapes, patterns, stains on pavements, cracks in things, curvature. I remember posting a photograph somewhere, a close-up of the curve of the necks of three vases of gradient hues of orange, yellow, and a pink. It was meant, as much abstract art is, to be appreciated on its own - for its shape, the curves working together - but someone asked me what it was a photograph of, and I told them it didn't matter. They disagreed. It really didn't matter, because my telling anyone what it was, would get in the way of appreciating just the visual of what was being shown to them.

It reminds me of an Ansel Adams show I went to several years back at the AGO. Rows of framed and matted photographs, a simple title, a date, that's all. Because those images could stand on their own without the audience being told what they were looking at.

Labels, as Daoists will tell you, are traps. Naming things damages the audience's relationship with what they see, because the audience then frames their perspective in terms of what someone else sees, rather than discovering their own interpretation. Some art requires labels, names, description, as part of the art; but not all art does. And, in fact, not all art should be trussed with labels.

I don't think the art of photography is in any real danger. There will always be trends that are favourable and those that are not; but the purist act of photography is never going to die off. There will always be those who will show you images and hope you will find an interpretation of your own, without them having to lead you by the hand to figure the puzzle out.

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