01 June, 2011

Iaido Seminar and Lessons Learned

I have been meaning to post this for over a week now.  Life never pauses I suppose.  Now there is a thought - if Life ever pauses, you don't need to worry, its all done.

Anyways, about the Iaido seminar.  First off, I have never sweat so much in a hakama.  And I have never focused so much on a single form - everything was wrong.  It is quite sobering to learn a second totally different martial art.  It keeps my on my toes, it gives my brain a different angle to attack a problem.  But now instead of testing out kicks when no one is looking (at the office, at home, etc) I find myself holding anything from a marker to a water bottle over my head in jodan gamae, practicing how to use my pinky fingers in order then stopping the "sword" with a pulse of my thumb at the bottom of the stroke.  It so simple when explained and shown, and takes so much concentration and effort to achieve.

Don't get me started on stances.  Having a traditional karate background, my stances were far too long and wide for the liking of the Sensei's at the seminar.

But I digress (as I often do, I suspect its a habit when writing about one's passions).

The morning started with a large group exercise going through all of the 12 forms of Zen Ken Nippon Renmei Seitei gata.  The afternoon, where I think I lost a few pounds of water, consisted of dividing into three rough groups (I was in the lowest, of course).

I learned an important lesson about Japanese culture which I really should have known.  If you don't say anything, sometimes that is best.  The Sensei leading us asked if anyone didn't know all the seitei gata.  I was the only one who raised my hand.  After the acting translator informed him (after I explained that I knew most of the forms, but not the last few very well), I was given over to another Sensei.  I made a joke about this later with everyone, saying that I was put into remedial sword work when they saw how bad I was, but everyone was quite surprised that I got such one-on-one instruction.  Looking back on it, I was quite pleased.  I made sure to personally thank the Sensei who did the one-on-one with me that afternoon, as I felt that I learned so much about Iaido as a whole (stances, arm, posture, movement, timing, the list goes on).

The final session consisted of breaking into groups again and working on specific kata and techniques.  It was quite beneficial to get the feel of the entire form (especially something like sogiri - five cuts that I find quite difficult as a beginner) as well as get specific hints and tips on the bulk of the Seitei gata.

It wasn't until the end of the day that I realized why I was sweating to much.  It was one of the hottest days we had in Canada, and the gymnasium in which we were practicing was essentially a giant tin-roofed shed - no wonder the heat was on!

Lessons learned: Stances!  It was too easy, as I got tired, to get into zenkutsu dachi or shiko instead of the smaller (and more efficient in my mind) kendo/iaido stances.  Karate stances do not mix well with sword techniques.

I also found that I had many questions for my Sensei after the fact: how to perform the noto (I saw some people using a more horizontal beginning for their noto and then turning the saya and iaito vertical as the noto finished), how to tie the sageo (this might have related to the koryu in which they were studying, but ours is looped around the saya and tied near the tsuba, where as the Senseis and others just had it across the hara on the opposite hip) - the details are many and varied and probably more than I should worry about at this point in time.  But the comparisons are interesting.

I am glad to have found in Iaido something so different and personally challenging - there is always something new to fix and adjust.  I am not saying it doesn't happen in karate, but when trying to learn something new, all of the "subtle" adjustments that you can do on the fly normally just seem that much more important and that much more difficult.

One more thing I realized was that in iaido (and kendo) and karate is that you never want to be flat footed.  I suspect this is true of every martial art.  You want to push your intent forward and don't give ground unless you want them to have it.


  1. "But now instead of testing out kicks when no one is looking (at the office, at home, etc)" this made me chuckle... and your last line about intent was bang on.... in what city/town was the event held?

  2. Hi jc, thanks for your comment. I think the trying out moves in places is a martial arts thing. I was in line at a Sub shop working on a new form and the server looked at me funny when I zoned back in. :P
    The Iaido Seminar was held in Guelph, Ontario, Canada over the May long weekend (called May 24 weekend in Canada, both since it often intersects this date and because of the beer).

  3. i always bow to people without thinking when i leave a room...
    i asked the location because i thought it was guelph...

  4. haha, that is another one I catch myself doing sometimes when I leave the bosses office. my must share the same afflication. :)