Physical Training Mar 2007
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19th International Budo Seminar in Katsuura

copyright © 2007 Jeff Broderick, all rights reserved

Flying into Tokyo on February 4th, I happened to get a copy of the Japan Times from the stewardess. I noticed an ad inside the front page about the Budokan seminar, which I went to in 2001 and 2002, but for some reason, remembered as being held in the fall. Anyway, it was good luck since I had absolutely no idea it was on again. The deadline for application was a couple days later, and I managed to get my money and application in on time.

It was held this past weekend in Katsuura, a couple hours from Tokyo. I had to work Friday morning (but took Friday afternoon off without pay) so I got to Katsuura about 3:30, which was well into the start of the first seminar on the development of kenjutsu. The seminar was by a Professor Uozomi, who is a (the?) leading authority on Miyamoto Musashi and Edo-period martial arts. He talked a bit about the difficulty of understanding Musashi's writings. For example, many translations don't comment on Musashi's phrase (I may be getting this wrong...) "Makura wo osae" which is literally translated as "Holding down the pillow". Obviously, this is a rather cryptic reference, but what does it mean? It refers to having such an unassailable kamae and outward appearance that you can keep your opponent at bay, suppressing his very urge to attack you. I don't know if there is some archaic metaphor at work there, or strange turn of speech, but if you think of it in almost literal terms, it does evoke the idea of smothering someone with a pillow ... the only problem, I suppose, is that "makura" might also refer to the little wooden benches Japanese people used to rest their heads on. (shrug)

Anyway, interesting lecture. After that, another good lecture on Zen and Budo, and the influence Zen had on the martial arts of the Edo period. Kind of an interesting tie-in, as it talked more about how martial arts developed and shifted their emphasis during that period.

After the lecture, it was cool to catch up with people I hadn't seen in a long time, (Trevor, Alex, Ted, Brent, Bruce, Greg, Anna...) and to meet some new people (Serge, Gunli, Dave)... We had a welcome banquet, and after dinner, some really keen folks took off to the gym and had some free practice. The rule is that you can't practice if you've been drinking (I had) so I gawked a little bit. Of course, the kendo nuts were at it full tilt. Some guys were doing iaido off in the far corner; they were also doing a koryu style I didn't recognize, which turned out to be Tamiya Ryu. Very interesting looking kata! I talked to them quite a bit over the weekend and, time allowing, I will visit their dojo over in Yokohama I think, and meet their teacher. Very cool guys too: one Englishman and one Icelander. (Am I making that word up?)

KendoPeople who play kendo are crazy.

Accommodations at the Budokan training center are dormitory-style, and we were four Canadians in one room. (I think they bunked people according to nationality.) All my roommates were cool guys, as well: Paul, a karateka from BC; James, a judoka from Ontario; and Steven, a kendoka from Alberta. I was worried that I was going to snore all night, so I took the precaution of buying everybody earplugs at the 100 Yen store, but I don't think they were necessary. The cool Katsuura air was good for my nostrils, somehow.

The next day we had more lectures, this time about the attraction of Budo (two sensei shared their personal experiences, and it was really very inspiring, for me at least) and after that, a scientific presentation about the effects of Inverse Abdominal Breathing (which is what you do in Zen, I gather) on brainwave activity. Kind of cool. I think it's good to scientifically test claims made by Zen and other arts, where possible... the (not surprising) result is that IAB increases your "calm" brainwaves and decreases your "sleepy" brainwaves. I think.

After that, we saw some demonstrations by the Sensei. This is always a highlight, and so I took a load of pictures...

KyudoWhy I don't do Kyudo: people get to see your bare shoulders.

Karate Kick"Not the face, not the face!"

Shorinji Kempo"Not the face! Not the face!"

Kendo KataKendo kata ... (couldn't think of anything funny)

AikidoAnd suddenly, there was mat.

SumoSumo is probably the toughest martial art in the world.
You don't get this flexible laying around eating bonbons, trust me.

Then it was off to "Experience a New Budo". I did Kyudo the last couple times I came, so I thought I would see if I could remember anything. My first couple shots were lousy, but I hit the bullseye on two shots, which felt wonderful. (I know, I know, it's not about hitting the bullseye... whatever! As it happened, I also had perfect form and reached a state of complete no-mind, so there!) I had a bit of a problem with my release, so I was practicing the draw, and then I figured, what the heck, I'll try a release (with no arrow, of course)... thwack! The string hit my wrist and cut the skin quite painfully, giving me a nice raised welt to boot. Sensei immediately said, "Don't ever release a bow without an arrow!" At first I thought that might be because it will tend to cut into your wrist, but then I figured out that it is probably very bad for the bow -- without the mass of the arrow there, the bow must snap back dangerously fast. Not good. Anyway, Kyudo was really fun and the teachers were also excellent.

Next up was "Practical Training" which is where you (the experienced budoka) practice your art with a high-ranking teacher. In previous years, Kaneda Sensei was available for iaido training, but this year, there was nobody, so I thought we would practice on our own. Unfortunately, this wasn't allowed, and so I went off and tried Jukendo a little bit. It was really fun, so I decided I would try it again the next day, too.

At dinner, I had a nice talk with a bunch of people about all kinds of stuff... everything from fairly serious conversations about martial arts, to an absolutely hilarious (and unprintable) discussion of buttons we'd love to see (and some we hope never to find) on those high-tech "Washlet" toilets. Use your imagination; we kind of imagined the conversation might go something like, "Hey man, do you mind if I use your toilet?" "Not at all, but you'll have to sign this waiver first..."

I did a bit of iai after dinner with Dave and Gunli, and then came back for beers. I stayed up a bit late (midnight or so?) but nothing outrageous. The next day, Sunday, we again shipped off to the lecture hall and talked about the future of martial arts. The issue basically boiled down to two things (which may or may not be essentially at odds with each other): the preservation of martial arts in Japan, and the promotion of martial arts internationally. At some point, the conversation got around to the issue of competition, and how it is bad for Budo. A very stern Kendo teacher, Fukumoto Sensei, took the microphone and brought everyone down a peg or two with the very memorable statement: "People often ask me, 'Sensei, how many times a week to you practice?' What a stupid question! The question should be, 'How many times a day?' That's the level I'm at! Anything less than that and it's not budo, it's just playing around! And competition is just another part of practice. It's how you test yourself and see what you need to do to improve. All this talk about using budo to make a better society is just silly. You practice budo because of what it does for YOU!" Something to think about, certainly. Some people clapped when he said that, but I just felt ashamed at how little I've been practicing.

In the afternoon, I did Jukendo again (they wear even more armour than kendo players!) and after that, Naginata. Naginata seems to have a lot in common with jodo, at least superficially. One thing that sticks out is the symmetry of both jodo and naginata - in both arts, you switch hands and attack from either side. As a physical activity, (and for your coordination) I think that's probably better than kendo where you are always right-side-forward. But anyway, even with jodo, it was tough. It's really nice to feel like a beginner again, though... (which is something entirely different than thinking, "I've been doing this for fifteen years, so why do I still suck at this movement?")

Sunday night was the farewell reception. I stuck around just long enough to eat, and then headed back to Katsuura station. (I had to work on Monday.) It meant that I missed the Monday morning Kobudo practice, which was Negishi-ryu shurikenjutsu. I really wanted to try that, but alas, no dice.

So, for anybody I met in Katsuura who might be reading this: it was great seeing you and training with you; good luck with your practice and stay in touch. If I forgot to mention anybody, it's just because I'm incredibly absent-minded and I apologize.

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Physical Training Mar 2007