Shodan

2017 12 03 - 02:35

In all my born days, I never imagined I'd ever say "I have a black belt" in something.

Except for a brief flirtation with Tai Chi about ten years ago (something I'll eventually do again when I can find a class that's not on a Wednesday), martial arts was never an aspiration or draw of any kind. It had never been on my radar. And, when I got old enough to truly understand the limitations of my vision, I gave up hope of a lot of things. Along with issues of distance and detail, I have no real depth perception nor peripheral vision; so even simple acts that others take for granted - driving a car, facial recognition more distant than arm's reach, reading packaging - were either beyond my reach or had to be handled differently enough that it put me at odds with certain aspects of daily life. It limited a lot. Oddly, though, I sometimes forget I have a disability at all. Sometimes I have to remind myself of it, because I was never raised with the idea that I was disabled. My grandparents, through the ineptness of having no idea how to deal with a disabled kid, did me a huge favour that way. Accommodations were made when needed and requested, though; so schools did their best, and work does its best. It's limited my choices in a way that's done me very few favours, but it didn't limit all of them.

You learn to alter your focus a little when you have an impediment. I haven't yet figured out how to work this to my advantage so far as work goes, but I have figured out how to roll with the punches when it comes to my art. Given the limitations of my vision, it's a good thing it turned out that I like surrealism and abstraction. It limits choices with sports, also. Not a good idea to get into contact sports, y'see, when you can't see without your glasses, and still can't see with them. Knowing this, I figured I could still one day learn how to use a sword. At least sort of. I figured I could learn how some moves without learning how to fight with one. Hey, when you're me and can't tell the difference between melon and cheese cubes on a buffet table, it's not a good idea to get into any sport that might involve skewering someone - intentionally or otherwise.

So when I found out about Iaido, I was curious. It's not at all what I was looking for, but is. It's surprised me in a lot of ways. Although, what's surprised me the most about it, is how dedicated I've become to it. I've never been dedicated to very much in my life - especially not something that is so contrary to my impatience. Iaido is exacting, fussy, can sometimes be tedious; requiring that you do the same thing repeatedly; again, and again, and again. Everything has a reason or a purpose - every bow, every pleat in the hakama, every angle, every step. Not at all the thing you'd expect someone to be doing who wishes everything was done yesterday. But, two and a half years later, and here we are.

Apparently the hard work is just beginning, though. I've got one more lazy Wednesday, and then it's off to the races of preparing for Nidan (second degree); according to my sensei, that is.

We'll see. :)

- - -

Unlike last year, I didn't completely lose the tape this time around. A strip of tape is used to mark our starting point, and the point at which we must stop. We should be behind the line when we bow, with the sword on the other side - whether we're standing or kneeling. I lost my grip on the sword during the third waza (seitei soete-zuki), and I thought I'd be done for at that point. Then, after I finished my next to last waza, though, I realised I was about a foot too far to the left of the line, and had to compensate a little to step forward and to the right enough to be right at it. I was shaking like a spastic colon though, and my hands were sweating like things that are sweating a lot. This, though, is one of the reasons the sword hilt (tsuka) is wrapped in cotton, silk, or leather - to facilitate grip. I was told by observers that I was very smooth, which is good. I don't feel like I had much, if any, jo ha kyu. I was most concerned about reiho, though; which is half the battle. If you've got sloppy reiho, you're screwed. I almost forgot what waza I was going to do though, which would have been bad. Ah well, it's all over - for now.

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Reiho

2017 11 01 - 22:12

I've talked about reiho before, but going into grading for shodan I need to do a written exam, and one of the questions is: Why is it important to learn reiho in Iaido?

This is my answer:

Iaido, amongst other things, is about kihon - basics; basics in the sense of small details, fundamentals, and integral parts; not in the sense of rudimentary. If you don't know the basics, your art falls apart. You can't build a house without a foundation, and you have failed.

Reiho encompasses all the basics of respect - for the art, for the people who made the art, for those who teach and study the art, for the places where you practice the art, and for the tools used while performing the art. Everything, in fact, that you do in the dojo is a form of respect - from the moment you enter to the moment you leave; from the bows to something as seemingly minor as how you're standing when not doing a waza, your posture, the position of the sword and how you hold it, whether or not you're leaning on a wall, etcetera. Reiho encompasses gratitude for the present as much as respect for the past. You thank your fellow iaidoka for sharing space with you, and thank the sensei and senpai who teach you and give up their time for you. Reiho is giving acknowledgement of value to all of these things. Reiho also teaches you to pay attention to details, and without the attention to details, you are just waving a sword around. Reiho teaches one of the most important aspects of Iai, that of readiness. If you are aware of (and respectful of) your environment, you can be ready for whatever it throws at you.

And - through reiho - much like through the act of dressing before class, you have another opportunity to settle yourself, to switch your mind from being 'out there' to being 'in here', to facilitate readiness.

- - -

Also, and I know I've mentioned this before, though I'm not going to say it on the test - if your reiho is sloppy, you will fail your grading, no matter how good the rest of your performance is.

iaido
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My Sword

2017 10 30 - 12:51

An iaito is an unsharpened blade (sharpened katana are called 'shinken'), generally sandcast of aluminum-zinc alloy (as opposed to a forged carbon steel shinken). They are used primarily for the practice of Iaido. The length of the blade depends on the user's arm length and the style of Iaido they practice. The method of noto (re-sheathing of the blade) is a primary factor in ryu-related sword length. My style (Muso Shinden Ryu) uses the - to my knowledge - longest blades because of sayabiki - how far back we are pulling the saya during nukitsuke and the start of noto. In a lot of schools/dojos, you aren't allowed to use a shinken in class until you're of a certain rank - third or fourth dan. Because shinken are so hazardous to use, iaito were created to facilitate the study of the art without lopping off body parts.

I acquired this sword from Taylor Sensei in Guelph in July of 2016. In so many ways it is not aesthetically what would I would have chosen had I the opportunity to get a custom sword made, but the first time I held it in the dojo, I knew this sword was <I>mine</I>. It felt right. For the detail-oriented - it's 2.45 shaku (about two and a half feet), with dragonfly menuki, vines around the fuchi, and Musashi tsuba.

I read somewhere that samurai used to name their swords. I haven't yet come up with a name for this iaito yet, but I figure that someday I'll just know what's right. I need to take some better photos of it. One of these days.

You can get swords with very ornate sword fittings. Mine are fairly simple, except for the dragonfly menuki (the fittings under the handle wrapping - they facilitate grip). Vines on the fuchi, a Musashi tsuba (hand guard), and a very simple tsuka-gashira (pommel).

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Pre-grading Inspection

2017 10 25 - 09:24

I hauled myself out to Etobicoke today for a pre-grading inspection by my sensei's sensei. I have been pronounced fit for grading. Well, at least he never said I shouldn't, or couldn't; so I'm good.

Although Cruise sensei's version of "Sensei, I need to leave when kendo gets going because I absolutely cannot deal with that noise, and if I can't hear you OR see you, we have a problem", seems to be "But you need to do [enter name of waza here] one more time." Fourth try, though, I got out. I think the only thing that might beat out sharing an echoey room with kendo for noise, is standing next to a jet engine when it starts, without earplugs.

That floor in Etobicoke is going to be the death of me. I was doing ganmen-ate or sanpo-giri, and when I went to slide forward, I stuck and actually pitched forward. I did manage not to fall on my face; but it was like when I first started Iai, when everything I did was me pitching one way or another and trying not to fall on my face.

He did seem surprised when I said that I was doing morote-zuki for grading, that I found it easier than kesa-giri. I gotta tell ya, I hate kesa-giri - and ushiro. With ushiro I just can never feel anything but awkward with that turn and draw - it's never aligned properly, and I can't get enough saya-biki. Kesa-giri is just plain awkward and flappy and - quite frankly - the downward cut is impeded by certain parts of my anatomy. I know the workaround to it, to loosen the grip on the right hand when you cut down, but it's not enough to make me a kesa-giri cheerleader.

Flaws (read: things I need to work on) (at least the ones I remember):

iaido



It's Iaido's fault

2017 10 09 - 09:47

I've noticed the oddest thing creeping into my physical behaviour over the past couple of years - I'm using my left hand to gesture a lot more than I ever would have before, given how severely right-side dominant I am. I never used my left hand for very much at all in my life. The only thing, really, was pushing my glasses back up my nose, or carrying books in school or bags of groceries (to keep my right hand free) - otherwise, it was all right hand. Every time I use my left hand for something now, like waving or pointing, I think, "Why the hell am I doing this?"

My 'good' (for generous definitions of good) eye is the right one, so I've always heavily favoured that side of the body; especially given that I'm also right-handed.

The only reason I can think of that this might be happening, is Iai. Iai is paying a lot of attention to the left hand, and more of it. So, I think I'm finally remembering that I have a left hand at all.

I blame you, saya-biki.

iaido



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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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.

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Gyakuto

2017 07 23 - 02:03

In my dojo, during the summer months, we concentrate most of our time on koryu - reiho, waza, etcetera. So far this summer we've been learning some alternate versions of some of the koryu waza - Koranto (two steps forward instead of three), Seichuto (stepping back upon rising, rather than stepping forward), and Gyakuto so far. The first set of Muso Shinden koryu waza already has two versions of In'yo Shintai - the first one the sword cuts forward as you step back on the second unsheathing, and in the second one the sword cuts down and to the side a bit during the second unsheathing. Apparently there's another way to do that one as well.

With Gyakuto, there's a method of noto whereby, rather than doing it partial Jikiden style as we do with Ryuto, Junto (MSR's version of Kaishaku), and Gyakuto normally, the sword is held flat in front of you parallel to the floor with the right hand, while the left (of course) reaches for the saya and brings it to the blade. I'm not loving this. I found it incredibly awkward. ("More left hand" is the single most repeated term in any Iaido dojo.) Of course, I also found Jikiden style noto incredibly awkward when I first started learning it. It's... a bit harder with a blade that's longer than what Jikiden folk normally use. My sword would have to be at least an inch shorter than it is, for me to do Jikiden style noto properly. Size matters - an inch can make a lot of difference. I can see a lot more pierced between-the-thumb-and-pointer-finger webbing in my future ... or a lot of scratching of the inside of the saya, which is not at all healthy for it. A split saya is nobody's friend; and all the noise you make doing it, is a big dojo nono anyhow. Apparently this flat-style noto is more common in Muso Shinden than the way we normally do it.

We've got a couple of oddities in our school; by which I mean my dojo's lineage. One of the more obvious things, happens when we kneel for reiho to sensei and to the kamiza. In most schools when you place the blade to your right side the ha, or cutting edge, faces inwards towards you. In our school we turn the cutting edge out. It's a more aggressive posture.

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Open Carry

2017 07 13 - 17:55

When I was packing up after class yesterday, having made the decision to not change into street clothes because it would mean missing the bus, a kendoka who was waiting made a joke about me wearing my sword to really make sure no one would bother me.

Now here comes an interesting question of legality.

My sword - which I already knew - is not illegal. It is not on the prohibited list of weapons in Canada's criminal code. However, it is still a weapon, and could be used in an offensive manner if I chose to do so. I was under the impression that I could not openly carry it; that I had to keep it in its bag when not at home or in use at the dojo. Turns out, not so much. I just spent ten minutes on the phone with the police to clarify it. I can openly carry that sword when not in its bag. If I use it as an offensive weapon, or in any situation where it is assumed by another to be an offensive weapon, then I'm subject to prosecution under the law; but if I'm just walking down the street, I can have it in my belt.

I don't believe I'll ever be doing this, but now I know.

iaido