Jo Ha Ew

2017 01 26 - 18:15

For the longest time I was quite unable to gauge my own improvement or performance. I think, in some ways, perhaps my brain just isn't wired that way. I keep thinking that I'll have no idea what, if anything, could improve - until one day something does, and I do notice it. I still feel a little disconnected from it all; sometimes I forget the bunkai, and the details of what I'm doing, but I'm not remotely the same waving-the-sword-around person I was when I started. (I honestly can't believe sometimes, that it's been a year and a half.)

My worst fault, still, is speed. I move too quickly. The jo-ha-kyu will come with practice, but the rest of it I still have to work on. I think part of my problem is simply that I hate making people wait, or I fear I am making them wait, so I rush through things so that I'm not holding everyone up.

Slower Iai's more luscious; a samurai never rushes.


Don't hold it

2017 01 26 - 17:51

I think our natural tendency is to hold our breath when performing an action, but that's actually a physically taxing - even weak - move. When you breath in, and then hold a breath, you use muscles to do it. It takes power away from the body, from the actions. Breathing out, however, does not. It takes no power. We breath out when cutting/striking, because we can put more force behind it. Breathing out is an action of power.

It's also a part of why so many parts of the waza end together. Wasted motion is, well, wasted motion. Stepping, strike, and exhale at the same time. Step back, end chuburi, and exhale at the same time.

One time I stumbled and lost my balance in class because I didn't realise I'd been holding my breath that tightly or much. I got dizzy.

Tension in the body also takes away from your power, including locking your knees. You can't put force behind a cut if you're too tense, because you've used all your force, and there's no give when you move. I think ballet is the only thing in the world where locking of the knees is desirous. It actually makes you terribly unstable in iai (and other things), to lock the knees.



2017 01 07 - 16:59

The kamiza is a place in the dojo where a shrine for Shinto spirits (kamidana) is located, a place where they reside. These spirits can include venerated dead - family, past teachers. You see them, on a shelf sometimes, always over head height. In terms of seating or placement in the room, it is the best seat in the house - warmest, safer. It is traditional for the doors of the kamiza in a dojo to be opened for the first classes of the new year, so that the spirits can see how much you've improved over the year. You make a promise to them, to work on something, and the doors are shut until the next year.

I got stuck when, at the end of class, sensei asked us to make a promise about something specific we'd work on throughout the coming year. I said 'everything', because don't we all have to always be doing that? But it needs to be more specific, so I chose speed; because a) I was on the spot, and b) that is my worst fault - I rush things. Fast is my four-letter-word, he says. And now, given that I've passed Ikkyu, now it's really time to concentrate on my jo-ha-kyu.

Slower iai's more luscious; a samurai never rushes? Sorry. Canadian. What can I say?

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2017 01 05 - 16:57

My body knows better than I do what it's supposed to be doing, apparently.

In class today we did some exercises, some of the waza even, with our eyes closed. We'd switch from doing it the usual way, to then doing it with our eyes shut, and it's impressive how much of a difference it actually does make, how much our vision can throw us off. Apparently the performance difference between eyes wide open and eyes wide shut (sorry, Stanley), was beyond noticeable.

You'd think the blind girl would be ahead of the game on this one, seeing as how I'm none too good at seeing; but, sadly, I was not.

Interesting exercise though. I'd like to try that again.


To obi, or knot to obi

2017 01 01 - 16:51

Men and women have different ways of wrapping and knotting their hakama and obi. For females, the front himo – when brought around back for knotting – are tied and knotted under the butt - though I'm not sure if this is a Jikiden thing or an all women in Iaido thing. This works better in some ways, but I have noticed that sometimes the obi and himo shift around a little more than they used to before I started tying things this way. I don’t have the same shifting problem that necessitates wearing the stretchy obi, but I hear they’re fab.

The problem I now have, though, is that when I sit down in a chair with my hakama on, the knot’s right in my butt.


Weapon Wednesday

2016 12 28 - 16:37

I’m having breakfast in the mall today (because who wouldn’t for $1.56 tax included?), and thinking about how lightweight I feel.

It’s Wednesday – Sword Day – so normally I take all my gear to work with me (hide it in the one manager’s office) and go to class from there; but, the Wednesday between Christmas and New Years, is the one Wednesday the dojo is closed and we have no class.

It feels weird for me to leave the house without my gear.

The operations manager once asked me why I brought a sword to work, and I told him it was just in case he fired me.

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2016 12 23 - 16:00

Recently I had a conversation with the person who initially told me about Iaido, during which I thanked him for having done so.

He admitted that he was surprised I’d stuck with it; he thought I’d get bored and give it up. He’s not off-base in having thought or said that. I’m sometimes surprised too. I haven’t lived a life where I had to get used to sticking with anything, so it’s a source of wonder to me also. I do know that one of the reasons I have stuck with it, is because of the people I am there with, my sensei not the least of them. Had I started this with someone else, having met many of those someone elses now, I do not think I’d still be at it – with one notable exception. There is nowt wrong with any of the people who teach this art in this area, they’re all wonderful in their own way, but there’s a certain feeling of rapport that you get with certain folk, a sense of rightness also, that makes some relationships work better than others, and makes some folk a bigger inspiration.

I’m glad I stuck with it. I can’t see my life without it.



2016 12 20 - 15:58

Quite recently, one of my fellow iaidoka was in parts foreign, and on his return (which happened to be on a class day), he came to the dojo from the airport rather than going home.

I think it gets like that for a lot of people. It becomes home, a refuge. It did for me. The day my mother passed away I went to class.

It has a way of smoothing out the rough edges in a way that nothing else can.

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2016 12 12 - 15:44

When I started Iai back in July of 2015, I had no idea what to expect.

I’d been out for a coffee with a friend who’d lived in Japan for 14 years, and mentioned to him in passing that I’d always wanted to learn how to wield a sword, but not in a combative sense. I have very poor eyesight, and even worse depth perception, so anything requiring either, is not in the cards for me. Fear not, kendoka and jodoka, you’re free of me. He mentioned Iaido to me, which I’d never heard of before. I looked it up when I got home, was in my first class three days later, and haven’t looked back. To be honest, I always assumed I’d end up having some medieval re-enactor teach me how to use a broadsword.

In all these months since, I think I’ve missed four classes in my home dojo – and one of them only because my sensei’s sensei summoned me and a fellow student right before grading so he could see how we were doing. He teaches the same night, in a different city, and I can’t fly, so there you are. I had to miss this week due to illness. It has become so much a part of my week, my life, that I cannot imagine my life without it. Missing class leaves me feeling a lot of off-kilter feelings. The week is not complete without class. I remember the first time I was handed an iaito, it was much like picking up a paintbrush (I’m an artist); I couldn’t imagine why it hadn’t been in my hand my entire life.

In conversation elsewhere, on something innocuous, with a group of other iaidoka, it suddenly hit me how many names are now familiar, how many faces I now recognise when I go to other dojos or events, and how there is (to me at least) a growing sense of belonging to something, a sense of camaraderie. I’m quite used to feeling isolated and outside of it, but that is not the case here – or is at least becoming not the case. It’s still weird for me, getting used to the idea of being part of something. I suspect I’ll feel ill at ease and surprised by it for a long while, but all things pass.

It’s all good.

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2016 12 01 - 15:49

In the first set of MSR koryu waza, there’s one called Junto. It approximates the movements one samurai would make when seconding another who’s committing seppuku – one form of ritual suicide. Essentially, your task as the kaishakunin, is to cut the samurai’s head off after he guts himself. You perform the killing stroke such that a flap of skin remains holding the head to the neck long enough for you to cut that so the head falls into a basket, and doesn’t roll away – which would be, to say the least, very poor form and would be dishonourable (or, if nothing else, would offend the witnesses to the suicide). You also do this to spare the samurai more pain than is necessary.

I know MJER has a similar waza, named Kaishaku. I can’t speak for MJER dojo traditions in how their version of this waza is handled, but in many MSR dojos (mine included) this is a waza we do not perform at demonstrations nor in front of outsiders – nor would one use this as a grading waza – out of respect for the samurai who performed it and who were the recipients of it. There are videos of Junto and Kaishaku on YouTube, however.

This is the only waza that, so far, has given me personal pause. Every waza is a form of defense or attack, but this one is a far more serious business. This one is neither. I did read somewhere that some do not consider it to be a waza at all, but more a form of etiquette. Every time I do it, I think about the people involved – the samurai who died, and the ones who delivered the killing strokes. It’s… sobering.

You can find videos of Junto and Kaishaku on YouTube.

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